Both the Radeon HD 6950 and 6970 are products worthy of being called high-end, really they are positioned there well. However for whatever reason performance is not what we all had hoped for. Personally I think that AMD initially targeted the two products tested today against the GeForce GTX 480 and never realized that NVIDIA had a trump card with the two new (GTX 570/580) additions.
That said, the Radeon HD 6950 and 6970 are stone-cold, raw and nice performing cards in the high-end arena. But you are as good as long as you are faster then your competition and from that point of view, the Radeon HD 6900 series seems to be missing a little bit of an aggressive bite. Expectations especially for the R6970 have been high, at least at the expectancy level of the GeForce GTX 580.
The reality is that the GTX 580 stays on top of the charts everywhere and that the R6970 is competing mostly with the 350 EUR GeForce GTX 570. Positioning the R6950 is even more difficult as that card is a hovering at many performance levels. That's exactly the essence of today's two tested product, one game is very fast while the other is below expected performance.
This all certainly can be considered a Petri dish for discussion, was that move to VLIW4 a proper one or is it just a matter of a erroneous choice in accumulated shader processor estimation and implementation? We're fairly sure that AMD tried hard to squeeze out every bit of performance and compensate in any way they can. The product core frequencies are high and when you look at memory, well 2 GB of framebuffer is nearly making my eye browses frown. Then the R6970 with its 1375/5500 MHz memory clock, these are baffling numbers really.
My main concern is that half the games perform extraordinary well, and the other half seems to be grouping up tightly towards say a Radeon HD 5870.
Some examples, let's take Battlefield Bad Company 2 at 19x12 / 8xAA. The Radeon HD 5870 produces an average of 51 FPS. The all new architecture redesigned R6950 pushes 50 FPS and the R6970 56 FPS. That to me does not make any sense as that "older" R5870 can be purchased at 240 EUR already.
If we move on towards DX11 Colin McRae DIRT at 19x12/8xAA and we again pick that R5870 then we see that card push 76 FPS in this title. The R6950 produces 70 FPS and the 6970 77 FPS, yep... that's one FPS difference.
However there are a handful of titles where the R6970 for example positions itself close to the GeForce GTX 580, take Crysis for example or Anno 1404 where the 6900 series absolutely annihilates and conquers. And yeah, that is what makes this product series hard to position and explain.
The R6900 cards however are strong in the uber high resolutions like 2560x1600 and very high AA settings, and that can mostly credited due to two things, the improved ROP engines and of course the massive 2 GB graphics memory. We feel the extra performance is there, but you do need to seek it in somewhat specific conditions. I can see Eyefinity & CrossfireX setups performing really well with the R6900 by the way...
Heat levels on both graphics cards are in the 75 to 80 Degrees C during hefty gaming, that's considered normal. The cards both can be heard noise wise, there is audible airflow. It's all in very acceptable ranges for both card. Both cards do shine at power consumption, we measured a power draw of 158 Watt for the R6950 and 207 Watt for the R6970, and that's just really good.
Both cards will be armed with that massive 2 GB of graphics memory. And make no mistake, the cards both offer a truckload of performance, but we all expected it to be a little bit more aggressive, we miss that oh so successful "Radeon HD 5870" launch feeling somehow. But a feeling of course doesn't justify any clichés we could fire off at what the Radeon HD 6950 and 6970 really are, which are very nice performing graphics cards.
Now the conclusion goes into a completely different direction, here's where the AMD 6900 cards start to really shine... the recommended street-prices are the following (incl VAT):
329 Euros - AMD Radeon HD 6970
269 Euros - AMD Radeon HD 6950
Face it, priced at this level you gain the benefits of the 2GB memory, Eyefinity, excellent video quality and overall a very complete product that will render any game to date perfectly fine. While both products lack that little extra bite we all had hoped for, the pricing of the cards is just phenomenal eliminating every possible negative aspect mentioned. At such prices you can't do anything else other then recommending both products as it brings back that once aspect AMD is all about, great value. Oh and for real, CrossfireX will likely bring a lot to the table, you can read our CrossfireX article on the R6950 right here.
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