Graphics Card: Gigabyte GV-R695OC-1D
While AMD’s acquisition of ATI was both painful and expensive, there can be little question now that the move was essential. Try imagining AMD today without ATI. Most of the exciting news coming from Intel’s chief rival seems to involve graphics technology, and while the Radeon HD 6900 family is now a year old, it remains at the fore of today’s discrete performance graphics scene. With a 40 nm fab process, 2.6 billion transistors, 1408 unified shaders, and a 256-bit GDDR5 memory bus, the HD 6950 delivers most of this flagship family’s benefits without the top-end price tag.
In part, Gigabyte’s price savings is from this model only using 1 GB of memory rather than the 2 GB possible maximum. This is a sensible compromise, since many users don’t run at resolutions beyond 1920x1080 or crank up features like anti-aliasing. Besides, Gigabyte piles on the perks in compensation. For starters, the company jacks up the 6950’s default 800 MHz core clock speed to 870 MHz in this overclocked version. The memory clock remains at an unmodified 5000 MT/s (1250 MHz times four).
The most striking feature of the R695OC-1D is, of course, its triple-wide “WindForce 3X” cooling system, which spans practically the entire 11.42-inch (290 mm) length of the card. Yes, this is one of the longest cards we’ve seen, so double check that it will fit in your case. Cool air comes in from in front of the three fans, gets pushed through the aluminum heatsink fins, and exhausts out the top and back of the heat sink. The heat sink bolts on top of a vapor cooling chamber, shot through with twin 80 mm copper heat pipes. The three fans are near-silent PWM models, but the interesting thing is how Gigabyte has angled them relative to the plane of the graphics card. In this way, they don’t blow straight down onto the card, which would create considerable turbulence. Rather, the air hits the card obliquely and channels through the heatsink with less noise and more efficiency. Since quiet cards aren’t exactly common in this performance bracket, Gigabyte is to be doubly commended.
Factory specs on the HD 6950 show a 200 W maximum TDP, but Gigabyte’s power requirement is 500 W, so plan your PSU accordingly. This DX 11 card features one DVI-D, one DVI-I, one HDMI, and one DisplayPort output.
Why'd we pick this card? Because of its proven track record. We've already reviewed Radeon HD 6950 1 GB cards in The Radeon HD 6950 Sweet Spot: Five 1 GB Cards Rounded-Up, and this model rose to the top of that piece as an award-winner.