Usually this blog and show covers basic mainstream product lines but we had a unique opportunity this week and the fortunes brought us two of the “luxury” end of video cards for a direct head to head comparison. The above $300 price range is typically the area of the extreme gamer, heavy duty folder or the middle aged geek having a mid life crisis. With this in mind I took up the challenge of putting the EVGA GTX 570 SC head to head with the newly released XFX HD 6970. Both of these cards come in very close to the $350 price point and in my opinion offer the highest point that the majority of us would ever consider. Oh do not get me wrong there are more expensive cards but most people just have a hard time spending this high let alone higher.
Since this blog and my show is directed at the more mainstream we will be testing the products at the 1080 resolution and a 1055T processor to reflect a more mainstream approach and we will use part of this review to compare what this higher cost “luxury” level component offers and if it is worth the cost over a more typical mainstream card.
The two cards I am looking at today are both on the shelf models, not the typical engineering samples we usually get for review. The EVGA GTX 570 is a fairly new release with nVidia getting this chips out so they could steal some of AMDs thunder for the release of the 6900 series. The XFX 6970 is built using the recently released AMD chip and is the current high end card of the AMD line up.
Right out of the gate it is easy to begin comparisons. The cards actually have a similar look as far as fan placement and the plastic shroud. The 570 however is almost a full inch smaller than the 6970. Both cards use top mounted power connectors with the 570 using dual 6 pin and the 6970 requires an 8 and a six pin connector.
Moving around to the connection end of the cards we find the 6970 has dual DVI as well as dual Displayport connectors plus an HDMI, the 570 sports the dual DVI connectors and an HDMI connector. Looking closer we see that the 6970 has a smaller heat exhaust port then the 570, we will see what this means for heat in a bit.
Since these cards are really meant for one thing, gaming, I began my testing by firing up a few games that I have laying around. For the MMO market we tested using STO, for the FPS market I fired up Mafia II and Medal of Honor, I also took a look at F1, Supreme Commander II, Civilization as well as Mass Effect 2. I figure this gave me a solid look across the various play styles. As we neared the end of the review I was able to squeak a few more titles in for the subjective testing.
Across the board the system was set with default driver settings, game settings at maximum everything the resolution se to to 1920×1080. I can tell you the results where a pure joy to behold in that everything I threw at this played smooth and looked great on both cards. As for the benchmark numbers it was a dead heat for all intents and purposes. The 570 won a few more than the 6970 but not all of them.
I threw a few tessellations into the mix because this was the early claim of superiority from AMD on the initial DX 11 releases and they had fallen off to a superior system from nVidia, could the 6900 series recover? Well it was a nice boost over the old 5800 series and shows AMD is moving in the right direction but with tessellation running full bore the 6970 just could not catch the 570.
As I said earlier one of the big draws besides gaming or trying to make yourself feel techier was the use of the parallel processing power for folding or distributive computing. Folding@Home is the single biggest use for this I can find looking through the various enthusiast web sites so I fired it up and put these two cards to the test. The difference was STAGGERING with the 570 destroying the 6970 in this test. Now I know people are going to point out that the Folding software is heavily optimized on the nVidia end and it shows. However as I pointed out this is a PRIME buying consideration for this level of card and thus the reasoning does not matter to the consumer the results do if this is something that is important to them.
As we noticed looking at the cards the nVidia card used dual 6 pin power while the AMD required an 8 and 6, what does this mean for power consumption, nothing. When we looked at the power draws of the system using both cards at idle the numbers where nearly identical with the 6970 drawing a couple of watts less. At load the difference stayed with the 6970 actually using a little less power.
We had also notice that the 6970 had a smaller exhaust port than the 570, our concern was that this would result in less heat expulsion and perhaps higher temps. Our suspicions where right. The 6970 was actually 4c warmer under load but that was not all. The smaller exhaust area seemed to also result in more of the warm air escaping into the case with the overall internal case air temp rising 3C. Despite using less power the 6970 was leaving more heat around.
Both designs had very quiet fans in their design. Despite running full tilt neither card pushed it fans above 50% of it’s speed and both where whisper quite.
Our subjective testing revealed what I expected after my first test run, there was no noticeable difference in gaming experience with either card. Well at least not from a performance view point. We did find some issues with a few games that required certain settings be lower or turned off for the 6970 to run without crashes. This brings up a point that will be addressed in the next few weeks in a different article.
The final comparisons we performed was to look at these two cards in a quick comparison with their mainstream counterparts, the GTX 460 and the 6870. The results where that at 1080 the lower costs cards delivered a nearly equal gaming experience across the games we tested. However notice it was nearly equal. What was noticed was the higher settings gave the games a little better appearance. Among my testers the unanimous choice however was to save the money based on the level of difference they saw.
With all this in mind it is hard to call a clear winner between these two cards. The price point is within $10 to $20 and at this range that is not a difference worth noting. The heat and power consumption numbers are very close and nothing really stood out on either card from these numbers enough to make a clear choice. With those areas in a virtual tie we then move to the intangibles.
The 6970 offers a greater level of freedom when it comes to hooking up displays. The use of a single card to get a larger number of displays, as much as 6, firing at once is nice but still hampered by cost and lets face it room. However in the rarified air of the “luxury” users this is still a very viable consideration.
The 570 brings to the table a mature GPU computing environment with CUDA. While DirectComputer and OpenCL might be the future for GPU computing that future is still a ways off, Cuda is a much richer and mature environment at this time. PhysX cannot be ignored either. While Bullet is making inroads we still must deal with the current situation and Physx is out there in the wild and usable today. Finally we come to 3D. I am not a fan of this technology as many know but the truth is that it is here, the masses want it and that is the reality. The other reality is that nVidia is a good bit ahead of AMD in this technology and it’s implementation.
While these are both great cards and ANYONE would be happy using them I have to give this horse race to the GTX 570 by a nose. The raw performance is close enough to each other that the cards are dead even at that stage but when it comes to making use of in the wild today level technology the GTX 570 has a solid edge.
As for using this level of “luxury” card instead of a mainstream I am torn. While the subjective reviewers though it was not worth the cost I am not so sure. The extra $150 gets you a nicer image quality and a chance to hold off a bit longer on the next upgrade. Remember however that the only reason to really do this is gaming pure and simple. Other uses of the card do not see any real improvement over a solid mainstream card, okay you can fold a bit more.
AMD made some great strides with the 6900 series and I think they are heading in the right direction but they got sucker punched by nVidia. The 6900 was supposed to go head to head with the GTX 400 series and in that fight they would have had a clear win. However nVidia pulled the GTX 500 series rabbit out of its hat and then played a serious round house with the GTX 570 at the last second. When the 6900 should have been a leader it is in a tight race, catching AMD off guard.
Horse Race Segment Aired 19 December 2010