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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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  • JPForums - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    It looks to me like the 560 Ti only has the edge over the 6950 1GB tessellation with high factors. Even the 6870 bests the 560 Ti in the DirectX 11 Tessellation Sample test at the medium setting. See anandtech's 560 Ti launch article.

    What I find even more interesting is that when you consider only the higher resolutions, the 6950 seems to be superior to the 560 Ti. I realize most people still use lower resolutions, but it doesn't make sense to judge between the potential of two cards at any resolutions that both can produce more than playable frame rates at the settings in question. This creates a misleading conclusion in situations where the winner reverses at higher resolutions. Hawx, for instance, shows that the 560 Ti has clearly superior frames rates at lower resolutions where the 6950 scales much better and edges it out at 2560x1600. Neither dip below 80 fps, so you can't really say the gameplay differs, however, it appears the 6950 is the one that has the muscle when it counts. Battlefield BC2 shows a similar reversal (reference anandtech's 560 Ti launch article). Of course, there are situations where nVidia turns tables at higher resolutions as well, they just aren't present in anandtech's launch article (unless I missed it).
    Reply
  • softdrinkviking - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    I believe that Ryan replied in the comments for the 560 Ti card to a commentor who inquired about the repeatability of FPS results with the 6950 1GB while playing Crisis at high resolutions, and it may pertain to your argument.
    He said that the results are "highly variable."
    If you are going by the avarage frame rate, and only at high res., the 6950 looks better than the 560 Ti but...
    Perhaps the 560 Ti produces more consistant results than the 6950?
    Reply
  • JPForums - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    Ryan does a really good job with articles, so I don't want to come off as bashing him. However, if that was a major concern, I really wish he would have mentioned it in the article. Taking it a step further, he could post charts with min, max, and average. Alternately, if he felt particularly generous, he could post a graph of the frame rates over the course of the benchmark for the cases where one companies cards are less consistent than the others. Of course, that would be a lot of work to do for every benchmark and would incur unnecessary delays in getting the articles out. I would only include such charts/graphs to back myself up when I felt it changed the outcome. That said, even if these never show up, I'll still enjoy reading Ryan's articles.

    On a personal note, the idea that the GTX560 Ti may be more consistent than the HD6950 makes me feel better about my decisions to purchase a GTX460 and GTX470 given the similarities in architecture. That said, I haven't noticed abnormal inconsistencies in frame rate with the HD6870 I bought as a Home Theater/Gaming card for the living room. I hope any inconsistencies in the frame rate of the HD6950 are driver related and not architectural, or we may loose some of the wonderful competition that has characterized the graphics market as of late.
    Reply
  • britjh22 - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    I see the 6950 pricing as sort of strange. Currently you pay $10 after MIR's to move up to 2 GB. A small price for a sometimes useful boost. But if you take unlocking into consideration, the ability to unlock with the 2Gb version, and not with the 1Gb, I'd say that's quite a massive difference.

    Of course, I don't have a good feel about the success rate of the 6950 to 6970 unlock, or what % of cards it's possible with, but the pricing seems quite strange in that light.

    Oh, and let's see dropping prices on a 6870 please!
    Reply
  • MeanBruce - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    Dude, 6870s are as low as $199- right now over at Newegg at least for the Sapphire, yup! Reply
  • buildingblock - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    My local hardware dealer has several GTX 560s in stock today, including 900Mhz factory overclocked models. The Gigabyte Super OC 1Gb is listed and promised soon.... But the 1Gb AMD 6950 - no sign whatever. I see elsewhere references to the fact that this card is likely to be a short run special by AMD as a GTX 560 launch spoiler, and that certainly seems to be the case. I look forward to the Anandtech review of factory overclocked GTX 560s at some point. Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    At this point the only place you're going to find them is at Newegg and other e-tailers. With the launch pulled in by this much this soon, they won't be on B&M store shelves yet. This isn't all that rare, in fact I would say it's much more rare to find newly launched cards available in B&M stores. Reply
  • TonyB - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    Competition is a wonderful thing ain't it? Reply
  • prdola0 - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    Hello Ryan,
    after such a nice review of the GTX560 Ti, I am quite disappointed that you included the overclocked HD6870 in this test. First, after you reviewed the GTX460 and included an OCed model, you get bashed by AMD fans crying foul. So you ask readers to say if it's ok to include an OCed model and from the count of posts you draw a conclusion not to include OCed models. I was suprised then, because measuring such a thing by mere post count is quite inadequate, considering that unhappy people usually shout the loudest and the happy ones don't need to. So of course you'd have more posts against it, no surprise there. But then I kinda let it go. However, seeing now that you did include an OCed model again, but this time something that is not so common, unlike OCed GTX460, I was very upset. Why didn't you review the OCed Gigabyte or Asus GTX560 cards? And considering reviews from other sides and the great results the OCed cards have, will you prepare a new review article dedicated to the OCed GTX560 to fix this bias?

    Here is where I remember how I though saying things like "I am not going to visit this site anymore" is quite silly after the OCed GTX460 case. But seeing how you turn 180 for reasons unknown to me, I must say the very same thing.

    Best regards,
    Prdola
    Reply
  • Aikouka - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    I really don't get the persistent whining from some of you over this topic. You're so "hurt" over Ryan spending *his* time on benchmarking a card that was *originally billed as the 560 Ti's competitor*... it's completely inane.

    If you don't think it should be considered, then simply ignore the card in the charts, and you'll get what you consider to be a pure "OC free" comparison.

    As for my stance on it, if something is purchased off the shelf **with the configuration that was tested**, then it's fine to put it on there in a normal (i.e. not overclocking specific) article and/or section.
    Reply

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