Introducing Codename Northern Islands
You know it's winter when the sun sets earlier, the air feet a little crisper, and when a graphics giant releases new video cards.
Hot on the heels of NVIDIA's GTX 460 and GTS 450 launch, AMD is back with a whole new architecture. To be honest, I only expected a frequency bump and a few tweaks, but what AMD is launching is most definitely qualifies as "new."
Yes, the new naming convention can be confusing. The performance of the 6850 and 6870 greatly eclipse that of the Radeon HD 5750 and 5770. In fact, they come close to the performance of the 5850 and 5870, and in heavily tesseled situations, can even surpass them. So for this release, AMD has decided not to call them the 6700 series. But having a part that performances only "as good" as the last gen does not make sense, does it? Well, AMD is greatly reducing the price of the 6800 series vs the 5800 series, and they're also eliminating the 5800 series altogether, so there's not much quibbling we can do about it now. The 5800 series direct replacement will end up being the 6900 series, so once those cards hit the market, the naming convention will definitely make more sense.
The Radeon HD 5700 series on down is sticking around in its current form. I have no information regarding any rebranding. This makes sense, as these parts are great price / performance products and still have a place in the market. But the $ 200- $ 300 window is where AMD was suffering the most, and was poorly served by the Radeon HD 5830, so the 6800 series will plug the gap, and should do so well.
I learned of a real curveball that will alter how I was going to write this review. I found out, rather late and to my surprise, that NVIDIA was going to drastically reduce the price of the GTX 460 and 470 cards, making them much more worthy competitors to what AMD is going to be unleashing today. So much so that I am rather upset that I did not have time to throw the GTX 470 in the mix to get a better picture.
Let's dive right into the specs, and then we'll talk about some of the feature enhancements.
Versus the 5800 series
With lower compute power, shader count, and memory bandwidth, it's going to be up to the optimization of the drivers, shader clusters, and the scheduler to give the 6800 series a chance of beating the 5800 series. But AMD knows that and is saying that in some cases the 6800 will deliver the 5800 series in certain situations.
Versus the 5700 series
The 6800 series obliterates the 5700 series lineup on paper. So instead of just being an incremental part over the 5700 series, we're seeing massive performance gains. This should be a great addition to any custom built PC and its graphic processing power. So I can see where AMD decided to leave the 5700 series where it is, position the 6800 series where IT is, and drop the 5800 series. And besides, AMD will be giving us a true replacement for the 5800 and 5900 series soon.
So it's just best to get this over with now, endure a little bit of gnashing of fanboy teeth, and let the rest of the product stack fill out, where I'm confident the whole lineup will then make sense.
All that matters is performance per dollar. It does not matter what the name is if you understand that before you make a decision.
New Display Options
A cool new feature about these cards is the ability to have six displays hooked up to a Radeon HD 6800 series card at once. With the addition of DisplayPort 1.2 technology, daisy chaining compatible DisplayPort 1.2 displays is now possible, for up to 4 DisplayPort monitors and a combination of either DVI or one DVI and one HDMI monitor. It's important to note that HDMI has a limit of 1080p and the Single Link DVI connection has a limit of 1920×1200 resolution. So be sure to plan out your multiple monitor goals ahead of time – you may need to buy two Radeon HD 6800 cards to get the resolutions you need depending on the monitors you have.
AMD EyeSpeed Technology
To the layman, EyeSpeed is pretty much "anything but 3D gaming" that AMD wanted you to know about. That includes the integrated Universal Video Decoder that enables you to watch Blu-ray movies without pegging your CPU at 100% usage, DirectCompute and OpenCL GPGPU technologies, the ability to accelerate video transcoding or upsampling, and stereoscopic 3D support, which AMD is calling AMD HD3D. It's important to note that AMD HD3D is an open standards based technology with all the upsides and downsides. It's not as mature and controlled as NVIDIA's 3D Vision, but it's great to see AMD making the moves necessary to embrace 3D. It is important to note that AMD is equipping these cards with HDMI 1.4a ports, which is necessary for 3D. God bless them for keeping up with that awful, cancerous standard. All you A / V custom installers know what I'm talking about.
They did WHAT?
I gotta tell you, I had this whole review figured out as I was putting numbers down … until about today today when I found out that NVIDIA did what it does best – massive retaliation.
Turns out they dropped the price of the GTX 460 AND the GTX 470 – to $ 199 for the 1GB model and $ 259 for the GTX 470.
Yeesh, talk about a wrench! I wish I had a GTX 470 to throw into this mix, as the graphs would look much different – but it would still be higher than the retail price of the Radeon HD 6870 1GB at $ 239. Also, we know the performance of the GTX 460 1GB, and its price has been dropped to $ 199, or $ 209 for partner overclocked boards like ours, which is still higher than the $ 179 AMD is asking for the phenomenal Radeon HD 6850 1GB.
So AMD did what it set out to do – do a real number on the market in this price range and for gaming computers at large. And especially with the Radeon HD 6850, which is the fastest single PCI-E power cable accelerator I've ever seen – they have succeeded. I'm glad that I could take the time out to get some of these numbers together and spend time with the product. It's one helluva a time to be a gamer.