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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.

When One Counter Isn’t Enough
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  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    Apparently there are 2 Black Edition cards. The one we looked at is the newer of them (687A-ZDBC), whereas the old one used the reference cooler. I'm not sure the newer Black Edition has as widespread availability as the older one, but it's been available at Newegg for as long I've had the card in my hands. Reply
  • antifuchs - Saturday, March 05, 2011 - link

    That would be very interesting to note in the article - could help prevent some annoying mis-purchases: Newegg don't list the newer one (-ZDBC) as a "Black Edition", and searching for "black edition" will only find the reference-cooled card, whereas this article doesn't mention the full model number.

    I would almost have bought the loud reference edition one. Thank god I re-read the comments and re-did the search on Newegg one final time.
    Reply
  • Hrel - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    So, when am I gonna start seeing 1080p in these charts; as that's really all I care about. I was hoping 2011 would be the year of 16:9 only, to my great dismay this is wrong. Please update soon, 16:9 has been the standard for like 2 years at this point, longer depending on how you look at it. Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    16:9 sucks. Reply
  • ibudic1 - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    if you did share your experience.
    This is how you unlock...
    http://www.techpowerup.com/137140/AMD-Radeon-HD-69...

    http://forums.guru3d.com/showthread.php?t=335318
    Reply
  • erple2 - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    The problem with this is that it's not guaranteed. While you can always flash back if problems arise, making buying decisions strictly based on what the card might be able to do (granted, there's not a lot of cards in the general review cycle that haven't shown that it can be unlocked) sounds an awful lot like "two in the bush". Reply
  • 7upMan - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    RYAN: Hi Ryan, while I usually find AnandTech articles quite entertaining and informative, I always wonder why the f*ck professional editors won't get it into their head to test 2GB cards in areas where they belong to. Meaning: a 2GB vs. 1 GB card test should be about graphically overly intensive games and game mods, like the Half-Life 2 Fake Factory mod, or the STALKER Complete mod (Oblivion too has such mods). There are a number of other mods that put massive numbers of huge textures into the graphics RAM, and I think they should be the ones you need to test the cards with. After all, you can't expect games that were written with 1GB VRAM in mind to utilize the full power of double VRAM.

    So please, please run some tests with the above mentioned mods. Thanks in advance.
    Reply
  • snuuggles - Friday, January 28, 2011 - link

    The chart for Stalker call of pripiate, is repeated on this page:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4137/amds-gtx-560-ti...

    it just shows the same chart twice...

    Also, canyou post an edit in the article itself with a link to the actual xfx card or a picture or something? The link you have currently seems to go to one with a stock cooler, and I don't want to just guess which one it is that you tested. Thank you!
    Reply
  • snuuggles - Friday, January 28, 2011 - link

    woopsies! I didn't see the *multiple* pictures you posted of the card. But it would still be awesome to get a corrected link to the exact card, I'm still not 100% clear which one you tested. I apologize if I (again) missed this bit if information

    Thanks!
    Reply
  • Figaro56 - Friday, March 04, 2011 - link

    For the same price of $500 you can get a couple of HD 5870 Crossfire that will kick the GTX 580's teeth down it's throat. Reply

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