The last couple of weeks after the recent GeForce GTX 550 Ti launch have been more eventful than I had initially been expecting. As you may recall the GTX 550 Ti launched at $150, a price tag too high for its sub-6850 performance. I’m not sure in what order things happened – whether it was a price change or a competitive card that came first – but GTX 550 Ti prices have finally come down for some of the cards. The average price of the cheaper cards is now around $130, a more fitting price given the card’s performance.

The timing for this leads into today’s launch. AMD is launching a new card, the Radeon HD 6790, at that same $150 price point. Based on the same Barts GPU that powers the Radeon HD 6800 series, this is AMD’s customary 3rd tier product that we’ve come to expect after the 4830 and 5830. As we’ll see NVIDIA had good reason to drop the price on the GTX 550 if they didn’t already, but at the same time AMD must still deal with the rest of the competition: NVIDIA’s GTX 460 lineup, and of course AMD itself. So just how well does the 6790 stack up in the crowded $150 price segment? Let’s find out.

  AMD Radeon HD 6870 AMD Radeon HD 6850 AMD Radeon HD 5830 AMD Radeon HD 6790 AMD Radeon HD 5770
Stream Processors 1120 960 1120 800 800
Texture Units 56 48 56 40 40
ROPs 32 32 16 16 16
Core Clock 900MHz 775MHz 800MHz 840MHz 850MHz
Memory Clock 1.05GHz (4.2GHz data rate) GDDR5 1GHz (4GHz data rate) GDDR5 1GHz (4GHz data rate) GDDR5 1050MHz (4.2GHz data rate) GDDR5 1.2GHz (4.8GHz data rate) GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 128-bit
FP64 N/A N/A 1/5 N/A N/A
Transistor Count 1.7B 1.7B 2.15B 1.7B 956M
Manufacturing Process TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm
Price Point ~$200 ~$160 N/A $149 ~$110

3rd tier products didn’t get a great reputation last year. AMD and NVIDIA both launched such products based on their high-end GPUs – Cypress and GF100 respectively – and the resulting Radeon HD 5830 and GeForce GTX 465 were eventually eclipsed by the GeForce GTX 460 that was cooler, quieter, and better performing at the same if not lower price. The problem with 3rd tier products is that they’re difficult to balance; 1st tier products are fully enabled parts that are the performance kings, and 2nd tier products are the budget minded parts that trade some performance for lower power consumption and all that follows.

While 2nd tier products are largely composed of salvaged GPUs that couldn’t make it as a 1st tier product, the lower power requirements and prices make the resulting video card a solid product. But where do 3rd tier products come from? It’s everything that couldn’t pass muster as a 2nd tier product – more damaged units functional units that won’t operate at lower voltages like a 2nd tier product. The GTX 465 and Radeon HD 5830 embodied this with power consumption of a 1st tier card and the performance of a last generation card, which made them difficult to recommend. This does not mean that a 3rd tier card can’t be good – the Radeon HD 4830 and GTX 260 C216 were fairly well received – but it’s a difficult hurdle to overcome.

Launching today is the Radeon HD 6790, the 3rd tier Barts part and like the rest of the Barts-based lineup, the direct descendent of its 5800 series counterpart, in this case the Radeon HD 5830. As is to be expected, the 6790 is further cut-down from the 6850, losing 2 SIMD units and half of its ROPs; mitigating this some are higher clockspeeds for both the core and the memory. With 800 SPs and 16 ROPs operating at 840MHz, on paper the 6790 looks a lot like a Radeon HD 5770 with a 256bit bus, albeit one that’s clocked slower given the 6790’s 1050MHz (4.2GHz data rate) memory clock.

From the 5830 we learned that losing the ROPs hurts far more than the SPs, and we’re expecting much of the same here; total pixel pushing power is halved, and MSAA performance also takes a dive in this situation. Overall the 6790 has 90% of the shading/texturing, 54% of the ROP capacity, half the L2 cache, and 105% of the memory bandwidth of the 6850. Or to compare it to the 5770, it has 98% of the shading/texturing capacity, 98% of the ROP capacity, and 175% of the memory bandwidth, not accounting for the architectural differences between Barts and Juniper.

Further extending the 5830 comparison, as with the 5830 AMD is leaving the design of the card in the hands of their partners. The card being sampled to the press is based on the 6870’s cooler and PCB, as the 6790’s 150W TDP is almost identical to the 151W TDP of the 6870, however like the 5830 no one will be shipping a card using this design. Instead all of AMD’s partners will be using their own in-house designs, so we’ll be seeing a variety of coolers and PCBs in use. Accordingly while we can still take a look at the performance of the card, our power, temperature, and noise data will not match any retail card – power consumption should be very close however.

At 150W AMD is skirting the requirement for 2 PCIe power sockets. Being based on a 6870 our sample uses 2 sockets and any other design using a 6870 PCB verbatim should be similar, but some cards will ship with only a single socket. This doesn’t impact the power requirements of the card – it’s roughly 150W either way – but it makes the card more compatible with lower-wattage PSUs that only come with 1 PCIe power plug.

As we mentioned previously, AMD is launching the 6790 at $150. With the GTX 550’s price drop its direct competitor is no longer the GTX 550, but rather the closest competitor is now cheap GTX 460 768MB cards, which on average are about the same $150. AMD’s internal competition is the 6850, which averages closer to $160. Technically the Radeon HD 5770 is also competition, but with it going for around $110 after rebate, it’s far more value priced than the 6790 is.

Meanwhile the 6790 name also marks the first time we’ve seen the 6700 series in the retail market. In the OEM market AMD has rebadged the 5700 series as the 6700 series, however that change won’t ever be coming to the retail market, making this the only 6700 series card we’ll see. It’s a bit odd to see one series shared by two GPUs so significantly different, but AMD bases this on the fact that the 5770/6770 and the 6790 are so close in terms of specs; they want to frame the 6790 in terms of the 5770/6770, rather than in terms of the 6800 series. If nothing else it’s a nice correction for the poor naming of the 6800 series; a 6830 would have been the 5830 but slower.

April 2011 Video Card MSRPs
  $700 Radeon HD 6990
$320 Radeon HD 6970
$240 Radeon HD 6950 1GB
  $200 Radeon HD 6870
$160 Radeon HD 6850
$150 Radeon HD 6790
$110 Radeon HD 5770


The Test


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  • Belard - Tuesday, April 05, 2011 - link

    Actually - AMD's 3000~5000 have been rather consistent. The 6000s is kind of like the 2000s. They should have stuck with the 3-5 series, everything would have made more sense.

    So that the 6850 should have been the 6750 since its not really better than an actual 5850. They said they did this to not cause confusion with the 5700 series which was not to be replaced - but INSTEAD ended up being relabeled into the 6600~6700s for the OEM market. The new "AMD" GPU first step with their branded was stupid and confusing. Not impressed.

    Nvidia? Those nut-jobs are master at confusion.
    GTX / GT / GTS are meaningless, especially in front of a model number. Seriously, to say "GeForce GTX 550 Ti" is plain stupid. "GeForce 550" is all that is needed or "Geforce 5 GTX, Geforce 5 GT etc".

    Are there GF GTX 560 and a GF GT 560 and a GF GTS 560? Uh, no.

    What happen to the Geforce 300 series? Oh yeah - OEM relabeled bottom end GF200 series. They skipped into the 400 series. Then there is the GF465 and GF 465 768MB... which is more than JUST a memory difference. They should have called it the 465 (with 1GB) and 460 (with 768) since there is ALWAYS a performance hit with the 768mb version of the card.
    Then Nvidia brings back the "TI" tag to remind us OLD TIMERS of the days of excellent GF4000 series... which is idiotic as hell.

    What?! Is there a GF 550 and a GF 550TI? Screw that, I want the NON TI version because its faster. Oh yeah, its just a few letters suck on the end that are meaningless.

    The GF 500 series is the exact same tech as the GF400 series, but fully functional. ie: fixed. But calling them the 500 series makes them look better / newer.

    I expect Nvidia to have the "GeForce GTX 785 TI Ultra" on the market around March 2012.
  • kedesh - Tuesday, April 05, 2011 - link

    my question is, can i crossfire this card up with my current one (5750)? consitering i have the correct motherboard? no where on the internet can i find an answer. Reply
  • WhatsTheDifference - Tuesday, April 05, 2011 - link

    is the 4890 excluded from ALL benchies? the problem is...? ban the 285 from just one article and we'll witness just exactly what?

  • Lex Luger - Thursday, April 07, 2011 - link

    There hasnt been much improvement with video cards since the 90 nm 8800 GTX and GTS.

    Those were probalby the greatest cards ever in terms of performance boost vs the previous generation.
  • slickr - Thursday, April 07, 2011 - link

    What is the point testing a mediocre graphic card at 1600 and higher resolutions?

    Most people are going to be playing at lower resolutions with that graphic card and their PC's are certainly not Core I 950 with 12GB ram, so they would be playing at resolutions of 1200x1024 or 1400x1050.

    I mean we need more realistic representation of these cards and not some scenario that would never happen.
  • shady28 - Friday, April 08, 2011 - link

    Seems GPUs are dead on the PC until and unless something that can actually use them comes along.

    I agree with a previous poster - the 8800GT / GTS series was 'good enough'. There are only a handfull of games that really need anything more, so now all these cards are relegated to a niche market.

    Now tablet GPUs, that's a different story, but people are still mostly developing for the lowest common denominator there too.
  • IloveCharleneChoi - Friday, April 08, 2011 - link

    I don‘t care more about HD6790 and 550TI,The cards new released are usually expensive . hd6850 here is less than $150 in Nanjing,China.HD6850 can do better than GTX460 in many games,and of course it can beat 6790 or 550TI.SO WHY CHOOSE 6790? Reply
  • iamezza - Sunday, April 10, 2011 - link

    Thanks Ryan for another great article :)

    I can't believe all the fruit loops posting in the comments here!
  • thenemesis2 - Monday, October 03, 2011 - link

    I this the best card for mild gaming on a Shuttle SandyBridge box with only one 6 pci-e connector and 300w psu? Reply

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