XFX HD6950 1GB Overclocked Edition Review

airman - 2010-12-31 15:30:29 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: airman   
Reviewed on: March 27, 2011
Price: $269.99

Introduction:

With the explosion of overclocking years ago, we are finding more and more manufacturers are endorsing and embracing overclocking of their products. This included products from NVIDIA to Intel and AMD, to other component manufacturers such as XFX,  MSI, Gigabyte, ASUS, etc. Along with this endorsement comes a wider range of product support and quality. Recently, many manufacturers are boasting higher quality military grade components that will allow users to overclock products further and with more stability and efficiency. Over the past several years, we almost never fail to see a new line of video cards coming out and within weeks, have an overclocked version of it — usually with a better cooling solution as well. In some cases, some video cards even release as twins where the brother or sister is an overclocked version!

Having this huge support for overclocking by many manufacturers also opens the market for better aftermarket cooling solutions. After all, the factory coolers on these products are generally designed and produced with the limit being stock speeds. That's where manufacturers such as Noctua, Thermalright, Zalman and many other manufacturers stepped in to help us upgrade our stock coolers and replace them with something that will allow the taking of our hardware to the absolute limit. Mixed together, we end up with an overclocked version of the AMD HD 6950 which was released last year and assembled by XFX. The cooler that ships with it seems to be upgraded, as it has two propeller fans (rather than one single blower) and three large heatpipes peeking out the side of the fan housing. It will be interesting to see what type of temperature differences we see between this version and the XFX reference version, as found in this review. These cards are capable of displaying video on up to six monitors from one video card, that is very neat! This is accomplished by the use of DisplayPort, which can run two video channels per port.

This review will feature a complete evaluation of the XFX Radeon HD 6950 1GB XXX Edition video card. It will start from exterior views, interior and "under the hood" views, providing a comprehensive list of specifications and features, followed by an intense overclocking and testing methology that batters the card with extreme temperatures and loads. Doing so, I will be able to gather results from each testing simulation and compare it to other high-end cards on the market. The conclusion will feature a wrap-up summation of my thoughts about the card, its performance and its price.

 

Closer Look:

The XFX HD 6950 1Gb XXX Edition is packaged in a box that is identical to recent XFX production. It is a black/gray box accented with signature red AMD color along with the XFX and AMD logos with the XXX Edition sticker in the bottom right of the front face. Also on this side are small icons — which include "1GB GDDR5", and "XFX 5-Star Support". Many who have dealt with returns and RMAs from XFX can agree that they were provided with top quality service. The back of the box lists the key offerings of the card, which are relatively standard in this age. Some of the more important ones include HDMI output, "XFX Dual Fan Technology" and AMD Eyefinity Multi-Display Technology. The corners of the box contain other information such as system requirements and supported operating systems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opening one of the side flaps will expose an inner box which slides out and contains the video card and all of the other components. Opening the box will reveal a tray on top of the card that holds the user manuals, warranty cards, installation instructions and a CrossfireX bridge. Using bridges like this allows the use of up to four video cards in CrossfireX, assuming the required hardware is present. XFX also supplies a "Do Not Disturb" door hanger, which has the XFX serial number printed onto it. There is also a brochure marketing XFX's new line of power supplies, known as its "PRO Series PSUs".

 

 

 

Now that the video card is out of the packaging, I will now start taking a close look at the card and its components on the next page.

Closer Look:

The card itself actually seems a little bit shorter than the original XFX, which leads me to think that the PCB is different as well. This could mean different memory chips, voltage regulators, etc. I will be checking this out momentarily! The part of the card that stands out the most is the cooler, which features two propeller style fans inside a shroud, located above a large set of aluminum fins. The only protrusions from the card at this point is the PCI Express connector. The back of the card shows off a black PCB, the CrossfireX connectors, and the heap of micro components located on the back of the card.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turning to the sides of the card will show the mounting bracket that houses the five ports of the card, which include two mini DisplayPorts, one full size HDMI, and two DVI-D connectors. In total, these ports allow the use of up to six monitors using AMD Eyefinity. The fan exhaust will be pushed out this side through the stamped out XFX logo, along with the total of 13 venting holes on the right side of the plastic housing. Unlike a lot of stock vendor housings, this card will exhaust a slight amount more of hot air back into the case, rather than focusing it all outwards through the rear mounting bracket.

 

 

The XFX 6950 XXX Edition shows off three large 6mm copper heatpipes which are routed from the base of the GPU outwards to the rest of the aluminum fins shrouded inside the plastic housing. I will be taking an in-depth look at this very soon. The card itself uses two 2x3-pin connectors, opposed to its bigger brother, the 6970, which uses one 2x4-pin connector and one 2x3-pin connector.

 

 

Even though XFX offers outstanding support and warranty with its products, these products' warranties are somewhat protected from disassembly of the card. On two of the four screws that hold the cooler directly to the GPU core are stickers that read "Warranty Void if Removed", hinting that if you're going as far as removing the cover, XFX will not replace it if you break it in the process. However after speaking with XFX, they have stated that if you live in the US or Canada, removing these stickers will not cancel the warranty. :) I've seen this on several other cards before, but not many. For a quick reference, the CrossfireX connectors are located at the top of the card (while installed in the case), closest to the I/O support bracket. Also, food for thought: the small, black, button-head screw above the heatpipe in the picture does not fasten the cooler to the board. I'll show exactly what it's for soon!

 

 

Underneath the plastic shroud that holds the cooler in place and directs airflow is a pretty impressive sight. This is possibly one of the few coolers that I've come across (that aren't aftermarket) that use direct contact heatpipes to cool a GPU core. This is a pleasant surprise and I'm expecting it to perform well. Surrounding the GPU core on the top and right side are eight GDDR5 memory chips, which all add up to the 1Gb that the card contains. Doing the math (duh) equals out to 128mb per chip. Reading the text on the GPU core shows that it is a Taiwan chip, and is a 1050, N3F723.00 core. Got any idea what that screw was for that I pointed out just before this?

 

 

The two small pins shown here at the corner of the card are the power supply for the fans. I almost forgot to reattach the header when putting the card back together due to how small it is! On a different topic, the memory modules used on this PCB are made by Hynix, which are almost identical to that of the standard XFX 6950, though there are two digits/letters that are different. I am no longer versed in reading memory modules, so I cannot explain if these differences are significant or not.

 

 

Separating the cooler itself from the shroud is accomplished by removing four small screws near the base of the cooler. With the cooler out of the shroud, the path that the heatpipes follow can be seen. Since there are an odd number of heatpipes, it looks like XFX chose to put two of them on the side furthest from the rear of the case. I would have done this differently and concentrated the heat as close to the rear of the case as possible, as it would prevent less heat from entering the case. The direct contact bottom is of relatively good quality, though there are some machine marks visible. I won't pick on the manufacturer for this, as it's still a large improvement over the reference design!

 

 

To get a better understanding of what to expect out of the fans themselves, I removed one of them from the shroud to see if there was any identifying factors on the label. Luckily, it had everything I was looking for! The label shows that the fan is manufactured by Everflow, operates on 12V and pulls 0.20A. The 0.20A is smaller than I would have expected, so I don't forsee these fans having a high RPM value or be very noisy. The tradeoff: less airflow.

 

 

Still guessing what that screw was for? There are actually two of them, and they hold a small heatsink onto a set of components near the GPU core. Certain components can get very hot other than the GPU core, and some don't have enough surface area to effectively keep themselves cool. XFX was conscious of this, so a small heatsink was strapped across these four chips.

 

 

As I said before, I noticed that the video card is a little bit shorter than that of the regular XFX. Pictured below is a standard XFX HD 6970, which is the same size as the standard HD 6950. With the card completely dissected, the next page will contain a list of manufacturer-provided specifications and features.

Specifications:

GPU
Radeon HD 6950
Core Clock
830MHz
Stream Processors
1408
Memory Clock
1300MHz
Memory Size
1GB
Memory Interface
256 bit
Memory Type
GDDR5
DirectX
DirectX 11
OpenGL
OpenGL 3.2
Ports
1x HDMI
2x Mini DisplayPort
2x DVI
Power Connector
2x6-pin
Card Dimensions
10.08” x 4.38” 1.5”
Warranty
Parts – Lifetime Limited
Labor – Lifetime Limited

 

Features:

 

 

All information courtesy of XfX @ http://xfxforce.com/en-us/products/graphiccards/HD%206000series/6950Standard.aspx

Testing:

Testing of the XFX HD 6970 XXX edition will consist of running it and comparison cards through the OverclockersClub.com suite of games and synthetic benchmarks. These will test the performance against many popular competitors, and comparisons will be made to cards of varying capabilities to show where it falls on the performance ladder. The games used are some of today's newest and most popular titles to provide 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 for NVIDIA-based cards. I will test the card at stock and overclocked speed to see how much additional performance gain is available. The drivers used in this test will be the 260.99 Forceware drivers from NVIDIA for all cards save the GTX 580 and the 11.2 Catalyst drivers for AMD. As previously stated, tests will be conducted at both stock and overclocked settings to gauge performance when an increase in clock speed is applied.

 

Comparison Cards

Overclocking:

Overclocking this guy is done through the widely available MSI Afterburner software, which allows for full control over graphics hardware. It allows core frequency adjustment, voltage tweaking and fan speed adjustments. With the seemingly highly efficient cooler on this card, I should expect to see a good bit of overclockability of out it. With the ability to adjust voltage, this opens up an entirely new world in the limits of overclocking this card, while keeping the temperatures within reason. I was able to get the XFX HD 6950 XXX Edition to hold stable at 1002MHz on the core, and 1570MHz on the memory — all which scaled very well. These results are the fastest AMD card out of the comparison numbers, and had the fastest memory speed of all of the cards! I was very impressed!

 

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. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
  7. 3DMark 11 Professional
  8. 3DMark Vantage
  1. Temperature
  2. Power Consumption

Testing:

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here, and for the rest of the testing, I do expect to see very similar results to that of the standard XFX HD 6950 as they are essentially the same card. I will, however, not be very surprised if I see a one or two frame advantage on the stock testing due to the stock overclock of the card.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here we see the entire lineup of cards become slaughtered by Metro 2033, which completely destroys the 5970 at full resolution. In all tests, while overclocked, the XXX Edition HD 6950 nips at the heels of the standard XFX HD 6970 and has a slight margin over the standard HD 6950.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, here we see a one or two frame advantage in most tests over the standard XFX HD 6950, and coming close to the XFX HD 6970.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At low resolutions, we see a large difference between the XFX HD 6970 and the XXX Edition HD 6950, though that gap closes up at higher resolutions. Keeping the trend, if the two 6950's don't tie, the XXX Edition pulls an extra one or two frames per second.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This test shows the true power of overclocking this card, as it matches up with the XFX HD 6970 at full resolution, and pulls an extra two frames per second over the standard 6950.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not a whole lot to see here, fairly standard-issue results.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping a close eye on the XXX Edition, the standard XFX HD 6950 does a good job at keeping up here, too.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, we see a constant one frame per second advantage gained over the standard XFX HD 6950.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using MSI Kombuster, which is paired with MSI Afterburner overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using the stability test set to a resolution of 1920x1200 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:



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, the cooler definitely handles idle and stock loads beautifully, but once it's overclocked it seems to fall apart! I didn't expect it to have a large difference, but that could possibly be because of the way that the fans exhaust into and around the case instead of pouring out the back of the case like the reference coolers did. This seems to be the case with a lot of "DirectCU" coolers, which signifies the direct contact, copper heatpipe cooling solution. Another cause of this is the low amperage fans, which don't move a large amount of air when compared to the huge noise-cannons of the blowers in the reference cards.

Testing:

Power Consumption of the system will be measured in both idle states and loaded states and will take into account the peak wattage 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.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here we see standard results, very comparable to the regular HD 6950 with a slight increase.

Conclusion:

Everything about this card is appealing — we see a visible and statistically significant increase in performance in the XXX Edition over the standard XFX HD 6950. The direct contact heatpipes do a good job at keeping the card cool under typical situations, however it becomes obvious that the performance of the cooler falls apart under a heavy heat load. This heavy heat load is from putting a huge overclock on the card and applying the extra voltage to the GPU. We see this in other "DirectCU" coolers, and they tend to fall apart in this same way.

Moving along to the specifics of the card and other features, it is an attractive card and the black PCB looks good and stealthy inside a black, painted interior case. The noise levels are very low, even at 100% - which is a good and a bad thing. Those looking for quietness while still keeping an edge over similar cards, the XXX Edition is perfect for that. However, once overclocked, the performance begins to degrade and cool poorly. I was surprised at the mini DisplayPort connectors, as I was not prepared for it when I received the card. Fortunately, I was able to have a mini DisplayPort to full-size adapter to my door in a couple of days so I could test out the card.

Overall, I like the card and it's a good pick for an upper-end card that may not be overclocked too far past its packaged speed due to the performance of the fans. This would be a perfect fit for someone who wants a plug and play, overclocked video card that remains quiet and offers a little bit of an edge in comparable performance. I personally wish the card's cooler was a little more capable compared to the reference design. Maybe video card manufacturers can learn something about these direct contact technologies and how to improve them. Hopefully they can knock some design improvements into them soon!

 

Pros:

 

Cons: