Review of the XFX ATI Radeon HD 6950

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On December 15, bearing the Cayman code name, ATI released the enthusiast 6900 series. The main stars of that series were the 6970 and the 6950. The 6970 was ATI's answer to NVIDIA's latest graphics card: the GTX 570. In video game performance the 6970 was comparable to the 570.

However, in this review, the 6970 will have to step aside and let its little brother take the spotlight. The 6950, albeit slower than the 6970 by 17% due to its lower rated GDDR5 memory (1250) and slower memory core (800 MHz), is still a strong asset in ATI's latest line-up. How strong it is will be brought to light here.

Introducing the Challenger

For this review the XXX Edition of the XFX AMD Radeon HD 6950 will be used. The only significant difference between this edition and the plain vanilla release lies in the fact that the XXX edition has been slightly overclocked to 830 MHz: a meager 30 MHz increase from the original 800 MHz. And like the 6970 it runs on 2 GB GGR5.

Furthermore, it is equipped with a single HDMI 1.4a, two DisplayPorts version 1.2 and two DVI ports (DVI-D and DVI-I). With that setup, this card is fully geared for Stereographic-3D.

XFX ATI Radeon HD 6950

The Goal of this Review

As the 6950 is one of the younger cards, this review will show not only how well it performs but also what leaps the technology of graphics card has made over the years. The 2900XT is without a doubt the oldest card, but a few years ago it was one of the high-end cards out there. Followed by the 8800 GTX, which was NVIDIA's glamour horse and it took quite a while for it to be trumped.

Over the years, DirectX 9, 10 and 11 were introduced and new graphics card were released to meet the requirements of these technologies. With that, the cards became more powerful. They made less power consumption possible, they were cheaper and all in all offered better price/quality ratios.

In this review the latest generations will be put next to each other to see how much progress has been made over the years. Our benchmark system is pulled by an AMD Athlon II X2 250 running at 3 GHz. There was no need to do anything else with it since the stock speeds are okay for testing. By the time the review started, ATI released their 11.10 drivers and these were deployed to benchmark the ATI cards. The lone NVIDIA card, the 8800 GTX, got equipped with the 280.26 drivers. Since we want to make sure we deliver real-world results, we prefer using stable builds. Only when really necessary, beta's will be resorted to. Of course, in that case, we will state this clearly.

The Benchmark Machine

The test machine.
CPU AMD Athlon II X2 250 3.0 GHz
RAM Patriot 2x2 GB DDR3 1600 MHz
Mainboard Gigabyte GA-MA790XT-UD4P
HDDs WD Raptor 10.000 RPM 36GB
Hitachi Deskstar 7200 RPM 320GB
Graphics cards ATI Radeon HD 6950
ATI Radeon HD 6850
ATI Radeon HD 3870 X2
ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT
NVIDIA 8800 GTX
CPU cooler Scythe Big Shuriken
Power supply Huntkey Jumper 550 Watt

For our viewing experience and to actually see what is happening, we have hooked up an Iiyama Prolite E2409HDS monitor. The resolutions we used were 1920x1080 and 1028x1024. Since 1080p was the maximum resolution, 3DMarkVantage didn't allow us to use 1920x1200 for benchmarking. To let the 6950 work its magic, we have chosen a handful of benchmarking games to show what it's made off. The real tests are the 3DMarks benchmarks, specifically 3DMark11, to show the power of DirectX 11 supported by the card. 3DMark Vantage will show us the DirectX 10 capabilities in comparison to the other cards, and 3DMark06 will show how well it scores.

Game Performance Benchmarks

The games examined in this review are:

  • Far Cry 2: A slightly dated game (released in 2008) but it is still a regularly used game to benchmark gaming performance due to the capabilities of the Dunia Engine. Various settings were used: Full anti-aliasing, no AA, full AF or none at all. The used resolution was 1920x1080 and both DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 were used to produce results.
  • Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition: Not a common sight but SSFIV:AC is equipped with a benchmark to test whether the machine is capable of running smoothly or not. Something that is really important in beat-em-up games as lag could mean the difference between victory and defeat. Settings were set on 16xAF and 8xAA at 1920x1080 with highest settings.

Benchmark Performance

  • 3DMark11: Since two of the cards being tested come with DirectX 11, 3DMark11 is mandatory to see how well they perform with it. Using this program, the 6950 and 6850 are the lead players. Both cards will be tested with the 'Professional' and the 'Extreme' presettings. The results will be put up for comparison.
  • 3DMark Vantage: Vantage was developed to test the latest cards with DirectX 10 and this is where all the cards are going to enter the ring and see how much power they can deliver compared to the 6950. Each card will be run on 'Performance' and 'High' settings.
  • 3DMark06: The sixth generation of 3DMark plays a different role in the review. Since all the cards are capable of rendering the features it provides -- HDR Rendering, Shadow Mapping etc. -- 3DMark06 will be rolling out pure numbers and scores. All of the tests were run on the basic settings of the application.

3DMark11 Results

As said before, the 6950 and 6850 are the only candidates for 3DMark11. There is a noticeable gap between both of the cards, granted as 6950 is obviously clocked at a much higher speed than its younger brother. With a difference of around 600, the 6950 clearly knows how to handle DX11 well.

3DMark11 results -- Extreme settings (1920x1080):

results

3DMark11 results -- Professional settings (1280x720):

results

3DMark Vantage Results

The 6950 doesn't seem to even flinch during this test and leaves the 6850 far behind it. Compared to these two cards the 8800 GTX actually proves itself to be a worthy opponent, even though it struggles during the tests run under the 'High' settings.

3DMark Vantage results -- Performance settings (1280x1024):

results

3DMark Vantage results -- High settings (1680x1050):

results

3DMark06 Results

As mentioned at the beginning, this test was run for the numbers. And they are high: the 6950 has got some really good results but that also goes for the 6950 and not surprisingly the 3870 X2, carrying two cores with it. The only big loser in this is the 2900 XT, hanging lonely at the bottom of the scoreboard.

3DMark06 results -- Standard settings (1280x1024):

results

Game Benchmark Results

Super Street Fighter IV -- Arcade Edition:

Settings: 1920x1080 -- 8xAA -- 16xAF -- All on High/Extreme with Ink Effect

results

results

Far Cry 2:

Settings: 1920x1080 -- 8xAA -- Dx10 -- Ultra High

results

Settings: 1920x1080 -- 0xAA -- Dx10 -- Ultra High

results

Settings: 1920x1080 -- 8xAA -- Dx9 -- Ultra High

results

Settings: 1920x1080 -- 0xAA -- Dx9 -- Ultra High

results

Unlocking the Beast

It is not a secret that the 6950 is based on the same chip as the 6970. But it has been discovered that AMD disabled a few shader units from 6970, not because parts of the 6970 were faulty but it was ATI's response to the high demand of the 6950. The production costs were also much less since they had to manufacture one chip for the card.

Therefore, it is possible to get a 6970 for the price of a 6950 by flashing it with the former's BIOS. Do keep in mind that this may or may not ruin or damage the 6950, and it voids the warranty. In this review this method wasn't used. But for the daring among us, it's worth a try, at your own risk and warranty of course. As a last note: it depends whether or not you acquired a card from the batch that was modified by ATI.

Conclusion

XFX's copy of the 6950 showed that it is indeed a very powerful piece of hardware, taking the price/quality ratio in mind. Although the 6850 was a close combatant in the Far Cry 2 benchmarks, it still squeezed out more FPS at settings with all of the bells and frills turned on. Although the minor 30 MHz overclock didn't mean much, keep in mind that it is still a 6970 but toned down. Still, this graphics card is a very good one for what it offers and won't have a lot of trouble running the latest games on 'High' when backed up by a powerful CPU and a big cache of RAM.

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Comments

A very nice review! I hope this is the beginning of a new era in online publishing!

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