While the HD 6850 1GB sits between the HD 5850 1GB and HD 5770 1GB in much the same way as the HD 5830 1GB did, its performance seems to err more towards that of the HD 5850 1GB rather than sitting directly in the middle of its 5-series brethren. In Dirt 2 performance was definitely more towards that of an HD 5850 1GB, with a minimum frame rate of 51fps at 1,680 x 1,050 with 4x AA – just 1fps behind that of the HD 5850 1GB. However, Dirt 2 is a game that tends to favour Nvidia hardware, especially when anti-aliasing is enabled and a cut-price GTX 460 768MB outperformed the HD 6850 1GB at every setting, as does the GTX 460 1GB by a more significant margin.
Arma II: Operation Arrowhead is a new arrival to our benchmarks and, as a mid-range card, we never expected the HD 6850 1GB to deliver playable performance considering we test this very demanding game at its highest settings. Nevertheless, the HD 6850 1GB’s performance was again more towards the HD 5850 1GB than the HD 5770 1GB, managing a minimum frame rate of 16fps and an average frame rate of 31fps at 1,680 x 1,050 with 4xAA. However, while the HD 6850 1GB manages to surpass the GTX 460 768MB in Arma II, the GTX 460 1GB is a tougher competitor and the two cards duke it out across the resolutions with no clear overall winner.
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Just Cause 2’s tropical islands and beautiful day night cycle make for some great visuals and the HD 6850 1GB coped very well, performing very closely to the HD 5850 1GB and convincingly bettering the GTX 460 1GB regardless of anti-aliasing or resolution. At 1,920 x 1,200 with 4xAA the 6580 1GB delivered a minimum frame rate of 25fps, 5fps higher than the GTX 460 1GB and the difference between chugging and playable visuals.
The performance dogfight between the HD 6850 and GTX 460 1GB continued in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and there was still very little to differentiate the two cards when it came to performance. As we’ve seen in the past with competing ATI and Nvidia cards in the game, the HD 6850 1GB has the edge when anti-aliasing is disabled, whereas the GTX 460 1GB is the quicker card when anti-aliasing is enabled.
Even then, there’s very little to choose between the two cards, with the HD 6850 1GB managing a minimum and average frame rate of 25fps and 36fps respectively at 1,920 x 1,200, compared to the 27/35fps of the GTX 460 1GB. It’s clear that there’s very little to choose between these two cards, although the GTX 460 768MB was predictably left trailing.
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Power Consumption and Thermal Performance
As the lesser of ATI’s latest cards, the HD 6850 1GB’s power consumption is suitably diminutive. At 229W at peak and 131W at idle it’s a good 10W more frugal than the HD 5850 1GB under load, and a whole 40W less demanding than the GTX 460 1GB.
Despite the lower power consumption though, ATI has obviously made the decision to run the HD 6850 1GB hotter rather than noisier. An idle delta T temperature of 20°C and a peak load delta T of 50°C make this the hottest ATI card under load for some time. However, as the HD 6850 is likely to get the custom cooler treatment from the vast majority of board partners, we’re doubtful of the availability of stock cooled cards in great numbers.