AMD Radeon HD 6950 £220
15th Dec 2010 | 05:02
The only Cayman card to buy?
AMD Radeon HD 6950 - Overview
Christmas time means pressie buying time means new graphics card time. Especially if your new graphics cards have been delayed as long as the AMD Radeon HD 6950 has.
We've already looked at its big brother, the AMD Radeon HD 6970.
Despite some impressive performance improvements over the previous AMD generation, the combination of a relatively high price and the fact it still loses out speed-wise compared with the similarly-priced Nvidia GeForce GTX 570 means it can't be recommended over the competition.
The Cayman GPU, which powers both the Radeon HD 6970 and the Radeon HD 6950, has been fairly heavily delayed since its proposed launch some months ago.
We were expecting big things from it and the longer it's been delayed the more concerned we've become about its final performance.
Like AMD, we were hoping for a new single-GPU graphics king in the HD 6970, but the advanced launch of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 580 scuppered that, and the GTX 570 has only hammered more nails into the top-end AMD card's coffin.
The other difficulty for the Radeon HD 6970, and the reason it failed to garner a particularly good review score, is the fact it was released alongside this very card we're looking at here.
And the Radeon HD 6950 is a much better value proposition, and as such a much better card.
AMD Radeon HD 6950 - Benchmarks
The Radeon HD 6950 may lose out in the DirectX 10 benchmarks, but the card's performance at DirectX 11, especially at 2560x1600, is thoroughly impressive.
The fact it is so close to its big brother, the Radeon HD 6970, in performance and architectural terms means that there's little reason to go for the more expensive Cayman card.
We'll check out the overclocking performance soon too, but I would expect that gap to be very quickly closed down.
DirectX 11 Tessellation performance
Heaven: FPS – higher is better
HD 6950 – 19.5
HD 6970 – 21.7
GTX 570 – 22
DirectX 11 Gaming performance
Metro 2033: FPS – higher is better
HD 6950 – 12
HD 6970 – 13
GTX 570 – 3
DiRT 2: FPS – higher is better
HD 6950 – 51
HD 6970 – 55
GTX 570 – 64
Lost Planet 2: FPS – higher is better
HD 6950 – 23
HD 6970 – 25
GTX 570 – 32
Aliens v. Predator: FPS – higher is better
HD 6950 – 22
HD 6970 – 25
GTX 570 – 22
DirectX 10 gaming performance
Just Cause 2: FPS – higher is better
HD 6950 – 27
HD 6970 – 30
GTX 570 - 30
Crysis Warhead: FPS – higher is better
HD 6950 – 18
HD 6970 – 20
GTX 570 – 25
Far Cry 2: FPS – higher is better
HD 6950 – 60
HD 6970 – 65
GTX 570 – 66
AMD Radeon HD 6950 - Verdict
In performance terms the Radeon HD 6950 is a rather impressive beast.
Considering it's around £80 cheaper than the Radeon HD 6970, and you're only losing a couple of frames per second on most of the benchmarks, that makes it doubly so.
With the two cards released at the same time it makes the HD 6970 almost impossible to recommend.
The pricing also puts the HD 6950 in its own little niche. At £220 it's slightly more expensive than the top-end, overclocked GeForce GTX 470s such as the MSI Twin Frozr, but manages more impressive scores at the higher resolutions, especially in DirectX 11 games and applications.
Thanks to the 2GB frame buffer the HD 6950 shares with the HD 6970, as well as the high ROPs count, this card can deliver quality gaming performance across the board.
Looking at the particularly tessellation-heavy benchmarks of Heaven and Metro 2033 the HD 6950 is knocking on the door of the GTX 570 too.
Quite what AMD is doing releasing two incredibly similar cards at such disparate price points I don't know. The Radeon HD 6950 is hardly losing anything architecturally compared with the HD 6970.
All you miss out on is two of the redesigned SIMD units and a shade lower clockspeeds.
With a little judicious overclocking I'm fairly positive we'd be able to garner identical scores as the HD 6970 with this card. Saving £80 in the process.
As well as having incredibly similar performance figures the cheaper Radeon HD 6950 also has less energy overheads. In terms of total system draw from the wall I was looking at around 330w for the HD 6970 with around 260w for the HD 6950.
So even if it's just a few pence here and there, plumping for the cheaper card will also save you cash in the long run.
If I was looking to spend around £300 on a card I would still be looking at Nvidia's GeForce GTX 570. It's got on average superior benchmark scores and while AMD has aggressively dropped the expected price of the HD 6970 to match it I wouldn't be surprised to see Nvidia fighting back on that score too.
But if I was looking at spending a little less then that Radeon HD 6950 is the next step down.
It's far cheaper than both the GTX 570 and the Radeon HD 6970, but is so close in performance you'd scarcely be able to tell with the naked eye.
Being able to spit out performance at almost the same levels as a £300 card is darned impressive for a card this close to £200. Admittedly if we had the cash we'd go for the GTX 570, but this is definitely the next card down.
The 2GB frame buffer means that this is a mid-range card that can compete at the higher end of the resolution spectrum.
There's unsurprisingly very little to dislike about this Cayman card; it's pretty big and that's about as negative as I can get!