The basics: AMD’s 6000-series graphics cards

The basics: AMD’s 6000-series graphics cards

AMD today launched two cards from its new 6000 series of graphics cards, and we’re here to answer your questions about the new GPUs

We were in Taipei earlier this week to hear all about the new AMD 6000-series graphics cards.


So what’s new?

Initially, AMD are releasing the Radeon HD 6870 and Radeon HD 6850, which are equivalent to upgraded versions of the Radeon HD 5850 and Radeon HD 5870. We thought that the Radeon HD 5850 was a fantastic bang-for-buck proposition, and we’re expecting that the 6870 will fill the same niche. 

In approximately a month, the more power-oriented cards will be released. The Radeon HD 6950 and 6970 didn’t receive much press at AMD’s technical forum in Taipei, but we're hoping it will kick butt. 

The 6990 – which will be the dual core graphics card in the range, will also be released in around a month.

AMD says it will continue to produce the 5700-series cards from the older generation GPUs, reducing the price further.


How do they compare to the 5000 series?

For the 6850 and 6870 cards, which are the first of the new “Northern Islands” range, AMD’s aim was to improve the 5800 series – it’s not a full generational change, but instead, optimization for lower power usage and price.

AMD says you can expect up to twice the performance of the HD Radeon 5000 series.

The Radeon HD 6870 will sell for around US$239, and the Radeon HD 6850 for US$179. That makes them  signifanctly cheaper than both the Radeon HD 5850 and Radeon HD 5870, as well as cheaper than the competing Nvidia cards. 


Do they come with new features?

When it comes to graphics architecture, AMD is mostly talking “optimisation”, which they say consists of better and more efficient tessellation, improved antialiasing and anisotropic filtering, improved architecture for DirectCompute and gaming, and better bang-for-buck.

On the hardware front, there are now extra connections: two mini-displayport connectors, HDMI 1.4a and 2 DVI ports for 6850 cards and above. Additionally, the 6850 and 6870 are now 900MHz and 775MHz core clock speed, improving the throughput of the cards, despite the smaller die size and lower memory bandwidth compared to the 5850/5870.

UVD 3.0 is an improvement on UVD 2.0, seen in previous generations of HD Radeon cards, which AMD says will improve Blu-Ray and DivX decoding speeds.


Tessellation improvements? Buh?

Tessellation is the use of grouped triangles to create shading and depth. It provides guides as to the edges, so that the graphics card can fill in shading, textures and other aspects where they are needed.

According to AMD,  a 15-25 pixel triangle provides optimal tessellation – avoiding overshading (resulting in more work for the graphics card than is needed to produce visually spectacular results).

AMD is using high level tessellation only for objects close to the viewer, where additional detail is needed and expected, while distant or simple objects get less attention.


What’s new with the Antialiasing?

Antialiasing is the reduction of jagged edges generated when the graphics card draws diagonal lines.  AMD is using morphological antialiasing in the 6000 series graphics cards, which produces a softer edge, at a faster speed.


And, dare I ask, Anisotropic filtering?

Anisotropic filtering (AF) is the process of generating transitions for distance – making perspective look realistic without sudden jumps in texture complexity.

The new AF uses a refined algorithm that AMD says should produce less noise. We’ll know more once we get some testing time with the cards.


Why are they continuing to produce the 5700 series?

According to AMD, the 5770 hit a sweet spot for people looking for a cheaper graphics solution, and there are currently no plans to replace that series with a cheap 6700 equivalent.


So have you got the specs?


Radeon HD 6850  Radeon HD 6870
Core clock speed  775MHz  900MHz
Stream processors  960  1120
Frame buffer    1GB GDDR5  1GB GDDR5
Memory bandwidth /speed   256bit/ 4Gbits/sec      256bit/ 4.2GBits/sec
Display output   2 x DVI, 2 x mini-DP, HDMI   2 x DVI, 2 x mini-DP, HDMI 
Power usage (load/idle)  127W/19W  151W/19W
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