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MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III Power Edition Review
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Date: Mar 03, 2011
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications

Over the last couple of years, MSI has made a concerted effort to bolster their reputation as a premiere brand in the PC enthusiast space. MSI’s motherboards, graphics cards, notebooks, and virtually every other high-profile product family in their repertoire has been revamped and updated in some way to differentiate them from the competition. Whether or not MSI’s efforts have paid off across the board is a matter of debate, but there’s little doubt that the company’s “Twin Frozr” line of graphics cards stand out from plain-vanilla reference cards.

The product we’ll be looking at today is the MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III. As its name suggests, the R6950 Twin Frozr III is powered by AMD’s Radeon HD 6950 GPU and the card sports MSI’s third-generation Twin Frozr cooler. MSI did more with the R6950 Twin Frozr III than swap the reference cooler with one of their own design, however. The R6950 Twin Frozr III is outfitted with a custom PCB and has a couple of other interesting additions as well. Check out the specs below and then we’ll move on to some of the more juicy details, benchmarks, and some overclocking action.

MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III
Specifications & Features
Graphics Engine AMD Radeon HD 6950
Bus Standard PCI Express x16 2.1
Memory Type GDDR5
Memory Size(MB) 2048
Memory Interface 256 bits
Core Clock Speed(MHz) 850
Memory Clock Speed(MHz) 5200 (1300MHz, actual)
DVI Output Single-Link DVI-D x1, Dual-Link DVI-I x1
D-SUB Output 1 (optional, via DVI to D-Sub adaptor)
HDMI-Output 1
Mini DisplayPort 2
HDCP Support Yes
HDMI Support Yes
Dual-link DVI Yes
DirectX Version Support 11
OpenGL Version Support 4
CrossFire Support
 
Yes
 

Looking at its features and specifications reveals one of the MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III’s differentiating attributes—it’s overclocked from the factory. The Radeon HD 6950 GPU powering the card is bumped up from the reference design’s 800MHz to 850MHz and the memory clock has been increased from the reference design’s 1,250MHz to (5Gbps effective) to 1,300MHz (5.2Gbps effective). The increases in GPU core and memory clocks will obviously give the card a performance edge over straight-up reference designs, but in addition to tickling the frequencies, MSI has tweaked a number of other aspects of the Radeon HD 6950 as well.

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The MSI R6950 Twin Frozr II and III

Before we talk about the MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III, we want to show you its predecessor, the MSI R6950 Twin Frozr II, to demonstrate the “Twin Frozr” evolution if you will.

  
MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III Top, R6950 Twin Frozr II Bottom - Click to Enlarge

The MSI R6950 Twin Frozr II has a number of similar features and is overclocked from the factory as well, but the GPU and memory frequency increases are very minor; 810MHz for the GPU and 1250MHz for the memory, an increase of only 10MHz for the GPU versus reference designs, but with the same memory clock. The MSI R6950 Twin Frozr II, however, sports a custom PCB with a dual-fan cooler.

  
MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III Top, R6950 Twin Frozr II Bottom - Click to Enlarge

As you can see in a side-by-side comparison, the MSI R6950 Twin Frozr II and III are somewhat similar, but the cooler and PCB on the latter have once again been revamped. The coolers on both cards sport high-density heatsinks, with dual cooling fans, and think heatpipes that from the cooler’s base up through the heatsink fins. We should also point out that the cooler’s base is made of pure copper and the entire assembly is nickel-plated. The design of the Twin Frozr III’s heatsink though has been refined with quieter fans, a different heatsink layout, and fan shroud. The sum-total of these changes results in a quieter, more efficient cooler that ends up doing a much better job than AMD’s reference design—more on that later though.

  
MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III and Accessory Bundle - Click to Enlarge

Other features of the MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III include a 6+2 phase PWM design that’s not only more efficient and offers more stable, cleaner output, but it’s capable of outputting up to 37% more current than the 4+1 PWM on reference designs.

Bundled with the MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III are a quick installation guide and user’s manual, a CrossFire bridge connector, dual peripheral to PCI Express 6-pin power adapters (the card requires two 6-pin feeds), a mini-DP to DVI dongle, a DVI to VGA adapter, and of course a driver / utility CD. Also available for the card is a copy of MSI’s Afterburner performing tuning and monitoring tool, which is available for download right from MSI’s website.

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Test Setup & Unigine Heaven v2.1

How We Configured Our Test Systems: We tested the graphics cards in this article on a Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 motherboard powered by a Core i7 980X six-core processor and 6GB of OCZ DDR3-1333 RAM. The first thing we did when configuring the test system was enter the system BIOS and set all values to their "optimized" or "high performance" default settings. Then we manually configured the memory timings (DDR3-1333, CAS 7) and disabled any integrated peripherals that wouldn't be put to use. The hard drive was then formatted and Windows 7 Ultimate x64 was installed. When the installation was complete we fully updated the OS and installed the latest DirectX redist, along with the necessary drivers, games, and benchmark applications.

HotHardware's Test System
Intel Core i7 Powered

Hardware Used:
Core i7 980X (3.3GHz)
Gigabyte EX58-UD5 (X58 Express)

Radeon HD 6870
Radeon HD 6870 OC
Radeon HD 6950 1GB
Radeon HD 6950
Radeon HD 6970
MSI R6950 Twin Frozr II / III 
GeForce GTX 560 Ti
GeForce GTX 460
GeForce GTX 570
GeForce GTX 580

6GB OCZ DDR3-1333
Western Digital Raptor 150GB
Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
DirectX Nov. 2010 Redist
ATI Catalyst v11.2
NVIDIA GeForce Drivers v266.58

Benchmarks Used:

Unigine Heaven v2.1
Futuremark 3DMark11
FarCry 2
Just Cause 2
Alien vs. Predator
Metro 2033
Lost Planet 2
F1 2010*

* - Custom benchmark

Unigine Heaven v2.1 Benchmark
Pseudo-DirectX 11 Gaming


Unigine Heaven

The Unigine Heaven Benchmark v2.0 is built around the Unigine game engine. Unigine is a cross-platform real-time 3D engine, with support for DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11 and OpenGL. The Heaven benchmark--when run in DX11 mode--also makes comprehensive use of tessellation technology and advanced SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion), and it also features volumetric cumulonimbus clouds generated by a physically accurate algorithm and a dynamic sky with light scattering.

The MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III was clearly the fastest of the Radeon HD 6950-based cards in the Heaven benchmark, thanks to its higher GPU and memory clocks. And it even managed to pull ahead of the GeForce GTX 560Ti in what is undoubtedly a strong benchmark for current-gen NVIDIA-based graphics cards.

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Futuremark 3DMark11

Futuremark 3DMark11
Synthetic DirectX Gaming


Futuremark 3DMark11

The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark11, is specifically bound to Windows Vista and 7-based systems because it uses the advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 11, which isn't available on previous versions of Windows.  3DMark11 isn't simply a port of 3DMark Vantage to DirectX 11, though.  With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated four new graphics tests, a physics tests, and a new combined test.  We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark11's Extreme preset option, which uses a resolution of 1920x1080 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.

The MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III performed well in 3DMark11, once again outpacing all of the other Radeon HD 6950-based cards by a fair margin, but just missing the mark set by GeForce GTX 570.

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FarCry 2 Performance

FarCry 2
DirectX Gaming Performance


FarCry 2

Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date. Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article with a fully patched version of FarCry 2, using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the "Ranch" map.  The test results shown here were run at various resolutions with 4X AA enabled.

As expected, the MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III was the fastest Radeon HD 6950 in the FarCry 2 benchmark. The card was able to catch the GeForce GTX 560 Ti at the higher resolution, but not the overclocked edition of the 560 Ti.

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Just Cause 2 Performance

Just Cause 2
DX10.1 Gaming Performance


Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 was released in March 2010, from developers Avalanche Studios and Eidos Interactive. The game makes use of the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the similarly named original. It is set on the fictional island of Panau in southeast Asia, and you play the role of Rico Rodriquez. We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article using one of the built-in demo runs called The Concrete Jungle.  The test results shown here were run at various resolutions and settings. This game also supports a few CUDA-enabled features, but they were left disabled to keep the playing field level. 

Once the resolution was cranked up, the MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III was able to match the speed of the overclocked GeForce GTX 560 Ti, and it of course outpaced the other 6950s, but the Radeon HD 6970 and GeForce GTX 570 were still a notch ahead.

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Metro 2033 Performance

Metro 2033
DirecX11 Gaming Performance


Metro 2033

Metro 2033 is your basic post-apocalyptic first person shooter game with a few rather unconventional twists. Unlike most FPS titles, there is no health meter to measure your level of ailment, but rather you’re left to deal with life, or lack there-of more akin to the real world with blood spatter on your visor and your heart rate and respiration level as indicators. The game is loosely based on a novel by Russian Author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Metro 2003 boasts some of the best 3D visuals on the PC platform currently including a DX11 rendering mode that makes use of advanced depth of field effects and character model tessellation for increased realism. This title also supports NVIDIA PhysX technology for impressive in-game physics effects. We tested the game resolutions of 1920x1200 and 2560x1600 with 4X anti-aliasing and in-game image quality options set to thei High Quality mode, with DOF effects disabled.

The MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III's higher-than-reference clocks don't help it very much in this game, but it doesn't matter, it's still the fastest of the Radeon HD 6950s and it manages to outpace the GeForce GTX 570 as well.

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Lost Planet 2 Performance

Lost Planet 2
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance


Lost Planet 2

A follow-up to Capcom’s Lost Planet : Extreme Condition, Lost Planet 2 is a third person shooter that takes place again on E.D.N. III ten years after the story line of the first title. We ran the game’s DX11 mode which makes heavy use of DX11 Tessellation and Displacement mapping and soft shadows.  There are also areas of the game that make use of DX11 DirectCompute for things like wave simulation in areas with water.  This is one game engine that looks significantly different in DX11 mode when you compare certain environmental elements and character rendering in its DX9 mode versus DX11.  We used the Test B option built into the benchmark tool and with all graphics options set to their High Quality values.

The NVIDIA powered cards simply dominate in the Lost Planet 2 benchmark. The performance trend we've seen to this point differentiating the Radeons, however, still rings true--the  MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III come out on top and just misses the mark set by the more expensive Radeon HD 6970.

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F1 2010 Performance

F1 2010
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance


F1 2010

Though Codemasters still continues to torture us with their ridiculously complicated labyrinth of game menus, we’ve found ourselves coming back to one of their titles for a taste of bleeding-edge DX11 benchmarking. F1 2010 is their latest racing simulation and like Dirt 2, it sports impressive visuals with DX11 support. “Ultra” settings for shadow effects and post processing elements like depth of field then become available to the gamer and in turn, crank up the workload on the graphics subsystem. The game engine also makes use of multi-core processors for higher performance on top-end systems. We tested the game configured with its Ultra graphics options at resolutions of 1920x1200 and 2560x1600.

The MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III performed well in the F1 2010 benchmark. Here, the MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III surpasses the GeForce GTX 570 at the higher resolution and only trails the Radeon HD 6970 by less than 4 frames per second.

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Alien vs. Predator Performance

Alien vs. Predator
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance


Alien vs. Predator

The Alien vs. Predator benchmark makes use of the advanced Tessellation, screen space ambient occlusion and high-quality shadow features, available with DirectX 11. In addition to enabling all of the aforementioned DirectX 11 related features offered by this benchmark, we also switched on 4X anti-aliasing along with 16X anisotropic filtering to more heavily tax the graphics cards being tested.

Our results with the Alien vs. Predator benchmark were interesting. Here, the MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III's higher GPU and memory clocks allow it to pull ahead of the GeForce GTX 570, whereas the reference Radeon HD 6950 could not.

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Total System Power Consumption

Before bringing this article to a close, we'd like to cover a few final data points--namely power consumption and noise. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test system was consuming using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and while under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the graphics cards alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

Our power consumption tests revealed some interesting data. Despite having higher clocks and dual fans, the MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III actually consumed less power than a reference Radeon HD 6950 under both idle and load conditions. This leads us to beleive the GPU binning done by MSI, in conjunction with the use of more efficient power delivery circuitry on the card, make the MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III a bit more "green" than straight-up reference cards.

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Overclocking the R6950 Twin Frozr III

We also spent some time overlcocking the MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III using MSI’s own Afterburner tuning utility. If you haven’t tried afterburner, we definitely recommend giving it a shot—MSI supports many of today’s most popular GPUs with Afterburner, and they don’t have to be MSI branded cards either.

It turned out we were able to crank Afterburner’s GPU and memory clocks up to their maximum values of 900MHz for the GPU and 1325MHz for the memory and still maintain stability. These are only modest gains over the R6950 Twin Frozr III’s stock clocks, but they’re much higher than a reference Radeon HD 6950.

Also note the GPU temperature and fan speed in the graphs above. After loading the GPU fully with a couple of benchmarks, you’ll see the fan speed increased only slightly, yet the GPU temp never went above 63’C (that's close to 20'C lower than the stock reference card we tested at launch). The MSI Twin Frozr III cooling setup works extremely well on this card—temperatures are excellent and it is nice and quiet.

Overclocking The MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III
Pushing Clocks Even Higher

 

While we had the card overclocked, we re-ran a couple of high-resolution benchmarks to see what kind of performance increases were to be had. The increases weren’t huge, but the 50MHz bump in GPU clock and 25MHz bump in memory clock definitely pushed framerates a bit higher than stock, as would be expected.

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III performed very well throughout our entire battery of benchmarks. The R6950 Twin Frozr III’s higher GPU and memory clocks gave a marked advantage over AMD’s reference design Radeon HD 6950. The R6950 Twin Frozr III was also faster than its predecessor, the R6950 Twin Frozr II, as well. The R6950 Twin Frozr III’s higher clocks also allowed it to catch or even surpass the GeForce GTX 570 in a couple of tests, where the stock reference card could not.


MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III

We think MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III is one of the more compelling Radeon HD 6950-based graphics cards on the market currently. This card offers about 5% – 8% better performance than reference models, thanks to its factory overclock. It also has a quieter, more capable cooling solution, it consumed less power under both idle and load conditions, and it’s easily overclocked even further as well. Heck, we even think the MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III looks cool too.

Strictly talking in terms of its specifications and features, there’s virtually nothing to complain about in light of other Radeon HD 6950-based graphics cards. But there is a catch. MSI has set the price on the R6950 Twin Frozr III at $309.99. That’s about 10 – 15% higher than some reference Radeon HD 6950s, which isn’t bad considering the additional performance and features of the card. However, you can currently buy MSI’s own reference Radeon HD 6970-based card, which offers even more performance, for only $10 more (after MIR). If you’re in the market for a card in this price range, it is absolutely worth investing a little more money for the 6970.

We suspect there’s a possibility the R6950 Twin Frozr III’s street price will creep just a bit lower than its MSRP, however, once cards are available in volume. Shave a few bucks of this baby’s price tag and it’s an Editor’s Choice candidate.  Regardless, the MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III is still a very strong product worthy of consideration if you’re shopping for a relatively affordable, high end graphics card.

  • Strong Performer
  • Cool and Quiet
  • Consumed Less Power Than Reference Card
  • Easily Overclocked

  • Relatively Mild Factory Overclock
  • Priced Too Close To The 6970



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