AMD Repeats Fastest Single Card Crown, But at a Price
March 8, 2011 9:15 AM
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The Radeon HD 6990 (top, both pictures) atop the Radeon HD 5970 (bottom, both pictures), AMD's previous dual-GPU, single-card solution.
The Radeon 6990 is absolutely the king of single-card performance, but its price makes it essentially unsellable.
AMD's new card sounds like a jumbo jet and will break the bank, but it is fast
dual-GPU chip Radeon HD 5970
, the Radeon HD 6990 [
] may be a victory lap of sorts for AMD. Unlike the Radeon 5000 series, this generation the chipmaker faced tougher competition, with rival NVIDIA actually delivering in a (relatively) timely fashion an impressive set of GPUs -- the
Geforce 500 Series
indicate that AMD has maintained its lead over NVIDIA, despite this recovery.
What better way to celebrate than to make a decadent and superfluous, but utterly powerful single card offering?
I. More Beast Than Beauty
While the Radeon HD 6990 is a one-PCB card, it essentially acts like two. It has two distinct vapor chambers, each with their own distinct heat-sink. The GPU chips are linked by an internal CrossFire connection. They share 4 GB of GDDR5 RAM, with each GPU essentially getting 2 GB -- the same as single card offerings from AMD.
Performance-wise the card acts much like two cards as well.
, the card sucked down over 490 watts of power during intense gaming benchmarks. The good news is that it's power dissipation was pretty incredible, allowing the card to stay at a cool 88 degrees Celsius -- one of the best things about the card.
The card can be aggressively overclocked on air up to 830 MHz, at least, but it require power aplenty (almost 550 watts of power, to be precise).
Something not so impressive was the roaring fan speeds required to keep the card running so cool. NVIDIA -- long the butt of many a joke for its
Geforce 400 Series' fan noise
-- can breathe a sigh of relief. If a Geforce 400 was a noisy lawn mower, the Radeon HD 6990 might as well be a jumbo jet. It generates 70.2 decibels under load -- almost 4 db more than a pair of SLIed Geforce GTX580s. When overclocked the card reached 77 (!) decibels. At those levels, you might want to invest in a nice pair of gamer ear-plugs.
So how's the performance? Well the good news is that this card easily beats any single card on the market right now by NVIDIA or AMD. Sure that's because it's essentially
cards, but if the competition criteria is "single slot card", the Radeon HD 6990 is king.
Against two cards it falls flat, though. It's consistently approximately 8 percent behind a pair of CrossFired AMD Radeon HD 6970 cards. And in some titles like
, it even falls behind a pair of Geforce GTX 580s in SLI.
II. "Huh, yeah, what is it good for?" -- Edwin Starr
When it comes to what kind of utility this exercise in extreme single-slot power may have, the answer isn't quite "absolutely nothing", but it's pretty close.
Priced at $700 USD the card is outperformed by a pair of HD 6970s -- approximately $640 USD -- and roughly equaled by a pair of HD 6950s -- approximately $520 USD.
So why in the world would you buy a noisier, less powerful card that's over $60 more expensive? Well, there's a couple reasons why you might -- but they're uncommon.
One is if you
to have 5 monitors. Currently only the 5870 Eyefinity 6 and this card support driving 5 monitors from a single or dual card solution. So if you
to have 5 monitors
you're willing to pay for top power, this is the card for you.
Secondly, if you only have two full PCI-E x16 slots in a board with the slots spaced at least 3 slots apart, and the board is CrossFire-ready, this is your ultimate solution, if heat, noise, and power consumption be damned. Of course, that's because you're really squeezing 4 GPUs into two slots, but that's a minor technicality.
The final candidate would be a very small subset of single-card boards. Generally if you have a single slot, your board/case is too small to sufficiently cool the HD 6990. But it is
, there are a couple of small systems out there that could muster sufficient cooling for this. Arguably even if such a configuration doesn't exist already, someone could take a micro-ATX case, put a single HD 6990 in it, and pair it with a couple of ridiculous huge fans that cover the walls (maybe 200 mm?).
That would yield a compact, powerful, yet ridiculous expensive system, but the upside would be that it would offer the HD 6990 in a package that might appeal to select few.
Unless AMD somehow cooks up octa-GPU CrossFire drivers, this is card, while a marvel of engineering, is a novelty/niche product, sure to sell few, if any, units.
Much like the protagonists of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Beautiful and Damned" the card cuts an attractive figure, but hides ugliness (power, noise, performance) underneath. The upside is that is that it's destined for fame, or perhaps infamy, the downside is that its sales are doomed by its decadence.
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3/9/2011 10:13:45 AM
I didn't know you were on the design team at AMD?
There are components designed to operate at well over 100c for many years, similarly there are components designed to operate at well below 0c for many years. The IC itself will have no problem with extremely high temperatures (above 100c easy peasy) - it's the packaging that matters. Suffice it to say, they won't be using the solder you normally buy off the shelf for your LEDs.
I remember when CPUs weren't meant to operate above 40c, any higher and they would 'burn out'. I take it your arbitary 70c comes from the max design temps of cards like the GeForce 2. Very few GPUs have been designed around a max of 70c for a long, long time. Just look at a laptop to see how components are designed to run at 100c for extended periods of time.
3/10/2011 10:12:56 AM
Wow, all of you people are just amazing.
For the record, no, I'm not a semiconductor engineer. However - I will bet you any amount of money that any qualified engineer you find will confirm the following:
More heat = less life.
Heat is the nemesis of, well, lots of stuff...but in this case, especially electronics, and especially semiconductors. Whether you're talking about a CPU, a GPU, a network controller, a north bridge, a south bridge, whatever...it is a perfectly valid point that operating that device under higher temps will generally increase it's rate of degradation. Running the device under lower temps will, naturally, comparatively decrease it's rate of degradation.
It's basic physics - ergo, unavoidable.
If you want to declare that you're fine with something burning out in a couple years because that's what it was "designed" to do...I guess that's your problem. Personally, I'd rather see a better cooling solution that keeps the device running for several years...if not indefinitely.
3/11/2011 6:01:16 AM
Guess again. The graphics card in my Gateway gaming laptop starts freezing when it gets above 70C, and it's only 3 years old.
9800GTS to be specific in my machine. You are right about these things are DESIGNED to run at 100C, but this is not a common thing, it's new.
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