AMD Radeon HD 7850 2GB Reference Video Card Review

We check out the brand new HD 7850 and see what the HD 7800 series is all about. Fingers crossed it's more HD 7900 than the HD 7700.

Published Sun, Mar 4 2012 11:01 PM CST   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:01 PM CST
Rating: 96%Manufacturer: AMD


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The Radeon HD 7700 series wasn't kind to AMD due to the price of the series compared to current models still for sale under the HD 6800 series name and while the new HD 7800 series is a replacement to the HD 6800 series, the price point they'll come in at means they're going to be seen against the HD 6900 series.

The good thing about the HD 6900 series is that it pretty much no longer exists on the market, though. Unlike the HD 6800 series which is not only still being sold, but being sold in large quantities at super aggressive price points due to recent rebates.

While the HD 7700 series left us feeling overall pretty flat, the same can't be said for AMD's new HD 7900 series which offered us awesome performance. Along with strong numbers, though, we saw the new 28nm based cards run cooler, quieter and draw less power at both idle and load - they impressed us a lot.

We've got our fingers crossed that the HD 7800 series sits more in line with the HD 7900 series than it does the HD 7700 series. Considering AMD also have no older previous generation video cards at the $249 price point for the HD 7850 and $349 price point for the HD 7870, we're already off to a better start.

Of course what's really going to matter is the performance of the new model. Before we look at that, though, we need to see what's going on with the card itself. While we'd normally start off with the packaging, because we're dealing with a reference card from AMD, we don't have one. Once we've looked at the card and taken a closer look at the main specifications, we'll move into our testbed, which then of course leads us into the performance side of things.

Well, that just about covers that, so let's just take a closer look at the card and see what exactly is going on with this new series and model from AMD.

The Card and Specifications

The Card

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Looking at the card we've got that same reference look we've seen from AMD when it comes to most of the HD 7000 series cards we've seen. A bit like the HD 7950, though, we should see partners offer us versions that have their own cooling solution before much longer.

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As we move around the card you can see on top we've got a single 6-pin PCIe power connector while closer to the front we have only a single CrossFire connector. Performance to power draw will be interesting as we see just a single power connector and we've got our fingers crossed it's good.

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The I/O department doesn't really hold any shocks as we see the reference card opts for a Dual-Link DVI port, HDMI port and two mini DisplayPort connectors on the far left. Across the top we can also see the air vents which help the cooling system push the hot air straight out the back of the case instead of just pushing it around your case.


Getting into the main specifications of the new HD 7850 the big thing we can see is the 1024 Stream processors that are on the new 28nm GPU. Along with that we've got 64 texture units and 32 ROPs. On the clock side of things a reference clocked HD 7850 as you can see below will come in at 860MHz.

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On the memory front we've got a solid 2GB of GDDR5 memory that sits on a 128-bit memory bus offering us a default clock of 4800MHz QDR. On the specification front the HD 7850 looks like a nice card and should compare well against the HD 7770. As always, though, there's only one way to find out exactly the kind of performance we're able to get.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup

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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, ASUS and Corsair.

The HD 7850 is a really important model and that obvious when it comes to look at the cards we've got in our charts today as we compare the new model to a huge number of cards. On the HD 6000 series front we've got the HD 6870 and HD 6950, two of the bigger models we saw last year.

On the HD 7000 front we've got the HD 7770 which has left us feeling a bit flat unlike the HD 7950 and HD 7970 that we've fallen in love with. Along with those we've also got some NVIDIA representation in the form of the GTX 560 Ti, GTX 570 and GTX 580.

It's going to be interesting to see just how this new $249 US model sits in the scheme of things as we move through our benchmark line up today.

Let's get started!

The FPS Numbers Explained

When we benchmark our video cards and look at the graphs, we aim to get to a certain level of FPS which we consider playable. While many may argue that the human eye can't see over 24 FPS or 30 FPS, any true gamer will tell you that as we climb higher in Frames Per Seconds (FPS), the overall gameplay feels smoother. There are three numbers we're looking out for when it comes to our benchmarks.

30 FPS - It's the minimum number we aim for when it comes to games. If you're not dropping below 30 FPS during games, you're going to have a nice and smooth gaming experience. The ideal situation is that even in a heavy fire fight, the minimum stays above 30 FPS making sure that you can continue to aim easily or turn the corner with no dramas.

60 FPS - It's the average we look for when we don't have a minimum coming at us. If we're getting an average of 60 FPS, we should have a minimum of 30 FPS or better and as mentioned above, it means we've got some smooth game play happening.

120 FPS - The new number that we've been hunting down over recent months. If you're the owner of a 120 Hz monitor, to get the most out of it you want to get around the 120 FPS mark. Moving from 60 FPS / 60 Hz to 120 FPS / 120 Hz brings with it a certain fluidity that can't really be explained, but instead has to be experienced. Of course, if you're buying a 120 Hz monitor to take advantage of 3D, an average of 120 FPS in our benchmark means that in 3D you will have an average of 60 FPS, which again means you should expect some smooth gameplay.

Benchmarks - 3DMark 11

3DMark 11

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1

Developer Homepage:

Product Homepage:

Buy It Here

3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world's most popular benchmark. Designed to measure your PC's gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

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Straight out the gate we get a good idea of where the model sits with 3DMark 11 performance coming out ahead of both the HD 6870 and HD 6950. Comparing to the HD 7000 series we can see we're sitting closer to the HD 7950 than the HD 7770, which is exactly what we want to see.

Benchmarks - Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.5

Developer Homepage:

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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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Heaven paints a similar picture to 3DMark 11, but we see the HD 7850 come out even stronger here when compared to the HD 6870 and HD 6950 due to the improved tessellation performance on the new HD 7000 series.

Benchmarks - Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.2

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. 2 is an arcade-style flight action game developed by Ubisoft Romania and published by Ubisoft. The game is the sequel to Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X., released in 2009.

The game begins with Colonel David Crenshaw participating in a routine patrol mission in the Middle East. After halting an insurgent attack, a volley of missiles is fired at the Air Force base that Crenshaw was stationed at, with one of the missiles disabling Crenshaw's aircraft, resulting Crenshaw being in enemy captivity. A joint strike force composed of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and a Ghost Recon squad executes an operation to rescue Crenshaw. In Scotland, Royal Navy Pilot Colin Munro encounters an unidentified passenger aircraft that explodes from an on-board bomb when undergoing training exercise. In Russia, an air force squadron led by Colonel Denisov and Captain Dmitri Sokov engages separatist aircraft but is ordered to retreat from the region after numerous Russian military installations have been attacked.

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Looking at H.A.W.X. 2 we've got some great performance across the board which helps offer us playable FPS at all resolutions including 2560 x 1600. Performance is actually quite close to the HD 7950 in this case, but this could have something to do with the newer driver for the HD 7850 that has helped boost H.A.W.X. 2 numbers.

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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Mafia II sees some good performance and we can see we're sitting just ahead of the HD 6950 for the most part with the new model falling just one FPS behind at the highest resolution. While falling short of the 60 FPS mark we want at that resolution, we're only 5 FPS out making only a small detail drop necessary if you wanted to push the frame rate up.

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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As we start to push the intensity of our games we can start to see our performance falls back a little. At 1680 x 1050 and 1920 x 1200 we again fall short of our 60 FPS mark, but it's not by a lot. A bit of detail adjustment will see the FPS pop over that 60 mark we want and you can enjoy smooth gaming on one of the more intensive engines.

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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Looking at Aliens vs. Predator we've got some great performance at 1680 x 1050. When we move to 1920 x 1200 we fall down to numbers in the 50 while moving to 2560 x 1600 just puts us at a level that is too low for a solid gaming experience.

Benchmarks - Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2

Version and / or Patch Used:

Timedemo or Level Used: Dark Tower

Developer Homepage:

Product Homepage:

Just Cause 2 employs the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the engine used in Just Cause. The game is set on the other side of the world from the original Just Cause, on the fictional island of Panau in Southeast Asia. Panau has varied terrain, from desert to alpine to rainforest. Rico Rodriguez returns as the protagonist, aiming to overthrow the evil dictator Pandak "Baby" Panay and confront his former mentor, Tom Sheldon.

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Checking out Just Cause 2 we can see that we've got some great FPS out of the new model. While the HD 7770 struggled at 1680 x 1050, its big brother the HD 7850 has no issue at 1680 x 1050 and 1920 x 1200. It's not until we move to 2560 x 1600 that the FPS drops to an unplayable level.

Benchmarks - Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage:

Product Homepage:

Metro 2033 is an action-oriented video game with a combination of survival horror and first-person shooter elements. The game is based on the novel Metro 2033 by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. It was developed by 4A Games in Ukraine and released in March 2010 for Microsoft Windows and Xbox 360.[3] In March 2006, 4A Games announced a partnership with Glukhovsky to collaborate on the game.[4] The game was announced at the 2009 Games Convention in Leipzig;[5] a first trailer came along with the announcement.[6] A sequel was announced, currently titled Metro: Last Light.

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Metro 2033 sees some great FPS also at 1680 x 1050, moving to 1920 x 1200 we see we're just shy of that 60 FPS number by only 2 FPS meaning just a minor detail drop would get us the extra couple FPS we want. As you'd expect, moving to 2560 x 1600 puts us in a position that just won't give us playable numbers.

Benchmarks - Dirt 3

Dirt 3

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage:

Product Homepage:

DiRT 3 boasts more cars, more locations, more routes and more events than any other game in the series, including over 50 rally cars representing the very best from five decades of the sport. With more than double the track content of 2009's hit, DiRT 3 will see players start at the top as a professional driver, with a top-flight career in competitive off-road racing complimented by the opportunity to express themselves in Gymkhana-style showpiece driving events.

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Dirt 3 like most of our other games sees great performance at 1680 x 1050. When we move to 1920 x 1200 we're in the 50 FPS realm again and a little detail drop will boost that number to where it needs to be. As usual we see at the highest resolution, though, we move to around the 30 FPS mark, which is just too low.

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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FarCry 2 performance across the board is just really strong as you'd expect as we see playable numbers at every resolution.

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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AA and AF performance is a little surprising. While the fact that Aliens vs. Predator numbers are unplayable, we can see that Mafia II performance at 55 FPS is pretty good.

You might want to move back to 8x AF or around that mark and you could enjoy a 60 FPS average with these settings. With strong Mafia II numbers, it comes as no surprise that performance under FarCry 2 with AA is quite strong with a 41 FPS minimum.

Temperature Test

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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On the temperature side of things the reference cooler does a pretty good job with the card running quite cool sitting towards the bottom of the pack.

Sound Test

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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On the noise front the reference cooler again does a good job as it sits towards the bottom of the pack.

Power Consumption Test

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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Finally we've got power draw and the numbers are really amazing as it sits right at the bottom. For some reason the HD 7700 series draws more power and that's consistent with all the HD 7700 series cards we've tested. The HD 7850, though, draws just over 250 watt when running at load which is amazing!

Final Thoughts

AMD needed this model to be good after the run of HD 7700 series comments that have seen the model launch at a price point considered too much for many as AMD's partners continue to offer strong quantity of the HD 6800 series at an aggressive price point. The $249 price point, though, that the HD 7850 hits at today is a key one for AMD and you can see that performance on the model is really strong. AMD are also promoting the overclocking ability of the model and that's something we'll be looking at in greater detail soon.

Considering this is also the baby HD 7800 series of the two new models today, it makes us feel good about what to expect from the HD 7870. We wanted this series to be more HD 7900 than HD 7700 and going off the HD 7850; it is!

The biggest issue of the new model is the availability. It's not for sale yet and we probably won't see it for a few more weeks which an expected retail date sitting around the 19th to 22nd of this month which makes this launch similar to that of the HD 7970 with reference card reviews showing up today and retail ones coming up over the coming weeks.

I think the only reason, though, we're seeing AMD officially launch the product today is because of CeBIT that starts tomorrow. By announcing it officially today we should see partners display versions of the new models at the big German show. As great as the HD 7900 series is, it's been around for a little now and companies haven't done heaps with the higher end HD 7970. As for showing off the HD 7700 series, no doubt companies are going to be doing it, but it doesn't have the same shine as showing off what is the new HD 7800 series.

I'm glad AMD have come out strong with this model in both price and performance. Outside of the performance today, though, CrossFire is going to be something that's really important as we see a setup that will come in just under $500. Like overclocking, though, that's something we'll be looking at in more detail soon enough.

AMD needed this model to stand out for all the right reasons and looking at it today, it does. For people who want to game at high quality at 1680 x 1050 this is a fantastic model. If you're a 1920 x 1080 or 1920 x 1200 gamer as well, gaming on a lot of today's more intensive engines is also an option if you're happy to move from Very High in game settings to High or Medium. Hitting these key resolutions at the price point it does, the HD 7850 is going to be a model that stands out for gamers on a budget. AA and AF is also an option depending on your resolution and the game you're playing.

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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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