XFX Radeon HD 6870 Black Edition Review
Reviewed by: bishop245 Geekspeak411
Reviewed on: May 1, 2011
With each new graphics release, a cycle can be observed regarding the rollout of specialty cards to the masses, further diversifying each series. First, stock cards are rushed to the market with MSRP stickers with discounts few and far between. Next, after a moderate decline in initial demand, the vendors cut the stock card’s pricing and manufacturers get the okay to begin pushing out factory overclocked specialty cards. These cards come in all different flavors and increments of warranteed speed. Sapphire, for instance, produces their top-tier Vapor-X cooling system to couple with their products to offer an additional few valuable degrees off of your card’s operating temperature for your top dollar. XFX takes a similar approach in its tiered factory OC options. Its flagship cards however carry a renowned Black Edition label that carries recognition anywhere computers are worshiped.
This Black Edition card looks like it will carry on the series admirably with key features such as Stereoscopic 3D support, Full Eyefinity support, Crossfire X Technology and an impressive dual-fan direct contact heat pipe heat sink sitting on an already notable overclock. I am excited to see this type of heat sink design on a high end card such as the Radeon HD 6870 because the dual fan design should mean this card can go faster, while running cooler, AND staying quieter. That is an ideal win-win-win situation on all sides that I would love to see from this card. With XFX's first-rate reputation and support channels, I have high expectations for this card. Will it be worth $240 hard-earned dollars? I intend to find out!
The box that the XFX Radeon HD 6870 Black Edition comes in is fairly standard for the Black Edition line of cards which is more a compliment than anything. I am quite fond of their design team’s refined tastes. The box looks subtle, yet striking and elite all in one glance. Featuring a black steel theme, the front of the packaging touts the card’s Black Edition status proudly and sets the entire title over a bold mock dual fan heat sink. On one end of the package, XFX places a little snippet with “The Benefits of Black Edition” stating that these cards are “Faster than any other card in the XFX lineup-or any card on the planet for that matter…By purchasing an XFX Black Edition card, you will be entering a world of the elite…”. Well, at least they are modest… The opposite end of the box hypes the card’s Eyefinity Support, Crossfire X Technology and AMD Accelerated Parallel Processing Technology. Finally, flip to the back to see a list of key features on this card and read more about AMD’s bundled technologies and XFX’s 5 Star Support. All in all a very well put together theme with not a single over-saturated cartoon figure to be found!
The inner packing box continues the 6870’s sophisticated packing design. Featuring a very similar design to what ASUS uses for their cards which I am so fond of. The inner box for the 6870 Black Edition is a finished matte black casing with a grayed out XFX logo and website centered on the main face. Opening the box, I am greeted by a thoughtful accessories tray with the atom logo and “play hard.” on the face. Pulling out the tray, you can finally capture a glimpse of the card in its antistatic packaging. I would have preferred to see the card housed in a cast casing rather than cardboard, but it feels secure and well seated in the packaging so there shouldn’t be any issues with the design choice.
Looking closer at the accessories tray, I am saluted by the standard advertising pamphlets and instruction manuals expected in a higher end component. A driver disk that everyone with Internet can ignore is included, and two full sheets of flashy XFX stickers are notable inclusions. But, the XFX “Do not Disturb, I’m Gaming” door handle tag is a personal favorite due to its dual purpose as a do not disturb sign and a handy duplicate of your card’s serial number and support information! Trust me, if you haven’t had to deal with a company’s tech support and RMA department, you are lucky. If you have, then you can understand just how thoughtful it was to include our serial sticker on a second location that doesn’t include contorting your body into ungodly positions to access in order for you to receive support. Thumbs up XFX. Finally, I uncovered a new little package within the accessory tray that I have never come across before. Almost resembling a miniature manila envelope, this small black package is all black with classy grey styling lines adorning the front and a Black Edition header in the upper left corner. On the opposite side, the XFX logo sits underneath the opening tab. Opening up the curious new package, I pull out a beautifully crafted chic metal XFX Black Edition face plate that feels very high quality to the touch. This is one of the first packaged accessories I have gotten from ANY company that I would strongly consider adorning my rig beyond a company sticker for my keyboard. I enjoy understated designs with arresting features, not necessarily bland and boring, but more an elegant touch that can carry its clout without cheesy effects and imitations. Although a miniscule part of the overall picture in this review, I really think XFX has hit a winning design here and I want to ensure my approval is conveyed.
Almost following a ‘calm before the storm’ theming so to speak, I am very impressed by the refinement of the packaging and bundled accessories. It really feels grown up compared to some other testosterone-injected designs. Let’s move on and see if the card's looks and performance radiate in the same way!
As I remove the card from its antistatic bag, I begin to realize how spoiled I am becoming. I am greeted not by some over-the-top stickered card with some crazy sticker and printed on lines and accents, but by a card with real depth and lines that are actually there, not printed on a sticker. The XFX Radeon HD 6870 Black Edition card looks outstanding with its dual fanned design easily noted as its most prominent design feature. The casing is primarily matte black, appropriate given the card's Black Edition status. Two thin chrome ‘racing stripes’ run the length of the casing while the three heat pipes extrude from the casing quite imposingly. The side of the card has a very basic name tag next to the heat pipes and the XFX styled vent shroud makes for a nice touch on the end of the card.
This Black Edition card has an impressive assortment of connections. Featuring dual DVI ports, dual DisplayPorts and an HDMI 1.4a port. You should have no trouble hooking in any kind of monitor array you like including stereoscopic 3D over HDMI! I am rather disappointed to not see a single adapter bundled with the card to convert from mini DisplayPort to DVI or DVI to VGA. Considering the bargain bin price for them to include such adapters, it should have been a no-brainer especially since DisplayPort is by no means readily available in the monitor kingdom yet. The card only requires dual 6-pin PCI power connections due to the 6000 series focus on efficiency and refinement.
The 6870 BE is Crossfire X capable, the bridge is found readily accessible in the standard location along the edge of the card. I like the implementation of AMDs Crossfire X Technology better than NVIDIA’s SLI at the moment if only because of its ability to mix and match cards within the same series together for a performance increase, whereas NVIDIA requires an identical card to link in SLI. I do miss PhysX processing though when gaming.
The dual fan heat sink included with the 6870 Black Edition card looks to be much better than the stock heatsink.
The Black Edition label brings the expectation of a fairly hefty factory overclock. The card does not disappoint coming in with 940MHz on the core and 1150MHz on the GDDR5 memory. I expect that with this intense cooling solution, there will be very few people able to resist the urge of overclocking further though to see just how far this card can go…
Let’s check out the official specs of this card and then see if they stack up to the OCC Test Bench Suite!
DVI, HDMI 1.4a, Dual-Link DVI, Mini DisplayPort 1.2
Directx 11 support, DirectCompute 11, Open CL, Eyefinity Technology, Shader Model 5.0, OpenGL 3.2, Windows 7, Mini-DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI 1.4a
- 3rd Generation TeraScale Graphics Engine
- 40nm Process Technology
- GDDR5 Memory
- AMD Eyefinity Technology
- AMD Advanced Parallel Processing Technology (APP)
- AMD CrossFireX™ Technology
- AMD HD3D Technology
- Accelerated Video Transcoding
- AMD PowerPlay Technology
- Built-in Mini-DisplayPort 1.2 and HDMI 1.4 Outputs
- Microsoft Windows 7® Support
- Microsoft DirectX 11 Support
- OpenGL 3.2 Support
- Enhanced Internet Browser Applications
All information courtesy of XFX @ http://xfxforce.com/en-gb/products/graphiccards/HD%206000series/6870.aspx
Testing of the XFX Radeon HD 6870 Black Edition will require 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!
- Processor: Intel Core I7 920 200x18 3.6GHz
- Cooling: Noctua NH-U12P SE 1366
- Motherboard: ASUS P6T Deluxe OC Palm Edition
- Memory: Mushkin 996805 Redline PC312800 6-8-6-24 1600MHz
- Video Card: XFX HD 6870 Black Edition
- Power Supply: Mushkin 1000 watt Joule Modular power supply
- Hard Drive: 1 x Seagate 1TB SATA
- Optical Drive: LG DVD-RW
- OS: Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
- Case: Cooler Master HAF 932
Comparison Video Cards:
- Galaxy GTX 470 GC
- XFX HD 5870
- Sapphire HD 6870
- XFX HD 6850
- Sapphire HD 5850 Toxic
- EVGA GTX 460 FTW
- Sapphire HD6790
- Sapphire HD5830 Xtreme
- Sapphire HD5850 Xtreme
- XFX Radeon HD 6870 Black Edition 1005MHz Core / 1245MHz Memory
Knowing that this card sat high on the binning order to begin with, I began overclocking in earnest with high expectations. I began at the stock clocks of 940MHz on the core and 1150MHz on the RAM. I first ratcheted the fan up to 100% through the Catalyst Control Center application and launched MSI’s Kombustor utility to warm up the card. After about 10 minutes, I ratcheted the core clock up 10MHz and let it sit for 5 minutes. No problems. I continued pushing until I maxed out the Catalyst software at 1000 MHz on the core and no signs of degradation or out of line temperatures. Wondering if I could go further, I pulled out Sapphire’s Trixx utility to see just how far I could go. I punched in 1010 MHz and the computer immediately froze, restarting and repeating the warm up process at 1000MHz, I tried 1005MHz: Success! I repeated the same process with the RAM maxing it out at 1245MHZ, with 1250MHz starting to show some artifacts on the screen. That impressive core clock puts this card at the very top of OCCs list for overclock ability by 5MHz. On the DDR5 side, the card ties up with the XFX HD 5870 as the leader of our tested cards at 1245MHz. Keep in mind that these numbers include no voltage tweaks or anything of the like, just pure overclocking prowess. Good show!
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.
- Gaming Tests:
- Aliens vs. Predator
- Metro 2033
- Crysis Warhead
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
- Just Cause 2
- Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.1
- Batman: Arkham Asylum
- Battlefield: Bad Company 2
- 3DMark 11 Professional
- 3DMark Vantage
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.
- SSAO = On
- Texture Quality = Very High
- Hardware Tessellation = On
- Advanced Shadow Sampling = On
Higher = Better
The XFX Radeon HD 6870 Black Edition gives a pretty respectable performance at stock speeds, but really shines on the OC tests.
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
Once again, the XFX Black Edition card shows exemplary overclocked numbers. This card is shaping up to give some excellent hardware value, will the performance streak continue?
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
- 16X AF
- DX 10
Higher = Better
The Black Edition card outperforms even the fastest cards on this test when overclocked. Very good results, this is obviously a highly binned card.
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 1GHz+ overclock helps the Black Edition make a commanding performance jump.
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 storyline, 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 XFX Radeon HD 6870 Black Edition hums along without any stress to be seen. I am very happy with these results!
Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.1 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
- Tessellation = Normal
- Measurement = FPS
Higher = Better
The cardâ€™s faster clock speeds keep it running right around the 5870 in this benchmark.
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.
- Global settings = Advanced
- HBAO = Off
Higher = Better
The HD 6870 Black Edition consistently holds a few FPS over its stock counterpart. Buttery smooth frame rates are seen throughout.
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.
- Default test settings
- Entry test 1024 x 600
- Performance test 1280 x 720
- Extreme test 1920 x 1080
Higher = Better
Throughout the testing, the Black Edition card performed where it should be at stock speeds, and flew even further ahead of the stock 6870 when pushed further.
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 (each preset): Default Testing
- Entry: 1024 x 768
- Performance: 1280 x 1024
- High: 1680 x 1050
- Extreme: 1920 x 1200
Higher = Better
The 6870 Black Edition gives what has come to be expected of itself. The performance is consistently above the stock 6870 as it should be.
Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using the MSI Kombustor utility that 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 cards BIOS for the first test with the fan moved to 100% to see the best possible cooling scenario. 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 Kombustor
- 15 minute load duration
- 15 minute idle duration
- Temperature Measured in degrees Celsius
Lower = Better
With the large dual fan cooling system included with this card, I would expect that the cooling capacities far exceed that of the stock cooler in both temperatures and noise pollution. In this case, those expectations are both met as the XFX HD 6870 Black Edition card gives eight degrees cooler temperatures under load at stock which is impressive given the fact that I couldn’t even hear the fans when I put my ear right next to the card. Even at 100%, the card's noise level is nothing next to the behemoth stock fans that adorn most graphics cards these days and the temperatures are still very competitive.
Power Consumption of the system will be measured in both idle states and load stated and will take into account the peak voltage of the system with each video card installed. I will use MSI Kombustor 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 Kombustor Stability test
- 1920 x 1200 Resolution
- 15 minute load test
- 15 minute idle test
- Measurement is in Watts
Lower = Better
The power consumption numbers for the XFX card are pretty good. The card scores in the middle of the road here which is impressive considering that it is routinely in the upper realm of the performance benchmarks results. The card is definitely using its resources efficiently, even while overclocked.
With the HD 6870 Black Edition, XFX set out to make the beastliest card the 6870 spec could call for. With this dual fan edition, XFX not only carries out that goal, but tacks on silent operation with extremely impressive temperatures as well! Combine this with the Black Edition name, its usual classy, refined packaging, and some pretty awesome power efficiency for the clock speeds and I am looking at one heck of a card! Normally, cards with these kinds of benefits over stock solutions cost way more than their counterparts putting them out of reach for all but the extreme enthusiasts. Not so with the XFX Radeon HD Black Edition; this card can be found for a measly $20-$30 more than the stock 6870s are going for. Is $30 a fair price for a card of the very top binning, a dual fan heat sink, and an excellent warranty? It is in my book, that’s a no brainer!
In testing, the 6870 Black Edition routinely beat out the stock flavor with its factory overclock which is great, but expected. What is not expected, however, is the ability for this card to clock all the way above OCC's Core Clock speed comparisons with stability and not even need a voltage tweak. Overclocking this card was a complete blast, and being able to do all the things I can do with my 5870 at the same speeds while using less power, at a lower temperature, and with much lower noise levels while at those speeds visualized the concept of total refinement for me. Label me impressed.
As if the performance of this card on its own isn’t enough, the card of course supports all kinds of Eyefinity setups in both 2D and 3D configurations. The best way to get a full experience in that case would be to throw another card in to go Crossfire. I love that feature of AMD's Crossfire Technology. That you can throw any two cards within the same series together and see a respective boost in performance. This is much more convenient than NVIDIA’s SLI requirement of an identical card. Although this is not a unique benefit amongst the Black Edition’s peers, it is definitely something to be considered when preparing to purchase new parts and thus it is worth mentioning here. The only complaint I have has its fault split between XFX and AMD. Eyefinity relies very heavily on the DisplayPort interface, and while it’s very technologically superior and has been out on graphics cards for years now, the interface still has not caught on with the mainstream monitor market en masse and is not easily/conveniently backwards compatible with older standards. This fact is worsened by the fact that no adapters are included with the card to convert to DVI, VGA, or HDMI. With the inclusion of two DVI ports and an HDMI port on the card itself, however, you will not even think about this issue until you decide to jump for an Eyefinity configuration, and if you’re looking into that, a few bucks on adapters is pocket change next to all those monitors and cables.
With that said, I am incredibly impressed with this card. XFX has hit the perfect balance here, and has done so with class and refinement for what it’s worth. I would not hesitate to recommend this card to anyone as it is extremely well balanced with an excellent support team behind it, a lot of headroom in front of it, and a whole lot of performance loving in every situation for anyone who makes the jump. The performance is right, the price is right, and the adapters are on eBay or at your local computer retailer: Go buy this card.
- Great Cooling
- Tons of Overclocking Headroom
- Great Stock Performance
- Power Efficiency
- Noise Level
- Bin Quality
- Eyefinity Support
- No Mini-DisplayPort Adapters Included