Sapphire HD 6950 2GB DiRT 3 Video Card Review

Overclocking a video card provides a better gameplay experience, or so every enthusiast hopes. Today we have the Sapphire HD 6950 2GB DiRT 3 Special Edition on our gaming rig to see how well it performs and overclocks using Sapphire's TRIXX Tweaking utility. Will this overclock yield a better gameplay experience?

Introduction

Sapphire Technology is a well-known company, and is recognized as one of the largest distributors of video cards featuring AMD's Radeon GPUs. Since ATI began funneling graphics processors to AiBs in 2001, Sapphire has been at the head of the red-team pack. In addition to video cards, Sapphire also offers a series of motherboards, workstation class video cards, and even mini PCs like the EDGE HD2.

Today we are going to be taking a look at Sapphire’s latest edition to the Radeon HD 6950 line up: the HD 6950 2GB GDDR5 DiRT 3 Special Edition. It features a custom cooling solution along with the new DiRT 3 video game. To keep it from getting confusing in our gameplay section, and for simplicity sake, from now on we will be referring to it as the Sapphire HD 6950. The Sapphire HD 6950 2GB DiRT 3 edition can currently be found for $244.99 after rebate.

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Expanding on Overclocking

Sapphire has set this HD 6950 up as an overclocking friendly video card. It not only features a five heat-pipe twin fan custom cooling solution, but also through Sapphire’s TRIXX Tweak Utility the ability to raise its GPU voltage. When done right these are two features we always love seeing together, as it unlocks some fantastic overclocking potential!

With that in mind today, we have expanded the overclocking portion of the article. Instead of just showing the overclocks we achieved, and using it for some apples-to-apples graphs, we have taken it a step further. We will be treating the overclocked Sapphire HD 6950 as an actual video card in our review and we will refer to it as the Sapphire HD 6950 Overclocked. This means we will be able to see if our overclock actually enhances our gameplay experience or if it just provides a few extra FPS.

To facilitate this change the overclocking section will be moved up to before the gameplay section to show off what frequencies we will be using and how we got it using Sapphire’s TRIXX Tweak Utility. We will also be adding a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti to round out our video card list. Since currently many Radeon HD 6950s and GeForce GTX 560 Ti are in the same price range.


Sapphire HD 6950

Sapphire currently has six different versions of the Radeon HD 6950. The first version is merely a reference Radeon HD 6950 with Sapphire brandings. The next version comes from Sapphire’s FleX series (lots of video output ports) which sports a custom single fan cooling solution, but otherwise remains at the reference length of 270mm. The remaining four video cards are all smaller than reference. This is good news to those who use smaller cases and require smaller video cards. Two of these versions are 240mm long and have a single fan custom cooling solution. The only difference between these two is that one has 1GB of GDDR5 while the other has 2GB of GDDR5. The remaining two are both 260mm long mainly because of the twin fan custom cooling solution sticking out 30mm beyond the PCB. Again the main difference between the two of them is that one has 1GB of GDDR5 and the other has 2GB of GDDR5. All versions are using the reference frequencies of 800MHz on the GPU and 5GHz on the memory.

The Sapphire we have on our work bench today is the 260mm long version with 2GB of GDDR5 memory. It shipping with reference frequencies is a bit of a letdown for us. We would have loved to see Sapphire start the overclocking process for us. The good news though is that Sapphire seems to have given us everything we need to do it ourselves. With a dual 75mm fan cooling solution that sports 5 heat-pipes we shouldn’t have too much trouble with heat. Sapphire’s TRIXX Tweak Utility should give us plenty of room to overclock, and the ability to increase the GPU voltage should let us squeeze out every last MHz. The complimentary copy of DiRT 3 even gives us an excuse to do hours of testing our overclocks in this recently released game.

Box Shots

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The front of the box is speckled with logos and one good sized graphic for DiRT 3. It does convey some useful information such as the inclusion of a DiRT 3 game code, the inclusion of a HDMI cable, and that the video card has 2GB of memory. Though like the back of the box most of it is the pretty standard rhetoric of AMD video card features. We are also very disappointed to see that there is no picture or even note of the custom cooling solution which is perplexing to us since it should be a big selling point. The same also holds true for lack of information on the TRIXX Tweak Utility and the ability to increase the GPU voltage anywhere on the box.

The Video Card Pictures

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Even though this is a DiRT 3 special edition video card, there is no graphics or anything else on the video card itself to show it. To us, and probably to most of you, this is good news since you won’t have your video card still branded a year later with a game that you hardly ever play anymore. What it does have is a black plastic shroud that uses textured surfaces and raised smooth surfaces to create an interesting design. Underneath that is an aluminum heat sink with a copper base and five heat-pipes. The heat-pipes themselves actually vary in size. With the three center ones being smaller and only 5mm in diameter and the outer two heat-pipes being 10mm in diameter. Unfortunately all of the memory modules have been left uncovered. Hopefully the twin fans will provide enough airflow over them to help us achieve a better memory overclock.

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The back of video card is left uncovered and you can see that there are only the four bolts around the GPU to hold down the entire main cooling solution. It comes with a Quick Installation Guide, an invitation to the Sapphire Select Club, a Driver CD, a DVI to HDMI adapter, two 2 4-pin to 6-pin power adapter, a CrossFireX bridge, a HDMI cable, and a coupon to get DiRT 3.