SAPPHIRE HD 6970

sapphire-radeon-hd-6970-100311bfvsrThe Sapphire HD 6970 is the flagship GPU for AMD HD 6000 series. The card reviewed is the 2048MB VRAM version.

  • Cayman XT
  • 1536 Stream Processors
  • 89mm²
  • 1024MB, 2048MB and 3072 MB 256-bit DDR5
  • 880 MHz
  • PCI Express 2.1 x16
  • 2703 GFLOPS
  • DirectX 11
  • OpenGL 3.2
  • CrossFireX
  • Dual slot turbo cooler
  • D-Sub Max Resolution : 2048×1536
  • DVI Max Resolution : 2560×1600
  • HDMI
  • DisplayPort x2
  • HDCP
  • AMD PowerTune
  • 267W TDP

The HD 6970 was released December 15, 2010 however supply problems limited availability until the spring of 2011. The launch price was $369 which forced NVIDIA to cut prices on their GTX 570 and GTX 580.

This card is now in legacy support. Crimson 16.2.1 beta is the last driver offered. Be sure to not install the Gaming Evolved.

One version of the Sapphire HD 6970 featured Battlefield: Bad Company 2 on a shroud sticker as one of the marketing promotions. Video cards often bundle popular games to motivate sales.

The AMD Radeon HD 6900 Series graphics features an enhanced second-generation, Microsoft DirectX 11-capable architecture including new VLIW4 core architecture. AMD has indicated they are not supporting DX12 with their HD 5000 and HD 6000 series cards for Windows 10.

The  HD 6970 is made on the same 40nm line as the previous HD 5870.  The GPU is 389mm². The large size means not as many can be made for a given wafer. AMD has rejigged the product numbers which means reviews need to be more careful. Our page on game performance has lots of background on game options and relative performance.

The HD 6970 has been noted with 1024MB however we have the 2048MB version which is the most common for gaming with 64-bit Windows. Today 64-bit Windows is now mainstream for gaming so supporting larger VRAM capacity is not an issue.

We expect that cards in the future will eventually have upwards of 4096MB VRAM to support 3820×2160. The HD 6970 is designed for enthusiast gaming at 1920×1080.

In recent years VRAM on video cards has increased incrementally. In 2011 most cards sold came with only 1024MB VRAM making the Sapphire HD 6970 a premium version of the card. Our more recent GTX 660 Ti also ships with 2048MB VRAM with a 3072MB version available. The GTX 980 and R9 290X offer 4096MB versions.

The 256-bit bus combined with the dual DMA channels boosted bandwidth nicely. Main memory bandwidth is usually slower but more recently  DDR4 has boosted speeds.

The rival GTX 580 has 384-bit memory which is faster but the dual DMA on the HD 6970 approaches this speed with 256-bit. Essentially AMD is using each bank with its own DMA controller which makes it more flexible.

AMD has managed to get idle power down to 20W with their flagship HD 6970 and we expect that future video cards will improve on that now that the 1W initiative had been adopted by the EU. The HD6970 uses the latest refinement of the AMD PowerTune dynamically adjusts the GPU clock similar to the way a modern CPU does it. This has a material improvement in the overall power consumption compared to older cards.

Sapphire provides reference cloned versions of the HD 6970 running 880 MHz which. There is some room for overclocking.

CAYMAN XT

Originally the Cayman GPU was to be manufactured at 32nm but TSMC scrapped that line in favor of their 28nm facility. Cayman was consequently manufactured at 40nm. Cayman was released about 9 months after NVIDIA launched the GTX 580. The following year, AMD moved into 28nm with the new HD 7970.

HD 5870 HD 6970 HD 7970 R9 290X R9 390X
Streams 1600 1536 2048 2816 2816
Core Clock (MHz) 850 880 1000 1000 1100
Memory Clock (MHz) 1900 1375 1500 1250 1525
VRAM Size 1024 MB 2048 MB 3072 MB 4096 MB 8192 MB
VRAM Width 256-bit 256-bit 384-bit 512-bit 512-bit
Feature Size 40 nm 40 nm 28nm 28nm 28nm

AMD Cayman GPU block diagram

The architecture is made of 24 SIMD modules organized into 2 banks. This is similar to the architecture used with the GTX 580. The binned parts make up the lower price points.

The aggregate performance for Cayman is quite impressive as each of the 24 SIMDs are capable of 128 single precision or 32 double precision FLOP per cycle, a total of 2.7 TFLOP/s (675 GFLOPS double precision) for the high-end model.

Cayman is designed as 2 banks of SIMD processors to make it easier to manufacture. This design is AMD’s first attempt to move into the compute market. Over time, both AMD and NVIDIA are looking to expand the markets for their graphics hardware.

SIZE MATTERS

The HD 6970 comes with typical dual slot turbo fan cooler. The fan noise is enough to be heard when the card is loaded to max. Generally this card is powerful enough not to be saturated by many games at all. This means the fan notice is hardly noticeable.

The HD 6970 is a longer card and some versions are 11½” long. The Corsair Carbide 300R chassis has enough room for the primary slot for even longer cards due to the open area between the drive cages which provides over 17″. This is designed for dual GPU cards which can be very long.

MEDIA

The HD 6970 also is ideal for a media center machine. Using our PA238QR the combination maintain the EPAET Gold rating.

Modern video cards that feature HDMI now routinely also feature integrated HD audio. Often a TV will drive the sound system so HDMI included audio in the cable specification. Older cards like our GTX 260s use a dongle to provide HDMI connectivity and a cable to the S/PDIF header on the motherboard.

Using HDMI, PowerDVD BD Advisor reported that HDCP was not working properly. This prevented movies from playing. Using a DVI dongle was needed to be able to get HDCP working.

POWER

The HD 6900 cards compete with the GTX 570 and GTX 580. Overclocking blurs the differences even more. All such cards are demanding for power, so its advisable to buy an extreme power supply. This is the reason we bought the TX850V2 which was the highest capacity of the line. Today we suggest a 1000W model would provide a solid service life for dual card situations. Remember some games can push the GPU power to 120% of TDP so its important to have a wide margin for safety.

The HD 6970 has a switch for BIOS 1 and BIOS 2. This allows for a BIOS recovery in case of errors. This is now common with motherboards as well.

The HD 6970 needs a 6-pin and an 8-pin PCI Express power connector. The reference HD 6970 is 250W. Overclocking will bump this up.

The top AMD GPU needs a lot of power so its advisable to have at least a 650W power supply for the system to provide a safe margin. CrossfireX users will want to consider 850W or more to be successful. The AMD PowerTune power management technology dynamically adjusts power draw on the fly. AMD has reduced the idle power load to nearly 1W and they can also disable a second card completely if not needed.

AMD Overdrive clearly can dramatically increase power to a video card. This is why we are adamant to have an extreme power supply. The stock HD 6970 can use 250W and with a 20% boost, that makes the card use over 300W. The 50% boost simply raises the GPU power to 375W per card.

For surfing the internet the browser does not need significant graphics performance. Many older games actually will run on even more modest VRAM configurations however its advisable to use the 2048MB version generally. Many recent games are now 64-bit which can take advantage better.

HEAT

At idle you can expect a temperature of 35-40°C but once pushed to 100%, the temperatures will rise to ~78°C. Even with Furmark running for the full 15 minutes did not cause the card to overheat. Our Corsair Carbide 300R has excellent air flow which unquestionably benefits this card immensely.

The HD 6970 has 5 thermal sensors, one for the voltage regulator and one for the GPU itself and 3 other sensors for the VRAM arrays. These provide abundant information to enthusiasts to determine if their is a thermal problem with an overclocked card.

This card we have is equipped with the Arctic Accelero Xtreme III GPU cooler. This cooler can reduce noise by 32 dBA and temperature by 25°C compared to the factory cooler. This cooler targets cards with single fan coolers which tend to be very hot and noisy. Our EVGA GTX 660 Ti FTW Signature 2 has a dual fan cooler that works almost as well. The Arctic Accelero Xtreme III is 11½ inches long which may be a tight squeeze in some smaller chassis.

The Corsair 300R chassis with 2 top fans can remove the heat generated by video cards very efficiently. The rear fan also works to remove accumulated heat.


WINDOWS 8

We were unable to find UEFI support for the Sapphire HD 6970 even though there is more than enough room for the VBIOS to add support. This means that the Sapphire HD 6970 will need to be run in compatibility mode which means it will not be able to boot disks bigger than 2 TB.

The HD 6970 comes with a DVI-VGA dongle for backwards compatibility. Today the vast majority of PC gamers have long ago traded in CRT monitors for LCD panels. The HD 6970 also provides to DisplayPort connections.

The Sapphire HD 6970 is the flagship single GPU card for AMD HD 6000 series.  The HD 6970 was released December 15, 2010 however supply problems limited availability until the spring of 2011. The launch price was $369 which forced NVIDIA to cut prices.

One version of the Sapphire HD 6970 featured Battlefield: Bad Company 2 on a shroud sticker as one of the marketing promotions.

The AMD Radeon HD 6900 Series graphics features an enhanced second-generation, Microsoft DirectX 11-capable architecture including new VLIW4 core architecture. AMD has indicated they are not supporting DX12 with their HD 5000 and HD 6000 series cards for Windows 10.

The  HD 6970 is made on the same 40nm line as the previous HD 5870.  The GPU is 389mm². The large size means not as many can be made for a given wafer. AMD has rejigged the product numbers which means reviews need to be more careful. Our page on game performance has lots of background on game options and relative performance.

The HD 6970 has been noted with 1024MB however we have the 2048MB version which is the most common for gaming with 64-bit Windows. Today 64-bit Windows is now mainstream for gaming so supporting larger VRAM capacity is not an issue. We expect that cards in the future will eventually have upwards of 4096MB VRAM to support 3820×2160. The HD 6970 is designed for enthusiast gaming at 1920×1080.

In recent years VRAM on video cards has increased incrementally. In 2011 most cards sold came with only 1024MB VRAM making the Sapphire HD 6970 a premium version of the card. Our more recent GTX 660 Ti also ships with 2048MB VRAM with a 3072MB version available. The GTX 980 and R9 290X offer 4096MB versions.

The 256-bit bus combined with the dual DMA channels boosted bandwidth nicely. Main memory bandwidth is usually slower but more recently  DDR4 has boosted speeds.

The rival GTX 580 has 384-bit memory which is faster but the dual DMA on the HD 6970 approaches this speed with 256-bit. Essentially AMD is using each bank with its own DMA controller which makes it more flexible.

AMD has managed to get idle power down to 20W with their flagship HD 6970 and we expect that future video cards will improve on that now that the 1W initiative had been adopted by the EU.

Sapphire provides reference cloned versions of the HD 6970 running 880 MHz which. There is some room for overclocking.

AS TESTED

CHASSIS Corsair Carbide 300R
MB Asus M5A99FX PRO R2.0
CPU AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition 3.4 GHz
HSF Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo
RAM 12288MB DDR3-1600 dual channel
GPU Sapphire HD 6970
PSU Corsair TX850V2
MON Asus PA238QR (1920×1080 60Hz)
KB/M Microsoft Wireless Desktop 2000 & Wacom Bamboo Capture
HD Seagate Barracuda 7200.14 ST2000DM001
OS Windows 8.1 x64 Professional

PERFORMANCE

All of the benchmarks are available here.

DIRECTX 12

A a games developer conference in early 2014, Microsoft announced DirectX 12 which will ship with the next Windows release.

CONCLUSION

The Sapphire HD 6970 is not cheap, but if you want to beat up on games in 2010 then this card is one tough hombre. Even after 5 years, in 2015, all games are very playable. Sapphire HD 6970