PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ Review

gotdamojo06 - 2011-05-13 23:31:12 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: gotdamojo06   
Reviewed on: May 24, 2011
Price: $314.99

Introduction:

Have you been waiting to upgrade the graphics card in your system? Maybe the card that you currently have is not cutting it with newer games that are being released. Or maybe your card does not support DirectX 11? Maybe you have been looking at the whole EyeFinity thing and finally are about ready to bite the bullet and get a card that will support multiple monitors for gaming. Well, whatever the reason, PowerColor may just have an answer for you with their HD6950 PCS+. This HD6950 is not like any other HD6950 out on the market. It has PowerColors' PCS+ (Professional Cooling Solution) installed on the board to help deliver better temperatures with the Vortex II. The PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ also comes with 2GB of memory for your games to go to town with. I am really curious to see exactly how well the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ is going to be able to overclock and perform when it is thrown up against some of the other cards in the market in a head-to-head benchmarking battle.

Closer Look:

Taking a look at the packaging for the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+, you are going to see that there is a large image of a sports car printed on the front with two large fans placed where the passenger cabin is normally located. The car has icicles coming off of it all over the place, which in combination with the fans, gives you the impression that not only is the graphics card is going to be able to give you the performance that you want but also produce lower temperatures than some of the competition. In the top left hand corner is where you will find the PowerColor logo printed with the tag line "Unleash the Gaming Power" printed below it. There is the 2GB GDDR5 badge printed in the top right hand corner of the packaging as well, with the Dual DVI, HDMI, and Mini DisplayPort x2 logo printed directly below that. You will see the Vortex II logo printed towards the top right hand corner of the package for the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+. At the bottom of the package you will find the PCS+ logo printed above the Radeon HD6950 logo. To the right of the PCS+ logo you will find a badge that shows you four monitors letting you know that a single card is going to give you support of up to four monitors. Looking at the back of the package, you will find all of the main features of the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ highlighted, such as Flexibility and Customization, High Performance Cooling, Perforated Fan to increase airflow up to 13%, Gold Power Kit, Anti-Turbulence, and that the HD6950 PCS+ reduces ambient temperature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once you get the outer packaging taken off, you are left with a brown cardboard box that contains not only the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ graphics card, but all of the bundled accessories. The cardboard box has a section that is cut out perfectly to fit the HD6950 to keep it from sliding around while the package was being shipped. It is also wrapped up in an anti static bag to ensure that when you first open up the package you will not ruin the card with any static discharge. Once you pull the card out of the package and break down the cardboard box, you will find all of the accessories laying in the bottom. Included with the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ is a quick installation guide, a Drivers CD, a CrossFireX bridge, a VESA to DVI dongle, as well as a mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort dongle.

 

 

Now that we have taken a look at the packaging and what exactly comes with the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ graphics card, it is time to take a closer look at the graphics card itself.

Closer Look:

Once you get the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ out of the packaging and remove it from the anti static bag. The first two things that you are going to notice is the dual fan cooler and the second would be the nice and bright red PCB that the graphics card is built on. The plastic covering on the active cooling solution that PowerColor has decided to install on the graphics card is a nice black color that ascents the overall red scheme of the card quite well. There is the Vortex II logo printed on the back of the cooler as well as the Radeon HD6950 logo in the bottom section. PowerColor has decided to include this upgraded cooling solution on the HD6950 PCS+ to help battle the everlasting battle against heat that is generated by the GPU and memory. When they come clocked in at 850MHz and 1300MHz respectively, every degree is going to help, especially once you begin overclocking the card. You will find DirectX 11.0 and Shader Model 5.0 support on the HD6950 PCS+ which will allow you to play your favorite games with all of the advance features being availible to you, giving you the best gaming experience you can get.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking at the connectivity that the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ gives you, you are going to be hard pressed to want more. You are given 2x DVI ports, an HDMI port, and 2x mini-DisplayPorts. Just about any kind of monitor that you have laying around at home that you want to connect to the HD6950 PCS+, you will be able to find either a connector on the card or use one of the two included dongles to make the connection happen. When you look at the back edge of the card, you are going to see that PowerColor has attempted to reduce the ambient air temperature inside of your chassis by lifting the fan shroud and heatsink a little bit which will allows the fan to pull up some of the cooler air from the bottom of your case. Resulting in (hopefully) a more balanced ambient air temperature in your chassis around your video card.

 

 

There are two CrossFireX connectors at the top front end of the graphics card which will allow you to add another HD6950 or two to your system to increase the graphics performance that your system will be able to produce. The PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ graphics card does require two 75W PCI Express power connectors from your power supply to be connected to it for the graphics card to get enough power to function properly. This should not be a surprise, as just about all mid-range and high-end graphics cards now-a-days do require additional power from the power supply.

 

 

Once you pull the cooling solution off of the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+, you will be able to see all of the components that are installed on the PCB as well as see where exactly they are compared to where the base of the heat sink is installed on the graphics card. The "Professional Cooling Solution", or what PCS+ stands for, does have a few unique features that other graphics card coolers do not have which hopefully will help set this card above the competition when it comes to not only overclocking but also when it comes down to the load temperatures that you see. Both of the fans that are installed on the cooler are able to be adjusted. When I say adjusted, I don't only mean the fan speed, but the orientation of each of the fans can be altered slightly. You can angle both of the fans to produce a setting that will reduce the turbulence and help heat spread effectively across hot areas inside of the cooler. The heatsink used on the HD6950 PCS+ has four 8mm high performance heat pipes that travel from the large pure copper base that fully covers the GPU though all of the 61 thin aluminum cooling fins.

 

 

 

Installed on the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ graphics card is the AMD codename Caymen HD6950 GPU. This GPU comes clocked in at a whopping 850MHz, has a die size of 389mm2 and was built on the 40nm process with 2640 Million transistors. The memory installed adds up to 2048 MB on a 256 bit bus, giving you a maximum bandwidth of 166.4 GB/s. The memory modules that PowerColor decided to use on the HD6950 PCS+ are the Hynix H5GQ2H24MFR. From this model number, you will be able to find out that the modules are built on their 1st Generation die and they are lead and halogen free (ROHS3 Compliant). You are also going to find out that the VDD and VDDQ are both 1.5V. The final chip on the card that I want to take a look at is the PWM Controller. It is a CHiL CHL8228G, Dual loop 6+2 multiphase PWM controller. This chip features 8-phase dual output PWM Controller, dynamic voltage control and features input voltage management allowing up to three input voltages to be monitored to ensure adequate power is delivered to the load.

 

 

Alright, so we have taken a look at the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ and know exactly what it looks like, even when we strip off the cooling solution. So let's get into the technical information about the card and see exactly what it is made of.

Specifications:

Card Name
HD6950
GPU Core
Cayman
GPU Clock
850 MHz
Memory Clock
1300 MHz
Die Size
389 mm2
Technology
40nm
ROPs
32
Transistors
2640 Million
DirectX Support
11.0
Shader Model Support
5.0
Shaders
1408 Unified
Pixel Fillrate
28.5 GPixel/s
Texture Fillrate
78.3 GTexel/s
Memory Type
GDDR5
Bus Width
256 Bit
Memory Size
2048 MB
Bandwidth
166.4 GB/s

 

Features:  

Testing:

Testing of the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ 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 other than applying the AA and AF settings manually in the 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:

When it came down to the overclocking of the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ it was pretty straight forward. Just like every video card, all I needed to do was launch MSI Afterburner and slowly begin raising the GPU clock by 10MHz and test for stability. Once the card became unstable, I knew that it was unable to go any higher. However, I decided to raise the voltages that go into the GPU to see if I could get any higher GPU clocks. However this posed a problem. MSI Afterburner does not support voltage adjustments for the HD6950 PCS+, the solution to this problem was to launch TRIXX and see if that would allow me to adjust the voltages, and to my surprise, it did let me! So I adjusted the voltages up to 11187mV. The final clock that I was able to get on the GPU core was 970 MHz, an impressive 120MHz increase, or 14%. Once I had a stable core clock, it was time to move on to the memory. It already started out at 1300MHz, and I started to raise the clocks by 10MHz at a time and testing to ensure stability. However, I was only able to make it to 1330MHz. Any higher clocks would cause a crash on the graphics card. So I was only able to get an extra 30MHz on the memory, or an increase of 2%.

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

Testing for the maximum clock speed consists of looping Crysis Warhead and Unigine 2.5 for 30 minutes each to see where the clock speeds will fail when pushed. If the clock speed adjustment fails, then the clock speeds and tests are rerun until they pass the full one hour of testing.

 

  1. Aliens vs. Predator
  2. Metro 2033
  3. Crysis Warhead
  4. HAWX 2
  5. Just Cause 2
  6. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.5
  7. Mafia II
  8. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
  9. Lost Planet 2
  10. 3DMark 11
  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

 

During the lower resolutions, the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ was able to stay right within a few FPS of the ASUS GTX580, however during the higher resolutions, it did drop down towards the bottom, but still being very close to the HD6970.

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

 

In Metro 2033, the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ was just about the highest scoring single card/GPU solution. It was right behind the ASUS GTX480 in all of the resolutions and only 2 FPS away from it during the 2560 x 1600 overclocked testing.

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 HD6950 PCS+ was tied with the HD6970 across all of the resolutions. However during the 1920 x 1200 testing, it was able to beat it out by a couple of FPS. It was also able to beat out the ASUS GTX 580 in all of the testing performed in this benchmark.

Testing:

H.A.W.X. 2 is an arcade-style flight game and is the sequel to H.A.W.X.. The Game is published by Ubisoft and was released in late 2010.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

During the Tom Clancy's HAWX 2 testing, you can see that the DX11 features do bring the HD6950 PCS+ performance down towards the bottom, however it is not alone. All of the HD6900 series cards are right around each other with the HD6970 being slightly above the HD6950 PCS+.

Testing:

Published by Capcom, Lost Planet 2 is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition and uses the MT Framework 2.0 engine. The storyline takes place on the fictional planet E.D.N. III some 10 years after the events of the first game. This time, the snow cover is gone and has been replaced by a tropical landscape. With this new rendition of the game comes the ability to run it using either DirectX 9 or 11. Along with this ability comes the chance to use that new DX 11 hardware to effect. DX11 features in this game include tessellation, displacement mapping on water, bosses and player characters, soft body compute shaders on “Boss” characters, and wave simulation by way of DirectCompute. This gives you smoke that is lifelike and reacts to inputs, water that looks and reacts how you would expect it to in a "real life" situation, and "Boss" characters rendered with more depth and detail. If the latest graphics quality settings are not enough, NVIDIA has included support behind this game for both 3D Vision and 3D Vision Surround, which gives you 3D effects over multiple screens. There is no better way to see how a game will perform than to test it out. Capcom has made this easy with a downloadable benchmark that we will be using to test out a cross section of today's currently available performance video cards.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Once again in the Lost Planet 2 benchmark, you can see that the HD6950 PCS+ trails right behind the HD6970 in all of the testing with the exception of the 1920 x 1200 resolution where it jumps a head by a couple frames.

Testing:

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.5 is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on the Unigine engine. This was the first DX 11 benchmark out to allow testing of DX 11 features. 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, DirectX 11 and OpenGL 4.0. Visually, it features beautiful floating islands that contain a tiny village and extremely detailed architecture.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

During the Unigine 2.5 benchmark, the HD6950 PCS+ was sitting right around the Sapphire HD6950 Flex Edition.

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 PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ was right in line with the ASUS GTX580 in just about all of the resolutions tested in Just Cause 2.

Testing:

Mafia II is a third-person shooter that puts you into the shoes of a poor, Sicilian immigrant, Vito Scarletta. Vito has just returned home from serving overseas in the liberation of fascist Italy — to avoid serving his jail sentence — to find his family in debt. The debt must be repaid by the end of the week, and his childhood friend, Joe Barbaro, conveniently happens to have questionable connections that he assures will help Vito clear the debt by that time. As such, Vito is sucked into a world of quick cash. Released in North America for PC in August of 2010, the game was developed by 2K Czech published by 2K and uses the Illusion 1.3 game engine.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

During the Mafia II testing, the HD6950 PCS+ was able to hang in there with the GTX570, however once the cards were all overclocked, the HD6950 PCS+ fell short.

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

 

During the BFBC2 testing, the HD6950 PCS+ at both stock and overclocked speeds were right around where the Sapphire HD6950 Flex Edition was at, sitting right below the HD6970.

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

 

During the 3D Mark 11 testing, the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+, Sapphire HD6950 Flex Edition, and the ASUS GTX570 were all pretty much neck and neck, at all resolutions and at both stock and overclocked speeds.

Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using Crysis Warhead with MSI's Afterburner overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using a resolution of 1920 x 1200 using 8xAA. I will use a 10-run sequence 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.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

Lower = Better

The overclocked load testing showed that only the Sapphire HD6950 Flex Edition was able to be cooler than the HD6950 PCS+. However during the overclocked testing when the voltages were increased as well as the clock speeds, the HD6950 PCS+ did become quite a bit hotter than the competition, but then again it did have the higest GPU clock speed by about 30MHz.

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

 

Finally, the power consumption testing. The PowerColor Hd6950 PCS+ and the Sapphire HD6950 were both very close to one another during the stock testing. The overclocked testing when the voltages got raised on the HD6950 PCS+ and the clock speeds were quite high, it did become closer to the power consumption levels of the Sapphire HD6970 at load testing.

Conclusion:

Going back now to the first question that I had asked, are you looking for a new video card solution for your current system or a new system that you may be building? Well if the answer is yes, then you may just want to keep looking at the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ for several reasons. The first and foremost reason that I would suggest taking a second look at the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ would have to be the performance of the card in the benchmarks. The HD6950 PCS+ was able to sit right around the same performance level that the GTX 580 was producing in a majority of the benchmarks in our suite and it did tie the HD6990 in one of the tests. When you are looking through the power consumption levels that all of the cards were giving out, the HD6950 PCS+ was sitting in the middle towards the bottom during the overclocked load test, pair that with the FPS that it was able to produce in the benchmarks and you have yourself a pretty happy medium. PowerColor did include an upgraded cooling solution on the graphics card that does not only look good, but does perform quite well at stock speeds. Once the card was overclocked, however, it did lose its advantage but that was over-volted and the GPU core clock was increased quite a bit.

Speaking of overclocking, that is another aspect that the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ was able to shine in, the GPU clock speed. While it was unable to break the 1GHz clock speed, it did come damn close, ending up at 970MHz. While the GPU clock speed was able to get quite high, I was unable to push the memory speeds any further than 1330MHz, but when you look at a reference design HD6950, you are going to find 800MHz and 1250MHz as the stock speeds. Which means that over a reference design card, I actually ended up with a 21% overclock on the GPU and a 6% overclock on the memory, not too shabby. The price point of the HD6950 PCS+ is right around $315, which is about $60 more than a majority of the HD6950s available on Newegg.com at the time of this review. While you are going to be paying a little bit more for this card, you are going to be getting a more advanced cooling solution that at stock speeds proved itself for sure as well as higher clock speeds than stock. The cooling solution was not only able to perform quite well, but once the fan speeds were turned up to 100%, it was not quite as loud as I would have expected, now don't get me wrong, you could hear the card running, but it was not as loud as other cards that I have tested in the past. The card was a little bit larger than I was expecting it to be and it was almost too long to fit in my NZXT Beta Evo chassis, however it was able to fit once I shifted around some of the cables running in its way. I'm not too sure that I would hold this against the card too much as all of the HD6950s should be right around the same size, but just keep that in mind if you decide to pick one up.

Overall, if you are looking for a new graphics card solution for your system, I would highly suggest that you check out the PowerColor HD6950 PCS+ and try and make room in your budget for it. Not only are you going to get a great looking card, but it is going to be able to give you the performance that you are most likely looking for. I most certainly will be using this graphics card in my main rig for gaming as it will be a nice upgrade for myself.

Pros:

 

Cons: