AMD’s GTX 560 Ti Counter-Offensive: Radeon HD 6950 1GB & XFX’s Radeon HD 6870 Black Editionby Ryan Smith on January 25, 2011 12:20 PM EST
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.
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.