Today's Hard|Forum Post
Today's Hard|Forum Post

AMD Radeon HD 6990 "Antilles" Sneek Peek

It is here in our hands and it screams. "Performance!" The wait is nearly over as AMD's next generation "Antilles" video card sporting two high performance GPUs on a single printed circuit board is in our hands. We comment on our gameplay experiences in Dragon Age II in Triple-Display Eyefinity.

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Radeon HD 6990 and Dragon Age II Gameplay Experiences

Keep in mind that all the gameplay experiences expressed below are with the Demo version of the game. Therefore, the special DX11 effects like Tessellation are not useable. We are testing in Eyefinity at 5760x1200 to find the highest playable gameplay settings and our experiences in the game.

Getting this game to work in Eyefinity and CrossFireX was no trouble at all. After we installed the Catalyst driver suite, we did not have to install anything else. In fact, there is CrossFireX support in this game apparently without the need for a Catalyst Application Profile installed. Now, this may not always be the case, certainly if AMD finds ways to improve performance in this game a CAP release could be released to provide that. Our word of advice with any CrossFireX configuration is to always have the latest Catalyst Application Profile installed.

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Configuring the game for Eyefinity was done through the game launchers window. When you launch the game a launcher is presented, and from here you can configure video card settings even before you start the game. In the video section of this configuration menu we selected the correct aspect ratio (16:9) and then the correct resolution of 5760x1200 was presented as an option. From there, we simply turned on all the graphics features we could (minus AA for now) to see if we could enjoy the demo with the highest playable game settings in the demo.

Trial and Error

As is the case with any game and new video card, we used trial-and-error to find the best combination of image quality and acceptable performance. In some games, lower framerates are playable because of the nature of the gameplay, in others high framerates are preferred. In this game, it is acceptable to have some lower framerates as this is not a first person shooter. Still, you want the gameplay to be smooth so we have to watch for that. Since this is an RPG type game, there are many instances when you are standing still having to answer questions, read prompts or just having to click enemies to have your character fight them. This game is played from the third person perspective.

Where you want the higher framerates in this game are in the actual battle sequences. When you are fighting enemies you want the ability to move around, select different targets, and avoid being flanked. We noticed the lowest framerates in the game were during these battle sequences as the enemy detail is quite high. Get a lot of creatures on your screen at one time and it does affect performance.

Starting Off

We started off by playing at a resolution of 5760x1200 with No AA and No AF and turning on the highest quality we can in this Demo using the "High" option and turning on SSAO. The game was running in the DX11 render path, but again we did not have advanced DX11 effects enabled because it was the demo. We found this very playable. We can't tell you the framerates, but we can tell you they would make you smile. There is no question that Dragon Age II is playable at 5760x1200 with the "High" graphics option selected plus SSAO turned on.

We did notice that SSAO eats away at performance though, there is a rather significant reduction in performance with this feature enabled. So while SSAO was playable at the "High" graphics setting, we don't know how it will react once we are able to play at "Very High" in the full version game. The image quality benefits of this option are subtle, and to us it doesn't seem worth it to sacrifice the framerates for the IQ benefit it brings. If you want to improve performance in this game, SSAO is a perfect option to leave disabled without large sacrifices to image quality.

From There

From there, we wanted to see how AA and AF faired in this game. One would think that Anisotropic Filtering should be a given with today's graphics cards and games. However, in this game, we actually found Anisotropic filtering to affect performance to a large degree. We don't know if it's just a driver bug, or game bug, or something that needs optimization in, or if it's just really that demanding for this game.

Whatever the case, moving from No AF to 16X AF in this game caused a large hit. We have informed AMD of this, so hopefully it can figure the issue out. Again this is just the demo; it's entirely possible this is not affected in the full version game. We must also mention the terrain is detailed in this game as there is a high degree of texture quality. This game also has a vast landscape of textures in play, therefore Anisotropic Filtering does have a lot to do in this game, and does go a long way to improving the image quality. We found that the performance hit occurs at 16X, 8X and 4X AF. At 2X AF there is not a big hit, so the best option for image quality and performance right now is to use 2X AF.

On to AA

Now we come to Antialiasing, something that is quite challenging for a video card running at 5760x1200. You need two things at this resolution in order to allow high AA settings. First you need a dual-GPU setup that provides the horsepower to push it and second you need at least 2GB of RAM per GPU so there is enough frame buffer space. Unfortunately we cannot tell you what the Radeon HD 6990 consists of yet since specs are still under embargo.

We started by slowing pushing Antialiasing up a notch to 2X AA at 5760x1200 with "High" settings and SSAO. This was playable! Indeed, through even the most intense battle scenes 5760x1200 with 2X AA was more than playable. Therefore, we pushed it up to 4X AA. To our delight, the game was still playable! We played the entire demo at 5760x1200 4X AA and "High" settings with SSAO in DX11 and enjoyed it.

We then pushed the notch up to 8X MSAA, and then we hit a snag. In some parts, it was actually playable, but in others, such as battle scenes it wasn't. Now, this may or may not be related to driver infancy. Since we are talking about extremely early Beta drivers, plus a Demo here, it is entirely possible it is just something that needs optimizing. It is something we will have to further test with the full version game and final drivers. However it is likely more impacted by all the highly detailed creatures on the screen and the polygons included.

Final Playable Settings

When all is said and done, our final playable settings in Dragon Age II demo were 5760x1200 4XAA/2X AF "High" quality setting and SSAO. This provided the best overall image quality and playability. We had a fantastic time playing through the entire demo at this setting. We are most impressed.

Radeon HD 6970

While we cannot disclose framerates on the Radeon HD 6990 for now, we can talk about framerates and performance on the Radeon HD 6970 all day long. We installed a Radeon HD 6970 on the same system running Eyefinity to make comparisons. On the Radeon HD 6970 Dragon Age II at 5760x1200 was noticeably slower than the Radeon HD 6990. What we saw proved that both GPUs on the Radeon HD 6990 were accelerating this game "properly."

The Radeon HD 6970 struggled at 5760x1200 in this game even though we were only running the "High" in-game quality setting and No AA and No AF to begin with. We were seeing framerates in the lower 40's and often times dipped into the upper 30's when battling many creatures on the screen at once. This was just running at 5760x1200 with NO AA and NO AF with "High" settings and NO SSAO.

When we tried to enabled AF settings we experienced a performance degradation similar to the Radeon HD 6990. On the Radeon HD 6970 framerates were in the lower 40's but when we enabled 16X AF the framerates shot down to the upper 20's. This was a massive reduction in framerate and rendered AF unusable on the Radeon HD 6970 at this resolution. Even at 2X AF the performance hit wasn't worth it. Therefore, we had to settle with NO AF at all on the Radeon HD 6970.

We also found SSAO to be completely unplayable when enabled at this resolution. When we enabled SSAO framerates dropped by about 10 FPS to 30 FPS while fighting, and it just felt too sluggish for us. We would opt to leave SSAO disabled on the Radeon HD 6970 at this resolution.

Then we tried pushing AA up. We found that 4X AA was completely unplayable, the framerates just tanked too much during the battle scenes. Therefore we dropped to 2X AA. Now, at 2X AA, for the most part, this demo was playable. There might be some scenarios we aren't aware of in the full version game that might make this unplayable, but for this demo we'd consider 2X AA on the Radeon HD 6970 to be reasonable. So when all is said and done our highest playable setting for the Radeon HD 6970 is 5760x1200 2X AA/NO AF and NO SSAO at "High" settings.