Final Thoughts

Often it’s not until the last moment that we have all the information in hand to completely analyze a new video card. The Radeon HD 6970 and Radeon HD 6950 were no different. With AMD not releasing the pricing information to the press until Monday afternoon, we had already finished our performance benchmarks before we even knew the price, so much time was spent speculating and agonizing over what route AMD would go. So let’s jump straight in to our recommendations.

Our concern was that AMD would shoot themselves in the foot by pricing the Radeon HD 6970 in particular at too high a price. If we take a straight average at 1920x1200 and 2560x1600, its performance is more or less equal to the GeForce GTX 570. In practice this means that NVIDIA wins a third of our games, AMD wins a third of our games, and they effectively tie on the rest, so the position of the 6970 relative to the GTX 570 is heavily dependent on just what games out of our benchmark suite you favor. All we can say for sure is that on average the two cards are comparable.

So with that in mind a $370 launch price is neither aggressive nor overpriced. Launching at $20 over the GTX 570 isn’t going to start a price war, but it’s also not so expensive to rule the card out. Of the two the 6970 is going to take the edge on power efficiency, but it’s interesting to see just how much NVIDIA and AMD’s power consumption and performance under gaming has converged. It used to be much more lopsided in AMD’s favor.

Meanwhile the Radeon HD 6950 occupies an interesting spot. Above it is the 570/6970, below it are the soon to be discontinued GTX 470 and Radeon HD 5870. These cards were a bit of a spoiler for the GTX 570, and this is once more the case for the 6950. The 6950 is on average 7-10% faster than the 5870 for around 20% more. I am becoming increasingly convinced that more than 1GB of VRAM is necessary for any new cards over $200, but we’re not quite there yet. When the 5870 is done and gone the 6950 will be a reasonable successor, but for the time being the 5870 at $250 currently is a steal of a deal if you don’t need the extra performance or new features like DP1.2. Conversely the 6950 is itself a bit of a spoiler; the 6970 is only 10-15% faster for $70 more. If you had to have a 6900 card, the 6950 is certainly the better deal. Whether you go with the 5870, the 6950, or the 6970, just keep in mind that the 6900 series is in a much better position for future games due to AMD’s new architecture.

And that brings us to the final matter for today, that new architecture. Compared to the launch of Cypress in 2009 the feature set isn’t radically different like it was when AMD first added DirectX 11 support, but Cayman is radically different in its own way. After being carried by their current VLIW5 architecture for nearly four years, AMD is set to hand off their future to their new VLIW4 architecture. It won’t turn the world upside down for AMD or its customers, but it’s a reasonable step forward for the company by reducing their reliance on ILP in favor of more narrow TLP-heavy loads. For gaming this specifically means their hardware should be a better match for future DX10/DX11 games, and the second graphics engine should give them enough tessellation and rasterizing power for the time being.

Longer term we will have to see how AMD’s computing gamble plays out. Though we’ve largely framed Cayman in terms of gaming, to AMD Cayman is first and foremost a compute GPU, in a manner very similar to another company whose compute GPU is also the fastest gaming GPU on the market. Teething issues aside this worked out rather well for NVIDIA, but will lightning strike twice for AMD? The first Cayman-based video cards are launching today, but the Cayman story is just getting started.

Power, Temperature, & Noise
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  • 529th - Sunday, December 19, 2010 - link

    Great job on this review. Excellent writing and easy to read.

    Thanks
    Reply
  • marc1000 - Sunday, December 19, 2010 - link

    yes, that's for sure. we will have to wait a little to see improvements from VLIW4. but my point is the "VLIW processors" count, they went up by 20%. with all other improvements, I was expecting a little more performance, just that.

    but in the other hand, I was reading the graphs, and decided that 6950 will be my next card. it has double the performance of 5770 in almost all cases. that's good enough for me.
    Reply
  • Iketh - Friday, December 24, 2010 - link

    This is how they've always reviewed new products? And perhaps the biggest reason AT stands apart from the rest? You must be new to AT?? Reply
  • WhatsTheDifference - Sunday, December 26, 2010 - link

    the 4890? I see every nvidia config, never a card overlooked there, ever, but the ATI's (then) top card is conspicuously absent. long as you include the 285, there's really no excuse for the omission. honestly, what's the problem? Reply
  • PeteRoy - Friday, December 31, 2010 - link

    All games released today are in the graphic level of the year 2006, how many games do you know that can bring the most out of this card? Crysis from 2007? Reply
  • Hrel - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - link

    So when are all these tests going to be re-run at 1920x1080 cause quite frankly that's what I'm waiting for. I don't care about any resolution that doesn't work on my HDTV. I want 1920x1080, 1600x900 and 1280x720. If you must include uber resolutions for people with uber money then whatever; but those people know to just buy the fastest card out there anyway so they don't really need performance numbers to make up their mind. Money is no object so just buy nvidia's most expensive card and ur off. Reply
  • AKP1973 - Thursday, October 13, 2011 - link

    Have you guys noticed the "load GPU temp" of the 6870 in XFIRE?... It produced so very low heat than any enthusiast card in a multi-GPU setup. That's one of the best XFIRE card in our time today if you value price, performance, cool temp, and silence.! Reply
  • Travisryno - Wednesday, April 26, 2017 - link

    It's dishonest referring to enhanced 8x as 32x. There are industry standards for this, which AMD, NEC, 3DFX, SGI, SEGA AM2, etc..(everybody) always follow(ed), then nVidia just makes their own...
    Just look how convoluted it is..
    Reply

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