A little over a week ago AMD released their 6850 and 6870 series of video cards. Normally I would have rushed with the other reviewers to get a review out fast but in a drama that sounded like something from a high school girls locker room things where whipping around between nVidia and AMD so I decided to give it some time to settle down.
The 6850 and 6870 video cards are targeted at the mainstream upper end, AMD has listed them as their “performance” video cards. What this means for consumers is this is the top of the food chain for most of us. If you are using a single monitor of 24” or smaller then this is all the GPU you will need to enjoy high details levels with todays games. The pricing reflects this position with the 6850 right now going for around $179 and the 6870 can be found as low as $239. The plan with this pricing was to release these cards to go head to head with the nVidia GTX 460 in it’s two variants, 1 Gig and 768 Meg which where both right at these price points.
This price point will find effectively two target audiences, the first will be the DIYer that wants to build a good gaming machine without breaking the bank. The second is the average home user with a cookie cutter machine looking for a higher end video card upgrade. With these two targets in mind I chose to do my testing on a solid middle of the road system using a Phenom II 1055T with 4 Gigs of RAM on an 8760 based motherboard. The cards used for these tests where engineering samples supplies to me by AMD. I had hoped to get an off the shelf model for testing, another reason I held back but these are not coming from the responses I am getting so we will work with the engineering base samples.
When AMD briefed me on these cards I came away with a pretty solid understanding of they where trying to do with these cards. These two cards are using chips directly developed from the 5800 series designs. The chips basically went back to the developers and where streamlined, reduced in size of the chip to cut power consumption and heat, then had the clock speed kicked up a bit. The result was a set of very solid performance chips that hit the marks they where aiming for.
Since these cards where aimed at the GTX 460 series that is where I started my testing, using an EVGA OC GTX 460. I chose the EVGA card because this is what you can go out and buy today. With this in mind I wanted to see how this new design would compare to what was common on the shelves.
One of the first things I noticed as I hooked up the 6850 was that it only used a single PCIe power connector compared to the dual connector the 460 needed. This should mean the 6850 would use less power, so lets start there. At idle the system measured within 3 watts of each other in power consumption, close enough to be a dead heat. However once the cards where put under load the difference was obvious very quickly. The 6850 was running full tilt and needed almost 40 watts less power than the 460. Once we got the 6870 in the test rig we found that while it used a dual PCIe power solution like the 460 it was also running on less juice at full load by 13 watts. Comparing this to notes taken when using the 5850 I discovered that both of the new cards where drawing less power than the 5850 AND the 5830 (the previous $200 card from AMD).
Next I would have begun testing the temperature output of the new cards but did not feel this kind of testing would be fair since these where reference designs and would be compared to the more optimized solutions of marketed cards. I can say however that both cards under full load where not noisy nor did they generate any kind of heat that caused me concern.
Of course now we move to the meat of this article and look at the performance of the 6850 and 6870. For these tests I used a 24” monitor with a resolution of 1920×1080 and all games set to this resolution with high detail levels and 4X AA if available in games. I feel this represents the level that people buying one of these cards would expect for the money they paid.
AMD had acknowledged that they where behind in performance where tessellation was concerned due to the methods used. However in the briefing we were told that studies had shown that the tests of tessellation where using a much higher level than would be used in game design due to the amount of overlap in pixel generation. So rather than using tessellation benchmarks we loaded up games that used tessellation and wanted to see if anyone could tell the difference. Before I did this however I wanted to see if AMD had truly optimized the tessellation implementation at all. Comparing the 5870 to the 6870 I found that the 6870 was delivering about a 12% boost. So with what appeared to be a boost in tessellation lets fire away.
Using Dirt 2 and Civilization V our comparative study showed no difference. With identical detail levels and the same machine the people playing at no time could tell a difference in everyday play.
Next we fired up Star Trek Online to give an MMO a shot. Again no difference in performance could be perceived by any of our testers. For grins we did run a benchmark and found the 6850 was delivering around 12% better frame rates. Going back to Dirt 2 we found the difference was about 7% in favor of the 6850. Firing up Mafia II and Batman AA we saw these results pretty much mirrored with the cards providing identical gaming experiences but in benchmarks the 6850 taking the lead. Once we put the 6870 into the mix the results just slanted more the other way with the 6870 providing a great gaming experience and in benchmarks taking a more commanding lead.
Now I want to stop here on card comparisons because I think looking around you will find almost every review pretty much draws the same conclusions I do that the 6800 series offers a more powerful solution than the GTX 460. It has even more though. AMD took a step forward and upgraded the video output systems used on these cards. No longer do you need a special video card to put more than 2 or three monitors on a single card, the new Displayport system allows each port to support up to three monitors. This means both of these cards will handle six monitors. I am personally not sure of the value at this price point of having this feature but it is there if you need it.
What I was more interested in was the level of support we are now seeing for the use of the GPU outside the graphics display. Now in fairness nVidia has led the way here for some time with Cuda but of late it seems AMD has finally stepped up their support and the applications I saw where more than just helping folding work. nVidia has their focus it seems more on the super computer end and AMD the home user end.
Now lets take a moment and back up to where I started, the drama. It seems as the AMD launch date neared nVidia began making some moves that showed some concern on their part. First they pressured Ubisoft to release a benchmark for the new H.A.W.X. 2 game early. The reason was simply that the benchmark was geared toward the nVidia form of tessellation. Further it seems nVidia next got it’s partners to agree to a price cut on the GTX 460 and GTX 470 video cards, again to coincide on the release date of the 6800 series.
Now neither of these moves are actually that big of a deal as it is, sadly, business as usual in the video card industry. However these moves show something very clearly, nVidia was responding to AMD release because they felt they had to. This is a big deal because this does not normally happen. Over the years nVidia typically has forced AMD/ATI to be the one to respond, especially with price cuts. These moves shows a clear shift in who is controlling the market but there is more.
When you look at this move and take it along with Intel’s move not that long ago with introducing for the first time an unlocked chip at a none premium price we now have a clear pattern forming. For years AMD has been the company that had to respond to others, this change makes it clear who is firmly in control of the mainstream market. With the release of the 6800 series AMD bucked the normal trend of putting out your high end parts first and instead moved straight at the mainstream out of the gate. This move is more than just putting out a card, it is a clear signal to nVidia that AMD knows it owns this market and planned to keep it.
When I reviewed the GTX 460 I said that the mainstream market had a clear leader, when compared to the 5830 this might have been true. But the 6800 series means that this clear position of dominance was a fleeting moment for nVidia with AMD squarely hitting the mainstream and taking back control of this market.
The 6870 is a great card and delivers outstanding performance for the cost but for me and the audience I speak to the most the real winner of this launch is the 6850. At around $179 this card provides enough graphics power that it can handle todays games at the resolutions likely seen by most users and do so with good detail level and AA in the mix. The game play is smooth and the power consumption is below that of it’s competition. The card offers a lot of display options, plus the new HDMI output to allow for Blu-ray 3D if you want to use it. Add to this the serious efforts we are seeing from AMD in supporting the development and use of Direct Compute for programs that actually provide real benefits to home users and we have a company with a solid hold on the home user mainstream market.
Finally a company that realizes that the enthusiast market is not the top of the food chain in the PC world.
Review Aired 31 October 2010
Hi everyone just a quick note this week. Normally by tomorrow you would expect to see our review of the newly launched AMD 6800 series of video cards. However with the short week we are in and the drama that unfolded like a bad 90210 episode yesterday in the world of video cards we have decided to hold off until next week. This gives us time for our full evaluation process without rushing and it gives time for the whole drama to fully unfold.
I can tell you we have the stock 6800 series in house and the testing has yielded some interesting numbers. However I will leave you with that teaser for this week.
So until next week…
On my show today I came down pretty hard on the various programs around the country right now to try and raise Breast Cancer awareness. Now let me be clear I think the goal is worthy, but the methods are to passive. Having a wall full of bras might get people talking and even donating but we need people more than talking, we need them DOING! With this in kind I offered the suggestion that people put the BOINC software on their computers and set it to run the Rosetta@Home project.
This project is using the power of your home PC when it is idle to help with research into the way proteins work. Your computer can offer real help in efforts to designing new proteins to fight diseases such as HIV, Malaria, Cancer, and Alzheimer’s. This is not just talking about finding a cure, this is really participating in working to find a cure.
In these economic times we are all strapped for cash and donating is a struggle for many but if you have a home computer you can help for free and lose nothing but the free time of your PC.
To join us in this is easy. Download the BOINC software from the link and install it. You will be asked to attach a project, pick Rosetta@Home and you will then be prompted to create an account. It is okay to give your email address here as this is used for tracking the data your system gives the project and not for spam emailing. Once you have an account made click to join a team and put in the name Computer Ed. That’s it, you will now be using your computers free time to help find a cure for cancer and other illnesses.
If you have more than one PC you want to run this you can, when you put on the second machine you can sign in as an existing user, just put in the email and password you used for the original signup and that machine will become attached to your account. The more machines you run the more help you can provide. It does not matter if you have one machine that is 10 years old, or 20 that are all state of the art, every bit of data calculated brings us closer to the information this research needs
I challenge everyone to join in as we work together than do more than talk about fighting cancer, instead we are going to do something about it.
That Beatles hit might have asked the question for different reasons but today this is a profound question presented to home and small business owners every day. Do I stay with and fix my older PCs or do I go with a new computer. It would be great if there was a simple answer for this but a number of factors come into play and need to be considered before making the new PC leap or dropping someone money on trying to get more time out of an older PC.
Lets begin with the issues of this dilemma faced by the small business user. You have anywhere from 3 to 10 PCs in your office and a number of programs special to your business to run. This makes the move to a new PC difficulty since you must face software compatibility and even the issue of keeping all the PCs in the office the same for efficiency.
This decision is further complicated today by the move of so many PCs to 64 bit operating systems. A simple OS shift, such as from XP to Windows 7 might have some issues but they are usually not difficult to work around. However the change from 32 bit to 64 bit carries with it a whole new set of issues ranging from software compatibility to drivers for peripherals such as printers and wireless adapter.
That means when looking at this decision you need to look at the custom software your company uses. Do they support 64 bit OS operation? If you need a new version how much is it going to cost to buy this for all your computers? What about your printers and other peripherals. Will these need to be upgraded as well.
It is these kinds of costs that keep businesses in older PCs for so long.
The home user faces the same basic issues but on a smaller scale since they do not need for all the PCs to be identical to get work done. Also most home users do not need specialized software reducing the potential issues faced with the move to a new PC.
When I am presented with this scenario with a client I begin with the age of the PC/PCs in question. If a computer is over around 4 years old you are risking a number of potential hardware failures happening down the road. Think of this as putting a lot of work into a car with 300K miles. Yes you may save money today but over the next year you could end up spending a lot. From a business perspective this means taking into account the potential for serious downtime at a completely system failure. For the home user the potential lose of valuable family pictures and home videos.
For the average small business and home users I recommend the 5 year plan. Basically the idea is that every 5 years you replace the existing PC even if it seems to be running fine. The reasoning is that by doing this you can reduce the risk of potential emergency downtimes and in some cases never see them. This provides protection for your data as well as increased productivity. When taken over a 5 year period the cost is not nearly as bad either. For example in a typical small business with say 4 computers lets say the cost for all 4 systems, the printers you need and the software you use comes out to $5000. What the plan basically calls for is each year you set aside in this case $1000 into an account specifically targeted to your next replacement cycle. When this cycle hits you then already have the money set aside for the new systems you need.
By the way, computer prices have fallen over the last 5 years so this means you will likely need less money than the first purchase for this next cycle. I do NOT recommend however that you reduce your funds that are setback each year. Sooner or later the prices will go up again and it is possible to build a buffer using the current lowering of prices to prepare for this in advance.
I recommend this cycle for the home user as well but with a little less rigidity. For a home user downtime has less consequences and so needed to wait a few days to get a computer back up is not quite as big deal. I do however suggest that home users work off the same principle. Set a target of about $1000 for a PC and then plan to buy a new one every 5 years. The 5 year gap gives to enough time to spread out the cost so it is not a real burden and at the same time protects your investment by making sure you get a new PC that has made some serious technological advancements over your older one.
To get the most life you can out of any PC you buy make sure you get good protection for the system in the form of a good surge protector of battery backup. In the case of a surge protector be sure to replace it every year and the battery backup every other year. The nature of the protection both provide wears out and so the suggested replacement ensures you have good protection on your PC.
Despite the best protection you can get on your PC sometimes a surge will get through when this happens weigh your options carefully. My general recommendation to a business is replace the PC. Surges can do a lot of damage that will not turn up right away and can show itself months later with disastrous results. For the home user the question becomes how critical is the PC in question. It is hard to suggest replacing an entire PC when the PC is used by the 5 year old to play on PBS.com. However if the PC is used by the family matriarch for extensive genealogy research then things change quickly. A more “mission critical” PC should be replaced out right while the smaller use family PC could get by with some quick repairs as long as the family understand that it is likely to totally fail down the road.
Making the decision to stay with an older PC or move to a new one is not an easy one and in the end the decision is yours. I will leave you however with one final consideration on this matter. Does the PC do what you want? You see in the industry it is easy to get caught up in upgrade trends and the latest computers. But at the end of the day the best computer for you or your business is not a decision based on benchmarks or hardware reviews. It is based off your experience and desires from your PC. A computer that does what you want, the way you want it to at a low cost is the BEST PC for you, no matter what anyone else tells you.
You know we hear all the time about being careful what we say on the Internet because it can be around forever. The other day this became very true for me. Ten years ago I was doing a lot of work with the Star Fleet Command series and ran an online Fanzine called Hailing Frequencies. It had a fair following and we enjoyed a good fun run but as was the nature of computer games it eventually was forgotten as other endeavors grabbed our interests. However here we are 10 years plus later and I find that this material is still out there.
But that was not all, I also stumbled across an old website I did for the Gorn, a race within that game.
I mean this is ten years after the fact and this material that I created all this time ago is still out there.
Now I got lucky, the reason I say that is the material that is living on from my efforts is material I am proud of and have no problem with people seeing. However to many young people in our society today do not realize the depth that this stuff can go. I mean I have found, after this got me started looking material from this year siting the above two documents as reference for things they have posted.
Now imagine if this had been material I was not proud of, say a picture at a moment that was not wise. What about an over the top statement? These things all stay on the internet as well and yes I have even had a few of these come back to see me.
The problem with the internet is that we get caught up in the impression we have anonymity in all we do and so we throw out many social conventions. I mean seriously we all sit at our homes and think about the things we hate about the state our country is in. We imagine what we would say to Obama if here where in our homes. The truth is what we imagine and what we would say to him in person are two different things. However when we get on the internet that in person experience is not in the way and we tend to be , well pretty stupid.
We think no one can know it was us so we open our mouth, turn off our brain and let it fly. This is made worse by the fact that we are invited and encouraged to not post our names when we go to places to put this material out there. Why is that, what are we ashamed of? On a hardware forum that I frequent when I signed up for it I used my real name. I did not create a new identity for myself, I was the one there after all. I am amazed at the fact I am the only person on the forum with a few thousand subscribers to do so.
The protection of ones identity seems so paramount to these people. There are not scared of being looked up by a psycho however, they are scared of being held accountable for the things they say. I mean that is a lot of pressure to put on someone right, be to accountable for their actions? Well it should not be, it is the way things have been for a long time but of later the Internet and other influences have taken that away. Now we can say what we want, do what we want and there is no consequence to these actions, because I am hiding behind my internet mask.
If it just effect the internet world I guess it would not hurt but each day the internet and what happens on it affects our real lives more and more. I know of 11 different marriages that have been destroyed because of the internet. After all it was not cheating because the other person was not physically there right? That is the argument I heard. Another argument was that the spouse was not filling an emotional need that this person online was filling. Really? Why could you not be as open with the spouse with this needs as you where with the person online? The response to that question every time was a blank stare.
It seems the Federal Government is even becoming aware of this issue and is putting together a series of public service announcements to educate the American people in how to properly deal with the internet. Have we really fallen that far? Have we reached the point that we need federal help to remember how to be polite and careful with what we say? There is an old joke about the sign in the men’s room of a bar telling the patrons not to eat the big white mint in the urinal. Sadly it appears this is no longer a joke but a necessity.
The truth is you do not need to be a rocket scientist or a computer wiz to deal with this issue, you just need to be a decent human being. Here however are a few tips to help the next time you want to put something on the internet.
1) Would I be proud to have my Grandmother or Grandchildren see this? Think about it, if you will not be proud of others seeing this then do not put it up!
2) Never put up material when you are angry. When we are mad we tend to shut off our brains and the internet and that feeling of anonymity tends to make things even worse. If you are mad NEVER post material to the internet. Go read a book, have a coke, take time to cool down.
3) Personal is Personal and the internet is not. We have this strange belief that the people we meet online only are suddenly our friends. This is a MYTH. I have been on the internet for longer than there has been one. I have a a LOT of people I know from all over the world, not people I met on Facebook for the time it took to click a friends button. I am talking about relationships that developed over moths and even years of contact. Yet I consider NONE of them a true friend. I am not belittling my relationship with them and they know how I feel on this but a real friendship needs more than email and voice comms to build. With this in mind be careful about what information about your life you give to others.
4) Sometimes not posting is the best way to post. There is a wonderful quote from Lincoln on this matter: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." Sometimes the best thing to post is nothing. I have found myself faced with this more than once when I saw something said that just was so wrong I felt the need to respond. However as I would craft my carefully worded and deeply thought out post I would realize that this would create a war of words I did not want to be in, so I would just not post. I have never regretted that decision.
5) Remember what you post will be found out. Remember when I spoke of the feeling of anonymity that we feel on the internet, it is an illusion. No matter how clever you think your online name is sooner or later someone will figure out who you are and the stuff you thought would never be attributed to you will be.
The things we say and do have an impact on all the people around us and can many times have repercussions good and bad through the years. When we do it on the internet the consequences will go well beyond the little circle of our lives and could be more than something we have to deal with in our lives, it could also become our legacy.
Over the last few years I have watched as actual virus attacks have slowly declined. With this decline however came the increase in “spy” ware on systems. Over the last year though I have noticed this fall off as well to be replaced with what I have dubbed Extortion Ware.
What will happen is this; You will be a happily using your PC when suddenly you see this pop-up in the middle of your screen. It says that infected files have been detected on your system and would you like your system scanned to provide protection. Well DUH, I mean we are all concerned about protecting our PC, so who would not want their system protected. So the average person presses the scan button and that’s all she wrote.
You see that warning was the infection. By clicking it was okay to run you have given your permission for this software to load and thus it can by-pass the normal security of your system including the AV program you installed. Once installed it will make a good show of claiming your system has this massive level of infection and you need to buy their program to clean up the system. The thing is the only infection is the one that it, itself, has provided.
Now if I sent a couple of thugs down to the local Handymart and told them to wreck havoc. You know what I mean, chase of customers, harass the workers and such. Then I where to show up and say that for $50 I would make sure these people never bothered you again. You would call the police fast. They would respond to, the scenario I described above is called a protection scheme and is a form of extortion, very illegal.
So if the above is a crime and our law enforcement officers will go aggressively after it, why not the Extortion Ware? I mean at the end of the day it is the same scam. The software creates issues on your system and then wants you to pay them to have it removed. Plus they are easy to find because they want credit card info so they have to have some kind of paper trail.
With this in mind a friend of mine and I conceived an idea. It seems his system had been infected by some of this obnoxious junk and we decided rather than get rid of it he was going to pay for the fix. Using his American Express he paid for the fix, it downloaded and behold the issues where gone. Now then he contacted AE and had his card number changed to insure it was not sold off and we next contacted the local District Attorney. I explain how how easy it was for me to prove the so called solution was the real issue all along and how paying this money was a matter of being an illegal act. We where told it would be looked into. A week later we followed up and found out they would not take the case. When we asked for specifics none where provided.
Okay we thought, maybe this was to big, I mean it crosses state lines after all. So this time armed with our information we approached the Illinois States Attorney office. This time we where turned down outright by being told no law had been broken. WHAT!? I mean by the very definitions of extortion this has been a crime.
It seems the law enforcement does not think that a violation of our personal property without our permission and then extorting funds out of us to fix the issue is a crime. This is amazing to me. Our legal system can tie itself in knots wondering if something as simple as a statue with the 10 Commandments on it is to be allowed but when people actually break laws they do not have the time? Well it seems folks that for the time being we are on our own so let me give you some tips on how to protect yourself.
- Get a good AV program; I am surprised at how many people have no protection on their machines still. There are a number of good free sources of AV software for home users. Microsoft Security Essentials, AVG and AVAST all top my list. However it is not enough to have good AV software, you must make sure it is up to date and you are aware of what the program you are using is. By up to date I mean make sure the program is doing regular updates. To many people today are shutting off PCs at night, this is fine but realize your PC does a lot of updates at night. I suggest not waiting on automatic updates but doing a manual update yourself every morning. Also as I said be aware of what AV program you are using. When you get a pop up read the material and see if the message is from your AV program.
- Use a Standard User Account on your PC. In your user accounts setup a master account and then password it. Now go into your other accounts on the PC and change the account type to standard users. What this will do is limit the ability of the PC to install new software by forcing you to use the master password for software installs. Studies have shown this simple step can cut down potential malware infections by over 80%. The key here is the fact software needs permission to install. This means take the time to read popups asking for install rights, if you are not installing software deny those rights and protect your PC.
- NEVER click a popup before you read it. We have become lazy, we might not like hearing it but this is simply the truth. Take the time to read the pop-up. If it says your system is infected and does not come from your AV program then DO NOT click anything on the popup. These malware makers right the software to remap the various buttons on the popup. Clicking okay or cancel will both install the malware. Further many of them now have remapped the X in the top right to do the same thing. Instead you need to open the Task Manager and kill the running application from there.
There are of course the other standard protection ideas such as avoid adult web sites and not dealing with pirated material but I hope by now everyone knows those.
However these steps are a stop gap until we get some Politian’s that do more than sit on their backsides and collect checks from lobbyists. We need a legal system that will quite looking for high profile crimes and enforce the laws we have with some vigor. These are crimes being committed against our personal property. The laws as they exist easily cover this material and should be enforced. We need to vote into power people that will make sure this happens. It is time they do something useful for the people they serve instead of their party or pockets.