Conclusions
Performance

I think a lot of people were going to come into this review hoping to see the new Radeon HD 6900-series of graphics card dominate or at least overtake the GeForce GTX 400/500 cards in raw performance.  While that ALMOST happened in some cases, that wasn’t the intent from AMD with this generation and likely won’t be for the foreseeable future.  AMD is still taking the approach of developing a great enthusiast level GPU without going big enough to take the outright performance crown.  Then, by doubling up the GPUs on a single card, they can build the fastest solution of the generation: they did with the 4000 and 5000 series and we fully expect them to do so again with the HD 6990 in January or February.

That being said, the new HD 6970 and HD 6950 have some great performance results.  The HD 6970 was able to compete very well against the similarly priced GeForce GTX 570 and even beat it in many of our tests including the once-NVIDIA-dominated Metro 2033 title.  In that instance, the HD 6970 was almost able to keep up with the GTX 580 priced at least a $150 higher on the graphics card scale.  It’s close but if I were to select a winner in the battle between the HD 6970 and the GTX 570, I would likely go with the new AMD option.

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The HD 6950 brought a similar result but against very different price competition.  The GTX 470 sells for about $50 less and the GTX 570 sells for about $50 more and in most cases the HD 6950 split the difference in performance results as well.  In a handful of results the new Cayman card was able to beat out the more expensive NVIDIA card once again putting GTX 570 in a tough spot.  These types of graphics card competitions tend to have that affect.

In terms of the AMD-to-AMD debate, both the HD 6970 and the HD 6950 beat out their similarly priced counterparts in the HD 5870 2GB and HD 5850 1GB by about 15-20% on average.  The HD 6970 and HD 5870 are within about $20 of each other but the HD 5850 is still $45 or so less expensive than the HD 6950 indicating to me that the better value in terms of performance per dollar improvement is in the higher end options. 

Power and Efficiency

AMD told us that two of the goals for this card were to increase efficiency at the die size and power fields; in my view they really only accomplished one of these.  Yes, the performance per mm^2 has been improved thanks to the move to the VLIW4 architecture but only on a minor level as AMD continued to compare the “full-size” Cayman GPU to the “partial” GPU of the HD 5850 Cypress core. 

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But in terms of performance per watt, both the HD 6970 and HD 6950 fall behind the previous generation; the HD 6970 definitely so.  In fact, the power consumption results of it are easily approaching that of the GTX 570 and GTX 580 – something we wouldn’t have expected from a GPU based largely on the HD 5000-series designs.  It would seem that the sudden and drastic movement from a 32nm design to a 40nm design thanks to TSMC’s debacles is having an impact as we expected

Features

The HD 6900 series of cards offers essentially the same feature set as the HD 5800 of cards with just few additions: morphological and enhanced quality anti-aliasing, HDMI 1.4a support, DisplayPort 1.2 support and the new UVD3 engine.  Other than that, the changed display output configuration can be viewed as either a positive or negative depending on if you wanted two dual-link DVI outputs or desired more DisplayPort connectivity out of the box.  
 

Pricing and Availability

Ah, here it gets interesting.  Here is the pricing as we know it today based on the comparisons we made in all of our benchmarks on the previous pages:
Just as we laid out above, the HD 6970 has a good battle on its hands but by being able to compete with the GTX 580 even slightly, with such a price deficit, it looks better than anything else from the AMD lineup today.  The HD 6950 stands along at the $299 mark but might be just a bit too high compared to the remaining HD 5850s available on store shelves.  Once those are gone though, the HD 6950 would make a good choice resting right between the GTX 470 and GTX 570 cards. 
 

Final Thoughts

The new AMD Cayman architecture is finally out and while the performance of the cards didn’t blow us (or the NVIDIA GTX 500-series cards) away, they did bring improved single-GPU performance for the AMD product stack.  The Radeon HD 6970 2GB card offers the largest frame buffer for a single GPU solution (512MB more than the GTX 580) and with the architectural improvements brought about with the VLIW4 design, updated tessellation engines and AA enhancements, it is able to keep pace and beat the GTX 570 from NVIDIA in many places and nearly match the much more expensive GTX 580.  That puts the HD 6970 in a very competitive situation in terms of performance per dollar. 

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The HD 6950 finds itself standing with a $50 radius around it making it not only the perfect card for your $300 budget, but the only one; at least for now.  Again we saw performance results vary between beating out the lower price GTX 470 and nearly competing with the higher priced GTX 570 so it fell right where we expected it to. 

CrossFire scaling was very impressive for this generation and we expect more improvements as the generation matures.  And even though the AMD 6900-series appears to have lost much of the performance / watt advantages that the HD 6800 and 5800-series of cards’ had, the performance results are good enough to make this a successful launch. 

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Further Reading:

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