Sapphire Radeon HD 6850 1GB Video Card

Joining the launch of the HD 6870 today is its little brother in the HD 6850. Let's take a ride in Sapphire style and see if it can impress.

Manufacturer: Sapphire
19 minutes & 54 seconds read time

Introduction and Package


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The HD 6000 series is a big deal. It's not just because it's a new generation of cards, but it's also the end of an era. The HD 6000 series ultimately marks the end of the ATI name; instead we'll be using the AMD name hereon. We get the feeling that AMD are off to a bit of a shakey start when it comes to this series, as the naming has caused some confusion out the gate.

Before we get into everything, let's talk about what exactly the HD 6850 is and what it's replacing and going to compete against. While the name might suggest it's the successor to the HD 5850, the product is instead designed to replace the HD 5700 series. What's interesting, though, is that while the HD 5800 and HD 5900 series will be discontinued over the coming months as their replacements come out, AMD seem to be keeping the HD 5700 series around.

We're not sure exactly why it's happening; large stock pile? Lower end HD 6000 series still a bit away? - It's worth knowing, though; this isn't a straight replacement for the HD 5700 series either, as they'll continue to be around, and no doubt at a more aggressive price point.

The HD 5800 and HD 5900 series will be replaced with the HD 6900 series which will carry both single GPU models and a dual GPU one that no doubt AMD will use to help hold the title of the fastest video card. The reason for the shuffle in numbers we've been told is because AMD needed the room for more models. Our understanding is that the reason AMD wants the extra wiggle room is because of Fusion which we'll no doubt be seeing soon enough.

With that out the way, we'll check out the Sapphire HD 6850 today. First we'll look at the package Sapphire has put together and then the card itself.

The Package

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Looking at the box, there's nothing too out of the ordinary with the design following the standard Sapphire one. We do see that there's a little bit of a push for 3D on the front of the box, though. As for what's inside, we've got a quick install guide and some paperwork regarding Sapphire Select Club. Cable wise we've got a Molex to 6-Pin PCI-E connector, HDMI cable, DVI to VGA convertor and Crossfire bridge.

You might notice there's no CD; that's just because our sample came to us early. The ones that hit retail shelves will carry with them a driver CD.

Card and Specifications

The Card

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AMD told us that from the start partners will be able to mix up the HD 6850 and we can clearly see that here from Sapphire. The card doesn't look like the reference design which uses a similar cooler setup to previous mid to high end cards.

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Looking around the card, we've got a single 6-Pin PCI-E power connector which is no doubt good news for people not wanting something too power hungry. Across the top but closer to the front we've got a single CF connector which gives us the impression that you're able to only pair the card with one other HD 6850 and not a third. This is a little disappointing; it was a pity the GTX 460 carried with it support for only two cards and support for three was something some people would've liked. For that reason I thought that AMD would've given us support for three cards.

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Looking at connectivity, we've got two dual-link DVI connectors along with a single HDMI and DisplayPort connector. This isn't really anything too unusual; if you're interested in Eyefinity you'll still need at least a DisplayPort monitor to make use of it.


The HD 6800 series and just the HD 6000 series in general are a refresh of the HD 5000 series. What AMD hope to achieve with them is a bit more performance with less power. Unlike the HD 5000 series which brought a large amount of new features over the HD 4000 series like DX 11, we don't really see that with this as it's ultimately a refresh.

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The Sapphire HD 6850 we're looking at today isn't overclocked which means the core clock comes in at 775MHz (the reference clock). The same goes for the 1GB of GDDR5 memory on a 256-bit bus which comes in at 4000MHz QDR.

While GPU-Z isn't updated to give us all the correct information yet, some important numbers not mentioned are the Stream Processors. The HD 6850 carries with it 960; a good chunk down on the 1440 seen on the HD 5850, but a nice increase from the 800 seen on the HD 5770. As we just mentioned, the HD 6850 carries with it a 256-bit memory bus like the HD 5800 series, not 128-bit like the HD 5770. ROPs are also double to that of the HD 5770 coming in at 32, the same amount as the HD 5850. What you have is a card that's between the HD 5770 and HD 5850. If we had to lean to one side more than the other, we would say it's more HD 5850 due to that wider memory bus.

Test System Setup and 3DMark Vantage

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We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: Intel, ASRock, Kingston, Mittoni, Noctua and Corsair.

We'll be looking at the HD 6850 against a number of cards which include the HD 5770, HD 5850 and HD 5870. For the NVIDIA side of things we've included the very popular GTX 460 which has become the card to buy in its respective price category.

There's going to be a few things we're looking at today when it comes to our testing. The first is we want to see if the Tessellation performance has become betterl this was one area NVIDIA was a lot stronger in. We'll see this most notably under the Heaven benchmark. The other thing we want to know is whether or not AA performance increased. When we turned AA on with the HD 5000 series the performance was hit very hard and we saw NVIDIA really perform stronger in this situation.

Finally, we want to see if AMD continue to have the edge at the highest resolution. At 2560 x 1600 the HD 5000 series performed better than the NVIDIA counterpart most the time. We want to see if AMD can continue to perform strong at this resolution. Of course, we also want to see where exactly the model sits compared to the GTX 460 and the previous generation 5000 series cards.

Let's get started!

3DMark Vantage

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware.

3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.

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Under Vantage we can see the new HD 6850 clearly sits ahead of the HD 5770. Here we see it sits a little behind the HD 5850. Compared to the GTX 460 which is taking advantage of PhysX, it also sits a little behind, but not by much.

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 2
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

New benchmark grants the power to unleash the DirectX 11 potential in the gift wrapping of impressively towering graphics capabilities. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. With the interactive mode emerging experience of exploring the intricate world is ensured within reach. Through its advanced renderer, Unigine is one of the first to set precedence in showcasing the art assets with tessellation, bringing compelling visual finesse, utilizing the technology to the full extend and exhibiting the possibilities of enriching 3D gaming.

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This is an interesting graph and one of the more important ones here today. While Heaven is a synthetic benchmark, it does stress Tessellation performance; something that AMD has been weaker at than NVIDIA. You can see while in Vantage the HD 6850 fell behind the HD 5850, here you can see the model jumps ahead of the HD 5850, and by a clear margin.

AMD promised us improved Tessellation performance and it's clearly something they've delivered on. Tessellation continues to play quite a small part in gaming, but NVIDIA has no doubt had fun talking about how they dominate in this area.

Benchmarks - Resident Evil 5

Resident Evil 5

Version and / or Patch Used: Demo Benchmark
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Resident Evil 5 is a survival horror video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the seventh installment in the Resident Evil survival horror series, and was released on September 18. Resident Evil 5 revolves around Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar as they investigate a terrorist threat in Kijuju, a fictional town in Africa.

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Getting into the real world gaming department, we can see that the HD 6850 performance is right on the tail of the HD 5850. Compared to the GTX 460, which is overclocked here, the HD 6860 performs stronger as we climb up the resolution table; something AMD have been dominating in since the launch of the 5k series.

Benchmarks - Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X is an arcade-style flight simulator video game developed by Ubisoft Romania and published by Ubisoft for Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and iPhone OS.

The fundamental gameplay mechanics are similar to those of other console-based flight series. Players take on enemies with over 50 aircraft available. Each mission is at real world locations in environments created with commercial satellite data. A cockpit, first person, and third person view are selectable. The third person view gives the player an external view of both their plane and the target.

Set above the skies of a near-future world, increasingly dependent on private military companies with elite mercenaries who have a relaxed view on the law. As these non-governmental organizations gain power, global conflict erupts with one powerful PMC attacking the United States.

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We continue to see that the performance of the HD 6850 and HD 5850 is very close. It's clear that this model couldn't replace the HD 5850 as it doesn't really seem to offer any gains over it. Performance on the other hand is a lot stronger than the HD 5770 and in this instance we again see against the GTX 460 the model performs best at its highest resolution.

This is important as well because the numbers we're seeing, in this case 66 FPS, is a number that means a game is playable. 60 FPS is what we want and an overclocked GTX 460 just scrapes in. The stock HD 6850 gets a good 10% jump on it, though.

Benchmarks - Mafia II

Mafia II

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

Mafia II is a third-person action-adventure video game, the sequel to Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven. It is developed by 2K Czech, previously known as Illusion Softworks, and is published by 2K Games. The game is set from 1943 to 1951 in Empire Bay (the name is a reference to New York's state nickname "The Empire State"), a fictional city based on San Francisco and New York City, with influences from Chicago and Detroit. The game features a completely open-ended game map of 10 square miles. No restrictions are included from the start of the game. There are around 50 vehicles in the game, as well as licensed music from the era.

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Again we see the card's performance is very similar to the HD 5850. It must be said it does continue to slightly trail, though. Compared to the GTX 460 OC we see that across the board the HD 6850 is faster performing. While 2560 x 1600 is irrelevant as just like the GTX 460 its performance is not at a playable level, we can see that at 1920 x 1200 while the GTX 460 scrapes across the 60 FPS average we aim for by 2 FPS, the HD 6850 manages to pass it with 6 FPS.

Benchmarks - Lost Planet 2

Lost Planet 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark - Test A Scene 1
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Lost Planet 2 is a third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition which is also made by Capcom, taking place ten years after the events of the first game, on the same fictional planet. The story takes place back on E.D.N. III 10 years after the events of the first game. The snow has melted to reveal jungles and more tropical areas that have taken the place of more frozen regions. The plot begins with Mercenaries fighting against Jungle Pirates. After destroying a mine, the Mercenaries continue on to evacuate the area, in which a Category-G Akrid appears and attacks them. After being rescued, they find out their evacuation point (Where the Category-G appeared) was a set-up and no pick up team awaited them. The last words imply possible DLC additions to the game, "There's nothing to be gained by wiping out snow pirates... unless you had some kind of grudge."

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These are some interesting results. For starters, across the board the performance on all cards is below what we need. We also see that the model lags behind the GTX 460, but at the highest resolution it trails by the smallest gap.

More importantly, though, are the numbers compared to the HD 5850. For the first time we can see across the board performance is better on the new model, even though it's not meant to replace the HD 5850. This is a good sign for this intensive game and hopefully a good sign when it comes to future titles.

Benchmarks - Aliens vs. Predator

Aliens vs. Predator

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Aliens vs. Predator is a science fiction first-person shooter video game, developed by Rebellion Developments, the team behind the 1999 original PC game, and published by Sega for Microsoft Windows, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. The game is based on the Alien vs. Predator franchise, a combination of the characters and creatures of the Alien franchise and the Predator franchise. There are three campaigns in the game, one for each race/faction (the Predators, the Aliens and the Colonial Marines), that, while separate in terms of individual plot and gameplay, form one overarching storyline.

Following the storyline of the campaign modes comes the multiplayer aspect of the game. In this Multiplayer section of the game, players face off in various different gametypes in various different ways.

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Numbers again are below what we want, but across the board we see stronger performance than the GTX 460 OC. This is good news for AMD since the HD 6850 is the lower end model out of the two new ones launching today.

Benchmarks - Final Fantasy XIV

Final Fantasy XIV

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark - Elezen (Male)
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Final Fantasy XIV, also known as Final Fantasy XIV Online, is the fourteenth installment in the Final Fantasy series. The game is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game and is developed and published by Square Enix. The game takes place in a land called Hydaelyn, mainly in a region named Eorzea, which will have a contemporaneously aesthetic blend of science fiction and classic fantasy elements.

The battle and job systems will be different from the one previously used in Final Fantasy XI, which utilized experience points and level-based progression. Final Fantasy XIV is being designed to utilize a skill-based progression[15] system similar to that of Final Fantasy II. Character races will resemble and allow players to create avatars similar to ones in Final Fantasy XI. Group play has been de-emphasized, and now solo and group play have been balanced. Weapon use will alter "character development".

Note: Final Fantasy XIV gives us a score and not a normal FPS rating, our understanding is that anything around 2000 points or above is considered playable.

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Compared to the GTX 460 OC, it's significantly faster. Compared to the HD 5850, right on the tail of it, as you can see.

Benchmarks - Street Fighter IV

Street Fighter IV

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

While Street Fighter IV features models and backgrounds rendered in 3D, the gameplay remains on a traditional 2D plane, with the camera having freedom to move in 3D at certain times during fights, for dramatic effect. Producer Yoshinori Ono has stated that he wanted to keep the game closer to Street Fighter II. A new system called "Focus Attacks" ("Saving Attack" for the Japanese version) has been introduced, as well as Ultra moves. The traditional six-button control scheme returns, with new features and special moves integrated into the input system, mixing classic gameplay with additional innovations.

All the characters and environments in Street Fighter IV are rendered as 3D models with polygons, similar to the Street Fighter EX sub-series Capcom produced with Arika. However, there are a couple of key differences. Art director and character designer Daigo Ikeno, who previously worked on Street Fighter III 3rd Strike, opted for non-photorealistic rendering to give them a hand-drawn look, with visual effects accented in calligraphic strokes, ink smudges and ink sprays during the fights.

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Big numbers across the board. We can see the HD 6850, HD 5850 and GTX 460 perform very close to each other here.

Benchmarks - Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01
Timedemo or Level Used: Ranch Long
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

The Dunia Engine was built specifically for Far Cry 2 by the award-winning Ubisoft Montreal development team. It delivers the most realistic destructible environments, amazing special effects such as dynamic fire propagation and storm effects, real-time night-and-day cycle, dynamic music system, non-scripted enemy A.I. and so much more.

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We're above that 30 FPS minimum at all resolutions which is good news. Compared to the GTX 460 we've got a win at the highest resolution and a close fight at the lower ones. Here compared to the HD 5850, we see again the HD 6850 is able to pull out a win across the board.

Benchmarks - Batman Arkham Asylum

Batman Arkham Asylum

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Batman: Arkham Asylum exposes players to a unique, dark and atmospheric adventure that takes them to the depths of Arkham Asylum - Gotham's psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. Gamers will move in the shadows, instigate fear amongst their enemies and confront The Joker and Gotham City's most notorious villains who have taken over the asylum.

Using a wide range of Batman's gadgets and abilities, players will become the invisible predator and attempt to foil The Joker's demented scheme.
Batman: Arkham Asylum features an original story penned exclusively for the game by famous Batman author and five-time Emmy award winner Paul Dini, whose credits include Lost season one and Batman: The Animated Series.

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Across the board we're seeing good numbers again. Compared to the GTX 460 OC performance is very close; you would have to give the GTX 460 OC the win here, but only just, and it would only be ahead at the highest resolution because of the OC on the ECS Black. Compared to the HD 5850, though, we again see its performance is slightly up in some areas.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF

High Quality AA and AF

Our high quality tests let us separate the men from the boys and the ladies from the girls. If the cards weren't struggling before they will start to now.

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Mafia II, AVP and SF IV sees the HD 6850 and HD 5850 perform very close to each other. In all games we also see the new model win out against the GTX 460 OC.

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Far Cry 2 paints an interesting picture. While it does fall a little behind the GTX 460 OC, its performance is significantly better than the HD 5850 and HD 5870. With 8x AA on we saw the AMD HD 5000 series really fall over under Far Cry 2. Clearly this has been tweaked.

Temperature Test

Temperature Tests

The temperature of the core is pulled from MSI Afterburner with the max reading used after a completed run off 3DMark Vantage and the Performance preset.

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Compared to the HD 5850 we can see that the card runs cooler. This is good news as AMD said it was one thing they were concentrating on.

Sound Test

Sound Tests

Pulling out the TES 1350A Sound Level Meter we find ourselves quickly yelling into the top of it to see how loud we can be.

After five minutes of that we get a bit more serious and place the device two CM away from the fan on the card to find the maximum noise level of the card when idle (2D mode) and in load (3D mode).

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Noise levels are fairly standard. Really, it falls in line with the HD 5850 which is good news since it runs a little cooler.

Power Consumption Tests

Using our new PROVA Power Analyzer WM-01 or "Power Thingy" as it has become quickly known as to our readers, we are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into AC wall socket).

There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.

The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a SSD hard drive is used with a single CD ROM and minimal cooling fans.

So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.

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Another important area for AMD and you can see they've done well; you're talking about load levels lower than not only the HD 5850 and GTX 460, but lower than the GTS 450 when at load.

AMD were already strong in the power consumption area; today they've become a little bit stronger again.

Total Performance Rating (TPR)

Total Performance Rating

The TPR graph is a combination of all our benchmarks in which NVIDIA and ATI are on an even playing field.

The TPR number is a combination of:

3DMark Vantage, Heaven Benchmark V2, Resident Evil 5, Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X., Mafia 2 (PhysX Off), Lost Planet 2, Aliens vs. Predator, Final Fantasy XIV, Street Fighter IV, Far Cry 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum (PhysX Off) and our four High Quality tests which include Mafia 2, Aliens vs. Predator, Street Fighter IV and Far Cry 2.

All of the benchmark results achieved are then combined into a single number. As this graph will grow over time and cards won't be re-tested, next to each model you'll find the driver version that was used when the card was benchmarked.

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Using our TPR formula, what exactly are we seeing? Well, compared to the HD 5850 it falls a little behind. The reason for the almost 2000 point gap is mainly due to 3DMark Vantage, but in % terms there's not much difference.

Compared to the GTX 460, in this case an overclocked one from ECS, we can see that the stock HD 6850 manages to outperform it; clearly something AMD wanted to do with the model.

Total Value Rating (TVR)

Total Value Rating

The TVR graph is the TPR score divided by the price of the video card. The price of the video card is based on the list price of the model on In the event the card isn't listed, it will be based on the U.S. $ MSRP given to us by the manufacturer.

In the event we can't source a price from either, the product will not receive a TVR rating. As with our TPR graph, the amount of video cards on the list will grow over time and the price of the model won't change from what it was when first reviewed. For this reason the U.S. $ price that the card is based off will be included next to the name of the model.

In the event you want to find the TVR rating yourself based on the current price, all you have to do is simply divide the TPR number by the list price.

TVR numbers are rounded to the nearest whole number; 100.3 will be 100; 100.8 will be 101 and 100.5 will be rounded down to 100.

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This is a very good number. The only card that carries with it slightly more value is one that's overclocked heavily by us. Not only that, but it's also in a different price bracket. As a wise man once said, known to us as MC Hammer, "You can't touch this!" - It will be interesting to see how our numbers go when we start overclocking the model.

Final Thoughts

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?

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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