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AMD Radeon HD6990 Review

Rating: 9.0.

The battle for frame rate supremacy is always fun to watch, as AMD and Nvidia joust for top position with multi-million dollar R&D budgets. While the ultra high end cards generate only a small percentage of sales for either company, the performance leader will often generate sales lower down the chain. That is how the enthusiast ‘state of mind’ works.

There is no doubting that Nvidia’s GTX580 is one of the finest graphics cards money can buy – we use them at KitGuru regularly for gaming and [email protected] However, equally so, AMD followers are proud to say that the HD5970 is still the fastest graphics card on the market.

Well that is until today, as AMD have just released the replacement – The Antilles HD6990.

The AMD HD6990 is a monster video card, it features 4 GB of GDDR5 memory on a 256 bit memory interface with 3072 stream processors and 192 texture units. We will find out today if it is the new performance leader.

AMD HD6990
Compute Power 5.1 TFLOPs (IEEE754-SP)
1.27 TFLOPs (IEEE754-DP)
Core Clock Speed 830mhz
Primitive Rate 2 prim/clk
Shader Architecture VLIW4
Stream Processors 3072 ALU
Texture Units 192
ROPs/Z-Stencil 64/256
Frame Buffer 4GB GDDR5
Memory Width/Speed 256-bit, 5.0 Gbps
Load Board Power <375W
Power Connectors 8 pin & 8 Pin
Display Outputs 1xDVI + 4 mDP

The AMD HD6990 looks pretty much as we expected, with the traditional red fan occupying the center of cooler. As this is a reference board direct from AMD, we don’t receive other peripherals in a ‘bundle’ package, but we will be looking at partner cards shortly.

The PCB has a protective backplate covering the components, with both GPU mounting blocks visible from the rear.

The card is crossfire capable, and to the right is a bios switch, which we have seen on other AMD cards recently for bios modifications. The AMD HD6990 will ship in the default position of ‘2’. This is a factory supported clock setting (830mhz) with voltage set to 1.12. Position ‘1’ is a ‘hardware’ overdrive option with increased clocks, 880mhz on the core and an increased voltage setting of 1.175. They are naming this the ‘AUSUM’ or ‘Antilles Unlocking Switch for Uber Mode’, which we don’t expect to become a widely used acronym.

Interestingly, the press pack highlights that the ‘AMD product warranty does not cover damages caused by overclocking, even when overclocking is enabled via AMD software and/or the Dual-BIOS Function’. Not sure how much water that would hold in a small claims court. For now, if you are worried about your investment, best leaving the switch in Position 2.

Retail boards will ship with a cover on this switch with information in the bundle as to what exactly it does, and possibly information on invalidating the warranty.

Connectivity is offered by 4x miniDP connectors (DP 1.2), and a single DL-DVI port.

AMD have informed us that partners will bundle displayport to DVI adapters with their cards, such as those seen above. 3 adapters will ship with every HD6990, a miniDP to SL-DVI passive, a miniDP to SL-DVI active, and a miniDP to HDMI passive.

The card requires two 8 pin power connectors to operate. Obviously if you are powering one of these cards we would recommend a quality power supply.

AMD are using 4GB of quality Hynix H5GQ2H24MFR memory rated to 6ghz.

AMD advised reviewers to avoid disassembling the card until the testing was completed. They are using a ‘phase change TIM’ which, apparently, offers 8% better thermal performance. When the connection is broken between GPU core and cooler, the TIM has to be removed. We reapplied quality Noctua NT-H1 thermal paste after the review was completed and we can’t say we noticed much difference.

AMD are using the latest generation digital programmable Volterra regulators on the card, to deliver increased efficiency with higher current capacity. The regulators are located at the centre of the board, in a symmetrical layout, to provide efficient power delivery to each GPU and its associated memory. Premium ASICs are screened for high speed and low leakage properties.

Above, GPUz highlights the two different BIOS settings available from the switch on the PCB. AMD class this as ‘HD6990 OC’ mode and we will be testing with both settings later.

Same form factor as the HD5970 … bigger than the Cayman cards.

To test this high end card today, we have built a system with suitable matching components – based around a liquid cooled 12 core Intel i7 970 processor, overclocked to 4.33GHz, with 6GB of GKILL memory running at 1800MHz with tight timings. We will be mixing the resolutions today from 1920×1080 (1080p) to 7680×1080.

Processor: Core i7 970 @ 4.33GHz
Cooling: Coolit Vantage (extreme setting).
Motherboard: MSI X58A-GD65 (MS-7522)
Chassis: Thermaltake Level 10
Power Supply: Corsair Ax1200
Memory: 6GB GSkill Performance Gaming ram @ 902.9 MHz (2:10) @ 9-9-9-24
Storage: Kingston SSDNow V+ 512GB Gen 2 SSD (Storage) / Crucial RealSSD C300 256GB (OS boot)
Monitors: Hazro Ultra Sharp HZ230Wi, Dell Ultrasharp U2410 Rev A00 x 2, Iiyama Prolite E2472HDD x2

Other graphics cards for comparisons:
Nvidia GTX580
Nvidia GTX570
XFX HD5970 Black Edition 4GB (QuadFireX)
AMD HD6970
AMD HD6950
AMD HD6870
AMD HD6850
AMD HD5870
AMD HD5850
MSI N560GTX Ti Twin Frozr II
nVidia GTX570
nVidia GTX460 OC (715/900)

Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bit

Unigine Heaven Benchmark
3DMark Vantage
3DMark 11
Catalyst 11.4 Preview
Forceware 266.58 WHQL
Fraps Professional
Steam Client
Stone Giant
HQV 2.0 Software

Technical Monitoring and Test Equipment:
Nikon D300S with R1C1 kit
Keithley Integra unit
Thermal Diodes
Raytek Laser Temp Gun 3i LSRC/MT4 Mini Temp
Extech digital sound level meter & SkyTronic DSL 2 Digital Sound Level Meter

Far Cry 2
Resident Evil 5
Mafia 2
Tom Clancy HAWX 2
Alien V Predator
Lost Planet 2
Metro 2033
Dead Space 2
Dragon Age 2
Batman Arkham Asylum
Crysis Warhead
Devil May Cry 4
Colin McRae Dirt 2
Left4Dead 2

All the latest BIOS updates and drivers are used during testing. We perform under real world conditions, meaning KitGuru tests all games across five closely matched runs and average out the results to get an accurate median figure.

Later in the review we will test the new HD6990 across 4 screens at 7680×1080 resolution, these review pages are marked with the ‘4x’ tagline.

Unigine provides an interesting way to test hardware. It can be easily adapted to various projects due to its elaborated software design and flexible toolset. A lot of their customers claim that they have never seen such extremely-effective code, which is so easy to understand.

Heaven Benchmark is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on advanced Unigine engine from Unigine Corp. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. Interactive mode provides emerging experience of exploring the intricate world of steampunk.

Efficient and well-architected framework makes Unigine highly scalable:

  • Multiple API (DirectX 9 / DirectX 10 / DirectX 11 / OpenGL) render
  • Cross-platform: MS Windows (XP, Vista, Windows 7) / Linux
  • Full support of 32bit and 64bit systems
  • Multicore CPU support
  • Little / big endian support (ready for game consoles)
  • Powerful C++ API
  • Comprehensive performance profiling system
  • Flexible XML-based data structures

We test at 1080p so that all video cards can be compared throughout our reviews. Obviously driver updates might enhance performance slightly over time, but as a rule, its a useful way for us to present the findings.

These results are staggering, especially when compared against the previous generation XFX HD5970 Black Edition Limited which KitGuru reviewed last September. The GTX580, which is a very powerful board looks positively pedestrian in this chart.

Futuremark released 3DMark Vantage, on April 28, 2008. It is a benchmark based upon DirectX 10, and therefore will only run under Windows Vista (Service Pack 1 is stated as a requirement) and Windows 7.  This is the first edition where the feature-restricted, free of charge version could not be used any number of times. 1280×1024 resolution was used with performance settings.

Again, staggering results from the new HD6990, scoring around 35,000 points in the higher performance (880 MHz core) mode. This is over 3,000 points more than the 4GB XFX HD5970 Black Edition Limited card which cost £900 several months ago.

3DMark 11 is designed for testing DirectX 11 hardware running on Windows 7 and Windows Vista the benchmark includes six all new benchmark tests that make extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.

After running the tests 3DMark gives your system a score with larger numbers indicating better performance. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

If you want to learn more about this benchmark, or to buy it yourself, head over to this page.

This is the first time we have seen close to 10,000 points from a single card. The GTX580 is in second place with just over 6,000 points.

Stone Giant is a benchmark tech demo that showcases and measures DirectX 11 performance using the BitSquid Engine. This is a tessellation heavy benchmark that, traditionally, runs very well on nVidia hardware. The jump in measured tessellation performance by the Radeon HD 6990 was so surprisingly high, that we re-ran the test several times to make sure the results were accurate.

We experienced some rather unusual performance results from Stone Giant, scaling well beyond the figures we would have assumed the card would achieve beforehand. For instance a HD6950 scores around 40fps, and a HD6970 is just below 50fps. In full performance mode the HD6990 would consistently score between 100 and 115 fps with this test. Our final result of 107 is the average of all the runs we made between multiple reboots. This is due to the new optimised driver setting which will limit the applied tessellation.

This jump in hardcore tessellation performance is something that no one would have predicted. You can’t help feeling that AMD’s original tessellation engine, in the 5000 series, was broken and that AMD has been fixing the issue in leaps and bounds.

HQV Benchmark 2.0 is an updated version of the original tool and it consists of various video clips and test patterns which are designed to evalute motion correction, de-interlacing, decoding, noise reduction, detail enhancement and film cadence detection.

There are two versions of the program, standard definition on DVD and high definition on Bluray. As our audience will be concentrating on HD content so will we.

This has a total of 39 video tests which is increased from 23 in the original and the scoring is also up from a total of 130 to 210. As hardware and software gets more complicated, the software has been tuned to make sure we can thoroughly maximise our analysis.

Read our initial analysis over here.

AMD HD6990
Dial with static pattern 5
Gray Bars 5
Violin 5
Stadium 2:2 5
Stadium 3:2 5
Horizontal Text Scroll 5
Vertical Text Scroll 5
Transition to 3:2 Lock 5
Transition to 2:2 Lock 0
2:2:2:4 24 FPS DVCAM Video
2:3:3:2 24 FPS DVCam Video
3:2:3:2:2 24 FOS Vari-Speed
5:5 FPS Animation
6:4 12 FPS Animation
8:7 8 FPS Animation
Interlace Chroma Problem (ICP)
Chroma Upsampling Error (CUE)
Random Noise: Sailboat
Random Noise: Flower
Random Noise: Sunrise
Random Noise: Harbour Night
Scrolling Text
Roller Coaster
Ferris Wheel
Bridge Traffic
Text Pattern/ Scrolling Text
Roller Coaster
Ferris Wheel
Bridge Traffic
Luminance Frequency Bands
Chrominance Frequency Bands
Vanishing Text 5
Resolution Enhancement
Theme Park
Driftwood 5
Ferris Wheel
Skin Tones
Total 196

A very high level of image quality from the HD6990 and the latest Catalyst Preview driver, no different than any other Catalyst driver released this year however.

CyberLink MediaEspresso 6 is the successor to CyberLink MediaShow Espresso 5.5. With its further optimized CPU/GPU-acceleration, MediaEspresso is an even faster way to convert not only your video but also your music and image files between a wide range of popular formats.

Now you can easily playback and display your favorite movies, songs and photos not just on your on your mobile phone, iPad, PSP, Xbox, or Youtube and Facebook channels but also on the newly launched iPhone 4. Compile, convert and enjoy images and songs on any of your computing devices and enhance your videos with CyberLink’s built-in TrueTheater Technology.

We are using a 3.3GB MKV file today at 2 hours and 12 minutes in length. We are converting to a final output for an Apple Media Player, a real world situation facing many people. We are using full video hardware acceleration for this result today.

A final time of 8 minutes and 56 seconds speaks for itself, one of the fastest times we have recorded to date.

Far Cry 2 (commonly abbreviated as “FC2 or “fc2″) is an open-ended first-person shooter developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. It was released on October 21, 2008 in North America and on October 23, 2008 in Europe and Australia. It was made available on Steam on October 22, 2008. Crytek, the developers of the original game, were not involved in the development of Far Cry 2.

Ubisoft has marketed Far Cry 2 as the true sequel to Far Cry, though the sequel has very few noticeable similarities to the original game. Instead, it features completely new characters and setting, as well as a new style of gameplay that allows the player greater freedom to explore different African landscapes such as deserts, jungles, and savannas. The game takes place in a modern-day East African nation in a state of anarchy and civil war. The player takes control of a mercenary on a lengthy journey to locate and assassinate “The Jackal,” a notorious arms dealer.

Far Cry 2 is still a popular game and the open world environment can be taxing on even the latest hardware available today.

Settings: 1920×1200, D3D10, Disable Artificial Intelligence(No), Full Screen, Anti-Aliasing(8x), VSync(No), Overall Quality(Ultra High), Vegetation(Very High), Shading(Ultra High), Terrain(Ultra High), Geometry(Ultra High), Post FX(High), Texture(Ultra High), Shadow(Ultra High), Ambient(High), Hdr(Yes), Bloom(Yes), Fire(Very High), Physics(Very High), RealTrees(Very High)

Breaking an average frame rate of 100 at these settings is a hell of achievement, with the GTX580 averaging 98 fps. Fantastic results for the new AMD flagship hardware.

Resident Evil 5, known in Japan as Biohazard 5, is a survival horror third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the seventh installment in the Resident Evil survival horror series, and was released on March 5, 2009 in Japan and on March 13, 2009 in North America and Europe for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. A Windows version of the game was released on September 15, 2009 in North America, September 17 in Japan and September 18 in Europe. Resident Evil 5 revolves around Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar as they investigate a terrorist threat in Kijuju, a fictional town in Africa.

Within its first three weeks of release, the game sold over 2 million units worldwide and became the best-selling game of the franchise in the United Kingdom. As of December, 2009, Resident Evil 5 has sold 5.3 million copies worldwide since launch, becoming the best selling Resident Evil game ever made.

Resident Evil 5’s Direct X 10 engine has always performed better on AMD hardware and we can see some staggering results from the HD6990. The minimum frame rate is higher than the GTX 580’s average frame rate. Looking at HD6950 and HD6970 performance we can see good performance scaling to over 170 fps with AMD’s new high end board.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2, released in March 2010 by Electronics Arts, is the most successful DirectX 11 title so far. Even though it contains a full single-player campaign during which the player has to work with a squad to secure a secret weapon, the game is most well known for its fast paced, exciting multiplayer squad action.

The AMD HD6990 comes out on top again at our chosen settings, averaging well over 70 fps with all the eye candy cranked.

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 2 is an arcade-style flight action game developed by Ubisoft Romania and published by Ubisoft. After the events of the first game, the H.A.W.X squadron is sent to Middle East, where a high level of violence is being registered, and the appearance of various insurgents leaders in various hotspots. The team also has to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Russian nuclear weapons. The player will be controlling three groups: one American (Hunter), one British (Munro) and one Russian (Sokov), each with its own pilots and supporting characters. There will also be references to other characters in the Tom Clancy universe.

We are testing in full DX11 mode with all settings to maximum.

HAWX 2 is a firm favourite with Nvidia hardware, but the sheer horsepower of the HD6990 ensures a competitive experience, even outperforming the GTX580 flagship. It is close however.

Aliens V Predator has proved to be a big seller since the release and Sega have taken the franchise into new territory after taking it from Sierra. AVP is a Direct X 11 supported title and delivers not only advanced shadow rendering but high quality tessellation for the cards on test today.

To test the cards we used a 1080p resolution with DX11, Texture Quality Very High, MSAA Samples 1, 16 af, ambient occulsion on, shadow complexity high, motion blur on. We use this with most of our graphics card testing so cards are comparible throughout reviews.

Staggering performance from the HD6990 and slightly more than we had predicted before testing. These results were mirrored 5 or 6 different times, between reboots.

Lost Planet 2 is a third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition which is also made by Capcom, taking place ten years after the events of the first game, on the same fictional planet. The story takes place back on E.D.N. III 10 years after the events of the first game. The snow has melted to reveal jungles and more tropical areas that have taken the place of more frozen regions. The plot begins with Mercenaries fighting against Jungle Pirates.

After destroying a mine, the Mercenaries continue on to evacuate the area, in which a Category-G Akrid appears and attacks them. After being rescued, they find out their evacuation point (Where the Category-G appeared) was a set-up and no pick up team awaited them. Lost Planet 2 runs on the MT-Framework 2.0, an updated version of the engine used in several Capcom-developed games.

We are testing in DX11 mode with all settings on the highest. Direct X 11 features are on high.

Lost Planet 2 has been a great Direct X 11 test, even if the game is rather boring to play. The GTX580 has been ousted from the top spot by a clear margin, thanks to the HD6990.

Metro 2033 is an action-oriented video game with a combination of survival horror and first-person shooter elements. The game is based on the novel Metro 2033 by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. It was developed by 4A Games in Ukraine and released in March 2010 for the Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows.

The game utilizes multi-platform 4A Engine, running on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Microsoft Windows. There is some contention regarding whether the engine is based on the pre-release X-Ray engine (as claimed by Sergiy Grygorovych, the founder of GSC Game World, as well as users who have seen the 4A Engine SDK screenshots, citing visual similarities, shared resources, and technical evaluation of the pre-release 4A Engine demo conducted at the request of GSC Game World), or whether the engine is an original development (as claimed by 4A Games and Oles’ Shiskovtsov in particular) who claims it would have been impractical to retrofit the X-ray engine with console support). The PC version includes exclusive features such as DirectX 11 support and has been described as “a love letter to PC gamers” because of the developers’ choice “to make the PC version [especially] phenomenal”.

Great results from the AMD hardware in this demanding test, leading the pack by a clear margin.

Dead Space 2 is a survival horror third-person shooter. The player controls Isaac Clarke from a third-person point of view, looking over the character’s right shoulder. The game features no HUD elements, relying on holograms projected from the player character and his weapons to show information such as messages and ammunition count, respectively. Player health and stasis is shown by a visual indicators located on Isaac’s back. Isaac must fight an alien organism that infects and takes control of human corpses, turning them into “Necromorphs”, mutating their bodies.

Necromorphs must be dismembered as the alien organism controls host bodies via tentacles extending into their limbs. Other, larger types of Necromorphs that cannot be dismembered will often have yellow, glowing pustules, indicating weak spots. Occasionally, when an enemy gets close enough to Isaac, they will grab a hold of him, and the player must repeatedly press a key to fend off the enemy, with failure to do so leading to death of the player character.

Dead Space 2 is one of our favourite games in recent months, although it is not a taxing test of any modern hardware. Performance is literally through the roof with all of the high end boards.

Dragon Age II is the sequel to BioWare’s Dragon Age series of role-playing video games. Unlike Dragon Age: Origins, the main character’s race cannot be changed; however, the character’s appearance, gender, class and first name are all fully customizable. Hawke, the main character, is a Lothering refugee who rises to power and becomes the Champion of the Free Marches. Dragon Age II is set in the same world as Dragon Age: Origins, but takes place in the Free Marches.

The HD6990 churns through this engine with ease, averaging well over 150 fps with both bios settings. The GTX580 by comparison scores around 103 fps, still a great result for the nVidia solution.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is played as an over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective action-adventure game. The player controls Batman as he makes his way around the island and structures of Arkham Asylum. In addition to running, jumping and crouching, Batman is also able to glide from heights using his cape, and use his grapple gun to ascend short heights or escape and hide from foes onto gargoyle statues. In order to track Joker and other enemies, the player can switch in and out of “detective mode,” which activates special visors in Batman’s Cowl. In this mode, most of the game world is rendered in darker colors, but objects of interest and people are highlighted, including limited x-ray ability to detect the location of people.

Special objects with which Batman can interact, either directly or using various gadgets gained over the course of the game, are also highlighted. In some sections of the game, the detective mode is augmented to detect compounds, fingerprints, and other clues, which are used to direct the player to the next location to explore.

The AMD HD6990 has absolutely no problem powering through Batman: Arkham Asylum, even across four screens with the eye candy cranked. The frame rates never dropped below thirty at any time.

BattleForge is a video game developed by EA Phenomic and published by Electronic Arts. It was released on Windows in March 2009. A demo was released in the same month. BattleForge is a card based RTS. It revolves around trading, buying and winning through means of micro-transactions. Micro-transactions are not required for playing the game, only for buying new cards.

It supports DirectX 11 providing full support for hardware tesselation.

Again, the HD6990 is able to push very impressive frame rates across 4 monitors, averaging around 50 fps. The frame rates yet again, never dropped below 30 at any time.

Crysis Warhead, like the original Crysis, is set in the near future when an ancient alien spacecraft is discovered on an island east of the Philippines. The single-player campaign has the player assume the role of former SAS Delta Force operator Sergeant Michael Sykes, referred to in-game by his call sign, Psycho. Psycho’s arsenal of futuristic weapons builds on those showcased in Crysis, with the introduction of Mini-SMGs which can be dual-wielded, a six-shot grenade launcher equipped with EMP grenades, and the destructive, short ranged Plasma Accumulator Cannon (PAX). The highly versatile Nanosuit returns. In Crysis Warhead, the player fights North Korean and extraterrestrial enemies, in many different locations, such as a tropical island jungle, inside an “Ice Sphere”, an underground mining complex, which is followed by a convoy train transporting an unknown alien object held by the North Koreans, and finally, to an airfield.

The engine is still a system killer, all these years later, but modern day hardware can finally generate the frame rates we wanted when it was released !

This is the first time we have seen playable frame rates across four 24 inch screens at 7680 resolution. Granted the settings aren’t maxed, but achieving an average of over 40 fps at this resolution gave us a smile. The enhanced clock bios setting does manage to help smooth out the frame rates a little, especially when the action heats up.

Devil May Cry 4 is an action game that was published and developed by Capcom in 2008 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows platforms. The game is the fourth installment to the Devil May Cry series.

In the game, the player controls both Nero and Dante, the game’s protagonist and the series’ title character as they fight enemies in close combat using firearms, swords, and other weapons. The characters Lady and Trish from previous games in the series makes an appearance, along with new characters Nero, Kyrie, Credo, Gloria, and Agnus. The game is set after Devil May Cry but before Devil May Cry 2.

We used Super high settings with HDR on high and 8aa and 16af to improve the image quality as much as possible.

Devil May Cry 4 doesn’t prove an issue for the HD6990 at 7680 resolution, averaging 70fps+. Great results, yet again.

Colin McRae: Dirt 2 (known as Dirt 2 outside Europe and stylised, DiRT) is a racing game released in September 2009, and is the sequel to Colin McRae: Dirt. This is the first game in the McRae series since McRae’s death in 2007. It was announced on 19 November 2008 and features Ken Block, Travis Pastrana, Tanner Foust, and Dave Mirra. The game includes many new race-events, including stadium events. Along with the player, an RV travels from one event to another, and serves as ‘headquarters’ for the player. It features a roster of contemporary off-road events, taking players to diverse and challenging real-world environments. The game takes place across four continents: Asia, Europe, Africa and North America. The game includes five different event types: Rally, Rallycross, ‘Trailblazer,’ ‘Land Rush’ and ‘Raid.’ The World Tour mode sees players competing in multi-car and solo races at new locations, and also includes a new multiplayer mode.

We are testing across three screens in Direct X 11 mode with 4aa and 16af enabled. All settings are switched to high.

Colin McRae Dirt 2 looks great with the HD6990 and is silky smooth even with 4AA enabled on the Direct X 11 engine.

Left 4 Dead 2 is a cooperative first-person shooter game. It is the sequel to Valve Corporation’s award-winning Left 4 Dead.

Like the original, Left 4 Dead 2 is set during the aftermath of an apocalyptic pandemic, and focuses on four survivors fighting against hordes of the infected. The survivors must fight their way through levels, interspersed with safe houses that act as checkpoints, with the goal of reaching a rescue vehicle at the campaign’s finale. The gameplay is procedurally altered by an artificial intelligence engine dubbed the “Director” that monitors the players’ performance and adjust the scenario to provide a dynamic challenge. Several new features have been introduced: new types of infected, melee weapons, and a story-arc that connects the game’s five campaigns together.

Valve’s source engine is no challenge for the AMD HD6990, averaging over 80 fps and dropping to between 40fps-50fps when the action gets intensive. Another staggering set of results for the AMD high end solution.

The latest Catalyst drivers support ‘Enhanced Quality Anti Aliasing’ (EQAA) which delivers improved anti aliasing performance by doubling the number of coverage samples per pixel, while keeping the same number of colour/depth/stencil samples.

This algorithm from AMD produces smoothing of aliased edges without requiring additional video memory.

You can select these modes by using the 2xEQ, 4xEQ or 8xEQ options that are now in the anti aliasing slider in AMD Catalyst Control Center. The good thing about EQAA is that it is compatible with all other supported anti aliasing techniques including Adaptive AA, Super Sample AA, Custom Filter AA (Edge Detect) and Morphological AA.

By selecting these modes in the driver they will cause applications which natively support MSAA modes to use the equivalent EQAA modes instead. You can always try the ‘override application settings’ option to force games to use EQAA modes if they are selected in Catalyst Control Center. This can often work, even if the game doesn’t natively support anti aliasing.

When we enable EQAA, the performance hit is minor, at only 3 frames per second.

Recently we have changed our method of measuring noise levels. We have built a system inside a Lian Li chassis with no case fans and have used a fanless cooler on our CPU. We are using a heatpipe based passive power supply and an Intel SSD to keep noise levels to a minimum. The motherboard is also passively cooled. This gives us a build with completely passive cooling and it means we can measure noise of just the graphics card inside the system when we run looped 3dMark tests. Ambient noise in the room is around 20-25dBa. We measure from a distance of around 1 meter from the chassis and 4 foot from the ground to mirror a real world situation.

Why do this? Well this means we can eliminate secondary noise pollution in the test room and concentrate on only the video card. It also brings us slightly closer to industry standards, such as DIN 45635.

We load the card with FurMark.

KitGuru noise guide

10dBA – Normal Breathing/Rustling Leaves
– Whisper
– High Quality Computer fan
– A Bubbling Brook, or a Refridgerator
– Normal Conversation
– Laughter
– Vacuum Cleaner or Hairdryer
– City Traffic or a Garbage Disposal
– Motorcycle or Lawnmower
– MP3 player at maximum output
– Orchestra
– Front row rock concert/Jet Engine
– Threshold of Pain
– Military Jet takeoff/Gunshot (close range)
– Instant Perforation of eardrum

Acoustics performance was measured in the 880MHz performance related position. At idle the card is quiet, but it quickly becomes audible when loaded, especially with Furmark. We will analyse cooling performance, fan speeds and temperatures on the next page.

The tests were performed in a controlled air conditioned room with temperatures maintained at a constant 25c – a comfortable environment for the majority of people reading this.

Idle temperatures were measured after sitting at the desktop for 30 minutes. Load measurements were acquired by playing Crysis Warhead for 30 minutes and measuring the peak temperature. We also have included Furmark results, recording maximum temperatures throughout a 30 minute stress test. All fan settings were left on automatic.

1.12 Voltage setting

Let’s break down the results above. Firstly at 830MHz core, the card voltage is set to 1.12. Under Furmark load, the card never exceeds 50%, maintaining temperatures of 74c when gaming.

This rises to 82c when using the earlier version of Furmark and 88c with the latest V1.9.0 (set to extreme burning mode). These are not realistic ‘real world’ load conditions but are included for interest.

The fan rotates at 28 percent when idle, which translates to a speed around 1,400 rpm. Under load, at 50 percent this rises to around 2,900 rpm. As documented on the previous page, this produces a noise emission around 40 dBA.

1.175 Voltage setting

When the card is set to the performance or ‘OC’ mode, the voltage increases to 1.175. When loaded in Furmark the card fan profile changes, causing a ‘shift’ in fan speed between 50 percent and 65 percent.

Above you can see the temperature graph which is dipping and rising as the fan speed fluctuates between 2,900 rpm and 3,700 rpm. This causes a rather annoying fan whine on a fairly regular basis as the profile is adjusting the fan speed to compensate for rising (and dropping) temperatures. While this can be unpleasant (causing noise emissions to peak over 48 dBA), it isn’t really indicative of a real world gaming scenario.

Below we have included a video showing the effectiveness of the AMD HD6990 cooler after being loaded in Furmark and returning to ‘idle’ temperatures. It takes several minutes for the card to achieve an ambient state.

To test power consumption today we are using a Keithley Integra unit and we measure power consumption from the VGA card inputs, not the system wide drain. The best way to get maximum load results is by using Furmark, and even though it is not indicative of a real world situation it shows the limits the card can theoretically demand. The ‘gaming’ results are measured when playing Crysis Warhead – which is a more valuable result to take from this.

The card certainly demands a lot of power under load, however it is interesting to see the idle power consumption figure is rated around 35 watts from our testing. The last HD5970 we tested consumed slightly more than this. Running two of these cards in Crossfire will certainly demand a very capable power supply.

To overclock today we are using AMD’s Catalyst Control Centre. The HD6990 is set to performance/’OC’ mode.

We didn’t expect to get this card much past 900MHz, but our final result of 950MHz, shows an 8 per cent core clock increase which is pretty reasonable. The card wouldn’t hardlock right up to 1000MHz, but we noticed some minor artifacting and opted for the safest figures without any issues onscreen. A final memory clock of 1425MHz (or 5.7GBps effective) is a very good result.

Let us see how it affected the performance in a few of our benchmarks.

This is the first time we have seen over 10,000 points in 3DMark 11 from a single card, in our manually overclocked state. A whopping 5 extra frames per second is recorded from the intensive Unigine Heaven Benchmark.

When you factor in that two XFX HD5970 Black Edition cards are only generating 8 fps extra, and cost £1,800 last year, this is a fantastic result for AMD’s new high end solution.

Writing a conclusion for this kind of product is much simpler than for graphics cards in the ‘value’ space. Cards like the GTX580, Radeon HD 5970 and Radeon HD 6990 are all about one thing. Pure pixel pushing performance.

The AMD Radeon HD 6990 is a powerhouse of a graphics card which redefines the high end market. It is noticeably faster than the class leading XFX HD5970 Black Edition Limited 4GB card, which was released last year at a staggering £900.

When we compare performance figures of the gaming tests against the nVidia GTX580 flagship solution, we can easily see the raw performance available from the new AMD HD6990.

Some of the games we tested today show increases from 20% (Lost Planet 2) to 88% (Alien V Predator). Whichever way you look at it, AMD has stormed past the GTX580, easily surpassed its last generation HD5970 and pushed the performance levels into a new zone.

3DMark Vantage shows that the HD6990 has a 38 percent performance advantage when compared against the GTX580, scoring around 35,000 points. Interestingly, 3DMark 11 highlights cutting edge Direct X 11 performance, with the HD6990 delivering almost 60 percent higher frame rates than Nvidia’s current flagship. While we didn’t concentrate on CrossFireX performance today, we have been working on another article in parallel, and later this week we will release the results.

The single most surprising result from KitGuru’s Lab has to be tessellation. Before the launch of the Radeon HD 6990, the top 4 spots on our tessellation chart were all occupied by nVidia’s GeForce technology. The Radeon HD 6990 changes all that. It’s not just in the nVidia-friendly Stone Giant test that we saw an improvement. Tessellation is famously used in Aliens vs Predator and, in this game, the Radeon HD 6990 can get as much as 88% faster than a standard GTX580.

Acoustically, any card that can eat up more the 400 watts in performance mode, is going to struggle to dissipate the heat produced under load. While we understand the difficulties of producing a capable, quiet cooler, AMD will always be hampered by using a small, single fan configuration on its high-end reference cards. As expected, this opens the market up to AMD partners such as Sapphire, PowerColor and XFX who will assuredly release updated versions of the card, with dual fan configurations, improved airflow and reduced noise levels. The reference card has been configured to keep temperatures well under 90c at all times, but it can also get loud – especially in high performance mode.

So, the big question is, how much will this cost? Our latest feedback from AMD before going to press indicates that the HD6990 is going to cost between £530 and £550 ($699 US), which clearly means it will only be an option for the wealthier enthusiast gamer.

In closing, frame rate junkies who love high resolution, multi-screen gaming are going to find AMD’s Radeon HD 6990 the perfect fix.


  • World’s fastest graphics card by some distance
  • DirectX 11 performance is fantastic
  • Staggering improvement in tessellation processing capability
  • Fan profile is more aggressive than previous dual GPU cards, keeping temperatures well in check
  • Dual BIOS profile is a nice touch
  • Idle power drain is very well optimised


  • Can get loud
  • Power drain under load is substantial
  • Expensive

KitGuru says: The AMD Radeon HD 6990 is the ultimate graphics card, but we wonder for how long? The high power demands translate into a need for cooling, which we hope AIBs will fine-tune over the coming months. The stage has been set for a battle royal when the GTX590 comes out to play in a few weeks’ time.

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