AMD's Radeon HD 6990: The New Single Card Kingby Ryan Smith on March 8, 2011 12:01 AM EST
Moving on from our look at gaming performance, we have our customary look at compute performance. With AMD’s architectural changes from the 5000 series to the 6000 series, focusing particularly on compute performance, this can help define the 6990 compared to the 5970. However at the same time, neither benchmark here benefits from the dual-GPU design of the 6990 very much.
Our first compute benchmark comes from Civilization V, which uses DirectCompute to decompress textures on the fly. Civ V includes a sub-benchmark that exclusively tests the speed of their texture decompression algorithm by repeatedly decompressing the textures required for one of the game’s leader scenes.
New as of Catalyst 11.4, AMD’s performance in our Civilization V DirectCompute benchmark now scales with CrossFire at least marginally. This leads to the 6990 leaping ahead of the 6970, however the Cayman architecture/compiler still looks to be sub-optimal for this test. The 5970 has a 10% lead even with its core clock disadvantage. This also lets NVIDIA and their Fermi architecture establish a solid lead over the 6990, even without the benefit of SLI scaling.
Our second GPU compute benchmark is SmallLuxGPU, the GPU ray tracing branch of the open source LuxRender renderer. While it’s still in beta, SmallLuxGPU recently hit a milestone by implementing a complete ray tracing engine in OpenCL, allowing them to fully offload the process to the GPU. It’s this ray tracing engine we’re testing.
There’s no CrossFire scaling to speak of in SmallLuxGPU, so this test is all about the performance of GPU1, and its shader/compute performance at that. At default clocks this leads to the 6990 slightly trailing the 6970, while overclocked this leads to perfect parity with it. Unfortunately for AMD this is a test where NVIDIA’s focus on compute performance has really paid off; coupled with the lack of CF scaling and even a $240 GTX 560 Ti can edge out the $700 6990.
Ultimately the take-away from this is that for most desktop GPU computing workloads, the benefit of multiple GPU cores is still unrealized. As a result the 6990 shines as a gaming card, but is out of its element as a GPU computing card unless you have an embarrassingly parallel task to feed it.