Radeon HD 6970 And 6950 Review: Is Cayman A Gator Or A Crock?

Adding Value Through Anti-Aliasing, Eyefinity, And Video

A Suite Of Sweet Outputs

When it comes to gaming, I go with whichever company shows me the best performance, least amount of noise, and highest degree of reliability. But I’ve been running AMD graphics for more than a year now because of Eyefinity. Before that, I used an Nvidia Quadro NVS card in my workstation, requiring a second machine for gaming.

While I was able to use four LCDs on the Quadro NVS, I had to scale back to three when I popped in a Radeon HD 5850. Now, with the Radeon HD 6800- and 6900-series cards, it’s possible to swap back to four. The 6970 and 6950 sport the same five display outputs as the two 6800-series boards: two mini-DisplayPort 1.2 connectors, an HDMI 1.4a port, and two DVI outputs (one single-link and the other dual-link). From those five, you can use a combination of four as independent outputs, so long as two of them are DisplayPort.

In the future, it’ll actually be possible to attach six displays, eradicating the need for a special, more expensive Eyefinity 6 Edition board. Using DisplayPort 1.2, you can daisy-chain or connect a multi-stream transport hub, supporting the sextet of screens from the two mini-DP ports. That won’t happen until we’re well into 2011, though. Just something to keep in mind.

AMD Gets CSAA

With the Radeon HD 6800-series boards, AMD picked up morphological anti-aliasing, a DirectCompute-based post-processing filtering technique that enables AA even in games with no native AA support. This time around, the company is adding Enhanced Quality Anti-Aliasing. EQAA basically improves existing multi-sampling anti-aliasing modes with up to 16 coverage samples per pixel.

Understanding what that means requires a couple of steps backward. When you apply supersampling to an image, each “sample” represents shaded color, stored color/z/stencil, and coverage. In essence, this is the equivalent of rendering to an oversized buffer and downfiltering. Multi-sampling helps reduce the performance hit of this intensive operation by decoupling the shaded samples from color and coverage. The process works with fewer shader samples, while compromising nothing on the color/z/stencil and coverage sampling.

EQAA, which looks to be equivalent to Nvidia’s CSAA, decouples coverage from color/z/stencil, cutting the memory bandwidth costs and therefore leaving a much smaller performance footprint. Now, AMD believes it has more control over the relationship between color to coverage samples than Nvidia. So, while the implementation is roughly equivalent now, the company is looking at ways to expose its advantage in the future.

You Vee Dee Three

The Radeon HD 6900s sport the same UVD 3 fixed-function hardware enabled on the 6800s. That means acceleration of MPEG-4 ASP and more of the MPEG-2 pipeline (relatively minor additions), plus the addition of Multiview Video Coding, an amendment to H.264/MPEG-4 AVC facilitating stereoscopic playback. In essence, we’re talking about hardware-based support for 3D Blu-ray over HDMI 1.4a.

This helps catch AMD up to Nvidia. However, Intel has something waiting in the wings that’ll take both graphics companies by surprise. In a couple of weeks, we’ll be able to tell you more.

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  • terror112
    WOW not impressed.
  • Annisman
    Thanks for the review Angelini, these new naming schemes are hurting my head, sometimes the only way to tell (at a quick glance) which AMD card matches up to what Nvidia card, is by comparing the prices, which I think is bad for the average consumer.
  • rohitbaran
    These cards are to GTX 500 series what 4000 series was to GTX 200. Not the fastest at their time but offer killer performance and feature set for the price. I too expected 6900 to be close to GTX 580, but it didn't turn out that way. Still, it is the card I have waited for to upgrade. Right in my budget.
  • tacoslave
    imagine when this hits 32nm?
  • notty22
    AMD's top card is about a draw with the gtx 570.
    Pricing is in line.
    Gives AMD only hold outs buying options, Nvidia already offered
    Merry Christmas
  • microterf
    Why drop the 580 when it comes to the multi-gpu scaling??
  • IzzyCraft
    Sorry all i read was this
    "This helps catch AMD up to Nvidia. However, Intel has something waiting in the wings that’ll take both graphics companies by surprise. In a couple of weeks, we'll be able to tell you more." and now i'm fixated to weather or not intel's gpu's can actually commit to proper playback.
  • andrewcutter
    but from what i read at hardocp, though it is priced alongside the 570, 6970 was benched against the 580 and they were trading blows... So toms has it at par with 570 but hard has it on par with 580.. now im confused because if it can give 580 perfomance or almost 580 performance at 570 price and power then this one is a winner. Sim a 6950 was trading blows with 570 there. So i am very confused
  • sgt bombulous
    This is hilarious... How long ago was it that there were ATI fanboys blabbering "The 6970 is gonna be 80% faster than the GTX 580!!!". And then reality hit...
  • manitoublack
    I'd have to say wait until the christmas new years dust settles
  • andrewcutter
    sry i take back what i said earlier. most reviews agree with what toms says. So my apologies..:)
  • tpi2007
    Not bad, but not very impressive either. It's hard to be impressed at 40nm by now.

    But it is quite ironic that AMD has had a tesselator in their cards way before anybody supported the feature (let alone Nvidia), and now Nvidia does better tessellation than AMD.. they should really address that problem.. well, now the only way is to redesign the chip... at 28nm.

    28nm it is then, the next big excitment.

    What I would really like, now that the HD6xxx lineup is here (dual GPU still missing, but that is a niche product), is that AMD now focuses on fixing bugs in their drivers.
  • namelessonez
    It's always the same story! nVidia pulls out a new product and then the wait begins for AMD to release its products! Ultimately, the difference isn't worth the wait. We know that AMD's winning factor is its price, but nVidia's is the quality....imho!

    As rightly stated, 'reality hits'.
  • yyk71200
    AndrewCutterbut from what i read at hardocp, though it is priced alongside the 570, 6970 was benched against the 580 and they were trading blows... So toms has it at par with 570 but hard has it on par with 580.. now im confused because if it can give 580 perfomance or almost 580 performance at 570 price and power then this one is a winner. Sim a 6950 was trading blows with 570 there. So i am very confused

    Actually, in Hardocp review overall 580 has some edge over 6970 as well. Only in F1 6970 is ahead. 6970 is great value though.
  • joytech22
    IzzyCraftSorry all i read was this"This helps catch AMD up to Nvidia. However, Intel has something waiting in the wings that’ll take both graphics companies by surprise. In a couple of weeks, we'll be able to tell you more." and now i'm fixated to weather or not intel's gpu's can actually commit to proper playback.


    If intel entered the graphics market and provided a half-decent dedicated GPU, that would definitely make ANY GPU company shake in their boots.

    But in all honesty i hope Intel does enter the market for graphics, making AMD and Nvidia push harder and faster for better products.
  • Stardude82
    So the answer to the question posed in the title is that it is neither really a gator nor a crock. It works on so many levels! Well, maybe just one since caimans are more closely related to alligators than crocodiles.
  • Tamz_msc
    I wonder if Nvidia will reduce the prices on the GTX 580 and 570.
  • Lamiel
    About the only good news I can see in this for AMD is how much they've increased their multi-GPU scaling, making the 6850's in Crossfire a great bargain. That's great, sure, but the new 6900 cards leave me completely underwhelmed. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to follow up the 6800's in this way. I'm an Nvidia user, but I was still looking forward with curiosity to seeing how much stronger the 6970 would be than the GTX 580. Looks like the hype-machine broke down this time... My guess is that a lot of the AMD/ATI fanatics will be scrambling to salvage some dignity after all their talking up of Cayman and how it would eat Nvidia's lunch.
  • fstrthnu
    This reminds me a lot about the recent release of the updated AMD processors - a temporary holdout while the company plans to release new ones ahead. Except these graphics cards don't even have value going for them. Nvidia was behind just a couple months ago, but now they're ready to crush AMD/Radeon. AMD better have something new coming, and FAST. Holding procedures will only do so much when your competitor is already developing their next-gen GPUs.
  • iam2thecrowe
    Dissappointed. well i guess anyone that bought a 5xxx series card that couldnt wait can now be content that they made an ok choice. The only thing i got from this review is that i want 2 x gtx460's or 2 x 6850's, not the new amd cards.
  • cheesesubs
    134065 said:
    Last month, Nvidia launched its GeForce GTX 580, but we told you to hold off on buying it. A week ago, Nvidia launched GeForce GTX 570 and we again said "wait." AMD's Cayman was our impetus. Were Radeon HD 6970 and 6950 worth the wait? Read on for more! Radeon HD 6970 And 6950 Review: Is Cayman A Gator Or A Crock? : Read more



    like i had mention it before it was all due to lack of rop count and narrow buss width because amd was simply been cheap ass create such failure chip to save pathetic die space and pcb layout because they're financial situation doesn't allow to. they were honestly believe they can milk it out just like they were with cypress but they are completely wrong. making same mistake like they were in k8's day prove amd can always to be a small-secondary company.

    funny is, i was telling people from techpowerup that 6970 will either get more rop count/larger bus width or prepare get rape. and it seems my prediction was righ all along even though i was banned due to having conflict with their retarded administratorship and these stupid stanford university student believe graphic card should putting on folding@home to save pathetic man kind but actuall they are benefit them selves by using people's computing power for their research. that is the reason they support fermi and cayman architecture until i expose they true purpose and got banned.
  • beans4you
    All I can say is I bought my ASUS gtx480 for 480$ on newegg.ca back in Aug lol and two 460's in my bros setup for 400$. Have not seen any slow down in any situation, thats what counts right? weeeoooooo!
  • bluekoala
    Seems like AMD really improved features and balance more than anything else with this card. I have a feeling the HD7000 series will be more inclined towards muscle like the HD4000 and HD5000 cards were. I'm not disappointed as this is good progress.
  • luke904
    they compete... they are as good per price... but nothing exciting