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AMD Radeon HD 6870 review

Seth Barton
22 Oct 2010
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
176
inc VAT

This is a fantastic graphics card, but 5000-series owners won’t be too excited, and true enthusiasts should wait for upcoming releases before deciding.

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Specifications

Our initial reaction to the launch of the new 6000-series Radeon graphics cards was one of mild disappointment. Probably not the reaction AMD was looking for, especially having finally retired the ATI name in favour of using its own three letter moniker.

Radeon 5000-series cards have dominated our awards in recent years, and we were hoping for a big leap forward in performance, matched undoubtedly by a serious price hike. Instead, with the new HD 6870 and HD 6850, AMD has chosen to refine its current architecture, and release a pair of good value, power efficient cards.

This HD 6870, confusingly, lines up against the HD 5850 in terms of pricing. The new card is a good example of getting more out of less. The die size of the GPU has been reduced by around a quarter, with a similar drop in the total number of transistors. There are less stream processors too, 1,120 rather than 1,440. Some clever architectural tweaks have improved performance, particularly a redesign of the front end, which handles sending tasks to the stream processors. The memory bus remains at 256-bit, so there’s no bottleneck there, and the 1GB of GDDR5 memory runs at a respectable 1050MHz.

The real gains have been made by an increase clock speed. It has shot up from 725MHz on the HD 5850 to 900MHz on the HD 6870. This is largely possible thanks to the smaller GPU, which stays cooler. The performance gains are obvious. With it scoring 7fps more in our Crysis test than the HD 5850. At 1,920x1,080 with 4x anti-aliasing it managed a smooth 46.6fps - finally an affordable card that’s untroubled by this resource-hog of a game.

The card is optimised for DX11, with its range of fancy new graphical effects. A new tessellation engine, which automatically scales the amount of detail required in any 3D object depending how far it is from the camera, is the key element here. It works too, with the HD 6870 scoring 10fps more than its predecessor in our Stalker test.

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