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AMD Radeon HD 6870 and 6850 review

by Tarinder Sandhu on 22 October 2010, 03:00 4.5

Tags: AMD (NYSE:AMD), Sapphire, HiS Graphics

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UVD, 3D, new connectivity

UVD3

Moving swiftly past the rest of the GPU architecture, AMD is equipping the Barts GPUs with a new revision of its Unified Video Decoding (UVD) block.

UVD block

New features are shown at the bottom. These include dedicated hardware acceleration for the multi-view codec used for Blu-ray 3D, full MPEG-2 support, and hardware acceleration for DivX and XviD codecs. While these are all decent improvements in their own right, every quad-core CPU is able to handle these in software without significant issue.

The real boon for UVD3 will be felt when it's tacked onto a low-power chips such as the upcoming Fusion APUs, where the CPU portion won't have the necessary grunt to handle the processing in software. UVD3, though somewhat superfluous on mid-to-high-end GPUs, will be better served on low-end discrete cards. Radeon HD 6350, anyone?

Ports ahoy

New ports 

Carrying on the display theme, the new GPUs ship with standard rear outputs comprising of two DVI ports, HDMI and two mini-DisplayPorts. Penny-pinching, AMD will opt for single-link DVI on the bottom port - limited to 1,920x1,200, for the most part - while the upper will run 30in monitors with a 2,560x1,600 resolution.

HDMI is upgraded to v1.4a, which is good for Blu-ray 3D, super-high-resolution support (4K-by-2K), and an optional Ethernet channel. Pragmatically, it enables you to attach the output to a 3D-capable TV or monitor. The two miniDP ports are interesting enough to warrant specific discussion.

DisplayPort gets upgraded

AMD has been pushing its multi-monitor Eyefinity ecosystem with gusto. Current Radeon cards can drive three monitors with the proviso that DisplayPort is used. Feeding six monitors currently requires a special Eyefinity Radeon HD 5870 GPU. This is all about to change with Radeon HD 6850/70.

Revision 1.2 of the DisplayPort standard certifies that a single connector can drive multiple displays. This can take the form of one connector attached to a DP v1.2-equipped monitor that is then daisy-chained to other monitors, or, elegantly, the miniDP attached to an optional multi-streaming hub that links to monitors with eclectic inputs - be they HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, or even VGA. What's more, monitors with different resolutions are supported from the get-go.

This all sounds ideal on a PowerPoint presentation. The fact of the matter is that DisplayPort-equipped monitors have been slow to proliferate and the price of the MST hub is as yet unknown. But AMD's multi-monitor support on Barts is intriguing nonetheless.

HD3D

NVIDIA recently re-ignited its push for all things 3D. Based around its software and provided on most modern GeForce GPUs, 3D Vision encompasses support for three-dimensional gaming, multimedia playback and photos - made possible through the use of certified monitors and special active-shutter glasses.

With TV manufacturers and broadcasters putting their weight behind 3D in 2010, AMD is also jumping on the bandwagon. In contrast to NVIDIA, the Austin outfit is looking towards partners to rally behind its HD3D banner.

AMD's 3D ecosystem

Bear in mind that the 'new' 3D strategy is applicable to any modern AMD GPU and not just the Radeon HD 6800-series, but it's more relevant as it can output 3D over HDMI and DisplayPort. Putting partners to the fore, AMD wants you, the consumer, to purchase the constituent parts from various companies, rather than package them up itself.

AMD says its strategy opens the door for the broadest possible adoption, letting partners provide different 3D middleware and a choice of active-shutter or polarised glasses. But having to potentially purchase four separate items for full-on 3D may well end up confusing users. For example, AMD will need to make it painfully clear which products work with others. In this case, we believe, NVIDIA's 'closed' system has intrinsic benefits.