Last month, AMD, which pioneered DirectX 11 compliant PC consumer graphics, released its second-generation Radeon HD 6800 DirectX 11 architecture, codenamed Northern Islands. The company has enjoyed a 6 month head-start into the race for DirectX 11 graphics hardware market dominance, which also reflected in both growth of market-share, and domination in sales. The time passed by also allowed AMD to refine and fine-tune its architecture to better suit the existing 40 nm silicon fabrication process, by promising to churn out higher performance per Watt and performance per mm² of die-area (plays an important role in product pricing), compared to the previous-generation Evergreen architecture.
PowerColor's HD 6850 PCS+ is a fully custom HD 6850 design. It uses a different PCB, different voltage regulator and different thermal solution than the AMD reference version. The most important points for the HD 6850 PCS+ are a clock speed of 820 MHz core and 1100 MHz memory, which is 6% more on core and 10% more on memory.
HD 6850 PCS+
||2x 1024 MB
|Memory Bus Width
||2x 256 bit
There is not much to say about PowerColor's package, it is easily recognizable as such and communicates the most basic product highlights.
You will receive:
- Graphics card
- Driver CD + Documentation
- DVI adapter
- CrossFire Bridge
- Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 Steam Coupon
PowerColor's HD 6850 PCS+ uses a cooler that resembles a racecar chassis.
Like all othe HD 6850 cards available today the HD 6850 PCS+ requires two slots in your system.
The card has two DVI ports, one DisplayPort and one HDMI port. AMD's display output logic is clearly superior to what NVIDIA has to offer at this time. Vendors are free to combine six TMDS links into any output configuration they want (dual-link DVI consuming two links) - and use them all at the same time. AMD has also introduced DisplayPort 1.2 support with their new cards which allows the use of a DisplayPort hub to connect multiple monitors, or daisy chain them together.
An HDMI sound device is also included in the GPU. The HDMI interface is HDMI 1.4a compatible which includes Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD, AC-3, DTS and up to 7.1 channel audio with 192 kHz / 24-bit output. The new revision also brings support for Blu-ray 3D movies which will become important later this year when we will see first Blu-ray 3D titles shipping.
You may combine up to two HD 6850 and HD 6870 cards in CrossFire for higher performance or improved image quality settings.
Here are the front and the back of the card, high-res versions are also available (front
). If you choose to use these images for voltmods etc, please include a link back to this site or let us post your article.
A Closer Look
PowerColor's heatsink uses three heatpipes to transport heat away from the GPU core to an array of fins where heat is dissipated in the fan's airflow.
A single 6-pin power connector, which allows total power consumption of up to 150 W, is enough for the card.
The GDDR5 memory chips are made by Hynix, and carry the model number H5GQ1H24AFR-T2C. They are specified to run at 1250 MHz (5000 MHz GDDR5 effective).
Instead of the expensive CHiL voltage regulator from the reference design, PowerColor has chosen to use a more cost effective uP6213 which unfortunately does not offer software voltage control via I2C.
AMD's new Barts graphics processor is made on a 40 nm process at TSMC Taiwan. It uses approximately 1.7 billion transistors on a die area of 255 mm². This is also the first GPU to carry the AMD logo instead of the ATI logo.
Benchmark scores in other reviews are only comparable when this exact same configuration is used.
|Test System - VGA Rev. 11
||Intel Core i7 920 @ 3.8 GHz
(Bloomfield, 8192 KB Cache)
||Gigabyte X58 Extreme
Intel X58 & ICH10R
||3x 2048 MB Mushkin Redline XP3-12800 DDR3
@ 1520 MHz 8-7-7-16
||WD Caviar Black 6401AALS 640 GB
||Windows 7 64-bit
ATI: Catalyst 10.7
HD 6800: Catalyst 10.10 Oct 12
LG Flatron W3000H 30" 2560x1600
- All video card results were obtained on this exact system with the exact same configuration.
- All games were set to their highest quality setting
Each benchmark was tested at the following settings and resolution:
- 1024 x 768, No Anti-aliasing. This is a standard resolution without demanding display settings.
- 1280 x 1024, 2x Anti-aliasing. Common resolution for most smaller flatscreens today (17" - 19"). A bit of eye candy turned on in the drivers.
- 1680 x 1050, 4x Anti-aliasing. Most common widescreen resolution on larger displays (19" - 22"). Very good looking driver graphics settings.
- 1920 x 1200, 4x Anti-aliasing. Typical widescreen resolution for large displays (22" - 26"). Very good looking driver graphics settings.
- 2560 x 1600, 4x Anti-aliasing. Highest possible resolution for commonly available displays (30"). Very good looking driver graphics settings.
Aliens vs. Predator
Aliens vs. Predator is based on a merger of the Aliens and the Predators franchise: two legendary alien species that are in conflict with each other, fighting to the death with human marines caught in between. The first person shooter game was developed by Rebellion Studios, who also developed the first AVP PC title and released in February 2010. It was one of the first DirectX 11 games with support for new features like Tesselation, which is why AMD heavily promoted it at the time of their DX 11 card launches. We used the AVP benchmark utility with tesselation and advanced DX11 shadows enabled.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
, released in March 2010 by Electronics Arts, is the most successful DirectX 11 title so far. Even though it contains a full single-player campaign during which the player has to work with a squad to secure a secret weapon, the game is most well known for its fast paced, exciting multiplayer squad action. Thanks to a CPU-based Havok physics engine and skillful use of scripting, the game has destroyable objects, vegetation and terrain without requiring NVIDIA PhysX.
We tested the truck chase scene of the second single-player mission at maximum settings with DirectX 11 enabled.
, a card based RTS, is developed by the German EA Phenomic Studio. A few months after launch the game was transformed into a Play 4 Free branded game. That move and the fact that it was included as game bundle with a large number of ATI cards made it one of the more well known RTS games of 2009. You as a player assemble your deck before game to select the units that will be available. Your choice can be from forces of Fire, Frost, Nature and Shadow to complement each other.
The BattleForge engine has full support for DX 9, DX 10 and DX 10.1, we used the internal benchmark tool in DirectX 11 mode to acquire our results.
Call of Duty 4
Call of Duty 4
is a first-person shooter that is built on the award winning Call of Duty Series. It is the first version to play in modern times. In a near-future conflict between the United States, Europe and Russia you get to play as a United States Marine and a British SAS operative. The engine is Infinity Ward's own creation and has true dynamic lighting, depth of field, dynamic shadows and HDR. Even though the game plot is scripted you will find yourself in intense battles, often working together with computer controlled team mates.
Call of Juarez 2
Call of Juarez 2: Bound in Blood
is a prequel to the first Call of Juarez game which was one of the first DX10 titles available on the market. This time the plot evolves around two brothers, before each mission you may pick one to play. Your choices affect the game play since both characters have different ways of handling situations and doing combat.
Call of Juarez 2 uses Techland's Chrome Engine 4 which adds Edge Anti Aliasing as one of the first engines on the market. Edge Anti Aliasing looks similar to normal AA but comes with a considerably reduced performance drop. However, due to the deferred shading design of Edge AA, normal AA can't be used on top of it.
After the tremendous success of Far Cry, the German game studio Crytek released their latest shooter Crysis
in 2007. The game was by far the most hyped and anticipated game in 2007, the forums were full of "Can my system run Crysis?" threads because of the high hardware requirements of this game. Just like in Far Cry the plot evolves on a small island with a thick and richly detailed jungle world. A lot of attention has been given to small details like correct physics. For example when you fire on a tree trunk, it will shatter and the tree will fall over leaving a stump behind. Enemies in a car can be stopped by shooting the tire of the car. The game graphics are by far the best ever seen in a PC game so far, yet the game still runs well on most computers.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
by Relic Entertainment is an RTS game based on the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Unlike other Dawn of War titles there is no base-building element in the game, you simply command units on the battlefield. Due to the non-linear mission design, the choices which mission and objective you pick to pursue have considerable impact on game play and mission difficulty. A "hero" unit concept adds RPG elements to the game, allowing you to advance the unit in terms of levels and abilities. Dawn of War 2 uses the Essence Engine 2.0, version 1.0 was used in the Company of Heroes Series.
DiRT 2 is the first game to offer basic DirectX 11 features, even though they are very limited, the title has been used extensively by AMD to market their DX11 products. The game features a large number of different racing events all over the world with tracks ranging from off-road, over stadiums to complex city courses. We chose not to benchmark DX 11 at this time because the number of DX11 effects is not worth the performance hit.
Far Cry 2
Four years after the success of Far Cry, Ubisoft has published the sequel called Far Cry 2
. While the first part was set on an island, Far Cry 2 takes you deep into Africa with game play that resembles Grand Theft Auto much more than the original Far Cry, which was a classical 3D shooter. Ubisoft engineered a completely new 3D engine called "Dunia" which offers a large amount of popular features like DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 support, destructible environments, physics and non-scripted AI while not being as much of a resource hog as Crytek's CryEngine. We tested the Ranch Medium level at DirectX 10 with highest details.
Tom Clancy's HAWX
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.
is one of the very few recent flight simulator games on the market. Being a console conversion it emphasizes "flight" more than "simulator". It is set in a near future in which private military companies have begun fighting conflicts for nations with their own military gear. You are playing an elite pilot who was recruited by such a private company. During the game you get to fly over 50 different aircrafts, ranging from the MIG 21 to the mighty F22 Raptor. One notable feature of its engine is the use of GeoEye satellite imagery for terrain generation which offers one of the most realistic incarnations of battlefield terrain available today.
Metro 2033 is a first-person shooter game that is set in a post apocalyptic Moscow - as the name suggests inside the metro system. You will fight mutants or other humans who like to take away your shelter. The game has many gameplay elements similar to STALKER, also the engine has similar features. This is because two STALKER engine programmers left GSC Game World and started their own company which is now making Metro 2033.
The engine has support for all the latest eye candy like DirectX 11 and Tesselation. Unfortunately it leaves a less than optimized impression, making it a candidate to surpass Crysis for the highest hardware requirements. We tested in DirectX 11 mode with details set to "Very High". Please note that most cards will run out of memory at a resolution of 2560x1600 which results in the low scores you see all across the board.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena
is a first person shooter game set in a far future. You are Riddick, a notorious space criminal played by Vin Diesel in the movies. Dark Athena continues where Escape from Butcher Bay ended. A major aspect of the game is its tactical use of shadows and stealth so that enemies can't detect you. Vin Diesel's voice acting also adds greatly to the game experience.
The 0.0 FPS scores for NVIDIA cards at 2560x1600 are caused by driver crashes which seem to be related to card with 512 MB memory and below. Since it works fine on ATI this is not a game problem but an NVIDIA driver issue.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Clear Sky
STALKER Clear Sky
is GSC Gameworld's prequel to the 2007 hit "STALKER". Just like in the first part the game is set around the Russian area of Chernobyl and Pripyat, most well known for the nuclear accident that occurred there. You play the role of a mercenary who spends his days in The Zone trying to make a living. The Zone is an area which is affected by so-called anomalies which cause mutants to appear and laws of physics to change. While you investigate these anomalies the plot leads up to the events that happened right before the first game starts. A new in-game faction system encourages you to befriend various groups in The Zone in exchange for information or items. While the graphics of Clear Sky are based on the first Stalker game engine, there are numerous improvements, including support for DirectX10 and depth-of-field/volumetric effects. The 0.0 FPS scores for NVIDIA cards at 2560x1600 are caused by driver crashes which seem to be related to card with 512 MB memory and below. Since it works fine on ATI this is not a game problem but an NVIDIA driver issue.
Supreme Commander 2
Supreme Commander 2
is a real-time strategy game by Gas Powered Games who also designed the first part of the series which features epic battles between hundreds of units. Compared to the second part the number of different units and buildings has been reduced, as well as changes to the tech tree and a general reduction of map size.
Even though the engine is DirectX 9, it features state of the art global illumination and handles even large numbers of objects and effects with decent speed.
Unreal Tournament 3
The fourth game in Epic's highly successful Unreal Tournament Series is simply called Unreal Tournament 3
. It is based on the Unreal 3 engine which is a major step forward from the previous engine. The game principle is centered about an arena style gameplay where several contestants try to reach a certain kill count or capture a flag for example. For its time, the graphics were top notch, with large and detailed textures. Unreal Tournament 3 is an important benchmark because its engine has been used in a large number of other titles, and there are even some in development using it. One major drawback of the way the engine is designed is that there is no support for Anti-Aliasing.
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
World of Warcraft is the most successful massively multiplayer online game in the world with far over 12 milion monthly subscribers. The game is centered around the epic battle between the Horde and Alliance factions with many other races getting involved in a long and complex story line. Even though it has been released in 2004, Blizzard has always added incremental improvements to the graphics, especially with new expansions. One key success of World of Warcraft is that it will run on a large number of slower systems, but also delivers a decent graphics experience on high-end systems. We tested in DirectX 11 mode with details set to "Ultra".
is the number one player in the world of synthetic benchmarking. The 3DMark series is the most popular test suite for video card testing and is used by gamers, overclockers and manufacturers alike to determine how fast their hardware is. Even though it is a few years old, 3DMark03 can easily stress today's video cards.
Another benchmark from Futuremark
is 3DMark05 which comes with four completely new game tests that make massive use of shaders and lighting effects. 3DMark05 is a great test for modern video card architectures - in some tests you are often close to the 30 fps mark, below which your games will feel sluggish.
Even though it's based on Futuremark's 3DMark05, the new 3DMark06 adds new tests for Shader Model 3.0 and HDR rendering. It is also the first 3DMark to incorporate a CPU score into the final 3DMark score. All tests have received an overhaul, for example in the Canyon Flight test you can now see beautiful sun glare effects with the help of High Dynamic Range rendering.
Unigine Heaven 2.0
Unigine Heaven was one of the first demos that supported DirectX 11. Heaven is a technology demonstration for Unigine engine which supports DirectX 9 through 11 and OpenGL too. Version 2.0 adds more scenes and optionally more complex tesselation features. While there is some controversy surrounding the benchmark whether it is an accurate representation of what to expect from future games in regards to DirectX 11 we still chose it as test to get an insight into potential future gaming.
Cooling modern video cards is becoming more and more difficult, especially when users are asking for quiet cooling solutions. That's why the engineers are now paying much more attention to power consumption of new video card designs.
For this test we measure power consumption of only the graphics card, via PCI-Express power connector(s) and PCI-Express bus slot. A Keithley Integra 2700 with 6.5 digits is used for all measurements. Again, the values here reflect card only power consumption measured at DC VGA card inputs, not the whole system.
We chose 3DMark03 Nature as a standard test representing typical 3D usage because it offers: - very high power draw - high repeatability - is a standard benchmark that is supported by all cards - drivers are actively tested and optimized for it - supports all multi-GPU configurations - easy to obtain - fairly compact in size - test runs a constant duration and renders a non-static scene with variable complexity just like any normal game.
The four result values are as following:
- Idle: Windows Vista Aero sitting at the desktop (1280x1024 32-bit) all windows closed, drivers installed. Card left to warm up in idle until power draw is stable.
- Average: 3DMark03 Nature at 1280x1024, 6xAA, 16xAF. This results in the highest power consumption. Average of all readings (12 per second) while the test was rendering (no title screen).
- Peak: 3DMark03 Nature at 1280x1024, 6xAA, 16xAF. Highest single reading during the test.
- Maximum: Furmark Stability Test at 1280x1024, 0xAA. This results in a very high non-game power consumption that can typically be reached only with stress testing applications. Card left running stress test until power draw converged to a stable value.
- Blu-ray Playback: Power DVD 9 Ultra is used at a resolution of 1920x1200 to play back the Batman: The Dark Knight disc with GPU acceleration turned on. Playback starts around timecode 1:19 which has the highest data rates on the BD with up to 40 Mb/s. Playback left running until power draw converged to a stable value.
Power consumption of the PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+ is roughly comparable to the AMD reference design. This means that the cheaper voltage regulator does not have a significant impact on power consumption numbers. The only exception is Blu-ray playback with 51 W which seems disproportionately higher. One explanation is that AMD's new cards run at 3D gaming memory clocks for Blu-ray playback which means the HD 6850 PCS+ runs at 1100 MHz instead of 1000 MHz on the HD 6850 reference.
In the past years users would accept everything just to get more performance. Nowadays this has changed with people being more aware of the fan noise and power consumption of their graphic cards.
In order to properly test the fan noise a card emits we are using a Bruel & Kjaer 2236 sound level meter (~$4,000) which has the measurement range and accuracy we are looking for.
The tested graphics card is installed in a system that is completely passively cooled. That is passive PSU, passive CPU cooler, passive cooling on the motherboard and Solid-State HDD.
This setup allows us to eliminate secondary noise sources and test only the video card. To be more compliant with standards like DIN 45635 (we are not claiming to be fully DIN 45635 certified) the measurement is conducted at 100 cm distance and 160 cm over the floor. The ambient background noise level in the room is well below 20 dbA for all measurements. Please note that the dbA scale is not linear, it is logarithmic. 40 dbA is not twice as loud as 20 dbA. A 3 dbA increase results in double the sound pressure. The human hearing is a bit different and it is generally accepted that a 10 dbA increase doubles the perceived sound level.
In idle the fan noise of the PowerColor HD 6850 PCS+ is about the same as on other HD 6850 variants we have seen so far. Under load the card is noticeably quieter than these cards, I'd consider 31 dbA "quiet" for a card in the HD 6850 performance range.
To create this graph we took all performance results of the five resolutions we tested, threw them together and calculated the relative performance of each card, compared to our review sample. In a sixth graph we also combined all tests in all resolutions to calculate the total relative performance of the review sample. Cards that do not support DX11 were given a score according to their performance in all other non-DX11 tests, which means cards were not penalized for not having DirectX 11 support.
Performance per Watt
This graph was created by taking the relative performance numbers and putting them in contrast to the average power consumption results.
Performance per Dollar
If you are looking for the best bang for the buck, then you will love this graph. We looked up the current USD price of each card on the popular online shop Newegg and used it and the relative performance numbers to calculate the Performance per Dollar Index.
To find the maximum overclock of our card we used a combination of GPUTool and our benchmarking suite.
The overclocks listed in this section were achieved with the default fan and voltage settings as defined in the VGA BIOS. Please note that every single sample overclocks differently, that's why our results here can only serve as a guideline for what you can expect from your card.
The overclocks of our card are 950 MHz core (16% overclock) and 1160 MHz Memory (5% overclock). Those clock frequencies are pretty much spot on for what I'd expect for any typical HD 6850 card.
Using these clock frequencies we ran a quick test of Call of Duty 4 to evaluate the gains from overclocking.
The actual 3D performance gained from overclocking is 11.2%.
Temperatures are in a perfectly safe range. Personally I would have preferred a higher idle temp but less noise from the cooler. Also there seems a bit of extra headroom left in the "load" temperature.
PowerColor's voltage regulator does not offer voltage control via I2C, so we could not test voltage tuning. Extremely motivated overclockers could still do a soldering voltmod, but that would void the warranty.
Modern graphics cards have several clock profiles that are selected to balance power draw and performance requirements.
The following table lists the clock settings for major performance scenarios and the GPU voltage that we measured. We measure on the pins of a coil or capacitor near the GPU voltage regulator.
|CCC Overdrive Limits
Value and Conclusion
- According to PowerColor, their HD 6850 PCS+ will retail around $189.
- Nice performance increase in this price segment
- Improvement in performance per Watt
- Overclocked out of the box
- Less noise under load than other HD 6850 cards
- Low power consumption
- Native full-size HDMI & DisplayPort output
- Call of Duty 2 Modern Warfare Coupon included
- GDDR5 memory
- HDMI 1.4 & DisplayPort 1.2 support
- EyeFinity support - up to 6 displays with one card
- Support for DirectX 11
- No software voltage control
- Overclock out of the box is rather small
- Cooler could be quieter in idle
- High Blu-ray power consumption
- Lack of 3-way and 4-way CrossFire support
- DirectX 11 relevance very limited at this time
- No support for CUDA / PhysX
||PowerColor's HD 6850 PCS+ is the first HD 6850 to reach our labs that uses a heavily modified HD 6850 PCB design. PowerColor has chosen to replace the CHiL voltage regulator with one from uPi which is considerably cheaper but does not offer the extensive software voltage control features of the CHiL controller. This means that overclockers who want to play with voltages will be out of luck with this card.|
Overclocking potential on the HD 6850 PCS+ is decent, and comparable to other HD 6850 cards we have seen so far. Where the PowerColor card can excel is fan noise under load. With only 31 dbA it is substantially quieter than any other HD 6800 Series card we tested so far. Unfortunately idle fan noise has not received the low noise treatment. Here the card is as noisy as any other HD 6850. Considering idle temperatures of 46°C I see no reason why PowerColor would not choose quieter fan settings on their card.
PowerColor's out of the box overclock is rather slim which seems to be more a political limitation from AMD than PowerColor's own choosing. The CCC Overdrive limits are alright with 1000/1250, especially when considering that the card has no voltage control.
Other than that, the HD 6850 PCS+ is a solid implementation of a custom HD 6850 design that leads the reference implementation with a performance increase of around 6%. Whether this is enough for you to justify the increased cost of $10 to $15 depends mostly on whether you are willing to do some overclocking on your own or if you just want to get going with gaming. The included Call of Duty 2 Modern Warfare could help tip the balance in favour of the PCS+. Hardcore overclockers should stay away from this card though because of the missing GPU voltage control. Personally I find the price a bit too high for what is offered. If the card was priced at $179 - the reference design price - then PowerColor could certainly gain some momentum from non-overclockers who simply want a fast and robust card without going too much into tweaking.