AMD Radeon HD 6970 and HD 6950 Review

Author: Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig
Date: December 14, 2010
Product Name: AMD Radeon HD 6970 / HD 6950
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Before the release of a new generation of graphics cards, there is always a fair amount of hype and assumption flying around. This sometimes results in a pleasant surprise come release day and in other situations a crushing reality check for those who expected far too much to begin with. There have been all too many products which fall victim to over inflated expectations and this situation will likely repeat itself with the HD 6970 and to a lesser extent the HD 6950. That really is a shame because these are highly competitive products at excellent price points.

In most ways, AMD hit the nail on the head with the HD 6970. Its focus upon improved geometry horsepower and a massive framebuffer allows for some impressive DX11 performance gains over the HD 5870, particularly at ultra high image quality settings.

Things become a bit less cut and dry when the higher-end Cayman board is compared directly against the GTX 570. At lower resolutions NVIDIA’s card is able to pull away and at 1920 with AA enabled it really becomes a toss-up between the two cards. For the vast majority of gamers who don’t have 27 or 30 inch monitors, numbers like this mean the $369 AMD card is a bit too expensive for the performance numbers it displays. However, if you game on an ultra high resolution setup this will likely be the card you’ll be looking for since at times it even one-ups a GTX 580.

While the HD 6970 does compete very well in the upper end of the price spectrum, the real star of this show is the HD 6950. Currently, there isn’t anything that even comes close to matching its capabilities in the $299 market. Performance is well above that of the $270 GTX 470 and even AMD’s previous single GPU flagship –the HD 5870- struggles to keep pace; particularly when AA is enabled. To our way of thinking, this is the closest thing to perfection we have seen for a while.

So performance for the Cayman XT and Pro is generally very good and the feature set for these products is as well rounded as they come. PowerTune is a great concept that is highly user friendly when used in conjunction with the Overdrive settings and in our testing, it never did step in to limit in-game performance. The dual BIOS toggle is interesting for the overclockers among us but it does have dubious value for anyone who will stick to software overclocking at default voltages. Nonetheless, it adds a serious safety net for users who fancy a walk down the BIOS hacking block.

The efficiency of higher end GPUs is always a massive concern for manufacturers. AMD seems to have now run into NVIDIA’s Fermi situation: adding the items necessary for higher DX11 performance comes with a cost of decreased efficiency and a higher TDP. PowerTune does help mitigate this hurdle but in no way does it eliminate Cayman’s seemingly high power consumption numbers. Against the GTX 480 and GTX 470, the XT and Pro fare quite well but they do tend to fall flat in the overall efficiency category against the newer GF110-based cards. That being said, at ultra high resolutions AMD’s new cards are able to edge ahead in performance per watt.

Both the HD 6970 and HD 6950 are incredibly enticing but the HD 6970 in particular isn’t without its faults. Unfortunately, AMD aimed these cards at NVIDIA products that have either been discontinued (the GTX 480) or will be replaced in very short order (the GTX 470). This leads to the HD 6970 fighting an uphill battle at the most popular resolutions against a lower priced yet similarly performing GTX 570. The HD 6950 on the other hand avoids this quagmire altogether by hitting a market where there is very little to no competition which makes it infinitely more appealing than its bigger brother.

With the HD 6900 series, AMD ensured that improvements were made in key areas where Cypress was left wanting. The result is a pair of GPUs that perform well but ultimately fail to deliver a killing blow to NVIDIA’s refreshed Fermi lineup. Whether or not these products are a sales success is a real question mark here but regardless of expectations, AMD has still released cards that are able to give the competition a run for their money.


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