Testbed Configuration and Testing Methodology
All graphics cards were benchmarked in a closed system case with the following configuration:
- Mainboard: Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD9 (Intel X58 Express, LGA 1366, BIOS F5 from 05/04/2011);
- CPU: Intel Core i7-980X Extreme Edition, 3.33 GHz, 1.225 V, 6 x 256 KB L2, 12 MB L3 (Gulftown, B1);
- CPU cooler: Thermalright Archon (2 x Thermalright TY-140 fans at 800 RPM);
- Thermal interface: Gelid GC-Extreme;
- System memory: DDR3 3 x 2GB OCZ Platinum Low-Voltage Triple Channel (Spec: 1600 MHz / 7-7-7-24 / 1.65 V);
- Graphics cards:
- AMD Radeon HD 6970 2 GB GDDR5 256 bit, 890/5500 MHz;
- MSI Radeon HD 6970 2 GB Lightning GDDR5 256 bit, 940/5500 MHz;
- VT3D Radeon HD 6970 2 GB X-Edition GDDR5 256 bit, 940/5700 MHz and overclocked to 975/5880 MHz;
- CrossFireX configuration made with MSI Radeon HD 6970 2 GB Lightning and VT3D Radeon HD 6970 2 GB X-Edition at 940/5700 MHz;
- System drive: RAID-0 of 2 x Kingston V-series SNV425S2128GB SSD (SATA-II, 128 GB, MLC, Toshiba TC58NCF618G3T controller);
- Drive for programs and games: Western Digital VelociRaptor (300GB, SATA-II, 10000 RPM, 16MB cache, NCQ) inside Scythe Quiet Drive 3.5” HDD silencer and cooler;
- Backup drive: Samsung Ecogreen F4 HD204UI (SATA-II, 2 TB, 5400 RPM, 32 MB, NCQ);
- System case: Antec Twelve Hundred (front panel: three Noiseblocker NB-Multiframe S-Series MF12-S2 fans at 900 RPM; back panel: two Noiseblocker NB-BlackSilent PRO PL-1 fans at 900 RPM; top panel: standard 200 mm fan at 400 RPM);
- Control and monitoring panel: Zalman ZM-MFC2
- Power supply: Zalman ZM1000-HP 1000 W (with a default 140 mm fan);
- Monitor: 30” Samsung 305T Plus.
In order to lower the dependence of the graphics cards performance on the overall platform speed, I overclocked our 32 nm six-core CPU with the multiplier set at 24x and “Load-Line Calibration” (Level 2) enabled to 4.5GHz. The processor Vcore was increased to 1.475V in the mainboard BIOS:
The 6 GB of system DDR3 memory worked at 1.5 GHz frequency with 7-7-7-16_1T timings and 1.64V voltage. Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading technologies were disabled during our test session.
The test session started on May 17, 2011. All tests were performed in Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1 with all critical updates as of that date and the following drivers:
- Intel Chipset Drivers 126.96.36.1990 beta for the mainboard chipset;
- DirectX End-User Runtimes from November 30, 2010;
- Catalyst 11.5a RC3 (05/16/2011) drivers for AMD based graphics cards.
Taking into account the class of our today’s testing participants, we performed all tests in two resolutions: 1920x1080 and 2560x1600 pixels. The tests were performed in two image quality modes: “HighQuality + AF16x” – highest texturing quality with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering and “HighQuality + AF16x + AA8x(4x)” with enabled 16x anisotropic filtering and full screen anti-aliasing (MSAA) 8x or 4x if the average framerate was high enough for comfortable gaming experience. We enabled anisotropic filtering and full-screen anti-aliasing from the game settings or configuration files. If the corresponding options were missing, we changed these settings in the Control Panel of Catalyst drivers. There were no other changes in the AMD Catalyst driver settings.
Since we have already tested AMD Radeon HD 6970 and HD 6950 graphics cards before, we decided to cut down the list of benchmarks so that only the most interesting and resource-hungry games remained. Besides the recently added Warhammer 40,000 Dawn of War II: Retribution and Crysis 2, we also included two new titles: Total War: Shogun 2 and DiRT 3. As usual, all games and applications were updated with new patches available at the time of tests. As a result, the list this time included one popular semi-synthetic benchmarking suite, one technical demo and 13 games. Here is the complete list of tests used with the settings (all games listed in their release order):
- 3DMark 2011 (DirectX 11) – version 188.8.131.52, Performance and Extreme profiles;
- Unigine Heaven Demo (DirectX 11) – version 2.5, maximum graphics quality settings, tessellation at “normal”, AF16x, 1920x1080 resolution with AA 4x;
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat (DirectX 11) – version 1.6.02, Enhanced Dynamic DX11 Lighting profile with all parameters manually set at their maximums, we used our custom cop03 demo on the Backwater map;
- Borderlands: the Secret Armory of General Knoxx (DLC) (DirectX 9) – version 1.4.1, “timedemo1_p” demo with maximum image quality settings;
- Metro 2033: The Last Refuge (DirectX 10/11) - version 1.2, official benchmark, “High” image quality settings; tesselation, DOF and MSAA4x disabled; AAA aliasing enabled, two consecutive runs of the “Frontline” scene;
- Just Cause 2 (DirectX 11) - version 184.108.40.206, maximum quality settings, Background Blur and GPU Water Simulation enabled, two consecutive runs of the “Dark Tower” demo;
- Aliens vs. Predator (2010) (DirectX 11) – Texture Quality “Very High”, Shadow Quality “High”, SSAO On, two test runs in each resolution;
- Lost Planet 2 (DirectX 11) – version 1.0, maximum graphics quality settings, motion blur enabled, performance test “B”;
- StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty (DirectX 11) – version 1.0, all image quality settings at “Ultra”, Physics “Ultra”, reflections On, two 2-minute runs of our own jt1 demo;
- F1 2010 (DirectX 11) – version 1.01, built-in benchmark at Ultra quality settings including one lap on the “Silverstone” track;
- Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 (DirectX 11) – version 1.04, maximum graphics quality settings, shadows On, tessellation On, two runs of the test scene;
- Crysis 2 (DirectX 9) – version 1.2, Adrenaline bench 0.15, “Very High” graphics quality profile, two runs of the demo in “Times Square” scene;
- Warhammer 40,000 Dawn of War II: Retribution (DirectX 10.1) – version 220.127.116.1186, maximum graphics quality settings, activated shadows, two runs of the built-in test scene;
- Total War: Shogun 2 (DirectX 11) – version 2.0, built in benchmark at maximum graphics quality settings;
- DiRT 3 (DirectX 11) – version 1.0, built-in benchmark at maximum graphics quality settings.
If the game allowed recording the minimal fps readings, they were also added to the charts. We ran each game test or benchmark twice and took the best result for the diagrams, but only if the difference between them didn’t exceed 1%. If it did exceed 1%, we ran the tests at least one more time to achieve repeatability of results.