Sapphire HD 6950 Video Card Review (with CrossFire Results)

In my initial AMD HD 6950 review, the card came out a huge winner in both performance and value. What good is another review of the same product? Well, the Sapphire HD 6950 is still a reference card (unlike the discontinued PowerColor PCS++ HD 6950), but this card is from a later batch and built by Sapphire, which means we could be in for significant gains in overclocking potential. Plus, with two cards in hand, we can explore the powerful CrossFire scaling abilities of AMD’s latest 6900 series GPUs.

Front of Box

Front of Box

Back of Box

Back of Box

Sapphire HD 6950 Video Card

Sapphire HD 6950 Video Card

Features and Specifications

As mentioned above, this is reference card, so the specifications match the HD 6950 reviewed previously. To make things easier for those who have not read the previous review, the specifications are copied below:

  • New core design accounts for “10% improvement in performance per square mm”
  • Enhanced Quality Anti-Aliasing (EQAA) which features better coverage per pixel without increased memory usage
  • Improved power consumption efficiency through AMD PowerTune technology
  • Major tessellation performance enhancements in the latest games and benchmarks
  • Significant CrossFire scaling improvements over the 5800 series
  • Dual BIOS

HD 6950 Product Specifications

HD 6950 Product Specifications (Courtesy AMD)

HD 6950 Product Specifications (Courtesy AMD)

Power Connectors

Power Connectors

This card is not quite as power-hungry as other high-end GPUs, it requires 2x 6-pin connectors from the power supply. If users do not have extra 6-pin connectors available, Sapphire has included two standard 4-pin molex to 6-pin adapters.

Output

Output

Several output options are included on this GPU: 2x DVI ports (1x Dual-Link and 1x Single-Link), 1x HDMI and 2x Mini-Display Ports. The grate in the upper right-hand corner of the photo is ventilation for the card’s cooling system.

Acessories

Acessories

Included with this card is a robust accessory kit with everything a user needs to get started:

  • CrossFire Bridge Interconnect Cable
  • DVI to VGA Adapter
  • Mini-DP to DP Cable
  • 2x standard molex to 6-pin power cable
  • HDMI cable
  • Driver CD
  • Sapphire Sticker

Many cards do not come with the power adapters, which are especially helpful when using a CrossFire setup. My 650w power supply only had enough 6-pin connectors for one card, so having these adapters really came in handy. Also, an HDMI cable is a nice addition to any accessory pack as they can be kind of pricey at local stores.

Pricing Comparison

 

Card Price
HD 6870 $192.99
GTX 460 (2gb) $199.99
GTX 560 Ti $234.99
Sapphire HD 6950 (2gb)
$262.99 ($232.99 after MIR)
GTX 480 $299.99 ($279.99 after MIR)
GTX 570 $314.99 ($289.99 after MIR)
HD 6970 $339.99 ($314.99 after MIR)
GTX 580 $479.99 ($449.99 after MIR)
Lowest pricing per model at Newegg.com as of May 15, 2011

Prices for the HD 6950 have come down in the past few months and is right on par with the GTX 560 Ti. At $47 and $50 less than GTX 480 and 570 respectively, the Sapphire HD 6950 provides tremendous value with its ability to be unlocked with ease. Performance should fall above the GTX 560 Ti and on par with the GTX 480 and 570, which again will make this card a great value. One could purchase the HD 6970 and likely achieve higher overclocks, but to me the extra +/- 50 MHz on core or memory is not worth $82 more. The boost from unlocking the shaders alone is more beneficial that extra MHz.

 

Performance

Test Setup and Methodology

Processor Intel i5 655k @ 4.85 GHz
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-P55UD6
RAM Kingston HyperX DDR3-2000 4GB
Video Sapphire AMD HD 6950 or AMD reference HD 6950
Power Supply Corsair 650w
Operating Systems Windows 7 x64

All benchmarks were run three times using the “performance” preset and the average result is displayed. The 3DMark scores presented are run using the Performance (‘P’) preset.

Important Note: None of the graph abscissa ranges begin at zero. This was necessary to be able to display the differences in the scores, which are typically very high numbers all round. The actual scores are printed on each graph.

Overclocking the Sapphire HD 6950

The process began as it always does with AMD HD 6900 series cards, PowerTune was disabled by bumping the voltage control to “+20%” in Catalyst Control Center (CCC). ATI’s CCC limits overclocking, so instead Sapphire TRIXX was used. With relative ease, 930/1515 was achieved with the card’s stock BIOS, which equates to a nice 16% bump in GPU and a whopping 21% in memory. That’s a solid 50 MHz more GPU and 135 MHz memory than the best clocks achieved with the AMD reference card. Once the card was unlocked, even more speed was unleashed. The Sapphire HD 6950 reached a maximum of 955/1515, so unlocking the card netted an extra 25 MHz core clock and no change in the memory. Memory clocks were impressive to start with, so no love lost there for me.

Synthetic and Gaming Performance

 

3dmark Vantage - Sapphire HD 6950

3dmark Vantage - Sapphire HD 6950

In Vantage tests, the overclocked and flashed Sapphire HD 6950 gained 14% performance over the stock card. At stock speeds, the card performed on par with the reference card. When overclocked the Sapphire card showed its real value in achieving higher clocks than the reference card.

3dmark11 - Sapphire HD 6950

3dmark11 - Sapphire HD 6950

In the most recent edition of 3dmark, the Sapphire HD 6950 performed 13% better overclocked than at stock speeds. This is pretty much on par with the performance gains seen in 3dmark Vantage.

Unigine Heaven - Sapphire HD 6950

Unigine Heaven - Sapphire HD 6950

In one of the more intense benchmarks, Unigine Heaven, the unlocked card (at stock 6970 speeds) managed a 10% performance gain over the stock performance. The benchmark would not finish at 955/1515, so results were not included in the above graph.

Alien vs. Predator - Sapphire HD 6950

Alien vs. Predator - Sapphire HD 6950

Game performance is the closest we get to real-life performance, so Alien vs. Predator based on the newer DirectX 11 engine was used. In this test, the unlocked Sapphire card performed 20% better at 955/1515 compared to stock configuration. With this game, performance scaled quite close the actual overclock (20% GPU and 21% memory as mentioned ab0ve). This definitely bodes well for gamers looking for high-performance with great value proposition. Interesting here that both the Sapphire and PowerColor cards at top speed achieved almost the same average FPS despite the variation in GPU/memory clocks. Looks like for this particular benchmark both GPU and memory clocks are important, whereas both 3dmarks were very much GPU-driven.

Market Comparison

The same methods for comparing performance were used in this review as my initial HD 6950 review:

Without a slew of video cards to compare in the same machine, we came up with a different solution for comparing relative performance. This solution is not without its flaws, but it should give a relatively clear picture. My system score (or CPU/Physics score) trended on the low side, so this analysis will include my average system/CPU score from both 3DMark Vantage and 3DMark06. Using a static system score, I was able to sub in the varying GPU scores into the score calculation equations provided by Futuremark.

GPU scores were generated by taking an average of the top 5 scores of each of the respective video cards on HWBot that met the following parameters:

  • GPU
    • Cooling: Stock or Air
    • Cores/# of Cards: 1
  • CPU/System
    • i5 CPU
    • Cooling: Water or Air

This type of testing gives the clear advantage to HWBot scores for several reasons:

  1. These are the Top 5 scores that meet the above parameters, not just typical user scores. Many of these scores were achieved by some of the top overclockers on HWBot.
  2. On average my CPU score was significantly less than the HWBot scores. Though I removed the CPU scores from the results, the overall system still does impact final scoring.
  3. Scores on HWBot may or may not have had the advantage of custom BIOS or increased voltages, while the HD 6950 voltage is locked.

Vantage Market Comparison

Note that no voltage increases were used on the card (the new TRIXX and AfterBurner allow for it), which gives another advantage to the other video cards in the comparison. Plus, it means that perhaps the limits are even higher with this card.

Results were in line with the price comparison at the beginning of the review. The Sapphire HD 6950 (at 930/1515, not unlocked) outperformed the HD 6870, GTX 460 and GTX 470. More expensive cards like the GTX 480 and GTX 570 showed their muscle here; the GTX 570 managed nearly 9% performance gain over the unlocked Sapphire card at top speed. The chart below revisits the prices stated above, gives a distinct Vantage points per $1 ratio and other key relative performance indicators:

Card Price Vantage Score Points/Per $1 Price Index Performance Index Relative Value (Performance/Price)
HD 6870 192.99 16120 84 83% 82% 98.8%
GTX 460 (2gb) 199.99 16315 82 86% 83% 96.5%
Sapphire HD 6950 (2gb) $232.99 19699 85 100% 100% 100.0%
GTX 480 $279.99 20041 72 120% 102% 84.7%
GTX 570 $289.99 21410 74 124% 109% 87.3%

It was not a surprise to see the true value of this card emerge in this comparison. This is mostly due to the unlocking potential that the HD 6950 cards possess. For the money, users cannot get a better card than this. For some it might be worth shelling out the $45-$60 for a better card, but be advised that performance will only shoot up maybe 10% over an unlocked HD 6950.

Crossfire Results

Paired with the card used in a previous review, let’s see how the HD 6950 scales in a CrossFire setup. AMD claims in their press deck that this card will show a significant improvement in CrossFire performance over the 5800-series, which scaled 60%-80% in the latest DX10-DX11 games and benchmarks.

HD 6950 Crossfire Results

HD 6950 Crossfire Results

Note: Scaling results for 3dmark was based on the graphics scores only.

Overall, the results are quite impressive. Scaling in the latest DX11 applications was superb, topping out at over 90% in Alien vs. Predator and 3dmark11. Even the tough Heaven benchmark scored 72% scaling at stock speeds, which is not too shabby. The 3dmark Vantage scores were less than stellar, but this card was designed to scale best in the latest games, not ones from last year.

Conclusion

Not much needs to be said here, the Sapphire HD 6950 provides an excellent value over other cards in the market. For price to performance ratio there is nothing out there than can touch this card. As promised, this card scales well with CrossFire, so if users can pony up for the additional card it is definitely worth it.

One of the main aims was to prove the Sapphire card showed some improvements since the initial batch of sample cards came out several months ago. It is pretty clear that the newer cards are more powerful and have quite a bit more overclocking potential. This Sapphire card showed strong GPU and memory clocks with the potential to go even further with voltage increases.

This card is certainly Overclockers.com Approved and has cemented my viewpoint that the AMD HD 6950 GPUs are the best value in the marketplace.

- Matt Ring (mdcomp)

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Discussion
  1. I have to say something about CrossFire scaling in AVP: when i had two HD4870 cards, i remember CF being negative in that game, scaling was some -50%. Looks like they fixed it now.