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Written by Olin Coles   
Wednesday, 16 March 2011
Table of Contents: Page Index
Sapphire 100310SR Radeon HD 6990
Sapphire Radeon HD 6990 Appearance
Antilles Detailed Features
Antilles Features and Specifications
Video Card Testing Methodology
DX9 SSAO: Mafia II
DX10: 3DMark Vantage
DX10: Crysis Warhead
DX11: 3DMark11
DX11: Aliens vs Predator
DX11: Battlefield Bad Company 2
DX11: BattleForge
DX11: Lost Planet 2
DX11: Metro 2033
DX11: Unigine Heaven 2.1
Overclocking and Temperatures
VGA Power Consumption
Sapphire Radeon 6990 Conclusion

Sapphire Radeon 6990 Conclusion

IMPORTANT: Although the rating and final score mentioned in this conclusion are made to be as objective as possible, please be advised that every author perceives these factors differently at various points in time. While we each do our best to ensure that all aspects of the product are considered, there are often times unforeseen market conditions and manufacturer changes which occur after publication that could render our rating obsolete. Please do not base any purchase solely on our conclusion, as it represents our product rating specifically for the product tested which may differ from future versions. Benchmark Reviews begins our conclusion with a short summary for each of the areas that we rate.

AMD designed the Radeon HD 6990 to be the best graphics card available on the market, and based on our results they've succeeded. The closest competition is the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 in terms of single-card graphics, or two GeForce GTX 570's paired together into a SLI set. We've included a pair of Radeon HD 6870's joined in a CrossFireX set, just to illustrate other options. Obviously two Radeon HD 6970's could be combined into a CrossFireX set, but the performance would approximately match what we've received out of the Sapphire Radeon HD 6990. AMD HD3D technology was not tested for this review, or the impact it has on video game frame rates.

Beginning with graphics performance, the Sapphire Radeon HD 6990 video card confirmed AMD's promise to gamers that they would deliver the best possible solutions. At the 830 MHz default speed setting, the Radeon HD 6990 performed extremely well against any perceivable competition. Switching the dual-BIOS to the OC setting unlocked another 50 MHz from both Cayman GPUs, good for a 2-3 FPS boost to video frame rate performance. DirectX-9 games performed extremely well with all of the setting turned up high and played at 1920x1200 resolution. Mafia-II with SSAO enabled and PhysX turned off easily pushed past 80 FPS but couldn't match GeForce GTX 570 SLI performance. Call of Duty: Black Ops was tweaked to use the absolute highest settings possible, and yet still had extremely fluid performance during action-packed multiplayer maps.

In the more modern DirectX 10 game tests, Crysis Warhead kept an average 55 FPS and edged out the GTX 570 SLI set while matching up against two GTX 580's in SLI. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 used 8x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering to produce 124 FPS, but trailed the pair GTX 570's in SLI. Futuremark's 3DMark11 benchmark suite strained our high-end graphics cards with only mid-level DirectX-11 settings displayed at 720p, yet the HD6990 generally matched up well to the GTX 570 SLI pair in these test. DX11 Aliens vs Predator pushed the Radeon HD 6990 to produce 76 FPS on average while easily surpassing the GeForce GTX 570 SLI set. Lost Planet 2 played at 57 FPS with 2x AA, but performance fell behind the competition. Metro 2033 is a demanding game even when played with high-end graphics, but the Radeon HD 6990 delivered 54 FPS and edged past the GTX 570 SLI set. Unigine Heaven positioned the Radeon HD 6990 ahead of the GTX 570 SLI pair, and nearly matched up against the GTX 580 SLI set.

Sapphire-Radeon-HD-6990-Video-Card-Kit.jpg

There are six PLX display channel bridges present on the Radeon HD 6990 video card, which opens up visual functionality. Two channels are dedicated to the only dual-link DVI port available on this video card, while four mini-DisplayPort 1.2 outputs each use a channel. The real innovation comes with DP 1.2, which can use a Multi-Stream Transport Hub to drive multiple displays at different resolutions, refresh rates, and color depth in Eyefinity. Included with the Radeon HD 6990 is an extended-length CrossFireX bridge, one mini-DisplayPort to passive single-link DVI adapter, mini-DisplayPort to active single-link DVI adapter, and mini-DisplayPort to passive HDMI adapter. The included adapters will enable 3x1 gaming right out of the box with DVI monitors, but with additional display adapters or DisplayPort monitors, you will be able to drive up to five displays in portrait Eyefinity (5x1 Portrait mode). AMD's HD3D technology currently supports only one 3D display, with plans for multi-monitor 3D available in the future, so the Radeon HD 6990 could be the perfect fit for gamers looking to plan ahead for multi-display 3D setups.

Antilles uses 40nm Cayman GPUs, and with the added thermal management system they worked perfectly in a dual-GPU package. The constant move towards building with a smaller die process is rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things, as was proved when the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280 successfully launched at 65nm instead of the expected 55nm process. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is already building 32nm processors for other clientele, and AMD has noted that Moore's Law still applies - just not in regard to their Cayman GPU. They claim that as a die process becomes smaller, it also becomes much more costly to develop and produce. But then there are times when the manufacturer just can't complete the project as planned, such as the case with TSMC.

Appearance is a much more subjective matter, especially since this particular rating doesn't have any quantitative benchmark scores to fall back on. By now, most people have had a few years to grow familiar to AMD's 'black box' product appearance, so this style has nearly established itself as tradition. With the reference design, half of the heated exhaust air is recirculated back into the computer case while the other half is expelled out of the rear vents. Some add-in card partners may periodically offer their own unique twist on a reference design by incorporating an improved cooling solution with colorful fan shroud graphics, but I don't expect this to happen with the Radeon HD 6990. AMD's redesigned cooler is their most efficient, and these video cards are expected to sell in limited quantities for each partner.

Value is a fast moving target, and please believe me when I say that it changes by the minute in this industry. Delivering better performance and additional features at a lower cost to consumers has been the cornerstone of AMD's business philosophy for more than a decade, and they've repeatedly demonstrated this resolve in each of their many battles with Intel CPUs and NVIDIA GPUs. The premium-priced Sapphire Radeon HD 6990 graphics card hedges a bet on AMD's traditional values, and demonstrates their capability to innovate the graphics segment while leading their market. As of March 2011, the Sapphire 100310SR is the least expensive Radeon HD 6990 video card at Newegg, and is available for $709.99. In terms of cost value the Radeon HD 6990 costs roughly twice the rate of two Radeon HD 6970's or GeForce GTX 570's, which is fitting considering it usually performs twice as well to match. Newegg offers the following models online:

In summary, the Sapphire Radeon HD 6990 is the ultimate enthusiast graphics card. It dominates the landscape with unrivaled single-card performance, and matches very well against dual-card Radeon HD 6970 CrossFireX or GeForce GTX 570 SLI sets that consume more power and dissipate additional heat. If you're looking to match performance on the cheap, value-seeking gamers could purchase one Radeon HD 6970 now while saving to upgrade with a second unit later. You'll take up more room inside the computer case and a multi-card setup could require a new power supply unit, but it's possible so long as you're willing to make concessions. For elite-level gamers and hardware enthusiasts the Sapphire Radeon HD 6990 represents the best you can buy, and delivers on its price point.

While AMD HD3D and Fusion technology are working into the mainstream, products like the Radeon HD 6990 introduce more flexibility for display devices; especially where multi-monitor Eyefinity is used. Stereoscopic 3D gaming is possible with the right equipment, as are 3D Blu-ray and 3D DVD playback. The 40nm Cayman GPU may not have been built from the 32nm die it was originally designed for, but the Radeon HD 6990 still offers stellar gaming performance that rivals the older Radeon HD 5970 as well as two recently introduced Radeon HD 6970's. Overall I consider the Radeon HD 6990 to be an excellent video card intended for affluent top-end gamers, but I suspect that the frame rate performance will sell more Antilles cards than multi-display Eyefinity support or added stereoscopic 3D functionality. If you can afford the asking price, the Radeon HD 6990 delivers the best graphics performance money can buy.

So what do you think of the Sapphire 6990 video card? Leave comments below, or ask questions in our Forum.

Pros:

+ Unmatched top-end DX11 graphics performance
+ Dual-BIOS switch enables performance boost
+ Drives five-display portrait mode Eyefinity
+ Cayman GPUs enable stereoscopic 3D functionality
+ Fan exhausts most heated air outside of case
+ Multi-view CODEC enables 3D Blu-ray playback
+ Improves DisplayPort to 1.2 with display chaining
+ Supports dual-mode AMD CrossFireX functionality

Cons:

- Extremely expensive enthusiast product
- Heated exhaust is vented back into case
- Audible cooling fan at idle, noisy under load
- AMD HD3D products are hard to find


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Comments 

 
# RE: Sapphire 100310SR Radeon HD 6990Robert17 2011-03-16 19:30
Long ago I came to the realization that as I continued to build, re-build, and enjoy computers as a hobby, as well as for work, that one constant would be in play: continuous performance improvements. This is just another of those "wow" products. There've been many, but this kinda stands out in it's own way. 6990. Can't wait for the 18125's. Hope I'm around that long.
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# RE: RE: Sapphire 100310SR Radeon HD 6990Olin Coles 2011-03-16 20:28
At the rate we're seeing overlapping improvements we'll see something twice as fast in less than two years.
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# Here we go againCom-Tek Chris 2011-03-17 07:51
I just ordered mine on the Egg about 3 minutes ago. I'll make my own personal comments after giving it a whirl in my personal world. I might be eating my words from previous posted comments, lol, oh well, as life goes.

to be continued..............
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# 256bit?zac 2011-03-17 21:25
Is this 256bit? Or 256x2bit?
And if it is only 256-bit video frame buffer, why? Or how? previously all dual gpu setups had 2x the memory controller.
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# RE: 256bit?Olin Coles 2011-03-18 08:14
Like the I explain in the article, this product has two GPUs on one PCB. Each GPU offers a 256-bit memory bus to the video frame buffer. Having two GPUs won't make single 512-bit lane, but will double bandwidth to 2x 256-bit.
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# AMD 6990 reviewsJ.King 2011-06-27 22:03
Correct me if I'm wrong but as far as I can tell ALL the 6990's are made in exactly the same place. IE the card's are all identical except for the stickers on the front. So why the price difference? This was true for the 6950's and 6970's until recently when a bait and switch was pulled by various manufacturers XFX comes to mind. The card's were changed (BIOS switch was removed and other less obvious changes) but the model number's remained the same and they were still being sold as reference.
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# RE: AMD 6990 reviewsOlin Coles 2011-06-27 22:09
You are mostly correct. There are some differences depending on what the partner pays for (cooling/BIOS/overclock), but the engineering is generally all done by the manufacturer. There are a few who receive the engineering and make their own PCB, but it's rare. As for pricing, you'll have to take that up with the brands and retailers.
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