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Power, Temperature, and Noise: How Loud Can One Card Get?

Last but not least as always is our look at the power consumption, temperatures, and acoustics of the Radeon HD 6990 series. This is an area where AMD has traditionally had an advantage, as their small die strategy leads to less power hungry and cooler products compared to their direct NVIDIA counterparts. Dual-GPU cards like the 6990 tend to increase the benefits of lower power consumption, but heat and noise are always a wildcard.

AMD continues to use a single reference voltage for their cards, so the voltages we see here represent what we’ll see for all reference 6900 series cards. In this case voltage also plays a big part, as PowerTune’s TDP profile is calibrated around a specific voltage.

Radeon HD 6900 Series Voltage
6900 Series Idle 6970 Load 6990 Load
0.9v 1.175v 1.12v

The 6990 idles at the same 0.9v as the rest of the 6900 series. At load under default clocks it runs at 1.12v thanks to AMD’s chip binning, and is a big part of why the card uses as little power as it does for its performance. Overclocked to 880MHz however and we see the core voltage go to 1.175v, the same as the 6970. Power consumption and heat generation will shoot up accordingly, exacerbated by the fact that PowerTune is not in use here.

The 6990’s idle power is consistent with the rest of the 6900 series. At 171W it’s at parity with the 6970CF, while we see the advantage of the 6990’s lower idle TDP versus the 5970 in the form of a 9W advantage over the 5970.

With the 6990, load power under Crysis gives us our first indication that TDP alone can’t be used to predict total power consumption. 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. Compared to the 5970 the 6990 is also much higher than the TDP alone would indicate; the gap of 113W exceeds the 75W TDP difference. Clearly the 6990 truly is a more power hungry card than the 5970.

Meanwhile overclocking does send the power consumption further up, this time to 544W. This is better than the 6970CF at the cost of some performance. Do keep in mind though that at this point we’re dissipating 400W+ off of a single card, which will have repercussions.

Under FurMark PowerTune limits become the defining factor for the 6900 series. Even with PT triggering on all three 6900 cards, the numbers have the 375W 6990 drawing more than the 2x200W 6950CF, this time by 41W, with the 6970CF in turn drawing 51W more. All things considered the 6990’s power consumption is in line with its performance relative to the other 6900 series cards.

As for our 6990OC, overclocked and without PowerTune we see what the 6990 is really capable of in terms of power consumption and heat. 684W is well above the 6970CF (which has PT intact), and is approaching the 570/580 in SLI. We don’t have the ability to measure the power consumption of solely the video card, but based on our data we’re confident the 6990 is pulling at least 500W – and this is one card with one fan dissipating all of that heat. Front and rear case ventilation starts looking really good at this point.

Along with the 6900 series’ improved idle TDP, AMD’s dual-exhaust cooler makes its mark on idle temperatures versus the 5970. At 46C the 6990 is warmer than our average card but not excessively so, and in the meantime it’s 7C cooler than the 5970 which has to contend with GPU2 being cooled with already heated air. A pair of 6900 cards in CF though is still going to beat the dual-exhaust cooler.

When the 5970 came out it was warmer than the 5870CF; the 6990 reverses this trend. At stock clocks the 6990 is a small but measurable 2C cooler than the 6970CF, which as a reminder we run in a “bad” CF configuration by having the cards directly next to each other. There is a noise tradeoff to discuss, but as far as temperatures are concerned these are perfectly reasonable. Even the 6990OC is only 2C warmer.

At stock clocks FurMark does not significantly change the picture. If anything it slightly improves things as PowerTune helps to keep the 6990 in the middle of the pack. Overclock however and the story changes. Without PowerTune to keep power consumption in check that 681W power consumption catches up to us in the form of 94C core temperatures. It’s only a 5C difference, but it’s as hot as we’re willing to let the 6990 get. Further overclocking on our test bed is out of the question.

Finally there’s the matter of noise to contend with. At idle nothing is particularly surprising; the 6990 is an iota louder than the average card, presumably due to the dual-exhaust cooler.

And here’s where it all catches up to us. The Radeon HD 5970 was a loud card, the GTX 580 SLI was even louder, but nothing tops the 6990. The laws of physics are a cruel master, and at some point all the smart engineering in the world won’t completely compensate for the fact that you need a lot of airflow to dissipate 375W of heat. There’s no way around the fact that the 6990 is an extremely loud card; and while games aren’t as bad as FurMark here, it’s still noticeably louder than everything else on a relative basis. Ideally the 6990 requires good airflow and good noise isolation, but the former makes the latter difficult to achieve. Water cooled 6990s will be worth their weight in gold.

Compute Performance Final Thoughts
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  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    Yes, using the LateGameView benchmark. Like any other benchmark it's not a perfect representation of all scenarios, but generally speaking it's a reasonable recreation of a game many turns in with a large number of units. Reply
  • jabber - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    All cards at this level are niche. Very few of us have that much to splash on one component.

    I find it amusing that most of the folks here going "oh wow thats too noisy/power hungry/slow etc. so I wont be buying!", will just then load up Crysis on their 5770/GTX460 equipped PCs.

    Note to 95% of you reading this article...this card isnt/wasnt designed for you.
    Reply
  • araczynski - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    nice, but it sounds like the 6950CF owns the bang/$ award, this thing is too little for too much $/headache. Reply
  • araczynski - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    then again my 4850CF/E8500 system just played dragon age 2 demo at 1920x1200 with absolutely no problems, so have no reason to upgrade just yet, still. Reply
  • Gainward - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    I also just wanted to touch on that comment. Whilst these cards seem excessive to some you have to remember that @ this moment in time they are as I dub it the veyron moment like others in the past the concorde moment. They might not be for most people practical but to its like me saying to my team, look lets see what we can do. Not only that but having the crown of fastest single card (agreed single card but multi gpu) goes a long way to brand loyalty and advertising.
    An example I like to use is the GTX 560. Its a fantastic card and in many ways better… hang with me a second. In terms of actual raw power you get for sub £200 is incredible also factor in its quiet and wont eat through your electricity like a moth through primark. But…. to not produce these high end cards would be criminal. We need people to keep pushing as hard and fast (that sounds so wrong) at the the boundaries(agreed quite crudely in the 6990 case but hey I dont sit in either camp just wait a few days for the 590 for brute but crude).
    with the reduction in nm to 28 the power consumption and heat will be brought down further (dont need pointing out here that a lot of factors at play here it was just a generalisation) but sure we could see just as big and hot cards within practical reason.
    I would not say out of hand I would say its progress and with progress we can lear
    Reply
  • Figaro56 - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    Roger that. Reply
  • JimmiG - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    "Water cooled 6990s will be worth their weight in gold."

    They'll probably cost about that too...
    Reply
  • smigs22 - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    The r6990 stands out as a massive single card leader. The 6950CF offers far better price/perfomance with potential for 6970CF performance through BIOS flashing.

    Maybe you should break up some of the charts to show only single cards configurations (for those with motherboards lacking full/partial SLI/CF support).

    It will be interesting to see how enabled & what clocks the gf590 will arrive at, in order to keep its power-draw & temps down to reasonable levels??

    I wonder if someone would place a carbon tax on these bad boys....lol
    Reply
  • Figaro56 - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    The would have done this, but there is a cryo cooled case interior on the market yet. Reply
  • IceDread - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    If the card would have come with water cooling option or something like that, then it would have been a great product. Reply

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