I have been a graphics snob/enthusiast since 1996, the year I first picked up a Voodoo Graphics board from Orchid. Where 3D technology was going just blew my mind, and I was hooked from there on out. During the following years there were always milestones and products that were indelibly marked in my mind. Products like the original Voodoo Graphics, laying hands on the first Voodoo 3s to hit the market, getting a surprise box from 3dfx with a pre-release Voodoo 5 enclosed, testing out a GeForce 3 and seeing Direct X 8 graphics for the first time, or running the Radeon 9700 Pro and experiencing the “rendering with natural light” demo from ATI. These were all memorable products and experiences, and each one holds a special place in my heart. The MSI R6970 is an experience right up there with the rest.
This was my first chance to work with the top end HD 6970 chip from AMD. Previously I had reviewed the lower end HD 6950, and it left me very impressed. While the stock HD 6970 cards are very good products, they just are not at the same level as the MSI R6970. The things that make this card unique and quite unforgettable is a combination of design, performance, efficiency, and a cooler which runs amazingly quiet yet cools far better than anything I had run into except for water cooling. While the R6970 is not as groundbreaking as some of those classic cards I mentioned above, it comes pretty close. It was honestly a pleasure to work with, and it caused me no problems whatsoever. It worked exactly like it should, and while my overclock was not as great as I had hoped, it still allowed this massive chip to go over the 1 GHz mark and stay stable there.
The BIOS switch that goes from standard/silent mode to performance.
The card has a MSRP of $379.99, but as of now can be found for a few dollars more than that. This card is around $45 more expensive before rebate than the lowest priced stock HD 6970. This card is obviously not for everyone. If money is a factor, then go with a reference board and save the money. But if a user wants to tweak this board, apply some extreme cooling to it and break a few records, then this really is the only game in town.
The one weakness of the board is the length of it. It sits at 12.1 inches in length, which is larger than what most case tolerances allow. In fact, it is slightly longer than a reference HD 6990 card. MSI could cut off a good half inch of the card due to the shroud extending well past the heatsink. I am not sure why MSI chose to extend the shroud this way, but my assumption is that it allows the fan cable some wiggle room between the back of the heatsink and anything potentially bumping up against it in the case. Even in the exceptionally roomy Raven-002 case the shroud was scraping the bottom of the case, and slightly deforming the shroud in the process.
Even in the Raven-002 the card hits the back/bottom of the case. Time to break out the tin snips?
Other than that issue, the card was a joy to work with. It is a tremendous design from MSI, and I am happy to say that they have erased the memory of the disappointing R5870 of yesteryear. It does have a price premium over a standard HD 6970, but in this case I think the premium is well worth it. It has a good overclock right out of the box, and the Twin Frozr III cooler is a marvel. Even though it does not exhaust the air outside of the case, it was so effective in cooling the chip that it barely raised the case temperature in the first place.
MSI has created a gem of a card. Encore, encore!