|PowerColor AX6950 PCS++ Video Card|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Video Cards|
|Written by Bruce Normann|
|Tuesday, 22 February 2011|
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PowerColor R6950 PCS++ Video Card
Manufacturer: PowerColor (TUL Corporation)
Full Disclosure: The product sample used in this article has been provided by PowerColor.
AMD's new Radeon HD 6900 series occupies the top position in their single-GPU product hierarchy. The two models, the HD 6950 and HD 6970 are very much like the HD 5850 and HD 5870 that they replace. The xx50 cards generally run at a lower clock rate and have a few sections of the GPU disabled, presumably because the vendor is trying to reclaim chips that have a small, isolated manufacturing defect. But what happens when your manufacturing process is so good that you're not producing enough "defective" chips to meet the market demand? When is a 6950 not a 6950? Well, quite often, as it turns out. In the case of the PowerColor PCS++ HD 6950 video card, it just depends on which way you flip the switch.
Overclocking has been a constant factor for PCs ever since Intel let the cat out of the bag with their E2180, and other members of the Conroe family. What was sort of an underground activity became mainstream overnight, with 50% overclocks almost guaranteed and 100% overclocks achievable by a great many enthusiasts, even with air cooling. Then AMD came along with their Phenom II CPUs and we got to try our luck at unlocking disabled cores. Now PowerColor has combined both methods into one video card, and they've made it as simple as flipping a switch. Push it one way and you have a standard Radeon HD 6950, with 1408 shaders running at 800 MHz. Push it the other way and you have 1536 shaders running at 880 MHz, which is the exact configuration of the HD 6970. The only difference is that PowerColor kept the PCS++ memory at 1250 MHz instead of spending the extra money for the 1500 MHz memory, like a real HD 6970 has. That's easy fix with a little overclocking, because PowerColor has done the hard work of loading a second BIOS that unlocks the extra 128 shader processors.
This is a new feature for PowerColor and their PCS++ series. This segment of the product line has always been known for wringing the last drop of performance from whatever GPU and platform they used as a basis. But never before has a video card manufacturer been able to add shader cores at will, like this. It's a happy reflection on the maturity of AMD's 40nm design rules that they seem to have an endless supply of perfectly functional HD 6970 chips. Plus, stability has finally arrived in the manufacturing process, as performed by the world's largest semiconductor foundry operation, TSMC in Taiwan.
You may have seen some benchmarks for Radeon HD 6950 video cards already, and an equal number for the HD 6970, but let's take a complete look at the novel PowerColor PCS++ HD 6950 2GB GDDR5, which is a bit of both. Then we'll run it through Benchmark Review's full test suite, where we're going to look at how this card performs with both factory BIOS options.