MSI HD 6950 Twin Frozr II Review: Cool, Quiet, and somewhat Beastly
More Details from Cayman
The HD 6950 itself is a cut down version of the full Cayman chip powering the HD 6970. Instead of the full 24 SIMD units, 96 texture filtering units, and 1536 ALUs we have 22 SIMD units, 88 texture filtering units, and 1408 ALUs. The full 32 ROPS and 256 bit memory bus are identical in both chips. The other difference is obviously clockspeed. The HD 6970 runs at a brisk 880 MHz core and 1375 MHz GDDR-4 (5.5 GHz effective), while the HD 6950 runs at 800 MHz core and 1225 MHz GDDR-4 (5.0 GHz effective). Both cards feature a full 2 GB of frame buffer, which is quite nice on cold nights and demanding applications. The only other obvious difference is that the HD 6950 only requires 6 + 6 pin PCI-E power plugs vs. the HD 6970 which requires the 8 + 6 PCI-E plugs.
The package contents are adequate, but not terribly exciting. I would have much rather seen MSI include a passive DP to DVI adapter here, but this should get most users started.
The biggest accomplishment for the Cayman series of chips is that they are much more efficient in their usage of the shader ALUs. The HD 6970 has fewer stream units than the HD 5870, but is significantly faster than that previous card (far more than the 30 MHz difference between the two cards). Even the stock clocked HD 6950 with 1408 units and 50 MHz slower still outperforms the HD 5870. Add in the extra geometry power, improved filtering, and more advanced AA techniques, and even HD 5870 users have a decent reason to upgrade to this generation of parts.
The version we are reviewing today takes the HD 6950 to a slightly higher level. First off this is the HD 6950 Twin Frozr II OC edition, which is slightly overclocked from stock speeds. When I say slightly, I mean it. The core is clocked at a smoking 10 MHz faster than the standard version, and the memory receives no extra MHz at all. Not terribly exciting. At all. But still overclocked out of the box.
The big push here is the Twin Frozr II cooling solution. These have done well for MSI since they were introduced a few years ago with the original Twin Frozr solutions. They are much quieter than standard cooling solutions, and they tend to be 10 to 20 C cooler in actual operation. The base cooler features five heat pipes, two of which are the larger “Super Pipes” which are 8 mm in size vs. the standard 6 mm heat pipes. The base of the cooler which interfaces with the GPU is nickel plated copper. The cooler itself features a metric @$$-load of aluminum cooling fins with the heatpipes speared through them at strategic locations. The two 80 mm fans do not make a whole lot of noise, but they can be heard outside of the case once things heat up.
The card is hefty, and there are many, many aluminum fins throughout the heatsink.
One of the biggest advantages MSI has at play here is the use of the Afterburner software. This is a very easy to use overclocking tool developed by the folks who created Rivatuner. To totally unlock Afterburner, the .cfg file needs to be manually edited and a long EULA statement must be inserted. Google is a friend here. Afterburner not only supports overclocking the card, but it has a wonderful ability to set the fan modes as one would see fit. Don’t mind if your chip runs a little hotter than usual while the fans stay quiet? A user can make those changes.
The card does feature the five standard ports that are found on the reference HD 6950. It has a single dual link DVI port, one single link DVI, two mini-Display Port 1.2, and one HDMI 1.4a. The card can support up to four monitors out of the box, but that requires the use of a single passive DP to DVI and an active DP to DVI. Unless of course the user has Display Port monitors or a DP hub.
The return of the "Supah Pipe!" Yes, there are 2 x 8 mm heatpipes integrated into the design.
Currently this particular card can be found online for around $294 after rebate. This is a bit of a price jump up from reference designs which are priced around $244 after rebate. That is a rather steep price jump from the reference. Plus we need to add in two other issues. The first is that the Twin Frozr II model does not feature the BIOS switch of the reference, and secondly it can’t be flashed to a HD 6970 like many of the reference cards can. These are some pretty hefty dings against this particular card, which is unfortunate as the actual design of the card and its cooling is quite good. Let’s not even go into the issue of a reference HD 6970 being $319 after rebate…