It may not be the fastest graphics cards on the block, but the AMD Radeon HD 6970 delivers excellent value.

The AMD Radeon HD 6970 marks the debut of AMD's "Cayman" GPU, offering significant architectural changes stemming from the Radeon HD 5800 series, and their recently launched Radeon HD 6800 series.

This marks a departure from AMD's traditional approach to higher-end graphics cards - namely, releasing a card containing two of their existing GPUs, as seen with the Radeon HD 5970. Enhancements abound, with a pair of "front end" graphics engines designed to improve performance in geometry-intensive applications, as well as a re-tooled shader architecture, and PowerTune technology, that aims to throttle the card's performance if it starts to exceed its thermal boundaries.

The AMD Radeon HD 6970's closest competitor is Nvidia's GeForce GTX 570, a £282 graphics card released just last week. The 6970 is being released alongside the Radeon HD 6950. For comparison's sake, we've also included Nvidia's £400 GeForce GTX 580 - the fastest single-GPU card available today.

See also: AMD Radeon HD 6950 review

AMD Radeon HD 6970 performance: Synthetic Benchmarks

The Radeon HD 6970 manages to pull ahead of the GTX 570 on the Extreme setting by 5%. It still lags behind the GeForce GTX 580, but only by 10%.The card manages to close the gap at higher resolutions, thanks in part to its 2GB of DDR5 memory, as compared to the GTX 500 series' 1.5GB.

AMD Radeon HD 6970 Performance: Games

The card's performance in real-world gaming scenarios is a bit less clear cut. For our tests we pitted the GPUs against a pack of demanding DirectX 10 and 11 based games, and the Radeon HD 6970 proved to be a serious contender. In Codemasters' Foromula 1 racer F1 2010, the Radeon HD 6970 makes an impressive showing.

Edging out the GTX 570 on all of our tests, it even managed to stay competitive with (and occasionally outpace) the pricier GTX 580.

The "Cayman" GPU's architectural improvements shine here, and gamers with large, high-resolution displays stand to benefit from the 6970's excellent performance.

Nvidia's GTX 580 topped the strenuous Just Cause 2 "Concrete Jungle" benchmark test, but AMD's Radeon HD 6970 was never far behind. That's fairly impressive, considering the difference in price.

As we saw in the synthetic benchmarks, the card fares better at higher resolutions.

The GTX 580 and 570 maintain a strong lead at the 1920-by-1200 resolution, but that gap dries up once the resolution is dialed up to the 2560-by-1600 pixel resolution.

AMD Radeon HD 6970: Value and Efficiency

Power utilization becomes rather demanding on the enthusiast end of the GPU market. To weigh the overall efficiency of these cards, we took the average frames per second of all of our game tests, and divided by their power use under load.

Nvidia's wares are generally rather power hungry, and while the revamped Fermi architecture made impressive strides towards taming their appetites, AMD's offerings remain the more power efficient of the pack - particularly at the higher resolutions.

With a small price difference between the GTX 570 and the Radeon HD 6970, it becomes prudent to look at things from a broader perspective. The GTX 570 ultimately edges out the Radeon HD 6970 as the better buy, where raw performance is concerned - especially if you aren't fortunate enough to own a 30-inch, 2560-by-1600 resolution display.

But there are a few caveats in AMD's favour. The 6970 offers a better range of display options, serving up a pair of mini DisplayPort 1.2 connectors, a pair DVI connectors, and an HDMI 1.4a connector. Nvidia's cards only offer a pair of DVI ports, and an HDMI port. And AMD's oft-touted Eyefinity technology will also allow you to run up to three displays off a single card, a feat that Nvidia can't match. And then there's power efficiency, if you're watching your electric bill.

All told, that difference becomes a trade-off between eking out those last few frames on your graphically intensive games, or having a bit more versatility in your display options.

See also:  Group test: what's the best graphics card?

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

See also: Group test: what's the best budget graphics card?

AMD Radeon HD 6970: Specs

  • Sapphire RADEON HD6970 - graphics adapter - Radeon HD 6970 - 2GB
  • 39x275x111mm
  • Graphics adaptor
  • plug-in card
  • PCI Express 2.1 x16
  • 880MHz clock Speed
  • Video Output - 2560 x 1600
  • Graphics Processor / Vendor - AMD Radeon HD 6970
  • API Supported - DirectX 11, OpenGL 3.1, OpenGL 3.2
  • Max Monitors Supported - 3
  • Max Resolution Details - DVI: 2560 x 1600 / DisplayPort: 2560 x 1600
  • Video Memory - 2 GB - GDDR5 SDRAM
  • Sapphire RADEON HD6970 - graphics adapter - Radeon HD 6970 - 2GB
  • 39x275x111mm
  • Graphics adaptor
  • plug-in card
  • PCI Express 2.1 x16
  • 880MHz clock Speed
  • Video Output - 2560 x 1600
  • Graphics Processor / Vendor - AMD Radeon HD 6970
  • API Supported - DirectX 11, OpenGL 3.1, OpenGL 3.2
  • Max Monitors Supported - 3
  • Max Resolution Details - DVI: 2560 x 1600 / DisplayPort: 2560 x 1600
  • Video Memory - 2 GB - GDDR5 SDRAM

OUR VERDICT

Nvidia keeps the performance crown, but the AMD Radeon HD 6970 offers up an impressive, well-rounded value that's tough to beat.

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