AMD Radeon HD 6870 Roundup

Author: James Prior
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: February 13th, 2012

Test Platform, Spec Comparison

Our test platform is an all-AMD affair, using AMD FX processor and requisite AM3+/990FX equipped mainboard. Details below:

Component Specification
Mainboard ASUS R.o.G. Formula Crosshair V
Processor FX-8150
Graphics Card Sapphire Radeon HD 6870 DiRT 3
  PowerColor Radeon HD 6870 PCS+
  ASUS Radeon HD 6870 DirectCU
  HIS Radeon HD 6870 IceQ
  HIS Radeon HD 6870 IceQ X Turbo X
Memory 2x4GB AMD Radeon Entertainment DDR3-1600
Audio Creative X-Fi MB 2
PSU Corsair HX850
Case CoolerMaster HAF 932
Storage Corsair Force 120 + Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB
Heatsink/Fan AMD FX Liquid Cooler
Display Dell P2210H
Operating System Windows 7 64-bit Ultimate SP1
Driver Catalyst 12.1 WHQL

The reference AMD Radeon HD 6870 design features the VRMs and chokes in front of the GPU, such that air from the rear-mounted blower fan vents across the memory and GPU before hitting the power circuitry on the way out of the back of card. The two 6-pin PCIe power inputs are mounted at the rear, and angled perpendicular to the line of the board - side entry. The stock heatsink features three heatpipes and thermal pads on the memory to allow the cooler to also work on them.

Reference Barts design

This price segment is sensitive to Bill of Materials (BoM) cost to keep partner margins high. Any penny saved in production is worth having and, as such, every cost optimization Add-In Board (AIB) partners can make will be made, if it stays within the ethos of the product and meets AMD's quality restrictions. The original pricing of the AMD Radeon HD 6870 has dropped, now nearly $100 under the launch price for vanilla, reference flavors. Let's start with a tally up of core specifications against the reference design:

  AMD Reference Sapphire 6870 D3 PowerColor PCS+ 6870 ASUS 6870 dCU HIS 6870 IceQ HIS 6870 IceQ XTX
SEP (USD) $149 $159 $199 $199 $169 $199
Engine Clock 900MHz 920MHz 940MHz 915MHz 900MHz 975MHz
Memory Capacity 1GB 1GB 1GB 1GB 1GB 1GB
Memory Speed 1050MHz / 4.2Gbps QDR 1050MHz / 4.2Gbps QDR 1100MHz / 4.4Gbps QDR 1050MHz / 4.2Gbps QDR 1050MHz / 4.2Gbps QDR 1150MHz / 4.6Gbps QDR
Fan External Exhaust Blower Dual Axial Fan Single Axial Fan Single Axial Fan External Exhaust Blower Single Axial Fan

Now that we've got the specification differences, lets look under the cooler on each of these cards to see what the designers have done to improve - if anything - on the reference design. The base design features a large complicated cooler that's not friendly for close-stack use with another card, is not very quiet under gaming load, and doesn't offer more than basic cooling for power circuitry.