Roughly this time last month we were testing a variety of graphics cards in the new Call of Duty: Black Ops video game. I remember picking up a Radeon HD 4870 and thinking to myself “wow I've had this thing forever”, and in a sense I have. Code-named R700, the Radeon HD 4000 series was released two and a half years ago and I'm sure many of you are still using one of these cards in your desktop PC today.

The follow up to the R700 architecture was the highly anticipated R800, which paved the way for the Radeon HD 5000 series. The king of that series was the Radeon HD 5870, released on September 2009, the card packed some 2150 million transistors produced using a 40nm manufacturing process.

The Radeon HD 5870 was a solid success for AMD, as it remained their flagship single-GPU product for roughly 15 months, and it is only being replaced today. When we first test drove the Radeon HD 5870 we concluded that it was one the best graphics cards we had ever reviewed at that price point, which says it all really.

It took Nvidia around 6 months to return fire with the GeForce GTX 480 and GTX 470 graphics cards, and even then a lot of people, including us, felt they had fallen short. Nvidia persevered and after a few quick price drops along with enhanced driver support, they eventually made for a more compelling argument.

Further down the track, the release of the GeForce GTX 460 and the refined GF110 architecture helped the company establish a viable mainstream product and gave light of things to come, namely the recent release of the GeForce GTX 580 and GeForce GTX 570 GPUs.

Meanwhile, AMD has been offering a lone Radeon HD 6000 series GPU since October, pitching the new Radeon HD 6870 head on at the GeForce GTX 460 with an MSRP of $240. As impressive as the Radeon HD 6870 is at this price point, not to mention the confusing naming scheme, AMD stressed this wasn't a 5870 replacement.

After a short delay, AMD brings us the new Radeon HD 6970. Code-named Cayman XT this new graphics processor features 2640 million transistors, 23% more than that of the 5870. Like the new Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 and GTX 570 graphics cards which are more refined versions of the GTX 480 and GTX 470 graphics cards, the Radeon HD 6970 is essentially a more refined version of the 5870. To find out exactly what this means, read on...