ASUS EAH6870 DirectCU Review

RHKCommander959 - 2010-12-19 22:17:08 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: RHKCommander959   
Reviewed on: January 17, 2011
Price: $ 239

Introduction:

AMD has been expanding their 6000 series offerings with a growing list of high and midrange cards, the same can be said for their partners. ASUS has released several versions of the 6870 with a new high performance model dubbed DirectCU. This is a custom direct-contact heat pipe cooler for better heat dissipation combined with ASUS Super Alloy Power components that provide a 15% performance increase and longer life/cooler operation. The components include MOS, chokes, capacitors, and a hybrid engine. The fan design is dust- and particle-proof thus expanding its lifespan by a claimed 25%. This card design also comes equipped with GPU Guard, a full length backplate that stiffens and protects the video card from awkward pressures caused by the cooling system and sagging caused by installation, and also increases damage resistance to drops and shocks. Another safeguard are thermal fuses designed to protect the card from damage if the temperatures get out of hand. GPU core voltage is also adjustable which should allow end users to achieve a solid overclock. With all of these features, it is no surprise that this 6870 is already factory overclocked as well!

 

Closer Look:

The front of the box is definitely AMD colored. A knight with golden wings riding a horse in front of a castle adorns the imagery along with lightning and red clouds. Along with Voltage Tweak as an option for changing the GPU voltage through ASUS SmartDoctor, four more features show up underneath: 915 MHz core overclock, 1GB GDDR5, Full Microsoft DirectX 11 support, and Eyefinity Multi-Display technology. The back of the box lists several of the features in many languages, with four images underneath highlighting some of the important information. DirectCU is shown with the heat sink installed and a shot of it off the card with the heat pipe base. Super Alloy Power is also explained as to how it works and where it applies: MOS, chokes and capacitors all use the SAP fine metal designs. The card is able to overclock higher with voltage modification being readily supported through the ASUS SmartDoctor software. Two DVI ports and two DisplayPorts allow this card to be hooked up to a multitude of display devices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The top of the box carries the cloud/lightning from the front, the design is the same as most other boxes as the top slips inside with a flap to keep it shut. The main features are boldly listed so there is no missing that this box contains a 6870 with 1GB of GDDR5. The side has a list of recommended system requirements, which sounds a bit counter-intuitive. The requirements are translated into several languages to help the package sell globally, placed nearby is the barcode label that has the serial/part numbers and UPC.

 

 

Since the text can be hard to read, a closer view of the recommended system requirements is added. The other side is very similar to the top with things just moved around mostly. With the outside of the box examined it is time to open it up.

 

 

The contents are encased inside a folding black cardboard box with the ASUS logo stamped in the center. Opening it shows a small folded cardboard flap sitting next to a piece of foam, the two work together to protect the graphics card underneath that sits surrounded by a form-fitting foam shell. A standard antistatic bag is the last line of defense for the card.

 

 

 

Time to get a look at the card!

Closer Look:

The ASUS EAH6870 DirectCU has a direct contact copper triple-heat pipe base. In case you were wondering, the CU in DirectCU is the elemental symbol for copper. A backplate provides rigidity and has heat fins and although the memory is not actively cooled on either side, this may be a simple fix for interested users with thermal tape or something similar. The 6870s only have a single crossfire slot so only two can be used at a time by default. Connectivity is through two DVI ports and two DisplayPorts. The GPU core is fabricated on the 40nm node at TMSC, with the 1GB of GDDR5 connected through a 256bit memory bus. The core is overclocked to 915 MHz while the memory is clocked at the stock speed of 1050 MHz.

The fan shroud hangs off around an inch from the end of the PCB, with the design exhausting the heated air back into the case. There is a grill on the expansion plate that can help some heat exhaust if the case it is installed in utilizes a positive pressure effect. The card is mostly black and metallic grey with some nice red lines on the shroud and the ASUS logo to accent the card. Between the large heat sink and backplate, this card has virtually no give to it and should provide a great base for the heat sinks to mount evenly to the PCB components. The backplate can get in the way of certain PCI Express slot locking mechanisms. A simple enough fix can be had by removing the latch although it can pose an inconvenience. The ASUS Sabertooth motherboard has the conflicting latch style although as long as the motherboard tray is sturdy and perfectly aligned, the latch can be left in place and still work, albeit barely. Out of the box, the ports/slots are protected by blue plastic covers to keep them clean and free of oxidation, always a welcome feature on any graphics card although that has never been a problem for me personally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 6870 requires two 6-pin PCI Express power connections and an open x16 length PCI Express slot for installation. The heat sink and shroud are offset with the actual graphics card giving it an interesting look while also increasing the length, it should fit any standard case unless something is nearby such as a hard drive or drive rack.

 

 

The card has two DVI ports, one is a digital port (top) while the other is integrated (bottom) for digital and analog output such as VGA conversion. Two DisplayPorts are added with a screw holding each one firmly in place as to avoid breaking them loose from the PCB during use. The back of the graphics card shows some capacitors and exhaust ventilation, along with the 4-wire PWM fan.

 

 

The 6870s and 6850s are technically midrange for the 6-series AMD offerings even though they pack a good punch. So, they are equipped with only a single Crossfire slot meaning only two can be used together. Two 6-pin PCI Express power connectors are needed to power this card.

 

 

The heat sink uses three copper heat pipes to disperse heat into the cooling fins, the base uses direct contact to dissipate the heat immediately from the core although the GPU die is exposed so only the immediate contact patch receives the heat from the GPU. This is most likely the best means of heat transfer as a integrated heat shield (IHS) is actually another thermal barrier designed to protect the core more than disperse heat. The GPU core is protected by a shim, this helps keep the corners of the die from getting cracked when the heat sink is being installed, the core is rather large for a supposed midrange offering. The Super Alloy Power MOS chips are cooled by a small aluminum heat sink that screws into the back plate. Using this system, the pressure is evenly dispersed when compared to PCBs that do not have any sort of backing plate where the chips in the middle might not make contact with the heat sink. All eight Hynix memory modules are on the GPU side.

 

 

The backplate uses spacers and ten screws to sandwich the graphics card between itself and the heat sink. The four standard screws hold the heat sink while six others mount the PCB to the back plate. A thermal pad covers the GPU core's backside area to help lower temperatures introduced into the PCB. The plate has fins on it to help dissipate heat that it may absorb. The rest of the plate is covered in plastic to keep from grounding to the PCB. The back of the card is void of any main components, mostly electronics for the core/memory and solder joints.

 

 

The die size is approximately 255 mm². Far smaller than the midrange GTX 460 from NVIDIA that is estimated to be somewhere around 370 mm². The i7 CPU has a core size of 263 mm² to put it into a CPU perspective! The GTX 480/470/465 all have a die size of 529 mm² as the GTX 470 and GTX 465 use the same core as the GTX 480 with parts disabled. This is nearly twice as large as the 'Barts' Radeon HD 6800 core. Both AMD and NVIDIA have their cores produced at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) on the 40nm fabrication process. The 6870 was intended to be an efficient 5850, improvements stem from the redesign that lowers Stream processors while improving tessellation and DirectX11 performance. The Hynix GDDR5 memory ICs have part number H5GQ1H24AFR-T2C, meaning that they are rated for 1.25 GHz at 1.5 V. The memory doesn't need direct cooling as it operates efficiently enough to not overheat.

 

Time for the specifications and features!

Specifications:

Graphics Engine
AMD Radeon HD 6870
Bus Standard
PCI Express 2.1
Video Memory
GDDR5 1GB
Engine Clock
915 MHz
Memory Clock
4200 MHz ( 1050 MHz GDDR5 )
RAMDAC
400 MHz
Memory Interface
256-bit
Resolution
D-Sub Max Resolution : 2048x1536
DVI Max Resolution : 2560x1600
Interface
D-Sub Output : Yes x 1 (via DVI to D-Sub adaptor x 1)
DVI Output : Yes x 1 (DVI-I),Yes x 1 (DVI-D)
HDMI Output : Yes x 1 (via DVI to HDMI adaptor x 1 )
Display Port : Yes x 2 (Regular DP)
HDCP Support : Yes
Accessories
1 x CrossFire cable
1 x Power cable
1 x DVI to D-Sub adaptor
1 x DVI to HDMI adaptor
Software
ASUS Utilities & Driver
ASUS Features
DirectCU Series
Dimensions
11" x 5" Inch
Bundled Accessories
Crossfire Interconnect Cable x 1
DVI to VGA Adapter x 1
HDMI to DVI adapter x 1
6 PIN to 4 PIN Power Cable x 1

 

Features:

ASUS Exclusive Innovation

Graphics GPU Features

All Information courtesy of ASUS @ http://usa.asus.com/product.aspx?P_ID=ZOYt9pirNbbMbPOx&templete=2

Testing:

The testing consists of running Aliens vs. Predator, Metro 2033, Crysis Warhead, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Just Cause 2, Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.1, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, 3DMark 11 Professional, 3DMark Vantage, and temperature/power consumption testing. Three common resolutions are used for all of the tests with 4AA and 16AF in most of them, 3DMark Vantage has four resolutions. After a run through all of the tests, the card is overclocked to roughly its maximum stable capabilities and then tested again. Settings stay the same for each card tested so the results can be compared. All testing is done on similar hardware running 64-bit Windows 7. The charts are all organized in terms of best to worst performance.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

The ASUS EAH6870 DirectCU overclocked to 1 GHz right away and topped out at 1010 MHz.. Voltage control didn't work so this was all on stock voltage. ASUS SmartDoctor software would default the voltage back to stock and none of the other software out there seems to support voltage modification yet either. Memory may have had more room, it was getting hard to tell at 1180 MHz. ATI Overdrive limited the card to 1 GHz and both SmartDoctor and MSI Afterburner were capped there as well except for an option to have the limit lifted for Afterburner allowing for the extra 10 MHz! To test for stability, I initially run MSI Kombuster until it is stable and then try the speeds out in games to see how it responds. If it isn't stable then I lower the speed until it can make it through testing. It would be interesting to see how well this card does with working voltage adjustments.

 

   

 

  1. Aliens vs. Predator
  2. Metro 2033
  3. Crysis Warhead
  4. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  5. Just Cause 2
  6. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.1
  7. Batman: Arkham Asylum
  8. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
  9. 3DMark 11 Professional
  10. 3DMark Vantage
  1. Temperature
  2. Power Consumption

Aliens vs. Predator, developed by Rebellion Developments, is a science fiction first-person shooter and is a remake of its 1999 game. The game is based off the two popular sci-fi franchises. In this game, you have the option of playing through the single player campaigns as one of three species, the Alien, the Predator, and the Human Colonial Marine. The Game uses Rebellion's Asura game engine that supports Dynamic Lighting, Shader Model 3.0, Soft Particle systems, and physics. To test this game I will be using the Aliens vs. Predator benchmark tool with the settings listed below. All DirectX 11 features are enabled.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

AVP hit the mid-range and older cards hard, although the overclocked ASUS 6870 was as fast as the stock speed GTX 470 and 5850.

Testing:

Part first-person shooter, part survival horror, Metro 2033 is based on the novel of the same name, written by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. You play as Artyom in a post-apocalyptic Moscow, where you'll spend most of your time traversing the metro system, with occasional trips to the surface. Despite the dark atmosphere and bleak future for mankind, the visuals are anything but bleak. Powered by the 4A Engine, with support for DirectX 11, NVIDIA PhysX and NVIDIA 3D Vision, the tunnels are extremely varied — in your travels, you'll come across human outposts, bandit settlements, and even half-eaten corpses. Ensuring you feel all the tension, there is no map and no health meter. Get lost without enough gas mask filters and adrenaline shots and you may soon wind up as one of those half-eaten corpses — chewed up by some horrifying manner of irradiated beast that hides in the shadows just waiting for some hapless soul to wander by.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

Metro 2033 is another grueling test with the settings as high as they are. Overclocked, the 6870 nearly catches up to the stock scores of the GTX 480 on the lower resolutions.

Testing:

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the story line of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the island. Along the way there are EMP blasts and aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the CryEngine 2.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

Overclocking helps a bit in Crysis Warhead with the lower resolutions being playable. The ASUS pulls ahead a bit when comparing its overclocked speed to the stock charts.

Testing:

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is an iteration of the venerable first person shooter series, Call of Duty. Despite its long, successful pedigree, the game is not without substantial criticism and controversy, especially on the PC. Aside from the extremely short campaign and lack of innovation, the PC version's reception was also marred by its lack of support for user-run dedicated servers, which means no user-created maps, no mods, and no customized game modes. You're also limited to 18-player matches instead of the 64-player matches that were possible in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Despite all this, the game has been well received and the in-house IW 4.0 engine renders the maps in gorgeous detail, making it a perfect candidate for OCC benchmarking. You start off the single player missions playing as Private Allen and jump right into a serious firefight. This is the point where testing will begin. Testing will be done using actual game play with FPS measured by Fraps.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

Performance was great through all the resolutions in COD MW2, the 6870s staying in the middle of the charts.

Testing:

Just Cause 2 is a third-person shooter that takes place on the fictional island of Panau in Southeast Asia. In this sequel to 2006's Just Cause, you return as Agent Rico Rodriguez to overthrow an evil dictator and confront your former boss. When you don't feel like following the main story line, you're free to roam the island, pulling off crazy stunts and causing massive destruction in your wake, all beautifully rendered by the Avalanche Engine 2.0. In the end, that's what the game basically boils down to — crazy stunts and blowing things up. In fact, blowing things up and wreaking havoc is actually necessary to unlock new missions and items.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

Just Cause 2 is very playable at low resolutions and hardly at all at high. Overclocking showed the best response at the lower resolutions as well.

Testing:

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.0 is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on the Unigine engine. What sets the Heaven Benchmark apart is the addition of hardware tessellation, available in three modes — Moderate, Normal and Extreme. Although tessellation requires a video card with DirectX 11 support and Windows Vista/7, the Heaven Benchmark also supports DirectX 9, DirectX 10 and OpenGL. Visually, it features beautiful floating islands that contain a tiny village and extremely detailed architecture.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

The 5800s and 6870s operate within a couple frames of each other, not bad for last generation's high-end versus this generation's midrange.

Testing:

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a new game that brings together two bitter rivals, the Joker and Batman. The Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. Your task is to rein the Joker back in and restore order. This game makes use of PhysX technology to create a rich environment for you to become the Dark Knight.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

Batman is fully playable throughout all of the resolutions. Being NVIDIA favored, this game shows the ASUS ENGTX465 pulling ahead of the 6870.

Testing:

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is a first-person shooter developed by EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE) and published by Electronic Arts for Windows, PS3 and XBox. This game is part of the Battlefield franchise and uses the Frostbite 1.5 Engine, allowing for destructible environments. You can play the single player campaign or multiplayer with five different game modes. Released in March 2010, it has so far sold in excess of six million copies.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

The 6950 from XFX displayed odd results in the first two resolutions, being beaten out by the 6870s. Performance was strong here again.

Testing:

3DMark 11 is the next installment for Futuremark in the 3DMark series with Vantage as its predecessor. The name implies that this benchmark is for Microsoft DirectX 11 and with an unintended coincidence, the name matches the upcoming date in number (which was the naming scheme to some prior versions of 3DMark nonetheless). 3DMark 11 is designed solely for DirectX 11 so Windows Vista or 7 are required along with a DirectX 11 graphics card in order to run this test. The Basic Edition has unlimited free tests on performance mode whereas Vantage only allowed for a single test run. The advanced edition costs $19.95 and unlocks nearly all of the features of the benchmark and the professional edition runs $995.00 and is mainly suited for corporate use. The new benchmark contains six tests, four of which are aimed only at graphical testing, one to test for physics handling and one to combine graphics and physics testing together. The open source Bullet Physics library is used for physics simulations and although not as mainstream as Havok or PhysX, it still seems to be a popular choice.

With the new benchmark comes two new demos that can be watched, both based on the tests but unlike the tests, these contain basic audio. The first demo is titled "Deep Sea" and have a few vessels exploring what looks to be a sunken U-Boat. The second demo is titled "High Temple" and is similar to South American tribal ruins with statues and the occasional vehicle around. The demos are simple in that they have no story, they are really just a demonstration of what the testing will be like. The vehicles have the logos of the sponsors MSI and Antec on their sides with the sponsorships helping to make the basic edition free. The four graphics tests are slight variants of the demos. I will use the three benchmark test preset levels to test the performance of each card. The presets are used as they are comparable to what can be run with the free version so that results can be compared across more than just a custom set of test parameters.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

3DMark 11 is a new benchmark to OCC, I was amazed to see the 6870s do so well, sitting as they do between the 5870 and 5850.

Testing:

Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista-based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. "Entry" is 1024 x 768 progressing to "Extreme" at 1920 x 1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

As the resolution/quality increases so does the spread, the 6870s do well but the 5850 from Sapphire manages to pull ahead in the overclocked portions.

Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using MSI Kombuster, which is paired with MSI's Afterburner overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using the stability test set to a resolution of 1920 x 1200 using 8xAA. I will use a 15 minute time frame to run the test, ensuring that the maximum thermal threshold is reached. The fan speed will be left in the control of the driver package and video card's BIOS for the stock load test, with the fan moved to 100% to see the best possible cooling scenario for the overclocked load test. The idle test will be a 20 minute cool down with the fan speeds left on automatic in the stock speed testing and bumped up to 100% when running the overclocked idle and load testing. For load testing the GTX 580 and GTX 570, I will use Crysis Warhead run at 2560 x 1600 using the Gamer setting with 8xAA looping the Avalanche benchmark scenario, as I have found this to put a load close to that of Kombuster on a video card. This is needed as a way around the current limiting ability of the GTX 500 series when it detects programs that put an unrealistic load on the GPU, which Kombuster does.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

Lower = Better

 

The ASUS EAH6870 HD DirectCU copper heat sink provided some of the best results for the whole grouping! At idle stock it bested the next in line from AMD by five degrees, at load stock the cards come closer together but the ASUS still wins. Overclocked idle moved the ASUS back but loaded, it took second. Altogether a great showing and since the card uses a fan rather than a blower motor, the sounds weren't nearly as loud as cards that do use blowers. Still, it was the loudest device in the computer at full speed. 60°C was the top temperature the ASUS reached at stock load, during much of the testing the temperatures fluctuated as low as 58°C.

Testing:

Power Consumption of the system will be measured in both idle states and loaded states and will take into account the peak voltage of the system with each video card installed. I will use MSI Kombuster to load the GPU for a 15 minute test and use the peak load of the system as my result for the maximum load. The idle results will be measured after 15 minutes of inactivity on the system. For load testing the GTX 500 series, I will once again use Crysis Warhead run at 2560 x 1600 using the Gamer setting with 8xAA looping the Avalanche benchmark scenario.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

Lower = Better

 

Idle power consumption has been sought after by both sides as most are near 200 Watts give or take, save for the high end cards and oddball Sapphire 5850. Load overclocked with stock voltage, the ASUS 6870 DirectCU fit in with the pack just fine.

Conclusion:

Overall, the ASUS EAH5870 DirectCU performed terrifically. Using a fan rather than a blower motor saved a bit of noise pollution while still providing good cooling performance. The triple large heat pipe direct contact base also helped with effective heat transfer and the backplate made sure of evenly distributed pressures. Protective covers on the slots and ports was a nice touch and shows that care was put into the making of the card. The packaging was definitely enough to ensure it was safely transported. 1GB of GDDR5 memory is now the norm and it all overclocks pretty similarly. The memory runs cool enough that most manufacturers don't bother to cool the ICs. The 6870s aren't as fast as the prior generation 5870s because of design changes that cut out around 400 million transistors. But, upping the amount of stream processors and changing some key design elements to compensate for the overall decrease in transistor count does help. The overall design is quite a bit smaller and as thus cheaper to make for AMD. And, as testing shows, it was almost as good.

There were only two cons that I found overall. The backplate is flush with the PCB on the sides and as such doesn't allow some PCI Express slot latching mechanisms to engage fully and that causes the card to not sit properly in the slot. Secondly, the ability to change the voltage is there but currently does not work and is advertised as a feature. Hopefully soon, such voltage adjustments will be allowed. The latching problem is easily fixed by pulling the latch out if it does conflict, but that does require a minor amount of DIY spirit as I successfully removed a latch in a few seconds without doing any damage to the ASUS Sabertooth X58.

Boasting the highest overclocked core speed in the charts while not sounding like a jumbo jet/Hoover vacuum crossbreed is a great combination! Along with all of the additions that ASUS made, this is a strong choice for anyone looking at getting a 6870. The cooling performance was surprising as I figured it would do decent but didn't think it would fight its way to the top. Stellar performance but hopefully not at a stellar cost. That would make this card a complete winner!

 

Pros:

Cons: