The card and bundle
Triple-A games provide an opportune time for graphics-card manufacturers to launch a new GPU bundle, much in the same way as Sony and Microsoft do with console-specific titles.
One of the most eagerly-awaited gaming titles this year has been Battlefield 3, released late last week. Seen as a pivotal release that can boost graphics-card sales, NVIDIA and AMD have gone to lengths in making noise about BF3-optimised drivers recently.
Sapphire has jumped straight on the BF3 bandwagon and released its best single-GPU card...with the game bundled in. The Radeon HD 6970 FleX 2GB incorporates the best of the company's technology: it's overclocked, ships with a Vapor-X cooler and has a new backplate for reference-beating temperatures.
The form factor and cooler are identical to the HD 6950 version we've reviewed recently. This means the central fan drives air across the substantial heatsink which cools the heatpipes jutting out of the vapour chamber. It's a design that has worked well for Sapphire in the past, and such is the confidence in the cooling ability, this BF3 edition's second BIOS setting whips up core speed from the reference 880MHz to 930MHz. Memory speed, however, is left at the default 5,500MHz.
Call us nitpicky, but we'd like to have seen a Battlefield 3-specific art on the cooler, commemorating the game's release.
The 6900 family of FleX cards isn't absolutely identical; the HD 6970 uses an 8+6-pin PCIe arrangement, providing more juice than the dual-6-pin on the '50. Sapphire's 50/70 PCBs are the same, so it's just a case of choosing which right-hand power connector to run with.
Keeping focus for the enthusiast, the card's voltage can be manipulated from the stock (and quite high) 1.2V through to 1.3V.
You'll perhaps know that AMD's reference design cannot, out of the box, run both DVI ports and the HDMI in concert for three-screen Eyefinity. The reason for this rests with the HDMI port and single-link DVI sharing a clock generator - you can use one or the other, not both (concurrently). Sapphire gets around this three-output headache by adding a clock generator to the HDMI port, meaning it's not shared with the DVI.
Pragmatically, the FleX's claim to fame rests with three DVI-equipped monitor usage - a passive HDMI-to-DVI adapter is bundled - from the get-go, powered under the auspice of AMD's Eyefinity technology. Rounding it off, two DisplayPort v1.2 can be used to support a five-monitor setup.
The revised backplate, which we first saw on the TOXIC card, is said to make exhausting hot air that little bit more efficient; we'll see how this assertion holds up in our benchmarks.
Measuring 10.5in from end to end, the HD 6970 FleX should fit just fine in most chassis.
The standout inclusion in the bundle is BF3. It's redeemed by signing up the Sapphire's Select Club and then being provided with a key that can be used at EA's Origin.com. From what we can gather, this card bundle will ship with a £20 price premium over a non-BF3 card, representing good value if you genuinely want to play the game.
Sapphire also throws in a 1.8m HDMI cable, the easy-to-use TriXX overclocking software and backs this £299 card with a two-year warranty.