Getting your head around the fact that the HD 6850 doesn't replace the HD 5850 takes a bit of time. If you go in thinking that this is going to be an upgrade from your HD 5850 you're going to be disappointed. This is ultimately what would mark the biggest problem with the series at the moment; the naming scheme gives an illusion that it replaces the HD 5800 series.
Really, the HD 6850 doesn't replace anything, and speaking to a friend of mine, we kind of came to the conclusion that if anything, the HD 6850 is a tweaked HD 5850 with a better price tag and lower power draw. When I say tweaked, I mean in the sense that AA performance seems to have been fixed in some spots, but more importantly Tessellation performance has increased.
I'm going to be honest here and say that at the moment Tessellation performance isn't that important. We see very few games take advantage of it and the ones that do are pretty mundane. AMD had to improve it, though, if not to just shut NVIDIA up who keep talking up their Tessellation performance, which we have to say is very strong; that can't be denied.
So the question is, who would be happy with the purchase of a HD 6850? - Anyone with a HD 5770 or lower. If you're a HD 5850 user this is more a slight side step with a slight stumble backwards; though not a bad thing since it doesn't go against the model, but you need to know, the HD 6850 isn't a replacement for the HD 5850.
If you've got a GTX 460, you wouldn't be looking at the model either. Instead you might look at the HD 6870, or possibly the HD 6900 series when they launch. We'll discuss that in other reviews and articles. If you're using a GTS 450, while it would be an upgrade, the chances are it's not one you're going to make since the GTS 450 is so new and a fair bit cheaper. The chances are you bought the GTS 450 because that's what your budget allowed for, not because you were waiting for the HD 6800 series.
There are still some questions we need to answer. Overclocking performance and SLI scaling; how are they? - It's not one we can answer right now, but keep checking back over the next few days to see how the card performs in those areas.
Is the HD 6850 a great product? It's tough to answer that. It's so hard for us to get our head around the naming scheme that AMD opted for. The fact that it also doesn't seem to be a direct replacement for something makes the question hard to answer as well. When you start to break it down, though, it's pretty bloody good.
Tessellation performance has improved, power draw has dropped and heat has also dropped while keeping noise levels the same. Then there's the fact that it performs pretty much in line with a HD 5850 for less; that all of a sudden we ask ourselves, do we spend our $200ish on a GTX 460 or HD 6850? A week ago it was clear that someone would only spend their $200 on a GTX 460.
Today, though, only 1/3 of the picture has been painted. GTX 460 SLI scaling is very strong and OC performance is fantastic; both of which are seen in our TPR graphs two pages back. We'll be painting the rest of the picture in the coming days.
For now, though, the HD 6850 looks the goods. A HD 5770 on steroids or a tweaked HD 6850? - Ultimately, no matter which way you look at it, the Sapphire HD 6850 is a great product and it will be exciting to see what Sapphire do with the model later down the track with product lines like TOXIC and Vapor-X.
GTX 460 1GB performance at GTX 460 768MB pricing, and with GTS 450 power draw. Really, what's not to love?