ASUS HD 6950 Review

tacohunter52 - 2010-12-08 19:34:04 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: tacohunter52   
Reviewed on: June 1, 2011
Price: $289

Introduction:

We've seen a lot of NVIDIA's offerings recently, especially GTX 570s. While they do rock the charts fairly well, AMD isn't one to be forgotten. The recent release of the Cayman Pro HD6950 and the Cayman XT HD6970 showed us that AMD can offer a tremendously powerful punch. Today I'll be taking a look at an HD6950 from ASUS, otherwise known as the ASUS HD6950. Just as with the other versions of the Cypress Pro core, the ASUS HD6950's core utilizes 22 SIMD, 1408 stream processors, 32 ROPs, and 88 texture units. To top it all off, the card is also equipped with a very hearty serving of 2GB of GDDR5 memory. Not only that, but this is also a slightly overclocked version of the HD6950. Now when I say slightly, I mean slightly, as this guy clocks in with an 810MHz core clock. That being said, it is still a boost in clock speeds and that's always nice to see. Plus, with the Voltage Tweak ability, I'm hoping to see some pretty awesome overclocks!

Closer Look:

The ASUS HD 6950 comes in a box that looks almost exactly the same as the ASUS EAH6850 and the ASUS GTX 570's packaging. Come to think of it, it appears as though ASUS has been using the same packaging on a great deal of its video cards. Don't get me wrong though, it is a pretty awesome box — seeing the dark knight (not Batman, an actual knight) ready for battle definitely gives the user an idea of how powerful the card is. The front of the box features a small amount of information about the HD6950, such as the 2GB of GDDR5 memory and the fact that this is an overclocked card. Other than that, it mostly features design. Flipping the box over reveals some more information about the card, as well as a detailed diagram of how each of the card's connectors connects to a monitor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opening the box reveals a secondary black box with a gold ASUS logo directly in the center. This contains three different sections. The top and right section contain all the card's included accessories, but we'll talk a little more about those later. Right now we want to move on to the bottom section. Here is the ASUS HD6950 wrapped in an antistatic bag and snugly concealed in black foam.

 

 

Now about those included accessories we were going to talk about. Just as always, ASUS includes a few nice goodies so that we can properly use the HD6950. Included with the card is a driver CD, a user's guide, a Molex to 6-pin connector, and a CrossFire bridge.

 

 

Now that we've got all that out of the way, let's pull this card apart and see what makes it tick!

Closer Look:

Before I even start to talk about the card, I'd first like to say that I was very impressed with how much care ASUS puts into packaging its video card. The antistatic bag that the card was wrapped in tightly covered the card and was taped twice in the back. While this may not sound all that interesting, it really made the packaging look extra nice. Anyway, on to the card. The ASUS HD6950 uses a very appealing black and red design, featuring the ASUS logo in the bottom left hand corner. The entire card is covered in plastic so that when you receive it, everything will be nice and shiny. The top and back of the card follow the design of the reference cooler. Flipping the card over reveals a nice, shiny, black, backplate. All in all, this first look at the ASUS HD6950 left me feeling rather impressed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When looking at the ASUS HD6950's connectivity options, it appears as though the company stuck with the reference design. Here you'll be able to use two dual link DVI ports, an HDMI 1.4a port, and a pair of mini DisplayPort 1.2 ports. Using the mini DisplayPort 1.2 ports, you'll be able to run a total of six monitors off of the one HD6950. Because of the multitude of display ports, the exhaust vent is slightly smaller than I would have liked to see. It is no more than about half of the card's width, and takes up only one expansion slot. Flipping the card over doesn't reveal any extra exhaust areas. The way things look so far, I'm guessing this card is going to get hot!

 

 

If you're into running multiple videocards in one system, then you'll be happy with the HD6950 — if you've got the dough, you'll be able to pair this bad boy up with up to four other cards. Just as with the other 69XX cards, you'll notice the same BIOS switch next to the CrossFire connectors. This will allow you to switch between the factory BIOS and the configurable BIOS. This may be what is needed to get a few of the more nervous users to try something new and flash their cards. Powering this card will be a lot easier than powering some of the other highend cards — all you'll need are two 6-pin connectors and a recommended power supply of at least 550W.

 

 

Removing the cooler from the card was fairly easy to do, something I always like to see. Once the cover is off, you'll be greeted with a nice bit of eye candy. I'm of course referring to the Cayman Pro core and the 2GB of GDDR5 memory surrounding it. Doing so also gives us our first glimpse of the card's beautifully laid out PCB. The ASUS HD6950's cooler uses the same vapor chamber cooler as the reference design. Just as with the reference design, the card's cooler was held together by multiple tabs. Unfortunately, pulling these tabs apart was harder than it looked. It got to the point where I was afraid of breaking something, so I left the cooler alone.

 

 

With the ASUS HD6950's cooler removed, we can get a nice close look at the Cayman Pro core. This powerful core is built on a 40nm process and stuffed full of 2.64 billion transistors. It utilizes 22 SIMD engines, 1408 stream processors, 88 texture units, and 32 ROPS. To top it all off, ASUS gave us an extra 10MHz on top of the reference clock, making this baby stock clocked at 810MHz. The memory surrounding the Cayman core is 2GB of GDDR5 memory from Hynix. ASUS left these modules running at the same speed as the reference design, 1250MHz.

 

 

Now let's see what kind of performance we can get from this card.

Specifications:

Graphics Engine:
AMD Radeon HD 6950
Bus Standard:   
PCI Express 2.1
Video Memory:
GDDR5 2GB
Engine Clock:
810 MHz
Memory Clock:
5000 MHz (1250 MHz GDDR5)
RAMDAC:
400 MHz
Memory Interface:
256-bit
Resolution:
D-Sub Max Resolution: 2048x1536
DVI Max Resolution: 2560x1600
 
Interface:
DVI Output: Yes 1 (DVI-I), Yes x 1 (DVI-D)
HDMI Output: Yes x 1
Display Port: Yes x 2 (Mini DP)
HDCP Support: Yes
Software:
ASUS Utilities & Driver
Dimensions:
11"x5"

Features:

ASUS Exclusive Innovation:

Graphics GPU Features:

All information on this page courtesy of: http://usa.asus.com/product.aspx?P_ID=dekcICIFak0zpxUk&templete=2

Testing:

Testing of the ASUS HD6950 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 they fall 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 cards at stock speeds, then overclocked in order to see the effects of any increases in clock speed. The cards are placed in order from highest to lowest performing in the graphs to show where the cards fall by comparison.

 

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocking the ASUS HD6950 was similar to overclocking the Palit GTX 570 in that it was very easy to do so. By using either ASUS Smart Doctor or the commonly available Afterburner overclocking applications, I was able to push the speeds up for additional performance. However, to get to the top clock speeds, the voltage had to be tweaked some to reach the final clock speeds of 965MHz on the core and 1505MHz on the GDDR5 memory. Any higher than 965MHz on the core and stability was dependent on the game or test — it could be pushed as high as 976MHz on the core, depending on the game or test. Still, even with that, 965MHz represents an almost 20% bump in core clock speed. The GDDR5 memory also yielded some big clock speed up to the overclocking gods with a 255MHz increase, or just over 20%, over the default 1250MHz. The voltage was bumped up from 1100mv on the core to 1250mv to make this all possible. The large increase in voltage meant the fan speed had to be increased to 80+% to maintain the clock speeds. This combination of things allowed the card to stay cooler than stock settings, while delivering higher clock speeds. The one trade off is the noise generated by the blower-style fan on the reference cooling solution when the whip gets cracked and the fan spools up above 55 to 60%. There is a trade off for each move you make, but if performance is the end game, what's a little noise?

 

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 rerun 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 2011
  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

 

At stock settings, the ASUS HD6950 performs very similar to the GTX 570. Once overclocked, we got a nice little performance gain and saw the card perform about the same as the GTX 480.

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

 

The ASUS HD6950 once again performed very similarly to the GTX 480 at stock settings. The overclock gave a decent performance increase and brought us close to the GTX 570.

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

 

The ASUS HD6950 performed about the same as the GTX 560 Ti at all resolutions except for the 2560x1600 resolution. At the highest resolution, it performed on par with the GTX 580. Once overclocked, we saw a nice little performance boost that placed the card near the HD6970.

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

 

The ASUS HD6950 performed right under the HD6970 in each of the resolutions. The overclock brought it a little closer to the HD6970, but not quite all the way there.

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

 

The ASUS HD6950 performed just above the GTX 560 Ti in each of the stock resolutions. The overclock brought our card within about two frames of the HD6970 in every resolution.

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

 

At stock settings, the ASUS HD6950 performed just one or two frames under the GTX 570. Once we hit the highest resolution, the card was able to outperform it. The overclock placed this card very close to the performance of the HD6970.

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.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

The ASUS HD6950 performed just under the GTX 470 in each resolution. Overclocking the card gave us a nice little performance boost, but not enough to bring it up a notch in our charts.

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.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The ASUS HD6950 appeared to crawl up our charts as the resolutions got higher, but for the most part it performed close to the GTX 465. Once overclocked, we saw the ASUS HD6950 gain a nice little performance advantage over the GTX 465.

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.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

The ASUS HD6950 performed pretty far behind the NVIDIA cards until we hit the highest settings, at which point it was pretty much able to keep up with the GTX 570. Our overclock gave the card a huge performance boost, allowing it to keep up with the GTX 480.

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 1024 x 768 progressing to "Extreme" at 1920 x 1200. 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.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The ASUS HD6950 continued to perform just under the GTX 480 in each resolution. When overclocked, the card continued to perform under the GTX 480 with the exception of our highest resolution.

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.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

Lower = Better

 

The ASUS HD6950 was a middle man in terms of temperature at load settings. Once we overclocked the card, it ended up a little on the hot side, but nothing too bad.

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.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

Lower = Better

 

We saw fairly low power consumption from the ASUS HD6950 at both stock and overclocked settings. While idling with the overclock, we saw the card a little higher up in the charts than it could have been, but nothing too crazy.

Conclusion:

From what I saw, the Cayman Pro-equipped ASUS HD6950 performed more or less as it was meant to. Like the reference design, it was able to usually outperform, or perform as well as, the GTX 480. Once overclocked, the card, every once in a while, came close to the GTX 580, which was nice to see. The card's overclocking ability was good, with a nice 20% bonus in clock speed over the factory-delivered speeds. 965MHz on the core and 1505MHz on the GDDR5 memory is really nothing to turn your nose up at, since it equates to free performance — Albeit with a little work on your own to get there. ASUS's Smart Doctor utility is flexible enough to allow the clock speeds and voltages to be enhanced with an easy to use GUI.

The temperatures I saw while using the card were far from bad and you could tell that the vapor chamber cooling was definitely doing its job. The overclocked temps weren't that unreasonable either, but turning the fan up to 100% produced a lot of noise — a known issue with AMD reference cooling. Really, at this point (100% fan speed), the noise is not what you would want to hear on a continuous basis. Just as with the temperatures, the power consumption from this card wasn't all that bad. It did creep up the charts a bit while sitting at idle with the overclock, but nothing unreasonable. Plus, for $289, you get a great amount of performance. Not only that, but if you've got six monitors that support DisplayPort connections, you'll be able to run all six off this one ASUS HD6950. In the end, this isn't a bad card, and it comes at a very reasonable price tag.

Pros:

Cons: