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When One Counter Isn’t Enough

Early on the week of January 17th, AMD sent out the customary email letting the press know of some recent changes to AMD’s product lineup. AMD’s partners were launching their factory overclocked cards, and AMD like a proud papa had to let the world know and was happily mailing out cigars (sample cards) in the process. Meanwhile on the horizon AMD would be working with their partners to launch the Radeon HD 6950 1GB in mid-February for around $269-279. The final piece of news was that AMD was posting their Catalyst 11.1a Hotfix drivers for the press to preview ahead of a January 26th launch.

The fact of the matter is that these kinds of announcements are routine, and also very transparent. Given the timing of the arrival of AMD’s sample hardware and the launch date of the new Catalyst driver it was clear this was meant to garner attention at the same time as NVIDIA’s launch of the GTX 560 Ti. This isn’t meant to be damning for any party – this is just the way the GPU industry operates. NVIDIA did something very similar for the Radeon HD 6800 series launch, shipping the EVGA GeForce GTX 460 1GB FTW to us unannounced while we were returning from AMD's press confernece.

If this is how things actually happened however, we wouldn’t be telling this story. For competitive reasons AMD and NVIDIA like to withhold performance and pricing information from everyone as long as possible so that the other party doesn’t get it. Meanwhile the other party is doing everything they can to get that information as soon as possible, so that they have as much time as possible for any counters of their own.

AMD's First GTX 560 Ti Competitor: The XFX Raden HD 6870 Black Edition

On the morning of Thursday the 20th I was awoken by FedEx, who was delivering a priority overnight package from AMD. At the same time I received an email from AMD announcing that the 6950 1GB was sampling to the press immediately, and that we were under NDA until January 25th.

Something had changed at AMD.

I don’t believe we’ll ever know the full details about what AMD was doing that week – some stories are simply never meant to be told – but it quickly became clear that AMD had to make a very sudden change of plans. On Monday the message from AMD was that the 6870OC was their immediate GTX 560 Ti competitor, and here 3 days later the message had suddenly changed to the 6950 1GB being their GTX 560 Ti competitor.

There are a million different reasons why this could be, but I believe it’s because in that intervening period AMD got access to reliable GTX 560 Ti performance data - if not the price too. If they did have that data then they would quickly see that the GTX 560 Ti was 10-15% faster than the 6870OC, reducing the 6870OC from a competitor to a price spoiler at best. The 6870OC could not and would not work as AMD’s GTX 560 Ti challenger.

The final piece of the puzzle only came together yesterday afternoon, when AMD announced that the 6950 1GB’s retail launch was getting pushed up from mid-February to January 24th, or in other words yesterday. The 6950 1GB was to be available immediately for $259 – over half a month sooner than expected, and for roughly $20 less than AMD first said it would be.

Based on the performance of the GTX 560 Ti, the 6870OC, and the 6950 1GB, the only reasonable explanation we have at this time is that early last week AMD did an about-face and put everything in to launching the 6950 1GB ahead of schedule. Whatever motivated this about-face and however they managed to do it, all indications are that they managed to get Sapphire and XFX to manufacture a steady supply of 1GB cards in order for Newegg to have them up for sale Monday afternoon.

Index Meet The Radeon HD 6950 1GB and XFX Radeon HD 6870 Black Edition
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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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