MSI Radeon 6950 > 6970 review

Discussion in 'Video Cards & Monitors' started by booj, Feb 2, 2011.

  1. booj

    booj Member

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    Introduction

    Just before Christmas AMD released their much hyped Cayman series of GPU's. So far the family consists of the 2gb Radeon HD 6950 and 6970. In the last week of January, AMD has released a simplified 1gb version of the 6950 as well.

    It was hoped the cards would get their nose in front of the newly released revised Fermi cards from Nvidia. Whilst they couldn't match the performance of the Nvidia cards, they did come with a more attractive price and a unique feature set. Shortly after the release, adventurous users attempted to flash a reference 6970 bios to a reference 6950 card and found the procedure unlocked the full complement of 6970 shaders. That brings me to the topic of todays review, which will focus on the ability to unlock the R6950 to a 6970 and making a performance comparison between the two.

    A look at the MSI R6950

    First lets have a look at the card. The MSI R6950 is based on the reference AMD design, featuring a Cayman GPU with 1408 shaders clocked at 800mhz. It is built with TSMC's mature 40nm process containing 2.64 billion transistors. The frame buffer is a huge 2gb of GDDR5 clocked at 1250mhz for an effective 5ghz clock. That much memory is enough for high levels of AA and AF and game texture mods even with Eyefinity setups.

    Full specifications and R6950 info can be found at the MSI website here.


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    The adapter on the right is a mini display port to display port adapter.

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    On the left of the crossfire connectors is the switch to change between bios'.



    Flashing the R6950 to 6970

    Despite the ridiculous ease of the flashing process, I must give a compulsory disclaimer. This is for 2GB REFERENCE CARDS ONLY. Don't do it if you don't know what 6950 card you have. Always make sure your system is 100% stable before attempting any bios flash.

    When I unlocked this card, several steps were involved, however thanks to the much respected guys at Guru3D and Techpowerup it has been made ridiculously easy.. as in one mouse click. Click the clearly named batch file and voila: Hello 6970. The following download contains the required tools and bios. For convenience, the reverse procedure is also included, to bring the card back to a standard 6950. Honestly it doesn't get any easier.

    The bundle with batch file and included bios' can be found here


    AMD has made things quite safe thanks to the inclusion of a dual bios on Cayman cards. This means that if the procedure goes wrong (unlikely), the card is not bricked, but can be restarted with the backup bios and the flash reversed.

    Flashing the card with a default 6970 bios brings the card to 1536 shaders clocked at 880mhz and ups the memory clock to 1375mhz for an effective 5500mhz. The result is a 10% higher GPU and memory clock and as well as the extra shaders.

    It seems all reference 2gb 6950's can be unlocked to a 6970 and the vast majority will run at the default 6970 clocks. Should you be one of the very few who gets rendering errors with the default 6870 bios, there are two options. Either down clock the card or use a bios that unlocks the shaders but leaves the default 6950 clocks.

    MSI's leading Afterburner application features full support for the R6950 and R6970 in the latest beta but not a flashed 6950. Thankfully there is a way around this with a little legwork. To get overvoltage support enabled, you must open a peculiarly named file in the profiles folder typically found in C:/Program files (x86)/MSI Afterburner/Profiles/


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    What you need to do is open the file with notepad, and add the following after the last line.
    [Settings]
    VDDC_VT1556_Defaults = 9A 5C 9B 80


    It should now look like this:

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    Save and exit. Afterburner will now overvolt the card :D

    Before and after:

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    Benchmarks

    Test Setup:
    Intel i7 980x @ 4.2ghz
    MSI BigBang Xpower motherboard
    MSI R6950 2PM2D2GD5 (Catalyst 11.1a Hotfix beta)
    3x2gb Kingston 2250mhz 9-11-9 @ 1824mhz 6-9-6-24
    Thermaltake Toughpower 1200w
    Windows 7 64bit


    The following benchmarks are run at 3 settings. They are a 6950 in its default configuration with 1408 shaders @ 800/1250, second with the card unlocked to the full 1536 shaders at 800/1250 and finally as a 6970 with 1536 shaders @ 880/1375.

    The game benchmark results below show the average FPS whilst the synthetic benches show the overall score.

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    The benchmarks show the benefit of the 1536 vs 1408 shaders, but perhaps not as much as expected. Whats interesting is the gain coming from the increased clocks is larger in all benchmarks. The extra bandwidth may be significant which I will be interested in testing further.


    Conclusion

    The Radeon HD 6950 is already a well priced, solidly performing card, but the 'free' upgrade to a 6970 makes it even better value for money. Over time drivers should improve as the Catalyst team learns to maximize the efficiency of the new VLIW4 architecture.

    It has the grunt for the latest DX11 titles at high resolutions. It has HDMI, DP/mini DP, DVI and VGA via adapter taking care of all display connectivity. It comes with very low idle power consumption which shouldn't be underestimated as a feature. The dual bios feature more or less removes the chance of bricking the card with a bad flash and since the card is from MSI, you also get the class leading Afterburner utility.

    AMD's strategy in recent years has been to hit the sweet spot with regards to performance/price. Chalk up the 2gb 6950 as another successful result of that strategy.

    Pros:
    Unlocking ability
    Attractive pricing
    MSI Afterburner utility
    Range of outputs and Eyefinity
    Low power consumption, particularly at idle

    Cons:
    Runs quite hot
    A touch noisy (Australian summer doesn't help)

    Thanks to MSI Australia for the review sample.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2011
  2. Bertross

    Bertross Member

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    Awesome review Booj, did you do any 30" res?
     
  3. OP
    OP
    booj

    booj Member

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    Thanks mate, unfortunately no 30" monitor on hand although it's on the wishlist :D
     
  4. Bertross

    Bertross Member

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    :D, i settle for the U2711 instead myself but its a similar res to compare usually. I do get better performance then the native 30" as my dell is less in pixel height.

    To me the two biggest cons are the ones you talked about and its the reason i stood clear from it, in saying that i just ordered an accellero extreme for my 570....

    when i look at the design of the cooler, thing might have improved if it had the same styling as the 5870 with the 2 open intakes. Lets more air draw in naturally.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2011
  5. p3t0r

    p3t0r Member

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    After reading this, I'm tempted to upgrade my 6870 to a 6950!!

    Would the firmware upgrade work on the MSI R6950 TWIN FROZR II Overclock??

    edit:

    "Now one point we have to mention - with the first revision of the reference models you could flash in a R6970 BIOS into a R6950 graphics card, and get extra shader processors enabled. That trick won't work here as this card is not reference. However, we do wonder a little what would happen if you'd flash an MSI R6970 Twin Frozr II BIOS into this product ;)" [http://www.guru3d.com/article/msi-r6950-twin-frozr-ii-oc-review/23]
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2011
  6. OP
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    booj

    booj Member

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    That i'm not sure about mate. If the Twin frozr card is using a custom pcb then it won't work. This is only for cards using a Volterra 1556 regulator. Some of the custom cards are using a chil controller which won't work.

    If you're keen, best bet is to whip off the cooler and compare the pcb to a reference one.
     
  7. p3t0r

    p3t0r Member

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    Might wait for someone else to try first :p Will keep my eye out on reviews / news!
     
  8. Bertross

    Bertross Member

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    the twin frozer has the non plated back it should say on the pcb with taking the cooler off.

    My bet it doesn't have voltera.
     
  9. Ethan W

    Ethan W Member

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    Am I right in thinking that reference 6950s are compatible with 6970 coolers? It's just that quite a few companies don't mention 6950 compatibility.

    A good aftermarket cooler could offset the temp/noise problem at the cost of price.

    Also, no 0-origin maps? :(
     
  10. OP
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    booj

    booj Member

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    You mean the graphs? The reason is simple. To be able to see the differences clearly between the different settings. The scale is there on each graph so it's hardly deceptive.
     
  11. Ethan W

    Ethan W Member

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    Don't get me wrong, it's not deceptive, but "percentage" (for want of a better term) difference is usually more important than the point difference. It's just easier to see exactly how much better the results are. If the need be, you could make the graph a little wider. You've got about 100 extra pixels to work with and you can contract the y-axis labels a little. Then you can start at 0 and still see the separation at the other end. Just feedback, that's all.

    I appreciate the hard work, though :D Makes me even more keen to get a 6950.
     
  12. Fish_Munger

    Fish_Munger Member

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    nice review who ever thought of Bios switch at AMD is on fire nice little tool so you dont completely f..ck ya card up :thumbup:

    cooler looks beefy whats load temps 80-90 deg? my HD6870 does 85 on hot day like today :upset:
     
  13. OP
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    booj

    booj Member

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    Make sure it's a 2gb. I haven't heard anything official but it's surely likely the 2gb 6950 will be phased out soon.

    Cheers :thumbup: Adelaide has been like 42+ over the last few days so I was running 60%+ fan. Temps were about 40 idle and 70ish load. Not too bad I though given the heat in the room.
     
  14. Ethan W

    Ethan W Member

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    It's interesting that the OC made a lot more difference than the shader unlock. Is it too much to ask for results on the 6950 old BIOS with 6970 clocks?
     
  15. stranger2502

    stranger2502 Member

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    my question to the OP or anyone else who can answer.

    Does this kill the life span of the card ? does it guarantee a failure of the card in X amount of time ?
     
  16. p3t0r

    p3t0r Member

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    If you are willing to OC your CPU, then I would think you are dealing with the same risks. Just monitor temps IMO
     
  17. Pemalite

    Pemalite Member

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    Nothing is ever guaranteed when it comes to overclocking or modding.

    If you want to take the safest route, do not use the 6970 BIOS.
    Instead just get a 6950 BIOS with the shaders unlocked (Which is what I did.) Then proceed to overclock normally with the 6950's normal voltage.

    Unlocking only the shaders shouldn't bring any harm, people have experimented before with no noticeable increase in failure rates when tried with the Radeon 9500 cards, Geforce 6 series and Radeon x8xx series.
     
  18. OP
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    booj

    booj Member

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    The system is disassembled but I will revisit it in the near future on a Sandy Bridge setup.

    Nah there won't be any long term risk. The 2gb 6950 and 6970 appear to be exactly the same card, differed only by the bios used. AMD likely bins the better ones as 6970's.

    Here's a list from techpowerup showing the success rates of flashing to 6970:

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    Hundreds of successful flashes and a single unsuccessful. Chances are the one is a user error. The rendering error cards would be solved by a small voltage bump. It depends on the VID of the bios used to flash
     
  19. praytella

    praytella (Banned or Deleted)

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    Also seems like a lot of the rendering issues reported were actually due to drivers, as other users with unflashed cards and also other models were reporting the same thing.
     
  20. itsmydamnation

    itsmydamnation Member

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    so anyone done much of an OC to there 6950 yet? i just run it @900 default memory (5500)
     

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