XFX HD 6850 Black Edition Review

ccokeman - 2010-10-26 17:30:06 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: November 11, 2010
Price: $209

Introduction:

And so it starts! The Barts core AMD 6800 series video cards were released to the world officially on October 22 2010.  These cards delivered performance above what they were projected to deliver, all for a very reasonable price point. NVIDIA countered with factory overclocked examples of the FERMI architecture equipped GTX 460 and GTX 470, which offers additional performance, making the match-up a bit closer than it originally was going to be. Now, just a week later, the overclocked cards from AMD and its partners are rolling out the doors. The first factory overclocked example I will be looking at comes from XFX in the form of its Black Edition HD 6850. Now we all know the Black Edition cards that roll out of the doors of XFX have a little something special and this one indeed is, with the clock speeds at 850Mhz on the core and at a hefty 1100MHz on the 1GB of GDDR5 memory. These speeds are pretty decent increases over the base clock speeds of 775/1000MHz, which the base versions come equipped with. We saw how the XFX 6850 overclocked in our AMD 6800 series launch article with an overclock of 972MHz on the Barts core and 1159MHz on the memory, while staying relatively cool due to the heat pipe based cooling solution. Running cool is the name of the game when overclocking and XFX utilizes a different method to rid the core of its thermal energy by way of a Vapor Chamber type heat sink made popular by Sapphire and used as the reference cooling solution on the top card in AMD's DirectX 11 arsenal, the HD 5970. Let's take a walk on the dark side and see how the XFX HD 6850 Black edition performs.

Closer Look:

The packaging that came with the XFX HD 6850 Black edition mirrored the stock packaging. The front and rear views contained a wealth of information about the card: its capabilities and the technologies it supports including DirectX 11, Eyefinity, Advanced Parallel Processing, CrossFireX, Stereoscopic 3D and Unified Video Decoder 3. In lieu of showing the packaging I received, I will show a representation of the final product packaging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the outer sleeve is a box that contains the subject of this closer look, the the XFX HD 6850 BE. The outside is black and features the XFX logo and slogan "Play Hard" in green with the XFX web link to the right. The inside of the box is broken up into compartments with the peripherals such as the manuals, driver disk and adapters up top, with the video card stored underneath.  From the first look, the Black edition seems to be similar to the standard card in its length and build.

 

 

The accessory bundle for this card contains the driver disk, an AMD GPU guide, quick install guide, a door tag that lets your family know not to disturb you while you are dishing out a world of hurt to your opponents, and a single Crossfire bridge connection.

 

Really the only thing special thus far is the Black Edition's promise of enhanced performance. With its impressive factory overclock that should be a forgone conclusion.

Closer Look:

The XFX HD 6850 Black edition is a card that features a custom PCB and higher end components than what the reference design uses. It features solid capacitors, DR.MOSFETs, covered Ferrite chokes, digital PWM circuitry and a 2oz copper layer PCB so that you can be assured of a card that has components that operate at cooler temperatures and operate more efficiently than traditional components. This should help increase the lifespan of the card even in its factory-overclocked state. Black Edition card are factory-overclocked cards from XFX that come with a lifetime warranty in case the unthinkable happens. The front of the card mirrors the pre-production packaging and looks like the standard HD 6850, but that will change for the retail version. The card is meant to be used in a 16x PCIe 2.1 slot, but is backwards compatible for earlier motherboards. The rear of the card is typical of cards with 1GB of on board memory, with only the bracket securing the heat sink and surface mount components taking up residence. The top of the shroud is full of ventilation holes that allow the heat sink to breathe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Connectivity options for this card include two DVI ports, one of which is a single link design, while the other is s Dual Link capable port, a single Mini HDMI port that supports HDMI 1.4a, and a single full size Display Port 1.2 port in lieu of the two mini DP ports used on the reference versions of the HD 6850. This still allows you to run an Eyefinity setup using the correct adapters. The backplate has the XFX logo instead of the normal slots seen for ventilation. This looks like there is more surface area available for the air to flow through, helping cooling. The back end of the card is full of ventilation holes again for allowing this card to breathe and discharge the thermal energy expended by the GPU core into the Vapor Chamber based cooling solution. Also on the back end of the card is the 6-pin PCIe power connection. The 6800 series are not the top of the line enthusiast cards but mid range and as such they only support a two-card configuration as evidenced by the single Crossfire bridge connection.

 

 

 

The cooling solution used on the XFX HD 6850 Black Edition card is different from the heatpipe based solution used on the stock (Well not so stock) XFX HD 6850 in that it uses a Vapor Chamber based cooling solution. Sapphire has been using this solution on their cards for sometime and now AMD started using it on the HD 5970. The solution used by XFX fits under the shroud over the front of the card and from the outside it would be difficult to tell the heat pipe and Vapor Chamber equipped cards apart. That's the reason for the shroud needing to come off - so we can take a look at its implementation. The cooling solution is circular in design with a center mounted 80mm fan that pushed close to 52CFM at full speed with a noise penalty of 50dB max. The copper Vapor chamber is 50 x 63 x 3.5mm in size with a total of 40 grams of copper used in its construction. The MOSFETs for the power circuit of the card are covered with an aluminum heat sink that uses the airflow from the heat sink to keep this part of the circuit cool. In front of the aluminum heat sink you see the fully covered ferrite chokes and solid capacitors that help this card run cooler and more efficiently.

 

 

 

The Black Edition HD 6850 is built using a 40nm build process. The HD 6850 uses a total of 960 Accelerated Parallel Processors, has 48 texture units, has 32 ROP units and features 1GB of GDDR5 memory running through a 256-bit bus. Base clock speeds for the HD 6850 are 775Mhz on the core and 1000Mhz on the memory, but the Black edition sees a steep 75Mhz bump in the core speed to 850Mhz and a bump to 1100MHz on the memory. The Memory ICs used on the Black Edition card are the same Hynix H5G01H24AFR-T2C modules used on the last couple HD 6800 series cards that I have looked at and are rated for operation at 1250Mhz.

 

 

Let's see how well this Black Edition fares when put against the competition and see where it falls on the performance ladder.


 

Specifications:

Card
XFX HD 6850 Black Edition
Core Clock Speed
850MHz
Stream Processors
960
ROP Units
32
Texture Units
48
Transistors
1.7 Billion
Process
40nm
Memory Type
GDDR5
Memory Size
1GB
Memory Clock
1100MHz (4.4 GHz)
Outputs
DP, HDMI, Dual DVI
Cooling Type
Vapor Chamber

 

Features:

Microsoft DirectX® 11

AMD Eyefinity Technology

AMD Advanced Parallel Processing Technology

Advanced GDDR5 Memory Technology

AMD CrossFireXTM Technology

40nm Process Technology

Microsoft Windows 7® Support

Accelerated Video Transcoding

Display Flexibility

HDMI 1.4a

AMD PowerPlayTM Technology4

Enhanced Unified Video Decoder 3 (UVD 3)


 

All information courtesy of XFX @ http://xfxforce.com/en-us/products/graphiccards/HD%206000series/6850.aspx

Testing:

Testing of this latest XFX HD 6800 series video card the HD 6850 Black Edition will consist of running the card 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 this card's performance stands. 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 will be disabled in the NVIDIA control panel. 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 the AMD lineup and 260.89 Forceware drivers for the NVIDIA cards. Testing will be conducted at both stock and overclocked settings to gauge performance when an increase in clock speed is applied.

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Since the introduction of the AMD 6800 series there has been a utility put out by Sapphire Technology call Trixx. This utility functions much the same as MSI's Afterburner utility, but with the ability to crank up the voltage (At the time of the testing Afterburner did not support voltage adjustment for the 6800 series, but the latest Beta 2.01 and Beta 3 do). The XFX HD 6850 that I looked at for the HD 6800 series launch article was only able to push up to 972Mhz on the core and 1159MHz on the memory but the Black Edition had some additional room up its sleeves with the voltage adjustment availability. This allowed the the card to reach over the 1GHz mark on the core and just shy of 1200Mhz on the memory. Picking up 160Mhz on the core is a pretty substantial increase over the 850Mhz base clock speed with the memory delivering just shy of 100Mhz. These increases show measurable gains in performance across the entire testing regimen. Now when you start overclocking with increased voltages, you want to make sure the cooling solution is up to the task - specificially, the solution that XFX has chosen for this card

 

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 1920 x 1200 8xAA. The reported clock speeds are those that proved stable over a 15 minute test at 1920 x 1200, 8x AA and the run through the benchmarks suite.

 

 

  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 2.0
  7. Batman: Arkham Asylum
  8. Resident Evil 5
  9. 3DMark 06 Professional
  10. 3DMark Vantage
  1. Temperature
  2. Power Consumption

 

The maximum clock speed graphs above show the overclocking potential of the all cards tested.

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

 

The Black Edition outperforms the HD 5850 in all four resolutions at stock speeds. When overclocked higher than its already stout settings, the Black Edition responds with even more performance.

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 Black Edition 6850 makes a strong showing in Metro 2033 with playable frame rates all the way up to 1920x1200. If depth of field is turned off in the DX 11 settings, the level of performance rises dramatically for all of the comparison cards tested. These results are pretty impressive for a $210 video card.

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 performance differential between the GTX 460 and the Black Edition HD 6850 shrinks from 5 to 1 FPS as the resolution increases.

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

 

When the performance of the Black Edition 6850 is compared to the FTW 460 from EVGA, the 460 is faster at 1280x1024 and 1680x1050, but at 1920x1200 there is a shift with the Black Edition 6850 outperforming the GTX 460 FTW.

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

 

The Black Edition is in the middle of the pack throughout the testing, keeping pace with the the 460, 465 and 5850. As the resolution increases, the Black Edition delivers a higher level of performance when compared to competing cards.

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 Unigine 2.1 benchmark scoring puts the Black Edition at the lower end of the spectrum, but it delivers a performance well above that of the last gen HD 5750 by 10 FPS when overclocked at the 2560x1600 resolution.

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 play your trade.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

During the Batman Arkham Asylum testing, the XFX Black Edition HD 6850 performs in an envelope that contains the HD 5850 and GTX 465 throughout 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

 

Throughout the benchmarking of RE5, the Black Edition card delivers playable performance and competes with the HD 5850 and GTX 460 depending on the resolution.

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

 

At stock speeds, the XFX HD 6850 Black Edition improves its performance against the GTX 460 from 1680x1050 to 2560x1600.

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

 

In the Vantage testing, the Black Edition 6850 shows a performance over the stock 6850 in all resolutions, as it should. Against the overclocked GTX 460, the Black Edition fell short but, to be fair, it's not competing in the same price bracket.

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 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.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower = Better

 

At stock speeds, the Black Edition 6850 was about the coolest running card under load - at 62 degrees Celsius. Under an overclocked load, the temperature only increased by 6 degrees Celsius with the fan bumped up to 100%. However, I should reiterate that this is with a serious bump in core voltage to reach the 'over 1GHz mark' on the core. The cooling solution is not the quietest on the market, but is markedly better than the cooler on the reference cards.

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.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower = Better

 

From a power efficiency standpoint the Black Edition HD 6850 delivers slightly better power consumption numbers than the stock 6850 when run at stock clocks and slightly worse than it when overclocked. When compared to the EVGA 460 FTW, the Black Edition is the more power efficient solution.

Conclusion:

The XFX Black Edition HD 6850 is a factory overclocked card that offers measurable performance gains when compared to its stock clocked brethren. This you get right off the bat when you gain membership into the Black Edition family, much like the XFX GTX 260 Black Edition I looked at almost two years ago, to the day of this article! Performance of the HD 6850 is targeted at just below the GTX 460 from NVIDIA with the 6870 being targeted just above this level of performance. To compete at a higher level of performance, NVIDIA has upped the ante with overclocked editions of their GTX 460. The Black Edition is an answer to this challenge. The HD 6850 Black Edition really ups the performance when you increase the clock speeds up and above the already large factory overclock. This overclock was achievable from use of the latest overclocking tool from Sapphire, their Trixx utility, mainly because at the time of the testing this was the only tool that offered the ability to increase the core voltage for an additional boost in performance. This allowed the clock speeds on this card to jump up over 1GHz on the core and almost 1200Mhz on the GDDR5 memory.  This allows the Black Edition card to run neck and neck with the EVGA GTX 460FTW, when both are overclocked - especially at higher resolutions. At the price point these cards are going for, the main audience is the 1680x1050 to 1920x1200 resolution crowd, where there are significant gains on the GTX 460.

All this performance is wasted if you are not able to control the thermal load generated by the GPU core. The Vapor Chamber heat sink used on this card is capable enough to get the job done even when running with the maximum allowed voltage of 1.30 volts on the Barts core with the maximum recorded temperature coming in at 68 degrees Celsius under load in the Kombustor testing when the fan is running at full speed. What this all boils down to is a card that delivers on its performance promises, features all of the latest technologies from AMD, and iswrapped up at an attractive price/performance point. With the XFX HD 6850 Black Edition video card you get increased performance and cooling, plus the ability to push for even more performance when overclocked.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: