It is time for the next round of the war between graphics chip makers AMD (Radeon) and Nvidia (GeForce). AMD fired first, with their "Barts Pro" and "Barts XT" GPU chips, codenames for the AMD Radeon HD 6850 and AMD Radeon HD 6870 respectively. With this series, the ATI brand name has been discarded, DirectX 11 (also Direct Compute and Tessellation) performance has been improved, and support for DisplayPort 1.2 and HDMI 1.4a and stereoscopic 3D has been added.
Most interestingly, graphics card series have been re-numbered according to their "performance-per-Watt" rating. So unlike the usual pattern, the Radeon 6850 is not all that faster than the Radeon 5850. In fact, we found it a bit slower in many cases but then it consumes less power and is priced lower too. The initial specifications leak on the Internet about this card, sparked speculation that it would occupy the slot that the ATI Radeon HD 5750 held in the previous generation, which would have meant a huge boost in performance. As it turned out, what was speculated to be the Radeon 6700 series has become the 6800 series; while the speculated Radeon 6800 series will become the 6900 series instead.
Asus EAH 6850 DirectCU: Specifications
So here we are and the table below shows how the specs of the stock Radeon 6850/6870 differs from the Radeon 5850 and 5770 cards.
The 6850 at first glance, does not feel like a 5850 replacement.
This card from Asus has 1GB of GDDR5 video memory clocked at 1000 MHz and a GPU core clocked at 790 MHz. It has a 256-bit memory interface and 960 unified shaders that support DirectX 11.
Being a replacement of the Radeon 5850, the Radeon 6850 will pretty much maintain the same levels of performance for the mainstream graphics card segment. As you can see from the GPU-Z screenshot below, the Asus EAH 6850 DirectCU graphics card goes beyond the reference specs. It could be further overclocked as well, using the Catalyst drivers and the Asus SmartDoctor and GamerOSD software provided.
To be precise, the Asus card's core clock speed is 15 MHz faster.
Asus EAH 6850 DirectCU: Design
Asus has used a different cooler for the Radeon 6850. Being a "DirectCU" edition and all, there is more metal in contact with the GPU and memory chips, all for the sake of keeping it cool. The fan is quite good in keeping the card at a manageable temperature and did not get too noisy at all. Though it has a dual-slot cooler, the card still felt quite thin and unassuming. The Radeon 5850 in contrast, looked the part of a fully veiled monster.
The Asus EAH 6850 DirectCU looks unassuming and friendly.
View from the top. Notice the presence of just a single 6-pin PCI-E power input slot.
Keep in mind that the open cooler design means atleast a bit of heat will be left in the PC cabinet and that you must use a fairy decent cabinet in any case for such a card. The cooling and the GPU, all taken together, only ask for a single PCI-E 6-pin power input. Compared to two such inputs needed for the Radeon 5850 card, this we think is a pretty good improvement and allows for even PSUs rated slightly lower (400W) to run this card just fine.
Display outputs at the rear consisted of the standard formula - one port each of HDMI and DisplayPort, and two DVI ports.
The space left as a heat vent/grill seemed sufficient for this card.
Asus EAH 6850 DirectCU: Package Contents
The Asus EAH 6850 DirectCU graphics card's package contents included a CrossFire connector, one DVI-to-VGA port adapter, one 6-pin PCI-E power input connector connecting to two 4-pin molex connectors, a speed setup guide, two CDs with drivers and Asus GamerOSD and SmartDoctor software, and one Asus 16-CD carry case.
Asus EAH 6850 DirectCU: Performance
Tested in the PCWorld.in Labs
To prevent bottle-necks as much as possible, the test-bed consisted of an Intel Core i7 965 processor, Intel DX58SO motherboard, Intel X25-M 80GB SSD, 3GB of Kingston DDR3-2000MHz HyperX RAM, Tagan BZ-1300W PSU and Windows 7 Ultimate. We used the latest driver for the Radeon 6850 available at the time of testing - AMD Catalyst 10.10.
The graphs here show only performance numbers as seen at the default speeds set by Asus, and selected from a wider set of tests conducted. To put the results in context and help you compare, we juxtapose its benchmark scores with two other mainstream graphics cards. These are the Zotac GeForce GTX460 from the opposing Nvidia camp, and the previous generation card, AMD Radeon 5850 itself.
See also: MSI GeForce N460GTX Hawk review
Below is a graph of how the Asus EAH 6850 DirectCU card fared in synthetic benchmarks:
Below is a graph of gaming performance seen in higher-end usage patterns.
Among the mid-range cards chosen for comparison, the non-reference design Asus 6850 clearly had an edge in idle temperatures seen, as compared to the two other cards which were almost totally reference designed cards.
NEXT: our expert verdict >>