Sapphire Radeon HD 6850 Toxic £150
13th Dec 2010 | 11:57
Can an overclock make this card more desirable?
Sapphire Radeon HD 6850 review: Overview
The vanilla Radeon HD 6850 was the more relevant of the two latest AMD cards, but can Sapphire's HD 6850 Toxic edition make it exciting too?
There's one thing you can't criticise Sapphire's Toxic series of overclocked graphics cards for: they never look dull. Each new variant features a visually (and thermally) different heatsink. From the three fanned enormity of the HD 5970 Toxic to the matt black angular edges of this HD 6850 Toxic, they're rarely the same twice.
Not only does the HD 6850 Toxic look classier than most graphics cards, it sounds a lot better too, in that it's almost silent. The GPU is clocked at 820MHz, which represents a healthy 45MHz more than the reference design – and yet cooling is noiseless, and there's plenty of headroom to push the card harder if you wish.
It's not just a fancy heatsink which makes the package attractive either. There's an extra power connector on the HD 6850 Toxic for supporting higher overclocks than you'd get out of a reference card, and the downloadable Sapphire TriXX application gives you access to voltage settings for pouring more juice into the silicon too.
At only £20 more than the cheapest current stock HD 6850, the Toxic isn't extortionately priced either, but there are GeForce GTX 460s and even the odd HD 5850 available for less. Being able to clear those two performance peaks is going to be one hell of a challenge.
Sapphire Radeon HD 6850 review: Benchmarks
The improvement that the HD6850 Toxic offers over a stock HD 6850 is enough to justify the overclock, and while it doesn't quite make it competitive with the better equipped HD 6870 card, it does make it a viable alternative to some of the other rivals out there.
Sapphire HD 6850 Toxic: 86.25fps
Radeon HD 6850: 81.5fps
Radeon HD 6870: 92.54fps
Far Cry 2
Sapphire HD 6850 Toxic: 75.27fps
Radeon HD 6850: 71.54fps
Radeon HD 6870: 82.52fps
Sapphire HD 6850 Toxic: 50.8fps
Radeon HD 6850: 47.6fps
Radeon HD 6870: 54.7fps
Just Cause 2
Sapphire HD 6850 Toxic: 45.27fps
Radeon HD 6850: 42.7fps
Radeon HD 6870: 48.68fps
Sapphire Radeon HD 6850 review: Verdict
Clearly, based on these results, the HD 6850 performance scales much better than the Radeon HD 6870. That card is also based on AMD's Barts architecture, which sits in the HD 6850, but it has a full working die where the HD 6850 has one processor cluster switched off.
An overclocked HD 6870, such as the HIS HD 6870 Turbo edition, isn't noticeably faster than a stock model, but the five per cent increase to the speed of a basic HD 6850 that Sapphire offers us here translates to at least the same sort of performance increase – and often more – in games at 1920 x 1080 resolutions.
That's rarely the difference between playable and unplayable, since no £170 card is struggling at that resolution these days, but it does make it almost comparable to the higher spec HD 6870, and raises it (just) clear of the 1GB version of a GeForce GTX 460.
If you want to push it even further, the Sapphire TriXX application for tuning clockspeeds and voltages is a likable and simple app that will let you get even more performance out of the HD 6850 Toxic.
Experienced overclockers will find it wanting, though, because the range of timings it opens up are limited and there's no panel for keeping track of on-board temperatures while you move clock speeds around.
Getting the board running stably at 850MHz was effortless, though.
It's not, however, the fastest card available for the price. Similarly overclocked GTX 460s are available for less, as is the Radeon HD 5850, which is more capable at higher resolutions.
It's a card we'd recommend if you want to tune it further than the factory settings and really customise your rig yourself, because the extra power connector gives you a lot of options to play with. For most other people, though, we'd be obliged to point you in the direction of cheaper cards that are faster out of the box instead.
The extra clockspeed translates directly into more frames per second, and the customised heatsink is quiet and good looking. Sapphire's overclocking app gives you plenty of control for getting even more out of the card, too.
It still doesn't feel right recommending any HD 6850 variant without the usual price caveats. It's a good card, but the GTX 460 and HD 5850 would be the logical choices with this much to spend.
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