Asus has been particularly aggressive in the past 12 months, releasing video cards at prices normally reserved for value-centric brands such as Palit. Fortunately this has not affected quality, with the firm’s products showing their usual exemplary calibre. Here we are looking at the EAH6870, a reference clone with Asus’s exclusive voltage tweak technology. This aids overclocking, as when increasing the frequency of the GPU you normally hit a voltage wall before a thermal one; particularly with Radeon cards.
In terms of bundle, Asus has kept things simple with no games included. You do, however, get the relevant drivers and software on disk, a crossfire bridge, a manual and a Molex-to-PCI-Express power adaptor. If you are still using a VGA monitor then you’ll have to source your own dongle or, ideally, upgrade your monitor to a digital model. Despite this lean bundle the card is delivered in Asus’s characteristic monolithic box, complete with the mandatory warrior-themed characters adorning the exterior sleeve.
The card itself follows the reference design to the letter, with the same cooler and PCB as the AMD-provided sample. The GPU clock speed has been elevated by 15MHz however, sitting at 915MHz, while the memory clock is unchanged at 1050MHz. 1GB of GDDR5 is provided as standard and the card features two DVI ports, one HDMI port and two mini DisplayPorts as standard. Eyefinity mode is supported, although at least one of the screens must use DisplayPort natively as the card only features two signal clock generators; exactly as with the preceding HD5800 series.
AMD’s nomenclature for its new HD6850 and HD6870 cards will confuse many buyers. These are not replacements for the HD5850 and HD5870 cards as you might expect, but instead slot in between the firm’s existing models and are designed to compete directly with NVIDIA’s excellent GTX 460 and 470 products.
In terms of hierarchy AMD’s line up is now as follows; 5770, 6850, 5850, 6870, 5870. Of course, with the impending launch of the Radeon HD6900 series and retirement of the HD5800s, the situation will become far less confusing. In terms of pricing, AMD has positioned the HD6870 at the same level as the existing HD5850; around £200 including VAT.
To measure the performance of the EAH6870 we ran a total of six benchmarks (Crysis Warhead, Call of Duty Black Ops, F1 2010, Stalker: Call of Pripyat, Alien vs. Predator and FarCry 2) at maximum detail and 1920 x 1080 resolution, comparing a mean average of the results against a number of other cards. Going up against the new Radeon is the GeForce GTX 460 1GB, the Radeon HD5850, the HD5870 and the newly positioned GeForce GTX 470, which also now costs around £200.
Across the spread of our benchmarks the HD5870 remains the card to beat, with performance 6 percent faster than the EAH6870. The 6870 renders the HD5850 all but redundant, however, as it costs the same yet delivers performance 9 percent better. The GTX 460 1GB brings up the rear with frame rates 18 percent slower than the EAH6870 while the GTX 470 finds itself in a dead heat, with both cards producing an identical mean average of frame rates.
Once you factor in heat, noise and power consumption the Radeon emerges as a far safer bet than the equivalent GeForce. At full load the Radeon consumes 69W less than the NVIDIA card, and its fan is 4dB quieter. This is a bigger difference than you might imagine as the decibel scale is logarithmic. A 10dbA increase therefore represents a doubling in perceived noise level.
To test the Asus card’s overclocking prowess we fired up the included Asus Smart Doctor application. This tool does the job adequately, but we do prefer competing solutions, AMD’s own Overdrive tool included. With a modest 5 percent vGPU bump we managed to push the EAH6870 all the way up to 1050MHz core and 1200 MHz on the memory, at which speeds it was able to handily dispatch the more expensive 5870 and challenge even the GTX 480. This makes it a delectable choice for enthusiasts who are willing to tweak the card for maximum performance.
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