MSI R6850 Cyclone Power Edition Video Card Review

If you are looking for a robust Radeon HD 6850 video card that has the potential for a high level of overclocking, then this is the video card for you. We evaluate the MSI R6850 Cyclone Power Edition video card and perform in-depth overclocking using MSI Afterburner. This video card has great potential, and competes well with the competition.

Introduction

Microstar International (MSI) is a Taiwan-based computer hardware manufacturer founded in 1986. Primarily a designer and manufacturer of PC motherboards, MSI has expanded its business into barebones PCs, servers and workstations, communications devices, consumer electronics, Notebooks, Netbooks, graphics cards, and other various electronic products. Its company motto, "Quality Products Create Faithful Customer," belies its underlying corporate strategy of designing and manufacturing quality devices for various markets and letting its high-quality reputation earn it the trust and respect of electronics consumers worldwide.

Today, we’re taking a close look at MSI’s R6850 Cyclone 1GD5 Power Edition/OC video card. It features an overclocked AMD Radeon HD 6850 GPU fitted with a custom aftermarket cooling device and 1GB of GDDR5 memory.

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AMD Radeon HD 6850

AMD released the Radeon HD 6000 series on October 21 of 2010, to resounding confusion. With the Radeon HD 6870 and the Radeon HD 6850, AMD was not attempting to attain a new performance zenith, but rather to bring higher performance to the mid-range video card market. The Radeon HD 6850 is the lesser of the two models launched on that day.

The Radeon HD 6850 is built on a 40nm process with 1.7 billion transistors and features 960 streaming processors, and 32 ROPs. It has a 256-bit memory bus and supports GDDR5 memory. Its maximum power draw is reported by AMD as 127 Watts, and it uses as little as 19 Watts when idling. Our initial review placed the performance of the Radeon HD 6850 as being between the Radeon HD 5770 and the Radeon HD 5850. It performed better than the GeForce GTX 460 768MB in every scenario, but was challenged by the GTX 460 1GB. While the Radeon HD 6850 did hold its own against the GTX 460 1GB, they did turn out to be close competitors.


MSI R6850 Cyclone

The MSI R6850 Cyclone comes with an MSRP of $210. It departs from AMD’s Radeon HD 6850 reference design in a number of ways. It has a factory overclocked GPU with a custom cooling device, an MSI-designed PCB, and overclocked memory. AMD’s reference clock rate for the Radeon HD 6850 is 775MHz, and MSI has clocked this video card’s GPU up by 85MHz to 860MHz. Beyond that, AMD designed the Radeon HD 6850 to be run with GDDR5 memory at 4.0GHz, and MSI has clocked this video card’s RAM to 4.4GHz. To accomplish this, MSI has fitted the R6850 Cyclone with the Cyclone cooling system also found on some of their GeForce 400 series products.

The R6850 Cyclone is made with MSI’s "Military Grade II" components, including super-ferrite chokes, Hi-c tantalum capacitors, and aluminum-core solid capacitors. The super-ferrite chokes increase power throughput of the on-board power regulators by being more efficient and reducing wasted energy. The Hi-c tantalum capacitors offer less impedance to the power flow and burn less energy as heat. The solid capacitors reduce the chances for failure, theoretically extending the lifespan of the video card to ten years.

This video card makes extensive use of pulse width modulation (PWM) power regulation. PWM increases efficiency of DC power supplies by supplying voltage to devices only when it is necessary. They are high-speed switching power supplies, which means they switch on and off very rapidly. PWM output can be described in terms of duty cycle, which is a percentage of time during which power is flowing. For example, a PWM running with a duty cycle of 50% means that energy is being supplied 50% of the time, and not with 50% efficiency. The MSI R6850 has a 6+1 PWM configuration, meaning the GPU can utilize up to 6 phases, while the memory has only 1. The fan on this video card is also controlled by PWM.

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The front of the outer box prominently features a picture of the video card’s cooling device, as well as some advertising points about the video card’s special features. The lower inside panel of the box allows the potential customer to see the video card itself, and offers some more detailed information about the product’s features. The upper inside panel has even more information about the board’s special components and its capabilities. The back side of the box shows a bullet point features list, system requirements, and an even smaller features list in 30 different languages.

The video card bundle comes with an installation guide, a user’s guide, a driver and utility CD-ROM, a DVI to VGA adaptor, and a dual-Molex to 6-pin auxiliary power adaptor.

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The video card itself is dominated by the large black cooling device. It features a 90mm cooling fan surrounded by many thin, bonded aluminum fins wrapped around a pair of heatpipes. The heatpipes emerge from a smaller machined aluminum heat-sink which is directly beneath the cooling fan. The PCB itself is brown and black, like most video cards we see these days.

The MSI R6850 Cyclone features a single CrossFireX connector for multi-GPU gaming with up to one other video card. It requires the use of a single 6-pin auxiliary power supply connector.

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On the top edge of the video card, tucked behind one of the heat-pipe cooling fin arrays is a small DIP switch. It has two positions, labeled "Performance" and "Silent." This switch controls the behavior of the cooling fan. In "Performance" mode the fan is optimized for maximum cooling, while in "Silent" mode it is configured to minimize noise. We can also see here that MSI is using Hynix GDDR5 modules on this video card. Note that the "T2C" silkscreened on the DRAM module indicates that it has a maximum theoretical operational frequency of 1250MHz, or 5.0 gigabits per second.

The back of the video card features a large amount of small surface mounted electronic components, a few stickers, and four spring-loaded screws to keep the heat-sink bonded to the GPU on the other side.

The business end of the MSI R6850 Cyclone is packing two dual-link DVI-I ports, one HDMI connector, and one DisplayPort connector.


The Competition

For this evaluation, we will be comparing the MSI R6850 Cyclone against a reference-clocked AMD Radeon HD 6850 video card, as well as a reference NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 1GB video card.