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Mini-Review: AMD HD 5850 to AMD HD 6950 @ 2560x1600

post #1 of 6
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Intro

I picked up a Sapphire 6950 off Newegg to upgrade my rig. I wasn't really expecting much to be honest, but I wanted something to tinker with and I figured the DX11 tweaks and 2GB of vRAM wouldn't hurt . Since I was expecting the performance difference to be minimal, I did some before and after benchmarking just to quantify it, and ended up surprised . So then, numbers first, narrative later.

Setup

I tested three games - Metro 2033, Crysis v1.21, and AvP, all using their bundled benchmarks. Settings are as follows:

Metro 2033 - 1920x1080, DX11, Very High, Tesselation On, AAA, 4xAF (so I could more easily compare around the net)
Crysis - 2560x1600, No AA, everything Very High, DX10, 32-bit
AvP - 2560x1600, DX11, 1x MSAA, all other options maxed.

The 5850 was run on 11.1a's while the 6950 was run on 11.2's - I don't think it makes much of a difference. "Locked" signifies the 6950 was run with its stock BIOS with 1408 shaders and 88 texture units. "Unlocked" signifies the 6950 was run with a moddified BIOS that unlocked the card to 1536 shaders and 96 texture units.

5850 Stock (750/1000MHz)

Metro 2033 - Average FPS - 30.26
Crysis - Average FPS - 19.54
AvP - Average FPS - 26.0

5850 Overclocked (1050/1250MHz)

Metro 2033 - Average FPS - 39.32 (+29.9%)
Crysis - Average FPS - 26.015 (+33.1%)
AvP - Average FPS - 35.1 (+35%)

6950 Unlocked, Stock Clocks (800MHz/1250MHz) - Compared to the Stock 5850

Metro 2033 - Average FPS - 40.14 (+32.6%)
Crysis - Average FPS - 24.13 (+23.5%)
AvP - Average FPS - 33.0 (+26.9%)

6950 Unlocked, Overclocked (1030MHz/1425MHz) (+28.75%/+14%) - Compared to the Overclocked 5850 and the 6950 Unlocked @ stock clocks

Metro 2033 - Average FPS - 46.65 (+18.6%) (+16.2%)
Crysis - Average FPS - 29.085 (+11.8%) (+20.5%)
AvP - Average FPS - 40.1 (+14.2%) (+21.5%)

Benchmarking Thoughts: I honestly wasn't expecting 15% over my 5850 - more like 5-10%. I knew DX11 performance would be the best, but I was really surprised that the 6950 still pulled ahead by almost 12% in DX10 Crysis. Definitely sweet .

Addendum:

6950 Locked, Overclocked, (1030MHz/1425MHz) - Compared to the 6950 Unlocked @ 1030/1425MHz

Metro 2033 - Average FPS - 45.65 (-2.15%)
Crysis - Average FPS - 28.235 (-2.92%)
AvP - Average FPS - 38.6 (-3.74%)

Personal/Non-Performance Impressions

The card is big, same as a 5870. I like the heatsink redesign, it feels meaty but balanced so it's not going to rip the card out of the mobo. I first installed the card stock to make sure it booted and to make sure it would flash to 1536 shaders. Both were successful and honestly, the process could not have been easier. I had one hiccup where I didn't put the BIOS to be modded into the folder before starting the unlocking batch file, and after that it was smooth sailing - so follow directions and you'll have no problems. The card flashed in ATI Winflash, rebooted, and bam, I had 1536 shaders @ 800MHz. Also to note, at stock settings (even unlocked), the card is very quiet when gaming, although that quickly changes if you crank the fan up for overclocking. The only other hiccup I had was the card idling at 5850 idle clocks (157/300) instead of the norm (250/100), which was fixed by reinstalling the drivers again.

After running benchmarks at 800MHz and 1536 shaders, I took out the card and disassembled it to put on my MCW-80. It's great not having to take apart my loop to change graphics cards. If there's one thing I could be pissed at AMD for with this card, it's screwing modders by soldering the vapor chamber heatsink to the memory/PWM unisink. I picked up a set of Enzotech BGA heatsinks and used some mosfet heatsinks I had from previously to cool down what was needed on the card. The attached pic shows the card. I actually ended up cutting the last mosfest heatsink into to smaller ones because it wasn't sticking at all. Even after attaching the smaller ones with a dab of super glue, they don't feel super secure. I think I might spring for the Thermalright VRM heatsink whenever they release it. You'll also notice how close the clearance is on the RAM heatsinks and my tubing - I lucked out there .


(My tubing is disgusting, I know; Spring is coming )

Once I was under water, I started clocking. I was good at stock voltage (1.1V) until ~930MHz. 1.15V got me to ~970MHz. 1.2V got me to 1000MHz, and I topped off at 1040MHz and 1.3V. TBH, I was expecting worse. This is close to what my 5850 and at less voltage (my 5850 topped out at 1080MHz @ 1.35V). The RAM surprised me topping out at 1425MHz after I heard many people had trouble breaking 1350MHz. One thing to note is that every time the clocks are reset/upped, one also has to enable PowerPlay back at +20% to keep the card from throttling - this is an extra step in overclocking, but hey, I appreciate features. The final clocks represent a 28.75% overclock on the core and a 14% overclock on the RAM. Nothing really to write home about, but considering the card is also fully unlocked, I think it's more impressive. I'm probably spoiled by the 45% overclocks on my 5850, and AMD simply wasn't so conservative this time around. All in all, I think I got a good card. Also to note, like its predecessor, this card loves cold. Which is a problem, since it produces more heat . Under load at maximum clocks I saw about 35W more drawn from the wall (405W vs. 370W). Not incredible, but I could see the extra heat in my loop and the temps were much higher (~46C as opposed to 38C). However, it actually improved in performance/watt, so nice work AMD!

Final Thoughts

For ~$250 shipped (less if you have a promo code like I did), these cards are an unbelievable deal. Amazingly, AMD has been able to deliver another ~$250 powerhouse after the awesomeness that was the 5850. I'll probably leave at 1000/1400 for everyday gaming, but I'm walking away impressed with the package - unlocking to 1536 shaders, 2GB of RAM, and a bunch of DX11 tweaks, this is the card to get. I'm not sure if it's worth it to upgrade from a 5850, but if you have a lower-end 5xxx series or any 4xxx series, this card is the one.

Hope you enjoyed the read; questions, comments, and requests are all welcome .
Edited by Dr. K6 - 2/20/11 at 8:19am
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post #2 of 6
Nice bench. How would the 6950 (locked and unlocked) compare with the 5870?
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post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by railfan844 View Post
Nice bench. How would the 6950 (locked and unlocked) compare with the 5870?
Thanks! On average, I'd say a stock, locked 6950 is on par with a 5870 - the 5870 might have an edge in older games while the 6950 will have an edge in newer (especially DX11) games. 5870's are generally good clockers, but I think the tests show that clock speed isn't going to make up the gap the 69xx cards have over the 58xx cards (even though that was my belief prior to this). A good 5870 will hit 1100MHz on water, but a 6950/6970 will still be faster even at lower clocks.
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post #4 of 6
Thread Starter 
Updated the first post to clear it up and added some benchmark runs with the shaders locked. Note that locking the shaders didn't add any extra overclocking headroom
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post #5 of 6
Hey thanks man for the info. Now when considering price difference do you feel that the 5850 or 6950 is a better deal?
post #6 of 6
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by idaWHALE View Post
Hey thanks man for the info. Now when considering price difference do you feel that the 5850 or 6950 is a better deal?
You're welcome . Considering the 5850 is ~$150USD and the 6950 is ~$230USD, it's going to depend on what you want. For pure price/performance, the 5850 can't be beat. It's hands down still the best buy, although it won't fair as well in newer DX11 games (due to tesselation, etc.), but once overclocked it's a beast in raw-horsepower terms. If you are looking for the latest and greatest, the 6950 is the best because of its better DX11 support, 2GB of RAM (great if you're playing at higher resolutions), etc. It's probably not worth the $80 price hike if you're pinching pennies, but the latest and greatest always carries a premium. In either case, I still feel these two cards greatly outshine the other options available in their price segments ($150-$300 really), especially in terms of value.
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