Postscript: AMD Crashes The Party With 20 Radeon HD 6950 1 GBs
For as much as we love good competition, bad marketing can be a real pain.
Last week, AMD reached out to us, letting us know that it'd be shipping a 1 GB version of its Radeon HD 6950 in mid-February between $269 and $279 dollars. "That's fine," I figured. "I'll worry about it when it ships...in three weeks. Until then, it's all meaningless paper-launched speculation."
Of course, mid-week, a 1 GB card showed up, so I ran it through our complete benchmark suite.
In just about every case, the smaller frame buffer (and tighter memory timings) yields one or two more frames per second than the 2 GB model. It's not worth rehashing in a page full of charts. Literally, expect one or two more frames per second across the board. In one situation, Metro 2033 with 4x MSAA and 16x AF turned on, the 1 GB card doesn't have a large enough frame buffer to maintain performance and it drops to 10 FPS versus the 2 GB card's 30 FPS.
Honestly, this is probably the Radeon HD 6950 AMD should have led off with, rather than a $300 2 GB model. It didn't, though, likely to avoid cannibalizing sales of the Radeon HD 6870 at $240-$260. It's pretty obvious that AMD threw this together ahead of Nvidia's launch, an option it likely held in reserve until it saw what the GTX 560 Ti could do. Losing sales of the 6870 to a cheaper 6950 must have sounded better than losing sales to Nvidia.
Now, in the face of GeForce GTX 560 Ti, AMD says the Radeon HD 6950 1 GB will be priced at $259 and the Radeon HD 6870s are down to $219 (without the need for rebates, which we confirmed before this story went live). Whether or not those prices remain remains to be seen. Either way, my conclusion on the GTX 560 Ti doesn't change. It still doesn't present me with the overwhelming urge to upgrade. AMD's cards simply look better in comparison, based on their performance.
The Sordid Tale Develops...
That was going to be the end of the story until Radeon HD 6950 1 GB started shipping. Then, the evening before Nvidia's launch, I get a note saying that AMD managed to get one board vendor's card in stock at Newegg for $259. Convenient, no? At the time of writing, there are 20 in inventory. I talked to Newegg; Newegg confirms it. By the time you read this, there probably won't be many available.
Obviously, 20 people are going to be super happy to get a card that's faster than GeForce GTX 560 Ti at the exact same price today. For everyone else, you're going to have to wait. Either way, this is one of the weaker marketing tricks I've seen. AMD didn't need to rain on Nvidia's launch with poor availability. The card is strong enough to stand on its own, even at the originally-projected $269-$279.
The Radeon HD 6950 1 GB won't be the card to buy if you're gaming across a three-screen Eyefinity configuration in CrossFire. For that, you'll want the 2 GB frame buffer to maintain 5760x1080 with AA and AF enabled. It is a more attractive card than the Radeon HD 6950 2 GB, though, at 1920x1080 with details cranked up or 2560x1600 at less demanding settings.
In essence, so long as you aren't overwhelming this card's frame buffer, saving $30 or $40 bucks makes it worth looking at, and a solid competitive offering against Nvidia's GeForce GTX 560 Ti.