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AMD HD 6970 and HD 6950 Review

ccokeman    -   December 14, 2010
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Conclusion:

The question is did AMD do enough to satisfy the legions of the "Radeon Faithful" with the Cayman release? It really depends on how you look at it I guess. Did they produce a card that has enough muscle to take out the top card from their competition? Not quite! Did they do enough to deliver a level of performance above the targeted card from NVIDIA (the GTX 480 and GTX 570)? For the most part yes they did. At times the performance delivered by the HD 6970 cards from XFX and Sapphire were knocking on the door of the GTX 580. Something I was not expecting to see. In 20+ of the 31 benchmarks run, the HD 6970 was equal to or better than the targeted NVIDIA cards. That of course was the goal. When overclocked, you can go for the additional performance by increasing the clock speeds on the GPU core. The cores on both of the HD 6970s I tested capped out around 940MHz for a roughly 60MHz boost over the base 880MHz speeds on the core for the HD 6970. The core on the XFX HD 6950 gave up a much nicer 106MHz on the core. The memory overclocking on the Sapphire and XFX HD 6970s both pushed well above the 1500MHz rated speed to 1520 and 1538Mhz respectively while again, the XFX HD 6950 gave up 243MHz worth of memory clock speed. Overclocking the core further should not prove a problem once the aftermarket utilities used for this purpose (such as MSI's Afterburner) are tweaked to work with this new core. When looking at the PowerTune option in the Catalyst Control Center, I did not find any overclocking headroom by adjusting up or down, but saw small variances in performance (better and worse) but not anything that would be noticeable in-game.

One area where AMD has failed is in not paying attention to the noise that the HD 6970 puts out when you go full bore on the fan speed such as when looking for the maximum overclocks. This was one of the things that hurt the GTX 480 from NVIDIA when it was introduced earlier this year. Late, Loud, and Hot were the problems we had to deal with. They (NVIDIA) listened and dropped the noise the card made to a much more acceptable level with the GTX 500 series cards. To keep getting this kind of fan noise from AMD is a concern that I hoped would be addressed. The other problem goes kind of hand-in-hand with the noise and that is heat. When run with the driver controlling the fan speeds in a gaming test, the HD 6970 gets into the high 80's - at 89 degrees Celsius to be exact. A small six degree leap gets you into GTX 480 territory. To fix it, you turn up the fan speeds and there you have the catch 22 for the HD 6970. On the other hand, the HD 6950 runs cooler both in a stock or overclocked scenario since there is less hardware to cool in the HD 6950 core. With its max TDP of 250 watts using AMD's PowerTune technology, power consumption on the HD 6970 has reached a level where it delivers close to the same power consumption as the GTX 570.

Once past that bit of information we are back to looking to see if this series will be a success. For an added benefit you have 3D HD so you can have a 3D experience (with the proper equipment such as glasses and monitors). You can use just a single card for an Eyefinity setup and the HD 6900 series supports more than two cards in a CrossfireX setup to increase your gaming experience by allowing you to use the additional graphics horsepower to increase the settings to the max. With the second 6000 series cards you get Morphological AA and Enhanced Quality Anti-Aliasing that uses very little overhead. Many will be disappointed that the HD 6970 did not come out and just lay the smack down on the GTX 580. But if you can get performance that close for a price tag that's $150 less expensive you have a win. In that respect, I think AMD hit the mark. The HD 6950 looks to play in the field just under the level of the GTX 570 and the outgoing HD 5870 and in that domain it hits the mark and delivers the performance to hold this area for now. Pricing for these cards from XFX with their modest bundle will set you back $379 for the HD 6970 and $319 for the HD 6950 which is a deal if you are looking for an upgrade to a DirectX 11 card since the HD 5870 goes from $269 to over $400 for a much lower level of performance. The Sapphire Battlefield Bad Company 2 Vietnam Special Edition will set you back a little bit more on the cost front but includes a spectacular bundle and a gotta-have-it aluminum case. AMD has leveraged their time to come out with a new architecture that ups the performance ante for their product stack and fits the new cards in a nice slot offering significant performance gains for a not out of this world cost. Now, they can fix the little things to truly make the HD 6900 series shine.

 

Pros:

  • Improved Performance
  • Eyefinity
  • Bundle (Sapphire)
  • CrossfireX Support (More than two Cards)
  • Enhanced visual quality
  • Pricing
  • Vapor Chamber Cooling
  • Improved Tesselation performance

Cons:

  • Fan Noise
  • Hot running with auto fan control (HD 6970)
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