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The Radeon HD 6950 Sweet Spot: Five 1 GB Cards Rounded-Up

The Radeon HD 6950 Sweet Spot: Five 1 GB Cards Rounded-Up
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AMD’s 1 GB Radeon HD 6950s are certainly cheaper than their 2 GB predecessors. But are they really a better value? In theory, the Cayman GPU runs out of steam before 2 GB is needed. So, we're comparing five custom 1 GB cards to the 2 GB part to find out.

Although we haven't seen too many examples of it recently, adding tons of memory to a lower-end GPU was once a common practice, if only as a relatively affordable way to beef up a card's spec sheet. It turned out that gamers who didn't understand what really made one board faster than another would buy an overpriced GeForce 2 MX, for example, because it had more memory than a standard GeForce 2 GTS, and then end up with a slower product that was cheaper to manufacture.

Of course, we all know that the Radeon HD 6950 is far from a low-end part. Instead, the most likely reason that AMD's Radeon HD 6950 originally came with a massive 2 GB of GDDR5 RAM was based in its origin as a Radeon HD 6970. The company specified a top-end memory configuration for its best card, and the easiest way to make its number-two part was to simply flash a separate firmware to disable shader cores and drop the clocks. Using the next-lower speed grade for RAM, the Radeon HD 6950 was born.

A lot has happened since that launch, however. To begin, the Radeon HD 6970 targeted triple-GPU configurations, where super-high resolutions and details could occasionally make use of that extra RAM. AMD's less expensive 6950 was marketed toward gamers looking to save a little money. Lower thermal ceilings allowed manufacturers to adopt more compact circuit boards for even greater cost savings and installation flexibility.

Three-way configurations and 2 GB Radeon HD 6950s are still available, but if you're running a single card, it's safe to say that, in most cases, you're going to run out of GPU muscle before you hit the limits of a 1 GB board. As a result, the Radeon HD 6950 1 GB appears to be this market’s sweet spot.

Five companies agreed with our assessment enough that they were willing to send their cards for evaluation.

Single-Slot Graphics Comparison Specifications

Gigabyte 1GB
GV-R695OC-1GD
HIS ICEQ X 1GB
H695QN1G2M
MSI R6950 PE OC
912-V246-047
Sapphire HD 6950
1GB GDDR5 PCIE
XFX 800M 1GB
HD-695X-ZDFC
GPU Clock870 MHz800 MHz850 MHz800 MHz800 MHz
DRAM RateGDDR5-5000GDDR5-5000GDDR5-5200GDDR5-5000GDDR5-5000
DVI1 x Dual-Link
1 x Single-Link
1 x Dual-Link
1 x Single-Link
1 x Dual-Link
1 x Single-Link
1 x Dual-Link
1 x Single-Link
1 x Dual-Link
1 x Single-Link
HDMIFullFullFullFullFull
DisplayPortFullTwo MiniTwo MiniFullTwo Mini
VGABy AdapterBy AdapterBy AdapterBy AdapterBy Adapter
Output
Adapters
NoneDVI-I to VGADVI-I to VGA
Full DisplayPort
DVI-I to VGANone
Length11.0"9.7"10.8"10.3"9.6"
Height4.7"4.8"4.6"4.7"4.6"
Total
Thickness
1.5"1.6"1.6"1.5"1.5"
Cooler
Thickness
1.3"1.4"1.4"1.3"1.3"
Weight25 Ounces23 Ounces28 Ounces24 Ounces21 Ounces
PCB VersionCustom 1.0CustomV246 2.0CustomCustom
VRMEight PhasesFour PhasesSix PhasesFour PhasesFour Phases
WarrantyThree YearsTwo YearsThree YearsTwo YearsLifetime w/reg
Added Value
DiRT3 CertificateDual BIOSDiRT3 Certificate
Display 93 Comments.
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Top Comments
  • 12 Hide
    Crashman , October 18, 2011 5:40 AM
    conjugateWhy wasn't the Asus HD 69501GB w/ DirectCU II cooler tested? I'd think that's a pretty strong competitor as well.
    Try asking Asus? If you don't see a card it's because the company decided not to use it.
    amirpThe metro2033 benches are on medium that's why...and why ARE they on medium settings? wouldn't it show the benefit of 2gb on higher settings, hell even on my 6850 I play it on higher settings than that...
    Thumbs down for not reading the text below those charts:
    Quote:
    The benchmark for this game also reports minimum frame rates, and most players will only be able to see apparent smoothness at 2560x1600 using medium details with AA disabled (producing around 19 FPS minimum).
    The test was set up to produce playable framerates in the sample map. The tests showed a minimum framerate of around 19.8 FPS using MEDIUM details and no AA at 2560x1600. Obviously, the sample map pushes these graphics cards harder than the maps you're currently playing.
Other Comments
  • 6 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , October 18, 2011 4:32 AM
    are the benches of metro2033 correct?? They seem very high to me.
    my gtx 580 @ 1080p with these exact settings gets around 35 average fps.
    the low fps are probably around 15.

    Edit: oh ok. i play at ultra settings with advanced physx on. the test uses medium settings with no physx.
  • 3 Hide
    compton , October 18, 2011 4:38 AM
    I've really started gravitating to the card with the lowest noise at idle -- but if I don't need to pour hot wax in my earholes on load, that's certainly a bonus. Perhaps the forthcoming 28nm GPUs can give the same kind of quietness at full load -- even overclocked substantially -- that my i5 2500K does. The main issue with aftermarket GPU coolers is their questionable compatability and the fact that the market for them isn't nearly as broad as CPU coolers are. I bought a Noctua for my CPU, that I can take with me from 775, 1156, 1155 (maybe X58 boards too)... in addition to every AM2 and AM3/3+. So I view that purchase as more of a long term investment. If GPU coolers were the same way, I'd have no problem just buying the GPU I want and slapping a cooler on it.

    If only things were so simple. That's why I think (hope, really) that a large number of next-gen low and mid range cards will be mostly silent, and very efficient.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , October 18, 2011 5:25 AM
    Why wasn't the Asus HD 69501GB w/ DirectCU II cooler tested? I'd think that's a pretty strong competitor as well.
  • -3 Hide
    jdwii , October 18, 2011 5:26 AM
    mayankleoboy1are the benches of metro2033 correct??my gtx 580 @ 1080p with these exact settings gets around 35 average fps.the low fps are probably around 15.


    Yeah it cost twice as much to. I could CF both of these cards and it would kill your card in performance/price
  • 8 Hide
    amirp , October 18, 2011 5:29 AM
    The metro2033 benches are on medium that's why...
    and why ARE they on medium settings? wouldn't it show the benefit of 2gb on higher settings, hell even on my 6850 I play it on higher settings than that...
  • 12 Hide
    Crashman , October 18, 2011 5:40 AM
    conjugateWhy wasn't the Asus HD 69501GB w/ DirectCU II cooler tested? I'd think that's a pretty strong competitor as well.
    Try asking Asus? If you don't see a card it's because the company decided not to use it.
    amirpThe metro2033 benches are on medium that's why...and why ARE they on medium settings? wouldn't it show the benefit of 2gb on higher settings, hell even on my 6850 I play it on higher settings than that...
    Thumbs down for not reading the text below those charts:
    Quote:
    The benchmark for this game also reports minimum frame rates, and most players will only be able to see apparent smoothness at 2560x1600 using medium details with AA disabled (producing around 19 FPS minimum).
    The test was set up to produce playable framerates in the sample map. The tests showed a minimum framerate of around 19.8 FPS using MEDIUM details and no AA at 2560x1600. Obviously, the sample map pushes these graphics cards harder than the maps you're currently playing.
  • 4 Hide
    Crashman , October 18, 2011 6:02 AM
    greghomeActually no, my 6950 1GB handles Metro as good as the 2GB version on very high settings with Adavanced DOF on,only difference between mine and the Sapphire card used in this article is mine has just one fan..........wtf....
    You'll still see it fall off at 2560x1600 more than the 2GB version :)  Not that anyone actually buys a single 1GB 6950 to run 2560x1600 or higher in Metro 2033 at very-high settings, CrossFire does exist for a reason.
  • 0 Hide
    bystander , October 18, 2011 6:03 AM
    mayankleoboy1are the benches of metro2033 correct??my gtx 580 @ 1080p with these exact settings gets around 35 average fps.the low fps are probably around 15.


    I have found that Metro 2033 requires a strong CPU as well as GPU. Your CPU might be the bottleneck. I've also found that Metro 2033 is one of the few games I've played that hyperthreading matters.
  • -2 Hide
    flong , October 18, 2011 6:26 AM
    I have the XFX 6950 2GB card and when I bought mine, the cost difference (in the real world) between the 1 GB and 2GB cards was lik $20. I just didn't see the value of going to a 1 GB card for $20.

    Unless prices have changed a lot, I don't see the 1GB 6950 as the sweet spot.There are probably a dozen of other professional reviews that show that the 2GB version DOES greatly improve performance at the highest settings. At the highest settings, the 6950 2GB card virtually ties the more expensive 570.

    It would have been interesting to see which of the cards overclocks the best. I moved my settings up in ATI's Catalsyst Control but the card did not overclock when I moved the settings up for some reason. I tried researching it but XFX's info kind of sucks. Anyway, my card is so fast that I decided it wasn't important anyway and I don't game.
  • 2 Hide
    _Pez_ , October 18, 2011 6:29 AM
    I liked how the review was made, it solve part of my decisions to get a 2Gb or 1Gb card. But I think, that would be maybe more accurate if on the charts were shown the max amount of graphics memory used per game at each settings and resolution... Just to see what results pops out...
  • 1 Hide
    TopGun , October 18, 2011 6:38 AM
    1.) Besides the OC'ed cards I don't understand what would make a 2GB card have less fps than a 1 GB card...shouldn't they be pretty much tied (when not OC'ed)? What am I missing that makes the 2GB card slower?

    2.) Are any of the 1GB cards in this article able to unlock the extra shaders like I've read that some 2GB 6950's can (into basically a 6970)?
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , October 18, 2011 6:46 AM
    TopGun1.) Besides the OC'ed cards I don't understand what would make a 2GB card have less fps than a 1 GB card...shouldn't they be pretty much tied (when not OC'ed)? What am I missing that makes the 2GB card slower?2.) Are any of the 1GB cards in this article able to unlock the extra shaders like I've read that some 2GB 6950's can (into basically a 6970)?
    I've heard that you need a first-generation 6950 to get shader unlocking capability but haven't investigated it beyond the card BIOS issues. Also, I've heard from numerous sources that 1GB cards have better memory timings compared to 2GB cards
  • 0 Hide
    flong , October 18, 2011 7:05 AM
    _Pez_I liked how the review was made, it solve part of my decisions to get a 2Gb or 1Gb card. But I think, that would be maybe more accurate if on the charts were shown the max amount of graphics memory used per game at each settings and resolution... Just to see what results pops out...


    Be careful, this review while having a reference 2GB card,doesn't even begin to show the true performance of the 2GB cards and in that way it is misleading. I would strongly suggest that you read some other site's reviews because this one sucks in telling the whole story about the 2 GB card.

    The Reader's Digest version is that there is little difference in performance between the 1 GB and the 2 GB card until you start getting into the highest game settings and higher resolution monitors. Then the 2 GB card starts to pull away.
  • -1 Hide
    flong , October 18, 2011 7:08 AM
    TopGun1.) Besides the OC'ed cards I don't understand what would make a 2GB card have less fps than a 1 GB card...shouldn't they be pretty much tied (when not OC'ed)? What am I missing that makes the 2GB card slower?2.) Are any of the 1GB cards in this article able to unlock the extra shaders like I've read that some 2GB 6950's can (into basically a 6970)?


    This is a reference card and its performance is not anywhere near the improved versions of the card
  • 4 Hide
    damric , October 18, 2011 7:09 AM
    Why didn't you overclock or unlock the shaders? This would have shown much advantage to the MSI and Gigabyte cards better power handling and cooling.
  • -6 Hide
    flong , October 18, 2011 7:10 AM
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    Dude you need to get off of this site unless you are going to discuss the subject - you are way out of line and you are going to sale anything to anyone by flaming this site!
  • -1 Hide
    flong , October 18, 2011 7:14 AM
    damricWhy didn't you overclock or unlock the shaders? This would have shown much advantage to the MSI and Gigabyte cards better power handling and cooling.


    Gotta remember that you can brick a card by trying this. I think that this review rightfully did not bring this issue up. I do think they should have mentioned it though - so people would know. However there are several MSI Frozen versions and Gigabyte cards that cannot be unlocked to a 6970. These cards may not have the dual BIOS switch. And really, if you need a 6970, shouldn't you just buy a 6970? It really isn't that much faster than a good 6950 card.
  • 0 Hide
    blackdragonx1186 , October 18, 2011 7:35 AM
    Can these 1gb versions be flashed to 6970's the way the 2gb models can?
  • -2 Hide
    Crashman , October 18, 2011 8:21 AM
    blackdragonx1186Can these 1gb versions be flashed to 6970's the way the 2gb models can?
    No. And most 2gb models can't either.
  • 0 Hide
    flong , October 18, 2011 8:21 AM
    Quote:
    Can these 1gb versions be flashed to 6970's the way the 2gb models can?


    No, they cannot. And not every version of the 2 GB MSI Frozr and 2 GB Gigabyte card can be flashed to a 6970
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