Sapphire Radeon HD 6970 2GB Dual Fan Review

Author: Chris Ledenican
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, December 8th, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/sapphire_hd_6970_dual_fan/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

The latest HD 6970 in the Sapphire arsenal may have the same internal architecture and specifications as the reference model, but don’t let this fool you: this is no average card. This model uses a new design that includes dual 90mm fans with thin impellers that can move the same amount of air as a conventional fan at 10% lower rotation speeds, at least according to Sapphire. This effectively equals higher efficiency at a lower decibel range. Additionally, the dual fan design includes special dust repelling bearings that prevent dust from entering the fans' internal enclosure, prolonging the life of the fans.

The Dual-Fan HD 6970 also features a dual BIOS design which allows the user to switch from “Standard” and “Performance” settings. This switch allows the BIOS to be toggled between the two modes; in the “Performance” mode, the core voltage is increased to 1.2V while the fans are automatically set to a high performance profile, and the PowerTune rating is increased to 50%. This of course facilitates higher overclocking and ensures the Sapphire HD 6970 Dual-Fan will run at the top of its game.

The Dual-Fan model is effectively replacing the reference design in Sapphire's product lineup, and launches at a very solid MSRP of $349.99. This means there is no markup for this model, so if the performance and overclocking deliver, it could be a steal in the high-end market.

Specification
Output 1 x Dual-Link DVI
1 x HDMI 1.4a
2 x Mini-DisplayPort
1 x Single-Link DVI-D
DisplayPort 1.2
GPU 880 MHz Core Clock
40 nm Chip
1536 x Stream Processors
Memory 2048 MB Size
256 -bit GDDR5
5500 MHz Effective
Dimension 249(L)x123(W)x48(H) mm Size.
Software Driver CD
Accessory CrossFire™ Bridge Interconnect Cable
8 PIN to 4 PIN Power Cable
DVI to VGA Adapter
Mini-DP to DP Cable
6 PIN to 4 PIN Power Cable

In true form, the Sapphire HD 6970 Dual-Fan graphics card comes packaged in a sleek box with a high-gloss finish plastered with a scantily-clad digital babe and of course, a host of product information. The majority of information on the front is located at the bottom portion of the box, listing all the key features and support of AMD's Cayman architecture. The front also includes stickers listing some of the accessories that come with the graphics card, as well as the inclusion of Sapphire's TRIXX overclocking utility.

The back of the packaging better describes the main features and technologies of the graphics card. Along the bottom of the back panel is a list of reviewer awards Sapphire has accumulated throughout the years. If you look close enough, you will notice Neoseeker's own Recommended Award is showcased as a mark of pride. This is not too surprising, as Sapphire has taken home Neoseeker's Recommended Award more than a few times in the past.

Inside of the package, Sapphire has bundled a drivers/utility disc, CrossFire Bridge interconnect cable, D-Sub adapter, Mini-DP-to-DP cable, 6-pin to 4-pin power cable, Molex-to-6-pin power cable and a 1.8 meter HDMI 1.4a high-speed cable. As self-styled environmentalists, we here at Neoseeker appreciate the fact that all the packaging used by Sapphire is made from 100% recycled materials. We would certianly like to see more companies follow suit when it comes to using recycling and reusing.

Internally the Sapphire HD 6970 Dual-Fan edition graphics card is built on the 40nm Cayman XT core, which has a die size of 389mm² and 2.64 billion transistors. Since this model uses the reference specifications, it sports a GPU clock speed of 880MHz and has 24 SIMDs, giving it 1536 ALUs and 96 texture units for a total compute power of 2.7 TFLOPs. Additionally, it comes with 2GB of GDDR5 memory rated at 1375MHz (5.5Gbps QDR) and runs on a 256-bit memory bus.

However, this model is not simply designed to sit at the reference clock speeds, as it feature a dual BIOS switch that toggles between "Performance" and "Standard" modes. Think of this switch as a uber overclocking tool that gives the board the extra juice need for overclocking. When the switch is enabled, the core voltage can be increased to 1.2 volts, while the fan speed is maxed out and the core is unlocked up to 1500MHz. That said, we doubt anyone will hit that mark without using an extreme cooling method.

As the single most powerful GPU solution currently available from AMD, the HD 6970 has a maximum PowerTune rating of 250W and a typical gaming rating of only 190W. To achieve these power levels, the HD 6970 requires an on-board 6pin + 8pin power configuration, which are located at the back of the PCB. At the idle state, the Cayman architecture has a low power usage level of only 20W, making this card is highly efficient outside of gaming.

The video connection options on the Sapphire HD 6970 Dual-Fan consist of two Mini-DisplayPorts, an HDMI 1.4a port and two digital DVI ports. The Mini-DP ports port uses the new 1.2 standard which allows them to support up to three monitors per connection, and also includes support for AMD's HD3D technology. The HDMI port is also capable of supporting the HD3D technology and full 7.1 HD audio. There are two DVI ports on the HD 6870 which due to bandwidth limitations use a different connection standard. Of the two, the topmost is a DL-DVI port which supports 30" monitors with resolutions up to 2560x1600, while the other DVI port uses the single-link connection type which supports resolutions up to 1920x1200.

For the most part this is the standard design for any Cayman XT based graphics card, but we like how Sapphire has removed portions of the metal surface. This allows more airflow to travel out through the rear backet, and eliminates the ventilation restrictions which typically arise when including many on-board video connectors.

The dual fan thermal solution can be broken down into a four-part assembly that consists of dual 90mm fans with a thin impeller design, the outer heatsink cover, aluminum heatsink array and the on-board heat-spreaders. Overall, this is a very robust design which Sapphire claims will keep the card both quiet and up to 25% cooler than the standard model, even under load conditions.

The outer cover of the heatsink is designed to ensure the airflow is directed efficiently throughout the array, but it also includes mounting for the 90mm fans which are connected to a recessed area in the cover. Each fan utilizes a special dust repelling bearing that reduces any dust build-up, thus increasing the operational lifetime of the fans. Sapphire has also redone the blades with an impeller design that reduces noise output.

To ensure the fans rotate at the adequate level for the current operation, both fans are connected to a single 4-pin PWM fan header. This allows the fans to dynamically switch the RPM level in real-time, which in turn lowers the acoustics when the system is idle while ensuring there will be ample airflow whenever the system is under load.

The next layer is the heart of the cooling unit. This is of course the heatsink, which consists of a large aluminum array attached to five copper heatpipes. The base of the heatsink is also pure copper, with four stand-offs ensuring the base applies the proper amount of force to the GPU. Each heatpipe on the heatsink is positioned in different locations throughout the aluminum array. This distributes the heat throughout the array to improve efficiency and allows the heat to dissipate more quickly.

Sapphire has decided to go with a custom designed PCB basd on the Cayman XT core. The overall layout of the board is standard, but Sapphire has used all high-quality components and additional on-board cooling.  The memory modules are in the standard locations, but the VRM is set at the back of the PCB as opposed to the front. Additionally, a robust 7+1 phase design is utilized with a clean layout for the transistors and capacitors. Each on-board memory chip has exactly a 256MB capacity, which in total gives the dual fan model a total frame buffer of 2048MB.

Overclocking:

To test the overclocking headroom, we used Sapphire TRIXX tweak utility and flipped the BIOS switch to activate the performance mode. After a bit of tweaking, we were able to increase the clock speed north of 1GHz. This required the voltage be set to the maxium value but if you're looking for bleeding-edge performance, additional wattage is always going to be the trade off. The memory also overclocked well, as the GDDR5 memory didn't start to artifact until we tried pushing it beyond 1451MHz.

In the end, overclocking the GPU netted an additional 134MHz, which is just above a 15% clock frequency increase.

Hardware Configuration:

Drivers:

Benchmarks DX11:

Benchmarks DX10:

Test Settings:

All in game benchmarks were performed at resolutions of 1680x1050, 1920x1200 and 2560x1600. Vsync is disabled in the control panel, AA is set to x4 with AF set to x16 and all the in-game settings are turned up to high.

Usage:

Specifications:

(Note: All models might not be included in this review. The table below is to be used for comparison purposes)
AMD Specifications
Model
AMD Radeon HD 6870 AMD Radeon HD 6850 AMD Radeon HD 6750 AMD Radeon HD 6770 AMD Radeon HD 5830 AMD Radeon HD 5870 AMD Radeon HD 6950 Sapphire HD 6970 Dual-Fan
Processing Cores
1120 960 720 800 1120 1600 1408 1536
Core Clock
920MHz 775MHz 700MHz 850MHz 800MHz 850MHz 800MHz 880MHz
Memory Clock
1050MHz 1000MHz 1150MHz 1200MHz 1150MHz 1200MHz 1250MHz 1375MHz
Memory Interface
256-bit 256-bit 128-bit 128-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Memory Type
1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 2GB GDDR5 2GB GDDR5
Fabrication Process
40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm
NVIDIA Specifications
Model
Nvidia GTS 450 Nvidia GTX 460 Nvidia GTX 470 Nvidia GTX 480 Nvidia GTX 560 Nvidia GTX 560 Ti Nvidia GTX 570 Nvidia GTX 580
Processing Cores
192 336 448 480 336 384 480 512
Core Clock
783MHz 675MHz 607MHz 700MHz 810MHz 822MHz 742MHz 782MHz
Memory Clock
900MHz 1100MHz 837MHz 924MHz 1002MHz 10002MHz 1250MHz 1002MHz
Memory Interface
128-bit 256-bit 128-bit 320-bit 256-bit 256-bit 320-bit 384-bit
Memory Type
1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1.25GB GDDR5 1.5GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 1.25GB GDDR5 1.5GB GDDR5
Fabrication Process
40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm

3DMark Vantage is the stunning sequel to 3DMark 06. Futuremark's benchmarking programs have always been at the center of every bragging match. The best way to show that you've got the greatest gaming rig is to show that you've got the highest 3DMark score. Vantage does just that. It puts your system through a series of strenuous tests, and provides you with a score to brag about!

The Sapphire HD 6970 Dual Fan did well in our 3DMark Vantage benchmarking. At the stock speeds, the card performed slightly better than the reference model, and overcloking helped improve the performance that much more.

Futuremark's latest 3DMark 2011 is designed for testing DirectX 11 hardware running on Windows 7 and Windows Vista. The benchmark includes six all new benchmark tests that make extensive use of all the new DirectX 11 features including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.

3DMark 11 delivers similar results seen in the Vantage test. At the stock levels, the card's scores were slightly above the reference model, and overclocking yielded better results across the board.

Unigine Heaven became very popular very fast, because it was one of the first major DirectX 11 benchmarks. It makes great use of tessellation to create a visually stunning heaven.

The HD 6970 has excellent tessellation performance, and the results here underline the fact. At stock speeds, the Ungine benchmark ran above 30FPS at all resolutions and once overclocked, the card was able to average 40FPS at 2560x1600.

Aliens vs Predator is a DX11 Benchmark that runs though a scene straight out of the classic 80’s movie, Aliens. Since it uses DX11, it can often be more than a graphics card can handle.

Here the dual fan HD 6970 was just shy of achieving the same performance as the GTX580, but managed to overtake it once the GPU and memory were overclocked.

DiRT 3 is the third installment in the DiRT series and like it's predecessor incorporates DX11 features such as tessellation, accelerated high definition ambient occlusion and Full Floating point high dynamic range lighting. This makes it a perfect game to test the latest DX11 hardware.

The card's performance in DiRT 3 was a bit slower than what we saw in AvP, but the overall performance was still good.

Lost Planet 2 is a sci-fi action-adventure game from CAPCOM that puts players on a fictional planet called E.D.N. III 10 years after the events of the first game. Like the other new games added to our reviews, Lost Planet 2 includes support for DX11 features to enhance the lighting, charters and environments.

AMD cards tend to perform horribly in Lost Planet 2 at the lower resolutions. However, the performance gap narrows once the resolution is increased to 2560x1600, and indeed the Sapphire HD 6970 was able to beat both the GTX 480 and GTX 570.

Metro 2033 puts you right in the middle of post apocalyptic Moscow, battling Mutants, rivals and ratio-active fallout. The game is very graphics intensive and utilizes DX11 technology, making it a good measure of how the latest generation of graphics cards perform under the latest standard.

The results in Metro 2033 were very good. Firstly the model was able to outperform its stock counterpart, but even more impressive was the fact that overall performance put the HD 6970 Dual-Fan at the top of the charts.

Total War: Shogun 2 is a game that creates a unique gameplay experience by combining both real-time and turn-based strategy. The game is set in 16th-century feudal Japan and gives the player control of a warlord battling various rival factions. Total War: Shogun 2 is the first in the series to feature DX11 technologies to enhance the look of the game, but with massive on-screen battles it can stress even the highest-end graphics cards.

Total War: Shogun II was one of the few games were Sapphire's Dual-Fan model didn't outperform the reference model by a few FPS. Still, the overall performance was really good and once overclocked, the card achieved higher frame rates than the GTX 580.

F1 2010 is a video game based on the 2010 season of the Formula One world championship and is a mutliplatform release. It was developed by Codemasters and released in September 2010 for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, with the PC version including DX11 features.

The Sapphire card was able to maintain frame rates above 50FPS while testing at all three resolutions.

Dragon Age II is a role-playing video game created by Bioware's Edmonton studios and is the follow up to the highly successful Dragon Age: Origins. In this game players take the role of Hawke who has just fled fled the nation of Ferelden with his family after it was destroyed. The PC version of Dragon Age II includes DX11 features such as tessellation for enhanced geometric detail, and compute shader for post process rendering like blur, bloom, film effects.

Again the Sapphire card delivers excellent performance, and not once did it dip below an average frame rate of 50FPS in this benchmark.

Batman: Arkham Aslyum mixes extraordinary visuals with great gameplay, making for an excellent benchmark. It's not a stressful as Crysis, but it can still push cards to their limits.

Overall performance in Batman Arkham Asylum was good, but NVIDIA graphics cards tend to scale better in this game. Still, the lowest average frame rate during testing was 76FPS, which is well above the 30FPS bare minimum expected these days.

Crysis Warhead is one of the most graphically intensive games on the mainstream market. It's graphically breathtaking, and can bring many systems crashing to their knees.

Crysis Warhead is a memory hog especially at higher resolutions, so the HD 6970 does considerably well. The large frame buffer is the key, allowing the demanding game to be playable across all single display resolutions.

Just Cause 2 places you in Panau, southeast Asia as Agent Rico Rodriguez. The game is a third-person shooter that pits you against countless enemies with the opportunity for plenty of environmental destruction. With explosions and gunfire galore, this game is perfect for testing out the latest hardware.

Along with excellent tessellation performance, the HD 6970 also scales well with DX10 games such as Just Cause. The Sapphire card was able to run this game at all the resolutions we threw at it with ease.

Temperature:

To measure core GPU temperatures, we run three in-game benchmarks and record the idle and load temperature according to the min and max temperature readings recorded by MSI Afterburner. The games we test are Crysis 2, Lost Planet 2 and Metro 2033. We run these benchmarks for 15 minutes each. This way we can give the included thermal solution and GPU time to reach equilibrium.

The thermal performance of the dual fan solution was nothing short of amazing! As you can see the HD 6970 with Sapphire's cooling solution was more efficient than another other graphics card in our graphs. Even cards with a considerably lower TDP, such as the GTX 560 were nearly 10°c warmer than the Sapphire model. Also, the fans were amazingly quite, and when set to auto they were nearly inaudible.

Power Consumption:

To measure power usage, a Kill A Watt P4400 power meter was used. Note that the numbers represent the power drain for the entire benchmarking system, not just the video cards themselves. For the 'idle' readings we measured the power drain from the desktop, with no applications running; for the 'load' situation, we took the sustained peak power drain readings after running the system through the same in-game benchmarks we used for the temperature testing. This way we are recording real-world power usage, as opposed to pushing a product to it's thermal threshold.

The power consumption of the Dual-Fan graphics card was right were we expected it to be.

AMD's Radeon HD 6970 is already one of the best graphics cards on the market. However, the reference design can get loud, not to mention lacking in thermal performance. For these reasons, and to better compete in an aggressive market, manufacturers are always tweaking their designs to improve the aesthetics, thermal performance, rendering power and acoustics. The Sapphire HD 6970 Dual-Fan Edition proved to be one such model, and even while it sticks with the reference specifications, this HD 6970 ended up being one of the best Cayman XT based graphics solutions we have seen on the market.

First and foremost, it uses a highly efficient thermal solution that includes dual 90mm fans with an improved propeller design. This allows the fans to produce exceptional airflow at low RPM, thus reducing the noise output of the graphics card. Additionally, the large aluminum heatsink improves the thermal efficiency over the reference design; by our reckoning it proved up to 25% more efficient than the reference cooler.

When it came to overclocking, the Sapphire card again scored high marks. With the dual BIOS toggle switch, this card already has the ideal settings for extreme overclocking by increasing the fan speed, PowerTune rating and core voltage (up to 1.2V). With BIOS switch active, we were able to push the core up to 1014MHz, which is an increase of 15%. Overclocking gave the graphics card an extra boost in performance, which yielded higher frame rates across the board.

When it comes to aftermarket graphics cards, Sapphire always hit all the right marks, and continues to do so with this model . It is extremely power efficient and is quiet to boot. Since Sapphire has kept the price point at the same level as the reference design, the Dual-Fan HD 6970 is a bargain.

»Neoseeker.com

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