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Old 10-08-11   #1
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My HD 6950 2GB OCing, Modding & Performance Review


Hey guys today I am going to review a AMD Radeon HD 6950 2GB. I was helping my friend build a new rig and since the build is completed, I thought why not review the HD 6950 2GB. For comparison I have a GTX 260. The GTX 260 was selected because it was good last gen card but mostly because it was only the other GPU that I had lying around . So without further ado lets get to the good stuff.

THE HD 6900 SERIES ARCHITECTURE

A lot has been said and written about the architecture and efficiency of the cayman series of GPUs, so I will not be wasting much time here and will quickly move on to the performance review part. But, in short, the cayman series of GPUs are based on the new VLIW 4 setup from AMD (ATI) where VLIW stands for Very Long Instruction Word. In layman terms this new setup is simpler and requires lesser number of shaders (stream processors) to give better performance than the now defunct VLIW 5 setup (seen in everything from HD 2900 till HD 6800). Along with more pixel pushing power, the cayman GPUs come with dedicated tessellation units & better texturing performance. The process node is still 40nm which first saw the light of the day in the HD4770 GPU.

UNBOXING & BUNDLE

The HD 6950 2GB I got for my friend is a reference model from Powercolor. Being a reference model this particular card has a special trick up its sleeve which we will touch upon in the later part of the review.
The powercolor card is actually manufactured by AMD with only a Powercolor sticker on the cooler to separate it from the bone stock ones. The box is compact by modern graphics card standard and is actually not indicative of holding such a big card inside. The accessories bundled are spartan but as the cost of this card is cheaper than other brands, its something that can be overlooked.



These are the accessories that comes with the card:

1. Driver CD
2. Manual
3. Display port to Mini Display port adapter
4. DVI to VGA adapter

THE CARD & SPECS



The card is 10.5 inches long. It is standard for any mid-high end card nowdays. The PCB and the HSF is made by AMD. The black PCB along with the red and black reference HSF gives the card a quite badass look. In fact I dig the way the card looks. There is a backplate running through the length of the PCB. The backplate provides some rigidity to the card and at the same time aids in heat dissipation. The non-reference model of the HD 6950 2GB dont have a backplate. There are number of outputs including two DVI, one HDMI and one mini display port. Regrettably theres only one dual link DVI, so for EYEFINITY, one of the displays must have a display port. There are two crossfire connectors for connecting upto 4 cards for a quadfire set up. Just behind the crossfire connectors is a small switch. This is a BIOS switch which can be used to recover the card from a BIOS flash gone bad. But as we will see a bit later this switch is much more important than it can be anticipated. The stock cooler is a newer vapor chamber type cooler with a 60mm blower fan. The cooler is noisy but gets the job done. The card requires 2 x 6 pin PCIE connectors to function.





The card specs are:
  • Stream Processors/Shaders - 1408
  • Texture Units - 88
  • ROPs - 32
  • Core Clock - 800 MHZ
  • Memory Clock - 1250 MHZ
  • Memory Type - 2 GB DDR5
  • Bandwith - 160 GB/s
  • Process Node - 40nm
  • Transistors - 2.64 Billion

Test System & Set Up

The card was tested on a newly assembled system with a fresh install of windows. Below are the system specs & the benchmarks used.
  • CPU - Intel Core i7 2600k @ stock
  • RAM - 4GB x 2 Corsair XMS 3 DD3 1600 CL9
  • HSF - Spire Thermax Eclipse II with 2 x 90 CFM CM fans in Push/Pull
  • HDD - 500 GB x 2 Segate Barracuda Sata 2 in RAID 0
  • TIM - Arctic MX-2
  • PSU - Corsair TX 850 V2
  • OS - Windows 7 Ultimate x64
  • Case - NZXT Tempest EVO
  • Motherboard - MSI P67A-GD 55 with 1.E Bios
  • Driver - Catayst 11.7 WHQL / Forceware 275.33





Plz excuse the stray thumb in the corner. It was late and I was tipsy



Benchmarks Used:
  • 3DMark Vantage 1.02
  • 3DMark 11
  • Crysis 2 1.9 DX11
  • Metro 2033 Update 2
  • Dirt 3
  • Crysis 1.1
  • Battlefied Bad Company 2

OVERCLOCKING & MODDING

The neatest trick that the HD 6950 has is that it can be unlocked to HD 6970 specs. But for this to work you preferably need a reference model card although a few of the non-reference models have also been reported to be unlockable. Newer versions of the HD 6950 2GB is not unlockable as the shaders are not BIOS locked rather they are disabled permanently during fabrication. Due to this reason I had to toil really hard to get this reference model card. I was specifically looking for the first batch cards as they are known to unlock really easily. The reference model card was not in stock anywhere atleast not the batch I was looking for. Finally I got in touch with Tirupati Enterprises and they agreed to get me this particular Powercolor model directly imported from Powercolor China. Coming back to the topic, to unlock the additional shaders & TMUs on a HD 6950, there are basically two ways to do it:

1. flash a HD 6970 bios
2. flash a modified HD 6950 bios.

The first method is reported to be a bit risky as the type of RAM chips on the HD 6970 and HD 6950 are different. Specifically since HD 6970 has lower latency & higher voltage GDDR5 chips compared to HD 6950, it can lead to memory corruption issues in some cases. The second method is absolutely safe as the voltages remain same only the shaders are unlocked. My prescribed method is to flash a modded HD 6950 bios and then overclock to reach HD 6970 levels of performance. The bios switch in these cards becomes priceless during this sort of flashing exercise, as there is no risk of bricking your card as it can be easily recovered from a bad flash using the back up bios.

The entire unlocking procedure is mentioned below. Many thanks to w1zzard from TPU & bystander from TH for the unlocking procedure. So far I have tried the unlocking on three HD 6950 2GBs and all three have unlocked successfully.

1) Download ATI Winflash: http://www.techpowerup.com/downloa [...] .1.13.html (The newest version has been reported to not work).

2) Install winflash in the root directory (i.e. C:\winflash)

3) Download the script to modify the bios and extract it: www.techpowerup.com/wizzard/Mod_BIOS_HD_6950.zip

4) If you have a BIOS switch, set it to the 1 position (switched towards the back of the card)

5) Run ATI Winflash, click "Save" to save your BIOS, be sure to make a copy of this and save it some where safe in case some thing goes wrong.

6) Make a copy of the saved BIOS and rename the copy to "original.bin"
6.a) If you cannot see the file extensions, you need to open the Folder Options in the control panel and uncheck the option "Hide extensions for known file types"

7) Copy the "original.bin" file to the script folder "Mod_BIOS_HD_6950"

8) Execute the "run.bat" batch file

9) Look in the folder "Mod_BIOS_HD_6950" and copy the file "modded.bin" to the folder you installed ATI Winflash in (C:\winflash)

10) Open up the command prompt (Start->All Programs->Accessories) you may have to right click and run as adminstrator

11) Change to the ATI Winflash directory with the command "cd C:\winflash" or what ever directory you saved it in

12) Type "atiwinflash -unlockrom 0" (the "0" stands for the first PCIe card installed, "1" will work for the 2nd card)

13) Type "atiwinflash -f -p 0 modded.bin" (the "0" stands for the first PCIe card installed, "1" will work for the 2nd card)
WARNING: do not turn off your computer until step 13 is completely finished.
You should have successfully installed the modified BIOS. You will see a window pop up to say it was verified and ask you to reboot if everything went as planned.

14) To verify that you succeeded in unlocking the shaders, use GPU-Z and look to see that you have 1536 Unified shaders.

If your system becomes unstable after you reboot, you'll have to reflash the original saved BIOS back onto the card following steps 10-13 and using the "original.bin" BIOS in place of "modded.bin".



Here is a screenshot of my card after successfully unlocking.



Overclocking is a very simple affair. Just download MSI afterburner v 2.1 and enable unofficial overclocking and you are good to go. Also in catalyst overdrive increase the powertune by 12-15% to prevent throttling under furmark.This is necessary as you have to test stability using furmark after overclocking. The default voltage for HD 6950 is 1.1v and at stock voltage you should be able to hit around 900-910 Mhz on core and around 1375-1400 Mhz on the memory. Having good airflow inside the case is a must if you want to keep your card running relatively cool. It is recommended to create a custom fan profile in afterburner. The fan is noisy at high RPMs but its a compromise that you have to make to bring the temperatures down. With my card unlocked & overclocked my idle temperature is 39-40C & my load temperature is 64-67 C. These temperatures are with the fan spinning at 80%.

PERFORMANCE RESULTS

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage was run with Performance Preset and the combined CPU and GPU score was recorded. PHYSX was disabled as it gives a performance advantage to Nvidia cards.



In vantage the unlocked HD 6950 2GB running at HD 6970 speeds was roughly 81 % faster than an overclocked GTX 260 sp 216. That is some serious performance advantage. People upgrading from a GTX 260 can expect to see a good boost in performance with the HD 6950 (70).

3DMark 11

3DMark 11 was run with Performance Preset and the combined CPU and GPU score was recorded.



As can be seen from the graph, the unlocked HD 6950 is around 17% faster than a stock HD 6950. Basically through unlocking & overclocking we are getting 17% free performance increase. Not bad. This card actually reminds me of the x800 GTO that could be unlocked to a x800 PE.

Crysis

Crysis released in the fall of 2007 was the game that defined current gen graphics. It was a game much ahead of its time and as a result even to this day all the single GPU cards struggle with crysis at max settings. For the purpose of this test, the quality setting was set to high with shaders, physics, post processing, & texture set to very high. The HOC crysis benchmark tool was used along with 4xAA & 16xAF. The resolution was 1920x1080.



In crysis the unlocked HD 6950 @ HD 6970 clocks is a whopping 100% faster than a GTX 260. The Cayman series cards really like Crysis. At these quality settings averging 50+ fps is really excellent performance. The game is very playable as the minimum fps recorded is 36 fps.

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 is a tunnel shooter based on a popular Russian novel of the same name. Its similar to crysis in that it stresses the GPU like no other game. It can bring even the fastest of systems to its knees. The game was developed by the developers of the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Metro 2033 runs on a modified version of the x-ray engine powering the S.T.A.L.K.E.R games.

For the purpose of the benchmark, the excellent built-in benchmarking tool was used. The resolution was set to 1920x1080 with AAA & 16xAF at very high quality settings. Tessellation was kept on but Advanced DOF was disabled.



Here we can see that the unlocked HD 6950 is approximately 12% faster than a stock HD 6950 in this shader heavy game. This is one of the very few games where reducing the image quality can result in drastically improved performance. For example dropping down to high but with 4x AA enabled resulted in an increase of about 20%.

Dirt 3

This excellent offroad racing franchise features great graphics and great gameplay. Dirt 3 runs on the modified EGO engine found in F1 2010. In this game and just like its predecessor, the Nvidia GTX 4xx/5xx cards perform better than their AMD counter parts. On my another friend's rig with a GTX 570 Dirt 3 is considerably faster than the unlocked HD 6950 to the tune of 15%.
For the benchmarking run, the resolution is again 1920x1080 and all settings set to Ultra. 8x MSAA and 16xAF is enabled. The built-in benchmark is used for testing performance.



In Dirt 3 the unlocked HD 6950 outperforms the stock HD 6950 by about 15%.

Crysis 2

Crysis 2 was released earlier this year. After playing it on release, I found its graphics slightly worse than the first cryisis. I felt the gameplay & the graphics were dumbed down to please a larger section of the crowd. Recently DX 11 support and an ultra quality setting was added to the game via a downloadable patch. Also a high-rez texture pack was released which frankly IMO doesnot look too high-rez.

For the performance testing the Cryisis 2 benchmarking tool was used. Ultra quality in game setting was chosen along with 4xAA & 16x AF. The resolution of choice was 1920x1080 and the map was Time Square.



Crysis 2 DX 11 performs appreciably better on the GTX 4xx/5xx series card. Again as a frame of reference the GTX 570 gets around 46 fps compared to the 40 fps of the unlocked HD 6950. The unlocked & overclocked HD 6950 is 14% faster than the stock model here.

Battlefield Bad Company 2

Battlefield Bad Company 2 is a great game and was one of the biggest surprise blockbuster hits of 2010. The game scales very nicely with the available hardware. Since there was no benchmarking tool available for this game, fraps was used to record average fps during 5 mins of gameplay. This was repeated 3 times. The resolution chosen was 1920x1080 with maximum in game quality settings and 4x AA. The level was chase.



In battlefield bad comapny 2 the unlocked HD 6950 outperforms the overclocked GTX 260 by a very big margin, but, compared to the GTX 5xx cards the AMD 69xx cards are slightly faster in this game by around 5% or so.

WRAP UP

Finally we come to the end of one of the longest piece I have ever done on E. The bottomline is that the HD 6950 is a great card. The 2GB model becomes a legendary card if you can unlock it. Basically for a lot less you are getting HD 6970/ GTX 570/ GTX 480 performance. Compared to last gen dual-gpu monsters like the GTX 295, the HD 6950 in its default configuration is faster. When overclocked & unlocked, it becomes evern more awesome. The closest competitor to the HD 6950 price wise is the GTX 560 Ti. Performance wise the HD 6950 has the edge in most games. Unlocked, the HD 6950 2GB simply becomes the best VFM card that exists today and one of the best cards of all time. In the end, with the HD 6950 your getting high end performance at mid-range price. In terms of value the Powercolor card I reviewed here is unbeatable. I got it for my friend at just 15.1k INR. And on top of that it was very easy to unlock & overclock. So effectively we ended up with a HD 6970 at 15.1k. At this price its a steal.

PROS
  • Super Build
  • Excellent Performance
  • Unbeatable Value

CONS
  • Loud
  • New Batches Dont Unlock

OVERALL RATING 9/10

@mods if this post is in the wrong section or in violation of any forum rule kindly to the necessary

Last edited by devvfata1ity; 10-08-11 at 02:51 PM.
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Old 10-08-11   #2
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Re: My HD 6950 2GB OCing, Modding & Performance Review

Well if this is where you posted it, then its perfectly fine.
If this is the only website you are posting this write up, you could make it a review article.
Sadly I am just about to run out of the office and back home (after completing an errand). So will be able to read at leisure only after a few hours. Will post about my thoughts once I do that.
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Old 10-08-11   #3
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Re: My HD 6950 2GB OCing, Modding & Performance Review

Originally Posted by devvfata1ity View Post
Finally we come to the end of one of the longest piece I have ever done on OCN.
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Old 10-08-11   #4
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Re: My HD 6950 2GB OCing, Modding & Performance Review

^ he he my bad. Nice catch. Will edit it now
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Old 10-08-11   #5
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Re: My HD 6950 2GB OCing, Modding & Performance Review

I bought the same card, probably from the same place...when I bought it only 2-3 cards were left. Looks like they were the last of the unlockable ones.
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Old 10-08-11   #6
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Re: My HD 6950 2GB OCing, Modding & Performance Review

^ How much did you get it for ?
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Old 10-08-11   #7
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Icon7 Re: My HD 6950 2GB OCing, Modding & Performance Review

Superb & detailed review/writeup.
Good work!!
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