Not the Fastest Around, but a Great Total Package
The Radeon HD 6970 and 6950 are not record breakers. Fans of AMD's graphics cards may have been hoping that the Cayman architecture would dethrone Nvidia's GeForce GTX 580 for the single-GPU performance crown, but they'll be disappointed. It's not even close.
A great graphics card, however, is about more than just the highest frames per second. It's about delivering the right performance at the right price. Not everyone wants to pay $500 for a graphics card. For those willing to pay $350 or so, it's a tight race between the GeForce GTX 570 and the Radeon HD 6970. The GTX 570 probably offers slightly better performance in most games, unless you're using one of those big, 2560 by 1600, 30-inch monitors. On the other hand, the 6970 is more power efficient, and it features the ability to drive three monitors from a single card--a trick that Nvidia's cards can't pull off. It also offers a better array of display connectors, with two mini DisplayPort 1.2 plugs, two DVI connectors, and HDMI 1.4a.
So where does that leave the Radeon HD 6950? At $300, it may be our favorite card of the bunch. It's about 12 percent slower than the 6970 model, but 19 percent cheaper. It's about 15 percent slower than the GeForce GTX 570, as well as 15 percent cheaper, but it uses considerably less power and still has all those great display-connection features. Most of us are playing games on monitors with a resolution of 1680 by 1050, 1920 by 1080, or 1920 by 1200. At those resolutions, the Radeon HD 6950 offers enough performance to run today's most demanding games at maximum detail, usually with antialiasing enabled.
The best deals may be yet to come. Though the Radeon HD 6970 and 6950 both have 2GB of RAM today, AMD tells us that some of its partners will sell 1GB versions of the cards in the near future. The lower price tags on those cards could make them the best bargains around for people who don't have super-high-res monitors. If you have a monitor that's smaller than 24 inches, you might wish to wait for the 1GB versions before you upgrade. Until then, AMD has delivered a pair of very good graphics cards at compelling prices. They're not the fastest cards ever, but they're still quite speedy for the price, and they provide impressive power efficiency and display connectivity.