Sapphire HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Toxic Edition Reviewairman - August 11, 2011
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Once removed from the anti-static bag, I noticed that the HD6950 2GB Toxic Edition looks a lot like a reference card — it uses a boxed-in, blower-type cooler and it makes me kind of lose the idea of where the "dual cooling fan" mentioned on the front comes from. Hopefully when we get the card pulled apart, I'll figure that out! Anyways, the card does in fact resemble a dual-slot reference card, with the similar blue-hooded being on a small sliver of the cooler, a silver/chrome-looking stripe running down and across the card, and what resembles a keyhole or some form of locking tab. I don't believe it offers any other functionality, but that will be explored further down. The cooler itself slightly extends past the PCB, but not by far. The card is almost the exact same size as the reference design, so any new mid-tower or better case will fit it just fine with plenty of room to spare. The cooler uses an X-shaped bracing plate underneath where the GPU die is located and is probably there to help reduce flex in the card from fastening the cooler to the PCB. We'll look at the cooler more closely momentarily.
With the growing popularity of multi-monitor gaming setups, having enough ports on the rear of a video card is crucial to its functionality and appeal to all markets. Most people probably won't take advantage of a 3+ monitor, Eyefinity setup, but the ability is there and having them available is a very nice feature. Sapphire's HD6950 Toxic Edition includes a total of five ports — two mini DisplayPort jacks, a full-size HDMI jack, and two DVI jacks. The full-size HDMI port is nice to have, and the two DVI ports are always good for backups when using DisplayPort — as anyone would do if the monitor is compatible with it. Having all these ports puts on a little bit of a drawback, however, in the fact that there is not a lot of venting room present in this plate. Perhaps rearranging these ports could allow for a slightly larger vent that restricts the flow less. If the flow is restricted too heavily, a lot of the exhaust air will escape into the case, causing an unwanted overall temperature increase. Looking at the other side of the card shows the blank end of the cooler and that it's capped off. Some coolers run an open design, whereas this one does not. I can't really say whether there is a benefit to either, but the closed frame is more common.
Aside from the standard PCI Express slot on the underside of the card, there are two other internal sets of interfaces. These are located on the opposite side of the PCI Express interface slot. Of course, we have the CrossFire bridge ports, which allow for multiple cards to be linked together at the hardware level, producing a large performance increase since the cards can work together. Something that I almost missed is the tiny switch next to the CrossFire bridge. It allows the user to switch between two different BIOS, for whatever reason it may be necessary. Those reasons could be an overclock gone horribly wrong or potentially a failed flash attempt. The other interface internal to the case is the power supply ports. In general, most if not all HD6950s use two 2x3-pin connectors for its power supply inlet. However, Sapphire's HD6950 Toxic Edition uses an extra row of pins, making for one 2x3-pin connector, and one 2x4-pin connector. This doesn't really mean a lot, but Sapphire would have consciously made the decision to use a more capable plug to allow for more power flow. The HD6970s use this same setup, so Sapphire just wanted to make sure that this card was not limited in any way.
Moving on to checking out what's under the hood, we see the that the Sapphire HD6950 Toxic Edition uses a Cayman core and eight memory modules positioned around the card. The layout of the HD6950 Toxic Edition is identical to that of the standard edition, which is not surprising. Manufacturers would not completely redesign a PCB for a few extra MHz from an otherwise identical card! The Cayman core is equipped with 2640 million transistors, 1408 shaders, and 32 ROPs. The Hynix memory chips are clocked at 1300MHz and operate on a 256-bit bus, giving it a massive 160+GB/s on the stock-clocked 1250MHz chips, so you'll receive even more with this card.
The cooler looks very similar to that of the reference design and I only see one blower. As such, I don't know where the "dual cooling fan" comes into play, unless it's talking about a fan that serves dual purposes — though that may be a stretch. Aside from that fact, we see a large copper base that contacts the core, memory chips, and a few other components. This copper base is known as a vapor chamber, which is essentially a three-dimensional heatpipe. Conventional heatpipes act in only one dimension (think about a road, you can really only go forwards or backwards). Vapor chambers can allow high-end cards to only require a single-slot cooler, though in this case it uses a dual-slot situation. The fins are aluminum and the blower forces air over them. This is a standard, simple, but very effective design and I expect this vapor chamber incorporation to perform well! A neat thing that I noticed is that the main "frame" structure that houses the cooler is made from metal and not plastic. The quality here is excellent.
With an in-depth look of the Sapphire HD6970 Toxic Edition complete, it's now almost time to run it through the rigorous testing that we're all waiting for.