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.`

A Slam Dunk for AMD

It looks as though AMD has come up with a pair of winners with the Radeon HD 6850 and Radeon HD 6870. In its performance in modern games, the $239 HD 6870 model was slightly faster on average than the $279 Radeon HD 5850. Given that the 5850 cost about $300 until recently and was considered quite a good buy, the new card represents a fantastic value. Amazingly, the Radeon HD 6850 is an even better value. At a suggested price of $179, it was only about 10 percent slower on average in our benchmark tests than 5850, a card that costs $100 more. The HD 6580 is 30 to 40 percent faster than the Radeon HD 5770 in modern games and costs only about $30 more. That leap in performance may be the difference between being able to play a game at its maximum detail and having to settle for lower resolution or detail levels to keep things smooth.

These new cards offer more than just a great mix of price and performance, though. They're both quite energy-efficient, sipping a very small amount of power when you're simply sitting at the Windows desktop. (AMD claims that the cards use just 19 watts, and if our total system power measurements are anything to go by, we believe them.) Even under heavy 3D graphics load, the power utilization is quite good, considering the performance you get.

The cards' other improvements include better video decoding and hardware 3D Blu-ray support from the new UVD3 video engine. DisplayPort 1.2 and HDMI 1.4a support highlight an impressive set of new standard display outputs. AMD has promised further image-quality improvements with these cards, including some welcome tweaks to its anisotropic filtering algorithm and new antialiasing modes, though we haven't had the opportunity to single out those features for testing yet.

Given their attractive pricing, performance, power utilization, and new features of these cards, the Radeon HD 6850 is likely to be the card to beat at under $200, and the Radeon HD 6870 should be king of the hill at under $250. Though we don't have any direct comparisons to show at this time, our test results suggest that these cards should generally surpass the GeForce GTX 460 cards that they'll compete against.

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Jason Cross

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