Sapphire HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Toxic Edition Review

airman - 2011-08-03 14:36:04 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: airman   
Reviewed on: August 11, 2011
Price: $289.99


Just over a month ago, we reviewed a 2GB HD6950 from Sapphire that included a free copy of Colin McRae's DiRT3, an exciting rally racing game that many love, including me personally. The card did very well in performance, temperature, and power draw, and is still available at that great Sapphire price point — especially coming with a free game. Anyways, we all know that Sapphire, along with every other manufacturer, doesn't like to end its cards in stock form, and that's why we see Sapphire's "Toxic" editions hit the market shortly after the original versions. The "Toxic" edition of the HD6950 enjoys a slight overclock of 80MHz on the core and 50MHz on the memory, bringing the overall speeds up to 880MHz and 1300MHz, respectively. While that may not seem like much of a boost, this small bump in clock speed produces a very noticeable improvement — especially for still being in, more or less, OEM form. Most users will continue to push these cards far past what Sapphire produces and enjoy the challenge of getting the most from their hardware. Sapphire's "Toxic" stamp generally means that the card also gets a different, special edition look than the previous one, along with a different cooling setup as well.

It's been quite a while since having my hands on a Sapphire card and I'm looking forward to seeing what it can do. Judging by the results from the stock version, I don't think that I'll be let down! In this review, we will take an up-close and personal look at Sapphire's HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Toxic Edition from unboxing, checking it out under the hood, and putting it through the gauntlet of the latest, most back-breaking games. We will also measure how efficient the card is, which includes recording power draw and temperatures. All the aforementioned testing will be performed in both stock and overclocked scenarios. More details and explanation will follow on each of the testing pages.


Closer Look:

The Sapphire HD6950 2GB Toxic Edition is packaged very similarly to that of the original, stock-clocked HD6950. The difference is found in the graphics and printing of the box itself, where some hooded being is carefully holding a glowing orb. The printing itself is highly reflective and almost looks like it was printed on a mirror! The rest of the information on the front includes its 2GB capacity, that's it's an OC edition, and that it includes a copy of DiRT3. Also stated on the front is the use of a dual cooling fan, which may be similar to that of the previous stock HD6950 we reviewed last month. The rear of the box lists a load of features that this card brings with it, including 3D gaming support, Eyefinity support, and several other similar features. A small note at the bottom mentions that the box is constructed from 100% recycled materials, which is good to see. The top, sides, and bottom show no information other than logos, model numbers, and brand names.








Inside of the outer, colorful sleeve is a plain brown cardboard box that houses the card and the accessories. Opening this secondary box will reveal the card itself, shrouded by a protective static-proof bag and supported by more recycled cardboard. The static-proof bag is sealed shut at one end with a simple piece of tape, an easy and cheap measure to prevent the back from opening during shipping and handling. Underneath the video card's "tray", if you will, is another box — inside of which is the location of all the included accessories. These accessories include the general driver CD, user manuals, power adapter cables, CrossFire bridge, DisplayPort adapter, DVI to VGA adapter, warranty card, a DisplayPort cable, and of course, the DiRT3 registration material. It's certainly nice to have the mini DisplayPort adapter included, as I have found not all cards come with this!




With everything out of the box, it's now time to take a closer look at the card itself and explore what external features it offers, its cooler, and whatever else may be worth pointing out!

Closer Look

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.


GPU Core
Die Size
389 mm2
Transistor Count
2640 Million
1408 Unified
Pixel Fillrate
25.6 GPixel/s
Texture Fillrate
70.4 GTexel/s
Memory Type
Bus Width
Memory Size
2048 MB
166.4 GB/s
GPU Core Clock
880 MHz
Memory Clock
1300 MHz
DirectX Support
Shader Model Support




All information provided courtesy of Sapphire @


Testing of the Sapphire HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Toxic Edition will consist of running it and comparison cards through the 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 if applicable. 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 AMD-based cards and the 275.27 for NVIDIA-based cards.


Comparison Video Cards:



Overclocking the Sapphire HD6950 DiRT3 Toxic Edition is very straight forward with the included Sapphire TriXX software. This software allows for overclocking of the core along with the memory with an almost unlimited range, and on top of that, the ability to adjust voltage as well. What feels like eons ago, in order to increase the voltage on a GPU, a hard volt-mod using potentiometers was required to establish higher voltages that are applied to the card. Now, it's as simple as moving a slider. Of course, adjusting voltages can be very dangerous so I would definitely leave that setting alone if you don't know what you're getting yourself into. Upping the voltage on anything generally allows for more stability at higher speeds, but it can also RUIN those overclocks due to the extra heat that's produced.

Using Sapphire's TriXX utility, I achieved a core clock of 1010 MHz and a memory clock of 1500 MHz. This equates to an almost 27% increase over the stock 800MHz and a 15% overclock over Sapphire's Toxic clocks. The memory overclocked very well and landed at a 20% increase over stock clocks and around 15% over the Toxic clocks. Some impressive numbers compared to overclocks of similar HD6950s have been found with this card here, allowing this card to produce similar results to its big sister, the HD6970, which sports a hundred extra shader cores. I seemed to have been a lucky contender in the quest for speed, as I was able to flash this card with the Sapphire HD6970 BIOS and unlock the extra cores and the higher stock memory speed. So, I went from an out-of-the-box speed of 880/1300 to 880/1375 and from 1408 shader cores to 1536. That's roughly a 10% increase in shader cores, and if results correlate, I should see some similar results. Below is a picture of the overclocked speeds I was able to obtain on both the stock and unlocked BIOS. The next picture shows the 1536 cores as opposed to 1408. Underneath these two pictures is a screenshot of what I gained as a result of this mod plus the original overclocking. My original 3DMark11 overclocked "Performance" score was 5645. With the extra shader cores, I sported over a 10% increase of performance and ended up just a hair over 6200. For a sub-$300 card, that's excellent!



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.




















Here we can see that the Sapphire HD6950 Toxic Edition makes its way through jumping around the middle of the graphs. In a few of the tests, we see that it lands a couple of FPS behind the HD6970, its bigger sister.


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.


















There is no doubt that Metro 2033 is a certain death for a lot of cards, especially at large resolutions. We can see that NVIDIA obviously sweeps the floor at lower resolutions, but at higher resolutions, the AMD cards start to catch up. The Sapphire HD6950 Toxic Edition found itself right up with the pack of other HD6950s, just nipping at the heels of the HD6970.


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.




















Nothing much of a surprise here, the Sapphire HD6950 Toxic Edition hangs right with the other HD6950s and comes in front of a couple of them. In fact, on the 2560x1600 overclocked test, a couple of the HD6950s actually creep past the HD6970!


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.



















I found that the Sapphire HD6950 Toxic Edition falls a little bit further behind on HAWX 2, but the other HD6950s have this struggle as well. On the higher, 2560x1600 resolutions, however, it pulls up to about the middle of the league.


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.


















Seeing the HD6950 meet or even beat an HD6970 after overclocking is purely incredible! There is no doubt that these HD6950s are potent cards, for sure.


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.


















In these tests, we find the HD6950s right in the middle of the pack, again, and we see the interesting situation of the Sapphire HD6950 making a short step ahead of the HD6970.


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.


















What I discovered in this test is that, for some reason, the Sapphire HD6950 Toxic Edition did not show much of an improvement while overclocked — even at a substantial increase in clock speeds. At 2560x1600, I only recorded one extra FPS with the overclocked round over the stock round. This isn't terribly uncommon, but definitely worth pointing out here.


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.



















This test offers another instance of how closely matched an HD6950 and HD6970 can be to each other. At high resolutions, they are nearly equal performers and in some cases, the Sapphire HD6950 Toxic Edition actually passed the HD6970.


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.




















Here again we see the NVIDIA crowd sprinting past the AMD brethren at lower resolutions, but with no falter, the AMD gang catches up as resolutions grow. The Sapphire HD6950 Toxic Edition lands right where I expected it to, right around the other HD6950s and in more than one occasion, right on top of the HD6970.


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.















At Entry and Performance levels, the Sapphire HD6950 Toxic Edition is quite close to the HD6970 — some times within less than 2%. For other tests, we find our card landing right between the HD6950 and HD6970.


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 cooldown 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.
















The thing that blew my mind the most about this video card is the cooler. Leaving the fan on automatic, we find temperatures that are typical to that of other AMD cards of the same caliber. However, once at full speed, even with a large overvolt, the cooler does an absolutely excellent job at keeping the temperature down. I almost couldn't believe my eyes!


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. The idle results will be measured after 15 minutes of inactivity on the system. For load testing I will once again use Crysis Warhead run at 2560x1600 using the Gamer setting with 8xAA looping the Avalanche benchmark scenario.
















The power consumption results are really not very far from my expectations. The card is slightly overclocked, so it's bound to pull more power. Stock Idle is where we see it very close to the other HD6950, but once loaded and/or overclocked, the Sapphire HD6950 Toxic Edition pulls anywhere between 20-30W more than the other HD6950. At Idle Overclocked, it actually draws more wattage than the HD6970.


So, what have I learned with Sapphire's HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Toxic Edition? Well, the first thing that I discovered after getting it installed is the efficiency of the cooler. I was able to achieve the lowest overclocked load temperature out of all the video cards present. Not only is that quite an accomplishment, but it was even able to do so with the tiny, undersized (in my opinion) vent at the rear. It's actually quite noticeable, when at full speed, that the fan pushes out air all around the card due to the amount of pressure that builds up. So even though this cooler works incredibly well, Sapphire could have achieved even more flow in this card if there was a way to open up the back venting a little bit more. The next thing that I noticed was the clock speeds I was able to achieve using the Sapphire TriXX software. With a core clock of 1.01GHz and a memory clock at 1.50GHz — over 25% and 20% speed increases, respectively — I saw noticeable increases in performance as shown by the graphs, and at excellent temperatures, I might add! I was able to get the core to 1.03GHz and memory to 1.55GHz, but that required 1.3v and the performance increase didn't warrant the additional voltage and in some cases, hurt performance.

Another incredible thing about this card is that it was unlockable — meaning that I was able to flash it to an HD6970 BIOS, unlocking the total 1536 shader cores over the stock 1408. With the extra 10% of shader cores at my disposal, I reran the overclocked benchmarks and discovered a steady jump in performance by anywhere between 6%-8% running at the same 1010/1500MHz. Granted, not all cards can do this from the factory, as they are physically cut. I can't say whether all these cards are unlockable, but it doesn't hurt to try. However, even if you buy the card and it's not unlockable, what else is there not to like? With such an excellent cooler and the ability to control voltage with Sapphire TriXX, making up for it by overclocking is far from a difficult task. The performance and overclockability definitely makes up for it.

There is no doubt that two HD6950s in CrossFire would absolutely ROCK and would still be cheaper (okay, maybe not particularly this card) than some GTX580s — certainly exceeding the performance of one in many areas. Too bad that I don't have another one handy here to try for some dual-GPU goodness, perhaps both unlocked to the HD6970 BIOS. Aside from everything I've just mentioned, you still get a voucher for one of my favorite rally racing game franchises, DiRT3 — a value of about $20. I haven't gotten around to playing DiRT3 yet, but I was a huge fan of the original and put several hundred hours into it.

Anyways, without getting too long-winded, I'll wrap this up. Sapphire HD6950 2GB DiRT3 Toxic Edition: great cooler, great overclocks, great performance. There's nothing less to it! An absolutely potent card for the price that can be had for a nice chunk cheaper than the HD6970 at almost the same, matched, or even better performance.