AMD Radeon 6970 & 6950 Review
AMD continues to spread the holiday cheer with another release in their Radeon HD 6000 series. They released the 6870 and 6580 at the end of October (falling between the two Thanksgiving holidays in the US and Canada), and they are now releasing the 6970 and 6950 in time for Christmas.
The 6900 cards continue in the 6800 tradition, in that they are an evolutionary step beyond the previous generation (the 5800 series) and the 6800's themselves. This direction allows AMD to continue their trend of impressive performance at a very competitive price.
While these cards won't topple the NVIDIA GTX 580 in raw single-GPU performance (according to other reviews, as we don't have samples to test), they strive to strike the balance between performance, power, heat and cost. AMD is aiming the Radeon HD 6970 to compete against the NVIDIA GTX 570, and places the Radeon HD 6950 in a "class of its own", between the the GTX 460 and the GTX 570 - for both performance and cost.
The Radeon HD 6800 cards were aimed at what AMD felt was the "Sweet Spot" within the GPU market: $150 - $250. The 6900 series steps up the price and performance, and is aimed at the Enthusiast customer segment. Beyond "Cayman", there is "Antilles". This is AMD's dual GPU card (the Radeon HD 6990), which is expected to release in January.
The new "Cayman" architecture brings these further enhancements to the table:
- 2GB of VRAM standard in reference design
- Refined VLIW4 architecture with dual graphics engines and asynchronous dispatch
- Dual 8th Generation tessellation, offering up to 3x the performance of the Radeon HD 5870
- New Enhanced Quality Anti-Aliasing (EQAA)
- AMD PowerTune: Configurable power consumption for either more efficiency or overclocking
- Additionally, the "Cayman" driver brings support for 5x1-Portrait Eyefinity groups.
One key update to the architecture is the inclusion of a Dual BIOS. AMD now includes two different BIOS settings for the card. The secondary BIOS is protected as the factory default. But what if you wanted to load a custom BIOS? Normally, you roll the dice and hope that you don't end up with an expensive paperweight. AMD knows that enthusiasts already flashing their cards would like to do so with reduced risk. And, they know more users would like to pursue the activity.
To enable that, the Dual BIOS provides a safety net. It allows a user to flip a toggle switch, and begin using an second unprotected BIOS. If the flash on the unprotected BIOS fails, you can flip back to the original and reboot. From there you can toggle the switch back to the custom BIOS (while booted) and attempt to re-flash.
Mac users have often looked for PC variants of Mac Pro graphics cards, as they were considerably cheaper. They would flash the unit with the Mac GPU BIOS and have a product they could use. With the Dual BIOS from AMD, I wonder if this could be a new avenue for Mac users to adopt AMD cards (once a BIOS is available) and drive more sales of AMD products. It would also allow these users to have a wider audience for resale on eBay, since the PC BIOS would still be in tact.
This move could also possibly spur more development of custom BIOS for AMD GPUs. I wonder how long before the first WSGF custom BIOS is available?
|Card||GPUs||Transistors||Max Memory||Shaders||Clock (MHz)||TDP (Watts)||MSRP*|
|AMD Radeon HD 6970||1||2.6B||2GB||1536||880||1350||20||250*||$369|
|AMD Radeon HD 6950||1||2.6B||2GB||1408||800||1250||20||200*||$299|
|AMD Radeon HD 6870||1||1.8B||1GB||1120||900||1050||19||151||$239|
|AMD Radeon HD 6850||1||1.8B||1GB||960||775||1000||19||127||$179|
|ATI Radeon HD 5870||1||2.15B||1GB||1600||850||1200||27||188||$374|
|ATI Radeon HD 5850||1||2.15B||1GB||1440||725||1000||27||151||$279|
|*These values represent the maximum wattage allowed through the AMD PowerTune.
AMD estimates the average wattage draw for gaming is 190W/140W for the 6970/6950, respectively.