Friday, December 17, 2010

AMD Radeon HD 6970 and Radeon HD 6950 Hands-On Preview

AMD released the mid-range Radeon HD 6800 GPUs in October. The high-end Radeon HD 6900 series was supposed to follow shortly after, but plans sometimes get derailed. The company barely made it for the holiday season, but it's finally ready to unveil the Radeon HD 6970 and Radeon HD 6950. The new GPUs offer a few new features and a handy dose of nomenclature ambiguity to boot.

Radeon HD 69Radeon HD 6970
The Specs:
Radeon HD 6970
880MHz Core Clock
1536 Stream Processors
1375 MHz Memory Clock
Radeon HD 6950
800MHz Core Clock
1408 Stream Processors
1250MHz Memory Clock
AMD's Radeon HD 6970 will go toe-to-toe with the GeForce GTX 570, and the Radeon HD 6950 spars with the GeForce GTX 470, as well as replaces the Radeon HD 5870. The mid-range Radeon HD 6870 replaces the Radeon HD 5850, and the HD 6850 boots out the Radeon HD 5830. As far as AMD is concerned, the Radeon HD 5800 series has now been discontinued. The HD 5700-based parts will continue to be manufactured, as will the dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970. The Radeon HD 6970 doesn't come close to displacing the Radeon HD 5970, so for that, we'll have to wait a little bit longer for the Radeon HD 6990.
Radeon HD 6950
The recently released 6800 GPUs were basically architecturally refined 5000 series GPUs. The 6900 series takes all those refinements and adds onto them. They feature dual graphics engines that provide triple the tessellation performance of the Radeon HD 5870. The new GPUs also contain second-generation DirectX 11 optimizations, accelerate Blu-ray 3D, and have new antialiasing and ansiotropic filtering modes to improve image quality.
Morphological antialiasing provides full-scene antialiasing via a post-processing technique. Traditional AA modes are applied when the scene is being rendered; morphological AA is done after the frame has been generated. The new AA mode is compatible with any DirectX 9/10/11 game.
EQAA, or enhanced quality antialiasing, uses up to 16 subsamples to improve image quality. It can be enabled on top of existing antialiasing modes, although it does take a little bite out of performance.
On the back end of the Radeon HD 6970 and HD 6950, you can find two dual-link DVI ports, an HDMI 1.4a port, and two mini-DisplayPort 1.2 connectors. HDMI 1.4a allows the video card to output 3D Blu-ray. DisplayPort 1.2 makes a whole new set of features available. The connector now allows you to daisy chain displays together, and with the use of a splitter/hub, you can also support up to six DisplayPort 1.2 displays through two connectors. We don't have pricing information on these hubs, but AMD indicates that they should be fairly inexpensive. Active DisplayPort 1.1 adapters used to cost $100, but now they're about $20, so we're inclined to think that the hubs won't be all that pricey.
The Radeon HD 6970 consumes 250W at peak power, and the Radeon HD 6950 consumes 200W. Both idle at 20W. On the power connector front, the Radeon HD 6970 requires 1x8-pin and 1x6-pin plug, and the Radeon HD 6950 uses 2x6-pin plugs.
The Competitive Landscape
$260 - GeForce GTX 470
$290 - Radeon HD 5870 
$300 - Radeon HD 6950
$350 - GeForce GTX 570
$370 - Radeon HD 6970
$450 - GeForce GTX 480
$530 - GeForce GTX 580
Radeon HD 6900 Performance Tests
The Radeon HD 6950 proves to be a solid value at its $300 spot. It bests the slightly cheaper GeForce GTX 470 handily in everything but Lost Planet 2. The Radeon HD 6950 also outguns the Radeon HD 5870 quite easily and gets very close to catching up with the more expensive GeForce GTX 570.
AMD's new single GPU flagship Radeon HD 6970 also performs well. It takes out the GeForce GTX 570 in everything but Lost Planet 2, but it likely won't catch up to the GeForce GTX 580 (We don't it have for testing, and it's hardly in stock anywhere, which probably explains why we don't have one.)
AMD's new GPUs didn't win the single-GPU crown, but the combination of performance and pricing make them more than competitive. The 6900 feature set is also very future proof. DisplayPort 1.2 isn't all too common yet, but with the low price of active DisplayPort adapters, rolling with three monitors (and even six) has never been easier. Also, be on the lookout for cheaper 1GB variants of the Radeon HD 6970 and Radeon HD 6950.
Test System: Core i7 980x, Asus Rampage III Extreme, 6GB OCZ DDR3, Seagate 750GB 7200.11, Windows 7 64-bit. Video card drivers - Catalyst 10.12beta, Forceware 263.09.


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