SAPPHIRE TOXIC HD6950 Video Card Review

SAPPHIRE claims to have produced the fastest HD 6950 on the market in the SAPPHIRE HD6950 TOXIC Edition. It competes with a stock Radeon HD 6950 and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 570. We also put it to the test against a Radeon HD 6970 and GeForce GTX 580 with results that might shock you. And did we mention you get two free games?

Introduction

Sapphire Technology is a well-known company based in Hong Kong, China, and is recognized as the single largest supplier of AMD-based video cards. Since ATI began funneling graphics processors to add-in-board partners 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, multimedia products such as TV tuners and Digital Photo frames, and mini PCs like the EDGE HD2.

On our test bench today is SAPPHIRE's highest end, and fully customized, Radeon HD 6950 card, the SAPPHIRE TOXIC HD6950 which was just released in August, 2011. We will only be testing this overclocked SAPPHIRE TOXIC HD6950, against the Radeon HD 6950, HD 6970, a GeForce GTX 570, and a GTX 580 with some really impressive results!

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AMD Radeon HD 6950

AMD launched the Radeon HD 6950 on December 14, 2010, alongside the Radeon HD 6970. The Radeon HD 6900 series of GPUs sports AMD's VLIW4 architecture, which is different from the 6800 series' VLIW5 architecture. It features a greater degree of parallelism in its processing engine. VLIW4 was implemented in order to increase both efficiency and performance in its streaming processors.

The Radeon HD 6950 is comprised of 2.64 billion transistors, providing 1408 streaming processors, 88 texture units, 32 color rasterizers, and 128 Z/Stencil ROPs. It boast a solid 2.25 TFLOPS of computer power on the GPU, texture fill rate of 70.4 Gigatexels per second, and a pixel fill rate of 25.6 Gigatexels per second. The HD 6950 has 2048MB of GDDR5 memory clocked at 1250MHz (or 5.0GHz DDR) on a 256-bit bus. Its memory bus boasts a maximum theoretical throughput of 160 GBps.

The Radeon HD 6950 is designed with a maximum power rating of 200 Watts. It is supposed to draw an average of 140 Watts during gaming and 20 Watts when idling. It has two 6-pin power connectors. There are five output ports, including two DVI ports, two mini-DisplayPort connectors, and one HDMI connector.


SAPPHIRE TOXIC HD6950

The TOXIC series of cards from SAPPHIRE have a few special features that make them unique compared to a standard video card. TOXIC cards out-of-box are factory overclocked, but also have extra headroom for more performance tuning. They also come with improved cooling systems. SAPPHIRE was the first company to apply Vapor Chamber cooling to graphics cards. This process uses a coolant in liquid form that touches a heated surface and vaporizes. When it reaches a cold surface it condenses back to liquid state and continues the process. You can read more about Vapor Chamber cooling here.

The SAPPHIRE TOXIC HD6950, which SAPPHIRE claims to be the single fastest HD 6950 on the planet, has a tough road ahead of it in this evaluation. A stock Radeon HD 6950 runs at 800MHz on the core and 1250MHz on the memory while the SAPPHIRE TOXIC HD6950 is configured to run at 880MHz core, and memory at 1300MHz (or 5.2GHz DDR), a solid factory overclock.

The SAPPHIRE TOXIC HD6950 comes bundled with a coupon to download DiRT 3 free that expires December 31st, 2011, a $49.99 value on Steam. Right now Newegg is giving away a coupon for a free Deus Ex: Human Revolution download, a $49.99 value on Steam as well. Newegg currently has the SAPPHIRE TOXIC HD6950 priced at $269.99 after mail in rebate, and free 2-day shipping.

This video card has a 2 year limited parts and labor warranty.

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The box, which has some nice art, points out some of the SAPPHIRE TOXIC HD6950's best features. These include 2GB GDDR5 memory, the dual cooling fan, and its factory overclock. With this being the "fastest" HD 6950 on the planet, it would have been nice to see the speed of the cards GPU and memory. The box also fails to talk in depth about the dual cooling fan. It does point out other features such as AMD Eyefinity support, AMD HD3D Technology, Digital Power Management, CrossFireX support, Full 1080p support, and the Dual Bios.

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The packaging did not have a lot of extra foam to keep the card secure from movement, but did come in a bubble wrapped anti-static bag which gave it extra support and cushioning. Underneath this top tray was another box that housed the accessories. The soft bundle included instructions to join Sapphire Select Club as a Gold Member, a multi-language quick installation guide, a driver disk, and free DiRT 3 coupon. The driver installation CD includes an outdated Catalyst software version 10.12, and a link to an online user manual. Included in the accessory bundle was an 8 pin auxiliary to 4 pin Molex power adapter, a 6 pin auxiliary to dual-Molex power adapter, a mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapter, a 1.8 meter HDMI extension cable, a DVI to VGA adapter, and a CrossFireX bridge.

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The top of the card has a BIOS switch, which all Radeon HD 6950 and Radeon HD 6970 video cards have. What separates this video card from the rest, however, is that Sapphire has used this dual-BIOS nature of the video card to improve your gameplay experience through an increase in performance. The primary BIOS is a standard HD 6950 with 1408 shaders and with the voltage at 1.175V up from 1.1V, and overclocked. The secondary BIOS sets the video card into "Radeon HD 6970 mode" enabling extra shaders, up to 1536, that many enthusiasts BIOS mod their 6950's to try to get to. We will dive into this later in this evaluation.

The fan itself is not anything too special, but is part of a high performance cooling system that includes a Vapor Chamber. The SAPPHIRE TOXIC HD6950 printed circuit board was built from the ground up, featuring a blue PCB, custom components, and no plate covering the back of the video card.

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The back end of the SAPPHIRE TOXIC HD6950 has a new perforated backplate to help increase airflow out of the case, and five different output ports. There is one Dual-Link DVI-I port, and one Single-Link DVI-I port. There is an HDMI port, and two mini-DisplayPort jacks. The card requires a 500+ Watt power supply. It also requires one 6 pin PCI-E and one 8 pin PCI-E power connector, which are located on top of the card. The dimensions of the are 10.75 inches in Length, 3.875 inches in Height, and 1.5 inches wide.


The Competition

Newegg currently has the SAPPHIRE TOXIC HD6950 priced at $269.99, after mail in rebate. NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 570 is its primary competition at this price, which can be found for as low as $284.99 after MIR. The market for AMD's Radeon HD 6950 is primarily between $240 and $270, while the higher end HD 6950's sit in the $270 to $300 range, but can be had for as low as $209.99 after MIR.