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

AMD Radeon HD 6990 "Antilles" Video Card Review

The Radeon HD 6990 is being launched today, and we have full coverage of specifications and our gameplay experiences compared to several high-end dual-GPU solutions out there. If you are looking for a single video card package that packs a punch and provides headroom for hardware enthusiasts, this is a solid solution.


Performance Summary

If you were expecting the new AMD Radeon HD 6990 to surpass two Radeon HD 6970 CrossFireX video cards in gaming, that is not the case. What the AMD Radeon HD 6990 does provide is similar performance in a single video card package providing AMD CrossFireX convenience in an all-in-one bundle.

Performance-wise the AMD Radeon HD 6990 could not compete with the AMD Radeon HD 6970 CrossFireX or GeForce GTX 570 SLI in Civilization V. We had to lower the resolution to 5040x1050 and disable AA in order to find an acceptable level of performance. Whereas, the GeForce GTX 570 SLI allowed us to use 4X AA at this resolution and Radeon HD 6970 CrossFireX allowed 2X AA.

Things got a lot better for the AMD Radeon HD 6990 in F1 2010. In that game the AMD Radeon HD 6990 was playable at 4X AA while the GeForce GTX 570 SLI was only playable at 2X AA. However, Radeon HD 6970 CrossFireX surpassed them both by allowing 8X MSAA at 5760x1200.

In Battlefield: Bad Company 2 the AMD Radeon HD 6990, GeForce GTX 570 SLI and AMD Radeon HD 6970 CrossFireX all evened out and provided the same gameplay experience. In that game all three were on even footing, while the GeForce GTX 580 SLI setup took the lead.

In Metro 2033 both the AMD Radeon HD 6970 CrossFireX and GeForce GTX 580 SLI matched in gameplay experience; we were able to run at 5760x1200 with "Very High" gameplay settings. The AMD Radeon HD 6990 provided the same level of gameplay as the GeForce GTX 570 SLI in this game, which was 5760x1200 with "High" settings.

Finally in Crysis: Warhead we were amazed how far performance has come and the fact that we were able to play at 5760x1200 with all "Enthusiast" setting son the GeForce GTX 580 SLI. With the other three configurations we had to lower the shader quality to "Gamer" at this resolution. However, on the two AMD video cards we were able to turn on 2X AA and have a great gameplay experience. The GeForce GTX 570 SLI was noticeably slower in this game.

AMD Radeon HD 6990 vs. GeForce GTX 580 SLI

In this comparison the configurations are worlds apart. The reason is the pricing, the GeForce GTX 580 right now is still around $500. Therefore, SLI is $1000. This is a whopping $300 more expensive than a single Radeon HD 6990. However, our evaluation has revealed that this extra $300 does give you a better gameplay experience in almost every situation. In every game we played the GeForce GTX 580 SLI did give us the highest framerates. Beyond that though, GTX 580 SLI provided the smoothest gameplay. There was less choppiness with SLI and it seemed lower framerates felt smoother on GTX 580 SLI than it did with 6990 or 6970 CFX. If you've got the cash to burn, you can't beat GTX 580 SLI for true multi-display gaming performance.

AMD Radeon HD 6990 vs. GeForce GTX 570 SLI

This is the dollar-for-dollar comparison. The AMD Radeon HD 6990 has an MSRP of $699. Currently, the GeForce GTX 570 is $350 online. Two of these for SLI will set you back exactly $700, right at the cost of the Radeon HD 6990. In this comparison, our gameplay testing reveals that the Radeon HD 6990 is going to offer you the better overall gameplay experience compared to GTX 570 SLI.

Civilization V was the only weak point for the AMD Radeon HD 6990, so if you are playing this game, then the 570 SLI will be better. In all other games, we experienced that the AMD Radeon HD 6990 will match or beat GeForce GTX 570 SLI. In fact in Crysis: Warhead there was a fairly large performance difference between AMD Radeon HD 6990 and GTX 570 SLI, with 6990 coming out on top. We also saw that when the Radeon HD 6990 was pushed to 4X AA with intensive shader options it was pulling as the lead. Since both options are at the same price, we have to say the AMD Radeon HD 6990 is the better choice, and it has more memory per GPU.

AMD Radeon HD 6990 vs. AMD Radeon HD 6970 CrossFireX

This comparison is the most interesting because we think the AMD Radeon HD 6990 might be overpriced. At $699 it just can't compete with the lower prices that are currently available on single Radeon HD 6970 video cards. Right now, you can purchase a Radeon HD 6970 for $320 with rebate. At that price, the total cost for 6970 CrossFireX comes to $640; a $60 savings compared to the lesser performing Radeon HD 6990. The less expensive Radeon HD 6970 CrossFireX setup will give you the full 880MHz GPU core frequency and 5.5GHz memory frequency per GPU out-of-the-box.

In our testing today, we have shown that the extra core frequency and memory frequencies did add up to better performance with 6970 CrossFireX. In fact in Civilization V, this allowed us to play at a higher AA setting, providing a better gameplay experience on the Radeon HD 6970 CrossFireX setup. We were also able to run at 8X MSAA on the HD 6970 CFX setup vs. 4X AA on the HD 6990 in F1 2010. In every game the HD 6970 CFX configuration was always a bit faster in framerates.

AMD Radeon HD 6990 vs. GeForce GTX 580

There is another comparison we haven't directly tested today due to time, but that we need to talk about and consider. We are talking about a Radeon HD 6990 compared to a single GeForce GTX 580. The GeForce GTX 580 is $500 right now, and the Radeon HD 6990 is $200 more expensive at $699. Since the GeForce GTX 580 is NVIDIA's fastest single-card solution, then in that same light the Radeon HD 6990 is AMD's fastest single-card solution, but the prices are fairly far apart.

We have had a lot of gameplay experience with the GeForce GTX 580, and it is indeed a fast video card that allows a high level of gameplay at 2560x1600. However, the Radeon HD 6990 simply feels faster. We have played a few games now on the Radeon HD 6990 at 2560x1600 and it seems at this lower resolution, not in Eyefnity, performance is smoother at higher settings. The gameplay experience of the Radeon HD 6990 does exceed the GeForce GTX 580 and allows even higher settings because each GPU has 2GB of memory.

You must consider the feature differences as well. Currently it takes two cards with SLI enabled in order to achieve NV Surround resolutions. A single GeForce GTX 580 cannot do it. However, the single Radeon HD 6990 is able to run five displays in Eyefnity and even more if using an Eyefinity Hub with Displayport version 1.2. The feature options are just greater and allow for more expansion with the Radeon HD 6990 compared to the GeForce GTX 580.

The Bottom Line

The AMD Radeon HD 6990 provided an enjoyable gameplay experience in Eyefinity. We were able to play at 5760x1200 in many games with all the game features turned on. At $699 the 6990 is a bit too pricey. The Radeon HD 6970 video cards are falling in price making the 6990 look expensive considering its performance profile. Currently two Radeon HD 6970 video cards with CrossFireX support can be had for less money than the Radeon HD 6990. The Radeon HD 6990 starts to make little sense when you can purchase a better performing alternative based on the same architecture for less money.

The Radeon HD 6990 is a beautiful package, and contains some of the best design we've seen from AMD. If you are looking for pure convenience and ease-of-use, then this all-in-one package is for you. It can achieve 6970 CFX performance by using the OC switch, and does have room to grow. You will however be paying extra for these things. Given the design, the convenience of CrossFireX on a single card, and the performance options, we feel the AMD Radeon HD 6990 deserves our Editor's Choice Silver award. However, we just cannot justify a Gold when the pricing just doesn't add up. Perhaps if these video cards come down in price, or rebates are offered, then this will look more appealing as a packaged deal.

As for availability, AMD explained to us that we should see some in stock today with more later this week.

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(AMD Radeon HD 6990)