The AMD Radeon HD 6990, otherwise known as Antilles, is a card we have been expecting for some time now. In what’s become a normal AMD fashion, when they first introduced the Radeon HD 6800 series back in October, they also provided a rough timeline for the rest of the high-end members of the family. Barts would be followed by Cayman (6950/6970), which would be followed by the dual-GPU Antilles (6990).

AMD’s original launch schedule at the time was to have the whole stack out the door by the end of 2010 – Antilles would be the last product, likely to catch Christmas before it was too late. What ended up happening however is that Cayman didn’t make it out until the middle of December, which put those original plans on ice. So we ended up closing the year with the 6800 series and the single-GPU members of the 6900 series, but AMD did not launch a replacement for their flagship dual-GPU card, leaving AMD’s product stack in an odd place where their top card was a 5000 series card compared to the 6000 series occupying everything else.

So while we’ve had to wait longer than we anticipated for Antilles/6990, the wait has finally come to an end. Today AMD is launching their new flagship card, retiring the now venerable 5970 and replacing it with a new dual-GPU monster powered by AMD’s recently introduced VLIW4 design. Manufactured on the same 40nm process as the GPUs in the 5970, AMD has had to go to some interesting lengths to improve performance here. And as we’ll see, it’s going to be a doozy in more ways than one.

  AMD Radeon HD 6990 AMD Radeon HD 6970 AMD Radeon HD 6950 AMD Radeon HD 5970
Stream Processors 2x1536 1536 1408 2x1600
Texture Units 2x96 96 88 2x80
ROPs 2x32 32 32 2x32
Core Clock 830MHz 880MHz 800MHz 725MHz
Memory Clock 1.25GHz (5.0GHz data rate) GDDR5 1.375GHz (5.5GHz data rate) GDDR5 1.25GHz (5.0GHz data rate) GDDR5 1.GHz (4GHz data rate) GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 2x 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 2x256-bit
Frame Buffer 2x2GB 2GB 2GB 2x1GB
FP64 1/4 1/4 1/4 1/5
Transistor Count 2x 2.64B 2.64B 2.64B 2x2.15B
Manufacturing Process TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm
Price Point $699 $349 $259 N/A

For the Radeon HD 5970, AMD found themselves in an interesting position: with the 5000 series launching roughly 6 months ahead of NVIDIA’s 400 series of GPUs, they already had a lead in getting products out the door. But furthermore NVIDIA never completely responded to the 5970, foregoing dual-GPU entirely with the 400 series. The 5970 was undisputed king of video cards – no single card was more powerful. Thus given a lack of direct competition, how AMD can follow up on the 5970 is a matter of great interest.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s start with the basics. The Radeon HD 6990 is AMD’s new flagship card, based on a pair of Cayman (VLIW4) GPUs mounted on a single PCB. AMD has clocked the GPU at 830MHz and the GDDR5 memory at 1250MHz (5GHz data rate). The card comes with 4GB of RAM, which due to the internal CrossFire setup of the card reduces the effective RAM capacity to 2GB, the same as AMD’s existing 6900 cards.

Starting with the 5970, TDP limits and the laws of physics began limiting what AMD could do with a dual-GPU card; unlike the 4870X2, the 5970 wasn’t clocked quite high enough to match a pair of 5870s. The delta between the 5970 and the 5870 came down to the 5970 being 125MHz slower on the core and 200MHz (800Mhz data rate) slower for its RAM. In practice this reduced 5970 performance to near-5850CF levels. For the 6990 this gap still exists, but it’s much smaller this time. At 830MHz the 6990 is only 50MHz (5.5%) slower than the 6970, while the 5GHz memory takes a bigger hit as it’s 500MHz (9%) slower than the 6970. As a result at stock settings the 6990 is closer to being a dual-GPU 6970 than the 5970 was a dual-GPU 5870; there is one exception we will see however. Meanwhile the 6990’s GPUs are fully enabled, so all 1536 SPs and 32 ROPs per GPU are available, making the only difference between the 6990 and 6970 the clockspeeds.

Compared to the 5970, the official idle TDP is down some thanks to Cayman’s better power management, leading to an idle TDP of 37W. Meanwhile under load we find our first doozy: the card’s TDP at default clocks is 375W (this is not a typo), and like the 5970 AMD has built it to take even more. Whereas the 5970 stayed within PCI-Express specifications at default clocks, the 6990 makes no attempt to do so, and as such at 375W is the most power hungry card to date.

AMD will be launching the 6990 at $699. Officially this is $100 more expensive than the 5970 at its launch, however the 5970 was virtually never available at this price until very late in the card’s lifetime. $700 does end up being much closer to both the 5970’s historical price and its price relative to AMD’s top single-GPU part (5870), which was $700 and approximately twice the cost respectively. With a more stable supply of GPUs and stronger pressure from NVIDIA we’d expect prices to stick closer to their MSRP this time around, but at the top there’s not a lot of pressure to keep prices from rising. Meanwhile AMD has not provided any hard numbers for availability, but $700 cards are not high volume products. We’d expect availability to be a non-issue.

With the launch of the 6990 AMD’s high-end product stack is fully fleshed out. At the top will be the 6990, followed by the 6970, the 6950 2GB, and the 6950 1GB. The astute among you will notice that the average price of the 6970 is less than half that of the 6990, and as a result a 6970 CrossFire setup is cheaper than the 6990. At the lowest price we’ve seen for the 6970, we could pick up 2 of them for $640, which will put the 6990 in an interesting predicament of being a bit more expensive and a bit slower than the 6970 in CrossFire.

March 2011 Video Card MSRPs
NVIDIA Price AMD
  $700 Radeon HD 6990
$480  
$350  
  $320-$340 Radeon HD 6970
  $249-269 Radeon HD 6950 2GB
 
$230-$250 Radeon HD 6950 1GB
GeForce GTX 560 Ti
$249  
  $219 Radeon HD 6870
$160-170 Radeon HD 6850

 

Meet The 6990
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  • iamezza - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    This could make for an extremely valuable article for gamers on a budget. When does lack of PCIe bandwidth become an issue for running SLI/crossfire?

    Testing 580SLI at 2 x 8 and 2 x 16 modes would be a good place to start....
    Reply
  • therealnickdanger - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    It will be curious to see what impact the bandwidth will have... then again, even with the restriction, the current Sandy Bridge systems still dominate the previous chips.

    In reality, 16/16 or 8/8 really doesn't have much impact. The difference even at 2560x1600 with all the fixins in even the most demanding games is <1%. Unless AT's new test system will feature six displays and 4K+ resolutions, I'm not sure SNB-E is worth waiting so long for (yes, that could be perceived as a challenge!)

    In any case, I'm looking forward to it! Thanks for the article!
    Reply
  • shaggart5446 - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    i hope u said the same thing when ur friend nvidia release their 590 card i also do hope u say the exact words that the 590 dont make any sence since a pair of 560 or 570 can give u the same performance as the 590 i cant wait to see ur article on the 590 ill be waiting for anand tfor this because we all know that the 590 are going to be down clock Reply
  • ClownPuncher - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    With cards designed specifically with multi monitor gaming in mind, you may want to include those resolutions. Buying this card for 1920x1200 would make zero sense. Reply
  • 7Enigma - Wednesday, March 09, 2011 - link

    I think it was good to have both. The number of people buying this card will likely have 30" displays, but I'm sure some (competetive FPS for example) will want extremely fluid display even in busy scenes, as well as the person that doesn't yet have the cash to upgrade to a big screen but plans to in the near future.

    I would also argue that there are likely vastly more people playing on large single-screen displays than eyefinity folks so this does make more sense. And honestly when some of the games are averaging in the sub 80-100 fps range, those minimum framerates approach questionable playability depending on type of game.

    So basically as crazy as it is to say this, the graphical power isn't quite there yet to use Eyefinity at high detail settings in more recent and demanding games.
    Reply
  • Nentor - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    "With but a trio of exceptions, the 6990 doesn’t make sense compared to a pair of cards in Crossfire."

    This product is not meant to make any sense from a financial, performance or even practical standpoint.

    It IS the fastest videocard and that is that.

    I was watching a video last night on youtube of a chainsaw powered by a Buick's V8 engine (hG5sTLY0-V8). It goes through a tree trunk in a blink of an eye, but it had to be lifted by TWO men.

    Sure is cool though.
    Reply
  • Squuiid - Sunday, March 13, 2011 - link

    It makes complete sense if you want SLI in a small form factor, mATX and such. (as do I).
    PCIe slots are at a premium, and so is space on a mATX board/case.

    However, I think I'm going to wait and see what the 590 looks like...
    Reply
  • Fhistleb - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    I didn't even think that was possible. Though with what this is pushing out its a little expected I suppose. Reply
  • stangflyer - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    I would like to see the 6990 and 5970 comparison in crysis and metro at eyefinity and single monitor res but with the 5970 at default clocks and close to 5870 clocks. When I am playing these games I have my 5970 at 850 core and 1150 memory and it runs all day without any throttling.

    The 5970 is handicapped at the default speeds as everyone can run at or real close to 5870 speeds. The core is easy at 850 but you may need to back down memory to 1150 or 1175.

    Would love to see the true difference in the 5970 and 6990 this way.

    The framebuffer will be the big difference at eyefinity res. with any aa applied.
    Reply
  • stangflyer - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    One thing I do like about the dual gpu amd cards is that I play a few games that use physx.. (I have a 5970) I have a 250gts in the second pcie slot. both my slots are 2x16. This way I have a powerfull gpu and physx! I play my games at 5040x1050 and a single card just don't cut it. I did use nvidia surround for 2 months but like my eyefinity setup better. To go crossfire and then have physx you need a motherboard that doesn't knock your pcie slot down to 8x with 3 cards which are few and expensive and also a case that has space for that 3rd card like a coolermaster haf 932X. I have a haf 932 (not X) and I could not go 3 cards unless the 3rd card is single slot.

    On a side note as to why I am sticking with my 5970 till the 28nm show up is that I like the way the cooler is set up. With the fan on the end I have my 250gts below it with about a 3/8 inch below it. BUT the 250gts is only about 7.5-8 inches long and does not cover the fan at all because the fan is at the end. I have a 120mm fan at the bottom of my haf 932 case that blows straight up into the 5970 fan.

    If I used a 6990 the 250gts would cover the 6990 fan.

    My choices would be then to sell the 250gts and get a single slot card. (450gts probably)

    I think I am just going to stay with what I have for now.

    Maybe! LOL!
    Reply

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