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.

AMD's First GTX 560 Ti Competitor: The XFX Raden HD 6870 Black Edition

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.

Index Meet The Radeon HD 6950 1GB and XFX Radeon HD 6870 Black Edition


View All Comments

  • rdriskill - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    Given that it is a lot easier to find a 1920 x 1080 monitor now than it is to find a 1920 x 1200 monitor, would that resolution make more sense to list in these kinds of comparisions? I realise it wouldn't make much of a difference, but it is kind of strange to not see what, at least in my area, is the most common native resolution. Reply
  • james.jwb - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    wouldn't mind seeing 27" res include at the high end (2560x1440) as up there pushes the cards much harder and could make all the difference between playable and unplayable. I realize this is more work though :) Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    As 16:9 monitors have 90% of the resolution of 16:10 monitors, the performance is very similar. We may very well have to switch from 19x12 to 19x10 because 19x12 monitors are becoming so rare, but there's not a lot of benefit in running both resolutions.

    The same goes for 25x14 vs. 25x16. Though in that case, 25x16 monitors aren't going anywhere.
  • Makaveli - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    Great review.

    As for the complaints GTFO, is it somehow affecting your manhood that there is an overclocked card in the review?

    Some of you really need to get a life!
  • ctbaars - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    Hey! Don't you talk to Becky that way .... Reply
  • silverblue - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    It's overclocked, sure, but it's an official AMD product line. If AMD had named it the 6880, I don't think anyone would've questioned it really. Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    The 6870 has 56 texture units and the 6950 has 88 , or 57% more. Yet if you add up all the scores of each you find that the 6950 is only 8% faster on average. This implies a wasted 45% increase in SPs and/or texture units (which one?), as well as about 800 million wasted transistors. Clearly AMD needed to add more ROPs to the 6950. Also, since the memory clock is faster on the 6950, this implies even more wasted transistors. If both cards had the same exact memory bandwidth, they might very well only be 4% apart in performance! AMD's gpu clearly responds much more favorably to an increase in memory bandwidth than it does to increased texture units. It really looks like they're going off the wheels and into the weeds. What they need is to increase memory bandwidth to 216G/s, and increase their ROP-to-SIMD ratio to around 2:1.

    Yes I know about VLIW4... but where is the performance? Improvements should be seen by now. Like what Nvidia did with Civ 5. I'm not seeing anything like that from AMD and we should have been seeing that by now, in spades.
  • B3an - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    ....I like how you've completely missed out the fact that the 6870 is clocked 100MHz higher on the core, and the 6870 Black is 140MHz higher. You list all these other factors, and memory speeds, but dont even mention or realise that the 6870/Black have considerably higher core clocks than the 6950. Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - link

    It is probably clocked higher because it has almost a billion fewer transistors. Which begs the question.... what the hell are all those extra transistors there for if they do not improve performance? Reply
  • DarkHeretic - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - link

    This is my first post, i've been reading Anand for at least a year, and this concerned me enough to actually create a user and post.

    "For NVIDIA cards all tests were done with default driver settings unless otherwise noted. As for AMD cards, we are disabling their new AMD Optimized tessellation setting in favor of using application settings (note that this doesn’t actually have a performance impact at this time), everything else is default unless otherwise noted."

    While i read your concerns about where to draw the line on driver optimisation Ryan, i disagree with your choice to disable select features from one set of drivers to the next. How many PC users play around with these settings apart from the enthusiasts among us striving for extra performance or quality?

    Surely it would make be far fairer for testing to leave drivers at default settings when benchmarking hardware and / or new sets of drivers? Essentially driver profiles have been tweaking performance for a while now from both AMD and Nvidia, so where to draw the line on altering the testing methodology in "tweaking drivers" to suit?

    I'll admit, regardless of whether disabling a feature makes a difference to the results or not, it actually made me stop reading the rest of the review as from my own stance the results have been skewed. No two sets of drivers from AMD or Nvidia will ever be equal (i hope), however deliberately disabling features meant for the benefit of the end users, just seems completely the wrong direction to take.

    As you are concerned about where AMD is taking their driver features in this instance, equally i find myself concerned about where you are taking your testing methodology.

    I hope you can understand my concerns on this and leave drivers as intended in the future to allow a more neutral review.


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