Product: AMD Radeon HD 6990
Company: AMD
Authour: James Prior
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: March 15th, 2011
Summary & Conclusions

AMD's Radeon HD 6990 is all kinds of awesome, and just shy of being the ultimate card that Northern Islands could produce. The use of PowerTune technology allowed AMD to skate the edge of electrical specifications - and then beyond, catering to the ultimate enthusiast user. The central mounted cooler design allows a larger fan that is quieter in operation, although not silent under sustained load by any means. This card shows that AMD wants the performance crown - the fastest graphics card in the world.

The only detractors from the AMD Radeon HD 6990 awesomesauce is the price, memory and noise. Pricing is stratospheric at $699, meaning value is not a consideration for those looking for performance levels of the world's fastest graphics card. Ideally it would be a shade cheaper, $619-$649, to overshadow the obvious comparison to 6970 CrossfireX or 570 SLI. Featuring 2GB per GPU is exactly right, but that 2GB is 5Gbps memory like the AMD Radeon HD 6950 rather than the 6Gbps chips at 5.5Gbps used in the 6970. This is disappointing as it means the cherry picked low leakage GPU cores aren't backed up by the accompanying memory bandwidth that you might get on a HD 6970.

Why this decision was made is likely a combination of power, availability and cost - a single 6Gbps chip might not be much higher in power or cost than a 5Gbps chip, but this board has 16 of them. We speculate that perhaps the gains of 6Gbps memory chips running at 5.5Gbps speeds were less than being able to run the full 880MHz core clocks for the two GPUs, in the same power envelope. Given how noisy the HD 6990 can be under load, it is obvious why TDP needed to be as low as possible, even to keep core clocks up. It's not screamingly noisy, and really without a triple slot cooler using multiple fans with bigger vapor chambers there is no way to match the noise profiles of two discrete cards - and it's not really fair to compare the noise to them, either.

Taking only performance into consideration, the HD 6990 is expensive - about $100 over where it should be. Zooming out to see the bigger picture, the OC bios and overdrive limits, plus the Eyefinity connection options show where that extra price is going. This board replaces the HD 5970, which introduced at $599 but featured much lower clocks and was limited to 3-display Eyefinity; oh, and the AIB partner special edition 2GB per GPU, 'full' core clock versions retailed for $1000+. In that context, the value of the 6990 seems clearer. However, the reference point that will show the HD 6990's place with crystal clear clarity is NVIDIA's upcoming dual GPU part: the GeForce GTX 590. Our sources indicate muropaketti's reported clock speeds are roughly correct, at ~600MHz/1200MHz for the uncore and shaders, and ~850MHz for the 1.5GB per GPU GDDR5 RAM. At 250W average gaming power for a GTX 580, the lower clocks (and presumably voltages) will give an average gaming power of ~365W: that's higher than AMD's average. At a rumored street price of $749-$799 for the GTX 590, will AMD's ultra-enthusiast HD 6990 be the higher performing, better value, more power conscious design?

The AMD Radeon HD 6990 looks to be a formidable ultra high-resolution gaming device. Excellent engineering and a cranked up (again) driver show AMD made the most of their delay from the Q4 '10 window to now, and a long, hot summer of Gaming. Whether you are a performance & overclocking junkie or Image Quality addict, the AMD Radeon HD 6990 provides options for the discerning Ultra-Enthusiast.

In Part II of our investigation, we will examine overclocking, multi-panel gaming and how it compares to the NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 580 SLI. With any luck, AMD will have further clarified the warranty situation by then as well.  Stay tuned!

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