First of all I should like to mention that ATi once again have created a graphics card for the masses. The Sapphire sample is one of the earlier generations of this card but boy does it deliver. I purchased this from Scan for an astonishingly low £121 on launch. The price point right now is likely significantly lower at around £100.
Lets look at the performance in the latest games at a resolution of 1920x1080. It easily handles Call of Duty Black Ops at a steady frame rate and there is no graphical lag. Only when you get into 16aa/af modes do you start having some slowdowns but its not majorly notiecable.
Battlefield Bad Company 2 on the other hand does pose a few problems being more graphics intensive. At default settings one may experience some graphics lag but it is only on heavy battles. On the plus side, it displays textures very nicely and it is still playable at the highest settings.
As far thermal performance is concerned, in a well ventilated case, the card idles at around 40 degrees c at 40% fan speed. With the auto fan speed control it can reach 50% and still maintain a steady 40 degrees celcius. The card as far as I am aware never reached above 60 degress celcius with heavy gaming. I seldom switch off my computers so this at room temperature is actually more than adequate.
Onto acoustics - it is barely audible under stress and only when it starts heating up and the fan reaches around 70% can you hear the heavy humming.
Final word? Its a good medium range card that can play the latest games. However there is a caveat -for an aditional £20 you can pretty much avail yourself to a Sapphire HD6870 (£131 at most) which is a bit more future proof. If you have a strict budget for a graphics card that can play the latest games without any problems, then the Sapphire HD 6850 is ideal.