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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  • EmmetBrown - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    Nice, but what about the Radeon HD 6450, 6570 and 6670?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_ATI_Gra...

    Why they are available for OEM only? They looks interesting, especially the 6670, which with its 480 SP should be faster than the 5670 which has 400 SP and lower frequency. Do you plan to review them?
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    As you note, they're OEM only. AMD will release them to the retail market eventually, but clearly they're not in a hurry. It's unlikely we'll review them until then, as OEM cards are difficult to come by. Reply
  • misfit410 - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    I have to ask, if you bring up the price and say that you might as well do two 6950's in SLI when this thing doubles the performance of the GTX580, I mean would it also not be the better solution than a GTX580 which is $500 while two 6950's can apparently double it for $550 being they can be found for $225 after rebates these days. Reply
  • Figaro56 - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    You sound a little confused. You can't run ATI cards in SLI, they run in what is called crossfire (or crossfirex which is the same thing). Two 6950's don't equal GTX580 in SLI. You need two HD 6970 cards in crossfire to nearly equal two GTX580 in SLI.

    In my opinion, why limit your performance with 2 HD 6950 cards, why not just bye the 2 HD 6970 cards and never have to second guess if you should have or not? But... That's just me. I have a job.
    Reply
  • silverblue - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    Totally unnecessary closing comment there, considering most people here do actually have jobs. Not everyone who has a job can afford such gear as there's more important things to spend money on. Reply
  • Thanny - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    You sound confused, too. He miswrote SLI, but you misunderstood his point entirely. He's saying that two 6950's are significantly faster than a single 580 for almost the same price. Reply
  • Loiosh - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    Hey guys, you forgot one other usage case that would necessitate this card: ATI+physx setup: http://www.shackpics.com/viewer.x?file=DumbVideoca...

    I'm currently running one and it requires a dual-GPU card. :/

    In my case I'm waiting for a watercooled version. BTW, you didn't say the release date for this?
    Reply
  • nanajuuyon - Wednesday, March 09, 2011 - link

    Funny after reading this review I went into town (Tokyo) to buy a new hard disk and saw this card for sale. So in Japan at least it is already on the market..... price was ridiculous though, 79,000YEN or $945 US..... I'm sure it will be available everywhere soon.

    Waterblocks on the other hand could be a couple month or so away I guess...
    Reply
  • Vinas - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    If you buy this you better have it on water. 'nuff said about all this tri slot cooler talk. Reply
  • JPForums - Tuesday, March 08, 2011 - link

    First off, nice article Ryan.
    Good data, relevant commentaries on said data, and conclusions.

    You mention in the article that you believe some of the shortcomings of the 6990 to be a lack of PCIe bandwidth. This got me thinking that perhaps it is a good time to revisit the effect of PCIe bandwidth on modern cards. Given the P67 only natively supports 16 lanes, I'm curious to see what effect it has on CF/SLI. It could make big difference in the recommended hardware for various levels of gaming systems.

    Typically, someone looking for a CF/SLI setup will get a board that supports more lanes. However, I have seen a situation where a friend built a budget i5 system and about 4 months later was in a position to acquire an HD5970 on the cheap (relatively speaking). Clearly, two HD5850s/HD5870s would have been an option.

    If newer cards are effectively PCIe bandwidth limited, then a 6990 may perform more closely to an HD6970 CF setup in such a system than it does in these graphs. This would be even more of a consideration at the high end if the rare boards with support for 4x8 lane (spaced) PCIe give you no real benefit over a more common 2x16 lane board (comparing 4 HD6970s to 2 HD6990s).
    Reply

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