Sapphire HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Edition Review

gotdamojo06 - 2011-06-10 07:56:33 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: gotdamojo06   
Reviewed on: July 5, 2011
Price: $269.99

Introduction:

Are you looking for a new graphics card for your system? Are you unable to play some of your favorite games at a high resolution while still being able to keep the advanced settings high? Maybe you are behind the times and still running Microsoft DX10 or even DX9, while more and more games are beginning to use DX11 in their graphics engines? Are you a fan of the DiRT racing-sim series and have not made it out to the stores or on Steam to purchase a copy of it yet? Well you are in luck if you are in the mood to upgrade your graphics card and receive a free copy of DiRT3! Sapphire has just released a new packaged card in its line-up, the HD6950 2GB; however, this time it comes with another perk, DiRT3! With the release of the Sapphire HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Edition graphics card, you can expect to not only find a powerful card inside with a copy of Codemaster's DiRT3 that you can redeem and activate on your Steam account, but you are also going to find an upgraded cooling solution installed on the card. I am very curious to see exactly what the Sapphire HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Edition looks like, as well as what kind of graphics performance and cooling performance it yields. So let's get to it!

 

Closer Look:

When you take the first look at the packaging for the Sapphire HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Edition, you will see the Sapphire logo printed in the top left hand corner of the package and "Get Radeon in your system" printed in the top right hand corner. In the center of the package, justified to the right, is the Radeon HD6950 name printed with the tag "DiRT3 Special Edition Graphics Card" printed below. In the center, moved over to the left-hand side of the package, is an image of a DiRT3 race car with the DiRT3 logo printed above it. You are going to find the 2GB GDDR5 badge printed above the model name with another badge letting you know that there is a complimentary DiRT3 game code inside the package. Along the bottom of the package is a list of the badges that give you a glimpse of the features the HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Edition graphics card has, such as Full DirectX 11 support, AMD Eyefinity, PCI Express 2.1 1080p Full HD, AMD HD3D, DisplayPort, 7.1 HD Surround Sound, and SuperFast GDDR5 Memory. There is also a badge toward the center of the package on the front that lets you know you are going to find a 1.8 meter HDMI HighSpeed Extension Cable included with the card. When you flip the package over, you will see what the front of the package is missing, an attractive warrior girl. This woman on the back, instead of wielding a weapon as we typically see, has a checkered flag to go along with the DiRT3 theme. There is also a more detailed list of features the HD6950 has, along with a short description of each.

 

 

 

 

 

After removing the outer packaging, you will unveil the typical brown box inside that houses the graphics card itself, as well as all the accessories. This time, Sapphire has decided to place another thinner brown package inside of the larger one under the portion that keeps the card in place to hold all the accessories, keeping the packaging a little more organized. The HD6950 is wrapped up in an anti-static bag that has bubble packaging built into it to help keep the card safe during the shipping process as well as when it is being un-boxed. There is also a small piece of thick plastic foam that is wedged between the card and the molded edges of the cardboard housing unit that keeps the card in place.

 

 

As I mentioned before, the Sapphire HD6950 card is wrapped up in an anti-static bag that is going to keep it safe while you are opening the package as well as while it is being shipped. The accessories that are included with the card are the more or less common accessories — two 4-pin Molex to 6-pin PCI-E power adapters, a DVI to VESA dongle, and a CrossFireX bridge. The not so common accessory that you are going to find inside is a 1.8 meter HDMI cable, which can come in handy if you are trying to attach the graphics card to a HDTV or if your monitor supports HDMI input. The accessories package also includes a drivers CD, a simple user manual, an invite to the Sapphire Select Club, and the more-or-less more important piece of paper inside, the DiRT3 game code card. This card does not have the actual product key on it, but directions how to get it, which seems pretty simple and straight-forward.

 

 

Now that we have taken a look at the packaging for the Sapphire HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Edition graphics card, it is time to take a close and detailed look at the card. I am excited to see what the upgraded cooling looks like.  

Closer Look:

After getting the Sapphire HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Edition graphics card out of the packaging and removing it from the anti-static bag, you will see that the card does not look anything like the reference design card, as the DiRT3 Edition card has an upgraded custom cooler installed on it. The upgraded cooling solution does take up two expansion slots in your chassis, however this is just about the norm nowadays with higher-end graphics cards, even with the reference designs. Sapphire's upgraded cooling solution on the HD6950 DiRT3 Edition does include a dual-fan setup on the cooler, which is going to allow for a higher amount of cooler air being delivered into the card to help cool the internal components, such as the GPU, memory, voltage regulators, and other heat sensitive parts of the card. When you flip the card over and take a look at the back of the card, you can see that there are four mounting screws that hold the cooler in place, which means if you wish to remove the cooler and install a different on, such as a water cooling solution, it is very easy to do so. You can also see, from looking at the back of the card, that the cooler is longer than the PCB of the card, which may or may not be an issue with your chassis as it may run into clearance issues. That being said, most mid-tower chassis should be able to handle the length of the card.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sapphire has taken the advancements in display adapter connectivity into consideration when designing the HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Edition graphics card, as it is becoming more common and more affordable to branch off into the Eyefinity gaming setups. Running an Eyefinity setup with a racing simulator, such as DiRT3, does look really nice and gives you a larger viewing angle and area to launch you directly into the game. With that in mind, Sapphire has a DisplayPort 1.2, an HDMI, and two DVI outputs on the graphics card to allow you to connect your Eyefinity setup to the card or whatever type of display adapter you may have to your system. As I mentioned before, the cooling solution on the HD6950 does hang over the back end of the PCB of the card, however it does give the cooler a little bit more of an area to blow the hot air out of the card and move it away from the card so it does not get sucked right back into the cooler. Sapphire HD6950 card does require two PCI-E power adapters to fully power the card and give it the graphics rendering power that it requires and there is a single CrossFireX adapter at the front of the card that is going to allow you to connect a second card and increase the overall graphics power of your system.

 

 

 

Once you get the cooling solution off the Sapphire HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Edition graphics card, you will find the GPU positioned in the center of the PCB with four memory modules positioned to the right, as well as another four above the GPU. Off to the left-hand side of the GPU, under a smaller heatsink, is where all the voltage regulators are located — they have their own special heatsink to help keep them running cool. The GPU that you find on the card is codenamed the Cayman core, which features 2640 million transistors on the 289mm2 die and uses a 40nm manufacturing process. There is a total of 1408 Unified Shaders and 32 ROPs on the card to help you with all your graphics-intensive applications and games. The memory is the Hynix H5GQ2H24MFR T2C memory modules, which happen to come clocked in at 1250MHz on a 256-bit bus, giving you a maximum bandwidth of 160.0GB/s at these stock speeds. The memory modules are rated to operate at 1.5V for both the VDD and VDDQ with a 32ms refresh rate. The modules are made lead and halogen free, giving them the ROHS3 compliant certification and are on the first generation die.

 

 

The upgraded cooling solution on the Sapphire HD6950 graphics card does include two cooling fans positioned above the base of the cooler as well as over the fin array that are pulling the heat off the heatpipes. The dual-fan setup is going to allow for more airflow being pulled inside of the cooler to help move the heat off the heatsink.

 

 

The base of the cooler is all copper and has a total of five copper heatpipes coming out of the base that then lead into the fin array of the heatsink to move the heat off the GPU. The larger side of the heatsink has three of the heatpipes going off to that side, as there is more area for the heat to be dissipated, while the smaller side of the heatsink has only two heatpipes going to it. The fans that are installed on the cooler have brushless bearings and operate at 12V and 0.35A.

 

 

Specifications:

GPU
HD6950
GPU Core
Cayman
Technology
40nm
Die Size
389 mm2
Transistor Count
2640 Million
ROPs
32
Shaders
1408 Unified
Pixel Fillrate
25.6 GPixel/s
Texture Fillrate
70.4 GTexel/s
Memory Type
GDDR5
Bus Width
256-Bit
Memory Size
2048 MB
Bandwidth
160.0 GB/s
GPU Core Clock
800 MHz
Memory Clock
1250 MHz
DirectX Support
11.0
Shader Model Support
5.0

 

Features: 

Testing:

Testing of the Sapphire HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Edition 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. The drivers used are the 11.5 Catalyst drivers for the AMD-based cards and the 275.27 for NVIDIA-based cards

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocking the Sapphire HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Edition graphics card was really quite simple when it comes down to the methodology as well as the follow-through. When I start overclocking any graphics card, I always start with the GPU core. I will start by increasing the GPU core clock by 20MHz at a time, then run through a pass of the Extreme 3DMark11 preset benchmark followed by looping Crysis Warhead for 15 minutes. If the clock passes, I will then increase by another 20MHz until I hit instability issues, at which time I will then back down by 10MHz until it becomes stable again. The maximum I was able to get for the HD6950 2GB DiRT Edition's GPU core was 900MHz, which is an overclock of 12.5%. The memory methodology is exactly the same as the GPU core, and I was able to get attain 1400MHz, which ended up being a 12% overclock.

 

 

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 hour of testing.

 

  1. Aliens vs. Predator
  2. Metro 2033
  3. Civilization V
  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 Aliens vs. Predator benchmarking, the Sapphire HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Edition was sitting in the middle of the pack, hovering right around the ASUS GTX 570.

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 the Metro 2033 testing, the Sapphire HD6950 was able to give results comparable to the EVGA GTX 460 and even getting very close to the frame rates that the XFX HD6970 was able to give at the 2560x1600 testing (both stock and overclocked).

Testing:

Civilization V is a turn-based strategy game. The premise is to play as one of 18 civilizations and lead the civilization from the "dawn of man" up to the space age. This latest iteration of the Civilization series uses a new game engine and massive changes to the way the AI is used throughout the game. Civilization V is developed by Firaxis Games and is published by 2K games and was released for Windows in September of 2010. Testing will be done using actual game play with FPS measured by Fraps through a series of five turns,150 turns into the game.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

During both stock and overclocked testing, the Sapphire HD6950 was able to give results that were very similar to the ASUS HD6950, and at the 2560x1600 testing they both were able to beat out the ASUS GTX 570.

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

 

In HAWX2, the Sapphire HD6950 was sitting right around the results of the ASUS HD6950 and sitting just below the Galaxy GTX470 in the 2560x1600 stock testing. Once the cards were overclocked, it was only able to sit around the same results that the HD6870 was putting out.

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

 

You can once again see that the Sapphire HD6950 and the ASUS HD6950 are giving very similar results at stock speeds. Both of these cards are beating out the GTX460 and are sitting just below the GTX560Ti.

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

 

Both the HD6950s are neck and neck with the XFX6970 in the 2560x1600 overclocked testing when it came down to the Unigine 2.5 benchmark. However, at stock speeds, both of them are getting results right below the GTX560Ti .

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

 

During the Just Cause 2 benchmarking, the Sapphire HD6950 was able to give results that are comparable to the NVIDIA GTX480 in the 2560x1600 resolution, but at the lower resolutions it was more around the XFX HD6970.

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

 

In the 2560x1600 resolutions, you can see where the 2GB of GDDR5 are put to use — the card was able to sit right around the GTX480 at stock speeds and the HD6970 at overclocked settings.

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

 

In the lower resolutions in the BFBC2 benchmark, the HD6950 was sitting right around the results of the GTX460, just below the HD6970. Once the resolution went up to 2560x1600, it was sitting around the GTX470 at stock speeds and the GTX560Ti at overclocked settings.

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 3DMark11 testing, you can see that the Sapphire HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Edition graphics card was able to sit right in the middle of the pack in the Extreme benchmark, sitting just below the GTX560Ti in the stock testing and just below the HD6970 in the overclocked settings.

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 1920x1200 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

At stock speeds during the idle test, the HD6950 from Sapphire was sitting right around the middle of the pack. However, once the card was hitting the load test, it was one of the lowest three cards, only being beaten out by 14 °C, which was by the GTX460 followed by the HD6850. In the overclocked testing at idle, the HD6850 was one of the hottest cards, while during the load testing, it was right in the middle of the pack, being 25 °C cooler than the GTX480 and 9 °C hotter than the GTX460.

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 2560x1600 using the Gamer setting with 8xAA looping the Avalanche benchmark scenario.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

Lower = Better

 

At stock speeds, the load testing for the HD6950 puts it right in the middle of the pack. However, once it is overclocked and compared to other overclocked cards, it is within the lowest five cards. Overclocking the HD6950 pulls about 63 more watts from the wall during the load testing.

Conclusion:

Going back to the first question that I asked, are you looking for an upgrade to your system in the form of a graphics card? If you answered yes, then you are going to want to add the Sapphire HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Edition graphics card to your list. Not only is this card going to give you some pretty solid numbers in the benchmarks that I ran on it and compared to the other cards, it also comes with an upgraded cooling solution. Speaking of the cooling solution, at stock speeds during my load testing, the card was able to hit a maximum of 66 °C, which is the third lowest temperature. Once the card was overclocked, during the load test it only gained one degree, putting the maximum temperature up to 67 °C, which is about the middle of the pack. 

I was able to get my card to overclock pretty well, seeing a 12.5% increase on the GPU Core and 12% on the memory — 900MHz and 1400MHz, respectively. While the GPU Core clock speed was about just below the average, it is still a nice bump; however, the memory was the third highest clock in the running. The only complaint that I do have is that the card is quite long, but this is becoming more of a norm in the market with high-end graphics cards to accommodate the cooling that they require.

Sapphire's HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Edition graphics card was able to perform quite well throughout the benchmarking suite here at OCC. In multiple benchmarks it was able to come very close to the HD6970 at higher resolutions, as well as the GTX570. Now one of the more attractive features of the graphics card is the free copy of Codemaster's DiRT3 off-road racing sim. While getting a free game with your new graphics card purchase can be exciting, in the back of your mind you are always wondering if the card's price was increased to include the game. At the time of the review, looking at Newegg.com, the price of the DiRT3 Edition is $10 cheaper than the FleX Edition. So you can be rest-assured that you are actually getting the game for free and not having the price of the card increased because of the promotion.

If you are a fan of the DiRT series of games and are in the market for getting a new graphics card, the Sapphire HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Edition is a no-brainer. I would suggest this card to anyone who is looking to get into the Eyefinity scene or is needing an upgrade to their current graphics solution.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: