[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

AMD has released their new Radeon HD 6800 family, so far comprised of the Radeon HD 6850 and Radeon HD 6870 models. Let’s review the standard Radeon HD 6870 from MSI (R6870-2PM2D1GD5), which follows the AMD reference design.

The name given by AMD to this new GPU family is misleading. Since 6800 is a number higher than 5800, users may think that the two members of this new family are faster than their counterparts from the Radeon HD 5800 family, namely the Radeon HD 5850 and HD 5870, which is not the case. As you can see in the table below, while members of the 6800 family run at a higher clock rate, they have a lower number of internal processors (shaders). This makes members of the 6800 family to be actually slower – but more affordable – than members of the 5800 family.

To compete with the new 6800 family, NVIDIA has reduced the price of their GPUs. After this price reduction, the new Radeon HD 6870 competes directly with the GeForce GTX 465 and indirectly with the GeForce GTX 460 with 1 GB, and, strangely enough, is in the same price range of the Radeon HD 5850. The Radeon HD 5870 is between USD 70 and USD 100 more expensive than the Radeon HD 6870.

Video Card Core Clock Shader Clock Memory Clock (Real) Memory Clock (Effective) Memory Interface Memory Transfer Rate Memory Shaders Price
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 675 MHz 1,350 MHz 900 MHz 3,600 MHz 192-bit 86.4 GB/s 768 GB GDDR5 336 USD 170 – 185
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 675 MHz 1,350 MHz 900 MHz 3,600 MHz 256-bit 115.2 GB/s 1 GB GDDR5 336 USD 220 – 230
GeForce GTX 465 607 MHz 1,215 MHz 801.5 MHz 3,206 MHz 256-bit 102.6 GB/s 1 GB GDDR5 352 USD 220 – 240
Radeon HD 5850 725 MHz 725 MHz 1 GHz 4 GHz 256-bit 128 GB/s 1 GB GDDR5 1,440 USD 250 – 260
Radeon HD 5870 850 MHz 850 MHz 1.2 GHz 4.8 GHz 256-bit 153.6 GB/s 1 GB GDDR5 1,600 USD 330 – 340
Radeon 6850 775 MHz 775 MHz 1 GHz 4 GHz 256-bit 128 GB/s 1 GB GDDR5 960 USD 180 – 190
Radeon 6870 900 MHz 900 MHz 1.05 GHz 4.2 GHz 256-bit 134.4 GB/s 1 GB GDDR5 1,120 USD 240 – 260

Prices were researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review. All graphics chip listed above are DirectX 11 parts.

You can compare the specs of these video cards with other video cards by taking a look at our AMD ATI Chips Comparison Table and NVIDIA Chips Comparison Table tutorials. 

Now let’s take a complete look at this model from MSI.

[nextpage title=”The MSI Radeon HD 6870″]

As mentioned, the MSI Radeon HD 6870 follows AMD’s reference design.

MSI Radeon HD 6870Figure 1: MSI Radeon HD 6870

MSI Radeon HD 6870Figure 2: MSI Radeon HD 6870

This video card has two DVI-D, one HDMI, and two Mini DisplayPort outputs, for a total of five video connectors (only four of them can be used at the same time, though).

MSI Radeon HD 6870Figure 3: Video connectors

[nextpage title=”The MSI Radeon HD 6870 (Cont’d)”]

In Figure 4, you can see the video card with its cooler removed. Note how it requires two six-pin auxiliary power connectors. In Figures 5 you can see the cooler by itself. It has a copper base, three copper heatpipes, and a heatsink with aluminum fins.

MSI Radeon HD 6870Figure 4: Video card with the cooler removed

MSI Radeon HD 6870Figure 5: The GPU cooler

The reviewed card uses eight 1 Gbit GDDR5 chips, making its 1 GB video memory (1 Gbit x 8 = 1 GB). Each chip is connected to the GPU using a 32-bit data lane, making the video card’s 256-bit memory interface (32 bits x 8 = 256).

The chips used are H5GQ1H24AFR-T2C parts from Hynix, which support up to 1.25 GHz (4.5 GHz QDR) and since on this video card memory is accessed at 1.05 GHz (4.2 GHz QDR), there is a small margin for you to increase the memory clock rate while keeping the chips inside the maximum they support. Of course you can always try to overclock the memory chips above their specs.

MSI Radeon HD 6870Figure 6: Memory chips

This video card doesn’t come with any accessory or games.

Before seeing the performance results, let’s recap the main features of this video card.

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

The main specifications for the MSI Radeon HD 6870 video card include:

  • Graphics chip: AMD Radeon HD 6870 running at 900 MHz
  • Memory: 1 GB GDDR5 memory (256-bit interface) from Hynix (H5GQ1H24AFR-T2C), running at 1.05 GHz (4.2 GHz, QDR)
  • Bus type: PCI Express x16 2.0
  • Video Connectors: Two DVI-D, one HDMI, and two Mini DisplayPort
  • Video Capture (VIVO): No
  • Cables and adapters that come with this board: None
  • Number of CDs/DVDs that come with this board: One
  • Games included: None
  • Programs included: None
  • More information: https://us.msi.com
  • Average Price in the US*: USD 260.00

* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review
.

[nextpage title=”How We Tested”]

During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the video card being tested.

Hardware Configuration

Software Configuration

  • Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
  • Video resolution: 2560×1600 @ 60 Hz

Driver Versions

  • AMD/ATI video driver version: Catalyst 10.10
  • NVIDIA video driver version: 260.99
  • Intel Inf driver version: 9.1.1.1019

Software Used

Error Margin

We adopted a 3% error margin. Thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.

[nextpage title=”3DMark Vantage Professional”]

3DMark Vantage measures Shader 4.0 (i.e., DirectX 10) performance and supports PhysX, a programming interface developed by Ageia (now part of NVIDIA) to transfer physics calculations from the system CPU to the video card GPU in order to increase performance. Mechanical physics is the basis for calculations about the interaction of objects. For example, if you shoot, what exactly will happen to the object when the bullet hits it? Will it break? Will it move? Will the bullet bounce back? Note that since we are considering only the GPU score provided by this program, physics calculations are not taken into account.

We ran this program at three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600. First we used the “Performance” profile, and then we used the “Extreme” profile (basically enabling anti-aliasing at 4x, anisotropic filtering at 16x, and putting all detail settings at their maximum or “extreme” values). The results being compared are the “GPU Scores” achieved by each video card.

MSI Radeon HD 6870

3DMark Vantage – Performance 1680×1050 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 15099 19%
Radeon HD 6870 12668  
Radeon HD 5850 11833 -7%
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 11467 -9%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 10042 -21%
Radeon HD 6850 9979 -21%
GeForce GTX 465 9451 -25%

MSI Radeon HD 6870

3DMark Vantage – Performance 1920×1200 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 12134 20%
Radeon HD 6870 10087  
Radeon HD 5850 9485 -6%
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 8979 -11%
Radeon HD 6850 7959 -21%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 7755 -23%
GeForce GTX 465 7372 -27%

 

MSI Radeon HD 6870

3DMark Vantage – Performance 2560×1600 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 7079 20%
Radeon HD 6870 5877  
Radeon HD 5850 5594 -5%
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 5092 -13%
Radeon HD 6850 4709 -20%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 4333 -26%
GeForce GTX 465 4191 -29%

MSI Radeon HD 6870 

3DMark Vantage – Extreme 1680×1050 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 11524 23%
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 9514 2%
Radeon HD 6870 9352  
Radeon HD 5850 9025 -3%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 8307 -11%
GeForce GTX 465 7792 -17%
Radeon HD 6850 7208 -23%

MSI Radeon HD 6870

3DMark Vantage – Extreme 1920×1200 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 9290 23%
Radeon HD 6870 7526  
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 7473 -1%
Radeon HD 5850 7192 -4%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 6482 -14%
GeForce GTX 465 6110 -19%
Radeon HD 6850 5800 -23%

MSI Radeon HD 6870

3DMark Vantage – Extreme 2560×1600 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 5519 25%
Radeon HD 6870 4407  
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 4312 -2%
Radeon HD 5850 4298 -2%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 3517 -20%
GeForce GTX 465 3515 -20%
Radeon HD 6850 3470 -21%

[nextpage title=”Call of Duty 4″]

Call of Duty 4 is a DirectX 9 game implementing high-dynamic range (HDR) and its own physics engine, which is used to calculate how objects interact. For example, if you shoot, exactly what will happen to the object when the bullet hits it? Will it break? Will it move? Will the bullet bounce back? It gives a more realistic experience to the user.

To get accurate results we had to disable the 80 FPS limit in the game. To do this, input the command, “/seta com_maxfps 1000” (minus the quotes) into the console (` key). It can be set to any number greater than 200.

We ran this program at three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600, maxing out all image quality controls (i.e., everything was set to the maximum values in the Graphics and Texture menus). We used the internal game benchmarking feature, running a demo provided by NVIDIA called “wetwork.” We are putting this demo here for downloading if you want to run your own benchmarks. We ran the demo five times, and the results below are the average number of frames per second (FPS) achieved by each video card.

MSI Radeon HD 6870

Call of Duty 4 – Maximum 1680×1050 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 155.8 14%
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 138.4 2%
Radeon HD 6870 136.1  
Radeon HD 5850 132.1 -3%
Radeon HD 6850 125.9 -7%
GeForce GTX 465 125.6 -8%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 112.6 -17%

MSI Radeon HD 6870

Call of Duty 4 – Maximum 1920×1200 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 136.2 15%
Radeon HD 6870 118.4  
Radeon HD 5850 114.5 -3%
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 110.6 -7%
Radeon HD 6850 108.3 -9%
GeForce GTX 465 104.4 -12%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 95.3 -20%

MSI Radeon HD 6870

Call of Duty 4 – Maximum 2560×1600 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 94.2 17%
Radeon HD 6870 80.8  
Radeon HD 5850 78.1 -3%
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 74.6 -8%
Radeon HD 6850 72.4 -10%
GeForce GTX 465 70.2 -13%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 62.8 -22%

[nextpage title=”Crysis Warhead”]

Crysis Warhead is a DirectX 10 game based on the same engine as the original Crysis, but optimized (it runs under DirectX 9.0c when installed on Windows XP).

We used the HardwareOC Crysis Warhead Benchmark Tool to collect the data for this test. We ran this program at three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600, all at medium image quality (16x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering) and using the Airfield demo. The results below are the number of frames per second achieved by each video card.

MSI Radeon HD 6870

Crysis Warhead – Medium 1680×1050 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 35 9%
Radeon HD 6870 32  
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 31 -3%
GeForce GTX 465 30 -6%
Radeon HD 5850 30 -6%
Radeon HD 6850 28 -13%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 27 -16%

MSI Radeon HD 6870

MSI Radeon HD 6870

Crysis Warhead – Medium 1920×1200 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 31 15%
Radeon HD 6870 27  
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 26 -4%
Radeon HD 5850 26 -4%
GeForce GTX 465 25 -7%
Radeon HD 6850 24 -11%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 22 -19%
Crysis Warhead – Medium 2560×1600 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 21 11%
Radeon HD 6870 19  
Radeon HD 5850 17 -11%
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 16 -16%
Radeon HD 6850 16 -16%
GeForce GTX 465 15 -21%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 13 -32%

[nextpage title=”Far Cry 2″]

Far Cry 2 is based on an entirely new game engine called Dunia, which is DirectX 10 when played under Windows Vista with a DirectX 10 compatible video card.

We used the benchmarking utility that comes with this game, setting image quality to High (x8 anti-aliasing) and running the “Ranch Long” demo three times. The results below are expressed in frames per second and are an arithmetic average of the three results collected.

MSI Radeon HD 6870

FarCry 2 – Maximum 1680×1050 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 109.8 8%
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 104.9 4%
Radeon HD 6870 101.2  
Radeon HD 5850 94.0 -7%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 93.9 -7%
GeForce GTX 465 90.4 -11%
Radeon HD 6850 88.6 -12%

MSI Radeon HD 6870

FarCry 2 – Maximum 1920×1200 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 98.4 10%
Radeon HD 6870 89.4  
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 88.9 -1%
Radeon HD 5850 83.3 -7%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 78.5 -12%
Radeon HD 6850 78.1 -13%
GeForce GTX 465 75.5 -16%

MSI Radeon HD 6870

FarCry 2 – Maximum 2560×1600 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 70.2 13%
Radeon HD 6870 62.1  
Radeon HD 5850 58.7 -5%
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 57.8 -7%
Radeon HD 6850 54.0 -13%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 50.1 -19%
GeForce GTX 465 49.0 -21%

[nextpage title=”Aliens vs. Predator”]

Aliens vs. Predator is a DirectX 11 game that makes full use of tessellation and advanced shadow rendering. We used the Aliens vs. Predator Benchmark Tool developed by Rebellion. This program reads its configuration from a text file (our configuration files can be found here). We ran this program at 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600 resolutions, with low texture settings, x8 anisotropic filtering and x4 anti-aliasing.

MSI Radeon HD 6870

Aliens vs. Predator 1680×1050 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 52 27%
Radeon HD 5850 41.3 1%
Radeon HD 6870 41  
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 37.8 -8%
GeForce GTX 465 35.5 -13%
Radeon HD 6850 34.6 -16%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 30.7 -25%

MSI Radeon HD 6870

Aliens vs. Predator 1920×1200 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 42.5 27%
Radeon HD 5850 33.6 1%
Radeon HD 6870 33.4  
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 30.2 -10%
GeForce GTX 465 28.5 -15%
Radeon HD 6850 28.2 -16%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 24.5 -27%

MSI Radeon HD 6870

Aliens vs. Predator 2560×1600 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 26.2 28%
Radeon HD 5850 20.6 1%
Radeon HD 6870 20.4  
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 18.1 -11%
GeForce GTX 465 17.5 -14%
Radeon HD 6850 17.2 -16%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 14.5 -29%

[nextpage title=”Lost Planet 2″]

Lost Planet 2 is a game that uses a lot of DirectX 11 features, like tessellation (to round out the edges of polygonal models), displacement maps (added to the tessellated mesh to add fine grain details), DirectCompute soft body simulation (to introduce more realism in the “boss” monsters), and DirectCompute wave simulation (to introduce more realism in the physics calculations in water surfaces; when you move or when gunshots and explosions hit the water, it moves accordingly). We reviewed the video cards using Lost Planet 2 internal benchmarking features, choosing the “Benchmark A” (we know that “Benchmark B” is the one recommended
for reviewing video cards, however, at least with us, results were inconsistent). We set graphics at “medium,” anti-aliasing at “2x” and DX11 at “full.” The results below are the number of frames per second generated by each video card.

MSI Radeon HD 6870

Lost Planet 2 1680×1050 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 63.10 4%
Radeon HD 6870 60.60  
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 55.30 -9%
GeForce GTX 465 54.80 -10%
Radeon HD 6850 52.90 -13%
Radeon HD 5850 50.90 -16%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 47.70 -21%

MSI Radeon HD 6870

Lost Planet 2 1920×1200 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 55.00 9%
Radeon HD 6870 50.40  
Radeon HD 5850 47.10 -7%
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 46.30 -8%
GeForce GTX 465 42.60 -15%
Radeon HD 6850 40.20 -20%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 39.40 -22%

MSI Radeon HD 6870

Lost Planet 2 2560×1600 Difference
Radeon HD 5870 39.80 8%
Radeon HD 6870 36.90  
Radeon HD 5850 31.80 -14%
Radeon HD 6850 29.60 -20%
GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) 28.90 -22%
GeForce GTX 465 27.60 -25%
GeForce GTX 460 (768 MB) 24.80 -33%

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

The new Radeon HD 6870 is a very interesting video card. Against the GeForce GTX 465 it is a no-brainer: it was between 7% and 40% faster than its main competitor. However, as explained in the introduction, the Radeon HD 6870 has two indirect competitors, the GeForce GTX 460 with 1 GB and the Radeon HD 5850.

Against the GeForce GTX 460 with 1 GB, we saw the Radeon HD 6870 achieving the same performance level or being faster (up to 28%) in practically all games and simulations. The only game that we saw an advantage for the GTX 460 with 1 GB was on Far Cry 2 at 1680 x 1050, where it was 4% faster. At 1920 x 1200, however, both cards achieved the same performance level, and at 2560 x 1600 the Radeon HD 6870 was 7% faster.

Against the Radeon HD 5850, the new Radeon HD 6870 was faster in most games (up to 19%), with both achieving the same performance on Call of Duty 4 and Alien vs. Predator.

Since the Radeon HD 6870 is in the same price range as the Radeon HD 5850, we think the new Radeon HD 6870 is now “the” video card if you have around USD 250 to spend on a video card: in the worst case scenario you will have the same performance as a Radeon HD 5850 and, in the best case, you will improve your gaming performance by up to 19%. In other words, if you were thinking on buying a Radeon HD 5850, please switch to the new Radeon HD 6870!