Sapphire Radeon HD 6950 2GB Video Card

The baby HD 6900 isn't so baby-like. Let's see what the HD 6950 offers us apart from that huge 2GB of GDDR5.

@ShawnBakerTW
Published Tue, Dec 14 2010 10:38 PM CST   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:02 PM CST
Rating: 92%Manufacturer: Sapphire

Introduction and Package


Introduction

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I can honestly say I wasn't 100% sure we would see this day, this year. Twelve months ago it was all about the GTX 480 which at this stage was already delayed by a month. Jump forward twelve months and the HD 6900 series which was due to come out this time last month wasn't here.

Little information on the model on all levels didn't help increase confidence levels, but fortunately it doesn't matter now; the card did make it this year, and we know that stock has been shipped to suppliers and it seems shipped in decent quantity, too.

AMD has managed to scrape in just before the holidays and the question on everyone's mind is, was it worth the wait? And do I buy this over one of the NVIDIA offerings?

Well, I'm not too sure yet since I'm still testing as I write this introduction; but by the end of it, though, I'll have a definitive answer for you. Before we get onto the performance side of things, let's see the package Sapphire is offering before we take a closer look at the actual card and the key specs to it.


The Package

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Checking out the package, there's nothing that you haven't seen before here. We've got a driver CD, quick install guide and brochure on Sapphire Select Club to round out the paperwork side of things.

As far as cables go, we've got a CrossFire link, DVI to VGA connector, mini-DP to DisplayPort convertor, HDMI cable and two Molex to 6-Pin PCI-E power connectors.

Card and Specifications


The Card

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Head on there's nothing too out of the ordinary here when it comes to the overall look of the card. We've got the same kind of fan design we've seen from the previous higher end AMD offerings, and of course Sapphire put their own sticker on top.

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Power to the card is offered in the form of two 6-Pin PCI-E power connectors. Nothing too scary looking and most power supplies should handle the card. Of course, we won't know for sure until we check out the power numbers later in the review.

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While some people were worried the HD 6900 series wouldn't carry with it support for more than two cards, we can show you here that it does indeed offer support for more than two. This isn't the big bit of news here, though; instead it's that tiny little switch that can be seen to the left of the Crossfire connectors.

We had seen images of this float around the net and there was plenty of speculation as to what this switch would do. Well, today we can tell you; AMD say it's a Dual BIOS option that allows for safer end user updates. Setting 1 is unprotected for user updates; setting 2 is protected as factory defaults. The way it ultimately works is if you flash your card and it goes wrong, you can flick the switch and boot up off the default BIOS. It mainly helps prevent the bricking of cards.

At the moment we're not 100% sure how companies are going to make use of this feature, but we're sure in the coming weeks we'll see companies like Sapphire attack it with models like the TOXIC.

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Connectivity is the same as the HD 6870; what that means is we've got two mini-DP connectors, HDMI 1.4a and two DVI connectors, one Dual-Link and the other Single-Link.


Specifications

Getting onto the actual specifications of the card, here are some of the more serious numbers. Stream Processors come in at 1408 via 22 SIMD; a nice jump up from the 1120 via 14 SIMD which is seen on the HD 6870.

Compared to the HD 6870, ROPs and Z-Stencils are the same at 32 and 128. Texture Units are up to 88 which compares to 56 on the HD 6870. While the memory bus width on both models are the same at 256-bit, the stand out is that the HD 6950 has a default 2GB of GDDR5.

This isn't the first time we've seen an AMD model carry with it 2GB of memory as stock, as the Eyefinity6 and HD 5970 both carried 2GB, but normally 2GB is reserved for more expensive cards. This could translate into the HD 6990, the dual GPU card we should see in 2011 carrying with it 4GB of memory.

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On the clock front we've got a default core clock of 800MHz, while that 2GB of GDDR5 carries with it a 5000MHz QDR clock, or a more impressive sounding 5GHz QDR memory clock.

Outside of that stuff, another one of the big features that AMD is pushing is PowerTune which is designed to make sure that only the power you need is being drawn at any one time. For most it's a feature which you won't really use knowingly, but something that will always be working.

Test System Setup and 3DMark 11


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We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: Intel, ASRock, Kingston, Mittoni, Noctua and Corsair.

We've got a whole mess of cards in our review today which include the HD 5870, HD 6870, HD 6850, HD 6850 in Crossfire, HD 6870 in Crossfire, Gainward GTX 570 Goes Like Hell Edition, MSI GTX 580 and the GIGABYTE GTX 480.

We'll be able to figure out exactly how the new HD 6950 sits in the market when we compare it to all these setups today. Just for good measure as well, though, we've added 3DMark 11 and Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 into the benchmark line-up.

We've also removed the original H.A.W.X. and Final Fantasy XIV; the latter due to the issues Crossfire has with the benchmark due to it running in Windowed mode. It means our TPR and TVR graphs will have to be started again, but we've already got a load of cards to add to it, so we're not worried.

We've got a huge amount of results on tap today which will give us a great idea of exactly how the HD 6950 sits compared to the current crop of both NVIDIA and AMD cards.

Let's get started!


3DMark 11

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.3dmark.com/3dmark11/
Buy It Here




3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world's most popular benchmark. Designed to measure your PC's gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

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Compared to the other single card AMD setups, you can see the HD 6950 has no trouble beating all of them at both presets. Compared to the NVIDIA offering it falls behind all of them; at the highest resolution, though, the gap is a lot smaller than it is at the lower one, especially when compared to the GTX 480.

3DMark Vantage




Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmarkvantage/
Buy It Here




3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware.

3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.

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With PhysX on we of course see the NVIDIA cards win out across the board here. Compared to the other AMD offerings we can see that the HD 5870 and HD 6870 are almost splitting hairs here with very little difference being seen.

Unigine Heaven Benchmark




Version and / or Patch Used: 2
Developer Homepage: http://www.unigine.com
Product Homepage: http://unigine.com/press-releases/091022-heaven_benchmark//



New benchmark grants the power to unleash the DirectX 11 potential in the gift wrapping of impressively towering graphics capabilities. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. With the interactive mode emerging experience of exploring the intricate world is ensured within reach. Through its advanced renderer, Unigine is one of the first to set precedence in showcasing the art assets with tessellation, bringing compelling visual finesse, utilizing the technology to the full extend and exhibiting the possibilities of enriching 3D gaming.

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What you see in the first two synthetic tests is the HD 6950 and HD 5870 performs very close to each other. When we add Tessellation into the mix, an area AMD has struggled in, we can see the new HD 6950 gets a really nice gain on the HD 5870 which goes to show the improvements AMD have made in this area.

Compared to the competition, we can see at the highest resolution the performance is similar to the GTX 480; but at the lower resolution it falls a fair bit behind the NVIDIA offerings.

Benchmarks - Resident Evil 5


Resident Evil 5

Version and / or Patch Used: Demo Benchmark
Developer Homepage: www.residentevil.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.residentevil.com/




Resident Evil 5 is a survival horror video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the seventh installment in the Resident Evil survival horror series, and was released on September 18. Resident Evil 5 revolves around Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar as they investigate a terrorist threat in Kijuju, a fictional town in Africa.

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Here we can again see that performance is very similar to the HD 5870 which means that performance sits behind the GTX 480. At the highest resolution, though, we continue to see that AMD cards are able to close the gap when compared to NVIDIA offerings.

Benchmarks - Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2


Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com/UK/default.aspx
Product Homepage: http://www.hawxgame.com/




Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 is an arcade-style flight action game developed by Ubisoft Romania and published by Ubisoft. The game is the sequel to Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X., released in 2009.

The game begins with Colonel David Crenshaw participating in a routine patrol mission in the Middle East. After halting an insurgent attack, a volley of missiles is fired at the Air Force base that Crenshaw was stationed at, with one of the missiles disabling Crenshaw's aircraft, resulting Crenshaw being in enemy captivity. A joint strike force composed of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and a Ghost Recon squad executes an operation to rescue Crenshaw. In Scotland, Royal Navy Pilot Colin Munro encounters an unidentified passenger aircraft that explodes from an on-board bomb when undergoing training exercise. In Russia, an air force squadron led by Colonel Denisov and Captain Dmitri Sokov engages separatist aircraft but is ordered to retreat from the region after numerous Russian military installations have been attacked.

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H.A.W.X. 2 has favored the NVIDIA offerings and we know that AMD aren't a fan of it. Fortunately, though, we've got playable FPS at all resolutions and we can see a nice performance boost in this situation when compared to the HD 5870 due to the games use of tessellation.

Benchmarks - Mafia II


Mafia II

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage: http://www.2kczech.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.mafia2game.com/
Buy It Here




Mafia II is a third-person action-adventure video game, the sequel to Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven. It is developed by 2K Czech, previously known as Illusion Softworks, and is published by 2K Games. The game is set from 1943 to 1951 in Empire Bay (the name is a reference to New York's state nickname "The Empire State"), a fictional city based on San Francisco and New York City, with influences from Chicago and Detroit. The game features a completely open-ended game map of 10 square miles. No restrictions are included from the start of the game. There are around 50 vehicles in the game, as well as licensed music from the era.

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We continue to see the HD 6950 and HD 5870 perform almost neck and neck; what that makes for when comparing against the NVIDIA offerings is that the card ultimately falls a little behind the GTX 480.

What we do continue to see from AMD is very strong higher resolution performance with the HD 6950 pulling out the win against the GTX 480 at the highest resolution. Unfortunately we fall a little under that 60 FPS mark in this situation; the HD 6970 should hopefully be able to close the gap, though.

Benchmarks - Lost Planet 2


Lost Planet 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark - Test A Scene 1
Developer Homepage: http://www.capcom.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.lostplanet2game.com/




Lost Planet 2 is a third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition which is also made by Capcom, taking place ten years after the events of the first game, on the same fictional planet. The story takes place back on E.D.N. III 10 years after the events of the first game. The snow has melted to reveal jungles and more tropical areas that have taken the place of more frozen regions. The plot begins with Mercenaries fighting against Jungle Pirates. After destroying a mine, the Mercenaries continue on to evacuate the area, in which a Category-G Akrid appears and attacks them. After being rescued, they find out their evacuation point (Where the Category-G appeared) was a set-up and no pick up team awaited them. The last words imply possible DLC additions to the game, "There's nothing to be gained by wiping out snow pirates... unless you had some kind of grudge."

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Under Lost Planet 2 NVIDIA really has a strong lead on AMD; we can see not a single AMD offering is able to break the 60 FPS mark when in single card form. We can see a nice little performance improvement over the HD 5870 again due to the emphasis placed on tessellation under Lost Planet 2, but the cards do struggle compared to the NVIDIA offerings.

Benchmarks - Aliens vs. Predator


Aliens vs. Predator

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage: http://www.rebellion.co.uk/
Product Homepage: http://www.sega.com/games/aliens-vs-predator/




Aliens vs. Predator is a science fiction first-person shooter video game, developed by Rebellion Developments, the team behind the 1999 original PC game, and published by Sega for Microsoft Windows, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. The game is based on the Alien vs. Predator franchise, a combination of the characters and creatures of the Alien franchise and the Predator franchise. There are three campaigns in the game, one for each race/faction (the Predators, the Aliens and the Colonial Marines), that, while separate in terms of individual plot and gameplay, form one overarching storyline.

Following the storyline of the campaign modes comes the multiplayer aspect of the game. In this Multiplayer section of the game, players face off in various different gametypes in various different ways.

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Getting to AvP, we don't have any surprises for the simple fact we're expecting the card to now perform around the same level as the HD 5870. Playable FPS is offered at 1680 x 1050 here, but we do fall short at 1920 x 1200 like the GTX 480.

Benchmarks - Street Fighter IV


Street Fighter IV

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage: http://www.capcom.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.streetfighter.com/




While Street Fighter IV features models and backgrounds rendered in 3D, the gameplay remains on a traditional 2D plane, with the camera having freedom to move in 3D at certain times during fights, for dramatic effect. Producer Yoshinori Ono has stated that he wanted to keep the game closer to Street Fighter II. A new system called "Focus Attacks" ("Saving Attack" for the Japanese version) has been introduced, as well as Ultra moves. The traditional six-button control scheme returns, with new features and special moves integrated into the input system, mixing classic gameplay with additional innovations.

All the characters and environments in Street Fighter IV are rendered as 3D models with polygons, similar to the Street Fighter EX sub-series Capcom produced with Arika. However, there are a couple of key differences. Art director and character designer Daigo Ikeno, who previously worked on Street Fighter III 3rd Strike, opted for non-photorealistic rendering to give them a hand-drawn look, with visual effects accented in calligraphic strokes, ink smudges and ink sprays during the fights.

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Big numbers across the board as you would expect; you're not going to have an issue gaming in an older game like Street Fighter IV with any setup here.

Benchmarks - Far Cry 2


Far Cry 2

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01
Timedemo or Level Used: Ranch Long
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.farcry2.com/
Buy It Here




The Dunia Engine was built specifically for Far Cry 2 by the award-winning Ubisoft Montreal development team. It delivers the most realistic destructible environments, amazing special effects such as dynamic fire propagation and storm effects, real-time night-and-day cycle, dynamic music system, non-scripted enemy A.I. and so much more.

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We see strong performance from all the setups here; we do continue to see the GTX 480 beat the HD 6950, though. We're not sure if AMD had planned to beat it or not, but since the card's been out for a while we figure they knew exactly where the model would sit against it.

Benchmarks - Batman Arkham Asylum


Batman Arkham Asylum

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage: http://www.batmanarkhamasylum.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.batmanarkhamasylum.com/





Batman: Arkham Asylum exposes players to a unique, dark and atmospheric adventure that takes them to the depths of Arkham Asylum - Gotham's psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. Gamers will move in the shadows, instigate fear amongst their enemies and confront The Joker and Gotham City's most notorious villains who have taken over the asylum.

Using a wide range of Batman's gadgets and abilities, players will become the invisible predator and attempt to foil The Joker's demented scheme.
Batman: Arkham Asylum features an original story penned exclusively for the game by famous Batman author and five-time Emmy award winner Paul Dini, whose credits include Lost season one and Batman: The Animated Series.

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Batman AA numbers across the board are good as you would expect; slightly stronger than the HD 5870 at the higher resolution, but still behind the GTX 480 across the board.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF


High Quality AA and AF

Our high quality tests let us separate the men from the boys and the ladies from the girls. If the cards weren't struggling before they will start to now.

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AA performance doesn't hold any surprises to what we've already been seeing today; the HD 6950 performs similar to the HD 5870 and continues to fall a bit behind the GTX 480, sometimes slightly, while other times by a more significant margin.

Temperature Test


Temperature Tests



The temperature of the core is pulled from MSI Afterburner with the max reading used after a completed run off 3DMark Vantage and the Performance preset.

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Heat out of the model is fantastic; you can see it sits way down the list. This is going to be a very important number for a lot of people as heat has become more of an issue in the past twelve months.

Sound Test


Sound Tests



Pulling out the TES 1350A Sound Level Meter we find ourselves quickly yelling into the top of it to see how loud we can be.

After five minutes of that we get a bit more serious and place the device two CM away from the fan on the card to find the maximum noise level of the card when idle (2D mode) and in load (3D mode).

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Checking out the sound levels from the card, it's hard not to be impressed with the number. The low noise is going to be another important feature outside of just the general performance numbers.

Power Consumption Tests






Using our new PROVA Power Analyzer WM-01 or "Power Thingy" as it has become quickly known as to our readers, we are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into AC wall socket).

There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.

The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a SSD hard drive is used with a single CD ROM and minimal cooling fans.

So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.

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Power draw is really impressive coming in below 300 Watt; a number that is lower than even mid-range NVIDIA offerings like the GTS 450 and GTX 460.

Total Performance Rating (TPR)


Total Performance Rating

The TPR graph is a combination of all our benchmarks in which NVIDIA and ATI are on an even playing field.

The TPR number is a combination of:

3DMark Vantage, Heaven Benchmark V2, Resident Evil 5, Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X., Mafia 2 (PhysX Off), Lost Planet 2, Aliens vs. Predator, Final Fantasy XIV (No CF Support), Street Fighter IV, Far Cry 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum (PhysX Off) and our four High Quality tests which include Mafia 2, Aliens vs. Predator, Street Fighter IV and Far Cry 2.

All of the benchmark results achieved are then combined into a single number. As this graph will grow over time and cards won't be re-tested, next to each model you'll find the driver version that was used when the card was benchmarked.

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Performance is really very close to the HD 5870 in most situations. What blows the number out, though, is the improved tessellation performance. We see under tests like Heaven Benchmark and games like Lost Planet 2 the new HD 6950 is able to get a nice jump on the older HD 5870.

Total Value Rating (TVR)


Total Value Rating

The TVR graph is the TPR score divided by the price of the video card. The price of the video card is based on the list price of the model on Newegg.com. In the event the card isn't listed, it will be based on the U.S. $ MSRP given to us by the manufacturer.

In the event we can't source a price from either, the product will not receive a TVR rating. As with our TPR graph, the amount of video cards on the list will grow over time and the price of the model won't change from what it was when first reviewed. For this reason the U.S. $ price that the card is based off will be included next to the name of the model.

In the event you want to find the TVR rating yourself based on the current price, all you have to do is simply divide the TPR number by the list price.

TVR numbers are rounded to the nearest whole number; 100.3 will be 100; 100.8 will be 101 and 100.5 will be rounded down to 100.

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Value on a whole is pretty good and falls in line to that with the pre overclocked GTX 570 we looked at from Gainward. While slower than the GTX 480, the value is a lot better than it and the GTX 580.

Final Thoughts




You kind of get this feeling that the motto at AMD is "If you can't beat them on performance, beat them on price". It seems to be something that has constantly held true over the last couple of generations of cards we've seen from the team, previously known as the red one.

Compared to the current crop of NVIDIA cards, the HD 6850 doesn't really go directly against anything it seems. It's priced between the GTX 460 and GTX 570 and sits between the two models. The person who would buy the HD 6950 seems to be the person who wants to spend right on $300.

I feel a little confused with the HD 6950 and do struggle to figure out if it's a card that's as good as it could've been, or just a card that is good. Sure the performance is there in a lot of situations and the temperature, heat and power numbers are nothing short of fantastic, but you feel there's a "but" at the end of it all.

Maybe we expected too much from the HD 6950? Maybe the delays and the release of the NVIDIA cards skewed our opinions a bit. You have to think that if AMD released this card before the GTX 570 you would be looking at it against models priced significantly more than it. NVIDIA have really done a number on AMD when it comes to the GTX 500 series because it's really changed what we expected out of this card.

Word is stock's going to be strong. Talking to suppliers and retailers, I would be inclined to believe that with companies happy with the stock they're getting, this could ultimately be what wins it for AMD. Stock continues to be tight on the GTX 500 series and when you come to this time of year people aren't willing to wait just another two weeks, because there's a good chance that a bulk of their holiday has passed.

The best way to sum up the HD 6950, though, is that it's a HD 5870 with improved tessellation performance. This is how we summed up the HD 6800 series really, and we're not sure that it's going to be enough for some people.

The HD 6950 is a good card with essence of greatness in it. $299 is a good launch price, but I think that with the GTX 570 costing only $50 more it's not going to be an easy sell. It's certainly not an open and shut case, and this is probably the biggest problem with the HD 6950. While so often we see clear winners at a given price bracket, the HD 5800 series when it launched, the GTX 460 when it launched and so on, the decision to save the $50 and buy this over the GTX 570 isn't just a matter of going, "yeah, let's do it." It's the same for the GTX 570 as well now, though. You think, "do I save $50, take a bit of a performance hit and get the HD 6950, or do I stick with the GTX 570?".

For me the HD 6950 wins out for the simple fact I can run my three monitors off a single card. I won't be going back to a single monitor setup and if I can avoid it I would like to stay with a single card solution. Eyefinity is a niche market, though, and for many it's not going to be the thing that decides which card they buy.

The Sapphire HD 6950 offers us everything we would expect out of the card; good connectivity, a nice little bundle and just that typical confidence in owning a Sapphire product.

We do leave wondering if our expectations of the HD 6950 on a whole have been met. Overclocking and Crossfire support which is something we'll be looking at in the coming days are areas that will help make the decision easier.

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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