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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  • cyrusfox - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    You should totally be able to do a 4X1 display, 2 DP and 2 DVI, as long as one of those DP dells also has a DVI input. That would get rid of the need for your usb-vga adapter. Reply
  • gimmeagdlaugh - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    Not sure why AMD 6970 has green bar,
    while NV 580 has red bar...?
    Reply
  • medi01 - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    Also wondering. Did nVidia marketing guys called again? Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    I normally use green for new products. That's all there is to it. Reply
  • JimmiG - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    Still don't like the idea of Powertune. Games with a high power load are the ones that fully utilize many parts of the GPU at the same time, while less power hungry games only utilize parts of it. So technically, the specifications are *wrong* as printed in the table on page one.

    The 6970 does *not* have 1536 stream processors at 880 MHz. Sure, it may have 1536 stream processors, and it may run at up to 880 MHz.. But not at the same time!

    So if you fully utilize all 1536 processors, maybe it's a 700 MHz GPU.. or to put it another way, if you want the GPU to run at 880 MHz, you may only utilize, say 1200 stream processors.
    Reply
  • cyrusfox - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    I think Anand did a pretty good job of explaining at how it reasonably power throttles the card. Also as 3rd party board vendors will probably make work-arounds for people who abhor getting anything but the best performance(even at the cost of efficiency). I really don't think this is much of an issue, but a good development that is probably being driven by Fusion for Ontario, Zacate, and llano. Also only Metro 2033 triggered any reduction(850Mhz from 880Mhz). So your statement of a crippled GPU only holds for Furmark, nothing got handicapped to 700Mhz. Games are trying to efficiently use all the GPU has to offer, so I don't believe we will see many games at all trigger the use of powertune throttling. Reply
  • JimmiG - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    Perhaps, but there's no telling what kind of load future DX11 games, combined with faster CPUs will put on the GPU. Programs like Furmark don't do anything unusual, they don't increase GPU clocks or voltages or anything like that - they just tell the GPU - "Draw this on the screen as fast as you can".

    It's the same dilemma overclockers face - Do I keep this higher overclock that causes the system to crash with stress tests but works fine with games and benchmarks? Or do I back down a few steps to guarantee 100% stability. IMO, no overclock is valid unless the system can last through the most rigorous stress tests without crashes, errors or thermal protection kicking in.

    Also, having a card that throttles with games available today tells me that it's running way to close to the thermal limit. Overclocking in this case would have to be defined as simply disabling the protection to make the GPU always work at the advertised speed.
    It's a lazy solution, what they should have done is go back to the drawing board until the GPU hits the desired performance target while staying within the thermal envelope. Prescott showed that you can't just keep adding stuff without any considerations for thermals or power usage.
    Reply
  • AnnihilatorX - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    Didn't you see you can increase the throttle threshold by 20% in Catalyst Control Centre. This means 300W until it throttles, which in a sense disables the PowerTune. Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    On page eight Ryan mentions that Metro 2033 DID get throttled to 700MHz. The 850MHz number was reached by averaging the amount of time Metro was at 880MHz with the time it ran at 700MHz.

    Which is a prime example of why I hate averages in reviews. If you have a significantly better "best case", you can get away with a particularly bad "worst case" and end up smelling like roses.
    Reply
  • fausto412 - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    CPU's have been doing this for a while...and you are allowed to turn the feature off. AMD is giving you a range to go over.

    It will cut down on RMA's, Extend Reliability.
    Reply

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