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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  • silverblue - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    No. They already got roasted for doing it last time. Also, the 6870 Black Edition is an official AMD product that hasn't been shoved down Ryan's throat. So, whereas before all things may not have been exactly equal, they are now.

    The presence of the 6950 1GB in the 560 Ti review is quite natural as the 6950 2GB was already there, and besides which, until you overload that memory, the 6950 1GB performs pretty much the same as its 2GB brother, albeit a tiny bit faster in places - it's not cheating to include it as it's not an overclocked card. There's no other way you can handle it except to have the two AMD cards in separate articles to each other and not mention the 6950 1GB in the 560 Ti review (hardly sensible - we already knew it'd be almost identical to the 2GB variant), or not review the 6870 Black Edition at all. Also, think of the time it must've taken Ryan to handle these reviews - certainly doesn't take a day or so to do.

    With overclocked cards, the situation is that the standard product is reviewed and, usually, the 3rd party offerings are reviewed together in a separate article in short order. I fully expect this to happen as it's normal for a site like Anandtech to do so.

    If your beef is with the 6870 Black Edition, please remember that, as stated in the review, AMD fully intended it to be the 560 Ti's true competition, and that the 6950 1GB was due out in February. When it became apparent that the 6870 wasn't the answer, they released the 6950 1GB early. There's no sense in scrapping all those 6870 Black Editions, of which there has to be thousands, so AMD have not only brought out two cards at the same time, but offered two viable alternatives to nVidia's one. The only thing that AMD will suffer is lack of availability for those 6950s for the time being which is only natural for an accelerated launch, plus nVidia will undoubtedly lose some sales so well done on that.
    Reply
  • ritalinkid18 - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    Well said, GeorgeH...well said....

    QUOTE:
    "There is no bias at Anandtech, only well documented arguments and conclusions that you're free to disagree with. If you want to abandon one of the best tech review sites on the planet in favor of one that panders to your personal delusions about the fuzziness of a multinational corporation, knock yourself out."
    Reply
  • medi01 - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    Yeah, I won't talk about cherry picked oced 460, but "forgetting iPhone in the pocket" on comparison pics where it would look very pale (much lower contrast) is quite remarkable. Reply
  • sebanab - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    Dude give it a rest!
    Plus it's only fair that both makers got the same treatment...
    Reply
  • Menetlaus - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    Dude, this isn't the GTX560 Ti launch article. This is a picture of the market as you or I can go out and buy cards.

    I agree that the whole OC'd GTX460 "issue" was total bovine excrement from fanboys complaining that their poor nVidia was being compared to existing, non-reference cards that were wildly available at the time of the 460's launch.

    That being said, the launch article for the GTX560Ti is one article down and contains nothing but reference cards in an effort to keep the whiners quiet.
    Reply
  • SandmanWN - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    Dudes, whatever. (You guys started it)
    The 460 article wasn't even about the 460. It was brought into the fray during an AMD release article. The only bovine excrement came from the drool of Nvidia fanboys that had the ridiculous notion that a cherry picked overclocked card delivered by Nvidia was allowed into a reference card release article for AMD. Which clearly drew red flags from those readers with common sense.

    And not only that but the the writer couldn't even finish the friggin article the way he wanted to because he was spending his time doodling around with the Nvidia card. That was complete BS.

    We tried to give some pointers on how it should have been handled.
    1) Reference vs reference on product release articles.
    2) Follow up articles with overclocked cards vs overclocked cards.

    It was a real simple freaking concept.
    Reply
  • Parhel - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    Exactly. Nobody said that Anandtech shouldn't review OC'ed cards. The point was that OC'ed cards hand selected by AMD or Nvidia shouldn't be included in the launch article for their competitors new architecture. Had this card been included in the GTX 560 article, their would have been the same uproar as before. Reply
  • silverblue - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    Yes, but there's a big difference between a majorly overclocked 3rd party card promoted by nVidia and a slightly overclocked original AMD card. I can see your point, though. Reply
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    I haven't read this article yet (just finished the GTX 560Ti but wanted to say thank you for putting this article up. As many of us had asked for you properly kept the launch article about the card being launched and comparisons to stock cards, but in this article you are comparing other offerings including OC'd cards.

    That's the way it's meant to be done and I thank you.
    Reply
  • Parhel - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    Seconded. Reply

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