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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 - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    Indeed CPU bottlenecking is a concern, and we always try to remove it as much as possible. Replacing the CPU means throwing out our entire body of work, so as important as it is to avoid being CPU bottlenecked, we can't do it frequently.

    The issue for us right now is that SNB-E isn't due until late this year, and that's the obvious upgrade path for our GPU testbed since SNB has a limited amount of PCIe bandwidth.
    Reply
  • 7upMan - Wednesday, January 26, 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
  • IceDread - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    Good review

    As a sidenote, sort of fun to see my one year old card 5970 is still the best when looking at single cards.
    Reply
  • IceDread - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    There was not much talk about SLI and crossfire btw, there the value in AMD is higher today day with a fair bit than with SLi solutions comparing AMD 6xxx series with new nvidia cards. Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    We had to leave our SLI & CF for this article because of all the driver changes from both parties - as it stands I need to rerun most of those numbers.

    You'll be seeing a lot more on SLI and CF in a week or two; we have a trio of 580s and 6970s in house for some tri-SLI/CF testing.
    Reply
  • Scootiep7 - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    Not going to add much to the discourse at this point. I just want to say that I really liked this article and thank you for your time and due diligence in writing it. Reply
  • blackshard - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    Why they are so different from previous articles? NVIDIA numbers have grown about three times and some AMD numbers are grown too.

    Previous article about HD6950 and HD6970 showed this:
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4061/amds-radeon-hd-...
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    In the GTX 560 Ti article I explained what was going on.

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4135/nvidias-geforce...

    "Small Lux GPU is the other test in our suite where NVIDIA’s drivers significantly revised our numbers. Where this test previously favored raw theoretical performance, giving the vector-based Radeons an advantage, NVIDIA has now shot well ahead. Given the rough state of both AMD and NVIDIA’s OpenCL drivers, we’re attributing this to bug fixes or possibly enhancements in NVIDIA’s OpenCL driver, with the former seeming particularly likely. However NVIDIA is not alone when it comes to driver fixes, and AMD has seem a similar uptick against the newly released 6900 series. It’s not nearly the leap NVIDIA saw, but it’s good for around 25%-30% more rays/second under SLG. This appears to be accountable to further refinement of AMD’s VLIW4 shader compiler, which as we have previously mentioned stands to gain a good deal of performance as AMD works on optimizing it."
    Reply
  • blackshard - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    Ok, got it. I have not read the gtx560 review. Thanks ;) Reply
  • ibudic1 - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    Don't forget that you can unlock 6950 to 6970, at which point Nvidia is just NOT competitive.

    http://www.techpowerup.com/137140/AMD-Radeon-HD-69...
    Reply

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