Earlier this month we saw the Radeon HD 6970 clash against the GeForce GTX 570 and while each card showed its strengths and weakness across the 14 games that we tested with, in the end they delivered much the same performance at 1920x1200. The Radeon HD 6970 did have a small performance advantage at 2560x1600, which might make a difference to gamers playing on larger screens, either that or the small $30 price advantage of the GeForce could tip the scales on its favor.
When all was said and done we felt gamers couldn't go wrong with either the GeForce GTX 570 or Radeon HD 6970. Both cards provide an impressive level of performance, relatively good value, great efficiency, and both heavily outclassed their previous generation counterparts.
The Radeon HD 6950 provides a middle ground of sorts, with a price tag of $299. At 1920x1200 (1920x1080) resolution which is continuing to grow in popularity, the Radeon HD 6950 was on average 10% slower than the HD 6970, which makes it a very good value as it's also 18% cheaper.
When compared to the affordable Radeon HD 6870, the HD 6950 was 17% faster, though keep in mind it also costs 20% more. Still these margins are close enough to justify going either way. Also relevant to this comparision, while the Radeon HD 6950 was never more than 16% slower than the HD 6970, it was up to 55% faster than the HD 6870 on certain scenarios.
The Radeon HD 6950 doesn't provide any incentives for existing Radeon HD 5870 users to upgrade. To be fair, the older Radeon is still pretty fast but the HD 6950 is on average 12% faster.
The matchup between the Radeon HD 6950 and the GeForce GTX 470 saw the HD 6950 win by an average of 18%, though again there's a 20% price difference. As we've extensively covered in the past though, the GTX 470 is very power hungry. If for some reason you were to narrow your options down to either of these two, the HD 6950 is a better choice hands down.
Finally we have the GeForce GTX 570 and Radeon HD 6950 comparison. Here the Radeon HD 6950 was 10% slower while costing 14% less, making the HD 6950 a slightly better value. In terms of efficiency they are about the same, so the decision will come down to how much you want to spend.
The Radeon HD 6950 seems to be a good fit at $299 and it certainly makes a compelling argument at this price if you want to get a last generation board without overspending. It offers the best value of any graphics card priced at $279 and upwards, while those looking at the more affordable Radeon HD 6870 will be very tempted to spend the extra $50 to acquire a shiny new Radeon HD 6950. (Ed. Note: Not to mention that with a little tweaking and a BIOS flash you can unlock all shaders and get Radeon HD 6970 performance without having to shell out the extra $70 or so)
Nvidia is expected to launch a competing GeForce GTX 560 model sometime next year, but until that happens we don't foresee much of a change or price battle to take place. To be fair though, any of the current $200+ GPUs will perform incredibly well in current games unless you have a very demanding taste.