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AMD Radeon HD 6790 Graphics Card Review
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Date: Apr 05, 2011
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications

When AMD and NVIDIA release a new batch of next-generation graphics processors, gaps typically form in their respective product stacks as the entire top-to-bottom line-up of new products is fleshed out over time. When new GPUs are introduced, they usually offer increased performance at a given price point, which drives the cost of comparable previous-generation products downward. Occasionally the supply and demand of both the new and old products will result in a larger than desired price disparity between the new parts and the older ones that still remain on the market. It’s those large price disparities that are where product gaps show.

Such is the case with AMD’s current product stack. At the top of the line-up, AMD has the Radeon HD 6900 and 6800 series parts, but the lower-end of the market is still covered by Radeon HD 5000 series parts. Disregarding the few remaining Radeon HD 5800 series parts that will eventually sell out, the $100 to $120-ish Radeon HD 5770 is currently the first step down from the $150 to $180-ish Radeon HD 6850. AMD aims to fill that relatively large price gap between those two models with the new card we’ll be showing you here today, the Radeon HD 6790.

This first official member of the Radeon HD 6700 series isn’t completely new (we say official because the Radeon HD 6770, which is a re-branded 5770 is available to OEMs). In fact, it is based on the very same "Barts" GPU powering the Radeon HD 6800 series. A few functional blocks within the GPU have been disabled, however, ultimately resulting in a lower performing, but decidedly more affordable, DirectX-11 class GPU. We’ve got the full specifications, details and pics below.  We'll then take a look at performance on the pages ahead.

AMD Radeon HD 6790
Specifications & Features
Process
Transistors
Engine Clock
Stream Processors
Compute Performance
Texture Units
Texture Fillrate
ROPs
Pixel Fillrate
Z/Stencil
Memory Type
Memory Clock
Memory Bus Width
Memory Data Rate
Memory Bandwidth
Load Board Power
Idle Board Power
40nm
1.7B
Up to 840 MHz
800
Up to 1.34 TFLOPs
40
33.6 GTexel/s
16
13.4 GPixel/s
53.8 GSample/s
GDDR5
Up to 1050 MHz
256-bit
Up to 4.2 Gbps
Up to 134.4 GB/s
150W
19W

We’re not going to harp on the physical attributes of the Radeon HD 6790 we tested for a couple of reasons. First off, according to AMD, the card you see pictured here will never see the light of day. It is a reference model based on the same design as the Radeon HD 6850. Secondly, all of AMD’s board partners are readying custom Radeon HD 6790s that will look nothing like the reference card and may even sport only a single power connector.

  

  
A Radeon HD 6790 Reference Card

The reference Radeon HD 6790 you see pictured here is built around the 40nm ‘Barts’ GPU, which is comprised of roughly 1.7B transistors. As it is configured on the Radeon HD 6790, the GPU will sport 800 stream processors, with 40 texture units, and 16 ROPs (Radeon HD 6850 cards have 960 stream processors, 48 texture units, and 32 ROPs). The 6790 does, however, have the same 256-bit interface to its GDDR5 RAM. This reference card has an 840MHz GPU paired to 1GB of 1050MHz memory (4.2 Gbps data rate), for a peak textured fillrate of 33.6GTexels/ s and 134.4GB/s of memory bandwidth. Idle board power is rated at 19W with a load power of 150W.

Outputs on the Radeon HD 6790 consist of dual DVIs (one dual-link, one single-link), dual mini-DP outs, and an HDMI port. Board partners may choose to different output configurations with their custom designs, however.

  
HIS Radeon HD 6850 iceQ Turbo

Before we move on to the Radeon HD 6790 performance evaluation, we want to point out that custom, factory overclocked Radeon HD 6850 cards, like the HIS Radeon HD 6850 iceQ Turbo, have recently hit the scene at price points not much higher than the 6790. Competing parts from NVIDIA, namely the GeForce GTX 550 Ti, were also available in factory overclocked editions from the get so. As such, we’ve included numbers from some of these factory overclocked cards, alongside the reference clocked models, to paint a more complete picture of performance at all price points ranging from about $149 to $179.

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Test Setup & Unigine Heaven v2.1

How We Configured Our Test Systems: We tested the graphics cards in this article on a Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 motherboard powered by a Core i7 980X six-core processor and 6GB of OCZ DDR3-1333 RAM. The first thing we did when configuring the test system was enter the system BIOS and set all values to their "optimized" or "high performance" default settings. Then we manually configured the memory timings (DDR3-1333, CAS 7) and disabled any integrated peripherals that wouldn't be put to use. The hard drive was then formatted and Windows 7 Ultimate x64 was installed. When the installation was complete we fully updated the OS and installed the latest DirectX redist, along with the necessary drivers, games, and benchmark applications.

HotHardware's Test System
Intel Core i7 Powered

Hardware Used:
Core i7 980X (3.3GHz)
Gigabyte EX58-UD5 (X58 Express)

Radeon HD 6870
Radeon HD 6950 1GB
Radeon HD 6850
Radeon HD 6850 OC
Radeon HD 6790
GeForce GTX 560 Ti
GeForce GTX 460
GeForce GTX 550 Ti
GeForce GTX 550 Ti OC

6GB OCZ DDR3-1333
Western Digital Raptor 150GB
Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
DirectX Nov. 2010 Redist
ATI Catalyst v11.4 preview
NVIDIA GeForce Drivers 267.59

Benchmarks Used:

Unigine Heaven v2.1
Futuremark 3DMark11
FarCry 2
Just Cause 2
Alien vs. Predator
Metro 2033
Lost Planet 2
F1 2010*

* - Custom benchmark

Unigine Heaven v2.1 Benchmark
Pseudo-DirectX 11 Gaming


Unigine Heaven

The Unigine Heaven Benchmark v2.0 is built around the Unigine game engine. Unigine is a cross-platform real-time 3D engine, with support for DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11 and OpenGL. The Heaven benchmark--when run in DX11 mode--also makes comprehensive use of tessellation technology and advanced SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion), and it also features volumetric cumulonimbus clouds generated by a physically accurate algorithm and a dynamic sky with light scattering.


The new Radeon HD 6790 trailed the pack in the heavily tesselated Unigine Heaven Benchmark. In this test, the GeForce GTX 550 Ti's strong geometry performance give it a slight edge over the Radeon HD 6790, and all of the more powerful Radeons obviously pull ahead of the 6790 as well.
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Futuremark 3DMark11

Futuremark 3DMark11
Synthetic DirectX Gaming


Futuremark 3DMark11

The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark11, is specifically bound to Windows Vista and 7-based systems because it uses the advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 11, which isn't available on previous versions of Windows.  3DMark11 isn't simply a port of 3DMark Vantage to DirectX 11, though.  With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated four new graphics tests, a physics tests, and a new combined test.  We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark11's Extreme preset option, which uses a resolution of 1920x1080 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.


The new Radeon HD 6790 turns the tables in the 3DMark11 benchmark. Here, AMD's new affordable GPU is able to outpace both the stock and factory-overclocked GeForce GXT 550 Ti, but trails the GeForce GTX 460. The Radeon HD 6790 finished about 20% behind the Radeon HD 6850 as well.
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FarCry 2 Performance

FarCry 2
DirectX Gaming Performance


FarCry 2

Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date. Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article with a fully patched version of FarCry 2, using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the "Ranch" map.  The test results shown here were run at various resolutions with 4X AA enabled.


AMD's new Radeon HD 6790 performs right on par with the stock GeForce GTX 550 Ti at the highest resolution we tested,  but trails at the lower resolution. The factory overclocked 550 Ti led at both resolutions.
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Just Cause 2 Performance

Just Cause 2
DX10.1 Gaming Performance


Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 was released in March 2010, from developers Avalanche Studios and Eidos Interactive. The game makes use of the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the similarly named original. It is set on the fictional island of Panau in southeast Asia, and you play the role of Rico Rodriquez. We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article using one of the built-in demo runs called Desert Sunrise.  The test results shown here were run at various resolutions and settings. This game also supports a few CUDA-enabled features, but they were left disabled to keep the playing field level. 

The Radeon HD 6790's performance falls somewhere in between the stock and factory overclocked GeForce GTX 550 Ti in the Just Cause 2 benchmark. The 6790 was faster than the stock 550 Ti at both resolutions, but trailed the factory overclocked model at 1920x1200. The 6790 pulls ahead again at 2560x1600, but we doubt there's many 30" LCD owners out there looking for a $150 graphics card...

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Metro 2033 Performance

Metro 2033
DirecX11 Gaming Performance


Metro 2033

Metro 2033 is your basic post-apocalyptic first person shooter game with a few rather unconventional twists. Unlike most FPS titles, there is no health meter to measure your level of ailment, but rather you’re left to deal with life, or lack there-of more akin to the real world with blood spatter on your visor and your heart rate and respiration level as indicators. The game is loosely based on a novel by Russian Author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Metro 2003 boasts some of the best 3D visuals on the PC platform currently including a DX11 rendering mode that makes use of advanced depth of field effects and character model tessellation for increased realism. This title also supports NVIDIA PhysX technology for impressive in-game physics effects. We tested the game resolutions of 1920x1200 and 2560x1600 with 4X anti-aliasing and in-game image quality options set to thei High Quality mode, with DOF effects disabled.

Framerates are relatively low in the Metro 2033 benchmark with the taxing settings that we tested at, but they show the Radeon HD 6790 handily outpacing the GeForce GTX 550 Ti at both resolutions.

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Lost Planet 2 Performance

Lost Planet 2
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance


Lost Planet 2

A follow-up to Capcom’s Lost Planet : Extreme Condition, Lost Planet 2 is a third person shooter that takes place again on E.D.N. III ten years after the story line of the first title. We ran the game’s DX11 mode which makes heavy use of DX11 Tessellation and Displacement mapping and soft shadows.  There are also areas of the game that make use of DX11 DirectCompute for things like wave simulation in areas with water.  This is one game engine that looks significantly different in DX11 mode when you compare certain environmental elements and character rendering in its DX9 mode versus DX11.  We used the Test B option built into the benchmark tool and with all graphics options set to their High Quality values.

Lost Planet 2 is another one of those titles that heavily favor's NVIDIA's GPU architecture. Here, the stock GeForce GTX 550 Ti outpaces the 6790 at the lower resolution, but trails at the higher setting. The factory overclocked GeForce GTX 550 Ti is faster at both resolutions, however.

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F1 2010 Performance

F1 2010
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance


F1 2010

Though Codemasters still continues to torture us with their ridiculously complicated labyrinth of game menus, we’ve found ourselves coming back to one of their titles for a taste of bleeding-edge DX11 benchmarking. F1 2010 is their latest racing simulation and like Dirt 2, it sports impressive visuals with DX11 support. “Ultra” settings for shadow effects and post processing elements like depth of field then become available to the gamer and in turn, crank up the workload on the graphics subsystem. The game engine also makes use of multi-core processors for higher performance on top-end systems. We tested the game configured with its Ultra graphics options at resolutions of 1920x1200 and 2560x1600.

F1 2010 proved to be a strong point for the new Radeon HD 6790. Here, AMD new baby is able to pull ahead even the GeForce GTX 460.  It also clearly outpaced the GeForce GTX 550 Ti, regardless of whether it was factory overclocked or not.

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Alien vs. Predator Performance

Alien vs. Predator
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance


Alien vs. Predator

The Alien vs. Predator benchmark makes use of the advanced Tessellation, screen space ambient occlusion and high-quality shadow features, available with DirectX 11. In addition to enabling all of the aforementioned DirectX 11 related features offered by this benchmark, we also switched on 4X anti-aliasing along with 16X anisotropic filtering to more heavily tax the graphics cards being tested.

Although framerates are relatively low in the Alien vs. Predator benchmark, this test once again shows the Radeon HD 6790 outpacing the GeForce GTX 550 Ti, whether factory overclocked or not, at both resolutions.

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Total System Power Consumption

Before bringing this article to a close, we'd like to cover a few final data points--namely power consumption and noise. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test system was consuming using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and while under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the graphics cards alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

We're not going to dwell too long on these power consumption numbers, because the Radeon HD 6790 reference card we tested isn't indicative of a product we're likely to see at retail. What the numbers show though, is that the Radeon HD 6790 had the lowest idle power consumption of the group (by only a couple of watts) and peak power consumption that was well below the GeForce GTX 550 Ti.

With power consumption scores that low, it should come as no surprise that the Radeon HD 6790 was nice and quiet throughout testing as well. Again though, since our test sample isn't going to be sold at retail, the acoustic performance of this particular card doesn't mean very much. We suspect the custom Radeon HD 6790s that will be sold by AMD's board partners are likely to be very quiet as well.

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The AMD Radeon HD 6790 performed well throughout our entire battery of tests considering its affordable price point. It finished roughly 10% to 20% percent behind the higher-end Radeon HD 6850 and competed favorably with the recently released, and similarly priced, GeForce GTX 550 Ti. The Radeon HD 6790 and GeForce GTX 550 Ti roughly split our benchmarks, with each card “winning” a handful of tests. The 6790 led in 3DMark11, Metro 2033, Just Cause 2, AvP, and F1 2010, while the 550 Ti led in FarCry 2, Lost Planet 2, and in Unigine Heaven. Overall though, considering the margins of victory in the given apps / games, we’d give the Radeon HD 6790 a slight edge over the GeForce GTX 550 Ti.


AMD's Current, Mid-Range GPU Product Stack Through Q2, 2011

AMD has set the price of the Radeon HD 6790 at $149, but has stated that some board partners are likely to offer mild discounts or mail-in-rebates that could bring street prices down a bit. We’ll have to see how things pan out over the next few days and weeks, but if pricing ends up closer to $149, or even higher, which is not out of the realm of possibility with current-gen Radeons, gamers have some tough decisions to make. Stock GeForce GTX 550 Ti cards can be found for as low as $115 (after MIR) and some overclocked models, like the Zotac card we used in our testing, can be found for $135, currently (again, after a MIR). We’d prefer to not have to deal with rebates, but a $15 to $35 savings for a similarly performing graphics card, in this price range, is nothing to sneeze at. Also consider that higher performing cards like the Radeon HD 6850 can currently be found for as little as $145 or around $179 for an even faster, factory overclocked model, and coughing up a few extra bucks becomes pretty enticing.

Ultimately though, the new Radeon HD 6790 seems to do exactly what AMD intended, it fills the price gap between the Radeon HD 5770 and 6850 and competes favorably with NVIDIA’s recently released direct rival, the GeForce GTX 550 Ti. All of these initial pricing questions will be answered in the near future and what we’ll all be left with is a more competitive battle in the sub-$150 GPU market, which will only benefit budget conscious gamers in the long-run.

  • Good Performance
  • Relatively Low Power Consumption
  • Eyefinity Support
  • Quiet

 

  • Much More Performance Available For Minimal Extra Investment
  • GeForce GTX 550 Ti card available for as little as $115

 



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