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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  • Spazweasel - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    I've always viewed single-card dual-GPU cards as more of a packaging stunt than a product.

    They invariably are clocked a little lower than the single-GPU cards they re based upon, and short of a liquid cooling system are extremely noisy (unavoidable when you have twice as much heat that has to be dissipated by the same sized cooler as the single-GPU card). They also tend to not be a bargain price-wise; compare a dual-GPU card versus two of the single-GPU cards with the same GPU.

    Personally, I would much rather have discrete GPUs and be able to cool them without the noise. I'll spend a little more for a full-sized case and a motherboard with the necessary layout (two slots between PCI-16x slots) rather than deal with the compromises of the extra-dense packaging. If someone else needs quad SLI or quad Crossfire, well, fine... to each their own. But if dual GPUs is the goal, I truly don't see any advantage of a dual-GPU card over dual single-GPU cards, and plenty of disadvantages.

    Like I said... more of a stunt than a product. Cool that it exists, but less useful than advertised except for extremely narrow niches.
    Reply
  • mino - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    Even -2- years since the release of the original Crysis, “but can it run Crysis?” is still an important question, and for -3.5- years the answer was “no.”

    Umm, you sure bout both those time values?
    :)

    Nice review, BTW.
    Reply
  • MrSpadge - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    "With a 375W TDP the 6990 should consume less power than 2x200W 6950CF, but in practice the 6950CF setup consumes 21W less. Part of this comes down to the greater CPU load the 6990 can create by allowing for higher framerates, but this doesn’t completely explain the disparity."

    If it hasn't been mentioned before: guys, this is simple. The TDP for the HD6950 is just for the PowerTune limit. The "power draw under gaming" is specified at ~150 W, which is just what you'll find during gaming gaming tests.

    Furthermore Cayman is run at lower voltage (1.10 V) and clocks and with less units on HD6950, so it's only natural for 2 of these to consume less power than a HD6990. Summing it up one would expect 1.10^2/1.12^2 * 800/830 * 22/24 = 85,2% the power consumption of a Cayman on HD6990.

    MrS
    Reply
  • mino - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    You shall not hit them so hard next time. :)

    Numbers tend to hurt one's ego badly if properly thrown.
    Reply
  • geok1ng - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    The article points that the 6990 runs much closer to 6950CF than 6970CF.

    I assume that the author is talking about 2GB 6950, that can be shader unlocked, in a process much safer than flashing the card with a 6970 BIOS.

    It would be interesting to see CF numbers for unlocked 6950s.

    As it stands the 6990 is not a great product: it requires an expensive PSU, a big case full of fans, at price ponit higher than similar CF setups.

    Considering that there are ZERO enthuasiast mobos thah wont accept CF, the 6990 becomes a very hard sell.

    Even more troubling is the lack of a DL-DVI adapter in the bundle, scaring way 30" owners, precisely the group of buyers most interested in this video card.

    Why should a 30" step away from a 580m or SLI 580s, if the 6990 the same expensive PSU, the same BIG case full of fans and a DL-DVI adapter costs more than teh price gap to a SLI mobo?
    Reply
  • Thanny - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    This card looks very much like the XFX 4GB 5970 card. The GPU position and cooling setup is identical.

    I'd be very interested to see a performance comparison with that card, which operates at 5870 clock speeds and has the same amount of graphics memory (which is not "frame buffer", for those who keep misusing that term).
    Reply
  • JumpingJack - Wednesday, March 09, 2011 - link

    I (which is not "frame buffer", for those who keep misusing that term).


    :) Yep, I wished they would actually make it right.

    The frame buffer is the amount of memory to store the pixel and color depth info for a renderable frame of data, whereas graphics memory (or VRAM) is the total memory available for the card which consequently holds the frame buffer, command buffer, textures, etc etc. The frame buffer is just a small portion of the VRAM set aside and is the output target for the GPU. The frame buffer size is the same for every modern video card on the planet at fixed (same) resolution. I.e. a 1900x1200 res with 32 bit color depth has a frame buffer of ~9.2 MB (1900x1200x32 / 8), if double or tripled buffered, multiply by 2 or 3.

    Most every techno site misapplies the term "frame buffer", Anandtech, PCPer (big abuser), Techreport ... most everyone.
    Reply
  • Hrel - Wednesday, March 09, 2011 - link

    Anyone wanting to play at resolutions above 1080p should just buy two GTX560's for 500 bucks. Why waste the extra 200? There's no such thing as future proofing at these levels. Reply
  • wellortech - Wednesday, March 09, 2011 - link

    If the 560s are as noisy as the 570, I think I would rather try a pair of 6950s. Reply
  • HangFire - Wednesday, March 09, 2011 - link

    And you can't even bring yourself to mention Linux (non) support?

    You do realize there are high end Linux workstation users, with CAD, custom software, and OpenCL development projects that need this information?
    Reply

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