The Radeon HD6970 has been around for a while now in various guises. It never quite captured the imagination and plaudits that the 4000 and 5000 series did, largely in part to good but not spectacular performance and the utter domination of this round of GPUs by nVidia.
However if one company has managed to make the most out of the Cayman XT GPU it's PowerColor. Their PCS+ edition is probably our favourite of the line and now we have a full-fat, all the bells and whistles model as a grand last hurrah for the HD6970 boards. The PowerColor Devil 13.
With a name like that we're expecting great things.
The Devil 13 certainly comes with everything you could wish for on a high-end card. We have Dual BIOS, one for standard use and one that allows some feisty overclocks. An array of power phases to provide stable and efficient voltages under even the most arduous conditions, and a custom cooler.
|Graphics Engine||RADEON HD6970|
|Video Memory||2GB GDDR5|
|Engine Clock||880MHz / 960MHz|
|Memory Clock||1375MHz (5.5Gbps) / 1425MHz (5.7Gbps)|
|Bus Standard||PCIE 2.1|
|Standard Display Connecors||DL-DVI-I/SL-DVI-D/HDMI/2* mini DisplayPort|
|ATI Stream Technology||Support|
|ATI Eyefinity Technology||Support|
|VGA Output||Via Adapter|
|DVI Output||DL-DVI-I/ SL-DVI-D|
|Minimum System Power requirement (W)||550W|
|Extention Power Connector||two 8-pin PCI Express Power connectors|
The packing for the Devil 13 is, frankly, a masterpiece. Thick cardboard, two drawers and lots of cubbyholes. It's glorious.
As well as the card you also get a full screwdriver set, nicely matching the colour scheme of the Devil 13 itself, as well as just being a damn handy thing to have.
The card reminds us of the original Ares, and that's a good thing. it's lush with the red shining tastefully through against the black shroud. Some seriously hefty heat-pipes should provide lots of cooling power.
Round the back we have the normal display outputs, but also the top left of the rear plane contains the BIOS Switch, which toggles the card from standard 880MHz BIOS, to a specialist overclocking one that begins at 960MHz. Why it isn't 960MHz out the box is a different question of course. With so much overclocking capability it's not a surprise to find the card has two 8pin PCIe power connectors.
Round the back we have a sturdy backplate to ensure the card remains exactly as intended as the heat gets spread around. We also have some voltage monitoring points, and some LEDs to indicate the current status of the Devil 13. It's a gorgeous card.
PowerColor HD6970 Devil 13
Intel Core-i7 950 @ 4GHz
Gigabyte G1 Assassin
6GB Mushkin Redline
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
With the BIOS switched to the overclock the card ramps up from the default 880MHz to a fabulous 960MHz. However with a little gentle prodding we were able to get the Devil 13 up to 1000MHz, a mighty fine overclock for the HD6970.
Now although we only have nVidia cards to compare to in this graph it's worth pointing out that normally the HD6970 is a toasty chip. The custom cooler on the Devil 13 certainly keeps the card well reined in, not even cracking 70°C when overclocked and under heavy loading. Very impressive.
3D Mark 11
Even though 3D Mark 11 is shader intensive, something the Radeon cards do well, the Devil 13 is still behind a GTX560Ti 448. However it is a long way ahead of the reference HD6970 which is really its competition, given how much extra performance the current generation of nVidia cards gives.
3D Mark Vantage
Compared to the reference HD6970 the Devil 13 is 2000 points ahead in both Vantage tests. That's a hefty chunk of extra performance just from some careful component selection and intelligent design.
There was a time when the Catalyst drivers gave enormous performance in Unigine, so much so that the Radeons completely dominated the graphs. Many driver refreshes later and the results are nowhere near as good so the main comparison here is against the HIS HD6950 in the middle of the graph which was tested with current drivers. The Devil 13 naturally produces a higher frame-rate than that, but still nothing amazing in either 0xAA or 8xAA situations.
Alien vs Predator
Performance in AvP is exactly where we'd hope. Just north of 60FPS with all the graphical niceties. Our overclock gives a healthy 3 FPS boost too.
Batman Arkham City
As a very recent game indeed and one that makes full use of PhysX we naturally find the Radeon suffering against the nVidia competition. However if we accept that dumping heavy physics processing on to the CPU will limit the frame-rate, the Devil 13 actually puts up a reasonable showing. Equal at least to the ASUS 448.
The latest in the Battlefield line of games has similar issues to Arkham City. At stock it's pretty average at only 38 FPS but the overclock helps greatly. Not only does the average frame-rate increase to 45 but the smoothness is a vast improvement. If you didn't know it was only 45FPS you wouldn't know when playing.
Codemasters Ken Block-a-thon just loves the Devil 13. Not only do we get a good frame-rate out of the box but with the overclock the card just demolishes the game, getting very close to the monster PNY GTX580.
Now here is a turn up for the books. At stock the Devil 13 is about as good as we've seen in our Gamer tests, but with the overclock it takes up pole position, ahead even of the overclocked GTX580.
Things naturally even out more as Warhead is turned up to 11, but nonetheless the Devil 13 still provides a smooth gaming experience, especially when overclocked.
The more modern Crysis 2 is very much a schizophrenic affair. Out of the box with only DX9 settings it's perfectly playable at over 60FPS. Once we apply the Hi-Res texture pack and the DirectX 11 rendering path made available in the v1.9 patch things are less pleasant with the Devil 13 barely able to improve upon a HD6950 and left utterly trailing in the wake of the nVidia cards.
Far Cry 2
The Far Cry 2 experience is buttery smooth, although the numbers don't necessarily tell the whole story. The Devil 13 can keep us merrily above 60 FPS, but in playing it never felt like it became jerky.
The criminal streets of Mafia 2 provide a strange result. Although the Devil 13 easily provides a smooth experience there isn't anything to be gained from our overclock, which up to now has transformed the card.
We've often mentioned how Metro 2033, certainly since some of the recent patches, is almost frame-locked to 30FPS on a single GPU and so it proves with the Devil 13. The minimum frame-rate is good, but generally speaking if you're obsessed with the game you'll want two cards to really unlock the performance.
The Witcher 2
Considering that The Witcher 2 is a very harsh test of your system the Devil 13 provides a pleasant surprise, being the best of the rest behind the dual-GPU setups and the excellent PNY GTX580. In terms of performance per pound the Devil 13 is right up there.
Resident Evil 5
Such is the excellent optimisation from the PC port of the Capcom favourite that nearly anything gives a playable experience. In DirectX 9 things are perfectly okay, but the overclocked DirectX 10 result really steals the show being over 10 frames better on average than its nearest competitor.
As with all of the current generation of Radeon 6000 cards there are two ways of thinking about the results.
With our "everything is available" heads on it's very difficult to recommend any Radeon over even a mid-range nVidia card, such is the performance differential. Even the GTX560Ti is there or thereabouts and more often than not the GTX570 upwards will give you a hugely more enjoyable experience both in terms of driver stability, which is always something to consider, and actual performance. Not only that but the pricing is so competitive that it just makes fiscal sense to go with the Green team.
However, we know that not everyone wants to move to an nVidia card. We understand that there are a lot of people who swear by AMD and will have nothing else in their system.
So if you are one of these people, then the PowerColor HD6970 Devil 13 is definitely the card for you. It's the zenith of the HD6970 options out there.
It looks fantastic. The red and black scheme ensures it will fit in with nearly everyone's rig. Not only that but the packaging is replete with an array of wonderful touches giving a sense of theatre to opening it up, an element that cannot be underestimated.
The cooler is great too. Sure it's not whisper quiet, but considering that the reference AMD cooler is akin to sitting next to a Dyson and about as good at cooling, then PowerColor have done an excellent job in keeping temperatures and noise at manageable levels.
Performance is excellent for a HD6970 card. In certain scenarios the weaknesses of the Cayman XT/Catalyst drivers become apparent, but it's certainly a better performer than we were expecting and a very free overclocker, happily hitting 1000MHz thanks to the BIOS switch and the excellent power circuitry. Although quite who would buy this and not instantly hit the BIOS switch to get the better performance and higher overclock is a mystery.
With the 7 series due some time next year this is the swansong for the Cayman-equipped cards and the PowerColor is the perfect way for the HD6970 to bow out. Pricing is a bit steep at £350, but if you absolutely must have an AMD card in you system you couldn't do better. So although if we look at the market as a whole it's difficult to recommend, for those with a streak of red in their soul it's the one for you.
We're happy to award it our Performance Award.
Thanks to PowerColor for providing the Devil 13 for review. Discuss in our forums.