Final Thoughts and Conclusions
Upgrading this card though its various levels proved to be an enlightening experience. Testing the same card with multiple levels of shaders, core speeds and memory frequencies showed exactly how each of these things can have an effect in different ways.
The largest gains came from completely unlocking the potential of the Radeon HD 6950 by fully flashing the BIOS, effectively turning it into a Radeon HD 6970. Each of the techniques that we used showed gains of different levels, however the biggest surprise was the minimal gains provided only by the shader unlock, which in some tests were almost non-existent.
The main issue that was found during this process were the AMD PowerTune limits on the card, which can be overcome by further changes using the AMD OverDrive utility. With a few simple clicks you can manually set fan speeds and allow for a power limit of up to +20% giving this card even more performance for no cost. We would not recommend exceeding +10-12% of the power limit however to reduce the chance of hardware failure.
With the ASUS Radeon HD 6950 (EAH6950/2DI2S/2GD5) used in this testing being discontinued, one would need to go with another reference design 6950 such as the upgraded ASUS Radeon HD 6950 (EAH6950 DCII/2DI4S/2GD5) which can be found for $304.99 plus shipping
. Other reference design cards can also be used in this process as well. With the price of the AMD Radeon HD 6970 running $75-100 higher, this upgrade is a wonderful performance boost at no additional cost.
That being said, there is always the chance for problems and doing this modification could void your warranty. Sticking to the shader unlock and a mild overclock using AMD Overdrive would definitely be the safest method (with the smallest gains) and should not void your warranty.
Legit Bottom Line: The ability to unlock this card to its full potential is a wonderful feature and the performance gains by doing so can be fairly substantial. But as always with this type of modification, be aware of the possible consequences!