AMD Radeon HD 6900 Series: Right Performance, Right Features, Right Price

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Performance: Synthetic Benchmarks

In our benchmarks, we compared AMD's Radeon HD 6970 and 6950--its two fastest single-GPU graphics cards--against Nvidia's two fastest single-GPU graphics cards, the GeForce GTX 570 and GeForce GTX 580. Note that the GTX 580 is a considerably more expensive card, at around $500. AMD says its competition for that product is the Radeon HD 5970, which is essentially two Radeon HD 5870 cards in CrossFire mode on a single, extralong card. The Radeon HD 6970 competes well against the GTX 570 (it should cost around $20 more than Nvidia's new card), and the 6950 model comes in $50 cheaper, at around $300.

We performed all our benchmarks on a system with an Intel Core i7 980X CPU, 6GB of RAM, and 64-bit Windows 7.

We started by taking a look at the Unigine Heaven benchmark, a synthetic test of a real DirectX 11 game engine, currently licensed by a number of smaller games. The test is rather strenuous and forward-looking, featuring high detail levels, dynamic lighting and shadows, and lots of tessellation. We run the test at the middle, "Normal" mode. In this tessellation- and geometry-heavy test, Nvidia used to dominate--but in this round, the Radeon HD 6970 outperformed the GTX 570. And at very high resolutions, the Radeon HD 6950 matched it.

FurMark is a synthetic OpenGL-based test that renders a torus covered in fur. It's fairly simple, but no test we know of stresses a GPU as thoroughly. It's a great way to see just how hot your graphics card will get and how much power it will use, but it isn't very useful as a real performance benchmark. On this test, Nvidia's power-draw safeguard kicked in and throttled down the GeForce GTX 580, seriously hindering its performance. The GTX 570--which draws less power and doesn't trigger the power safeguard--was actually able to outperform it. AMD's new cards ran this test very quickly, but it's difficult to tell just how much of a factor the PowerTune technology was. After we turned the maximum thermals up by 10 percent in the AMD control panel, we saw far higher performance in FurMark when antialiasing was disabled, but the numbers with antialiasing enabled didn't change at all.

New to our suite is 3DMark 11, a DirectX 11 test from FutureMark. It's a strenuous test that makes even the fastest graphics cards chug along slowly. Although it isn't indicative of current game performance, it may be a very forward-looking test that could clue us in on how these cards will perform in future games, relative to one another. In this test the Radeon HD 6970 was about as fast as the GeForce GTX 570 (slightly slower in the easier Performance mode, slightly speedier in the difficult Extreme mode). While the Radeon HD 6950 was about 12 percent slower than the 6970, it's still quite fast for a $300 graphics card.

Though it's getting a little long in the tooth, the DirectX 10 test 3DMark Vantage is still a common standard among synthetic graphics benchmarks. We present the 3DMark score with standard settings for the "High" and "Extreme" profiles. On this somewhat older test, AMD's new cards couldn't quite keep up with Nvidia's, even when we compared the similarly priced Radeon HD 6970 and GeForce GTX 570.

Next: Real game performance

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