Like the Sith, graphics cards tend to come in twos with a more a mighty card and a lesser, cheaper alternative – the HD 6850 is the Darth Maul to Palpatine’s HD 6870. While the HD 6860 is slated to drop into shops at £150, a hefty £50 less than the HD 6870 yet it’s based on the same fundamental architecture. However, the seemingly minor changes are actually quite significant – the HD 6850 drops two SIMD engines, or 160 stream processors, and 125MHz of frequency. The cheaper HD 6850 still retains a 256-bit memory interface, 32 ROPs and 1GB of GDDR5 memory even if those chips do run at 4GHz rather than 4.2GHz.
With the price cuts and specification reductions, the HD 6850 squares up against an Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 1GB, and if you just want to find out how the card fares, you can skip to our Performance Analysis. We’d advise this if you’ve already read our HD 6870 article from start to finish, as we’re only going to go over information that you already know. You can thank us for this kind consideration in the forums!
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A New Naming Scheme
Unlike previous launches, the HD 6000-series opens with the mid-range Barts Pro and Barts XT GPU pairing, despite the historically high-end name. While the HD 5800 was a high-end GPU, and HD 5900 denoted a dual-GPU card, the HD 6850 1GB and HD 6870 1GB are pitched at around £150 and £200 respectively. There will be a HD 6900 card in a month’s time, based around a faster GPU, with a dual-GPU HD 6900 also planned.
Hopefully you’ve stayed with us, and not headed straight off to the forums to flame ATI’s marketing team – we say this because the new naming scheme does make sense, once you accept the situation that ATI was in. The crux of the problem was that TSMC, ATI’s fabrication partner, couldn’t deliver the 32nm manufacturing process that ATI had been betting on. As the smaller process would have allowed ATI to decrease the cost per GPU die (while also potentially allowing higher clock speeds and lower power consumption), it couldn’t deliver a Barts GPU at the £100 to £130 price point it would have wanted.
Rather than leave this hotly contested and highly profitable section of the market barren of ATI choice, ATI has chosen to continue making and selling the Radeon HD 5700. However, ATI won’t rename this range as the HD 6700 series – we suspect that some of the stories on the internet about this proposed move were leaked by ATI and used to judge whether such a re-branding move would be received badly or not.
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Whatever the reason, ATI was in the position that it didn’t have a new GPU that would hit the £100-150 sweet spot and would have to continue selling a part called a Radeon HD 5700. Calling the new GPUs the HD 6700 series would have killed HD 5700 sales, so Barts therefore had to be called a HD 6800 GPU – it was the most logically choice and we think the best option given the awkward situation.
This could mean that we'll see some surprises in the HD 6900 range – will the single-GPU parts be called HD 6930 and HD 6950 with the dual-GPU card a HD 6990? ATI has said previously that it worried that the difference in name between a single-GPU HD 3870 and a dual-GPU HD 3890 wasn’t enough to justify the large price difference, the amount of hardware you were buying or the vast potential performance on offer. We have no indication as to how the HD 6900 will be branded – this is just conjecture.
We’re as interested as ATI is in what your thoughts are on the matter of the naming change – head over to the forums, unless you want to get into the HD 6800-series specifications first.