AMD HD 6970 and HD 6950 Review

ccokeman - 2010-12-10 20:47:18 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: December 14, 2010
Price: $379 XFX HD 6970, $309 XFX HD 6950, $449 Sapphire HD 6970

Introduction:

It's that time of year when the new toys come out before the Christmas rush. NVIDIA has delivered their new toys with the introduction of the GTX 580 and GTX 570 a scant week ago and now AMD and its partners are delivering theirs in the form of the HD 6970 and HD 6950. The HD 6900 series are part of AMD's Northern Islands lineup code named "Cayman". With this offering you have the Cayman XT part (the HD 6970) and the Cayman Pro in the HD 6950. Each of these cards are built using a new architecture that should drive performance and efficiency. With this introduction we have a replacement for the Cypress based HD 5800 series that broke open the DX 11 flood gates. These two offerings will be the new high-end GPUs for AMD with the HD 5970 still maintaining its spot at the top of the food chain for the red brand. Basic specifications for these offerings include 24 SIMD/1536 streaming processors, 96 texture units, 32 ROPs and 2GB of GDDR5 memory for the HD 6970 with the HD 6950 being a slightly cut down version with 22 SIMD/1408 streaming processors 88 texture units, 32 ROPs and also 2GB of GDDR5 memory. Clock speeds for these offerings come in at 880MHz/1375MHz for the HD 6970 and 800MHz/1200MHz for the HD 6950. I have a few offerings from Sapphire and XFX to look at today to see just how these offerings fall on to the performance ladder. Let's see how they perform in the only way possible and put them through their paces to see if they are a worthy successor to the AMD throne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closer Look:

At launch time Sapphire usually does a little something special and this launch is no exception. They've created a bundle that looks pretty sweet from a marketing perspective with this "Sapphire HD 6970 - Battlefield Bad Company 2 Vietnam Special Edition" card. I am told this is a limited run bundle that comes in an aluminum briefcase with Battlefield Bad Company 2 Vietnam art work prominently displayed on the front and rear of the case. All the prominent players (Sapphire, EA and AMD) who participated in bringing this card to market are listed on the front panel in each corner. The rear panel shows the same artwork but contains much more information about the specifications and features of the HD 6970. On the left is the Sapphire logo with the features listed below including the AMD HD 6970 GPU, 2GB of GDDR5 memory, 3D stereoscopic support, CrossfireX support, Digital Power Management and more. Under the Features heading is a list of the accessories in the briefcase. The big seller here is the Battlefield Bad Company 2 Vietnam game and the large bundle of accessories. The feature list keeps going on the bottom right with mentions of AMD HD 3D, full 1080p HD support, 7.1 HD surround sound support and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flipping open the latches brings you inside the briefcase for a look at this special edition card from Sapphire. The inside is covered in foam to protect the contents in the case with the cutout for the HD 6970 on the lower section. On top of the card you can see part of the bundle. Once removed, you get a look at this special edition offering from Sapphire.

 

 

The bundle of accessories with this card is really pretty substantial and contains everything you need to get this card up and working with your system regardless of the connectivity options you choose. You get the two power adapters to power the card (if your power supply does not have the required eight pin + six pin PCIe connections), a CrossfireX bridge connection for using two of these cards in a multi-GPU setup, a six foot HDMI cable, DVI to VGA adapter, Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapter, the manual, driver disk and finally, an invitation to join Sapphire's Select Club that rewards you for joining through giveaways and contests and Automatic RMA service. One of those rewards comes in the form of Battlefield Bad Company 2 Vietnam for free. Not to mention it all comes in a great case.

 

 

Once you get past the case and bundle of accessories. you are left with the HD 6970 video card itself. The front of this card features the artwork used on the case and allows the message to transfer all the way from the packaging to the card. The HD 6970 from Sapphire is a reference design card that follows the design specs for this model. This card is a dual slot solution much like just about every high-end gaming card in the past few years. The HD 6970 measures 10.75 inches in length or just a 1/4 inch longer than the 10.5 inch cards we are used to. The back side of the card uses a backing plate similar to the HD 5870 and is used to keep the PCB from flexing due to the large heat sink used under the shroud. The HD 6970 GPU is still built using the 40nm process but the architecture has been redone and is just not a more efficient Cypress rehash. The new architecture is based on a VLIW4 design that includes improvements with an added tessellation unit and dual graphics engines (not cores) that are said to improve the performance of the Cayman core by 10% per mm2. The HD 6970 houses 24 SIMD , 1536 streaming multiprocessors, 96 texture units, 32 ROPs and a massive 2GB of GDDR5 frame buffer that drives compute performance to 2.75 TFlOPS

 

 

 

As a reference design you get the reference connectivity options that remain unchanged from the HD 6800 series with a pair of DVI ports, one Dual Link DVI and the other being Single Link only due to the amount of lanes needed for other connectivity options. The rest of the connectivity options are dual Mini DisplayPort 1.2 sockets that allow you to connect up to six monitors via these two ports. To do this you will need either a Multi Stream Transport hub or DisplayPort equipped monitors that support daisy chaining of the monitors together. Last in line is the HDMI 1.4a port to output your High Definition and Blu-ray content along with 7.1 surround sound. Just like with the HD 6800 series you can use the connectivity options to hook up a six monitor Eyefinity display with resolutions up to 5760 x 2160 using just a single card - the HD 6970. The exhaust vent is on the small size for the kind of airflow needed to get rid of the up to 250 watts of thermal energy this card is capable of producing. The back end of the card does not have much in the way of functionality with no intake vents or power connections such as found on the HD 5800 series.

 

 

This card is an enthusiast level card and as such it gets enhanced CrossfireX capabilities in the form of being able to support the use of more than two cards in a CrossfireX configuration. Of course to go beyond two you will need a motherboard that has that capability as well as the display hardware to make it work to your advantage. The power connections used on the Sapphire HD 6970 are an eight pin + six pin PCIe plug arrangement that supplies the up to 250 watt TDP of this card. AMD says most of the time users should expect to see around 190 watts during gaming use with AMD's PowerTune technology. On top of the PCB (located right next to bridge connections) is the Dual BIOS switch. With this switch you have two BIOS to choose from, a protected BIOS that allows you to run at the factory specified parameters and an unprotected one to provide the enthusiast with the ability to tweak the BIOS for their specific needs. A pretty nifty feature if you have a bad BIOS flash!

 

 

Under the shroud of the Battlefields Bad Company 2 Special Edition things that look like a Vapor Chamber heat sink dominate the landscape with the blower fan taking up half as much room. Under these items is a large aluminum heatsink that serves to cool off the rest of the motherboard components such as the MOSFETS used in the VRM circuit and the 2GB of GDDR5 frame buffer. On this cooling system the heat pipe assembly appears to be either glued or otherwise attached so removal without tearing up the cooler wa next to impossible. One thing I saw missing was a way to seal the junction between the heat sink and the plastic shroud body that would permit more airflow to go through the heat sink to promote cooler temperatures on the GPU core and memory.

 

 

 

Built on the 40nm Cayman XT core the Sapphire HD 6970 is 389mm2 in size, has 2.64 billion transistors, has 24 SIMD/1536 Stream processors, 96 texture units, 32 ROPs with clock speeds of 880MHz on the core and 1375MHz on the GDDR5 memory. Clock speeds for the HD 6970 come in at 880Mhz on the core and 1375Mhz on the GDDR5 memory. With these specifications you get 2.75 TFLOPS of compute performance and 176Gbps worth of memory bandwidth. The Hynix GDDR5 memory used on the HD 6970 is part number H5GQ2H24MFR-ROC. This memory is rated for operation at 1500 MHz and runs through a 256 bit bus.

 

 

Now that we have seen what Sapphire has to offer in terms of an outstanding bundle, let's take a look at what XFX has for us.

Closer Look:

From a packaging perspective, the HD 6970 and HD 6950 from XFX are almost identical to the HD 6870 and HD 6850 I looked at back in October. The front panels have a unique industrial design. To the left of the product name is the XFX logo and "Play Hard" slogan.To the right is the Radeon graphics logo. The basic specifications of the card are listed below and include 2GB of GDDR5 memory. This is an increase in the frame buffer size from the Cypress and Barts core equipped cards that preceeded these "Cayman" equipped graphics cards.There is also a small logo the lets you know that in the event that something does go wrong, XFX will stand behind these HD 69xx cards with their 5 Star support. The back panels rattle off the key features of these cards that include AMD Advanced Parallel Processing Technology (APP), HDMI 1.4a support, AMD PowerPlay technology, Eyefinity , Windows 7 support, DisplayPort 1.2 output, 2GB of GDDR5 and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the outer sleeve is the box that contains the graphics cards and the accessory bundle. The box is black in color and features the XFX logo, slogan and the web address. Inside you will find the boxes are split into two areas, one that holds the documentation and accessories while underneath you have the video card in a formed cardboard tray.

 

 

The accessory bundle is a bit slim but contains the driver disk, warranty literature, quick install guide, driver install guide, a crossfire bridge connection and a staple from XFX being the door tag that lets people know your're in the midst of a frag session. Flip the door tag over and you have all the information needed so that you can register your card so that support (if you ever need it) can be tailored to your individual device.

 

The HD 6900 series cards from XFX are in essence reference design video cards that mirror the specifications and feature set of this design from AMD. The front of each card features the industrial looking graphic used on the packaging. These reference design cards are two slot solutions much like just about every high performance video card that has come out in the past few years with few exceptions. The back side of each card is covered with a plate that serves to keep the PCB from flexing as well as a way to keep the main heat sink in place. The HD 6900 series are built using a 40nm process and are built on a new VLIW4 graphics architecture with dual graphics engines in a single GPU core that show a 10% increase in performance per mm2. The HD 6970 comes equipped with 24 SIMD engines, 1536 streaming processors, 96 texture units, 32 ROPs and 2GB of GDDR5 memory running through a 265bit bus that delivers 2.75 TFLOPS of compute performance. The HD 6950 uses the same technologies but comes with a lesser amount of hardware on board at 22 SIMD engines, 1408 streaming multiprocessors, 88 texture units, 32 ROPs and the same 2GB of GDDR5 memory running through a 256bit bus delivering slightly less performance at 2.25 TFLOPS. We can see that AMD has continued with the use of the blower fan style cooling that hopefully has been revamped much the way NVIDIA did recently on their GTX 5XX series cards.

 

 

 

By following the reference design you get the reference connectivity options. The I/O panel on both the HD 6970 and HD 6950 show that you get a pair of DVI ports (one of which is single link while the other is Dual Link capable), a pair of mini DisplayPort 1.2 ports and a single HDMI 1.4a port. With the display port 1.2 options you have the ability to run a total of six monitors off of a single card using Multi Stream Transport where three monitors can be fed from a single DisplayPort 1.2 capable port. You will however, have to use monitors that support daisy chaining or use an MST hub. This gives you the ability to run a six monitor Eyefinity setup without having to purchase a specialty video card. The exhaust vent for these cards deviates from the reference design and lets you know what brand of video card you are running. Its a specialty feature that sets the XFX cards apart from the pure reference design. Airflow should not be impacted by this and was shown to not be an issue with the HD 6800 series cards we looked at from XFX. However with the amount of air peing pushed by the blower fan assembly, the exhaust is on the small side for a high-end graphics card. The back end of the card is featureless and contains the red accent ribbing used on the 6000 series reference cards.

 

 

These two cards are able to be used in a CrossfireX multiple GPU configuration with up to four cards. Instead of the single bridge connection used on the HD 6800 series cards, the 6900's are a step up to the enthusiast hardware level and as such, AMD provided the ability to use more than a two card configuration for additional gaming performance. On the HD 6970 you will notice a small (well, not so small really) switch on the top of the card right next to the Crossfire bridge connections. This switch is called the Dual BIOS toggle switch and is used to provide a second unprotected user configurable BIOS in addition to the protected factory default BIOS. This way, if you have a bad flash, at least you can revert back to the stock BIOS to get yourself out of trouble. A pretty neat feature that the more experienced users can take advantage of to modify the secondary BIOS for use when benchmarking or gaming where higher clock speeds are needed for added performance. The HD 6950 includes this feature in its list of attributes. The power connections for the HD 6970 are an eight pin + six pin configuration while the HD 6950 uses a six pin + six pin setup due to the difference in TDP. The HD 6970 has a 250 watt TDP while the HD 6950 is rated at 200 watts. A 550 watt power supply is recommended.

 

 

 

When you pull both the HD 6970 and HD 6950 apart they look identical in every way. The cover is held on with clips that index onto the aluminum heat sink body that covers the voltage regulation circuits and the 2GB of GDDR5 memory. Once the cover is off you can see the large Vapor Chamber heatsink that is used to cool the Cayman based cores on the cards. This heat sink sits above the aluminum heat sink body for the card and is in fact glued to this body.

 

 

 

When you pull the heat sinks from the card you can see the large vapor chamber that is covered with a full length fin array. Air is pushed through this array via the blower style fan that is used by AMD. One thing that looks to be missing is a way to direct all of the airflow through the fin array (instead of allowing air to move around it) by using a small gasket like that used recently on the GTX 570. The direct competitor of the HD 6970.

 

 

The core used on the HD 6970 is the Cayman XT while the HD 6950 gets the Cayman Pro. This is the main difference between the two cards and really reflects how much hardware is enabled inside of each core. The Cayman XT used on the HD 6970 is built on a 40nm process, is 389mm2 in size, has 2.64 billion transistors, has a total of 24 SIMD/1536 Stream processors, 96 texture units, 32 ROPs with clock speeds of 880MHz on the core and 1375MHz on the GDDR5 memory. With these specifications it delivers 2.75TFLOPS of compute performance. The Cayman Pro is built on the same 40nm process and has the same 2.64 billion transistors and 389mm2 size but has fewer SIMD engines at 22, 1408 streaming multiprocessors, 88 texture units, 32 ROPs, with clock speeds of 800MHz on the core and 1250MHz on the GDDR5 memory for a total of 2.25 TFLOPS of compute performance. The 2GB of GDDR5 memory used on the HD 6970 is from Hynix and is part number H5GQ2H24MFR ROC and is rated for operation at 1500MHz while the Hynix the HD 6950 uses a lower rated H5GQ2H24MFR T2C. The memory on both cards runs through a 256 bit bus to deliver memory bandwidth numbers of 176 and 160 Gbps respectively.

 

 

 

The Cayman series GPUs are built on a new VLIW4 architecture that uses dual graphics engines that are said to be 10% more efficient per mm2 than the last gen VLIW5 core. This design includes a second 8th generation tessellation unit to improve tessellation performance by 3x over the HD 5870 as well as improvements in the Compute structure of the core. These slides from AMD illustrate the improvements.

 

 

 

Now that we know what we are looking at in this generation of GPU's from AMD and XFX, it' time to see just how well they perform.

Closer Look:

With the beginning of a new product generation comes new technologies that the generation supports. Many of the new features are based on older technologies supported from the prior generations with a fresh take aimed at improving the end user experience.

Eyefinity Demo:

 

With the new 6000 series graphics cards, each can support up to six monitors for an Eyefinity setup. Gamers are no longer stuck with using only a single monitor for game play as the games can now be spanned across multiple monitors and can also make use of the new 3D technologies explained further towards the bottom. Multiple displays can be powered by a single connector with Eyefinity and the ultra-high bandwidth DisplayPort 1.2 Multi Stream output capabilities with high quality audio also being transmissible. Below is a demonstration of a triple-monitor Eyefinity setup with several different game examples to view either a classic single monitor setup or the new Eyefinity triple-monitor experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Morphological Anti-Aliasing:

Morphological anti-aliasing is a post-process filter that is accelerated with DirectCompute 11 and is able to filter the entire scene. MLAA is faster than super-sampling with similar performance to the older CFAA while being applicable to all edges of the scene. MLAA is compatible with applications using Microsoft DirectX versions 9, 10 and 11. Anisotropic Filtering has also been updated with a new algorithm for smoother transitions between filter levels and to address visible discontinuities in textures. MLAA processing takes highly contrasting edges and blends them for a more seamless render.

 

Enhanced Quality Anti-Aliasing:

This new Anti-Aliasing option is available with the introduction of the HD 6900 series GPU's from AMD and is an enhancement over standard Multi Sample AA by doubling the number of coverage samples per pixel. By not using additional video memory, there should be a negligble performance hit for this additional tool for smoothing rough edges.

 

Accelerated Parallel Processing

AMD is making a shift by changing the naming scheme away from ATI to unify the company with its CPUs and GPUs. The name Accelerated Parallel Processing (APP) technology will replace the ATI Stream nomenclature in an effort to convey what it means more clearly. The core has been re-designed to improve efficiency and add new features and more power. OpenCL and DirectCompute 11 are both supported and help boost performance as well in certain applications that make use of these frameworks and allows the GPU to do parallel processing and non-GPU related tasks such as physics calculations. Tessellation performance was focused on with the new design using an updated tessellation unit that can perform up to two times the 5000-series generation performance with adaptive capabilities to balance image quality and performance. Media playback and processing were also updated with a dedicated UVD 3.0 accelerator which provides decoding for Blu-ray 3D and DivX. AMD calls the combination of APP, UVD, OpenCL, and DirectCompute 11 "AMD EyeSpeed" technology.

 

PowerTune technology

PowerTune technology is a another new introduction on the HD 6900 series GPUs that allows a way to manage the performance delivered by adjusting the power profile by a factor of +/- 20%. What this does is allow you to adjust the TDP limits of the core to increase performance by increasing the power limit/threshold that the core will operate at. What this can do is allow you to increase the clock speeds with low overhead operations to not give away graphics performance in these situations. Under heavy loads the clock speeds are dynamically adjusted to increase performance. This enhancement can be found in the Catalyst Control Center under the Overdrive section. A more detailed explanation is below.

 

HD3D technology

The 3D arena has been further expanded upon by AMD to support 3D Blu-ray playback with Stereoscopic 3D display/glasses and 3D Stereoscopic gaming and middleware support. Their goal is to increase flexibility and choices for 3D media, games, conversion and display technologies. Now users have several options available for a riveting 3D experience in games, movies and images.

 

With some of the new technologies debriefed, here it is time to take a look at the specifications and features of the graphics cards themselves. Thanks to AMD for the images.

Specifications:

GPU
HD 6970
HD 6950
Compute Power
2.7 TFLOPs (IEEE754-SP)
675 GFLOPs (IEEE754-DP)
2.25 TFLOPs (IEEE754-SP)
563 GFLOPs (IEEE754-DP)
Core Clock Speed
880MHz
800MHz
Primitive Rate
2 prim / clk
2 prim / clk
ShaderArchitecture
VLIW4
VLIW4
Stream Processors
24 SIMD / 1536 ALU
22 SIMD / 1408 ALU
Texture Units
96
88
ROPs / Z-Stencil
32 / 128
32 / 128
Frame Buffer
2GB GDDR5
2GB GDDR5
Memory Width/Speed
256 bit, 5.5 Gbps
256 bit, 5 Gbps
PowerTuneMaximumLimit
250W
200W
Typical GamingPower
190W
140W
Typical IdlePower
20W
20W
Power Connectors
8-pin + 6-pin
6-pin + 6-pin
Display Outputs1
2xDVI + 2x mDP + HDMI
2xDVI + 2x mDP + HDMI

 

Features

New and advanced architecture

AMD Eyefinitytechnology

AMD PowerTunetechnology

AMD CrossFireX™ technology

Enhanced Quality Anti-Aliasing

2GB Frame Buffer

 

All information courtesy of AMD

Testing:

Testing of the Cayman equipped HD 6970 from Sapphire and XFX along with the HD 6950 from XFX will consist of running it and comparison cards through the OverclockersClub.com suite of games and synthetic benchmarks. This will test the performance against many popular competitors. Comparisons will be made to cards of equal and greater capabilities to show where it falls on the performance ladder. The games used are some of today's newest and most popular titles to give you an idea of how the cards perform relative to each other.

The system specifications will remain the same throughout the testing. No adjustment will be made to the respective control panels during the testing, with the exception of the 3DMark Vantage testing, where PhysX will be disabled in the NVIDIA control panel. I will test the card at stock speeds, then overclocked in order to see how much additional performance is available and to determine if it can run with the current fastest single-GPU cards on the market. The drivers used in this test will be the 260.99 Forceware drivers from NVIDIA for all cards save the GTX 580 and the 10.10 Catalyst drivers for AMD with the exception being the HD 6900 Series that will be tested with the release driver. Tests will be conducted at both stock and overclocked settings to gauge performance when an increase in clock speed is applied.

 

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocking these new cards from AMD and their partners presented a few challenges to overcome. The biggest was the lack of voltage tweaking at this time so the overclocks are a little lower than I would have expected but offer nice increases in performance if you take the time to find the limits of the cards. Let's start with the HD 6970. The base clock speed on the core is 880Mhz and I was able to pull another 59MHz out of the XFX version and 61MHz out of the Sapphire version. Both pretty comparable for reference-based cards so far. This is an improvement in core clock speed of right around 7%. The memory on the HD 6970s offered up a much nicer bump in clock speed of 163MHz on the XFX and 145MHz on the Sapphire or on a percentage basis just under 12 and 11% respectively. The HD 6950 starts out at 800Mhz on the core and 1250Mhz on the GDDR5 memory so the overclocking headroom available seems to be greater and the card let it hang on out with a bump of 106MHz or just over 13% on the core and a massive 243Mhz increase on the memory to 1493Mhz. That is a 19+% increase for your troubles before any voltage tuning is done. In this regard the HD 6970 and HD 6950 share a similarity in how they overclock and the headroom available. It looks like the HD 6970 will overclock within a small envelope by comparison but with only two cards that is a guess and time will tell the tale when tools become available to adjust the voltage for some real fun. Now the one thing that really makes overclocking less than fun on these cards is the fan noise. At a 100% fan speed on the HD 6970 you are lucky to hear someone call you from the next room. This is an area that AMD has not addressed and is something that their competition was harangued mercilessly over with the introduction of the GTX 480. The HD 6950 was not much better but that is some small consolation when the noise becomes a limiting factor in increasing performance. The HD 6870 was loud but anything above 55 to 60 % is unbearable long-term. NVIDIA fixed their problem and now it's up to AMD!

 

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

In the past I had used MSI's Kombuster utility to check for stability coupled with the ability to run through the entire test suite. I have found that some game tests would still fail with this utility, so I have moved to testing with several games at maximum settings through several resolutions to verify the clock speeds that are listed below. Why the change? I have found some cards will play fine at a 4xAA setting, but fail when using 8xAA due to the increased graphics load. If it fails, then the clock speeds and tests are re-run until they pass.

   

 

  1. Aliens vs. Predator
  2. Metro 2033
  3. Crysis Warhead
  4. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  5. Just Cause 2
  6. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.1
  7. Batman: Arkham Asylum
  8. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
  9. 3DMark 11 Professional
  10. 3DMark Vantage
  1. Temperature
  2. Power Consumption

Aliens vs. Predator, developed by Rebellion Developments, is a science fiction first-person shooter and is a remake of its 1999 game. The game is based off the two popular sci-fi franchises. In this game, you have the option of playing through the single player campaigns as one of three species, the Alien, the Predator, and the Human Colonial Marine. The Game uses Rebellion's Asura game engine that supports Dynamic Lighting, Shader Model 3.0, Soft Particle systems, and physics. To test this game I will be using the Aliens vs. Predator benchmark tool with the settings listed below. All DirectX 11 features are enabled.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

The HD 6970 from Sapphire and XFX deliver great performance when you get down to it. The performance in this game is just short of the GTX 580 and above that of the GTX 570 showing nice gains in tessellation performance in this DX 11 game.


 

Testing:

Part first-person shooter, part survival horror, Metro 2033 is based on the novel of the same name, written by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. You play as Artyom in a post-apocalyptic Moscow, where you'll spend most of your time traversing the metro system, with occasional trips to the surface. Despite the dark atmosphere and bleak future for mankind, the visuals are anything but bleak. Powered by the 4A Engine, with support for DirectX 11, NVIDIA PhysX and NVIDIA 3D Vision, the tunnels are extremely varied — in your travels, you'll come across human outposts, bandit settlements, and even half-eaten corpses. Ensuring you feel all the tension, there is no map and no health meter. Get lost without enough gas mask filters and adrenaline shots and you may soon wind up as one of those half-eaten corpses — chewed up by some horrifying manner of irradiated beast that hides in the shadows just waiting for some hapless soul to wander by.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

This second DX 11 title shows the performance of the Sapphire and XFX HD 6970 to fall right between the GTX 580 and GTX 570 / GTX 480. At the 2560 x 1600 resolution, the scoring is similar between the HD 6970 and GTX 570 / GTX 480. The HD 6950 from XFX falls between the GTX 470 and GTX 480 seemingly finding some room to strut its stuff.

Testing:

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the story line of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the island. Along the way there are EMP blasts and aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the CryEngine 2.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

In the Crysis Warhead testing, the HD 6970s are the equal of or are superior to the GTX 580 in FPS performance in this DX 10 title. The XFX HD 6950 handily beats the GTX 480 and GTX 470.

Testing:

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is an iteration of the venerable first person shooter series, Call of Duty. Despite its long, successful pedigree, the game is not without substantial criticism and controversy, especially on the PC. Aside from the extremely short campaign and lack of innovation, the PC version's reception was also marred by its lack of support for user-run dedicated servers, which means no user-created maps, no mods, and no customized game modes. You're also limited to 18-player matches instead of the 64-player matches that were possible in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Despite all this, the game has been well received and the in-house IW 4.0 engine renders the maps in gorgeous detail, making it a perfect candidate for OCC benchmarking. You start off the single player missions playing as Private Allen and jump right into a serious firefight. This is the point where testing will begin. Testing will be done using actual game play with FPS measured by Fraps.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

At 1680 x 1050 and 1920 x 1200, the GTX 5 series cards are handily the winners when it comes to those resolutions. But, once you get to the highest resolution, the HD 6970 and HD 6950 split the two up and fall into the middle of the two GTX 500 series cards in FPS performance.

Testing:

Just Cause 2 is a third-person shooter that takes place on the fictional island of Panau in Southeast Asia. In this sequel to 2006's Just Cause, you return as Agent Rico Rodriguez to overthrow an evil dictator and confront your former boss. When you don't feel like following the main story line, you're free to roam the island, pulling off crazy stunts and causing massive destruction in your wake, all beautifully rendered by the Avalanche Engine 2.0. In the end, that's what the game basically boils down to — crazy stunts and blowing things up. In fact, blowing things up and wreaking havoc is actually necessary to unlock new missions and items.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

As the resolutions scale upwards, the performance of the HD 6970 and HD 6950 scales upward when compared to the upper-end Fermi (NVIDIA) cards.

Testing:

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.0 is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on the Unigine engine. What sets the Heaven Benchmark apart is the addition of hardware tessellation, available in three modes — Moderate, Normal and Extreme. Although tessellation requires a video card with DirectX 11 support and Windows Vista/7, the Heaven Benchmark also supports DirectX 9, DirectX 10 and OpenGL. Visually, it features beautiful floating islands that contain a tiny village and extremely detailed architecture.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

When you look at the performance of the Sapphire and XFX HD 6900 series cards, they improve against the GTX 580 in all the resolutions tested.

Testing:

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a new game that brings together two bitter rivals, the Joker and Batman. The Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. Your task is to rein the Joker back in and restore order. This game makes use of PhysX technology to create a rich environment for you to become the Dark Knight.

 

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Higher = Better

 

In this game, the NVIDIA cards seem to have an advantage over the AMD based cards in all three resolutions. The Sapphire and XFX HD 6970s perform right around the level of the GTX 470 in this game.

Testing:

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is a first-person shooter developed by EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE) and published by Electronic Arts for Windows, PS3 and XBox. This game is part of the Battlefield franchise and uses the Frostbite 1.5 Engine, allowing for destructible environments. You can play the single player campaign or multiplayer with five different game modes. Released in March 2010, it has so far sold in excess of six million copies.

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Higher = Better

 

The HD 6970 and HD 6950 cards by XFX and Sapphire had done well by comparison to the GTX 500 series in most of the DX 11 based benchmarks but in this game the NVIDIA cards easily deliver a higher level of FPS performance.

Testing:

3DMark 11 is the next installment for Futuremark in the 3DMark series with Vantage as its predecessor. The name implies that this benchmark is for Microsoft DirectX 11 and with an unintended coincidence, the name matches the upcoming date in number (which was the naming scheme to some prior versions of 3DMark nonetheless). 3DMark 11 is designed solely for DirectX 11 so Windows Vista or 7 are required along with a DirectX 11 graphics card in order to run this test. The Basic Edition has unlimited free tests on performance mode whereas Vantage only allowed for a single test run. The advanced edition costs $19.95 and unlocks nearly all of the features of the benchmark and the professional edition runs $995.00 and is mainly suited for corporate use. The new benchmark contains six tests, four of which are aimed only at graphical testing, one to test for physics handling and one to combine graphics and physics testing together. The open source Bullet Physics library is used for physics simulations and although not as mainstream as Havok or PhysX, it still seems to be a popular choice.

With the new benchmark comes two new demos that can be watched, both based on the tests but unlike the tests, these contain basic audio. The first demo is titled "Deep Sea" and have a few vessels exploring what looks to be a sunken U-Boat. The second demo is titled "High Temple" and is similar to South American tribal ruins with statues and the occasional vehicle around. The demos are simple in that they have no story, they are really just a demonstration of what the testing will be like. The vehicles have the logos of the sponsors MSI and Antec on their sides with the sponsorships helping to make the basic edition free. The four graphics tests are slight variants of the demos. I will use the three benchmark test preset levels to test the performance of each card. The presets are used as they are comparable to what can be run with the free version so that results can be compared across more than just a custom set of test parameters.

 

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Higher = Better

 

In this new benchmark, the HD 6970 and HD 6950 give a strong performance showing with the results from these cards falling in line with the expectations of their hardware.

Testing:

Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista-based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. "Entry" is 1024x768 progressing to "Extreme" at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.

 

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Higher = Better

 

The HD 6970s fall just under the level of performance generated by the GTX 580/570. The HD 6950 falls between the GTX 480 and HD 5870 in terms of performance showing a stronger result than expected.

Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using MSI Kombuster, which is paired with MSI's Afterburner overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using the stability test set to a resolution of 1920 x 1200 using 8xAA. I will use a 15 minute time frame to run the test, ensuring that the maximum thermal threshold is reached. The fan speed will be left in the control of the driver package and video card's BIOS for the stock load test, with the fan moved to 100% to see the best possible cooling scenario for the overclocked load test. The idle test will be a 20 minute cool down with the fan speeds left on automatic in the stock speed testing and bumped up to 100% when running the overclocked idle and load testing. For load testing the GTX 580 and GTX 570, I will use Crysis Warhead run at 2560 x 1600 using the Gamer setting with 8xAA looping the Avalanche benchmark scenario, as I have found this to put a load close to that of Kombuster on a video card. This is needed as a way around the current limiting ability of the GTX 500 series when it detects programs that put an unrealistic load on the GPU, which Kombuster does.

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Lower = Better

 

The temperatures delivered by the large Vapor Chamber equipped HD 6970 when the fan speed is controlled by the driver and video cards BIOS resulted in temperatures of 89 degrees Celsius under load. That's a temperature of six Celsius lower than the GTX 480 and is a surprising number considering the improvements of the new core. The HD 6950 on the other hand is equipped similarly with the same 5th generation Vapor Chamber heat sink so by default there is less internal hardware producing heat giving you better temperatures than the HD 6970. When overclocked and the fan speed set to 100%, the HD 6970 delivers more respectable numbers at 64 Celsius under load. While respectable, the logical competition target for the HD 6970 is the GTX 570 which comes in cooler and quieter at 56 degrees Celsius. The HD 6950 with less hardware to cool comes in at 49 degrees Celsius. Now, the real problem is that the GTX 570 runs cooler and quieter than the HD 6970 with the fan speed manually set to 100% or even the 85% limited fan speed on the GTX 570 by NVIDIA. I thought the HD 6870 was loud and there could be just about nothing worse in terms of noise again with the fan speed maxed out. The fan was so loud I had members of the family asking what the noise was two rooms down. The fan speed has to be adjusted to less than about 60% for it to become a livable experience. At this point, it's time for AMD to get the blower fan noise issues fixed. Could it be that the exhaust outlet in the shroud is so small that there is more back pressure on the fan causing this increase in noise? If so, it needs "fixin". Now the shoe is on the other foot with regards to the HD 6970 on both the temperature and fan noise when compared to the GTX 480/GTX 570.

Testing:

Power Consumption of the system will be measured in both idle states and loaded states and will take into account the peak voltage of the system with each video card installed. I will use MSI Kombuster to load the GPU for a 15 minute test and use the peak load of the system as my result for the maximum load. The idle results will be measured after 15 minutes of inactivity on the system. For load testing the GTX 500 series, I will once again use Crysis Warhead run at 2560 x 1600 using the Gamer setting with 8xAA looping the Avalanche benchmark scenario.

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Lower = Better

 

With the introduction of the GTX 570 and GTX 580, NVIDIA fixed their power and thermal issues with reduced power consumption and therefore lower temperatures. I looked for AMD to do the same but the power consumption numbers show the HD 6970 from XFX and Sapphire running within a couple watts of the these two cards. The power consumption on the HD 6950 is much more attractive than HD 6970 with results that put it between the GTX 460 and GTX 470.

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.

 

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