PowerColor Radeon HD 6870 PCS+ Call Of Duty Edition Review

ccokeman - 2010-10-26 17:33:58 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: November 28, 2010
Price: $TBD

Introduction:

Released to the world just over a month ago, the HD 6800 series has refined the $200~$250 price/performance point with a refined architecture that allowed AMD to shrink the amount of internal hardware while still maintaining the desired level of performance. To that end we have looked at the reference cards and found that they indeed fit well into this envelope, with performance in most cases above that of the HD 5850 and sometimes higher than the HD 5870. This card from PowerColor is the first non reference sample of the HD 6870 here at OverclockersClub. We have looked at several of the HD 6850 variants, including the PCS+ version by PowerColor, and have found the non reference HD 6850 cards offering excellent performance and overclocking headroom. The PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+ Call of Duty Edition video card is equipped with higher clock speeds on both the memory and the Barts core to the tune of 940MHz and 1100MHz, respectively. Not only do you get the increased clock speeds but the cooling solution is definitely not the reference solution and should run cooler and quieter than what comes stock on the cards directly from AMD. Let's see if the HD 6870 PCS+ can live up to the performance heritage of the PCS+ lineup and see how well it compares to the reference design in gaming performance, overclocking ability, thermal performance and power consumption.

Closer Look:

The packaging of the PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+ features a dark theme with a low profile high performance car on the front. The front lists several of the car's attributes, such as the four monitor Eyefinity support, connectivity options, the inclusion of the game Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, the amount of onboard memory and that this card is part of PowerColor's PCS+ series. The front profile of the card on the front panel looks eerily similar to the profile of the heatsink shroud. The back panel goes into more detail on the AMD specific technologies that this card supports or uses that include DirectX 11, AMD HD3D and CrossfireX. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the outer sleeve is the box that contains the HD 6870 PCS+ and its accessory bundle. Flip open the lid and you can see the card in its anti static bag and underneath is the accessory bundle.

 

 

The accessory bundle that is included in the PowerColor HD6870 PCS+ includes a quick start guide in multiple languages, a driver disc, a brochure with all of the Call of Duty Modern Warfare information, including a product key redeemable through Steam, a CrossfireX bridge connector, Mini DisplyPort to DisplayPort dongle and a DVI to VGA adapter. There are no power adapters included at this point as the assumption is that most current power supplies will have the required dual 6-pin PEG connectors.

 

Let's dig into this card and see what it has to offer.

Closer Look:

The PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+ Call of Duty Edition is built upon the AMD HD 6800 series 40nm Barts core and is the top card in Powercolor's HD 6870 line up. The PCS+ versions signify that the card comes with enhanced build characteristics and a non stock cooling solution. In this case, a heat pipe based solution is used. In the past even a water block has been used on PCS+ series cards. That shows the commitment to cooling on this series since cool operation usually translates to a longer useful life span. The front of the card shows the shroud is a radical step away from the reference based cooling solution. The 90mm fan blows air down onto the heatsink's fin array to cool the cards with exhaust vents throughout the shroud. The back view shows that a mounting bracket is not used to hold the heatsink on but rather four individual spring loaded screws. You will also note that the VRM circuit MOSFET cooler is held on with push pins in lieu of screws. If you look at the card from the right angle it looks like a Can Am race car of years past. Not a bad look, but is it functional?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For connectivity you get the reference design options in the form of two DisplayPort 1.2 ports, a single HDMI port that supports the 1.4a standard and two DVI ports, one Dual Link capable and the other being single link only. With this configuration, the HD 6870 PCS+ supports up to a four monitor Eyefinity setup. The DisplayPort 1.2 standard supports daisy chaining monitors together. The back end of the card is vented into the chassis so you will want to make sure your chassis has adequate airflow.

 

 

This card, just like the rest of the 6800 series, is only capable of running Crossfire using two cards as this card is more for the upper mid-range gaming market and is priced accordingly. More than two cards are supported on enthusiast class cards. Not to worry though, as scaling is pretty good this go around when you add a second card to the mix. On the back end you get two 6-pin PCI-E connectors to bring in 150 watts of power in addition to the 75w brought in on PCI-E slot. This means you have enough power to feed the card with a little overhead left over for overclocking. The recommended power supply is 500 watts.

 

 

Getting at the heatsink and PCB requires removal of the shroud and heatsink from the board. There are a total of four screws that hold the heatsink over the core. After removal you see that the heatsink assembly is attached to the shroud. This comes off with the removal of another four screws, showing the fan is attached to the shroud. The VRM circuit has a copper colored heatsink held on the board with push pins and is a low profile design that fits under the main heatsink. In this area it benefits from the airflow through the heatsink.

 

 

The fan used on this video card is made by APISTEK and looks to be 92mm in size although a quick search did not yield any results. The part number is GA9202M runs on 12v and uses .28 amp while in operation.

 

Looking at the heatsink assembly, it looks similar to the one used on the ASUS EAH6850 DirectCU except that it uses an additional 6mm heatpipe on top of the two 8mm pipes and it does not use Heatpipe Direct Contact technology. The heatpipes contact the copper base to draw the thermal energy up to the fin arrays to be dissipated by the airflow from the fan both into and out of the chassis. With a cooling solution such as that used on the PCS+ you want to make sure your chassis has excellent airflow to vent the heat put back into the chassis. WIth a poorly ventilated case you may see a rise in component temperatures.

 

 

 

The 6800 series cards from AMD, including the HD 6870 PCS+ from PowerColor, are built upon the 40nm Barts core built by TSMC. This core is a redesign of the Cypress architecture to make it leaner and more power efficient while still operating at a specific performance envelope. The HD 6870 uses 1120 streaming processors, 56 texture units, 32 ROP units and 1GB of on board GDDR5 memory running through a 256-bit bus. The clock speeds on the PCS+ HD 6870 are increased over the factory default 900MHz to 940MHz, with the memory clocks being increased to 1100MHz from 1050MHz. Much like the reference cards, this one is equipped with eight Hynix memory modules, part number H5GQ1H24AFR-T2C, and are rated for operation at up to 1250MHz.

 

 

Seeing how this card is equipped, it should outperform the reference version of the HD 6870 and should have some overclocking potential left in with the enhanced cooling solution.

Specifications:

Graphics Engine
RADEON HD6870
Video Memory
1GB GDDR5
Engine Clock
940MHz
Memory Clock
1100MHz (4.4Gbps)
Memory Interface
256bit
DirectX® Support
11
Bus Standard
PCIE 2.1
Standard Display Connectors
DL-DVI-I/SL-DVI-D/HDMI/2* mini DisplayPort
Feature Support
OpenGL
Support
CrossFireX™ Technology
Support
ATI Stream Technology
Support
ATI Eyefinity Technology
Support
ATI Hypermemory Technology
 
Display Support
VGA Output
Via Adapter
DVI Output
DL-DVI-I/ SL-DVI-D
DisplayPort
On Board
HDMI
On Board
TV Output
 
HDTV Output
 
HDCP Support
Support
Maximum Resolution
VGA
2048x1536
DVI
2560x1600
DisplayPort
2560x1600
HDMI
1920x1200
Power Specs + Board Dimensions
Board Dimensions
241.3mmx111.2mmx38mm
Minimum System Power requirement (W)
500W
Extention Power Connector
Two 6-Pin PCI Express Power Connectors

 

Features:

 


All information courtesy of TUL (PowerColor)  @  http://www.powercolor.com/global/products_features.asp?id=304#Specification

Testing:

Testing of the non reference build PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+ will consist of running it and comparison cards through the OverclockersClub.com suite of games and synthetic benchmarks. This will test the performance against many popular competitors. Comparisons will be made to cards of equal and greater capabilities to show where it falls on the performance ladder. The games used are some of today's newest and most popular titles to give you an idea of how the cards perform relative to one another.

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 will be disabled in the NVIDIA control panel with the GeForce video cards. I will test the card at stock speeds, then overclocked in order to see how much additional performance is available and to determine if it can run with the current fastest single GPU cards on the market. The drivers used in this test will be the 10.10 Catalyst drivers for AMD and the 260.89 Forceware drivers from NVIDIA for all cards except the GTX 580. Tests will be conducted at both stock and overclocked settings to gauge performance when an increase in clock speed is applied. There is a change in how our graphs are now setup, with the card being tested highlighted in RED for AMD Radeon products and GREEN for NVIDIA based video cards. As our tests are very comprehensive, we hope this makes it a little bit easier to pick them out of the crowd. The cards are placed in order from highest to lowest performing.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

The HD 6870 PCS+ from PowerColor is a factory overclocked card that runs at default clock speeds of 940MHz on the core and 1100MHz (4400 QDR) on the GDDR5 memory. So far over the course of testing seven Barts core based AMD video cards, the maximum fully stable clock speeds have all been just over the 1GHz mark when adjusting the core voltage. These are stable clocks and not just a quick run through a lightly loaded 3DMark 06 run. The PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+ falls right into this envelope at 1003MHz, or 63 MHz over the as delivered clock speed on the core. The memory on this series has seemed to fall into a specific clock speed envelope right around the 1200MHz mark, with this card jumping in at 1208MHz. These gains are roughly 6.5% on the core and just under 10% on the GDDR5 memory. To reach these goals I used MSI's popular overclocking utility, Afterburner version 2.1.0 Beta 4. The fan speed was set to the maximum level of 100% for the overclocked testing to give the best cooling performance while overclocking. This card is easily much quieter than the reference solution that sounded like a howling banshee when the fan speed was cranked up.

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

In the past I had used MSI's Kombuster utility to check for stability coupled with the ability to run through the entire test suite. I have found that some game tests still would fail with this utility so I have moved to testing with several games at maximum settings through several resolutions to verify the clock speeds that are listed below. Why the change? I have found some cards will play fine at a 4xAA setting but fail when using 8xAA due to the increased graphics load. If it fails then the clock speeds and tests are rerun until they pass.

   

 

  1. Far Cry 2
  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. Resident Evil 5
  9. 3DMark 06 Professional
  10. 3DMark Vantage
  1. Temperature
  2. Power Consumption

Testing:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built especially 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 version of the 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 50 square kilometers 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.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

In Far Cry 2 the PowerColor PCS+ card outperforms the reference clocked HD 6870 in all four resolutions, as it should. When overclocked, the two cards are closer in performance. When compared to the factory overclocked GTX 460, the PCS+ falls short in 7 out of 8 tests.

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

 

The factory overclock on the PowerColor PCS+ HD 6870 helps it deliver performance equal to or better than the GTX 460 OC in 6 out of 8 tests.

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

 

The higher clock speeds allow the PCS+ to deliver performance above that of the reference card and above its price point.

Testing:

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.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

The higher clock speeds again pay dividends with a higher level of performance. When overclocked there are additional gains in FPS.

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

 

At default clock speeds the PowerColor PCS+ delivers great performance in this game at all four resolutions.

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

 

Compared to the other card in this comparison, the PCS+ HD 6870 stacks up well at default speeds.

Testing:

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

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

In this test the HD 6870 PCS+ delivers performance that is equal to the 5870 in most of the resolutions.

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 a co-op gaming style.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

The PCS+ HD 6870 stays toward the top third of the results, performing better than cards that cost more.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest has begun. 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.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

As expected, the PCS+ outperforms the reference card in both the stock and overclocked tests.

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

 

At both stock and overclocked speeds, the PowerColor PCS+ HD 6870 delivers a higher level of performance than the reference card and compares well with the HD 5850 and GTX 460, depending on the resolution.

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 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 left at 100% when running the overclocked idle testing.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

Lower = Better

 

At default clocks the PowerColor PCS+ is seven degrees cooler at idle and two degrees cooler under load. When overvolted, the heat pipe cooling solution keeps the temperatures under 80 degrees Celsius when under a heavy graphics load.

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 580 I will use Crysis Warhead run at 2560x1600 using the mainstream setting using 8xAA looping the frost benchmark scenario as I have found this to put a load close to that of Kombuster on a video card while searching for a replacement test for Kombuster. This is needed as a way around the current limiting ability of the GTX 580 when it detects programs that put an unrealistic load on the GPU such as Kombuster, OCCT and Furmark.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

Lower = Better

 

In 3 out of 4 tests the PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+ delivers better power efficiency numbers than the reference card.

Conclusion:

The PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+ is the first non reference HD 6870 I have looked at and it is equipped to deliver excellent performance right out of the box. This card is factory overclocked with clock speeds of 940MHz on the Barts core and 1100MHz on the GDDR5 memory so you get a boost in performance to start with. When it comes to overclocking higher, there is some headroom left on the HD 6870 PCS+, though not much. On the core overclocking I was able to push the card to a clock speed of 1003MHz (63MHz) and 1208MHz (108MHz) on the memory. This amounts to increases on the order of 6.5% on the core and just under 10% on the memory. These increases, although slim, still offer measurable gains in performance across the test suite. Since the launch of the 6800 series the overclocking headroom has been more substantial on the lower clocked HD 6850 than the upper tier HD 6870. Even so, with a little work you can gain additional performance for not much more than the cost of your time.

The HD 6800 series cards offer Eyefinity support with differing levels of support based on the cards' connectivity options. This card supports Eyefinity with up to four monitors using the default connectivity configuration that includes two Mini Display Port connections and single HDMI port and two DVI ports, one of which is Dual Link capable. Stereoscopic 3D is available through aftermarket suppliers and a middleware solution if you choose to go that route since AMD is all about "open" solutions versus proprietary hardware. One thing that came as s surprise while testing was that the power consumption at stock clock speeds was much lower than the reference card during the stock idle and load tests by substantial margins. The three heat pipe cooling solution delivered better temperatures during the idle and load tests at the default clock speed level. Under load, the difference was only two degrees lower than the reference solution but the main difference comes in the noise associated with the cooling solution when the fan speed ramps up. In this regard, the PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+ holds the edge. When you get down to its essence, the PowerColor HD 6870 PCS+ is faster than the reference cards, runs cooler and uses less energy, not to mention looks much better by comparison than the reference solution. With those kinds of attributes, plus the addition of one of the most popular games on the planet, you have a winning solution.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: