MSI R6850 Cyclone Power Edition Review

Geekspeak411 - 2011-05-06 20:07:54 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: Geekspeak411   
Reviewed on: June 5, 2011
Price: $180

Introduction:

Now that the 6000 has become well saturated within the market, companies have begun churning out various customized revisions of the reference designs. Some variations include factory overclocks, some strap on aftermarket heat sinks, still others go to the lengths of attaching waterblocks, giving their cards an additional thermal envelope to play in. While these enhancements are nice, one of the larger benefits of purchasing these higher tag items is the increased quality of the card itself. After chips are manufactured, they are tested for leakage, stability, and efficiency then sorted by quality and sent to various manufacturing lines. The higher the price for the card you’re buying, the higher the likelihood of a highly binned card which means higher clock speeds using less power and lower temperatures. All of these perks are meant to differentiate each card from the next, attempting to entice enthusiasts’ wallets towards their markups.

With MSI’s R6850 Cyclone Power Edition, the company hopes to woo your heart by offering a Military Class II design which features Solid Ferrite Chokes, Hi-C Caps with Tantalum Cores, and Solid CAPs with 10 year lifespans. Working in tandem, these three features offer extreme stability under overclocked conditions with lower leakage and better efficiency. Next up, MSI mounted on a full 6+1 Phase power system which means the GPU receives optimum power conditions at all times under all circumstances allowing for the highest possible overclocks. Finally, this card comes with a custom Cyclone heat sink which was included in a lot of MSI’s designs in the past and is complete with a hardware speed switch right on the PCB. Reading through the specs, this card screams overclock so I can’t wait to put this impressive white paper to the test!

Closer Look:

Throughout my experience with MSI, I have always been met with products that focus a lot more on the main feature than the package that it comes with. This card seems no different. The box that houses the MSI R6850 Power Edition is larger than most graphics card boxes, but it is very clean and imposing. The Cyclone heatsink is front and center, dominating the cover of the package while "R6850 Cyclone Power Edition" is embossed below in large pearlescent letters and an advertisement for the card’s unique 6.1 Power System prominently displayed. A sticker promoting the card's three year warranty in the upper left corner directly underneath the MSI logo and the right corner rounds out the package with the standard technology logos. MSI did add a rather unique feature for a graphics card package here though. The front cover flips up to reveal an entirely separate information panel as well as a window through which the card can be seen. On this insert, MSI describes each of the technologies listed on the front panel in detail and flouts its Cyclone heat sink’s previous accolades. Flip to the rear panel and MSI states that this card runs on the HD 6000 series GPU, uses the Unified Video Decoder 3 for smoother Blu-Rays, and HDMI 1.4a support in 30 different languages consuming the entire right half of the panel. On the left side, basic features and system requirements are present for the contemplating consumer to consider.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Removing the display box, the theming ends abruptly. This is not the kind of product to post unboxing videos of. Nevertheless, the R6850 is very well secured in a bland white one-size-fits-all styrofoam casing thanks to a filler insert and the antistatic bag enclosing the card itself. A cardboard flap is accessible along the front edge of the package revealing the accessories compartment.

 

 

Most mid-level graphics cards do not have overly excessive accessory bundles and this card is no different. The MSI R6850 Cyclone Power Edition comes with everything needed to run the card right out of the box. MSI ships each card with a DVI to VGA adapter, a Crossfire link, a 6-Pin to dual Molex for buyers with older power supplies, as well as a driver disc that comes preloaded with MSI’s own Afterburner utility which will be used to overclock the card later in the review. This is a more than adequate bundle for the price range.

 

The outer packaging looks great and the accessory bundle does not disappoint. Let’s take a look at the card and its Cyclone cooler up close!

Closer Look:

Removing the MSI R6850 Cyclone Power Edition card from its protective anti static bag, I realized for the first time just how large this Cyclone heat sink really is! Make no mistake, this cooler dominates this card. Around the base are some very sturdy Intel-esque fins while the upper rim is filled by large, standard density fins that are fed by two heat pipes. Without the standard heat shroud, the card looks rather menacingly bare, for lack of a more passable description. Everything feels very sturdy and solid, however, and there is little to no flex found at any point along the card. The underside of the card is pretty standard for a 6850 but of course looks aren’t what we came for. The real draws of this card are in its 860Mhz core overclock, and it’s 4400MHz OC on the GDDR5 with the unlocked voltage adjustment via MSI’s own Afterburner application which should allow the card to clock much higher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MSI made good choices when it came to onboard connectivity. The R6850 has two DVI ports, a standard sized DisplayPort and a HDMI 1.4a port. Since the Cyclone cooler vents back into the case, there was no need for an open shroud on the end of the card so MSI took the initiative to stamp a lovely logo on the empty space near the ports. On the back end of the card you get to see all the junk in the trunk. The cooler towers over the surrounding components with a wrapped fan cable tucked neatly away underneath. Along the edge towards the back, a single 6-Pin PCI-E power port sits all by its lonesome. Moving further forward, a crossfire bridge connection presents itself to allow for some dual or triple GPU action with its 6000 series counterparts.

 

 

 

 

This heat sink should have no issues dissipating the heat that the card will throw at it. I like that the fan is a standard fan rather than a blower style fan that most reference cards use. Generally speaking, these standard style fans are able to move more air at lower decibel readings.

 

 

With such a large factory overclock and the hardware to back it, it should come as no surprise that this card has the potential to create some serious heat. The product I see here though is well refined, there are no rough edges and heat sink’s surface is very smooth. There are no machining marks on the heat sink which is always a good sign but I’ll really be able to see the effectiveness of these design choices later on when we put this card to the test. One feature that stands out from other cards on the market currently is the fan control switch on the card itself. With a performance mode and a silent mode, a user could actively change the fan speed without accessing the software, useful on a test bench.

 

Let’s check out the official specs of this card and then see if they stack up to the OCC Test Bench Suite!

Specifications:

Graphics Engine
AMD Radeon HD 6850
Bus Standard
PCI Express x16 2.1
Memory Type
GDDR5
Memory Size(MB)
1024
Memory Interface
256 bits
Core Clock Speed(MHz)
860
Memory Clock Speed(MHz)
4400
DVI Output
2 (Single-Link DVI-D x1, Dual-Link DVI-I x1)
D-SUB Output
2 (optional, via DVI to D-Sub adaptor)
HDMI-Output
1
DisplayPort
1
HDCP Support
Y
HDMI Support
Y
Dual-link DVI
Y
Display Output (Max Resolution)
2560x1600
RAMDACs
400
DirectX Version Support
11
OpenGL Version Support
4.0
CrossFire Support
Y
Card Dimension(mm)
217 x 120 x 38 mm

 

Features:

 

All information courtesy of MSI @ http://www.msi.com/product/vga/R6850-Cyclone-1GD5-Power-Edition-OC.html#/?div=Feature

Testing:

Testing of the MSI R6850 Cyclone Power Edition OC will mean running the card through the OverclockersClub.com suite of games and synthetic benchmarks. This will test the performance against many popular competitors in order to gauge its performance. The games used are some of today's newest and most popular titles to give you an idea on how the cards perform relative to each other. The system specifications will remain the same throughout the testing. No adjustment will be made to the respective control panels during the testing with the exception of the 3DMark Vantage testing where PhysX is disabled in the NVIDIA control panel when applicable. I will test the card at stock speeds and then overclocked to see how much additional performance is available and to determine if it can run with or faster than the current fastest single GPU cards on the market. Of course, all settings are left at defaults in the control panels of each respective manufacturer except where noted. I really want to see just how fast this card can fly!

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked Settings:

With a card that focuses so heavily on function over form, the write up leading to the testing section can build a lot of tension as to whether this product will be worth anything or simply flop. Allow me to allay any fears, this card does not disappoint. It was not, however, a process without hiccups. I began with the software that MSI included on the driver disc, Afterburner version 2.0.0. As it turns out, this version is not one that supports the new card it was bundled with. I could not make any voltage tweaks until I went online to MSI's website to download the newest version manually. Once I had this little irony sorted out, I began overclocking in earnest by warming up the card with Kombustor running in the background then leaving the voltage at stock settings and moving the GPU Core Clock up by 5MHz allowing it to sit for five min. in between nudges until I lost stability. Once the card crashed, I took the clock back down 5MHz and made sure it would remain stable for 20 minutes, this card maxed out at 990MHz. Next, I repeated the process on the memory, which maxed out at 1200MHz. Now these are not bad numbers by any means, this is already a 100+MHz boost on the core but hey, MSI gave me voltage tweaking power, so I’m going to use voltage tweaking power! Nudging the voltage up until I could get the next 5MHz increment on the GPU Core, I was able to push the MSI R6850 Power Edition to 1005MHz at 1179mV, way above the 860MHz core clock the card comes factory overclocked at.

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

Each card has been tested for its maximum stable clock speeds using MSI's Kombustor utility. So far my testing has shown that higher clock speeds may be stable in games where GPU usage does not reach 100%, but will crash within a few minutes using this utility. The reported clock speeds are those that proved stable over a 15 minute test at 1920 x 1200 8x AA.

 

 

  1. Aliens vs. Predator
  2. Metro 2033
  3. Crysis Warhead
  4. HAWX 2
  5. Just Cause 2
  6. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.5
  7. Mafia II
  8. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
  9. Lost Planet 2
  10. 3DMark 11
  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

 

The card comes in at the bottom of the pack here, but it is also the lowest priced card. Overclocking shows good gains.

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

 

Here again the intense overclock shows additional FPS for the same low price. Performance is right where I’d expect it.

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

 

Do you hear that? That’s the sound of a sub-$200 graphics card ripping through Crysis at good settings and high resolutions!

Testing:

H.A.W.X. 2 is an arcade-style flight game and is the sequel to H.A.W.X.. The Game is published by Ubisoft and was released in late 2010.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

At 60+ fps, this card is flight certified and ready for takeoff.


Testing:

Published by Capcom, Lost Planet 2 is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition and uses the MT Framework 2.0 engine. The storyline takes place on the fictional planet E.D.N. III some 10 years after the events of the first game. This time, the snow cover is gone and has been replaced by a tropical landscape. With this new rendition of the game comes the ability to run it using either DirectX 9 or 11. Along with this ability comes the chance to use that new DX 11 hardware to effect. DX11 features in this game include tessellation, displacement mapping on water, bosses and player characters, soft body compute shaders on “Boss” characters, and wave simulation by way of DirectCompute. This gives you smoke that is lifelike and reacts to inputs, water that looks and reacts how you would expect it to in a "real life" situation, and "Boss" characters rendered with more depth and detail. If the latest graphics quality settings are not enough, NVIDIA has included support behind this game for both 3D Vision and 3D Vision Surround, which gives you 3D effects over multiple screens. There is no better way to see how a game will perform than to test it out. Capcom has made this easy with a downloadable benchmark that we will be using to test out a cross section of today's currently available performance video cards.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Everything looks good here, once again the binning process is giving free benefits to all who apply.

Testing:

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.5 is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on the Unigine engine. This was the first DX 11 benchmark out to allow testing of DX 11 features. 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, DirectX 11 and OpenGL 4.0. Visually, it features beautiful floating islands that contain a tiny village and extremely detailed architecture.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Sitting around $100 cheaper than the other cards here, these numbers are doubly impressive and definitely show the efficiencies of the architecture.

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

 

Good numbers here as well. Budget gamers are you paying attention?

Testing:

Mafia II is a third-person shooter that puts you into the shoes of a poor, Sicilian immigrant, Vito Scarletta. Vito has just returned home from serving overseas in the liberation of fascist Italy — to avoid serving his jail sentence — to find his family in debt. The debt must be repaid by the end of the week, and his childhood friend, Joe Barbaro, conveniently happens to have questionable connections that he assures will help Vito clear the debt by that time. As such, Vito is sucked into a world of quick cash. Released in North America for PC in August of 2010, the game was developed by 2K Czech published by 2K and uses the Illusion 1.3 game engine.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Everything looks good here, the card is performing right up with the 6950 Flex card which retails at $300, moving right along.

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

 

Everything checks out alright here, the maximum overclock consistently runs around the 6950 Flex.

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

 

With the voltage tweak applied, the card gains yet another 200 points towards the rest of the cards. The card is right where it should be.

Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using Crysis Warhead with MSI's Afterburner overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using a resolution of 1920 x 1200 using 8xAA. I will use a 10-run sequence 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.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower = Better

 

This was definitely a pivotal part of the review, a lot of emphasis was put on the cooling ability that is packaged with this card. The card performed wonderfully throughout the stock testing which included the factory overclock. The card was the second coolest card even with the fan set to automatic. When the overclock and voltage tweak was applied, the card rose to the top of the list under full load but keep in mind that we are pumping a good bit of additional voltage into the core, and boosting the core clock a whopping 230MHz and the RAM an additional 200MHz, these are very big numbers. That considered, it is also of note that the load test temperatures were the same in both runs. This means that the heat sink can dissipate the additional heat by simply cranking the fan to 100% which, by the way, is quite a bit quieter than most reference design fans at 100%. The MSI R6850 Cyclone Power Edition OC card definitely passes the test.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower = Better

 

This is obviously one test were the MSI R6850 Cyclone Power Edition has a distinct advantage. At stock OC settings, the card runs a good bit cooler and even when the voltage tweak is applied, the card remains very competitive. Impressive.

Conclusion:

Running with a pack of wolves is a dangerous venture at best. In this case, I’d say that MSI has just about mastered the execution. Sure the package may lack theming and yes, the card might look a little barren but really now, why should I care? It’s not really the presentation that matters with PC internals, it’s the performance. It’s about the magical price-to-performance ratio that really pulls a computer together for the common consumer so with this card MSI is definitely in the right. Pricing such a highly binned card that can clock right up with a 6870 I recently reviewed at a sub-$200 price is a very daring feat. The fact that this card competes even remotely close to the rest of the cards here is impressive because of one simple fact: the rest of the cards run over $100 more than this card, all for a drop of 5-10 fps in most cases. When the game is playable regardless, those extra frames really don’t make a $100 difference.

MSI is very good about hyping their Cyclone series heat sink and based on this review, for good reason. The R6850 Cyclone Power Edition performed admirably in the temperature testing, maintaining homeostasis within its realm with refinement and poise. The card is much quieter than a majority of reference cooling solutions out there making it an ideal pull for gamers and movie watchers alike. Perhaps making the card a quality bid for that dorm room build you’ve been planning forever? After all, the card’s Blu-ray enhanced encoding algorithm was one of the three things that MSI decided necessary to plaster on the rear of the package in 30 different languages, it MUST be pretty good video! Kidding, but seriously, the card has definite potential to be an excellent universal contender, especially with that handy hardware fan switch that can quiet the card down even further for movie enjoyment.

Performance matters, this is a known fact. Although this card may not be at the forefront of the Red vs. Green on an FPS standpoint, it is there on value and it comes in swinging. I feel that this 6850 rendition adds a lot to the AMD stronghold and really fills out the body of their market quite nicely. I have quite a few friends who enjoy PC gaming so much that it consumes their life, so much in fact that they find it difficult to amass the income to upgrade their beloved machine on a reasonable basis and are stuck at the lowest settings possible when a game even runs. That seems like an awful shame treating the die-hards so roughly. Releasing all these new parts that tech savvy enthusiasts such as you, our OCC readers can salivate over, along with prices reminiscent of expanded pay checks we would likewise salivate over. MSI has hit a balance. Offering an already good card at a reasonable price to those that want it, as well as an insane value for those brave hearts that know and want that extra performance offered by the impressive overclocks offered here. If that’s not good enough then make a compromise. Buy two, call it $360, plop the cards into a beautiful Crossfire link and go to town with everything turned all the way up and frames to spare. MSI has brought this beast to the table. It’s time for an upgrade.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: