The AMD Radeon HD 6950 graphics card is a high-end model that aims to bring DirectX 11 gaming to the masses. Boasting dual Cayman graphics engines, 2GB of GDDR5 memory, stereoscopic 3D support, a BIOS toggle switch and Eyefinity multi-display technology, the AMD Radeon HD 6950 comes with just about everything a hardcore gamer needs. It's also surprisingly affordable, with a bare-bones version costing just $329 (expect to see tweaked versions from Sapphire and co. in the future).

Specifications

The AMD Radeon HD 6950 is the latest addition to the Cayman GPU family. It slots in between the mid-range Radeon HD 6870 and enthusiast-level Radeon HD 5970 in AMD's desktop graphics line-up.

The AMD Radeon HD 6950 features a clock speed of 800MHz, a memory clock speed of 1.25GHz and 2GB of GDDR5 memory on a 256-bit bus (which supports memory speeds of up to 5.5Gbps). The 40nm board packs in 1408 stream processors; an increase of 288 stream processors over the AMD HD Radeon 6870. For a full list of specifications, refer to the table below:

AMD Radeon HD 6950 specifications
Core clock speed 800MHz
Primitive rate 2 prim/clk
Shader architecture VLIW4
Streamer processors 22 SIMD/1408 ALU
Texture units 88
ROPs/Z-stencil
32/128
Frame buffer
2GB GDDR5
Memory Width/Speed
256bit, 5.0Gbps
PowerTune maximum limit
400W
Typical gaming power
200W
Typical idle power
20W
Power connectors
2x 6-pin
Display outputs
2x DVI + 2x mDP + HDMI

Design and connectivity

The AMD HD Radeon 6950 sports a similar brick-like design to its high end predecessors. Complete with the same black-on-red finish (indeed, it is virtually indistinguishable from the HD 6870). However, a closer look reveals an improved vapour chamber heatsink and enlarged fan, which help to keep the card's components cool during peak usage.

The AMD Radeon HD 6950 provides a good range of connectivity. An HDMI output, two DVI ports and a pair of mini-DisplayPort connectors are provided. Naturally, AMD's Eyefinity Technology is also supported, which allows you to drive up to three displays from a single card. This is especially handy for flight sim and racing fans, as it allows them to set up an authentic 'cockpit' style view for added immersion and authenticity.

The AMD Radeon HD 6850 requires two six-pin power connectors. AMD rates the HD 6850's peak power consumption at 200 Watts (20W idle).

Features and accessories

The AMD Radeon HD 6950 is compatible with HD3D — AMD's take on Nvidia's GeForce 3D Vision. This technology offers support for the Open Stereo 3D Initiative. Instead of creating dedicated hardware, HD3D promises support for a wide variety of technologies. This includes active-shutter or polarised glasses, along with emerging hardware, such as glasses-free 3D monitors.

HD3D support is pretty limited at the moment, but if you're even remotely intrigued by the concept of 3D gaming, it remains a good feature to have.

AMD Radeon HD 6950

Overclockers are surprisingly well catered for by the AMD Radeon HD 6950. In addition to AMD's PowerTune application (which allows you to adjust clock speeds in real time by up to 20 per cent), the card comes with dual BIOS chips, complete with a physical switch to toggle between them. This allows you to revert to the factory BIOS settings if instability occurs.

Benchmarks

To assess the HD Radeon 6950's graphical prowess, we ran a series of benchmarks on a Vista 64-bit machine with a Intel Core i7 965, 6GB of DDR3 RAM and a Western Digital VelociRaptor (WD3000GLFS) hard drive. We then compared the results to other graphics cards we've reviewed in the same testbed. Unless otherwise stated, we have used the DirectX 10 version of each game, with maximum settings enabled:

Graphics Benchmarks
Model Chipset Memory 3DMark 06 3DMark Vantage Crysis (fps)
Far Cry 2 (fps)
Lost Planet (fps)
Call of Juarez (fps)
AMD Radeon HD 6950 AMD Radeon HD 6950 2GB 17703 P14509 34.8 102.5 63.5 102.5
Asus ATI Radeon HD 5850 1GB Asus ATI Radeon HD 5850 1GB 1GB 17222 P13206 47.3 71.24 53 83.3
AMD ATI Radeon HD 5870 ATI Radeon HD 5870 1GB N/A P12000 34.5 57.1 N/A 72.3
ASUS ENGTX285 NVIDIA GTX285 1GB xx P13532 35.3 60.17 50.1 52.4
ATI Radeon HD 5970 ATI Radeon HD 5970 2GB 9968 P13988 41.37 92.70 83 96.8
AMD Radeon HD 6850 AMD Radeon HD 6850 1GB 17250 P12280 47.9 136.66 65 75.6

When we tweaked the core and memory clock speeds in PowerTune, we managed to tease a few more frames per second out of each gaming benchmark. Call of Juarez, for example, leapt from 102.4 frames per second to 106.8fps, while Crysis Warhead jumped from 34.8fps to 36.6fps.

OUR VERDICT

The AMD Radeon HD 6950 might not be in the same league as Nvidia's super-powerful GeForce GTX 580 graphics card, but it's also a lot cheaper. For the asking price, this card is pretty difficult to beat.