The HD 6950 is the latest graphic card from AMD’s Cayman family that is designed to fill the $300 price bracket. With new and improved shader processor and architecture, can it compete against the new Fermi….
Nvidia recently launched the GTX 580 and GTX 570, based on the refined Fermi core. The GF110 used in the GTX 580 and GTX 570 rectified some issues with the original Fermi, namely the high power consumption and heat output. Nvidia was able to further increase the performance on their graphic cards with the GTX 580 and GTX 570, while maintaining the same power envelope as the GTX 480 and GTX 470. Essentially, the GF110 is the true Fermi.
While Nvidia was busy refining the Fermi core, AMD launched a brand new GPU design codenamed Cayman. Cayman will be AMD’s flagship product for 2011. The two cards released today, the HD 6970 and the HD 6950, are the first cards based off the Cayman architecture. The HD 6970 will be AMD’s flagship product, aimed to compete against NVIDIA’s GTX 580 for the title of fastest GPU; the HD 6950 is AMD’s secret weapon, designed to fill the void of the GPU market at $300 price range.
We will not re-iterate the technical aspect of the HD 6900 series because our founder Björn has written an extensive article detailing the architectural design of the Cayman and the new features found with the HD 6900 series. In essence, AMD designed the HD 6900 series with four major goals in mind:
How AMD is able to achieve this is through the new refined VLIW4 architecture. Unlike the older VLIW5 design, the Cayman has a dual graphics engines with 4-way co-issue. Think of the dual graphics engines as the dual-cores on a processor, with two brains working simultaneously. AMD’s own estimates show that the new VLIW4 thread processor offers 10% improvement in performance over the same mm2 over the last generation of cards. It features special transcendental functions, has simplified scheduling and registers management, and has extensive logic re-use.
A quick comparison of the Cypress vs Cayman Stream Processing Units:
Cayman’s Stream Processing Unit
The Cypress SP
- 4 32-bit FP MAD per clock
- 2 64-bit FP MUL or ADD per clock
- 1 64-bit FP MAD per clock
- 4 24-bit Int MUL or ADD per clock
- SFU : 1 32-bit FP MAD per clock
- 4 32-bit FP FMA, MAD, MUL or ADD per clock
- 2 64-bit FP ADD
- 1 64-bit FP FMA or MUL
- 1 FP special Function
- 4-24 bit Int. MAD, MUL or ADD
- 4 32-bit Int. ADD or bitwise ops
- 1 32-bit Int. MAD or MUL
- 1 64-bit Int. ADD
With the HD 6800 series that was released a month ago, and the HD 6900 series released today, AMD’s current line up has a card for different price bracket ranges from $400 (performance card), $300 (enthusiasts card), to $200 (mainstream cards).
|GPU||Radeon HD 5870||Radeon HD 6850||Radeon HD 6870||Radeon HD 6950||Radeon HD 6970|
|GPU||Cypress||Barts Pro||Barts XT||Cayman||Cayman|
|Memory Size||1024 MB||2024MB||2024MB||2048MB||2048MB|
|Memory Bus Width||256 bit||256 bit||256 bit||256 bit||256 bit|
|Core Clock||850 MHz||775 MHz||900 MHz||800 MHz||880 MHz|
|Memory Clock||1200 MHz||900 MHz||1050 MHz||1250 MHz||1375 MHz|
HD 6970 and HD 6950
The flagship HD 6970 will have up to 24 SIMD engines, 96 texture units, and upgraded render back-ends for improved anti-aliasing performance. Its little brother, the HD 6950, has 22 SIMDs, two less SIMD engines than the HD 6970. This is two more than the HD 5870 and four more than the HD 5850. The HD 6970 will feature 1536 Stream processors versus the 1408 found on the HD 6950. While the HD 6970 has a GPU core running at 880MHz and the memory running at 1375 MHz, the HD 6950’s core is running at 800MHz and memory is running at 1250 MHz. Both cards will be equipped with 2GB of GDDR5 with 256-bit memory interface and have 128 z/ stencil ROPs.
The trimmed down HD 6950 means that the card only requires two six pin PCI-E Molex power adapters, as the card’s maximum power consumption is 200W, which is 50 watts fewer than the HD 6970 (one 8-pin and one 6-pin adapter).
The entire HD 6900 series comes with a Vaper Chamber Cooling design that similar to what Nvidia is using on the new GTX 570 and GTX 580. We have already seen how the Vapor Chamber Cooling is able to keep the video cards running cool with our GTX 580/GTX 570 review so we would expect similar result with the HD 6900.
Like the HD 6800 series we reviewed a month ago, the new HD 6900 series will support Eyefinity up to six displays. The reference card will have two Dual-link DVI ports, an HDMI port 1.4a, and two miniDisplayPort 1.2. In order to use six displays, you must use the two two DisplayPort 1.2.
See how the card stacks against the NVIDIA’s offering:
|GPU||Radeon HD 6950||Radeon HD 6970||GeForce GTX 470||GeForce GTX 480||GeForce GTX 570||GeForce GTX 580|
|Memory Bus Width||256 bit||256 bit||320 bit||384 bit||320 bit||384 bit|
|Core Clock||800 MHz||880 MHz||607 MHz||700 MHz||732 MHz||772 MHz|
|Memory Clock||1250 MHz||1375 MHz||1,215 MHz||1,401 MHz||1,464 MHz||1,544 MHz|
SAPPHIRE HD 6950
The Sapphire HD 6950 comes in a rather large box, with the card protected inside a cardboard cutout and a small piece of styrofoam padding. While not overly padded like we have seen with some manufacturers, this packaging seems to protect the such expensive and heavy card fairly well. The accessories are located underneath the card in a separate box so they will not bump into the card and cause damage during the shipping.
Sapphire includes plenty of cables so users do not need to spend extra money, despite the fact that there is no game bundle included. Included are two PCI-E to molex power adatpers, the driver CD, the CrossFireX adapter, a DVI to VGA adapter, an HDMI cable, and a mini HDMI to HDMI adapter. For additional promotions or bundles, buyers need to join Sapphire’s Select Club, which offers contests, promotions and free games. We do not know what kind of game titles are available however.
Sapphire’s HD 6950 uses reference AMD design, so with the exception of the little sticker on the fan and the graphics on the shroud, it is exactly the same as AMD’s own HD 6950. The same radial fan sits on the right side of the card and the Vapor Chamber cooling is underneath the shroud.
We like the fact the back of the card is fully covered by a metal backplate. This not only supports the card but also prevents any potential damages. It also helps with the cooling as well.
A close shot of the fan and the shroud. AMD has not made much canges with the shroud of the HD 6900 series, as this looks exactly the same as the HD 6870 and HD 6850.
With maximum power consumption of 200 watts, the HD 6950 only requires two PCI Express power auxilliary power connectors.
The CrossFireX connector is located at its usual location. Users can pair up three Cayman cards, HD 6970 or HD 6950, in CrossFireX.
It maybe hard to see but next to the CrossFireX connector is a little switch that will be on every single Cayman card. Cayman cards come with dual BIOS, and a flip of the switch users can easily switch between two BIOSes on the card: the factory default which is protected and cannot be changed, and the secondary BIOS which is unprotected and allows user update.
For displays, the HD 6950 from Sapphire did not deviate from the reference card. We get two DVI ports, two mini HDMI ports, and a single HDMI 1.4a.
A quick size comparison between the HD 5870 on the top, the HD 6870 in the middle and the HD 6950 on the bottom. The HD 6950 is about the same length as the HD 5870 (it is actually a tad longer but it may just due to the shroud on the card). The HD 6950 has a slightly larger fan than the other two cards.
A top view of the cards stacked on top of each other. Here the HD 6870 is on the top, the HD 5870 is in the middle and the HD 6950 is on the bottom. It may be hard to see but the HD 6950 is just a tad bigger. Any case that can fit the HD 5870 will not have an issue with the HD 6950.
Here we can see the type of connector and the exhaust ventilation on the backplate.
Finally, a shot of the top of the card, where we can see the power connectors for the cards. Our ASUS HD 5870 Matrix uses two 8 pin PCI-E power connectors (reference HD 5870 uses only 6+8 PCI-E power connectors) while the other two cards only use two 6 pin PCI-E power connectors.
TESTING & METHODOLOGY
To test the Sapphire HD6950 we did a fresh load of Windows 7 Ultimate, applied all the updates we could find, installed the latest motherboard drivers for the Gigabyte EX58-UD4P, updated the BIOS, and loaded our test suite. We didn’t load graphic drivers because we wanted to pause to clone the HD with the fresh load of Windows 7 without graphic drivers. That way we have a complete OS load with testing suite and it’s not contaminated with GPU drivers. Should we need to switch GPU’s or run CrossFire, later all we have to do is clone our drive and install GPU drivers and we are good to go.
We ran each test a total of 3 times and report the average here. In the case of a screenshot of a benchmark we ran the benchmark 3 times, tossed out the high and low and post the median result from the benchmark. Any erroneous results were discarded and the test was rerun.
|CPU||Intel Core i7 920|
|Ram||Kingstone HyperX 1600|
|CPU Cooler||Prolimatech Megahalem|
|Hard Drives||Seagate 7200.11 1.5 TB|
|GPU||Asus HD 6870 (EAH6870)|
Sapphire HD 6870 (EAH6870)
Gigabyte HD 5770 Super Overclock
Asus HD 5870 Matrix Platinum
GTX 460 1GB
Palit GTS 450 Sonic Platinum
Drivers for Nvidia GPU’s 263.09
Drivers for ATI GPU’s 10.12
|Case Fans||120mm Fan cooling the MOSFETs and CPU|
|Testing PSU||Cooler Master UCP 900W|
Synthetic Benchmarks & Games
|Synthetic Benchmarks & Games|
|Crysis v. 1.2|
|Unigine Heaven v.2.0|
Our benchmarks are very comprehensive, including DX9, DX10, DX11, and Tessellation. We wanted as wide a representative sample as possible in the time available.
Crysis v. 1.21
Crysis was the most highly anticipated game to hit the market in the last several years. Crysis is based on the CryENGINE™ 2 developed by Crytek. The CryENGINE™ 2 offers real time editing, bump mapping, dynamic lights, network system, integrated physics system, shaders, shadows, and a dynamic music system, just to name a few of the state-of-the-art features that are incorporated into Crysis. As one might expect with this number of features, the game is extremely demanding of system resources, especially the GPU. With the impending release of Crysis 2, we expect to retire this benchmark fairly soon in favour of its sequel.
Crysis Warhead is the much anticipated standalone expansion pack to Crysis, featuring an updated CryENGINE™ 2 with better optimization. It was one of the most anticipated titles of 2008.
Crysis Warhead has a more optimized engine so here we can see the HD 6950 comes just behind the GTX 480 and above the HD 5870 Matrix from ASUS, which has a slightly overclocked core.
As we turn up the resolution, the HD 6950 manages to edge out the GTX 480 slighly but the performance difference between the top three cards is so slim that they are virtually in a tie. However, as we look at the minimum frame rate, we can see the HD 6950 manages to pull ahead with 2 extra frames over the HD 5870.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: CALL OF PRIPYAT
Call of Pripyat is the latest addition to the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has long been considered the thinking man’s shooter, because it gives the player many different ways of completing the objectives. The game includes new advanced DirectX 11 effects as well as the continuation of the story from the previous games.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a DirectX 11 benchmark which it clearly shows the new architecture’s efficiency. We can see the HD 6950 is 25% faster than the HD 5870.
At 1920×1080, the HD 6950 manages to narrow the gap between the GTX 480, yielding about 90% of the performance offered by the GTX 480. Also, the HD 6950 performs better than the GTX 470. This goes to show the improvements of the new Cayman architecture. It is also worth noting that it seems like 2GB memory is becoming more important for newer games that support DirectX 11, especially if you plan to run the game at 1920.
With Sun Shafts enabled at 1920×1200, the HD 6950 once again maintains about 90% of the performance of the GTX 480, whereas the last generation HD 5870 cannot even come close.
Metro 2033 is an action-oriented video game with a combination of survival horror, and first-person shooter elements. The game is based on the novel Metro 2033 by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky.
The enemies that the player encounters range from human renegades to giant mutated rats and even paranormal forces known only as “The Dark Ones”. Players frequently have to defend themselves with makeshift combination’s of different weapons, e.g a revolver with a sniper scope attached.
Ammunition is also scarce, and the more rare Military Grade bullets are used as currency (to purchase supplies and guns), or in combat as a last resort, giving an added damage boost, forcing the player to hoard supplies.
The game lacks a health meter, relying on audible heart rate and blood spatters to show the player what state they are in and how much damage was done. A gas mask must be worn at all times when exploring the surface due to the harsh air and radiation. There is no on-screen indicator to tell how long the player has until the gas mask’s filters begin to fail, so players must set a wrist watch, and continue to check it every time they wish to know how long they have until their oxygen runs out, requiring the player to replace the filter (found throughout the game). The gas mask also indicates damage in the form of visible cracks, warning the player when a new mask is needed. The game does feature traditional HUD elements, however, such as an ammunition indicator and a list of how many gas mask filters and adrenaline shots remain.
Metro 2033 is probably the most demanding game at the moment, and we can see that while last generation single GPU cards fail to crack the 30 average FPS, the HD 6950 is able to yield 30.47 average FPS, which is a 20% performance gain over the HD 5870. Nvidia cards seem to have an edge in Metro 2033 where the GTX 480 and GTX 570 have about 20% higher performnace over the HD 6970.
Cranking up the resolution shows the power of the new GPU core, with the HD 6950 yielding a 37% performance gain over the HD 5870. Here the performance difference between the GTX 480 and the HD 6950 has been narrowed to only 12%, in favor of the GTX 480.
Based on the results from Metro 2033, it seems that AMD’s pricing of the HD 6950 to be slightly under the GTX 570 seems to be justified.
Unigine Heaven 2.0
Unigine Heaven is a benchmark program based on Unigine Corp’s latest engine, Unigine. The engine features DirectX 11, Hardware tessellation, DirectCompute, and Shader Model 5.0. All of these new technologies combined with the ability to run each card through the same exact test means this benchmark should be in our arsenal for a long time.
The settings we used in Unigine Heaven
Unigine Heaven 2 is one of the benchmarks that can showcase the Tessellation power of the HD 6900 series. The HD 6950 performs about 1.25 times better than the HD 5870 with normal Tesselation. Again, the card manages to come in about 10% behind the GTX 570.
AMD has really improved the Tessellation engine of Cayman. At 1920×1200, the HD 6950 manages to yield 35% higher performance under normal Tessellation and 25% higher performnace under extreme Tessellation over the HD 5870. The card also manages to keep up with the GTX 570 under normal Tessellation but falls behind when extreme Tesselation is enabled.
Traditionally, AMD cards have been considerably lacking in tessellation power, especially when compared to their Nvidia competitors. It is good to see that AMD is at least able to keep up with Nvidia with normal tessellation. With more games coming out supporting DirectX 11, tessellation will play a greater role. AMD and Nvidia have different views in terms of tessellation. AMD believes in efficiently using tessellation to enhance the game play, and not sacrificing performance by using high levels of tessellation only for objects close to the viewer and areas with fine details; Nvidia believes tessellation brings a level of realism, so the more the merrier, and the Fermi architecture is especially efficient at doing tessellation. Regardless of users’ personal agreements or disagreements with these viewpoints, it is good to see at least AMD is able to keep up with the Nvidia with normal tessellation, and is not too far behind under heavey tessellation.
For complete information on 3DMark Vantage Please follow this Link:
The newest video benchmark from the gang at Futuremark. This utility is still a synthetic benchmark, but one that more closely reflects real world gaming performance. While it is not a perfect replacement for actual game benchmarks, it has its uses. We tested our cards at the ‘Performance’ setting.
3DMark Vantage GPU test scaled the cards really well, as we can see the GTX 570 comes in ahead of the GTX 480, followed by our HD 6950.
The story begins in the year 2012. As the era of the nation–state draws quickly to a close, the rules of warfare evolve even more rapidly. More and more nations become increasingly dependent on private military companies (PMCs), elite mercenaries with a lax view of the law. The Reykjavik Accords further legitimize their existence by authorizing their right to serve in every aspect of military operations. While the benefits of such PMCs are apparent, growing concerns surrounding giving them too much power begin to mount.
Tom Clancy‘s HAWX is the first air combat game set in the world–renowned Tom Clancy‘s video game universe. Cutting–edge technology, devastating firepower, and intense dogfights bestow this new title a deserving place in the prestigious Tom Clancy franchise. Soon, flying at Mach 3 becomes a right, not a privilege.
HAWX is another game where Nvidia cards often have better performance. It seems that for AMD cards, HAWX‘s performance is determined by the GPU clockspeed more than anything else. Our ASUS HD 5870 Matrix card clocked at 850 MHz comes ahead of the HD 6950 clocked at 800 MHz.
At 1920×1200, the number of shaders unit seems to be the the determining factor, where the HD 5870 once again scored higher points than the HD 6950.
Colin McRae: Dirt 2 (known as Dirt 2 outside Europe and stylized, DiRT) is a racing game released in September 2009, and is the sequel to Colin McRae: Dirt. This is the first game in the McRae series since McRae’s death in 2007. It was announced on 19 November 2008 and features Ken Block, Travis Pastrana, Tanner Foust, and Dave Mirra. The game includes many new race-events, including stadium events. Along with the player, an RV travels from one event to another, and serves as ‘headquarters’ for the player. It features a roster of contemporary off-road events, taking players to diverse and challenging real-world environments. The game takes place across four continents: Asia, Europe, Africa and North America. The game includes five different event types: Rally, Rallycross, ‘Trailblazer,’ ‘Land Rush’ and ‘Raid.’ The World Tour mode sees players competing in multi-car and solo races at new locations, and also includes a new multiplayer mode.
Colin McRae: Dirt is the first PC video game to use Blue Ripple Sound’s Rapture3D sound engine by default.
A demo of the game was released on the PlayStation Store and Xbox Live Marketplace on 20 August 2009. The demo appeared for the PC on 29 November 2009; it features the same content as the console demo with the addition of higher graphic settings and a benchmark tool.
This is a very interesting result from Dirt 2, where the HD 6950 manages to fall behind the HD 6870. With all of the cards able to yield good frame rates, this maybe one of those rare outliers.
To get our power consumption numbers we plugged in our Kill A Watt power measurement device and took the Idle reading at the desktop during our temperature readings. We left it at the desktop for about 15 minutes and took the idle reading. Then we ran Furmark for 10 minutes and recorded the highest power usage.
One of the pillars of the HD 6000 series cards is low power consumption, so we expect the HD 6950 to have lower power consumption. Under idle, the system consumes 140W with the card installed. This is 6W higher than the HD 6870 that we reviewed a month ago, but it is 17W less than the last generation performance card, the HD 5870 . Compared to the Nvidia cards, the AMD cards are more frugal in their idle power consumption, where the HD 6950 consumes 23W less than the NVIDIA GTX 570.
The power consumption of the HD 6950 is quite good, managing to shed off 65W off the HD 5870 in our Furmark test. The maximum power consumption measurement is taken with Furmark which gives the highest possible power consumption and we can see the HD 6950 offers quite a good balance of power consumption and performance as compared to the Fermi-based GTX 570.
It is worth noting that while the card consumes 320W with Furmark, during benchmarks, the card actually only consumes about 277 watts of power when running 3DMark 11.
TEMPERATURES and noise-level
OVERCLOCKING AND POWERTUNE
The latest HD 6900 series features PowerTune Technology, where the GPU will dynamically adjust its clockspeed in realtime depending on the runtime power draw. What this means is that if the card is under the thermal design power (TDP), the card will remain at the highest power state for maximum performance. However, when the card exceeds the TDP, the clockspeed will be lowered gradually. Think of this as thermal throttling for the GPU.
The top image is from the HD 6950 and the bottom is from HD 6870. Both cards are running Furmark and we can see with the HD 6950, there are spikes for the GPU core clockspeed as the card’s internal clockspeed is dynamically changing depending on the TDP.
For users who do not like the PowerTune feature, AMD offers a way to disable it (or rather adjust it as it is impossible to really disable such a feature) with the latest Catalyst driver. To do so, simply go into the Overdrive section of the driver, and raise the “Power Control Setting” to 10% or higher, which according to AMD, will prevent PowerTune from clocking down the GPU when the card reaches to the TDP. Conversely, by lowering the “Power Control Setting”, the card will set a lower TDP and the GPU will never reach its maximum clockspeed. By varying the Power Control Settings, users virtually adjust the maximum TDP.
We have tested such settings and can confirm that when we set the “Power Control Setting” to 10%, the GPU will remain at 800MHz when running Furmark. This also increases the overall system power consumption by 30 watts. When we set the “Power Control Setting” to -10%, we saw the GPU only go up to 600MHz and the memory go up to 1,000 MHz instead of the stock 800MHz core and 1,250 MHz memory. Again, the power consumption has been also reduced to approximately 30 watts. Thus, it looks like each 10% roughly equals 30 watts of power envelope.
AMD’s Overdrive offers limited overclocking options, letting users overclock the GPU to 840 MHz and the memory to 1325MHz. Unfortunately, since the HD 6900 series is a new design, older tools would need to be updated in order for us to fully overclock the card. We tested with the MSI Afterburner which offers the same overclocking option as the Overdrive.
We believe the PowerTune may have something to do with the fact that the older overclocking tools do not work, because they need to be compatible with the PowerTune’s thermal throttling algorithm. With the limited time we had to test the card, we were not able to fully explore the overclocking potential so we will come back later when the overclocking tools are updated to see how far we can really push the HD 6950.
The new Cayman architecture from AMD shows a great improvement where Cypress lacked. Tessellation was one of the areas where Cypress was unable to compete against Nvidia’s Fermi, and the latest Cayman has at least levelled the playing field somewhat. While in heavy tessellation tests, Nvidia’s cards still come on top, the Cayman is at least not too far behind. The new improved shader scheduling and geometry processing finally brings AMD back into the performance GPU ring, where it is able to compete against Nvidia.
The HD 6950 is clearly a winner from AMD, filling the gap between the high-end performance card and the mainstream card. Priced at $300, it is just about where it should be based on the performance. The card is faster than the HD 6870 and GTX 460, both selling at $230, but not quite at the GTX 570 level which is selling at $350. The card does come quite close to the GTX 480 on a few tests, and is clearly faster than the GTX 470. With 2GB of memory onboard, this card can be a very good upgrade for those with older generation of cards or those who own the GTX 470. This is the best card that money can buy at $300, and there is no card really on the market that is able to compete at the same price.
The Sapphire HD 6950 that we reviewed today follows the reference design from AMD, though this is not a bad thing. The reference HD 6950 runs really cool due to its Vapor Chamber cooling and it is also extremely quiet even under load. We are glad to see that Sapphire did not do anything unusual to mess that up. While the card does not come with a lot of bells and whistles, it does come with good mix of cables for those who wish to take the advantage of the ports on the back for Eyefinity. The only thing we would like to see from the Sapphire is a slightly longer warranty, because the card comes with 2 year warranty while the majority of vendors are offering 3 years or more.
Summary: The Sapphire HD 6950 is the fastest card money can buy currently at $300. It has good performance and runs absolutely quiet and cool, it may just be the ideal card that we were waiting for. It earns the Bjorn3D Silver Bear Award.