[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

AMD is launching today their latest ultra-high-end video card, the Radeon HD 6990, a dual-GPU solution that comes priced at USD 700. Let’s check its performance.

The video card we are reviewing is the reference model from AMD. When a video card is first launched, all “manufacturers” buy their video cards already assembled from AMD and only add their sticker to it. One or other manufacturer may add an overclocking, but physically all cards are absolutely identical. Only after a while manufacturers start launching customized solutions, changing the cooler and, sometimes, redesigning the printed circuit board.

The new Radeon HD 6990 arrives with an impressive USD 700 price tag, which puts it as the most expensive video card available in the market today. It has two GPUs, and this sort of explains the awful price tag. At this price tag, it doesn’t have a direct competitor – the most expensive model from NVIDIA, the GeForce GTX 580, can be found between USD 500 and USD 520 today.

So, the direct competitor for the Radeon HD 6990 would be two GeForce GTX 570 (USD 350 to USD 370 each) connected in SLI, and this will be the setup we will consider to be the Radeon HD 6990’s main competitor. Of course we are going to compete this new video card to the GeForce GTX 580 and, since we had already collected the data, we will also compare it to two Radeon HD 6870 connected in CrossFireX mode, although this setup does not compete with the Radeon HD 6990. We are also going to compare the Radeon HD 6990 to its predecessor, the Radeon HD 5970 (unfortunately we had already returned this video card and didn’t have the results for the 3DMark 11). Comparing the Radeon HD 6990 to two GeForce GTX 580 or two Radeon HD 5970 makes no sense, since we would be comparing a USD 700 system to a USD 1,000+ system.

In the table below we compare the main specs of the video cards included in our review. As mentioned, we connected two Radeon HD 6870 and two GeForce GTX 570 in parallel, and the specs below are for only one video card. The Radeon HD 5970 and the Radeon HD 6990 have two GPUs, and the specs below are for only one of the GPUs. The Radeon HD 6990 has two clock settings, selectable through a switch on the card. The number in parenthesis indicate the position of this switch.

Video Card Core Clock Shader Clock Memory Clock (Real) Memory Clock (Effective) Memory Interface Memory Transfer Rate Memory Shaders Price
GeForce GTX 570 732 MHz 1,464 MHz 950 MHz 3.8 GHz 320-bit 152 GB/s 1.28 GB GDDR5 480 USD 350 – 370
GeForce GTX 580 772 MHz 1,544 MHz 1,002 MHz 4,008 MHz 384-bit 192.4 GB/s 1.5 GB GDDR5 512 USD 500 – 520
Radeon HD 6870 900 MHz 900 MHz 1.05 GHz 4.2 GHz 256-bit 134.4 GB/s 1 GB GDDR5 1,120 USD 220 – 240
Radeon HD 5970 725 MHz 725 MHz 1 GHz 4 GHz 256-bit 128 GB/s 1 GB GDDR5 1,600 USD 630 – 700
Radeon HD 6990 830 MHz (2) or 880 MHz (1) 830 MHz (2) or 880 MHz (1) 1.25 GHz 5 GHz 256-bit 160 GB/s 2 GB GDDR5 1,536 USD 700

Prices were researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review, except the Radeon HD 5970, which was researched at Google Shopping, and the Radeon HD 6990, which we are using the manufacturer suggested retail price. All graphics chip listed above are DirectX 11 parts.

You can compare the specs of these video cards with other video cards by taking a look at our AMD ATI Chips Comparison Table and NVIDIA Chips Comparison Table tutorials.   

This card is rated to pull up to 375 W from the power supply. It is important to understand that some people are making the mistake of saying that this is a “450 W” video card. What happens is that the cooler used by this video card can dissipate up to 450 W, but that doesn’t mean that the video card pulls 450 W from the power supply.

Now let’s take an in-depth look at the Radeon HD 6990 reference model.

[nextpage title=”The AMD Radeon HD 6990″]

Below we have an overall look at the AMD Radeon HD 6990 reference model.

AMD Radeon HD 6990Figure 1: AMD Radeon HD 6990

AMD Radeon HD 6990Figure 2: AMD Radeon HD 6990

This video card has one DVI-D and four mini DisplayPort connectors. All Radeon HD 6990 video cards will ship with three adapters: one mini DisplayPort to single-link DVI-D (passive adapter), one mini DisplayPort to single-link DVI-D (active adapter) and one mini DisplayPort to HDMI (passive adapter). This will allow you to use the mini DisplayPort connectors even if your video monitor doesn’t support this kind of connection, which is probably the case.

AMD Radeon HD 6990Figure 3: Video connectors

The Radeon HD 6990 requires two eight-pin power connectors, shown in Figure 4.

AMD Radeon HD 6990Figure 4: Power connectors

[nextpage title=”The AMD Radeon HD 6990 (Cont’d)”]

The Radeon HD 6990 comes with two ROM chips, selectable through a switch located near the CrossFireX connector, see Figure 5. The card comes with this switch on the position “2,” which loads the default clocks and voltages of the video card (830 MHz, 1.12 V). When moved to the position “1,” the video card is overclocked to 880 MHz and voltage is increased to 1.175 V. We will test this card with its switch in both positions.

AMD Radeon HD 6990Figure 5: Dual-BIOS switch

In Figure 6, you can see the video card with its cooler removed.

AMD Radeon HD 6990Figure 6: Video card with the cooler removed

AMD Radeon HD 6990Figure 7: Voltage regulator

The GPU cooler can be seen in Figure 8. It uses two separate heatsinks, one for each GPU. The heatsinks use vapor chamber technology, which is a technology similar to the one used on heatpipes. According to the manufacturer, this GPU cooler can dissipate up to 450 W.

AMD Radeon HD 6990Figure 8: The GPU cooler

Each GPU is connected to eight 2 Gbit GDDR5 chips, for a total of 2 GB per GPU (2 Gbit x 8 = 2 GB) or 4 GB total. Each chip is connected to the GPU using a 32-bit data lane, making the video card’s 256-bit memory interface (32 bits x 8 = 256) per GPU.

The chips used are H5GQ2H24MFR-T2C parts from Hynix, which support up to 1.25 GHz (5 GHz QDR) and since on this video card memory is accessed at 1.25 GHz (5 GHz QDR), there is no margin for you to increase the memory clock rate while keeping the chips inside the maximum they support. Of course you can always try to overclock the memory chips above their specs.

AMD Radeon HD 6990Figure 9: Memory chips

Before seeing the performance results, let’s recap the main features of this video card.

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

The main specifications for the AMD Radeon HD 6990 video card include:

  • Graphics chip: AMD Radeon HD 6990 running at 830 MHz (position “2”) or 880 MHz (position “1”)
  • Memory: 2 GB GDDR5 memory (256-bit interface) from Hynix (H5GQ2H24MFR-T2C), running at 1.25 GHz (5 GHz, QDR), per GPU
  • Bus type: PCI Express x16 2.0
  • Video Connectors: One DVI-D and four mini DisplayPort
  • Video Capture (VIVO): No
  • Cables and adapters that come with this board: One mini DisplayPort to DVI-D (passive), one mini DisplayPort to DVI-D (active), and one mini DisplayPort to HDMI (passive)
  • Number of CDs/DVDs that come with this board: NA
  • Games included: NA
  • Programs included: NA
  • More information: https://www.amd.com
  • MSRP in the US: USD 700

[nextpage title=”How We Tested”]

During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the video card being tested.

Hardware Configuration

Software Configuration

  • Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
  • Video resolution: 2560×1600 @ 60 Hz

Driver Versions

  • AMD video driver version: 8.84.3 Beta (Radeon HD 6990)
  • AMD video driver version: Catalyst 10.10d
  • NVIDIA video driver version: 266.58
  • Intel Inf driver version: 9.1.2.1008

Software Used

Error Margin

We adopted a 3% error margin. Thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.

[nextpage title=”Call of Duty 4″]

Call of Duty 4 is a DirectX 9 game implementing high-dynamic range (HDR) and its own physics engine, which is used to calculate how objects interact. For example, if you shoot, exactly what will happen to the object when the bullet hits it? Will it break? Will it move? Will the bullet bounce back? It gives a more realistic experience to the user.

To get accurate results, we had to disable the 80 FPS limit in the game. To do this, input the command, “/seta com_maxfps 1000” (minus the quotes) into the console (` key). It can be set to any number greater than 200.

We ran this program at three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600, maxing out all image quality controls (i.e., everything was set to the maximum values in the Graphics and Texture menus). We used the internal game benchmarking feature, running a demo provided by NVIDIA called “wetwork.” We are putting this demo here for downloading if you want to run your own benchmarks. We ran the demo five times, and the results below are the average number of frames per second (FPS) achieved by each video card.

Radeon HD 6990

Call of Duty 4 – Maximum 1680×1050 Difference
GeForce G
TX 570 x2 – SLI
210.4 19%
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 177.4  
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 176.4 1%
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 172.4 3%
GeForce GTX 580 172.3 3%
Radeon HD 5970 168.2 5%

Radeon HD 6990

Call of Duty 4 – Maximum 1920×1200 Difference
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 203.4 19%
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 171.4  
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 170.1 1%
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 167.4 2%
Radeon HD 5970 164.4 4%
GeForce GTX 580 158.6 8%

Radeon HD 6990

Call of Duty 4 – Maximum 2560×1600 Difference
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 176.6 19%
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 148.4  
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 144.4 3%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 139.4 6%
Radeon HD 5970 135.2 10%
GeForce GTX 580 113.7 31%

[nextpage title=”Crysis Warhead”]

Crysis Warhead is a DirectX 10 game based on the same engine as the original Crysis, but optimized (it runs under DirectX 9.0c when installed on Windows XP).

We used the HardwareOC Crysis Warhead Benchmark Tool to collect the data for this test.We ran this program at three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600, all at very high image quality (but with no anti-aliasing and no anisotropic filtering) and using the Airfield demo. The results below are the number of frames per second achieved by each video card.

Radeon HD 6990

Crysis Warhead – Very High 1680×1050 Difference
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 56  
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 52 8%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 51 10%
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 50 12%
Radeon HD 5970 48 17%
GeForce GTX 580 45 24%

Radeon HD 6990

Crysis Warhead – Very High 1920×1200 Difference
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 52  
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 50 4%
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 49 6%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 48 8%
Radeon HD 5970 44 18%
GeForce GTX 580 39 33%

Radeon HD 6990

Crysis Warhead – Very High 2560×1600 Difference
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 45 2%
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 44  
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 43 2%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 34 29%
Radeon HD 5970 30 47%
GeForce GTX 580 26 69%

[nextpage title=”Far Cry 2″]

Far Cry 2 is based on an entirely new game engine called Dunia, which is DirectX 10 when played under Windows Vista with a DirectX 10 compatible video card.

We used the benchmarking utility that comes with this game, setting image quality to Ultra High (with x8 anti-aliasing) and running the “Ranch Long” demo three times. The results below are expressed in frames per second and are an arithmetic average of the three results collected.

Radeon HD 6990

FarCry 2 – Ultra 1680×1050 Difference
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 149.4  
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 142.5 5%
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 136.3 10%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 129.0 16%
GeForce GTX 580 116.7 28%
Radeon HD 5970 109.2 37%

Radeon HD 6990

FarCry 2 – Ultra 1920×1200 Difference
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 137.7  
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 130.4 6%
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 128.7 7%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 118.2 16%
GeForce GTX 580 101.1 36%
Radeon HD 5970 96.2 43%

Radeon HD 6990

FarCry 2 – Ultra 2560×1600 Difference
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 106.2  
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 103.3 3%
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 103.2 3%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 80.5 32%
GeForce GTX 580 69.0 54%
Radeon HD 5970 64.9 64%

[nextpage title=”Aliens vs. Predator”]

Aliens vs. Predator is a DirectX 11 game that makes full use of tessellation and advanced shadow rendering. We used the Aliens vs. Predator Benchmark Tool developed by Rebellion. This program reads its configuration from a text file (our configuration files can be found here). We ran this program at 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600 resolutions, with max texture settings, 32x anisotropic filtering and 8x anti-aliasing.

Radeon HD 6990

Aliens vs. Predator 1680×1050 Difference
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 96.0
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 92.0 4%
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 83.4 15%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 62.8 53%
Radeon HD 5970 61.3 57%
GeForce GTX 580 52.0 85%

Radeon HD 6990

Aliens vs. Predator 1920×1200 Difference
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 79.0
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 76.0 4%
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 67.7 17%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 51.4 54%
Radeon HD 5970 50.4 57%
GeForce GTX 580 42.6 85%

Radeon HD 6990

Aliens vs. Predator 2560×1600 Difference
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 50.1
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 48.0 4%
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 43.3 16%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 31.6 59%
Radeon HD 5970 30.8 63%
GeForce GTX 580 27.1 85%

[nextpage title=”Lost Planet 2″]

Lost Planet 2 is a game that uses a lot of DirectX 11 features, like tessellation (to round out the edges of polygonal models), displacement maps (added to the tessellated mesh to add fine grain details), DirectCompute soft body simulation (to introduce more realism in the “boss” monsters), and DirectCompute wave simulation (to introduce more realism in the physics calculations in water surfaces; when you move or when gunshots and explosions hit the water, it moves accordingly). We reviewed the video cards using Lost Planet 2 internal benchmarking features, choosing the “Benchmark A” (we know that “Benchmark B” is the one recommended for reviewing video cards, however, at least with us, results were inconsistent). We set graphics at “high,” anti-aliasing at “MSAA8x” and DX11 at “full.” The results below are the number of frames per second generated by each video card.

Radeon HD 6990

Lost Planet 2 1680×1050 Difference
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 72.4
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 70.4 3%
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 69.4 4%
GeForce GTX 580 50.9 42%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 49.5 46%
Radeon HD 5970 46.7 55%

Radeon HD 6990

Lost Planet 2 1920×1200 Difference
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 66.4
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 64.2 3%
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 62.6 6%
GeForce GTX 580 44.7 49%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 41.2 61%
Radeon HD 5970 40.2 65%

Radeon HD 6990

Lost Planet 2 2560×1600 Difference
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 56.3
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 55.4 2%
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 53.1 6%
GeForce GTX 580 31.7 78%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 31.5 79%
Radeon HD 5970 30.1 87%

[nextpage title=”3DMark 11 Professional”]

3DMark 11 measures Shader 5.0 (i.e., DirectX 11) performance. We ran this program at three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600, selecting the four graphics tests available and deselecting the other tests available. We used two image quality settings for each resolution, “Performance” and “Extreme,” both at their default settings. The results being compared are the “GPU Score” achieved by each video
card.

Radeon HD 6990

3DMark 11 – Performance 2650×1600 Difference
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 3087  
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 2990 3%
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 2847 8%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 1844 67%
GeForce GTX 580 1675 84%

Radeon HD 6990

3DMark 11 – Performance 1920×1200 Difference
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 5128  
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 5054 1%
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 4971 3%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 3101 65%
GeForce GTX 580 2901 77%

Radeon HD 6990

3DMark 11 – Performance 1650×1050 Difference
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 6695  
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 6617 1%
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 6585 2%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 4144 62%
GeForce GTX 580 3831 75%

Radeon HD 6990

3DMark 11 – Extreme 2560×1600 Difference
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 1965  
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 1884 4%
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 1825 8%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 1241 58%
GeForce GTX 580 1075 83%

Radeon HD 6990

3DMark 11 – Extreme 1920×1200 Difference
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 3141  
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 3047 3%
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 3037 3%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 2014 56%
GeForce GTX 580 1780 76%

Radeon HD 6990

3DMark 11 – Extreme 1650×1080 Difference
Radeon HD 6990 (1) 3911  
GeForce GTX 570 x2 – SLI 3909 0%
Radeon HD 6990 (2) 3815 3%
Radeon HD 6870 x2 – CrossFireX 2501 56%
GeForce GTX 580 2265 73%

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

In our tests, the performance gain by having the switch set at “1” (overclocked BIOS) instead of “2” (default BIOS) was up to 8%. We don’t know why users buying this video card would leave video card at its default BIOS since you can have a bit higher performance by simply flipping a switch. Because of that, the comparisons below will be based on the results achieved with the switch positioned at “1.”

Compared to the fastest card from NVIDIA, the GeForce GTX 580, the Radeon HD 6990 was up to 85% faster, depending on the game and resolution: up to 31% faster on Call of Duty 4, between 24% and 69% faster on Crysis Warhead, between 28% and 54% faster on FarCry 2, 85% faster on Aliens vs. Predator, between 42% and 78% faster on Lost Planet 2, and between 73% and 84% faster on 3DMark 11.

The GeForce GTX 580, however, does not compete with the Radeon HD 6990. A competing system would be two GeForce GTX 570 video cards installed in SLI. Under this scenario, the Radeon HD 6990 was up to 17% faster, with the exception of Call of Duty 4, where the GeForce GTX 570 setup was 19% faster than the new Radeon HD 6990. The Radeon HD 6990 was between 6% and 10% faster on Crysis Warhead, between 3% and 10% faster on FarCry 2, between 15% and 17% faster on Aliens vs. Predator, between 4% and 6% faster on Lost Planet 2, and up to 8% faster on 3DMark 11.

The Radeon HD 6990 is truly the fastest video card ever built, targeted to the ultra (and rich) enthusiast who wants to have the fastest gaming PC in town. Add two of them in CrossFireX and the sky is the limit.