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HIS Radeon HD 6990 4GB Review
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Date: Jun 26, 2011
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications

It has been a few months since the AMD Radeon HD 6990 initially launched. Since that time, a number of AMD’s board partners have launched their own Radeon HD 6990 cards, but as is typically the case with the first wave of products based on a new GPU, they all conform to AMD’s reference design, save for a water-cooled card from PowerColor.

While most of the Radeon HD 6990 cards on the market today are fundamentally very similar, we thought it would be a good idea to check out a retail-ready 6990 using AMD’s latest drivers to see how well the card performs (and behaves) with updated software. To that end, we got our hands on an HIS Radeon HD 6990 card and have put it up against NVIDIA’s best to see how things sake out in a handful of games and applications.

We’re not going to rehash all of the low-level technical details regarding the Radeon HD 6990 in this article, however. If you’d like a refresher on the Radeon HD 6990’s inner working, we’d suggest taking a look at our launch coverage here. Checking our coverage of the AMD Cayman GPU would also be a good idea; those details can be found in our Radeon HD 6900 Series coverage here.

 

HIS 6990 Fan 4GB GDDR5 PCI-E DVI/4xMini DP
Specifications & Features

 


 

In its default, non-overclocked configuration, the HIS Radeon HD 6990 has an 830MHz GPU frequency (@1.12v), with 1,250MHz memory (5.0Gbps effective data rate). There is 4GB of on-board frame buffer memory—2GB per GPU. There are a total of 3072 stream processors enabled across both GPUs, with 192 texture units, and 64 ROPs. If you add all of this up, what it amounts to is roughly 2x of everything available on a reference Radeon HD 6970, save for the GPU clock (reference Radeon HD 6970 cards are clocked at 880MHz).

Having two high-end GPUs and 4GB of memory on-board obviously requires plenty of power to operate, so two supplemental 8-pin PCI Express power connectors are necessary with the HIS Radeon HD 6990. Typical load board power can approach 375 watts, which is the maximum rating for a board with this power connector configuration (150 watts per 8-pin feed plus 75 watts from the PEG slot). As is the case with reference Radeon HD 6990 cards though, with the flip of a switch, the HIS Radeon HD 6990 can be run in an overclocked “AUSUM” mode that pushes the GPU clock to 880MHz (@1.175). With the GPUs running at the higher clock and voltage, board power can exceed 415 watts, which also exceeds the power specifications, so using this mode is going to require a potent PSU. AMD’s Powertune technology with is integrated into the card’s drivers is configured to not exceed 375 watts when the 6990 is running in its stock configuration, but that number is upped to 450 watts when overclocked.

 

 

The Radeon HD 6990 is a full 12” long and the entire card is encased in a fan shroud on the front and a heavy duty metal heat-spreader on the back. A barrel-type cooling fan, common on all recent Radeons resides smack-dab in the middle of the card, which forces air across two heatsinks on either side, which are affixed to the pair of GPUs. Some of the heated air is expelled from the system through vents in the card’s mounting bracket, while the rest is exhausted out of the back of the card and into the system. In addition to making sure a system has the room to fit a beast like this, good case cooling is also a must.

The output configuration on the HIS Radeon HD 6990 consists of four mini-DisplayPort connectors and single dual-link DVI port. This card supports AMD’s Eyefinity multi-display display technology and can drive up to five displays simultaneously.

In terms of HIS specific tweaks to the card, a few custom decals affixed to the fan shroud and fan are it. The bundle is also pretty standard and includes a CrossFire Bridge, 2 x Power adapter cables, an Active Mini Display Port to Single-Link DVI dongle, a Passive Mini Display Port to Single-Link DVI dongle, a Mini Display Port to HDMI dongle, a Mini Display Port to Display Port dongle, a DVI-VGA Adapter, a Install CD, Quick Installation Guide, and an “HIS Power Up” case badge.
 

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Test Setup & Unigine Heaven v2.5

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:
Intel Core i7 980X
(3.3GHz, Six-Core)
Gigabyte EX58-UD5
(Intel X58 Express)

HIS Radeon HD 6990
Radeon HD 6990
GeForce GTX 580
GeForce GTX 590

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

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
DirectX April 2011 Redist
ATI Catalyst v11.6
NVIDIA GeForce Drivers 275.50

Benchmarks Used:

Unigine Heaven v2.5
Futuremark 3DMark11
FarCry 2
Just Cause 2
Alien vs. Predator
Metro 2033
Lost Planet 2
F1 2010

Unigine Heaven v2.5 Benchmark
Pseudo-DirectX 11 Gaming


Unigine Heaven

Unigine's Heaven Benchmark v2.5 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) It also features volumetric cumulonimbus clouds generated by a physically accurate algorithm and a dynamic sky with light scattering.

The HIS Radoen HD 6990 performs at essentially the exact same level as the reference Radeon HD 6990 card in this benchmark, but neither can keep pace with the GeForce GTX 590. NVIDIA currently has a distinct advantage in terms of geometry and tessellation, and it shows in a benchmark like this that uses a ton of tessellation at the options we used for testing.

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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 WIndows 7-based systems due to its DirectX 11 requirement, 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 race between the GeForce GTX 590 and Radeon HD 6990 in 3DMark11 couldn't be any tighter, with the 6990 running at its stock frequency that is. Switch the 6990 to AUSUM mode though and its higher GPU clock gives it a marked advantage.

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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.

The Radeon HD 6990 cards, whether running in stock or AUSUM mode outpace the NVIDIA powered competition in the FarCry 2 benchmark.  All of the cards are plenty fast for this game though.

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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 GeForce GTX 590 takes the lead in Just Cause 2 when running at 1920x1200, but the Radeon HD 6990 jumps out in front when the resolution is cranked all the way up to 2560x1600.

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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 their High Quality mode, with DOF effects disabled.

The Metro 2033 benchmark has the Radeon HD 6990 cards finishing out in front of the GeForce GTX 590 at both resolutions regardless of the Radeon's clocks. Obviously, switching to AUSUM mode help push the Radeon's lead a little further.

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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.

Talk about a no contest. The GeForce GTX 590 rules the roost in the Lost Planet 2 benchmark. Heck, even the single GPU powered GeForce GTX 580 comes within striking distance of the Radeon HD 6990 here.

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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.

The race in the F1 2010 benchmark is pretty close when running at 1920x1200, but the Radeon HD 6990 cards' super chargers kick in when the resolution is cranked up to 2560x1600 and they finish well ahead of the GeForces.

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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.

The Radeon HD 6990 cards perform very well in the Alien vs. Predator benchmark, besting the next fastest card--the GeForce GTX 590--by wide margins 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

Considering the kind of performance offered by the dual-GPU Radeon HD 6990, it's no surprise the card uses a lot of power, relatively speaking. When running at its stock clocks, our test system pulled 484 watts from the outlet with the Radeon HD 6990 installed, which was somewhat lower than the GeForce GTX 590. With the Radeon HD 6990 running in AUSUM mode though, it used the most juice, coming in at 529 watts.

With that much power being consumed, the Radeon HD 6990 has a good amount of heat to dissipate, and as such the card can be fairly loud when running under a sustained load. If you're thinking of a 6990, be warned that the card does generate a good amount of noise when being pushed. It's quiet at idle, but under load you're definitely going to hear it above your other system components.

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: We took this opportunity to test a retail-ready HIS Radeon HD 6990 card against NVIDIA’s best using the latest drivers for both (Catalyst v11.6 and GeForce Drivers v275.50), and can safely say the landscape hasn’t changed much in these last few months. The Radeon HD 6990 was the fastest card available when it launched, and it remains to be the fastest card today. The HIS Radeon HD 6990 in particular performs exactly as a reference card would, so by extension it is one of the fastest cards currently available. In the majority of the benchmarks we ran, the HIS Radeon HD 6990 took the top spot, with the GeForce GTX 590 trailing closely behind. It was only in LP2 where the GeForce took the lead.


HIS Radeon HD 6990 4GB...

The HIS Radeon HD 6990 is an ultra-powerful graphics card, that’s sure to please any hardcore gamer. Consumers must know what they’re getting into with a card like this though. For one, it’s going to require a potent power supply to keep the card fed with plenty of juice. The Radeon HD 6990 is also a very large card at about 12” in length. And it pumps out a good amount of heat, so adequate case cooling is also a must. Finally, the HIS Radeon HD 6990 (and all other reference 6990 cards as well) does get loud under load.

In addition to the aforementioned items, the HIS Radeon HD 6990 is going to set you back over $700, which is no small chunk of change. Availability is limited too—finding Radeon HD 6990 cards in stock is a bit of a chore at the moment. But if you’ve got the coin and understand the nature of the beast, the HIS Radeon HD 6990 is a powerful graphics card that offers top-notch performance.

  • Great Performance
  • Eyefinity Support
  • 4GB On-Board
  • She's a Biggun'
  • Expensive
  • Limited Availability
  • Can Get Loud



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