AMD Radeon HD 6800 series is the new midrange graphics champ

The Radeon HD 6850 and 6870 offer fantastic performance at a price gamers can live with.`

With the release of the Radeon HD 6850 and Radeon HD 6870 graphics cards, AMD delivers fantastic value for the average PC gamer. If you want great game performance but don't want to spend too much money, you look for a graphics card in the US$150 to $250 range. It appears as though the Radeon HD 6800 cards are set to be the best performers at their respective prices by a considerable margin. The architecture is based on last year's Radeon HD 5800 graphics cards, but the HD 6800 cards also incorporatea host of optimizations such as improved tessellation performance, better video decoding, and more-robust display output options. The leap in performance offered by these cards is often the difference between being able to play games at full settings and having to reduce resolution or detail levels to keep things running smoothly. They're quite energy-efficient, too.

Before we dig into the new features that these cards offer, let's take a look at the specs. The main chip architecture is a modified and enhanced version of what we saw in the Radeon HD 5850 and 5870, which used a GPU code-named Cypress (part of the Evergreen family). The new chips use a GPU code-named Barts (the first in the Northern Islands family). The Barts GPU is smaller than Cypress, and is manufactured by TSMC using its 40nm process technology, but it delivers excellent performance. For comparison, we'll include the specs of the less expensive Radeon HD 5770, which is based on the Juniper GPU of the Evergreen family.

1_208189-6800-series-specs-chart_original

A quick glance at the numbers shows that the new cards use a GPU that is roughly 30 percent smaller than the Cypress GPU found in the Radeon HD 5850 and 5870, and 50 percent larger than the Juniper GPU found in the 5770. The GPU still has a full 256-bit memory interface and 32 render back-ends. Though there are fewer shader units and texture units, the clock speeds are a lot higher, so actual performance isn't too negatively affected. If all that is Greek to you, here's the takeaway: On paper, the new Radeon HD 6850 looks as though it's going to be a lot faster than the 5770, and the 6870 will nearly equal the performance of somewhat more expensive 5850.

At first, the naming of these new Barts-based graphics cards seemed odd to us. The 6870 will be slower than the 5870, and the 6850 will be slower than the 5850. Usually, cards of a new generation in the same series are faster, not slower, than their predecessors. What's more, you'll still be able to buy 5800-series graphics cards for a while, as they occupy shelves alongside less-expensive 6800-series cards. So why the confusing 6800-series moniker, rather than calling these cards the 6750 and 6770? The naming makes sense when you consider three things. First, the Radeon 5700 series will continue to be produced and sold for some time, occupying the sub-$150 price bracket. Having both the 5700 and a new 6700 series on the market at the same time would be confusing. Second, the new cards are coming in at a price that AMD has historically put the x800 models at (the Radeon 3800 and 4800 models fell between $200 and $300 when they were introduced, while the 5800 series was a high-priced anomaly). Last, the 5800 series may not be long for this world: The next GPU in the 6000 series that AMD will release should displace those cards on the high end.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags pc componentsgraphics cardsAMD

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jason Cross

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?