PowerColor have a long history of producing two main variants of the standard cards. The medium to high-end one is called the PCS, and the absolute banzai one is the PCS+.
Today we're taking a look at the PCS+ version of the current range-topping Radeon HD6970. This not only comes with an enormous overclock out of the factory but also a custom cooler as well to ensure everything is keep cool and quiet.
As there is a video review as well, without further ado let's get down to it.
Straight away you can see the major difference with the PCS+ is the factory overclock up to a whopping 940MHz. Considering the best manual overclock we've managed to achieve on a 6970 is 950MHz, to see 940MHz out of the box is staggering and something PowerColor should be praised highly for.
|Graphics Engine||RADEON HD6970|
|Video Memory||2GB GDDR5|
|Memory Clock||1425MHz (5.7Gbps)|
|Bus Standard||PCIE 2.1|
|Standard Display Connectors||DL-DVI-I/SL-DVI-D/HDMI/2x 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|
|Extension Power Connector||One 6-Pin and One 8-Pin|
Let's take a look at the card.
In keeping with the compact nature of all PowerColor packaging this is no bigger than it has to be. The design is clear with a big PCS+ logo ensuring it's clear that we have the absolute top-end model here.
It's nice to see the PCS+ also coming with a game, in this case Modern Warfare 2. The amount of cards that come with an included game are becoming thin on the ground lately and it's a trend we definitely don't like to see. For £280 an extra game isn't a lot to ask, even if it's one most people will have it's something.
Here it is in the flesh and what a fine looking thing it is. It's always good to see the red PCB back but the cooler is the real star of this show. Two large fans and lots of copper dominate things, but we'll get to that in a minute.
As it's the top-end Radeon graphics card the power is supplied by a PCIe 8-pin alongside the normal PCIe 6-pin.
Just look at those highly polished copper heat-pipes. A sight to behold in any rig. Let's pull it apart of take a look closer up.
Once we take the heat-sink off we find that underneath lays a fairly standard 6970 PCB. Aside of course from the red colour which reminds us so much of the TNT and 9700 cards of old.
That's some serious fin density. Anyone who is into water cooling will know how important a good fins per inch (FPI) is as you want the ideal balance between surface area to cool and airflow.
Sometimes with heat-pipes we see that companies know the average consumer is looking for them and so we have these thin things that aren't very effective but look nice. By comparison the ones on the PCS+ are huge. Smooth outer surface helps transfer heat away as swiftly as possible and it can't be denied it's a stunning looking thing.
As always with a non-reference cooler the first thing to go is the stupid fan arrangement and here we have two large fans helping to keep everything frosty.
PowerColor PCS+ HD6970/Catalyst 11.1
Intel Core i7-950 @ 4GHz
ASUS Rampage III Extreme
Muskin Joule 1200w
6GB Mushkin Redline
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
As the PCS+ comes with such a mind-bending overclock out of the box it's not a great surprise to see there is very little left in the tank. This absolutely isn't a bad thing. Nothing is more irritating than paying the price premium that pre-overclocked models demand and still having tons of headroom.
Another impressive element of the PCS+ is how well that cooler works. It really does keep everything whisper quiet and nice and cool. Great looks and great cooling. Count us in. Time to see if great performance is part of the deal too.
As we're already running heavily overclocked out of the box and our own overclock only gained us 20MHz we're running the PCS+ "as is". Slap bang in the middle of our graph so it's easy to compare to the overclocked and stock reference HD6970 card.
3D Mark Vantage
If 3D Mark Vantage is a fair reflection on what we can expect to see then this should be an enjoyable review. It absolutely obliterates the reference card and although the reference overclocked result is close you have to remember that it comes at a hefty noise price, and also of course no guarantee you'll reach that level.
3D Mark 11
How about that then. The PCS+ out-performs the GTX570 in 3D Mark 11. Although 3D Mark 11 is a very different test to Vantage, relying much more heavily on shader abilities, there is no denying the results.
For the sake of using our normal set of benchmarks to keep everything normal we are including Unigine, but it's clear both from this and other recent tests that something in Catalyst 11.1s have hugely affected the Unigine results. The Unigine Heaven benchmark is the one test we can guarantee the AMD will triumph in thanks to the heavily optimised tessellation capabilities.
Here, both at 0x anti-aliasing and 8x the PCS+ 6970 produces much lower scores than we'd expect. We've tested with other Radeon cards and it's definitely a driver issue rather than something about this particular card.
So they are here for completeness, but you can pretty much ignore them as a driver related issue.
Alien vs Predator
The always visually impressive, if slightly creepy, AvP shows the power of the PCS+. It's as good as the 6970 when Overclocked, but remember this is also quiet, and guaranteed to give this performance.
Crysis Warhead Gamer
Although Crysis is well known for being a stern test it shows how fine the performance of the PCS+ is. Way ahead of it's Radeon contemporaries and up with an overclocked GTX570. Let's push it a bit further shall we.
Enthusiast Maximum Anti-Aliasing
We say maximum because the GeForce and Radeon chips have different AA methods and therefore we've just set it as high as possible for ultimate image quality.
With this being such a hardcore test we've firstly not bothered with the 6950 or GTX560. Although there appears to be some variance between the cards it's only 4 frames between all of them which, given the Crytek Engines desire to fold its arms in a hump sometimes we'll gladly accept. It wasn't that long ago that a single high-end card struggled to do 30FPS in Gamer, and now we've got two sub-£300 cards with everything set as high as possible still rocking major frames.
Far Cry 2
Taking advantage of raw performance more than anything else we test with, Far Cry 2 absolutely loves the PCS+ 6970, giving the best result of the cards we have. 90FPS is huge performance indeed.
Demonstrating how limited Metro 2033 is with only a single GPU all of the cards give us roughly the same results. This is definitely a game that needs a twin-card setup to make the most of, but the PCS+ holds it head up high with the rest.
The PowerColor 6970 PCS+ is like an Express Train. It came out the box running hard, and never let up at all, giving great results through out all of our testing.
We're often complaining of how manufacturer clocked cards don't get anywhere near the limits of the chip, yet here with the PCS+ we're enough below it to allow for the odd chip that doesn't perform quite as well, but still at about the limit of the speeds available without the user needing to do anything.
This needs really considering. Sure there is a price premium to pay for the PCS+ when compared to a reference card, but you get so many benefits with it. You aren't stuck playing the silicon lottery in the hopes of getting a chip that will happily run at 940MHz. You aren't stuck, if you do get lucky with your GPU, with a reference cooler whining away like a shadow cabinet minister. Lastly of course you don't actually have to go through the whole overclocking process, making sure the card runs at those speeds upon bootup and reapplying them with every driver update.
Pricewise it's damn good too. £270-280 is certainly at the very peak of HD6970 pricing, and it's right up against the price of a very stock, basic, GTX570 card.
But you're not getting a basic card, you're getting an absolute premium model, that looks gorgeous, is quieter than a ninja in slippers and hits like a sledgehammer. Plus of course a copy of Modern Warfare 2 if that particular title has slipped by you.
About the only downsides are more to do with the age old ATI driver issues than anything else. Although ATI drivers are a massive improvement on those of old, they are still a little inconsistent. The performance drops in Unigine are staggering to be honest and whilst not many games take advantage of Tessellation yet there certainly will come a day in which they do, and then who knows.
Now and again a manufacturer can start to rest on their laurels and hope that the name alone will make the customer choose them over a competing product. It's clear that PowerColor most certainly aren't complacent and the HD6970 PCS+ is absolutely deserving of the PCS+ branding and we're happy to award it the OC3D Silver Award.
After speaking with Powercolor they have advised us the card should support voltage changes in MSI afterburner. We do run a driver sweep before every GPU review and always run the latest drivers available at the time of testing, but it is advised that if you do run into problems please make sure you are using the latest drivers, the latest version of Afterburner and have ran a driver sweep before installing. If all else fails and you do wish to have the voltage options please try a fresh OS installation. It is not confirmed but this could be an issue with the latest Catalyst drivers.
Thanks to PowerColor for providing the 6970 PCS+ for review. Discuss in our forums.