ASUS HD 6970 Review

tacohunter52 - 2010-10-11 18:04:00 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: tacohunter52   
Reviewed on: March 31, 2011
Price: $379.99

Introduction:

The 69XX series has been out for a while now and the powerful HD 6970 is no secret. In fact, ASUS has released a few models of the HD 6970, one of which is equipped with a three-slot cooler. Today, we will be looking at ASUS's slightly overclocked reference card. Like all other versions of the card, the ASUS HD 6970 is equipped with the Cayman XT core, which has been given a nice little factory overclock of 10MHz. Not only that, but this little beast will offer you 24 SIMD/1536 streaming processors, 96 texture units, 32 ROPs and 2GB of GDDR5 memory. We've seen some pretty good performance from the 6970's, and I'm hoping to see equally great numbers from the ASUS HD 6970. If nothing else, I'd at least expect to see a pretty great overclock, especially using ASUS's voltage tweak utility.

Closer Look:

The Asus HD 6970 comes in a box that is more or less a standard for ASUS's reference design cards. It uses a pleasing orange and black color scheme and features ASUS's dark night mascot. As always, the front of the box features a few bits and pieces of information about the card. Small things like the amount of memory or that the card is factory overclocked. Flipping the box over reveals more detailed information about the ASUS HD 6970 as well a diagram of all the card's connectors that can be attached to a display.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opening the box reveals the usual second black box with the gold ASUS logo. Inside this box are three sections with the top most containing all of the card's included accessories. The section to the right is used as a spacer to keep the ASUS HD 5950 nice and snug in its foam packaging. Underneath the first box is the card itself sitting nice and secure in black foam and concealed in an antistatic bag.

 

 

As for accessories, you'll be equipped with the usual. There is of course the driver CD, the user guide, a molex to 6-pin connector, and a crossfire bridge. There was not any kind of display adapter but the ASUS HD 6970 offers you enough display ports on the card that you should be able to do without one.

 

 

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

Closer Look:

Just as with the reference HD6970, the ASUS HD 6970 uses the black and red color scheme. A shiny ASUS logo is located at the bottom left hand corner of the card's cooler. The rest of the card's front looks identical to the reference design and why wouldn't it? In my opinion, this design is extremely cool looking. Flipping the card over reveals a black backplate which should help to dissipate some extra heat. The card's bottom follows the black color scheme and the top has three aesthetically pleasing red bars. While it may not be a completely original design, the ASUS HD 6970 looks very cool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ASUS continued to stick with the HD 6970's reference design when it came to display ports. If you purchase this card, you'll be able to utilize two dual link DVI ports and an HDMI 1.4a port. Not only that, but you'll also be equipped with two mini DisplayPort 1.2 ports that are capable of running a total of six monitors. Due to the amount of connectivity options, the ASUS HD 6970's exhaust vent is smaller then we usually see on video cards. Hopefully this won't cause the card to sustain to much extra heat, but I suppose if it does you could always increase the fan speed.

 

 

As with the reference card, you'll be able to use the ASUS HD 6970 in a Quadfire setup. While it may be expensive to do so, you'll be able to achieve this feat using the card's two crossfire connectors. You'll notice that next to the crossfire connectors is the BIOS switch. With this you'll be able to switch between the ASUS HD 6970's factory BIOS and the alternative configurable BIOS. This way, you won't have to worry about bricking your card when flashing the BIOS. In order to run four HD 6970's, or flash any BIOS you'll need to be sure to provide your card with ample power. Powering the ASUS HD 6970 can be done using the card's 8-pin and 6-pin power connectors and a recommended power supply of at least 550 watts.

 

 

Removing the cooler on the ASUS HD 6970 wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. Just as with every other video card, it is very easy to remove the cooler from the card's PCB, however actually dismantling the cooler proved to be a challenge. The ASUS HD 6970's cooler is held together with a series of plastic clips that you need to pull apart in order to separate the cooler's sections. After fear of breaking the cooler while trying to separate these clips I gave up, so we are just going to jump directly to the Cayman XT core. Like its younger sibling, the Cayman Pro, the Cayman XT core is built on a 40nm process and packed with 2.64 billion transistors. It utilizes 32 ROPS, 96 texture units, and 1536 streaming processors. Not only that but the core has been factory overclocked to 890MHz. Surrounding the core are the ASUS HD 6970's Hynix memory modules. These make up a total of 2GB of GDDR5 memory, and they are clocked at 1375MHz.

 

 

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

Specifications:

Graphics Engine:
AMD Radeon HD 6970
Bus Standard:   
PCI Express 2.1
Video Memory:
GDDR5 2GB
Engine Clock:
890 MHz
Memory Clock:
1375 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” Inch

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 HD6970 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 HD 6970 wasn't the easiest thing in the world to do, but it wasn't all that hard either. I first started out using ASUS Smart Doctor, however, whenever I tried to push the core clock past 940MHz, Smart Doctor would automatically reset it. After I encountered this problem I decided to switch over to MSI's Afterburner. After increasing the overclocking range in Afterburner's config file, I was able to continue overclocking the ASUS HD 6970's core past 940Mhz. That being said, I encountered another problem. MSI's Afterburner would not allow me to adjust the card's voltage. I eventually decided to use Afterburner anyway and ended up with a core clock of 986Mhz. This was about 100Mhz above the factory clock speed, so I was OK with it. I got a lot nicer overclock out of the memory, which ended up clocking in at 1502Mhz.

 

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

 

It was nice to see the ASUS HD 6970 come in third place in all but three categories. These were the 1920 x 1200 sections, and the 2560 x 1600 overclocked section.

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

 

According to the charts, the ASUS HD 6970 performed very well at its stock settings, but fell behind the competition once everything was overclocked. This isn't all that bad because you are getting good performance at stock settings and then a nice little performance boost once overclocked. But, I would have liked to see similar performance at both stock and overclocked settings.

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

 

I was very pleased with the performance of the ASUS HD 6970 in our Crysis benchmark. It came in just under the HD 5970 in every resolution.

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

 

We didn't see the ASUS HD 6970 perform as well in our Modern Warfare 2 benchmark as we did in the Crysis benchmark. However, the card still performed well. It came in under the GTX 570 in every resolution but the highest. We also saw a nice little performance gain with the overclock.

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

 

In the Just Cause 2 benchmark, the ASUS HD 6970 managed to come in or tie for third place in each resolution. The overclocks pushed our card slightly backwards in the charts, but still gave us a nice performance boost.

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 we saw the ASUS HD 6970 come in just under the GTX 580. Overclocking the card gave us a decent performance boost, but not enough to boost its position in the charts.

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 performance of the ASUS HD 6970 placed it almost directly in the center of our charts. The card performed under the GTX 560 Ti in each resolution, but still gave us extremely playable results.

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

 

Once again the ASUS HD 6970 performed in the center of our charts. Overclocking the card gave us a small, but noticeable increase in FPS.

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

 

In the Entry settings, the ASUS HD 6970 performed in the center of our charts both at stock settings and with the overclock. In the other settings however, the card performed just under the GTX 580. We got a nice boost in performance in each of the settings with the overclock.

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 HD 6970 managed to perform just under the GTX 570 in each resolution. Overclocking the card gave us a nice little performance boost, but not enough to put it ahead of the GTX 570.

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 HD 6970 had an idle temp in the 40's both at the stock and overclocked settings. While at stock settings we saw fairly hot load temperatures, but the overclock with the fan set to 100% only gave us temperatures in the 60's. Not to shabby!

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

 

The ASUS HD 6970's power consumption wasn't to bad in at either the overclocked or stock settings. We of course saw the power draw increase at load, but nothing all that bad.

Conclusion:

The Cayman XT equipped ASUS HD 6970 offered a great deal of performance for its $379 price tag. Even with its 10Mhz factory overclock it performed very similarly to the reference HD 6970 design. This of course makes sense because 10Mhz isn't that large of an increase. Overclocking the card offered a nice little performance boost. Not only that, but considering that I wasn't able to increase the voltage, the ASUS HD 6970 overclocked very well. We saw almost a 100MHz increase in the core clock and a much larger increase for the memory clocks. I would have liked to see the card's overclocked scores push it a little farther up the charts than what we saw, but the performance increase was still good enough to be happy about.

As far as temperatures go, I was very pleased with what I saw from the ASUS HD 6970. When the fan speed was cranked up to 100% we saw overclocked load temperatures in the 60's! I thought this was pretty awesome, especially for a reference cooler. You can really tell that AMD made the right choice with the vapor chamber cooling design. Unfortunately turning the fan speed up to 100% makes your computer sound like a vacuum cleaner. Not only were the temperatures nice and cool, the power consumption was nice as well. We didn't see this card sucking to much power out of the wall, and putting it at load didn't increase the draw by all that much. $379 is a little pricey for a video card, but the ASUS HD 6970 definitely offers the performance and the features to make it worth it. For instance if you've got six DisplayPort capable monitors you'll be able to run them all through this single video card. All in all, I was happy with ASUS's HD 6970 and would recommend it for anyone looking for a higher end videocard.

Pros:

Cons: