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AMD Radeon HD 6950 & HD 6970 2GB
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by Rob Williams on December 20, 2010 in AMD-Based GPU

Not wanting to end 2010 without the last word, AMD unveiled its Radeon HD 6900 cards last week. These cards bring a couple of interesting features, including a revamped architecture, improved power handling, dual BIOS support, EQAA anti-aliasing and more. With NVIDIA’s GTX 570 just launched, let’s see where AMD stands with its new cards.

Final Thoughts

AMD’s Radeon HD 6900 cards are interesting. It’s hard to use a word other than that, because long before we received our samples, I had an idea of what to expect performance-wise, and that doesn’t quite align with what we’ve seen throughout our tests. When AMD compared the HD 6970 to the GTX 570, I had expected to see it far out-perform it, but again, things changed from test to test.

These cards are not super high-end as I expected them to be, and NVIDIA’s GTX 580 for the most part is quite safe being right where it is. At the same time, what AMD did deliver isn’t bad at all, even if the cards didn’t deliver quite what I expected them to.

At $299, the HD 6950 is in the unique position where there is not direct competition, so all in all, it’s kind of a strange release, but one that still has reason to exist. It costs about $60 more than the HD 6870, and delivers a fair speed bump to warrant it. For those looking for a higher-end AMD offering, but don’t quite want to shell out $370 for the HD 6970, the HD 6950 deserves some consideration.

The HD 6970 is a little bit harder to conclude on, but for all intents and purposes, it performs about the same as NVIDIA’s GTX 570. Both flip/flop performance places with each other, and both cost about the same (AMD’s offering costs $20 more at the time of writing). So which to choose? That depends.

AMD Radeon HD 6900 Series

We seem to tackle the same pros and cons with each graphics card review, but it’s because both AMD and NVIDIA do offer unique feature-sets, so they must be taken into consideration. NVIDIA of course has better PhysX support than AMD, and also more attractive GPGPU performance. The same can be said for geometry performance. NVIDIA sunk a lot of R&D into making Fermi beat out AMD in this regard, and it has paid off.

On the AMD side, the biggest draw to me is multi-display support. To go multi-display with NVIDIA, you need a minimum of two graphics cards, and given that even mid-range cards today pack in some serious performance, it’s unfortunate to be pushed into the dual-GPU route even if you feel like you don’t need it.

AMD on the other side allows up to six monitors to be connected to a single card, and that’s hard to ignore if you plan on a 3×1 or larger setup. As we’ve seen before, a ~$300 card can handle huge resolutions that 3×1 can avail no problem at all, so to have the option of using just one card is nice.

Though we didn’t see major advantages of it in our tests, another plus of AMD’s offerings is that they both feature 2GB of GDDR5, which to me is rather significant. We’ve been nearing a time when having a much larger buffer can prove beneficial, so AMD’s cards seem to be better future-proofed in that regard for those gaming at huge resolutions (or use detail settings that require a lot of memory).

The thing that strikes me about both of AMD’s latest cards is that it feels like we’re dealing with early samples, and our 3DMark 11 run kind of backs up that fact. While the HD 6970 couldn’t match the GTX 580 in our actual gaming tests, it came close to it in our 3DMark run. I think the drivers need some time to mature, because even though the HD 6900 series is based on previous architectures, a lot of changes have been made, so it seems likely that with some time, AMD can improve the performance on these cards quite significantly within the next six months.

Let’s see if that happens, though. For now, both of AMD’s offerings here are interesting and well worth considering. The prices are right, and so are the feature-sets and performance. For those interested in a look at CrossFireX performance, you can expect to see that from us in the days ahead.

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