AMD 6970/6950 CFX and NVIDIA 580/570 SLI Review

Ever wondered how the new Radeon HD 6970, Radeon HD 6950, GeForce GTX 580 and GeForce GTX 570 perform when paired up with a second card? We did, and we have evaluated all four combinations in AMD Eyefinity and NV Surround resolutions.


The last few of months of 2010 were exciting in the video graphics world, and for gamers everywhere. There were several video card launches that upped the game on the high-end and the midrange-performance segment. New video cards were launched that brought amazing performance at tempting prices. There was a comeback from NVIDIA, and price drops from AMD that kept the companies on its toes.

AMD Radeon HD 6800 Series

It all started about late October 2010, when AMD launched the Radeon HD 6870 and Radeon HD 6850 video cards. These new video cards changed the product stack lineup from AMD and put these in the realm of midrange video cards but with near previous generation high-end performance. These provided a high level of performance at a low price of $239 for the Radeon HD 6870 and $179 for the Radeon HD 6850.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580

NVIDIA countered this with the launch of the much awaited GeForce GTX 580 video card on November 9th, 2010. The GeForce GTX 580 was a complete win for NVIDIA and was heralded as a comeback. It was no secret that the GeForce GTX 480 fell well below expectations, and many gamers were concerned about the heat and power draw. The GeForce GTX 580 not only fixed these issues, but also provided better performance and enhancements at the transistor level. The price is steep, set at $499 SEP, but our gameplay testing revealed that it is a strong performer in games. As we speak, pricing is around $510 for the cheapest GTX 580, making a SLI configuration cost around $1020 for the pair, which is no small investment.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 570

Following the GeForce GTX 580, NVIDIA launched the GeForce GTX 570 on December 7th. The GeForce GTX 570 was a scaled down GTX 580, with slower clock speeds, less CUDA cores, and importantly for out testing, less memory. The GeForce GTX 580 contains 1.53GB of GDDR5 on board. The GeForce GTX 570 has exactly 1.28GB of GDDR5. In a SLI configuration, keep in mind that this memory is not shared between each GPU, each frame still only has access to the amount of memory per GPU. Therefore, with GTX 580 SLI the game can use 1.53GB of memory, and with GTX 570 SLI it will have 1.28GB of memory available. When we push the resolution and AA settings higher, in this case at NV Surround resolutions, you will see that this does cause a bottleneck compared to the competition. The price of the GeForce GTX 570 is more appealing however, with a SEP of $349, and that is about the price you can find it for online currently. Therefore, a pair of GTX 570’s will cost you around $700.

AMD Radeon HD 6900 Series

Countering those high-end launches, AMD finally launched the AMD Radeon HD 6870 and AMD Radeon HD 6950 on December 14th of 2010. These two video cards were long awaited, but to some, they weren’t as powerful as expected. AMD introduced these two video cards at very low prices, compared to the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 and GTX 570. The Radeon HD 6970 has an MSRP of $369 and the Radeon HD 6950 has an MSRP of $299. Therefore a pair of 6970’s will cost you $738 and a pair of 6950’s will cost you $598. Memory capacity is an important factor for CrossFireX, and both the HD 6950 and HD 6970 have 2GB of GDDR5! This means, while in CrossFireX, a game will be able to use 2GB of memory, compared to 1.53GB with GTX 580 SLI and 1.28GB with GTX 570 SLI.

CrossFireX vs. SLI

Our evaluation today is going to consist of comparing the latest AMD and NVIDIA high-end video cards in a multi-GPU configuration. We are going to compare GeForce GTX 580 SLI, GeForce GTX 570 SLI, Radeon HD 6970 CrossFireX and Radeon HD 6950 CrossFireX. In order to put these video card combinations to the test, we need to test at higher resolutions, in a configuration that will benefit these technologies. We are going to test in AMD Eyefinity and NVIDIA NV Surround resolutions. We are using three Dell 2408WFP displays to run at 5760x1200 or 5040x1050 depending on what is playable.

We of course need to be very careful about what drivers we are using, we have made sure to use the latest possible drivers for this evaluation. For the AMD video cards we are using Catalyst 10.12a Hotfix driver, which was the recommended by AMD driver to use for this testing. We also have the latest Catalyst Application Profile 10.12 installed. For the NVIDIA video cards we are using the new ForceWare 266.35 Beta driver.

Configuring SLI and CrossFireX was a breeze. We installed both video cards, connected appropriate power cables, bridge connectors and display ports. We had no issues installing drivers, or setting up SLI or CrossFireX. At this point, it really is plug-and-play; the technologies have come a long way. We setup Eyefinity and NV Surround easily as well. We still prefer AMD’s method of selecting which panel is which by clicking in the box corresponding to the color you see; we find we can configure display panel positions faster with AMD’s control panel, compared to NVIDIA’s.

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