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XFX's Radeon HD 6950 1GB takes on Zotac's GeForce GTX 560 Ti AMP

Hot-clocked enthusiast favorites throw down

There are many great rivalries. Celtics and Lakers. Britney and Christina. Camaro and Mustang. GeForce and Radeon. As usual, the automotive analogy is the most applicable to the enthusiast-class PC hardware we have for you today: XFX's Radeon HD 6950 1GB and Zotac's GeForce GTX 560 Ti AMP. Each is a mid-range muscle card targeting the performance crowd. The graphics engines in both have been turbo-charged beyond stock settings to offer a little more horsepower when you put your foot down. You'll pay about the same for each of 'em, too.

While some folks might be inclined to choose between the two based on a near-fanatical religious devotion to AMD or Nvidia, true enthusiasts tend to be more pragmatic. We want to know which card delivers the best in-game frame rates, lowest power consumption, and quietest noise levels. We're curious about overclocking, and we want to know if XFX or Zotac throws in any extras to sweeten the pot.

To answer these important questions, we've arranged an epic throwdown between the XFX Radeon HD 6950 1GB and Zotac GeForce GTX 560 Ti AMP! Edition. Read on as the mid-range rivalry between AMD and Nvidia—and board partners XFX and Zotac—manifests in this latest generation.

Before digging in, we should note that this is not meant to be an exhaustive analysis of the GPU silicon that powers these two cards. If you're curious about the underlying architecture behind the Cayman GPU in the Radeon HD 6950, hit up our initial review of the 6900 series. Our review of the GeForce GTX 560 Ti has all the gory details on that card's GF114 graphics chip. Today, we're going to focus on what these particular XFX and Zotac models bring to the table.

Card XFX Radeon HD 6950 1GB OC Zotac GeForce GTX 560 Ti AMP
GPU Cayman GF114
GPU clock 830MHz 950MHz
Memory clock 1300MHz 1100MHz
Memory bus width 256-bit 256-bit
Memory size 1GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5
Outputs 2 DVI
2 Mini DisplayPort
1 Mini HDMI*
Warranty length Two years* Two years*
Street price $269.99 $267.99

The key similarity here is price. Both cards cost around $270, making them direct rivals just north of the typical mid-range graphics sweet spot. They're also at parity on the memory front. Each card has 1GB of GDDR5 RAM tied to a 256-bit memory bus. That's where the similarities end, though.

Obviously, these two beauties are based on very different GPUs. The Nvidia's GF114 graphics chip was built specifically for mid-range cards like the GeForce GTX 560 Ti, and the lights are on in all of the chip's functional units. With the Radeon HD 6950, AMD uses the same Cayman GPU that anchors pricier 6970s. Two of the GPU's SIMD blocks are disabled in the 6950, cutting the chip's effective shader count from 1536 to 1408. This de-tuned silicon can be found in both 1GB and 2GB flavors of the 6950; the 1GB variant was introduced primarily to compete with the 560 Ti, setting up today's clash.

XFX and Zotac make versions of the GeForce GTX 560 Ti and Radeon HD 6950 that stick to the base clock speeds defined by Nvidia and AMD. The particular models we're looking at today pack a little more oomph under the hood, however. XFX boosts the Radeon's core and memory clocks to 830 and 1300MHz—a modest bump from stock clocks of 800 and 1250MHz. The GeForce has been pushed even harder. Zotac sets the GPU clock speed at 950MHz and the memory 1100MHz, up from default speeds of 822 and 1000MHz.

Comparing clock speeds between cards that use entirely different GPUs isn't terribly helpful without associated performance data, which we'll get to in a moment. For now, let's focus our attention on another point of differentiation: display outputs. The Radeon is loaded, offering dual DVI outputs alongside a full-size HDMI jack and a couple of Mini DisplayPort, er, ports. Zotac offers fewer outputs and shuns DisplayPort entirely, instead coughing up a pair of DVI ports and a Mini HDMI connector.

Graphics card makers can differ quite a bit when it comes to warranty coverage, but XFX and Zotac are closer than one might expect. Both cards come with two-year warranties by default. Register with the respective companies within 30 days of purchase, and your coverage will be upgraded to a lifetime warranty. With XFX, that warranty is a "double lifetime" deal that covers the card through its first resale, adding a little extra value for second-hand buyers. You can't pass on the GeForce's lifetime warranty if you sell the card.