by Anton Shilov , Yaroslav Lyssenko
07/29/2011 | 12:15 PM
It’s easy to tell which animal is faster, a tortoise or a cheetah, a hawk or a swallow, but if you delve deeper into the matter, you will find out that each animal is just as fast as is expected basing on the laws of survival and evolution.
In a similar way, PC component manufacturers are turning out various different products to match every market niche and every usage scenario. While we’re routinely reporting to you on new speed records set by high-performance products from AMD and Nvidia, we’ve been somewhat neglecting the entry-level market segment. We are going to make our amends in this review and cover graphics cards which are not fast because they are just not meant to be such.
A year ago we tested three entry-level graphics cards from AMD in our review ATI Radeon HD 5670, Radeon HD 5570 and Radeon HD 5450: A Multimedia Ideal? and now we’ve got a new trio which includes Radeon HD 6670, 6570 and 6450. The transition to the newer generation has brought about a number of changes, both big and small, but the architecture of the Turks and Caicos chips has not changed fundamentally. These GPUs still use VLIW5 stream processors to execute instructions.
Click to enlarge
The Radeon HD 6670 and HD 6570 cards are based on the Turks GPU which incorporates 716 million transistors, is manufactured on TSMC's 40nm facilities and has a die size of 118 sq. mm (compare this to the 104 sq. mm and 627 million transistors of its predecessor codenamed Redwood). AMD managed to pack as many as 480 ALUs into this chip. The junior Turks (the 6570 model) differs from the senior one (the 6670 model) in its TPU count (16 against 24) and clock rate (650 against 800 MHz).
Compared to the previous GPU of the same class, the new ones have grown by about 10% in terms of the transistor count and chip size. Unfortunately, power consumption has increased, too. Of course, a TDP of 50-60 watts cannot surprise anyone today when there exist graphics cards consuming over 300 watts, yet this is 20% higher than the power consumption of the previous series. This may also affect the noisiness of the cooling system, which is an important factor for HTPC-oriented graphics cards.
The Radeon HD 6450 has also grown up compared to its predecessor Radeon HD 5450 and incorporates as many as 160 ALUs clocked at 750 MHz. There is an appropriate increase in power consumption: from 19 watts to 31 watts.
Although the Caicos and Turks GPUs have not acquired new stream processors or DirectX 11+ features, they can boast the most advanced display controller available as well as Universal Video Decoder 3.0 with official stereo 3D support.
Like the rest of the Northern Islands family chips, the new GPUs support DisplayPort 1.2 (it implements the 120 Hz refresh rate necessary for stereo 3D monitors), HDMI 1.4a, dual-link DVI-I and D-Sub. Eyefinity technology enables the Radeon HD 6400/6500/6600 series cards to output the picture to four monitors simultaneously (of course, it is possible to use monitors with different interfaces and native resolutions).
The UVD 3.0 video-processor is present in its full-featured form in both the Caicos and the Turks. Thus, the Radeon HD 6400/6500/6600 cards offer hardware decoding support for such formats as MPEG2, DivX/XviD, VC-1, MPEG4-AVC, MPEG4-MVC, and Adobe Flash 10.1 or higher. Blu-ray 3D can be played back thanks to hardware MPEG4-MVC acceleration which was missing in the Radeon HD 5000 Evergreen family.
Like their predecessors, the Radeon HD 6400/6500/6600 cards support Protected Audio Path and can bitstream 7.1 audio (192 kHz/24 bits per sample) with a bit rate up to 6.144 Mbps in AC3, DTS, Dolby True HD, DTS HD/DTS HD Master Audio, LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation) and other advanced formats via HDMI 1.4a for an external receiver to decode.
The video decoding and display controller functionality, coupled with modest power consumption, can make Caicos- and Turks-based products a good choice for HTPCs. We’ll check out if they are indeed suitable for the job shortly.
Now let’s take a closer look at the actual hardware.
We’ve got no surprises here. The low-profile form-factor ensures a lower manufacturing cost and also indicates that the graphics card is meant for a small multimedia computer in the first place.
The 61 watts of heat produced by the GPU at full load are supposed to be dissipated by a dual-slot cooler. The large heatsink guarantees that the Radeon DH 6670 won't easily overheat, but it makes the card bulkier and not easy to install into compact system enclosures.
The graphics card based on the junior Turks follows the same design concept. It may even seem identical to the Radeon HD 6670, but the placement of the power circuit components and some other features suggest that its PCB has not been simply borrowed from the senior cousin.
The cooling system of the Radeon HD 6570 is simple and does not go beyond the PCB’s dimensions. The heatsink is small and, considering the size of the fan and the GPU's power consumption (up to 50 watts), the graphics card may prove to be noisy.
The Caicos-based solution is slower and looks even more modest. It has fewer elements on its PCB than the Turks-based products. The small size and the low price of the Radeon HD 6450 make it ideal for a multimedia PC.
Unfortunately, this card is also equipped with an active cooling system which is the consequence of its increased power consumption compared to the Radeon HD 5450. The card's cooling system is almost the same as the one of the hotter Radeon HD 6570 and should cope with its job even in a poorly ventilated system case.
Effective cooling is most important for today’s computers in which even simple components can get as hot as 70-80°C. What about our low-end graphics cards?
Thanks to its large heatsink and modest power consumption the old Radeon HD 5670 is superior to the new generation, being no hotter than 60°C.
At high load the Radeon HD 6670 easily gets as hot as 70°C and the Radeon HD 6570, 80°C, which is but slightly lower than the GPU temperature of the passively cooled Radeon HD 5450.
Well, modern GPU chips are not afraid of working at temperatures of 80°C and even higher since they are all developed with the cramped conditions of HTPCs in mind, but we can note that the Turks and Caicos GPUs do need a good cooler.
Judging by the tests of noisiness, the reference Radeon HD 6570 and HD 6450 can hardly be recommended for quiet computers. The noise produced by these cards is not irritating or something, yet it’s impossible not to get notice of it at 52-57 dBA. This must be due to the small heatsink which cannot dissipate the heat effectively, so the fan has to work at its full speed to prevent the card from overheating.
So, you may want to look for a non-reference Radeon HD 6570/6450 with a larger cooler and also make sure that your system case is ventilated well.
The Turks GPU seems to be an advanced video playback solution that may be optimal for HTPCs. Let's check this out by evaluating the new cards’ playback quality in the HQV tests.
We are going to investigate the playback quality and performance of AMD Radeon HD 6670, HD 6570 and HD 6450 on the following platform:
The following graphics cards took part in our tests:
We used the following tools to estimate the video playback quality in standard (SD) and high-definition (HD) resolutions:
The driver settings remained the same. However, according to the HQV suite requirements, the noise suppression and detail levels for Nvidia GeForce and AMD Radeon HD graphics cards were set at the medium level (50-60%), which didn’t affect the multi-cadence tests results.
Since the owners of high-end sound systems will be extremely interested in the results of lossless threads playback, we also used DTS-HD Master Audio and/or Dolby Digital TrueHD (where available) audio tracks in order to increase the CPU load in all played movie fragments.
Keeping in mind that all tests are run under Windows 7 without disabling background services, the CPU utilization peaks shouldn’t be regarded as critical. It is much more important how much time it takes the CPU on average to complete the task. Note that the CPU utilization may vary. Therefore, 1-2% difference is not indicative of any advantage of a certain graphics accelerator over the competitor.
To estimate the CPU utilization during full-HD video playback (1920x1080) and full-HD video with enabled “picture-in-picture” (PiP) or Bonus View (according to Blu-ray disc Association classification) feature, we used the following movies:
We did not use free content for our tests.
The HQV 2.0 tests help evaluate the performance of a number of video processing operations by a GPU. This benchmark is very detailed and focuses on comparing Blu-ray/DVD players based on specialized video processors, so GPUs do not always get high scores in it.
Since every modern TV-set and monitor supports HD resolutions of 720p or 1080p, the quality of DVD playback at the native DVD resolution is hardly interesting. It is more important that the video processor can effectively do such things as upscaling, motion correction, noise reduction, etc. Video clips in the HQV 2.0 DVD test reveal how good our GPUs are at each of these operations.
The numbers suggest that the AMD Radeon HD 6670, HD 6570 and HD 6450 provide a high, yet not ideal, quality of DVD playback on a full-HD display.
This result might have been expected since the Turks and Caicos GPUs use the UVD 3.0 video-processor borrowed from the Barts/Cayman GPUs.
This test is similar to HQV 2.0 DVD but covers higher resolutions.
The Radeon HD 5000/6800 series cards are better than their Nvidia-based counterparts and most of their failures (the tests where they score 0 points) refer to noncommercial content. Users who watch HD movies directly from Blu-ray discs rather than try to upscale iTunes videos will be satisfied with the image quality delivered by the Radeon HD 6000 series. Unfortunately, the new Radeons are inferior to the Radeon HD 5600/5700 series here due to insufficient driver optimizations.
By the way, when discussing the HQV results you should keep it mind that the scoring system is subjective and a small difference in scores shouldn’t be viewed as critical.
Now let’s see how good the entry-level Radeon 6000 series cards are at offloading the CPU when processing HD video.
The new cards do not differ much from the previous generation when playing Dark Knight and Constantine. The CPU load is very low overall, so you can hardly feel the difference between the Radeon HD 6450 and the leader of this test, GeForce GTX 560 Ti, for example.
When playing our MPEG4-AVC movies, the entry-level Radeon HD 6000 series cards differ no more than by 10% in terms of the CPU load. So you can enjoy such movies with any of the cards.
Thanks to optimized MPEG2/MPEG2 HD hardware decoding support, the Turks and Caicos GPUs are better than the rest of the Radeons as well as the GeForce series products when processing such videos.
Just like the entry-level products of the previous generation, AMD’s Radeon HD 6450, 6570 and 6670 are an excellent choice for an HTPC thanks to their rich multimedia functionality, modest power consumption and compact design.
These Caicos- and Turks-based cards offer hardware video decoding support for DivX/XviD, MPEG2-HD, MPEG4-AVC, MPEG4-MVC, WMV-HD, VC-1, Adobe Flash 10.1 and other formats. Besides, the new GPUs feature advanced post-processors for SD and HD video and can bitstream all popular audio formats via HDMI 1.4a.
According to the HQV 2.0 tests, the new AMD cards are somewhat better than Nvidia’s solutions in terms of Blu-ray playback but the latter are superior in terms of DVD upscaling. Well, today’s GPUs are overall very good at video playback, except for but a few exceptions. We can also note that, unlike in the previous Evergreen generation where the junior Cedar chip had a cut-down version of the Avivo/UVD processor, the Caicos has the same video processing capabilities as its senior cousin.
As for AMD's stereoscopic imaging technology called HD3D, it can be used to output Blu-ray 3D movies to a wide range of TV-sets and projectors without purchasing extra software (except for a Blu-ray 3D player like CyberLink PowerDVD Deluxe). When it comes to the competing 3D Vision technology, you need to buy a special driver/middleware from Nvidia.
Unfortunately, the more advanced Turks and the weaker Caicos both consume more power than their predecessors. This downside is not serious in itself but its consequence in the way of higher heat dissipation may lead to a higher level of noise from the cooling fan. And if the graphics card maker installs a larger cooler, the graphics card is likely to cost you more.
We are going to investigate the gaming performance of three Radeon HD 6670, HD 6570 and HD 6450 using the following universal testbed:
We used the following AMD Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce drivers:
The AMD Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce graphics card drivers were configured in the following way:
Below is the list of games and test applications we used during this test session:
First-Person 3D Shooters
Third-Person 3D Shooters
Semi-synthetic and synthetic Benchmarks
We selected the highest possible level of detail in each game. If the application supported tessellation, we enabled it for the test session.
For settings adjustment, we used standard tools provided by the game itself from the gaming menu. The games configuration files weren’t modified in any way, because the ordinary user doesn’t have to know how to do it. We ran our tests in the following two multimedia resolutions: 720p 1280x720 and 1080p 1920x1080. We were primarily looking at performance in HD resolution, because it is currently the most popular format. If the graphics card’s theoretical performance was sufficient for acceptable results we also looked at a much more demanding Full HD mode.
Unless stated otherwise, everywhere, where it was possible we added MSAA 4x antialiasing to the standard anisotropic filtering 16x. We enabled antialiasing from the game’s menu. If this was not possible, we forced them using the appropriate driver settings of AMD Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce drivers.
Besides the three testing participants described above, we also tested the following products:
Performance was measured with the games’ own tools and the original demos were recorded if possible. We measured not only the average speed, but also the minimum speed of the cards where possible. Otherwise, the performance was measured manually with Fraps utility version 3.4.5. In the latter case we ran the test three times and took the average of the three for the performance charts.
Unfortunately, 37 frames per second is the best you can get even from the Radeon HD 6670 in Aliens vs. Predator at the highest graphics quality settings. On the other hand, the game seems playable at this speed, particularly because there is some kind of auto-aiming available for each of the three races.
Well, we can’t say there is no progress in the entry-level market sector. The Radeon HD 6450 is actually twice as fast as the previous generation, even though this means 11 fps only. So you can’t enjoy the game fully on this graphics card unless you lower the graphics quality settings.
The Radeon HD 6670 and HD 6570 deliver higher speeds than in the previous test, especially at high resolutions. They make the game playable even in the Full-HD mode.
The Call of Duty engine favors the Turks architecture and runs fast enough even on the Caicos-based Radeon HD 6450.
The entry-level graphics cards can hardly help you save the Earth from aliens in Crysis 2 unless you lower the graphics quality settings. The Radeon HD 6670 and Radeon HD 6570 can cope with this game in the 720p mode, though.
This game is tested with the tessellation option turned on.
This is one of the heaviest gaming tests on our list, so the Turks-based cards cannot deliver high performance here. The frame rate is low unless you disable some of the special effects in the game's menu.
This game runs with enabled tessellation.
The Radeon HD 6670 notches 37 fps, leaving the rest of the cards behind. The Radeon HD 6450 can also be used to explore the Zone after relaxing the graphics quality settings a little.
Unfortunately, the entry-level cards are too slow in the Full-HD mode here.
Third-person shooters can be played at a lower frame rate than first-person ones. The Radeon HD 6670 is good here even though it can’t put the Turks’ architectural advantages to full use. This card, and the Radeon HD 6570 too, can be used to play the game in the 1080p mode. Alternatively, you can buy the older Radeon HD 5670 as it delivers good performance, too.
None of these graphics cards can make the game playable at the maximum graphics quality settings. You can't avoid lowering the latter.
We use the latest patch with high-resolution textures.
RPGs are generally not as heavy as FPS games, yet Dragon Age II is an exception. Although the Radeon HD 6670 is much faster than the Radeon HD 5670, it can barely cope with the game even in the 720p mode. You'll have to lower the visual quality if you want to kill some dragons on your HTPC.
We enforced full-screen antialiasing using the method described in our special Mass Effect 2 review.
You can follow soldier Shepard’s quest in both HD and Full-HD modes with the entry-level graphics cards. The good old Radeon HD 5670 looks good against the new generation, by the way.
This Formula One game seems to be well optimized as it runs smoothly on the Radeon HD 6670. The frame rate is almost as high as 40 fps at the maximum graphics quality settings.
The Turks-based Radeon HD 6670 and 6650 are quite fast in this last year bestseller. Most gamers are going to be satisfied with their speed, and we can expect even higher performance when the Catalyst driver is optimized further.
The AMD Radeon 6450, on its part, is slow in this game. You’ll have to lower the graphics quality settings to play with comfort.
Shogun 2 is an AMD-supported title, so the Radeon HD 6670 and 6570 have good results. The Caicos-based Radeon HD 6450 can only give you 12.7 fps in the 720p mode, which is too slow. The resolution is too low for a strategy, too.
We minimize the CPU’s influence by using the Extreme profile (1920x1200, 4x FSAA and anisotropic filtering). We also publish the results of the individual tests across all resolutions.
3DMark Vantage turns out to be quite an ordeal for the entry-level cards. The Radeon HD 6670 has the highest score since the Turks is superior to the Redwood architecture from nearly every aspect. The Radeon HD 6570 is impressive as well, being 26% faster than the Radeon HD 5670.
Benchmarking entry-level graphics cards in 3DMark Vantage is quite a torment. The graphics cards are visibly working at their limit. The Caicos architecture is more progressive compared to the old Radeon HD 5450, but the Radeon 6450 cannot score even 1000 points.
We use the Extreme profile here. As opposed to 3DMark Vantage, this profile uses a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels.
Having more TMUs, the Radeon HD 5670 beats the newer Radeon HD 6570, but the senior Turks-based product is in the lead, scoring 550 points. The Radeon HD 6450 is twice as fast as the Radeon HD 5450.
This benchmark makes wide use of tessellation to render the surface of the earth. The number of polygons per one frame can be as high as 1.5 million! It is also Nvidia-optimized.
Save for the junior models, the graphics cards are fast enough for playing this game.
Take note that the old GeForce GT 430 is close to the new cards from AMD. This is the result of Fermi-based optimizations in the game engine.
We use Normal tessellation in this test.
The AMD Radeon HD 6670 is unrivalled in this benchmark. It is followed by the Radeon HD 6570 and Radeon HD 5670 which are 20% slower. The GeForce GT 430 is somewhere in the middle whereas the cheap Radeon HD 6450 and HD 5450 are slow.
Judging by the results AMD’s Radeon HD 6670, 6570 and 6450 have produced in our tests, these Turks- and Caicos-based products are a good buy for the money.
The Turks-based Radeon HD 6670 and 6570 deliver good performance in games in the 720p mode even if you turn on FSAA, so such cards are going to be interesting for a casual gamer. Unfortunately, they are generally slow in the 1080p mode.
The cheap Radeon HD 6450 cannot be expected to be fast in today’s games but it is functional enough (DirectX 11, OpenCL 1.1, hardware HD video decoding, etc) to surpass a mainboard-integrated graphics core. By the way, the Radeon HD 6450 is considerably faster than its predecessor Radeon HD 5450, so we can observe some progress in this market sector with the release of the new GPUs. Perhaps entry-level cards of this type will be replaced by integrated graphics altogether in the next years, but so far the Radeon HD 6450 is quite a viable solution.
The Turks-based Radeon HD 6600/6500 and the Caicos-based Radeon HD 6400 series cards are roughly similar when it comes to playing DVD or Blu-ray video but AMD’s DVD upscaling quality is somewhat lower than what is offered by Nvidia products. This is not a serious shortcoming, though, as DVDs have been declining in popularity. As for the HD format, the HQV 2.0 tests suggest that AMD’s products provide a higher quality with it than their GeForce series counterparts.
Like for most other GPUs, decoding video isn’t a problem for the Turks and Caicos. The CPU load was low with either of them and every video was played smoothly.
Thus, the AMD Radeon HD 6450, 6570 and 6670 can be recommended for multimedia PCs, HTPCs and even inexpensive gaming systems as they provide rich SD and HD video playback options, an advanced display controller (DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI 1.4a, Eyefinity, dual-link DVI, etc), and a good video processor. All of this is combined with low power consumption.