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AMD's Radeon 4850, now an old hat, was an amazing video card. It was great not only because it offered outstanding performance, but also because it was reasonably priced. Prior to the release of that video card, and it's brother the 4870, AMD's offerings were inferior to those of Nvidia. The 4850 changed the market completely.
The Radeon 5850, although also a great card (I even bought one) was also much more expensive than the previous generation. The price replacement of the 4850 was actually the 5750, but that card was no faster. This made a lot of buyers unhappy.
Far from deaf to these complaints, AMD released the 6850 with the intent of once again making it an affordable performance video card. They've succeeded, but the benchmarks are surprising and not always flattering. Find out more below in my Radeon 6850 review.
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The performance of the Radeon 6850 can be described as good overall. There are very few games that can challenge this video card, even at 1080p resolution. Even demanding games, such as Metro 2033, manage an average of just over 30 frames per second. Less demanding titles, like Borderlands (still a beautiful game) manage nearly 60 frames per second.
Of course, performance results can never be examined in a vacuum. The Radeon 6850's primary competitor is the Nvidia Geforce GTX 460, and benchmarks indicate that the Radeon 6850 trades blows with that card. Some benchmarks show a preference toward the GTX 460, while others are slightly quicker on the Radeon 6850. The performance difference is usually limited to a few frames per second, which is insignificant. You would be hard pressed to notice such a difference with an unaided eye.
One big surprise that shocked reviewers is the fact that the Radeon 6850 is slower than the Radeon 5850 in most benchmarks. The gap isn't massive, but it's there. AMD has stated that this was expected, because the 6850 is targeted at a much lower price point. Still, users need to be aware of this, as some may buy the 6850 as an upgrade simply because it has a higher model number. AMD is working on a new high-performance variant of its GPU, which is expected to sell in a line of 6900 series cards.
Screenshot by author courtesy of Amazon.
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One of the biggest issues with all hardware reviews is commenting on the value of a particular piece of hardware. At the time of the Radeon 6850's release, the card was targeting a price of $179. The price of the card went up shortly thereafter, however. It has come back down somewhat, but the least expensive Radeon 6850 is $184.99 as of December 2010.
That's a problem, because the Nvidia GTX 460 with 768MB of memory can be had for as little as $160, while the same card with 1GB of memory starts at $180. Benchmarks indicate that the GTX 460 1GB usually performs somewhat better than Radeon 6850. That makes it hard to recommend buying the Radeon.
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As you can tell from this Radeon 6850 review, it doesn't stand out from its peers. It's great that ATI has once again managed to provide outstanding performance at a low price point. The Nvidia GTX 460 is one nasty card to fight against, however, and the green team has been happy to slash-and-burn prices.
At this point, the Radeon 6850 is simply a competitive entry-level performance video card. It will run any game smoothly, even at high resolutions and detail settings, but it is no better than the GTX 460. Your purchase decision should be guided by the price of each product at the time you decide to buy.