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Conclusion

We have not learned anything particularly new from the fight between the MSI R6870 Hawk and the PowerColor HD6870 PCS+ as we saw the same results in our review of the ASUS HD 6870 DirectCU. We can again say that AMD’s old graphics architecture with VLIW5 execution units is not really outdated. If clocked at high frequencies, it can compete with the new VLIW4 architecture and even beat it by utilizing a dedicated ALU for carrying out complex instructions.

In fact, the single bottleneck of the Barts core is a relatively weak second-generation tessellation unit whereas the new Cayman features third-generation tessellators. This is especially conspicuous in Unigine Heaven. Yet the results of the other tests suggest that the Radeon HD 6870 is competitive to the GeForce GTX 560 Ti as well as to the Radeon HD 6950 if clocked at a GPU frequency of 1 GHz and higher.

The problem is that overclocking is lottery. You can be lucky like we were with the MSI R6870 Hawk but there is also a chance of damaging your card by increasing its GPU voltage too high. You can also get a sample with low overclocking potential like our PowerColor HD6870 PCS+ whose GPU could not be sped up even to 1 GHz. You should also keep it in mind that your choice between a Radeon HD 6870 for overclocking and a GeForce GTX 560 Ti for using at its default clock rates should be based on your favorite games and their preferences regarding the competing graphics architectures.

Comparing the two specific Radeon HD 6870 models discussed in this review, our favorite is the MSI R6870 Hawk. It is a high-quality product with high overclocking potential and a number of overclocker-friendly features. It also has a high-performance and quiet cooler. The single downside is its rather high price. This original Radeon HD 6870 can be found selling for about $235. A GeForce GTX 560 Ti is a mere $10 more expensive and also fast without any overclocking.

The PowerColor HD6870 PCS+ is closer to the recommended price of $219, so you may consider it if you don’t need those overclocking technologies offered by MSI. We don’t want to blame the PowerColor version for its mediocre overclocking results because we might have just been unlucky to get a sample with low overclockability. The high level of noise of our sample is a far more serious problem but we don't know if such an aggressive setup of the fan management system is typical of all other samples of this card. Its cooler’s efficiency wasn’t high, either, perhaps due to poor contact between the heat pipes and the GPU or heatsink.

Thus, the MSI R6870 Hawk is the winner of our today’s fight. This Radeon HD 6870 version can be recommended for all AMD fans. It is just as good as the ASUS HD 6870 DirectCU and even more exciting than the latter in some respects. We are proud to award MSI R6870 Hawk with our Recommended Buy title:

 

MSI R6870 Hawk Summary

Highs:

  • Excellent quality of manufacture;
  • May compete against GeForce GTX 560 Ti and Radeon HD 6950 in overclocked mode;
  • Wide range of supported FSAA modes;
  • Best quality of anisotropic filtering in the industry;
  • Supports up to 6 monitors;
  • Fully-fledged hardware HD video decoding, including DivX and 3D;
  • High-quality HD video post-processing with scalability;
  • Integrated sound core with HD support;
  • Sound over HDMI;
  • HDMI 1.4a;
  • DisplayPort 1.2;
  • Highly efficient cooling system;
  • Low noise;
  • Good overclocking potential.

Lows:

  • Supports less GPGPU-accelerated software than the competitors;
  • High price.

PowerColor HD6870 PCS+ Summary

Highs:

  • High performance in its class;
  • Wide range of supported FSAA modes;
  • Best quality of anisotropic filtering in the industry;
  • Supports up to 6 monitors;
  • Fully-fledged hardware HD video decoding, including DivX and 3D;
  • High-quality HD video post-processing with scalability;
  • Integrated sound core with HD support;
  • Sound over HDMI;
  • HDMI 1.4a;
  • DisplayPort 1.2;
  • Low price.

Lows:

  • High noise level;
  • Questionable efficiency of the cooling system;
  • Modest overclocking potential;
  • Supports less GPGPU-accelerated software than the competitors.
 
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