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Introduction

Following our recent test of the new additions to the Radeon line-up of graphics cards, the HD6850 and HD6870, we wondered amongst the team how well they performed relative to the similar offerings from the nVidia stable, the GTX460s.

Feedback we gained from our forums and our Youtube showed that we weren't the only people who were curious as to which would provide the best level of price to performance, and so a plan was hatched.

HIS Digital kindly agreed to provide us with a pair of their HD6850s and HD6870s to allow us to fulfil the Red Team side of the test. We saw recently how they performed as a singlet, so we're looking forward to seeing how they do in Crossfire.

On the other side of our metaphorical garage we have two variants of the GTX460 courtesy of EVGA. The GTX460 768MB and GTX460 1GB. Discussions about how much memory you need on board your graphics card have raged for a long time so it will be yet another thing we can hopefully find the answer to.

EVGA need a lot of praise here for two factors. Firstly for the speed in which they provided the cards for our test. Rather than the normal ask and wait procedure they were only too happy to send them and got them to us overnight. Secondly we felt it was important to test the most basic reference models we could, so whilst they were happy to send us flashier cards with custom cooling they nonetheless provided us with reference models as we asked. A tip of the hat to EVGA.

Finally we needed to work out what we would test them using. Because so many games provide similar performance levels or are just a rehash of the same game engine we always tend to limit our testing to a select handful of games. However if we really wanted to find the best value answer to your gaming needs we wanted to put them through the wringer.

So today we're testing 8 different games that highlight various aspects from pure frame-rate burners, via PhysX heavy efforts, to games so new we've only got a benchmark.

Naturally with 8 cards to be tested at both stock and overclocked settings it was too much of a task for just one man, and so once again myself and Tom have teamed up [editors note: like Hanibal & Murdock] to ensure we can give you a thorough review without you having to wait a month for it to arrive. Unlike some other sites where having a pathetic text based on page 'shoot out' is deemed acceptable rather than testing them both side by side and having all the data to back up their views or maybe even half the story. OC3D now bring you all the latest midrange GPU's and all the best games to one place with all the tests you could possibly need.

Onwards.



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The Cards On Test

Representing AMD we have the HIS HD6850 and the HIS HD6870. The HD6850 is immediately identifiable by the centrally mounted cooler. Although of course the large "HD6850" helps.

Midrange Gaming Shootout     Midrange Gaming Shootout  

On behalf of nVidia we have two versions of the EVGA GTX460. The 1GB card with the central fan, and the 768MB card with the more normal end mounted fan.

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As you could tell by the fact we have a pair of each, we'll also be testing them in a Crossfire and SLI setting respectively.

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More Plastic than the Playboy Mansion

We don't often like doing pictures just to fill in space here at Overclock3D. We'd much rather use your time and ours more productively than pad out reviews with pages of pictures and one graph per page.

However we're pretty sure that in this instance you'll forgive us. It's so rare to see quite so much hardware in once place we had to let Toms inner David Bailey out for a play.

HIS HD6850 Crossfire     HIS HD6870 Crossfire  

EVGA GTX460 768MB SLI     EVGA GTX460 1GB SLI  

Best Midrange Card     Which Midrange Card?



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Test Setup

For todays mammoth test setup we're using our now standard X58 setup of a Core i7-950 overclocked to 4GHz.

ASUS Rampage III Extreme
Intel i7 950 @ 4GHz
6GB Mushkin Redline RAM
Corsair AX1200 PSU
Noctua NH-D14
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

As for the cards themselves, as you've just seen we're using reference designs all the way courtesy of HIS Digital for the HD6850 and HD6870, and EVGA for the GTX460 768MB and 1GB cards.

Drivers are Forceware 260.99 and Catalyst 10.10a.

Overclocking

For our overclocking we wanted to get the best out of the cards whilst still making sure we had good temperature performance when they were side by side in Crossfire or SLI. What is possible at the leading edge of a single card can sometimes be too much when you're running dual cards.

Therefore the EVGA GTX460 was overclocked from 675 MHz core to 850 MHz core for both the 768MB and 1GB models which is only 14 MHz under our maximum single card clock, but at 850 MHz they are rock solid.

Midrange Gaming Shootout 

The HD6850 followed the overclocking we used in our recent HIS review, 850 MHz. When we tested it then we discovered that the overclock only made a negligible difference to the results so it will be very interesting to see if this changes in Crossfire.

The HD6870 happily goes all the way up to 1 GHz on the GPU core and, largely thanks to the increased Stream Processors, this overclock gives very handy results.

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Speaking of results, it's time to get gaming.



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Alien vs Predator

The AvP DirectX 11 benchmark takes great advantage of all the major features of the DirectX 11 API. The lighting and shadow, vital in a game such as this, are particularly excellent.

Single GPU - Stock Speeds

Such are the demands of AvP that only the HD6870 breaks past 40FPS with all the others hovering around the 30FPS mark. We can see that the extra RAM on board the 1GB GTX460 does give an improvement of around 4FPS, which at these just-about-playable frame rates can really make a difference.

 

Single GPU - Overclocked

Overclocking the cards definitely favours the nVidias with both GTX460 variants responding well to gain around 5 frames per second. The Radeons only gain a couple which causes the HD6850 to drop behind the 1GB GTX460. The HD6870 remains well out in front.

 

Dual GPU - Stock Speeds

Adding a second GPU finally sees all of the cards on test give us 60FPS gameplay. It's a demonstration of how far multi-GPU performance has been optimised that the old rule of a 50% improvement no longer holds true. The GTX460s gain 24 and 28FPS whilst the Radeons gain 32FPS for the 6850 and 39FPS for the 6870. Roughly 80% extra performance certainly makes a twin card setup seem awfully tempting.

 

Dual GPU - Overclocked

Finally when overclocked we can see the merits of each card start to level out. The extra memory of the GTX460 1GB still just has the edge over its 768MB brethren but the HD6870 is in a class by itself just under 20 frames per second faster than the other three cards on test.



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Batman Arkham Asylum

Arkham is definitely one of the PhysX poster children and we'd be amazing if the GTX460 does anything but romp away with this test. Even with a 4GHz quad-core pumping beneath the hood it should still be a walkover for the green corner.

Single GPU - Stock Speeds

So it proves to be with both of the GTX460s taking a healthy lead at the top of our charts. The minimum frame-rate is where the Radeons really take a bit of a battering, although it has to be said that considering the image quality we're running, even the little HD6850 never drops below 60FPS at any point. How far technology has come.

 

Single GPU - Overclocked

Demonstrating the power of the nVidia GPUs, especially when it comes to calculating the physics whilst rendering the graphics, once overclocked the lead gets even greater. The HD6 series cards hardly gain at all as they are already easily coping with the image part of the game. As the GTX460s are also used for the PhysX the overclock gives massive gains across the board of 14 and 16FPS.

 

Dual GPU - Stock

Considering even the worst stock single card result we got was more than good enough for Arkham Asylum, this definitely is a bit of GPU overkill. It does however provide us with our first real surprise. Both minimum and maximum frame-rates follow exactly how we'd expect them to do, but when it comes to the average frame-rate the GTX460 1GB slips a long way behind the GTX460 768MB in a SLI setup. So far behind that the HD6870XF edges ahead.

 

Dual GPU - Overclocked

Proving the stock result wasn't a one off, again we have the 768MB GTX460 ahead of its larger RAM'd brother. Not by as much and when you're dealing with frame-rates in the 200s then 18FPS isn't really here or there. Nonetheless it's an oddity. The overclock does mean that the HD6870 slips back into third place but really all of these cards are more than capable of handling Gothams finest.



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Crysis Warhead

This should be the first real exciting result. We all know that Crysis is a PhysX game, but our testing over the past 12 months or so has shown that a combination between light PhysX demands, the power of modern GPUs and the lack of optimisation the Crytek team did mean that neither the Radeon nor the GeForce really goes into this with a distinct advantage. Place your bets...

Single GPU - Stock Speeds

Although we could run Enthusiast settings and swathes of anti-aliasing, these are still mid-range offerings and so we'd rather have realistic settings and playable frame-rates than massive settings just for the sake of it. It's probably about what we'd expect to see from the cards here. The HD6870 really is that bit more powerful than the GTX460 and the limited PhysX usage in Crysis Warhead doesn't allow the GTX460 to overcome that. One thing is clear though and that is the eye-candy on offer definitely prefers the 1GB GTX460 over the 768MB version.

 

Single GPU - Overclocked

Such is the lack of optimisation in the Crytek engine that none of our overclocks give a massive gain, merely a frame or two here or there. The only card that really gets a good lump of extra performance is the GTX460 768MB which goes from 7 frames behind the HD6850, to 3 frames ahead of it. An 8 frame per second increase. Exactly the kind of thing we love to see from a middle-priced card.

 

Dual GPU Stock

Once we move into Crossfire and SLI territory we can see the limitations of Crysis Warhead. All four cards giving nearly identical average frame-rates. The 1GB GTX460 just edges in front, but besides a big moment in the minimum frame-rate for the HD6850, they really are inseparable.

 

Dual GPU Overclocked

Overclocking doesn't seem to make a large difference either. It does allow the nVidia offerings to just sneak ahead, but we're still dealing in only the odd extra frame rather than massive leaps.

What starts as a comfortable win for the single stock HD6870 ends up being a GTX460 1GB game by the time we have two overclocked cards running.

We really can't wait for Crysis 2 in the hope Crytek have made an effort this time.



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Far Cry 2

The follow up to the very popular Far Cry was a bit of a Marmite game. For everyone who hated the driving and endless re-spawning checkpoints, there was someone who loved the the free-roaming nature and the fact that, contrary to its predecessor, the developers didn't get lazy and turn it into a generic mutant/alien blast fest. We definitely were on the adoring side with Far Cry 2 and anyone who has laid on the cliffs above the rail-yard sniping people with the dart gun is sure to agree.

Single GPU - Stock Speeds

The one thing we all agree on though is that this is sumptuous. With DirectX 10 and all the bells and whistles on it still stands up well today. The only one of our four cards that stands out is the 768MB GTX460 being 10fps behind its bigger brother. Considering we're up at 16xAA and this monster resolution it's fair to say it is probably just running out of GDDR5 to handle everything. This is especially noticeable with the minimum frame rate a long way behind the others. Otherwise it's all much of a muchness with no card able to quite hit the 60FPS mark we yearn for.

 

Single GPU - Overclocked

As we saw with Crysis Warhead though, a boost to the GPU Core on the GTX460 768MB really gives a good reward. Here it's an extra 5 frames per second. The 1GB GTX460 benefits most, being able to maintain a 63 FPS average at these settings in very impressive. The Radeons again prove to be a bit disappointing in how well they respond to having their pants set on fire. Hopefully putting two together should help.

 

Dual GPU - Stock

Help it most certainly does. Theoretically with 100% efficiency the HD6870 should average 116FPS in Crossfire and the HD6850 should see 108FPS. Having 112FPS and 95FPS respectively really demonstrates, especially with the HD6870, how little performance is lost in modern twin-card setups. That isn't to suggest the GTX460s fair badly at all being only 10 and 8 frames behind what we'd see if there really was zero performance loss in an SLI setup.

 

Dual GPU - Overclocked

Such are the vagaries of testing that not everything follows the pattern you'd expect, or even gives a result you can explain. The HD6850 which, until now, has been as stubborn as a mule in concrete in showing any improvement when overclocked suddenly finds 7 extra frames per second to play with. Whilst the GTX460 1GB, until now an overclocking triumph, decided it just was bored and wouldn't even perform as well as it did at stock. All still comprehensively batter Far Cry 2 into submission, but it's a perfect demonstration of why we run the tests rather than just tell you what should happen.



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HAWX 2

The latest in the Tom Clancy branded games is the follow-up to HAWX, about the nearest thing to the Ace Combat series available on the PC. This version is focusing upon the DX11 tessellation function as its primary selling point, but the current version of the benchmark doesn't support this as an option.

Single GPU - Stock Speeds

We often berate ports of console based games, and will do severely in a couple of pages time, for not taking full advantage of PC Hardware. However there is no denying that HAWX 2 is a stunning looking game. Even better it fairly flies (haha) along well above the 100 frames per second mark. Thanks to the amount of eye-candy going on both the "bigger" cards on test here, the GTX460 1GB and Radeon HD6870 pull ahead. The 1GB GTX460 in particular has a strong lead, although all of the cards happily turn and burn.

 

Single GPU - Overclocked

Moving away from flying puns and onto our overclocked tests we again find the 768MB GTX460 to be really responsive to the extra performance available from the overclock as it just edges ahead of the HD6870.

 

Dual GPU - Stock

Because of its roots as a console game, and therefore designed around a single GPU, HAWX 2 definitely doesn't make the most of a twin card setup. There is an improvement to be seen of course, but nowhere near some of the big gains we've seen on previous pages. The biggest winner is again the smaller GTX460 which started out at the back and just about overtakes its big brother here. 3 frames at these speeds isn't exactly anything to write home about, but it shows how little stress the Ubisoft game is putting on the cards.

 

Dual GPU - Overclocked

Although Tessellation is unavailable in this demo, we're pretty sure that it's on by default. With the cards overclocked both the nVidia options are well ahead of their Radeon counterparts and up around 300 FPS maximum, which is just ludicrous. You could probably run HAWX 2 in 3D on three 30" monitors and still happily fly along above 60FPS.



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Metro 2033

The game based on the book by Dmitry Glukhovsky is part first person shooter, part survival horror, without really being either. It's a hugely frustrating game for us because it's so reliant upon the lighting effects that the frame rates never really reaches playable on any hardware, yet it doesn't look so stunning that you're willing to put up with the shoddy frame-rate just to gawp. Even the much maligned (by me) Crysis looked good enough we put up with it's woeful performance. 

Single GPU - Stock Speeds

Our first big "huh" moment. Advanced PhysX enabled and yet the GTX460s lag massively behind the Radeons. Clearly the PhysX is so advanced and puts such a strain on the card that it hasn't enough puff left to do the graphics. Whereas the Radeons dump the physics onto our Core i7-950 and therefore can at least have a good go at providing something more than a slide-show.

 

Single GPU - Overclocked

The incredibly variable nature of the Metro 2033 engine stands out here with both the GTX460s gaining 3 frames or so from the overclock to their GPU, yet the HD6870 loses frames. It is so frustrating. Hopefully our twin GPU testing will iron out the rough edges.

 

Dual GPU - Stock

Yes and no. Your second 1GB GTX460 is worth a piddling 5FPS, and yet the second 768MB GTX460 gives a 14FPS boost. If only getting 5FPS extra from an SLI 1GB GTX460 is strange, then the Crossfire HD6850 gives over 100% improvement. There are so many things to try and fathom about this game it should be based on a Jules Verne book.

 

Dual GPU - Overclocked

Finally we get a result remotely approximating what we'd expect on a theoretical basis when compared to the single stock card. The big GTX460 finally gets back ahead of its sibling, the HD6850 doesn't really benefit from the overclock and the HD6870 is quite a beast. All is once again as it should be in the world.

Even if a 4GHz 950 and two overclocked HD6870s don't manage to get Metro 2033 past 60FPS average.



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Medal of Honor

If Capcom can be considered the Kings of a good PC Port, and Ubisoft have just proven with HAWX 2 that they are also capable of delivering the goods, then EA need to be taken round the back and put out of our misery.

Red Alert 3 was frame-capped to 30 FPS for reasons best known to themselves, and now the latest Medal of Honor game is limited to 64 FPS. Quite why they've chosen this seemingly arbitrary number, or decided to limit it at all, is a factor best known to themselves.

Anyway, although normally we'll talk you through each graph and explain the results, it's clearly pointless here. So enjoy the sole appearance of Medal of Honor in the OC3D test suite and remember to vote with your wallet as a PC gamer.

Single GPU - Stock Speeds

 

Single GPU - Overclocked

 

Dual GPU - Stock

 

Dual GPU - Overclocked



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Resident Evil 5 DX9

As if to back up the point from the previous page, here is Capcoms Resident Evil 5. A game that both looks good and performs admirably on even a low-end gaming PC. As this has both DX9 and DX10 modes we thought we'd run both in both modes to see how well these cards handle the older DirectX framework that still makes up the large proportion of games you own and use.

Single GPU - Stock Speeds

Although all the cards on show can happily break 60FPS this is one of the few games that doesn't include tessellation or PhysX in some capacity and so is a purer test of raw horsepower. It's clear that the latest Radeons have an advantage here with the humble HD6850 being 20 and 10 frames per second ahead of the small and large GTX460s respectively.

 

Single GPU - Overclocked

When overclocked the GTX460 1GB regains a lot of the ground it lost at stock to be neck and neck with the HD6850. The 768MB GTX460 is clearly suffering from the smaller memory capacity and still lags behind.

 

Dual GPU - Stock

With two cards in place both solutions even themselves out with only a couple of frames between the two Radeons and barely a gnats chuff between the two GTX460s. Easily the oddest thing is the minimum frame-rate. It is very rare we see them almost the inverse of what we'd expected. The HD6850 in the right scenario is an absolute corker.

 

Dual GPU - Overclocked

Under the control of DirectX 9 we have about the 50% improvement over a single card that we used to see. It makes us wonder if the limitations of the extra performance in a dual card setup was related to the hardware or the DirectX itself. The more powerful versions of our cards on test, the HD6870 and the GTX460 1GB both just edge ahead of their stablemate. Let's see how they fair under DirectX 10.



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Resident Evil 5 DX10

Single GPU - Stock Speeds

With the DirectX 10 setting applied Resident Evil 5 still shows a preference for the Radeon cards over the GTX460s. We still find that the GTX460 768MB hasn't quite got the beans necessary to keep up with the 1GB variant, although it easily remains playable.

 

Single GPU - Overclocked

Overclocked looks identical in terms of the order of cards, but the GTX460s now really gain a lot of performance from the extra oomph provided. Still neither of them can get up to the HD6850 or HD6870 yet.

 

Dual GPU - Stock

The Radeons continue their dominance at stock speeds. The smaller GTX460 gives a surprisingly good result, but equally surprising is the relative performance of GTX460 1GB.

 

Dual GPU - Overclocked

Once overclocked, something we've definitely seen has a larger effect on the performance of the GTX460s than the Radeons, everything neatly comes together with very similar performance across the board. A nice metaphor for the whole test really. Speaking of which, onto the conclusion.



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Conclusion

With so much available data it's quite a challenge to round it all up in a pithy fashion.

Let's start with pure first places in our tests, ignoring Medal of Honor which was near identical for all cards.

The HD6870 came first in 12 of our 32 tests, 20 if you include Resident Evil 5 which it won all 8. The GTX460 1GB won 9 of our 32 tests, and the GTX460 768MB won 3.

Now if we take Resident Evil 5 to be a game that, akin to how GRiD used to be, is an absolute lover of the ATI cards, then it's a perfect split down the middle, 12 each.

So it's very very close. Even if most of the ones that had a win to one card or another there aren't many that are a comprehensive victory.

The HIS HD6850 didn't win any of our tests outright but has great "stock performance". Overclocked it really is a slave to its architectural limitations, not achieving anything more than one or two extra FPS which can just as easily be put down to variances in bench runs. The single card wont set the world alight but it also doesn't fall down anywhere either. It's a very solid, good value all-rounder. Crossfire performance is very good and it actually stays very close to the HD6870. Just a shame it doesn't overclock well.

The HIS HD6870 just continues to bang out the big scores. In such a closely matched contest to win 60% of the tests is quite something. Once we eliminate Resident Evil 5 though it's 50%. Still impressive. Especially when you consider that most of the tests it did win it won by quite a margin. It also just about benefits from our overclock, although similarly to the HD6850 it really isn't an overclocking beast, but rather a great out the box card.

Moving on to the EVGA GTX460 768MB and 1GB cards, we were interested in the start of testing to see if the need for large on-board memory was purely for the big numbers, or genuinely important. Many years ago it was important when a 64MB or 128MB card was the norm, but does it hold up? Clearly it does as quite a few of our games found that the combination of 1920x1200 testing resolution plus such high levels of anti-aliasing filled the frame-buffer up and therefore dropped the performance significantly. The 1GB card on the other hand never encountered such an issue. Both cards, but the 768MB one in particular, respond very well to an overclock giving quite an improvement in performance.

 

HIS 6850 vs EVGA GTX 460 768MB Video

 

HIS 6870 vs EVGA GTX460 1GB Video

 

HIS 6870 Crossfire vs EVGA GTX460 1GB SLI Video

But there is a big question still to answer.

What do we recommend?

All of the systems on test today provide very good performance indeed, especially for the budget. You really can't go wrong with any of them. That's a bit vague though. We aren't here to win friends with vague answers, we're here to give an answer on where our money would go.
So here it is :

Single Card Winner : HIS HD6870

Dual Card Winner : EVGA GTX460 1GB

The HIS HD6870 really is a great card for just a sniff under £200. There is no denying the amount of clear victories it has and with the new 6 series cards having 3D too, you really get the best of all worlds.

The EVGA GTX460 1GB might not always top the timing sheets so to speak, but it has two huge things in its favour as a SLI setup. The first is unquestionably the price. You can get a couple of GTX460 1GB cards for about £320, which is £80 less than the HD6870 would be in Crossfire. So you can have performance above that of any single card, for lots less than the GTX480, whilst also benefiting from PhysX and exceptional Folding@Home performance.

Naturally with such a range of games on test if you have one or two particular titles in mind then you might sway one way or another, but for general performance, that's where our pennies would go.

Thanks to HIS Digital and EVGA for their help with this review. Discuss in our forums.