The AMD 6950 was a bit of a disappointment when we first reviewed it. It didn't really inspire us in the same way that the earlier series of Radeon cards have.
Of course as the second best model in their range we wouldn't expect bleeding-edge performance, but it was just very average.
In an attempt to solve the issues of the reference card MSI have married their brilliant Twin Frozr II cooler to the AMD chip and it's time for us to see how it performs.
The MSI R6950 Twin Frozr II comes with all the normal AMD bells and whistles such as Eyefinity, Avivo and new to the 6 series, 3D support.
Core Clock: 810MHz
Memory: 2048MB GDDR5
Memory Clock: 5000MHz (Effective)
Processing Cores: 1408
Texture Units: 88
Bus Type: PCI Express 2.1
Display Connectors: 2 Dual Link DVI I, 1 HDMI & 2x Mini DisplayPort
DirectX 11 Support
Shader Model 5.0 Support
OpenGL 4.0 Support
ATI CrossFire Ready
ATI Eyefinity Technology
ATI Avivo HD
ATI Stream Technology
ATI HD3D Technology
2x 6pin PCI E power connectors required
Warranty: 2 Years
Let's have a look at it in the flesh shall we.
The MSI box is certainly eye-catching with the card itself dominating the box in purple hues, and the model in chrome lettering. A pig to photograph but amazing in "real-life".
The accessories package is robust with all the adaptors and connectors one could realistically hope for. It is quite amusing to see a quick start guide for the card, as GPUs are one of the simplest hardware alterations you can make.
The card itself is naturally dominated by the Twin Frozr II and thusly looks very similar to any other card equipped with it. It's as stunning as it's ever been with its gun-metal covering and very highly polished heat-sink.
Connectivity is catered for with two mini-DisplayPort's, a HDMI and two DVI outputs. Finding a single DisplayPort monitor is both difficult and expensive so two seems an extravagance, but at least you can't want for connections. Perhaps two HDMIs would be preferable in these modern 'multi-purpose display' times.
Power is provided by two PCIe 6-pin connectors, which should give all the juice you'd ever need.
Finally a little bit of graphics card porn. That heat-sink is a work of art.
Intel i7-930 @ 4GHz
6GB Kingston Hyper-X 2000MHz
Asus Rampage III
MSI R6950 Twin Frozr II
Cougar CM1000 1KW PSU
Windows 7 64-Bit
Catalyst 11.1 Drivers
The major benefit with the MSI Twin Frozr II cooling solution is how effective it is at keeping everything nice and cool. This has the obvious side-effect of allowing us to push everything that bit further without thermal limits become problematic.
Whilst the reference card stopped at 850 MHz the MSI could be pushed all the way up to 895 MHz before it cried enough.
The secondary benefit to the Twin Frozr II is that besides its capability to keep the card cool it's how quietly it does this.
3D Mark Vantage
Price-wise the major competitor for the MSI Twin Frozr II R6950 is the newly released GeForce GTX560 Ti. As you can see in 3D Mark Vantage its definitely not very close in performance terms. Once again the AMD cards are so perfectly aligned that we have a sneaking, if cynical, feeling that it's been engineered this way.
3D Mark 11
In the less PhysX reliant 3D Mark 11 the 6950 does much better at stock than the 560, although the 300 point gaps between the different AMD cards in the performance mark, and 100 points in the Extreme Mark, sadly only strengthens our opinion that these have been deliberately built to a target, rather than as good as they can be. Of course this is no reflection upon MSI and the Twin Frozr II is doing its best.
In the Unigine Heaven benchmark the 6950 spanks the GTX560 quite hard thanks to AMDs boffins working very hard at their tessellation optimisations. With Unigine using so much tessellation to provide such sumptuous visuals it's not surprising that ever bit of help counts.
Such is the performance level of the latest AMD cards in Unigine that with the Anti-Aliasing ramped up it pulls ahead of the mighty GTX570. Hopefully this level of performance will translate into gaming.
Alien vs Predator
In stock trim the 6950 comfortably beats the GTX560 it's priced against, and when overclocked everything settles down.
Performance in Cryteks famous Crysis Warhead is pretty good with the card able to churn out over 60FPS both overclocked and stock. Not bad at all.
Far Cry 2
The polygon shifting ability of the MSI definitely trumps the GTX560 in the DirectX 10 Far Cry 2. It's annihilated by everything else in our graph though.
Metro 2033 definitely is a system hog as we've reported many times before. When it initially was released we felt it would be the new Crysis in that it would really be the yardstick for a powerful system. As it is it seems to just be slow on one GPU and ok on two. Nevermind, the MSI R6950 handles it as well as we'd expect at such high image quality settings.
You'd be forgiven for coming away from this review with a profound sense of "hmm that was shorter than normal". I make no apologies for it, but hopefully can at least explain why.
Step into the world of metaphors for a moment. What we've got here is organic, hand grown, gently simmered haricot beans in a thick sauce made from the finest sun-ripened, freshly plucked tomatoes, cooked by a Michelin star chef, and served on an un-toasted slice of Tesco value bread.
The MSI Twin Frozr II cooler is, as we've known for a long time, absolutely brilliant. It does its job fantastically keeping everything cool and quiet, whilst looking finer than a Saville Row suit. We seriously love it.
The packaging and accessories are also wonderful. We have everything we could sensibly desire, in a well designed box, and the card is very well protected in dense foam.
All the "MSI" parts of the equation are up to their normal high-standard.
Unfortunately the same can't be said of the AMD 6950 that lays beneath. The Tesco bread part of our beans on toast. It's not strictly speaking a bad chip. It's fine enough and performs well enough.
But that's exactly what makes it so damn hard to write about. There is absolutely nothing unexpected at all.
The chip slots perfectly, too perfectly in my opinion, below the 6970. Stock it's a fair bit slower, and overclocked it's a little bit slower. When you look at the two cards in our graph they follow each other as surely as night follows day. It's very difficult therefore to feel any great love or loathing for it. It's all a bit too engineered as if AMD didn't want to risk it being so good nobody brought the 6970, but didn't want it to be so bad nobody brought it at all.
So with that working against them it doesn't matter how well MSI package it (and they have) nor how fabulous the cooling solution is (and it's fabulous), it will always just slot nicely in beneath the 6970. When you go into a review knowing it's a brilliant cooler on an average chip, and after all the testing you come to the conclusion it's a brilliant cooler on an average chip, it doesn't leave much to discuss. There aren't any surprisingly brilliant moments, nor any shockingly bad ones.
It's perfectly fine. A reference 6950 is around £220. A reference 6970 is about £280. So in keeping with the bracketed nature of the chip itself it's no surprise to find the Twin Frozr 6950 is priced at £250. Exactly what you'd expect. A little pricey for the performance, but you are getting a seriously cool and quiet heat-sink for that money. MSI apply their normal bullet-proof build quality to everything. This is naturally reflected in the price.
So what is there to say about the R6950? It's exactly what you'd expect. You can't help feeling the Twin Frozr II cooler is built for much greater things than this. No matter how good the beans are, you wish it wasn't just on top of plain bread.
Thanks to MSI for providing the R6950 for review. Discuss in our forums.