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It appears we are going to face a repeat with the new Radeon HD 6900 and GeForce GTX 500 GPU series. With a few key differences, of course. This time Nvidia arrived to market well on time and they are also very efficient against competing Radeons.
Whereas the GeForce GTX 480 was the fastest single-GPU graphics cards during its era, the GTX 580 retains the crown as it is simply too much for the Radeon HD 6970 to handle. The HD 6970 will be priced to tackle Nvidia's second in command, the GeForce GTX 570, while the HD 6950 fills a price bracket of its own.
It won't be until early next year when AMD gets the chance to reclaim the performance crown, with the dual-GPU Radeon HD 6990, code-named Antilles. If the performance of the Radeon HD 6970 is anything to go by, we see no reason why they won't be able to flatten the GeForce GTX 580. Unless Nvidia launches a surprise attack with a dual-GPU GTX 500 series graphics card of their own, then AMD is on track to win back the title.
However getting back to the here and now, the Radeon HD 6970 is going head to head with the GeForce GTX 570, as the suggested retail price for this card has been set at $369, while the GTX 570 debuted last week for slightly less at $349. Despite being two very different animals, the Radeon HD 6970 and GeForce GTX 570 ended up delivering the same average performance across the fourteen games that we tested at 1920x1200.
For the most part the gap was very narrow to call as we saw a percentage or less difference in games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Battlefield Bad Company 2, Splinter Cell: Conviction and World in Conflict. The Radeon HD 6970 was at best found to be 20% faster than the GeForce GTX 570, while there were instances where it was also roughly 20% slower.
On the power consumption front, the Radeon HD 6970 and GeForce GTX 570 were very close again, demonstrating a similar level of operating efficiency.
Therefore should the Radeon HD 6970 immediately become available at ~$369, which we are expecting it to, then it will be a good alternative to the GeForce GTX 570. Picking between the two won't be easy, though we feel consumers cannot go wrong with either choice given the price and performance on offer.
When compared to other graphics cards such as the GeForce GTX 580, the Radeon HD 6970 was on average 15% slower, while it is expected to be around 30% cheaper, same as Nvidia's own GTX 570 which presents a better value proposition.
Then there's the card that the Radeon HD 6970 is effectively replacing, the HD 5870. Based on our 1920x1200 benchmark data across 14 games the Radeon HD 6970 was on average 24% faster and we are expecting it to cost ~10% more. Furthermore, efficiency has also been improved. The Radeon HD 6970 consumed 16% more power than the HD 5870 to deliver that extra 24% performance.
Something that should be pointed out is that the Radeon HD 6970 performed slightly better than the GeForce GTX 570 in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat and Aliens vs. Predator, two titles that make use of Tessellation. In the past Nvidia had provided a clear cut advantage in these games.
When we tested the GeForce GTX 570 last week we suggested that any potential buyers were better off holding back for a week until they could see what AMD had in store with the Radeon HD 6970. As it turns out, they have developed a remarkably similar product in terms of performance and efficiency. Considering that we really liked the GeForce GTX 570, it goes without saying that we are also fond of the Radeon HD 6970. Both provide an exceptional level of performance and value, making the choice between those two both easy and difficult at the same time. You can't go wrong either way though.