PowerColor 6850 PCS+ Review
Reviewed by: Geekspeak411
Reviewed on: November 23, 2010
One thing's for sure, AMD is really pushing hard at the mid-range segment right now to eke all it can out of the current recession. When that means better performance for cheaper prices, I'm not complaining! Instead of pushing the 6000 series forward with brute force, AMD is instead focusing this series on efficiency. Its current flagship, the 6870, has some specs that would give the impression of lesser performance when compared to the 5870. However, with AMD's chip advances, the 6000 series handily beats out is older counterparts with much more efficient hardware and processes. In fact, AMD is claiming over 35% more performance per square millimeter over its previous generation of cards. On top of that, AMD is reportedly using 25% less silicon than the 5850. This means more performance requiring less power and generating less heat. Along with the new process technology, AMD is bundling this new generational step with up to 2x faster tessellation and geometry throughput and multiple other features to keep its cards ahead of the game.
With the HD 6850 PCS+, Powercolor is upping its offering beyond just reference designs as per the usual. This time, a much beefier cooling system has been slapped on and fairly substantial overclocks have been applied right out of the box. I am quite excited to see just how well this card stacks up against the slew of other cards saturating the market at this time.
The PCS+ edition's packaging follows a sleek racing theme. Powercolor boasts its slogan "Unleash the gaming power" right underneath its logo in the top left of the box. The packaging boasts the card's tri-display Eyefinity support, as well as its full gigabyte of GDDR5 RAM and its four display connections. The included Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 game gets its own sticker as well. Flipping over to the back, there is a huge laundry list of features, such as Direct X 11 support, CrossfireX compatibility, and Stereo 3D support.
Opening the box, a plain brown box pulls out that opens right up to the business. The card sits right on top in a protective antistatic bag. The sparse accessory bundle sits right underneath the card tray.
The accessory bundle includes an unlabeled driver disc, a quick start guide, a DVI to VGA adapter, a crossfire bridge, and the Modern Warfare 2 pamphlet containing the Steam download key.
Everything is pretty standard so far, so let's take a look at the card itself.
The Powercolor HD 6850 PCS+ is covered in a very sleek looking heatsink that has three copper heatpipes and a large 90mm fan that should be able to move a lot of air at fairly low volumes. The heatsink's base is pure copper, which helps it achieve up to 15% lower temperatures than the reference design. The huge draw here is the large factory overclock that pushes clock speeds to rival some higher end cards. With 820MHz on the core, and 1100MHz on the RAM, you can expect some pretty nice numbers from this card. Being a PCS+ card has its advantages as well — with this series, Powercolor is extending its standard warranty to three years from the standard two and promises up to a 50% faster turn around time to boot!
With this PCS+ edition card, connectivity options are fairly extensive. The card boasts both a Single Link DVI port and a Double Link DVI port, an HDMI port supporting all standards up to 1.4a, and a Display Port adapter. These ports allow for a full tri-monitor Eyefinity setup with a single card and come fully protected in the packaging with plastic covers. The vent on the back is a standard grid and doesn't seem like it will allow too much air to vent out of the case, but all the vents in the shroud itself should negate this shortcoming as long as you have a well ventilated case. On the rear of the card, there is a single 6-pin PCI-E plug for the card's additional power requirements and a single CrossFire bridge is found along the top of the card.
The PCS+ cooling system takes a fairly large leap from the stock cooling solution using three pure core copper heatpipes to dissipate heat throughout a large aluminum array. The pure copper base and high quality thermal compound should be quite effective in tranferring heat away from the GPU core. Powercolor also put on a larger 90mm fan to allow for increased airflow over the fin array. The top of the shroud is heavily perforated with tons of vent holes to allow for heat to dissipate freely, however the GPU core is the only component covered by the system. This is a very impressive cooling system for a midrange card.
The 6850 PCS+ is built around the standard 40nm process and specs out with 960 Stream Processors, 48 texture units, 32 Color/ROP Units, and boasts a full gigabyte of GDDR5 memory running through a 256-bit bus. Pretty standard so far, but the PCS+ edition pulls away from the competition with its clock speeds. Where the reference 6850 design calls for a 775MHz GPU clock and 1000MHz on the memory, the PCS+ edition goes all the way to 820MHz on the GPU and 1100MHz on the memory. Those factory overclocks should bode well for the benchmarks, as well as for further overclocking potential.
Okay, moving on to the specs!
PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+
Core Clock Speed
DP, HDMI, Dual DVI
Custom PCS+ Heat-Pipe
- DirectX 11 support
- Shader Model 5.0
- DirectCompute 11
- Programmable hardware tesselation unit
- Accelerated multi-threading
- HDR texture compression
- Order-independent transparency
- OpenGL 4.1 support
- Image quality enhancement technology
- Up to 24x multi-sample and super-sample anti-aliasing modes
- Adaptive anti-aliasing
- Morphological anti-aliasing (MLAA)
- 16x angle independent anisotropic texture filtering
- 128-bit floating point HDR rendering
AMD Eyefinity Multi-Display Technology (1)
- Independent resolutions, refresh rates, color controls, and video overlays
- Display grouping
- Combine multiple displays to behave like a single large display
AMD EyeSpeed Visual Acceleration (2)
- AMD Accelerated Parallel Processing (APP) technology (3,4)
- OpenCL 1.1
- DirectCompute 11
- Accelerated video encoding, transcoding, and upscaling
- UVD 3 dedicated video playback accelerator
- MPEG-4 AVC/H.264
- MPEG-2 (SD & HD)
- Multi-View Codec (MVC)
- MPEG-4 part 2 (DivX, Xvid)
- Adobe Flash
- Enhanced Video Quality features
- Advanced post-processing and scaling
- Dynamic contrast enhancement and color correction
- Brighter whites processing (Blue Stretch)
- Independent video gamma control
- Dynamic video range control
- Dual-Stream HD (1080p) playback support
- DXVA 1.0 & 2.0 support
AMD HD3D technology (5)
- Stereoscopic 3D display/glasses support
- Blu-ray 3D support
- Stereoscopic 3D gaming
- 3rd party Stereoscopic 3D middleware software support
AMD CrossFireXTM Multi-GPU Technology (6)
- Dual GPU Scaling
Cutting-edge integrated display support
- DisplayPort 1.2
- Max resolution 2560x1600 per display
- Multi-Stream Transport
- 21.6 Gbps bandwidth
- High bit-rate audio
- HDMI 1.4a with Stereoscopic 3D Frame Packing Format, Deep Color, xvYCC wide gamut support, and high bit-rate audio
- Max resolution: 1920x1200
- Dual-link DVI with HDCP
- Max resolution: 2560x1600
- Max resolution: 2048x1536
Integrated HD audio controller
- Output protected high bit-rate 7.1 channel surround sound over HDMI with no additional cables required
- Supports AC-3, AAC, Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio formats
AMD PowerPlay power management technology (4)
- Dynamic power manegement with low power idle state
- Ultra-low power state support for multi-GPU configurations
AMD Catalyst graphics and HD video configuration software
- Unified graphics display drivers
- Certified for Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP
- AMD Catalyst Control Center
- Software application and user interface for setup, configuration, and accessing special features of AMD Radeon products
1. AMD Eyefinity technology works with games that support non-standard aspect ratios, which is required for panning across multiple displays. To enable more than two displays, additional panels with native DisplayPortTM connectors, and/or DisplayPortTM compliant active adapters to convert your monitor’s native input to your cards DisplayPortTM or Mini-DisplayPort? connector(s), are required. SLS ("Single Large Surface") functionality requires an identical display resolution on all configured displays.
2. AMD EyeSpeed is a set of technologies designed to improve video quality and enhance application performance. Full enablement of some features requires support for AMD Accelerated Parallel Processing (APP) technology and/or AMD’s Universal Video Decoder (UVD).
3. AMD PowerPlayTM and AMD Accelerated Parallel Processing (APP) are technology platforms that include a broad set of capabilities offered by certain AMD Radeon? HD GPUs. Not all products have all features and full enablement of some capabilities and may require complementary products.
4. Requires application support for AMD Accelerated Parallel Processing (APP) technology. AMD Accelerated Parallel Processing technology works with applications designed to take advantage of its GPU acceleration capabilities.
5. AMD HD3D is a technology designed to enable stereoscopic 3D support in games, movies and/or photos. Requires 3D stereo drivers, glasses, and display.
6. AMD CrossFireX? technology requires an AMD CrossFireX Ready motherboard, an AMD CrossFireXTM Bridge Interconnect (for each additional graphics card) and may require a specialized power supply.
All information courtesy of PowerColor @ http://www.powercolor.com/global/products_features.asp?id=289#Specification
A proper review could never be complete without a full run through the OverclockersClub.com suite of benchmarks. For graphics cards, we run every unit through a full assortment of synthetic and real life benchmarks and then compare the results to a wide variety of today's cards so that we can show exactly where the card lies in relation to everything else on the market. For testing, control panels are left at their defaults other than forced 4x antialiasing and 16x anisotropic in each bench other than 3D Mark. PhysX features are turned off for testing to even the field. Each card is tested at stock speeds and at the highest stable overclock for each card with NVIDIA's 260.89 Forceware drivers and AMD's 10.10 Catalyst drivers.
- Processor: Intel Core I7 920 200x18 3.6GHz
- Cooling: Noctua NH-U12P SE 1366
- Motherboard: ASUS P6X58D Premium
- Memory: Mushkin 998827 Ridgeback PC3 12800 6-8-6-24 1600MHz
- Video Card: PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+
- Power Supply: CoolerMaster Real Power Pro 850W
- Hard Drive: 1 x Seagate 1TB SATA
- Optical Drive: Asus DVD-RW
- OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
- Case: Cooler Master HAF 932
Comparison Video Cards:
- NVIDIA GTS 450
- EVGA GTX 460 FTW Edition
- ASUS ENGTX465
- NVIDIA GTX 480
- Galaxy GTX 470 GC
- BFG GTS 250 1GB OC
- Sapphire HD 5970 4GB Toxic
- Sapphire HD 5970 2GB
- Sapphire HD 5870
- Sapphire HD 5850 Toxic 2GB
- Sapphire HD 5770 VaporX
- Sapphire HD 5750 VaporX
- Sapphire HD 6870
- XFX HD 6850
- PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+ 974/1201MHz
Considering this card's already strong factory overclock, I wasn't sure what to expect going into overclocking. Unfortunately, none of the programs out right now supported voltage tweaking on this card as of writing. With an OC to 974MHz on the core, and 1201MHz on the RAM, I am getting 2MHz higher than the recently reviewed XFX HD 6850 Black Edition, and 42MHz higher on the RAM before voltage tweaks, so I am confident that once support is brought to this card, you could see even more performance boosting. For this card, raising the clock speed 154MHz should show some pretty impressive gains. Even with the fan at 100%, it was not at all annoying like some cooling systems during the previous generation. This card also showed some excellent temperature tolerance because, even with the enhanced cooling solution, the card was hitting 67 degrees Celcius under 100% load, but it never missed a beat.
Maximum Clock Speeds:
MSI's Kombuster utility was used to test stability and to put a constant load on the GPU, for the purposes of testing maximum power draw and temperatures. The stability test was used to find a range of settings that are stable. The stable condition was determined through a 15 minute run at 1920x1200 8xAA. The reported clock speeds are those that proved stable over a 15 minute test at 1920x1200, 8xAA and the run through the benchmarks suite.
- Gaming Tests:
- Far Cry 2
- Metro 2033
- Crysis Warhead
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
- Just Cause 2
- Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.0
- Batman: Arkham Asylum
- Resident Evil 5
- 3DMark 06 Professional
- 3DMark Vantage
- Power Consumption
The maximum clock speed graphs above show the overclocking potential of all the cards tested.
Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built specially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real-time effects and damage. This next generation first-person shooter comes to us from Ubisoft, surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this Far Cry game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km2 of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.
- Ranch Small
- Global Setting = High
Higher = Better
The PCS+ fared better than the stock card with its elevated clock speeds, and furthered the gap when overclocked.
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.
- DX 11
- Global settings = High
- Physx = off
Higher = Better
The PowerColor card put in a good show, scaling well all the way up to 1920x1200.
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.
- Frost Map
- DX 10
Higher = Better
Performance here is right where it should be and overclocking sees good performance gains.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the latest 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.
- In-game settings to Maximum
- Fraps measured Gameplay
Higher = Better
The card stays right with the GTX 460 throughout testing and even contends with the 6870 in the higher resolutions.
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.
- Global Settings = High
- Water Detail = Medium
- Dark Tower Time Demo
Higher = Better
The PCS+ keeps a fighting edge throughout testing, really showing off its prowess in the higher resolutions.
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.
- Shaders = High
- Tesselation = Normal
- Measurement = FPS
Higher = Better
The PCS+ feels more mid-range in this test, which isn't really even a bad thing considering it is a mid-range card. The other tests make this bench look bad by comparison.
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.
- 4xAA in CP
- 16xAF in CP
- Global settings = High
- Ambient Occlusion = On
Higher = Better
The card stays right with the GTX 465 throughout testing.
Resident Evil 5 is the sequel to one of the best selling video games of all time. You play the game as Chris Redfield, a survivor of the events at Raccoon City, who now works for the BSAA. Sent to Africa to find the genesis of the latest Bio Organic agents, you meet up with another BSAA operative and work together to solve the problem. The game offers incredible 3D effects and co-op multiplayer.
- 16xAF in CP
- Global settings = High
Higher = Better
I am getting very playable framerates throughout with the same groups of cards.
3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest begins. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.
- Default test settings
- Resolutions 1280x1024 - 2560x1600
- SM2.0 Graphics Tests: GT1- Return to Proxycon, GT2- Firefly Forest
- CPU Tests: CPU1- Red Valley, CPU2- Red Valley
- HDR/SM3.0 Graphics Tests: HDR1- Canyon Flight, HDR2- Deep Freeze
Higher = Better
The impressive factory overclock shows its legs here and the headroom moves forward in the overclocked 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 1024x768 progressing to "Extreme" at 1920x1200. 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 (each preset): Default Testing
- Entry: 1024 x 768
- Performance: 1280 x 1024
- High: 1680 x 1050
- Extreme: 1920 x 1200
Higher = Better
The PCS+ did quite well for its price range.
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 1920x1200 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 first test, with the fan moved to 100% to see the best possible cooling scenario for overclocking. The idle test will be a 20 minute cool down with the fan speeds left on automatic.
- Monitoring with MSI Afterburner
- GPU Stability test in MSI Kombuster
- 15 minute load duration
- 20 minute idle duration
- Temperature measured in degrees Celsius
Lower = Better
Temperatures were good at stock speeds as far as 6850s go. When overclocked the HD 6850 PCS+ stayed below 70 degrees Celsius under load sitting at 67C. That's a decent overclock with good temperatures which means more trouble free gaming performance at no extra cost.
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.
- MSI Kombuster Stability test
- 1920x1200 Resolution
- 15 minute load test
- 15 minute idle test
- Measurement is in Watts
Lower = Better
The new manufacturing process pays off here — the 6850 series is more power efficient than the cards that rival its performance.
The PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+ is a true contender in an already crowded market. Offering a substantial overclock right out of the box, this card does not by any means let its other PCS+ brethren down. When pushed to its absolute limits without voltage tweaking, the card performs right up next to the 6870 on some benchmarks, which is an impressive feat for any mid-range priced card. The "Performance Cooling System" worked as promised and then some - not only did its pure copper base and heat pipes keep things cool, but the enlarged 90mm fan ensured that the temperatures were achieved at very acceptable noise levels.
There is a very large gap between the flat out benchmark crusher and the everyday gamer. Benchmark crushers simply want the biggest and the baddest equipment out there no matter what. Everyday gamers simply want a smooth gaming experience whenever they sit down to have some fun, without breaking the bank. They don't want to have some obnoxiously loud fan spinning up in the background whenever they launch their favorite game, and they surely don't want volcanic thermals shooting out at their ankles. This 6850 meets an excellent balance between price and performance, and even leaves a good bit of headroom to increase longevity, which goes hand in hand with the card's extended three year warranty. Speaking of headroom, although my overclock to 974MHz was good, I have no doubt that once your favorite tweaking programs are updated, there will be a bit more juice available to squeeze out of this baby, so just keep your fingers crossed. Everyday gamers, your card has arrived!
- Factory Overclocked
- Extended 3-Year Warranty
- Low Temperatures
- Lots of Display Outputs
- Quiet Copper Cooling System
- Not a Benchmark Crusher