We spotted a few weeks ago that HD 5870 1GB prices had collapsed to around the £230 mark and its now obvious why: the Radeon HD 6950 2GB, while occasionally making use of its extra memory to take a lead over the old warhorse, performs roughly on par with ATI’s previous-generation card.
This is no bad thing though, as the HD 6950 2GB justifies its place in the market. While its performance lies roughly halfway between that of the HD 6970 2GB and of the HD 6870 1GB (occasionally veering more towards the latter) at a typical price of £235 the HD 6950 2GB is £45 more expensive than a HD 6870 1GB and around £65 less than a HD 6970 2GB.
This certainly makes the HD 6950 2GB look like good value for money, and the lack of an Nvidia card at this price-point reinforces this feeling. The GTX 570 1.3GB might be lots faster than the HD 6950 2GB, but it's also £60 more expensive. Meanwhile, the GTX 460 1GB is unable to handle 1,920 x 1,200 with 4x AA in every game, even if it's also much cheaper. The closest Nvidia card to the HD 6950 2GB in terms of price is the GTX 470 1.3GB, but the less said about that hot-running hairdryer of a card, the better.
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The luxury of having no direct competitor on price makes the HD 6950 2GB a much more attractive proposition than its bigger brother, the Radeon HD 6970 2GB. At £235, the spectre of the GeForce GTX 570 1.3GB is far enough away, and the fact that the HD 6950 2GB so conclusively outperforms the HD 6870 1GB and GTX 470 1.3GB makes it the obvious choice for this kind of money.
While performance and power consumption were roughly the same as the HD 5870 1GB, it’s worth remembering that 12 months ago this degree of graphics grunt would set you back over £300, so a £65 price cut in the space of a year is a reasonable deal. The graphics market has always been one of diminishing returns the higher up the price range you go, but the HD 6950 2GB is sat in a sweet spot, offering plenty of performance without reaching the wallet-bashing heights of the HD 6970 2GB or the GTX 570 1.3GB.
However, there's a huge cloud on the horizon for the HD 6950 2GB: what will Nvidia do to address the traditionally competitive £100-250 price range, and when will it do it? If we see the same kind of performance gains from a future GTX 560 card over the GTX 460 as we've seen from the GTX 570 1.3GB and GTX 580 1.5GB the HD 6950 2GB could be under serious threat. This is even more true when you consider that there's not much reason for this still-mythical GTX 560 to cost much more than the GTX 460 cards were at launch (£180 and £200, depending on the memory configuration).
At this moment, the HD 6950 2GB is a safe buy - it's a considerable notch faster than the other mid-range cards on offer and doesn't have the high price tag of the HD 5970 2GB and GTX 570 1.3GB. However, we're sceptical that this will remain the case for much time at all. If you need a graphics upgrade right now, then the HD 6950 2GB is a good bet, but if you can wait a bit, your patience may well be rewarded handsomely.