ASUS Radeon EAH6850 DirectCU
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There are some critical differences to note with the launch of the 6000 series graphics cards. First and foremost, gone is the ATI moniker, a branding icon in the graphics industry. It has now been replaced by AMD branding, which shouldn’t really come as a surprise since ATI was purchased by the chip giant several years ago; we all knew it was just a matter of time. So these new cards are now known as AMD Radeon cards, not ATI. For all intents and purposes, ATI is dead; long live ATI!
The second major difference here is the naming conventions for the cards. These 6800 cards are based on the Barts core, the "low end" of the new premium gaming cards. It seems that AMD has decided to separate the model lineup with a more granular setup than the 5000 series, thus avoiding any actual "successor" comparisons. This means that the 6870 is in fact not the direct successor to the 5870, and the 6850 isn’t the new 5850. These new 6870 and 6850 may sound like flagship cards, but they’re actually not; since they’re based on the Barts core, these are the lower end of the gaming cards. Therefore, we should expect the 6000 series cards to improve in perofrmance from here on out.
Undoubtedly this will cause a great deal of confusion, particularly amongst non-enthusiasts or serious gamers who will not know the difference. The rationale for this naming shift should become more apparent as further models are released in the near future, and hopefully it begins to make sense as we see more model hit the market at various price points and market segments.
The image below shows the product lineup coming down the pipe from AMD in the near future. As you can see, the Barts 6850/6870 cards are near the bottom end of the gaming card models, so apparently ones with much more horsepower are on the way.
Now, as far as the 6870 and 6850 cards themselves shake out so far, there are some specific key differences between the two models. Below is a summary chart that identifies those key differences. Note that the raw specifications indicate potential performance improvements of up to 33% (at least on paper), so it will be interesting to see the actual differences when we run the cards through our benchmarking suite.
Aside from the specifications, another difference is the available physical outputs: the HD 6870 has two DVI, one HDMI and two mini-DisplayPort outputs, allowing a wide choice of monitor configurations to be used. The HD 6850, however, is slightly different as it has two DVI, one HDMI and a single DisplayPort output. With the release of the DisplayPort v1.2 drivers, it will be possible to daisy chain several DisplayPort v1.2 monitors from each DisplayPort output.
Below is a bit more detail for the 6850 model specifications:
Another feature now provided with this new generation of cards is 3D Stereoscopic support. Nvidia has already offered 3D technology and now AMD is following suit. AMD has partnered with 3D middleware vendors such as Dynamic Digital Depth and iZ3D to offer stereoscopic 3D gaming experiences with these 6800 series cards. AMD’s solution differs from Nvidia in that the former uses 3rd party software, whereas the latter provides driver-level implementation. The main similarities, however, are that glasses and a 120Hz display is required for the technologies, but there are very few 3D-capable PC monitors currently on the market.
Certainly the appeal and immersivity of 3D gaming is tantalizing, but at this point the technology and hardware required is fairly cost prohibitive for the most part, not to mention the phenomenal graphics horsepower required to maintain reasonable framerates in modern games. That being said, the differences and successes of 3D technology are beyond the scope of this particular review, and 3D gaming is still experiencing teething problems, but it will be interesting to keep a close eye on developments as they move forward.
The last new feature incorporated by the 6000 series cards relates to bitstreaming audio. Until now, a Home Theater HD card sound card was needed to process these lossless audio formats. Typically this card required a cable routing the video signal from the graphics adapter to the sound card. The sound card then combined the digital audio sound track with the video signal and sent the matched up signals to the monitor via an HDMI cable. With a 6800 Series video card, all you need to do is install the card into your motherboard and connect it to your receiver with an HDMI cable, thus eliminating the need for a separate sound card and making for a more economical setup.
Let’s next take a quick look at AMD Eyefinity technology.