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After being AnandTech’s senior GPU editor for nearly a year and a half and through more late-night GPU launches than I care to count, there’s a very specific pattern I’ve picked up on: the GPU market may be competitive, but it’s the $200-$300 that really brings out the insanity. I’m not sure if it’s the volume, the profit margins, or just the desire to be seen as affordable, but AMD and NVIDIA seem to take out all the stops to one-up each other whenever either side plans on launching a new video card in this price range.

Today was originally supposed to be about the newly released GeForce GTX 560 Ti – NVIDIA’s new GF114-based $250 video card. Much as was the case with the launch of AMD’s Radeon HD 6800 series however, AMD is itching to spoil NVIDIA’s launch with their own push. Furthermore they intend to do so on two fronts: directly above the GTX 560 Ti at $259 is the Radeon HD 6950 1GB, and somewhere below it one of many factory overclocked Radeon HD 6870 cards, in our case an XFX Radeon HD 6870 Black Edition. The Radeon HD 6950 1GB is effectively the GTX 560 Ti’s direct competition, while the overclocked 6870 serves to be the price spoiler.

It wasn’t always meant to be this way, and indeed 5 days ago things were quite different. But before we get too far, let’s quickly discuss today’s cards.

  AMD Radeon HD 6970 AMD Radeon HD 6950 2GB AMD Radeon HD 6950 1GB XFX Radeon HD 6870 Black AMD Radeon HD 6870
Stream Processors 1536 1408 1408 1120 1120
Texture Units 96 88 88 56 56
ROPs 32 32 32 32 32
Core Clock 880MHz 800MHz 800MHz 940MHz 900MHz
Memory Clock 1.375GHz (5.5GHz effective) GDDR5 1.25GHz (5.0GHz effective) GDDR5 1.25GHz (5.0GHz effective) GDDR5 1.15GHz (4.6GHz effective) GDDR5 1.05GHz (4.2GHz effective) GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Frame Buffer 2GB 2GB 1GB 1GB 1GB
FP64 1/4 1/4 1/4 N/A N/A
Transistor Count 2.64B 2.64B 2.64B 1.7B 1.7B
Manufacturing Process TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm
Price Point $369 ~$279 $259 $229 ~$219

Back when the Radeon HD 6950 launched, AMD told us to expect 1GB cards sometime in the near future as a value option. Because the 6900 series is using fairly new 2Gb GDDR5, such chips are still in short supply and cost more versus the very common and very available 1Gb variety. It’s not a massive difference once you all up the bill of materials on a video card, but for the card manufactures if they can save $10 on RAM then that’s $10 they can mark down a card and snag that many more sales. Furthermore we’re not quite to the point where 2GB is essential in the sub-$300 market - where 2560x1600 monitors are rare – so the performance penalty isn’t a major concern. As a result it was only a matter of time until 1GB 6900 series cards hit the market, to fill in the gap until 2Gb GDDR5 came down in price.

The day has finally come for the Radeon HD 6950 1GB, and today is that day. Truth be told it’s actually a bit anticlimactic – the reference 6950 1GB is virtually identical to the reference 6950 2GB. It’s the same PCB attached to the same vapor chamber cooler with the same power and heat characteristics. There is one and only one difference: the 1GB card uses 8 1Gb GDDR5 chips, and the 2GB card uses 8 2Gb GDDR5 chips. Everything else is equal, and indeed when the 6950 is not RAM limited even the performance is equal.

The second card we’re taking a quick look at is the XFX Radeon HD 6870 Black Edition, the obligatory factory overclocked Radeon HD 6870. Utilizing XFX’s open-air custom HSF, it’s clocked at 940MHz core and 1150MHz (4.6Gbps data rate) memory, representing a 40Mhz (4%) core overclock and a 100MHz (9%) memory overclock. Truth be told it’s not much of an overclock, and if it wasn’t for the cooler it wouldn’t be a very remarkable card as far as factory overclocking goes, and for that reason it’s almost a footnote today. But it wasn’t meant to be, and that’s where our story begins.

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  • ibudic1 - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    you can unlock the 6950 to a 6970 for free.

    just google: unlocking HD6950

    and the NVIDIA value proposition goes down the toiled. End of discussion.
    Reply
  • Ananke - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    So much agree!!!
    5850 2Gb is the way to go.
    Reply
  • Ananke - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    6950 :) I mean Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    None of the sites I frequent have said anything about a reduction in texture filtering quality with the new Catalyst versions. Could someone post some links to articles about the issue? Why didn't Anandtech mention it, anyhow? Reply
  • silverblue - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    Toms did something...

    http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/radeon-catalyst-imag...

    I believe it has been mentioned that any such performance enhancements have been rolled back, so to speak.
    Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    Hmm, interesting. Tom's points back to an Nvidia post on the issue( http://blogs.nvidia.com/2010/11/testing-nvidia-vs-... ), who themselves quote four review sites I'm not familiar with. Guess I'll check out those sites and see what they're reporting. Reply
  • silverblue - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    I think they were German sites or something? It's been some time since I read this. Reply
  • ezinner - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    How about putting the price of the cards in the benchmarks? It isn't enough to know how fast a card is, but rather at what cost. Reply
  • swaaye - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    8X SSAA :D Reply
  • GTVic - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    This looks nothing like the black edition sold at ncix or newegg? This one has two fans so what is the difference? Reply

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