MSI Radeon HD 6950 Twin FrozR II £260
24th Feb 2011 | 10:36
The top mid-range graphics card gets the MSI treatment
MSI Radeon HD 6950 Twin FrozR II: Overview
Things are sure getting crowded out there in the graphics world, with a card hitting just about every price point. Basically no matter what spare change you've got rattling around in your pocket there's a card available for that exact number.
Down to the pennies.
But the £200 mark is currently the sweetspot between price and performance, and the AMD Radeon HD 6950 is the king of that particular roost thanks to its sterling performance and for the fact you can wave your magic BIOS flashing wand and transform it into a AMD Radeon HD 6970 gratis.
MSI's slightly overclocked version is therefore a bit of a difficult sell.
There's only so far you can take an HD 6950 in overclocking terms, limited to a mere 40MHz over the stock clock, so the impressive Twin FrozR II cooling array is slightly redundant.
And it's almost the same price as a faster Radeon HD 6970.
Because of the minute 10MHz overclock on the MSI HD 6950 Twin FrozR II compared to the 800MHz of the standard HD 6950 there is relatively no performance boost.
What the MSI card is doing though is operating 25% cooler than the stock card. That's still no help in terms of HD 6950 overclocking, but if you took the risk and flashed the card's BIOS you stand a decent chance of clocking it well over 900MHz.
DirectX 11 Tessellation performance
DirectX 11 gaming performance
MSI Radeon HD 6950 Twin FrozR II: Verdict
The big problem is the artificial limit that AMD has put on the clockspeeds of the Radeon HD 6950. Only being able to push it an extra 40MHz means that extra cooling is hardly being used.
The only real option then for the MSI HD 6950 Twin FrozR II is to flash the silicon out of its BIOS and try and get a HD 6970 for free.
Then, as well as opening up the full power of the Cayman GPU and hitting the Radeon HD 6970's clockspeeds, you also open up some extra overclocking headroom too.
Pushing it well over 900MHz is totally possible then, especially with MSI's third-party cooling solution.
The original, reference HD 6950 though comes with a nifty twin-BIOS, which is easily accessible via a hardware switch so you can make the change.
That meant there was almost no risk in flashing your card's BIOS since, if anything went wrong, you could just flip the switch and you'd be up and running again in no time.
The MSI card though doesn't come with the dual-BIOS goodness, and that makes the BIOS flash much more of a tough decision.
And if anything went wrong it would suddenly become a rather expensive door-stop.
So really there's no compelling reason to pick this card up over a standard HD 6950. It's around £50 more expensive, and you'll still be able to hit the same overclock, admittedly with a little more heat, as this Twin FrozR II version.
You'll also be able to unlock the BIOS on the vanilla HD 6950 sans sweaty brow because of the twin BIOS on the standard boards.
The lack of hardware switch on the MSI card is either a massive oversight or something it decided to remove on purpose.
Either way though it makes this marginally overclocked card a tough one to recommend. It's still a fast card, make no mistake about that, and should you unlock the BIOS on this card it will overclock even further pretending to be an HD 6970.
But we'd struggle to recommend taking the risk.
The HD 6950 Twin FrozR II has a remarkable cooler strapped to it, coming in around 20 degrees colder than the reference design.
And that's under 100% GPU load.
The sad fact is AMD's artificial limits on the HD 6950 clockspeeds make a factory-overclocked version almost redundant.
If it had the dual-BIOS switch, which comes on the standard board, then that impressive cooling could be used to push it even further, but it's a risk without.
All told, for £260, it's an expensive card. A vanilla card can go as fast, and can be safely unlocked, for around £50 less.
Fast and cool, but too expensive just for a cooler card without the extras a vanilla card offers.