AMD HD 6970 Graphics Card Review

It’s that time again; time for AMD to release another flagship that is! This time it’s their current single GPU flagship, right on the heels of their new Phenom II x6 1100T Black Edition.

They have a lot to live up to. Their venerable 5870 ruled the roost until the GF100-based Fermi GPUs came to market. Their current dual-GPU 5970 is still the overall performance leader (a testament to its brute strength) but the recently-released NVIDIA GTX 580 has seized the single-GPU throne.

So where does the new 6970 fit in this equation?

Specifications and Features

The specifications for this card are impressive from the start. It has AMD’s new VILW4 architecture, 24 stream processors, 96 texture units and a very stout 2 GB of GDDR5 memory.

AMD 6970 Specifications

AMD 6970 Specifications

A lot of improvements went into the design for the 6900 series GPUs. Since you can read as well as I can, just check out the slides.

Overall GPU Design

Overall GPU Design

GPU Core Design

GPU Core Design

Dual Graphics Engine

Dual Graphics Engine

One feature AMD feels is of import to the gaming audience is EQAA, or Enhanced Quality Anti-Aliasing. In the slide on the right, you can see graphically how it will help fill in those pixels for filling out that extra eye candy the 6900 series is capable of, especially in eyefinity mode.

EQAA Description

EQAA Description

EQAA Modes

EQAA Modes

EQAA Performance

EQAA Performance

In this last EQAA slide, you can see how little it affects performance. Free eye-candy without much FPS penalty? Sure, sign us up for some!

Also on their important feature list is an improvement on the 6800 series already impressive power consumption (or should I say power sipping?). There is a new feature called PowerTune and it will help your GPU stay cool and sip even less power.

Of course, this is thankfully adjustable (via CCC) from having the GPU take less power than the default setting or giving it full power all the time.

Power Tune Description

PowerTune Description

How Powertune Operates at Default

How PowerTune Operates at Default

PowerTune Adjustment via CCC

PowerTune Adjustment via CCC

PowerTune Adjusted

PowerTune Adjusted

Of course, high on everyone’s list is Tessellation. AMD continues to focus on the low-to-mid end of the tessellation curve, which is where they think real-world (read: gaming) settings will be applied.

Tessellation Comparison

Tessellation Comparison

Extremely important to our audience is crossfire scaling. It’s no secret the 5800 series didn’t scale very well. AMD is looking to put that behind them and if these graphs are any indication, they’ve done just that.

Crossfire Scaling

Crossfire Scaling

Lastly a great new feature for all overclockers and tweakers – dual BIOSes!

Dual BIOS

Dual BIOS

Yep, on the stock board from the factory you have two BIOSes. One is the default BIOS,which is write-protected, so you always have something to come back to. The other is yours to do with as you please. Download a modified BIOS or try your hand yourself. If you bork it, just go back to the default and re-flash to stock!

Now, one thing that has been the subject of a lot of speculation – where will this fit in the market? AMD has a slide for that too.

Market Position

Market Position

As mentioned before, it’s not the single-GPU performance king some had hoped. However, it is almost there, pit against NVIDIA’s new GTX 570. They can still claim the top spot with their dual-GPU card, but the 580 is secure in its top single-GPU spot for now.

This is purely speculation, but I have a feeling this card was intended to beat the GTX 480. It takes a while to bring cards to market and NVIDIA pounced with their 580 before AMD could reclaim the top spot. How the 6970 fares will depend on how aggressive AMD’s pricing is.

First Impressions

The 6970 sports roughly the same appearance as the 6870, if a bit longer at 10 13/16″.

AMD 6970

AMD 6970

AMD 6970

AMD 6970

AMD 6970

AMD 6970

AMD 6970 Rear

AMD 6970 Rear

AMD 6970

AMD 6970

The style is definitely attractive, especially as reference cards go.

Monitor Connections and Side

Monitor Connections and Side

Power Connectors

Power Connectors

Rear of the GPU

Rear of the GPU

Monitor Connections Detail

Monitor Connections Detail

It has the same monitor connections as the 6870 before it, with plenty of options to choose from. With 2 GB of memory, there is plenty of reason to explore eyefinity if you have the monitor capability!

Cooling Solution

There is a standard squirrel-cage intake that exhausts out the rear of the case, but it uses a vapor chamber rather than a heatpipe design.

Vapor Chamber

Vapor Chamber

From appearances, it looks to be just one massive heatpipe straight from the CPU to all of the attached aluminum fins.

6970 Heatsink

6970 Heatsink

6970 Heatsink

6970 Heatsink

6970 Heatsink

6970 Heatsink

6970 Vapor Chamber

6970 Vapor Chamber

The fan is moderately noisy but not overwhelmingly so. Like the previous models, turned all the way up will require headphones for sure. These tests were run with the fan at 75%, which is certainly audible but at an acceptable noise level if you’re intensely gaming. Set on auto it is a bit warmer, but is perfectly silent.

So, no heatpipes in the traditional sense and a decent fan; how does it stack up?

Card: ASUS Matrix 5870 Plat. AMD 6870 AMD 6970
GPU idle – Stock & OC’ed 39° C 34° C 33° C
GPU load – Stock 66° C 59° C 51° C
GPU load – Overclocked 71° C 70° C 59° C

Does it ever! Now, to be fair, the ambient temperature for the 6970 testing was about 3° C lower than for the other two cards (22° C as opposed to 25° C), but that is still a stellar difference.

When overclocked, a few degrees could be attributed to voltage differences, as I couldn’t find any software that worked with this GPU prior to its release. Regardless, this is a very solid performer.

6970 Defrocked

I’m pleased to say the 6970′s thermal paste was applied appropriately this time unlike the 6870′s over-application. It also came off with ease.

6970 Exposed

6970 Exposed

6970 GPU

6970 GPU

Regrettably, a photo of the card’s rear seems to be missing. I took plenty of them, just in small portions to send to people that specialize in volt-modding, so that doesn’t help much here. It looks like the back of a graphics card, if that helps.

Power Consumption

Power consumption was tested with the GPU at stock and the rest of the system set with precisely the same configuration of the previous tests.

Power State AMD 6970 AMD 6870 Matrix 5870 Platinum 4890 Turbo
Idle 161 W 166 W 208 W 235 W
GPU Loaded 384 W 316 W 398 W 364W

Idle power is stellar, coming in at the least of the bunch by a nose under the 6870. Loaded it out-powers all but the 5870, but with such a powerhouse that’s to be expected. Definitely nothing to quibble over.

Overclocking

Overclocking this card was very easy, at least as far as it would go. CCC only allows clocks up to 950 MHz on the GPU and 1450 MHz on the memory (hereinafter referred to as GPU/memory, or 950/1450). Turning the PowerTune up to its maximum 20% to give the GPU all its juice, the card passed every bench and game at that speed.

3DMark 11 at 950/1450

3DMark 11 at 950/1450

Since it was neatly wrapped up at CCC’s max (which has now been increased with the release of the Catalyst 10.12 preview), this was also the overclocked result displayed

3DMark Vantage at 950/1450

3DMark Vantage at 950/1450

Not bad at all for a card with no voltage control. This thing has lots of potential, it just needs some voltage to reach the moon!

Test System & Methodology

This is the same test system as the previous reviews with an i7 870 clocked at 4GHz and some strong memory behind it.

Processor Intel i7 870 @ 4.0 GHz
Motherboard EVGA P55 FTW
RAM G.Skill DDR3-2400
Video AMD 6970

vs. AMD 6870

vs. Galaxy GTX 470

vs. ASUS Matrix 5870 Platinum

vs. Gigabyte 5870 SOC

vs. HIS 4890 Turbo

Power Supply Cooler Master Silent Pro Gold 800W
Operating Systems Windows 7 x64

All stock benches were run twice and the average result is displayed; overclocked benches were run once.

Please make one important mental note – very few of these graphs’ ranges start at zero. With such high numbers (some in the tens of thousands), this is necessary to be able to discern a graphical difference. So when reading the graphs, take note of the numbers within them as well.

Performance Stock & Overclocked

Gaming Performance

This card wasn’t just made for overclockers, it exists for some serious gamers too. While it definitely delivers on the eye-candy (see above re: EQAA), we’re here to see what kind of numbers it puts up.

Since DirectX 11 is the de facto standard in new games, all of these were benched using it.

Stalker: Call of Pripyat

Stalker is a great test of various settings, including changes in MSAA and Tessellation.

Stalker - No Tessellation & No MSAA

Stalker - No Tessellation & No MSAA

Stalker - No Tessellation & 4x MSAA

Stalker - No Tessellation & 4x MSAA

Stalker - Tessellation & 4x MSAA

Stalker - Tessellation & 4x MSAA

The previous top contender in these graphs was the GTX 470 and the 6970 beats it handily (as it should), especially overclocked.

Aliens vs. Predator DirectX 11 Benchmark

Short and sweet, this one was run in two modes – with all settings at default and with all of them turned up to the maximum.

Aliens vs Predator DX11 - Default Settings

Aliens vs Predator DX11 - Default Settings

Aliens vs Predator DX11 - High Quality

Aliens vs Predator DX11 - High Quality

Strong numbers again; both easily playable gaming. Watching it run was a great experience, smooth throughout.

Heaven Benchmark

Heaven Benchmark 2.1 definitely puts cards to the test. The default settings were only changed in two ways – Tessellation was increased to “Extreme” and Anti-Aliasing was changed to “4x”.

Heaven - FPS

Heaven - FPS

Heaven - Scored

Heaven - Scored

The GTX 470 is very competitive here when overclocked. Remember though, it had the advantage of voltage when overclocked. At stock the 6970 beats the stock 470 and overclocked with no voltage assistance, it beat the 470. It’s a solid advantage that will only get better with a bit of voltage.

Synthetic Benchmarks

3DMark01

Now what you’re all waiting for – benchmarks! As usual, we start with tweaker favorite 3DMark01.

3DMark01

3DMark01

Well, this was a surprise. It did better than almost every card, except the 5870 SOC. I honestly don’t know what to make of that. Thankfully it came out above all of the others, so we don’t have to stress it too much.

3DMark03

Even 3DMark03 didn’t faze the non-volt-assisted overclock.

3DMark03

3DMark03

This card just tears up 03, putting up over 96,000 points. Stick a couple of these in crossfire and I see some benchers with HWBot globals in their eyes.

3DMark06

More of a combined bench, 06 takes advantage of CPU and GPU, with both adding to the score.

3DMark06

3DMark06

Stock, the 6970 just beats out the overclocked 470 and then walks away a bit more when some clocks are added.

3DMark Vantage

Also taking into account CPU & GPU, Vantage is tough on some overclocks. More emphasis is on the GPU in this bench relative to the others, but CPU clocks influence the score as well.

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage

A strong showing here, beating the competition handily. Stock numbers throughout this review are very stout and show how much potential this card does when we’re able to really overclock it.

3DMark11

Futuremark’s newest entry into the benchmark game, 3DMark 11 is a great bench for newer GPUs. After playing around with it on a couple systems, it’s safe to say this is very much a GPU-bound bench.

3DMark 11

3DMark 11

Unfortunately the only competition here is the 6870 and that’s pretty obviously going to lose here. Still, the marks are impressive for a single card and the gain from the overclock is solid.

Aquamark3

Definitely CPU bound, Aquamark still takes advantage of fast GPU processing.

Aquamark3

Aquamark3

The 6870 wowed with its numbers and the 6970 certainly doesn’t disappoint either. I think some Aquamark globals may be in play as well.

Pushing the Overclock

While there isn’t much room without voltage, it’s always good to see the absolute top you can get with a new card. In this case, I tried with 3DMark 11 and 3DMark Vantage, which we’ll see first.

3DMark Vantage @ 970/1460

3DMark Vantage @ 970/1460

Wow, while it’s only 20 MHz, Vantage shows how much potential exists in this card. 20 MHz on the GPU and 10 MHz on the memory translated to a 300 point score increase.

3Dmark 11 @ 980/1480

3Dmark 11 @ 980/1480

Almost. Try as I would, it just wouldn’t crack the 6000 barrier but was ever so close. A few more MHz on even the CPU would have gotten it there, but this is a GPU review, not a ‘what can my system squeeze out’ review.

With no voltage increase and clocking by sheer force of will, this is a very solid showing; with a full 100 MHz over stock GPU clocks, greater than 1000 MHz should be well within reach.

Final Thoughts & Conclusion

Well, I have to say this was a fun ride. While the 6970 isn’t going to take the ‘top single-GPU card on the market’ crown, it does very well for itself. Based on this column at benchmark reviews, it does well against the GTX 570 as AMD says it should.

One thing is missing – price. Does AMD live up to its price-to-performance name? How does $369 sound? Based on these numbers and its competitiveness with the GTX 570, it’s music to our ears!

Competitive price? Check. Solid performance at said price? Check. Add strong overclocking ability, with voltage control surely to come and you have one very impressive card.

- Jeremy Vaughan (hokiealumnus)

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47 Comments:

Dolk's Avatar
Leave it to our news team to push out new hardware benches right after NDA lifts
watchthisspace's Avatar
It might be time to upgrade my old HD4850.
dejo's Avatar
Jeremy, thanks for the wonderful write-up. this has all the info you could need on this card to make a decision as to what to buy, and more importantly, what to expect from it.

i would also expect there to be a new AB coming out this week also, to allow those voltage tweaks you so desire.
EarthDog's Avatar
Very nice review Hokie!!!
HousERaT's Avatar
Good article. It will be interesting to see what these cards can do once the voltage and oc limits are gone.
sandyduff's Avatar
A big +1 to that!!
GoD_tattoo's Avatar
Great review...Thank you
Brolloks's Avatar
Excellent review Jeremy, great to see our forums bringing such a top class review on the eve of a launch, thanks for your hard work making it happen
hokiealumnus's Avatar
Thanks for all the kind words folks!

Definitely looking forward to that new AB HousERaT, I'll post some updated clocks/benches in here when I'm able. Just the tiniest voltage bump will get 6000 in 3DMark11. Can't wait to see how far it will really go.
Douken's Avatar
Good review. Wanted to see besides DirectX 11 topics how Arma II stresses the GPU. Also maybe some brief subtitles to the slides. Also I noticed the ATi Brand name drop.
macklin01's Avatar
You guys have been slashdotted (by IMOG):

http://tech.slashdot.org/article.pl?.../12/15/1319218

You might want to pop over there to answer questions. -- Paul
hokiealumnus's Avatar
Yep, they dropped it with the earlier 68xx release.

I'd like to include more games, but there are SO many it's tough to choose which ones. Plus our audience consists of gamers and benchers. Being one of the latter, I tend to focus on those. I don't plan on running ten different game benches -you can see that on other sites- but wouldn't argue with introducing one or two more in the future. No guarantees, but I'll look into it.

Done; thanks for pointing that out!
I.M.O.G.'s Avatar
Comments cleaned up... Axe grinding is welcome in my inbox, but not in these article comments.

Nice work Hokie, and thanks for pumping this out under real world limitations, and coming out with some great results.
Brolloks's Avatar
For what is worth I will post some benchmarks of the 6970 vs GTX 580, GTX 570, 5970 and 5870 in the next couple of days to supplement Hokie's review, that way we can expand the picture as far as relative performance is concerned, that is if Splat, IMOG and Hokie are OK with it.
hokiealumnus's Avatar
That would be wonderful, no arguments here. Thank you for the offer!
Peeved Kitten's Avatar
I'm dieing for the eventual 6990 review, pretty sure that will be my next card.
vixro's Avatar
Was kinda hoping at least OCforums would do a review on the 10.12 betas, looks like another 10.11 benchmark.

Damn there are also no GTX 580 comparisons in the game graphs either!
sandyduff's Avatar
Now that would be the icing on the cake...
hokiealumnus's Avatar
For what it's worth, the drivers given to us were pre-release press drivers that happened to be 10.11 with the 69xx added to them. I tried the pre-release 10.12 we were given and it didn't get along with the card for whatever reason. Haven't had time to try the official 10.12 yet.

I agree it would have been very nice to have better comparison cards. It's just one of those things...you can only bench what you have. Thankfully we have AMD's current top dog, so now all we need to do is obtain NVIDIA's high-end for comparison. With each review, the comparison chart grows (until the next generation test rig comes into play, then I just have to re-bench those cards still in my office ).
vixro's Avatar
This is true, thanks for the hard work regardless.
Brolloks's Avatar
My 6970 was supposed to arrive today but UPS did not play nice. Here are some benchmarks that will be used to compare the 6970 to.

GTX 580 - 900/1100 (262.99 drivers)

GTX 570 - 950/1100 (263.09 drivers)

CPU - W3680 at 200 x 22 (4.4 Ghz)

OS - Win 7 (64)
prpz's Avatar
Those are some very nice numbers....Im testing the 6970 atm and I now have something to compare with......
I.M.O.G.'s Avatar
Brolloks, can you post the drivers you are running also for reference with your results? What you have is a nice start, hope your 6970 gets there tomorrow.
EarthDog's Avatar
Anyone see the 'possible' reason for delay in these things?

Supposedly the 8 pin connectors are hand shaved as they didnt fit under the fan or something???????

Oops someone got it here already...: http://www.overclockers.com/forums/s...1&postcount=21

Hokie, does this one have it?
hokiealumnus's Avatar
This is the best photo of the connector I have. It does look like a little chip missing from the 8-pin on the left, but it's nowhere near as severe or noticeable as the ones linked from the post you're linking to.

88915

Very interesting.
I.M.O.G.'s Avatar
I heard about that earthdog then looked a bit closer at the picture hokie provided. It definitely appears to have a corner of the power connector polished down, though not as much as in other pictures I've seen:
http://www.overclockers.com/wp-conte...AMD6970-13.jpg

Seems silly for AMD to not mention something like that to the press, and leave it to reviewers to find. Why not be forthcoming with physical design issues on review samples? Sort of a shame... When something trivial is discovered like that, its a lot more distracting than it would have been if it was announced up front.
hokiealumnus's Avatar
When my brilliant self realized that started as a much larger file, I cropped it down for a better view.

88916

Definitely looks similar to the others but with more care than some of the example photos. I'll email AMD to see if they want to comment.
EarthDog's Avatar
Almost looks like they didnt notice, turned the fan on and they all got hit by the fan and cracked off!
hokiealumnus's Avatar
Emailed AMD. Will let you know what they say.
EarthDog's Avatar
Great!

ON a serious note, can you tell if its the fan that needed clearance?
hokiealumnus's Avatar
I have no idea without taking it apart again and it's in use awaiting voltage control (fingers crossed that someone, somewhere finds software for that) right now.

More importantly than my card, word is in from AMD. Here is their take on the situation, verbatim:
So, there you have it!
I.M.O.G.'s Avatar
Nice, thanks Hokie!
EarthDog's Avatar
Excellent. Thanks for the follow up. It looks like they are all HAND modified as well. Interesting.
Dave65's Avatar
Excellent review as usual ..thanks much
Dave65's Avatar
Im really struggling between a GTX580 and the 6970 to replace my 5870.
hokiealumnus's Avatar
Thank you.

It really depends on how much money you want to spend. For the money, the 6970 is a very solid card. If you want the absolute best single GPU card on the market, go with the 580. You'll pay for the privilege though.
Brolloks's Avatar
HD 6970 - 950/1450 (Cat 10.12a drivers)

GTX 580 - 900/1100
(262.99 drivers)

GTX 570 - 950/1100 (263.09 drivers)

HD 5970 - 950/1200 (Cat 10.9 drivers)



CPU - W3680 at 200 x 22 (4.4 Ghz)

OS - Win 7 (64)
hokiealumnus's Avatar
Excellent comparison Edmund, thank you very much! Looks like the 5970 is still king, even if it takes two GPUs to do it, but just barely in 06.

I bet things would change if we could get some software that controlled voltage on the 6970!
Brolloks's Avatar
Yes, drivers still a bit green on the 6970 plus I don't really think these old benchmarks do the card justice IMO.

As for 3DM06 I was really CPU bound at 4.4 Ghx...more speed will make the cards fly.
doz's Avatar
Try bumping the clock on the 6970 w/ the Sapphire TriXX program See what you can do. I was able to bench 1000/1450 with 3dmark11, but it wasnt stable enough for gaming
Brolloks's Avatar
With a 200 Mhz increase in CPU to 4.6 Ghz the 6970 gains over a 1000 points
doz's Avatar
Yeah, in 3dmark06 but in 3dmark11, it doesnt seem to pickup much at all from my testing. Maybe you could give it a shot and see? I saw such a minimal increase going from 4ghz to 4.3ghz that it wasnt even worth it (few dozen points was all).
EarthDog's Avatar
Nothing seems to in 11. If anything in 11 the only reason the score would pick up from CPU is if the CPU is bottlenecking the GPU.
Rattle's Avatar
I just bought a 6950 since they are pretty much all flashing over to 6970 100%

Should be a fun card. Not that I need a sidegrade :P
Peeved Kitten's Avatar
So, the EK waterblock has been ordered for my 6970. Expect some fun stuff soon - Air vs liquid temps, when available ocing liquid vs. air etc. I'll also be doing an installation/tutorial video on how to put one of these under water.
EarthDog's Avatar
What you might want to do is contact our slacking() ATI CE KonaKona, and post in his CE thread that you would like to write up an article for this.

If you havent already, contact IMOG to get you setup in WP... tell em Earthdog sent you. LOL!
KonaKona's Avatar
Yeah, send IMOG a PM and he'll set you up in WP.

Make sure you send me a PM if you need anything done by me. I just now found out the article this thread is about got posted...
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