Date: January 21, 2011
Author(s): Rob Williams
AMD’s top-end Radeon HD 6970 2GB is one of the best GPU choices on the market right now, and adding to its flavor a bit, Sapphire customized the reference card to produce the Battlefield: Bad Company 2: Vietnam edition. In addition to featuring a copy of the game, it comes complete with many accessories (including an HDMI cable).
AMD last month released its flagship single-GPU cards, the Radeon HD 6900 series, which proved to be great competition to NVIDIA’s higher-end offerings. In the end, both AMD and NVIDIA at that point delivered some great options for gamers to spend their hard-earned bucks on. Since that launch, AMD’s cards seem to have been well-received, and we’re sure to soon see the first follow-ups get released.
At the same time as AMD’s launch, Sapphire released two editions of its own Radeon HD 6970’s, both of which feature the Battlefield: Bad Company 2: Vietnam first-person shooter included as a voucher. The version we received simply includes the voucher, while the “Special Edition” is packed in an actual suitcase. I haven’t been able to find that version online, so I’m not sure what the price premium is.
Until the Radeon HD 6990 comes along, the HD 6970 2GB remains AMD’s highest-end offering, and as discovered in our launch article, it performs just about the same as NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 570, which for its $370 price tag, is just about right.
As it is today, AMD’s GPU line-up is rather large, although many of the choices don’t make sense with the HD 6800 and HD 6900 series available. Until AMD releases follow-ups for the entire HD 5000 series, those will remain on e-tailers such as Newegg.
|Radeon HD 6970|
|Radeon HD 6950|
|Radeon HD 6870|
|Radeon HD 6850|
|Radeon HD 5970|
1600 x 2
|Radeon HD 5870 Eyefinity 6|
|Radeon HD 5870|
|Radeon HD 5850|
|Radeon HD 5830|
|Radeon HD 5770|
|Radeon HD 5750|
512MB – 1GB
Sapphire’s BF2: BC edition might be “special”, but it’s still based on AMD’s reference design. That’s far from being a bad thing, though, as the cooler proved efficient in our launch article and is quiet to boot. For those who enjoy special faces on their cards, this one looks pretty good – as long as you are a Battlefield fan.
Right out of the box, the card can support 2x DVI monitors and also an HDMI. If you happen to have mini-DisplayPorts on your monitor, you could take advantage of those ports as well, or if you have extender docks, you could use an Eyefinity setup with one or both of those ports (for 3 or 6 displays). For a normal Eyefinity configuration, you’ll need to use one of these DisplayPort ports, using a mini-DP to DP adapter, and then use a combination of the HDMI and DVI ports.
Included with the card, but not pictured, is a CrossFireX bridge, a D-Sub adapter, Mini-DP to DP cable, an 8-pin to 4-pin power cable, a 6-pin to 4-pin power cable, a 1.8m HDMI 1.4a cable and also the driver CD.
At SmartKevin, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate as possible. Our testing is rigorous and time-consuming, but we feel the effort is worth it. In an attempt to leave no question unanswered, this page contains not only our testbed specifications, but also a detailed look at how we conduct our testing.
The below table lists our testing machine’s hardware, which remains unchanged throughout all GPU testing, minus the graphics card. Each card used for comparison is also listed here, along with the driver version used. Each one of the URLs in this table can be clicked to view the respective category on our site for that product.
Intel Core i7-975 Extreme Edition – Quad-Core @ 4.05GHz – 1.40v
Gigabyte GA-EX58-EXTREME – F13j BIOS (08/02/2010)
Corsair DOMINATOR – 12GB DDR3-1333 7-7-7-24-1T, 1.60v
|ATI Graphics|| Radeon HD 6970 2GB (Sapphire) – Catalyst 10.12|
Radeon HD 6970 2GB (Reference) – Catalyst 10.12 Beta
Radeon HD 6950 2GB (Reference) – Catalyst 10.12 Beta
Radeon HD 6870 1GB (Reference) – Catalyst Oct 5, 2010 Beta
Radeon HD 6850 1GB (Sapphire Toxic) – Catalyst 10.11
Radeon HD 6850 1GB (Reference) – Catalyst Oct 5, 2010 Beta
Radeon HD 5870 1GB (Sapphire) – Catalyst 10.8
Radeon HD 5850 1GB (ASUS) – Catalyst 10.8
Radeon HD 5830 1GB (Reference) – Catalyst 10.8
Radeon HD 5770 1GB (Sapphire FleX) – Catalyst 10.9
Radeon HD 5770 1GB (Reference) – Catalyst 10.8
Radeon HD 5750 1GB (Sapphire) – Catalyst 10.8
|NVIDIA Graphics|| GeForce GTX 480 1536MB (Reference) – GeForce 260.63|
GeForce GTX 470 1280MB (EVGA) – GeForce 260.63
GeForce GTX 460 1GB (EVGA) – GeForce 260.63
GeForce GTX 450 1GB (ASUS) – GeForce 260.63
Gateway XHD3000 30″
When preparing our testbeds for any type of performance testing, we follow these guidelines:
To aide with the goal of keeping accurate and repeatable results, we alter certain services in Windows 7 from starting up at boot. This is due to the fact that these services have the tendency to start up in the background without notice, potentially causing inaccurate test results. For example, disabling “Windows Search” turns off the OS’ indexing which can at times utilize the hard drive and memory more than we’d like.
The most important services we disable are:
The full list of Windows services we assure are disabled is large, but for those interested in perusing it, please look here. Most of the services we disable are mild, but we go to such an extent to have the PC as highly optimized as possible.
At this time, we benchmark with three resolutions that represent three popular monitor sizes available today, 20″ (1680×1050), 24″ (1920×1080) and 30″ (2560×1600). Each of these resolutions offers enough of a variance in raw pixel output to warrant testing with it, and each properly represent a different market segment: mainstream, mid-range and high-end.
Because we value results generated by real-world testing, we don’t utilize timedemos. The possible exceptions might be Futuremark’s 3DMark Vantage and Unigine’s Heaven 2.1. Though neither of these are games, both act as robust timedemos. We choose to use them as they’re a standard where GPU reviews are concerned.
All of our results are captured with the help of Beepa’s FRAPS 3.2.3, while stress-testing and temperature-monitoring is handled by OCCT 3.1.0 and GPU-Z, respectively.
For those interested in the exact settings we use for each game, direct screenshots can be seen below:
It’s not that often that faithful PC gamers get a proper racing game for their platform of choice, but Dirt 2 is one of those. While it is a “console port”, there’s virtually nothing in the game that will make that point stand out. The game as a whole takes good advantage of our PC’s hardware, and it’s as challenging as it is good-looking.
Manual Run-through: The race we chose to use in Dirt 2 is the first one available in the game, as it’s easily accessible and features a lot of GPU-pounding effects that the game has become known for, such as realistic dust and water effects, a large on-looking crowd of people and fine details on and off the track. Each run-through lasts the entire two laps, which comes out to about 2.5 minutes.
As both Sapphire’s special edition HD 6970 2GB and the reference card share identical clocks, the performance seen throughout the entire article is not going to be swayed in the least. The same general drivers were used as well, as when this card was benchmarked, the Catalyst 11.1 drivers were unavailable, even in beta form.
We’ll include a lot of the banter from our launch article, as virtually nothing is different in our opinions.
Just Cause 2 might not belong to a well-established series of games, but with its launch, it looks like that might not be the case for long. The game offers not only superb graphics, but an enormous world to explore, and for people like me, a countless number of hidden items to find around it. During the game, you’ll be scaling skyscrapers, racing through jungles and fighting atop snow-drenched mountains. What’s not to like?
Manual Run-through: The level chosen here is part of the second mission in the game, “Casino Bust”. Our runthrough begins at the second-half of the level, which requires us to situate ourselves on top of a car and have our driver, Karl Blaine, speed us through part of the island to safety. This is a great mission for benchmarking as we get to see a lot of the landmass, even if some of it is at a distance.
Both Dirt 2 and Just Cause 2 tend to favor AMD’s cards over NVIDIA’s, but while AMD fell slightly behind where we expected it to be with Dirt 2, it came ahead in Just Cause 2. Here, rather than NVIDIA’s GTX 570 coming ahead of AMD’s HD 6970, the latter came ahead of NVIDIA’s flagship, the GTX 580.
For fans of the original Mafia game, having to wait an incredible eight years for a sequel must’ve been tough. But as we found out in our review, the wait might be forgotten as the game is quite good. It doesn’t feature near as much depth as say, Grand Theft Auto IV, but it does a masterful job of bringing you back to the 1940’s and letting you experience the Mafia lifestyle.
Manual Run-through: Because this game doesn’t allow us to save a game in the middle of a level, we chose to use chapter 7, “In Loving Memory…”, to do our runthrough. That chapter begins us on a street corner with many people around, and from there, we run to our garage, get in our car, and speed out to the street. Our path ultimately leads us to the park, and takes close to two minutes to accomplish.
Being that Mafia II was built with NVIDIA cards in mind, it’s of little surprise to see those cards out-perform AMD’s all-around. In order for AMD to compete, dual GPUs need to be used. Performance is still good all-around, though, from both teams.
One of the more popular Internet memes for the past couple of years has been, “Can it run Crysis?”, but as soon as Metro 2033 launched, that’s a meme that should have died. Metro 2033 is without question one of the beefiest games on the market, and though it supports DirectX 11, it’s almost a feature worth ignoring, because the extent you’ll need to go to in order to see playable framerates isn’t likely going to be worth it.
Manual Run-through: The level we use for testing is part of chapter 4, called “Child”, where we must follow a linear path through multiple corridors until we reach our end point, which takes a total of about 90 seconds. Please note that due to the reason mentioned above, we test this game in DX10 mode, as DX11 simply isn’t that realistic from a performance standpoint.
AMD’s offerings strike back here, which again is to be expected when the trend has been that Radeons have excelled in this particular game since its release. In the HD 6970 vs. GTX 580 argument, both cards perform just about the same.
Of all the games we test, it might be this one that needs no introduction. Back in 1998, Blizzard unleashed what was soon to be one of the most successful RTS titles on the planet, and even as of today, the original is still heavily played all around the world – even in actual competitions. StarCraft II of course had a lot of hype to live up to, and it did, thanks to its intense gameplay and superb graphics.
Manual Run-through: The portion of the game we use for testing is part of the Zero Hour mission, which has us holding fort until we’re able to evacuate. Our saved game starts us in the middle of the mission, and from the get-go, we build a couple of buildings and concurrently move our main units up and around the map. Total playtime lasts about two minutes.
StarCraft II also seems to be an NVIDIA-bound game, and that’s evidenced by the results here. But at 2560×1600, AMD’s cards did manage to pull ahead, possibly due to its large 2GB buffer.
Although we generally shun automated gaming benchmarks, we do like to run at least one to see how our GPUs scale when used in a ‘timedemo’-type scenario. Futuremark’s 3DMark 11 is without question the best such test on the market, and it’s a joy to use, and watch. The folks at Futuremark are experts in what they do, and they really know how to push that hardware of yours to its limit.
Similar to a real game, 3DMark 11 offers many configuration options, although many (including us) prefer to stick to the profiles which include Performance, and Extreme. Depending on which one you choose, the graphic options are tweaked accordingly, as well as the resolution. As you’d expect, the better the profile, the more intensive the test. The benchmark doesn’t natively support 2560×1600, so to benchmark with that, we choose the Extreme profile and simply change the resolution.
Although the GTX 580 and GTX 570 either out-performed or matched the performance of the HD 6970 in our tests, 3DMark 11 shows that the HD 6970 performs almost just as well as the GTX 580.
While Futuremark is a well-established name where PC benchmarking is concerned, Unigine is just beginning to become exposed to people. The company’s main focus isn’t benchmarks, but rather its cross-platform game engine which it licenses out to other developers, and also its own games, such as a gorgeous post-apocalytic oil strategy game. The company’s benchmarks are simply a by-product of its game engine.
The biggest reason that the company’s “Heaven” benchmark grew in popularity rather quickly is that both AMD and NVIDIA promoted it for its heavy use of tessellation, a key DirectX 11 feature. Like 3DMark Vantage, the benchmark here is overkill by design, so results here aren’t going to directly correlate with real gameplay. Rather, they showcase which card models can better handle both DX11 and its GPU-bogging features.
In comparing the HD 6900 series to the HD 6800 series, it’s clear that there’s been some major improvements made where geometry performance is concerned. Comparing just the GTX 570 and HD 6970, which are priced almost the same, the performance is near-identical.
To test our graphics cards for both temperatures and power consumption, we utilize OCCT for the stress-testing, GPU-Z for the temperature monitoring, and a Kill-a-Watt for power monitoring. The Kill-a-Watt is plugged into its own socket, with only the PC connect to it.
As per our guidelines when benchmarking with Windows, when the room temperature is stable (and reasonable), the test machine is boot up and left to sit at the desktop until things are completely idle. Because we are running such a highly optimized PC, this normally takes one or two minutes. Once things are good to go, the idle wattage is noted, GPU-Z is started up to begin monitoring card temperatures, and OCCT is set up to begin stress-testing.
To push the cards we test to their absolute limit, we use OCCT in full-screen 2560×1600 mode, and allow it to run for 15 minutes, which includes a one minute lull at the start, and a four minute lull at the end. After about 5 minutes, we begin to monitor our Kill-a-Watt to record the max wattage.
Note:Due to power-related changes AMD has made to its HD 6900 series, and NVIDIA to its GTX 500 series, we cannot run OCCT for the sake of stress-testing. As a result, we have opted to use 3DMark Vantage’s Test 2 (space flight) to get some metrics until we’re able to re-test the entire suite with the updated method.
As expected, Sapphire’s BF2: BC edition card doesn’t change too much in terms of power consumption and temperatures.
Before tackling our overclocking results, let’s first clear up what we consider to be a real overclock and how we go about achieving it. If you read our processor reviews, you might already be aware that we don’t care too much for an unstable overclock. It might look good on paper, but if it’s not stable, then it won’t be used. Very few people purchase a new GPU for the sole purpose of finding the maximum overclock, which is why we focus on finding what’s stable and usable.
To find the max stable overclock on an AMD card, we stick to using the overclocking software included with the card, or at worst, AMD’s OverDrive tool. For NVIDIA, we use EVGA’s Precision, which allows us to reach heights that are in no way sane – a good thing.
Once we find what we believe might be a stable overclock, the card is put through 30 minutes of torture with the help of OCCT 3.0’s GPU stress-test, which we find to push any graphics card harder than any other stress-tester we’ve ever used. If the card passes there, we then further verify by running the card through a 2x run of 3DMark Vantage’s Extreme setting. Finally, games are quickly loaded and tested out to assure we haven’t introduced any side-effects.
If all these tests pass without issue, we consider the overclock to be stable.
The reference clocks for the Radeon HD 6970 are 880MHz on the core and 1350MHz on the memory, and in the case of Sapphire’s BF2: BC edition, there’s no change. To overclock, I used Sapphire’s own TriXX tool, as AMD’s own OverDrive tool proved too limiting.
Because I wasn’t able to increase the voltage (the tool didn’t allow it), the top “stable” overclocked proved to be 970MHz on the core and 1375MHz on the memory. This results in a fairly impressive boost for the core, but a lacklustre one for the memory… it’s just so finicky.
Given that our overall overclock wasn’t majorly impressive, the end results reflect that. Though I admit, some of the gains are a bit higher than I expected. Whether such gains are worth an overclock at all are for you to decide.
As it seems, AMD nor NVIDIA will be releasing new GPUs in the near-term that are going to disrupt the $300~$400 price-points, so it’s still safe to consider either the Radeon HD 6970 or its competition (GeForce GTX 570). In the scheme of performance-per-dollar, AMD’s card delivers the goods, as the GTX 570 performs a bit worse and costs less, and the GTX 580 costs more and performs a bit better.
The real selling-points come down to features and what you are looking for in a graphics card. I happen to appreciate greatly AMD’s Eyefinity multi-monitor technology, but not everyone needs or wants three monitors (I do ask why, though!). AMD’s cards also tend to have better power consumption and temperatures overall, though NVIDIA’s offerings are getting better.
For even more opinions on this versus debate, I recommend looking back to our Radeon HD 6900 series launch article, because I tackle things to a far greater degree there. Is this card for you? It depends on whether you are interested in paying up to $380 for it, but at least it scales in price like it does performance, so that’s not a concern.
This particular model card, including the Battlefield: Bad Company 2: Vietnam game, carries a ~$10 price premium, which for all intents and purposes, is well worth it if you like the genre or series. There’s even a version of this card at Newegg priced at $390 that also includes an 8GB flash drive – another nice perk if you can take advantage of it.
Sapphire Radeon HD 6970 BFBC2 Vietnam Edition
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