AMD HD 6970 Review - Where to Buy

By on December 15, 2010

Enough to dethrone the GTX 570?

AMD HD 6970 Review

AMD’s newest DX11 flagship card is finally released, and I’m just as eager as all of you to find out how it fares against Nvidia’s recently released GTX 580 and GTX 570 cards. While benchmarks will be discussed later on, first let’s look at some of the features of the HD 6970.

One of the new improvements in the Cayman architecture is the improved Anti-Aliasing technology. EQAA (enhanced quality anti-aliasing) now provides up to 16 coverage samples running in 8xEQAA mode compares to regular 8xMSAA. And then there’s the new Morphological Anti-Aliasing (MLAA) which uses post-processing effects in conjunction with DirectCompute to deliver full-scene anti-aliasing where-in the anti-aliasing effect is applied to all edges and surfaces. Morphological anti-aliasing can only be manually applied in the Catalyst Control Centre.

Next up is the new PowerTune technology which is AMD’s new way to manage power efficiently. The idea is that the card will dynamically adjust the power levels of the card to provide the same level of performance regardless of whether full power is used or less. On the flipside lower power will have a lesser effect on performance while higher power will have provide for more performance. These power levels are adjustable by users in the ATI Overdrive utility in Catalyst Control Centre as well.

Visually the card looks the same as the HD 6870, only bigger. The main difference here is the rear metal plating that further helps dissipate heat. The rest of the heatsink and cooling mechanism seems the same as the HD 6870, with hot air blowing out from the rear vents outside of the system. Unlike the HD 6870 however, you will notice two 8+6 pin power plugs.  That and there’s a BIOS switch on the card which allows you to switch between factory default settings and a custom BIOS of your own. This isn’t something I can test now, but it has a huge potential of flashing the card for higher performance in the future.

Apart from architectural improvements on the same die size, AMD has also managed to provide better power management, squeezing out even more performance. So let’s find out whether all of these improvements actually make any difference.

As usual, our testbed is an Intel Core i7 965EE @ 3.2GHz on an ASUS Rampage II Extreme motherboard, packing 3x 1GB Corsairs XMS3-1333 ram, a Kingston 64GB V-Series SSD running Windows 7 Ultimate; all of which is powered by a Corsair HX1000W PSU. Given the price and expected performance of this card, we’ve included the GTX 580, the GTX 570, the GTX 480, the HD 5870 and the HD 6870 for comparison purposes.

That’s pretty decent performance on DirectX 11 benchmarks, especially as the HD 6970 tries to close in on the GTX 580 and leaving the GTX 570 behind.

Outside of some truly remarkable performance on StarCraft II, the HD 6970 is well behind the GTX 570, its nearest rival; in some cases being outdone by its predecessor, the HD 5870 as well.

First let me just say that the HD 6970 is one of the quietest cards I’ve benchmarked. Even under full load the card barely goes beyond a whisper, much quieter compared to the GTX 580 and GTX 570 under load. All cards a pretty damn quiet at idle though. Next up is the temperature which didn’t exceed 82°C even while overclocked, running 3DMark 11.

Now let’s get to burning the card. The most stable speeds I got were 960MHz, up from 880MHz stock Core clock speeds. That’s a mere 9% increase, even after I increased the Power settings up all the way to 20% in ATI Overdrive.

That’s a roughly 5% increase in performance across the board, not too shabby; but I was personally expecting a bit more out of the card.

All in all the AMD HD 6970 represents a unique opportunity for AMD to grab a huge chunk of the market. The DX 10 performance on this card may not be as impressive as GTX 570, but moving forward the DX11 numbers being pushed out here are mighty impressive. This situation will only improve in the future as better drivers are released which will further improve the card even more. It’s incredibly quiet and with the dual-BIOS feature this card holds a lot of potential. When choosing between the $350 GTX 570 or $370 HD 6970, it's honestly a toss up. Both cards are extremely capable of delivering excellent performance while not costing as ridiculously high. I guess in the end the final decision rests on whether you're more inclined towards AMD or Nvidia based on past performance and future promises.
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