Take any card by either manufacturer and benchmark it next to its direct competitor from the other camp and there's at least one very clear conclusion to draw. Nvidia has the grunt, while AMD has the elegance.
But another factor soon becomes apparent. When DX11 is added to the mix, AMD's performance doesn't tail off quite so quickly at the higher resolutions, and it's a point the HD 6850 makes very well indeed.
This card represents a bit of an odd mixture. It seems to be built specifically to tackle DX11, and yet it still lacks the raw power to contend with its closest competitor in the price-range, the GTX 460 1GB, in DX10 applications.
And of course, in DX11 games it outperforms the card it was designed to replace: AMD's own HD 5850. What's odd is that the HD 5850 hasn't dropped in price as a result. Which, in all honesty, would seem to make it a prime contender for midrange future-proofing.
Let's take a look at the benchmarks. As evidenced by its Heaven 2.0 and Metro 2033 scores, the HD 6850 handles tessellation quite nicely compared to other cards in its price-category. What's interesting is that its closest competitor overall is really the GTX 460 768MB.
For sheer frames-per-second across DX10 and DX11 at 4X AA, and between 1,680 x 1,050 and 1,920 x 1080, there's little to choose between them.
The HD 6850, though, is an odd beast. In close competition with the GTX 460 768MB, it also outperforms the card it was designed to replace, the HD 5850, in DX11, but receives admonitions from the same predecessor in DX10 environments.
It's a muddy puddle and no mistake. But what it really amounts to is generous midrange performance, an element of future-proofing, and a card that purrs away in your system with now trademark AMD quietness.
It's a tough call between this and the 768MB version of the GTX 460, however. Overall, the 460 comes out on top, but only by a few frames per second – generally not a noticeable amount to the human eye.
And if you're in competition with the 768MB GTX 460, you're in slightly less competition with its 1GB iteration, which is tough on the HD 6850, as it's the same price.
One can't help but feel the HD 6850's day will come, but it isn't here yet. Every card is subject to price drops over time, and when that process brings the HD 6850 down below the GTX 460 line, it'll hit the absolute sweet spot.
For now, however, the HD 6850 is a strong mid range contender with decent DX11 potential.
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