|PowerColor Radeon HD 6970 Video Card|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Video Cards|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Wednesday, 15 December 2010|
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PowerColor Radeon HD 6970 Conclusion
IMPORTANT: Although the rating and final score mentioned in this conclusion are made to be as objective as possible, please be advised that every author perceives these factors differently at various points in time. While we each do our best to ensure that all aspects of the product are considered, there are often times unforeseen market conditions and manufacturer changes which occur after publication that could render our rating obsolete. Please do not base any purchase solely on our conclusion, as it represents our product rating specifically for the product tested which may differ from future versions. Benchmark Reviews begins our conclusion with a short summary for each of the areas that we rate.
Overall, the graphics frame rate performance has the PowerColor AX6970 2GBD5-M2DH Radeon HD 6970 matched nicely to the GeForce GTX 570. Measured at stock (reference) speeds in ten different tests, the Radeon HD 6970 was either slightly ahead in half of them or deeply trailed in the other half. We've excluded HAWX 2 from this review, until AMD drivers can compensate for the performance skew. The DirectX 10 tests seemed to really score the GeForce GTX 570 way ahead, while many of the DirectX 11 tests pulled the Radeon HD 6970 ahead by a few FPS:
3DMark Vantage has the 6970 ahead by 2.9% (1680x1050) or 5.8% (1920x1200) on the Jane Nash test, but then sinks 16.9/9.4% for New Calico. Crysis Warhead pushed the GTX 570 16.2/9.4% ahead, but then DX11 Aliens vs Predator pushed back 10.4/12.3% in favor of the Radeon HD 6970. Shader intensive games such as Battlefield Bad Company 2 really strained the Radeon HD 6970, giving the GTX 570 a 31.9/25.3% lead. BattleForge did the same, giving the GTX 570 a 53.5/57.1% lead over the 6970. Lost Planet 2 dog-piled also the results in favor the GTX 570, resulting in a 45.1/41.9% lead over the 6970. Then, thankfully, the Radeon HD 6970 fought back in NVIDIA-strong games like Mafia II, producing a 0.9/6.0% lead over the GTX 570. Metro 2033 gave the 6970 a 3.1/5.2% edge, and then the Heaven 2.1 benchmark offered a 2.0/7.5% difference in favor of the 6970.
Overclocking the Radeon HD 6970 doesn't work like it has in the past, and we'll be publishing a separate article with those details. The PowerColor Radeon HD 6970 hit the limit of AMD's Catalyst Control Center (CCC) software with a noteworthy overclock to 950MHz (+70MHz). We attempted overclocking with a unpublished beta version of MSI Afterburner, but CCC is the only software to include the new PowerTune functionality which allows the video card to be overclocked beyond its TDP. This directly enables users to increase the Cayman GPU clock speeds when overclocking. Since our CCC software was also a non-public media release, we're waiting on a public version to confirm that this is standard functionality.
We didn't test AMD HD3D technology, or the impact it has on video game frame rates, primarily because the middleware was not made available and there are only two monitors that currently exist to support it: the Zalman Trimon 3D and iZ3D H220z1. At the time of launch Viewsonic had announced their 120Hz Fuhzion 3D monitor, but the product had not yet shipped. AMD HD3D technology presently supports one display, using either DL-DVI and DP monitors or HDMI 1.4 3D HDTV, so 3D movie playback on one of the few compatible 3D TVs is a more likely application of this feature.
Appearance is a more subjective matter since the rating doesn't have benchmark scores to fall back on. Partners traditionally offer their own unique twist on the design, with improved cooling solutions and colorful fan shroud designs. This wasn't the case with the PowerColor AX6970 2GBD5-M2DH, which reused AMD's design to deliver function ahead of fashion. The reference design allows nearly all of the heated air to externally exhaust outside of the computer case, which could be critically important to overclockers wanting the best possible environment for their computer hardware. This also preserves the Cayman GPU, since the transition to 32nm wasn't achieved and the heat output with standard clock speeds is still considered moderately high.
I personally consider the constant move towards a smaller die process rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things, as NVIDIA once proved when their GeForce GTX 280 successfully launched at 65nm instead of 55nm. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is already building 32nm processors for other clientele, and AMD has noted that Moore's Law still applies - just not in regard to their Cayman GPU. They claim that as a die process becomes smaller, it also becomes much more costly to develop and produce. And then sometimes the manufacturer just can't complete the project as planned, such as the case with TSMC.
There are six PLX display channel bridges present on the Radeon HD 6970 video card, which opens up visual functionality. Two channels are dedicated to the only dual-link DVI port available on this video card, while the other DVI port remains single-link and consumes only one channel. HDMI 1.4a uses one channel, and two mini-DisplayPort outputs use one channel each. The real innovation comes with DP 1.2, which can use a Multi-Stream Transport Hub to drive multiple displays at different resolutions, refresh rates, and color depth in Eyefinity.
Value is a fast moving target, and please believe me when I say that it changes by the minute in this industry. Delivering better performance and additional features at a lower cost to consumers has been the cornerstone of AMD's business philosophy for more than a decade, and they've repeatedly demonstrated this resolve in each of their many battles with Intel CPUs and NVIDIA GPUs. I'm not entirely convinced that the AMD Radeon HD 6970 continues this tradition of giving more for less, since the $369.99 MSRP we were provided is about $20 higher than the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 570. Making matters worse, most of the recent AMD video card launch prices have actually gone up a few weeks later. In my opinion, $340-$350 is a better price point for this product so it can compete with the competition head-on. As of launch day 15 December 2010, the PowerColor AX6970 2GBD5-M2DH was sold at NewEgg for $369.99.
In summary, the Radeon HD 6970 matches performance, temperatures, and power consumption very closely with the GeForce GTX 570. As of January 2011, the AX6970 2GBD5-M2DH model costs $369.99 at NewEgg. It would be great to see the price come down $20-30 to more closely compete against the GeForce GTX 570, especially considering that HD3D and Fusion technology are yet to tip the scales in AMD's favor. Still, products like the PowerColor Radeon HD 6970 introduces more flexibility for display devices, especially where multi-monitor Eyefinity is used. Stereoscopic 3D gaming is possible with the right equipment, as are 3D Blu-ray and 3D DVD playback. The 40nm Cayman GPU may not have been built on the 32nm die it was originally designed for, but the Radeon HD 6970 still offers stellar gaming performance that rivals the older Radeon HD 5870, as well as the recently introduced Radeon HD 6870. Overall I consider the PowerColor Radeon HD 6970 to be a good video card intended for the top-end gamers, but I'm not convinced that improved Eyefinity support or added stereoscopic 3D functionality is going to impress consumers until these technologies become more mature. Thankfully the Radeon HD 6970 shines as a solid gaming product, and gives the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 570 a fierce run for the money.
What do you think of the Radeon HD 6970 video card? Leave comments below, or ask questions in our Forum.
+ Excellent top-end DX11 graphics performance
- Expensive enthusiast product
Final Score: 8.8 out of 10.
Quality Recognition: Benchmark Reviews Silver Tachometer Award.