PowerColor AX6990 4GBD5-M4D Video Card E-mail
Reviews - Featured Reviews: Video Cards
Written by Bruce Normann   
Sunday, 20 March 2011
Table of Contents: Page Index
PowerColor AX6990 4GBD5-M4D Video Card
Closer Look: PowerColor Radeon HD 6990
PowerColor Radeon HD 6990 Detailed Features
Features and Specifications
Video Card Testing Methodology
DX10: 3DMark Vantage
DX10: Just Cause 2
DX9 SSAO: Mafia II
DX11: Aliens vs. Predator
DX11: Battlefield: Bad Company 2
DX11: DiRT-2 Demo
DX11: H.A.W.X. 2
DX11: Lost Planet 2
DX11: METRO 2033
DX11: Unigine Heaven 2.1
PowerColor HD 6990 Temperatures
Overclocking
AMD Radeon HD 6990 Final Thoughts
PowerColor Radeon HD 6990 Conclusion

PowerColor Radeon HD 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.

From a performance standpoint, it's hard to argue with the fact that this is the fastest PC Graphics card on the planet. At some level, it doesn't matter that they used two GPUs, or three or seven, or however many it takes. From a user's perspective, I take a card out of the box, plug it in, and sit back and enjoy the smooth display. From a technical perspective I get to worry about CrossFireX driver support, voltage droop from pulling the maximum rated power from two 8-pin PCI-E connectors, where the "extra" heat from the second GPU is going (inside the case), and whether or not I should bite the bullet and flip the BIOS into overclocking mode. That's when the real worrying kicks in, because I just invalidated the warranty.

The real performance story for this card is how well the engineers and designers were able to push this card to the very edge of the single-card power envelope and keep it stable. It's easy enough to buy two HD 6970 cards and drop them in an X58 motherboard with two x16 PCI-E slots. I've got twice the physical volume available for heatsinks and fans and I've got four PCI Express power connectors I can draw power from. Now I've got 750 watts to play with, and better cooling to boot... But what if I don't have a motherboard that supports two 16 x PCI-E slots? This card is the answer, and I'm specifically thinking of all the LGA 1156 systems out there that have plenty of CPU power for gaming but only one 16x slot for a video card.

The appearance of the PowerColor HD 6990 4GB GDDR5 video card is attractive in a stark, utilitarian sort of way. Let's face it; it's a big black brick with a red turbine poking out of the middle. The thing is, when you're looking for performance, that's just the sort of thing that looks attractive, or at least very capable. PowerColor have accented the face with some warrior androids and their logo on a couple of stickers, but they don't dominate the visual package. When installed in a typical ATX-style PC case, the fans point down towards the ground and all you really see are the red stripes inset into the top surface, followed by a couple of 8-pin power connectors sticking out the top. It's the classic AMD reference look, and it's just as subtle and refined as the day they first introduced it with the HD 6870.

The build quality of the PowerColor Radeon HD 6990 card was well above average, which is critical for this segment of the video card gaming market. The overall impression of the card is very solid; it feels like a dense block. The lack of any openings on most of the shroud imparts a definite rigidity to the assembly. The packaging was good quality and reasonably informative, and the box itself is smaller than some in this price segment, which is fine by me. I really like the latest PowerColor packaging, because there's less waste and it takes up less space. (Spoken like the true hardware hoarder that I am...) All of the subsystems used high quality parts, and the power supply is a respectable 4+2 design for each twosome of GPU/DRAM. The cooling system is compact and straightforward, thanks to the use of the large vapor chambers. They make a welcome change to the tangle of heatpipes that I'm used to seeing.

Measuring the functionality of this card is about two things: how well do the two GPUs function together on one PCB with a dedicated PCI-E bridge between them, and how well does the card functions as a whole, given the constraints of electrical power that could potentially hold it back. The PowerColor HD 6990 does well on both counts. I never had any problems with the two GPUs working in tandem, maybe the new catalyst 10.4 preview driver helped there, but you can't always count on new drivers to make things run smartly; sometimes the exact opposite happens. As for the function of the whole, I think AMD has done a brilliant job sailing right up to the edge of thermal and electrical disaster and holding it together. Even with the overclocking BIOS engaged, it ran perfectly without a hiccup. I didn't have a lot of luck pushing it very far past the 880 MHz level, but I didn't have a lot of time either, and overclocking is a sport that rewards patience over haste.

I would be remiss if I didn't highlight the multi-monitor Eyefinity capabilities that this design brings to the gaming table. With four mini DisplayPort 1.2 connectors on the card, and three miniDP adapters included free in the box, the HD 6990 supports four monitors easily without having to utilize display chaining. The latest version of Catalyst also supports a new display configuration of five displays, side-by-side in portrait mode. That's quite a large viewport on the world: 6000 x 1920.

As of mid March 2011, the price for the PowerColor HD 6950 4GBD5 Video Card is slightly higher than MSRP, if you can find one in stock. Newegg currently has the PowerColor AX6950 4GBD5-M4D for $749.99. Considering the benefits of a single card arrangement with the power of Crossfire Caymans, the card is easily worth the cost of two single Radeon HD 6970 cards. It's been true for some time that the best place to spend your money if you want the best gaming performance is on the video card. Here's a perfect opportunity; forget the 'enthusiast' motherboards with expensive chipsets, and LGA1366 processors. Buy a P67 or even a P57 and one of these multi-GPU Radeon cards with the money you save.

Pros:

goldentachaward.png+ If you want the fastest, this is it
+ Cooling system handles dual GPUs gracefully
+ CrossFireX Performance on most games is excellent
+ Lower power than HD 5970, especially at idle
+ Both BIOS settings are absolutely stable
+ Build quality is top notch
+ Price/performance ratio is reasonable
+ Extremely flexible output connections
+ 2GB GDDR5 per GPU handles higher resolutions
+ Release driver runs this card very well

Cons:

- Use of BIOS switch voids warranty
- Cooling fan is noisy above 50% fan speed
- Two HD 6970 cards in the right system are faster and cooler
- Tessellation lags behind Fermi
- 3 slot cooler and third PCI-E connector could've removed all limitations
- The graphics industry completely missed the 32nm technology node

Ratings:

  • Performance: 9.50
  • Appearance: 9.00
  • Construction: 9.25
  • Functionality: 9.50
  • Value: 9.00

Final Score: 9.25 out of 10.

Excellence Achievement: Benchmark Reviews Golden Tachometer Award.

Questions? Comments? Benchmark Reviews really wants your feedback. We invite you to leave your remarks in our Discussion Forum.

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Comments 

 
# RE: PowerColor AX6990 4GBD5-M4D Video CardRobert17 2011-03-20 15:16
Well done Bruce. After all the effort, sacrifice, and no telling how many years of enthusiasm/experience you bring to the fray, I feel compelled to offer a sacrifice of my own. Since the card is out of warranty, I volunteer to take it off your hands for long term testing, say a couple of years, and deal with any and all warranty issues in your stead. I know, I know, my altruism knows no bounds.

(wink, wink, nudge, nudge)

Good job.
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# Counter OfferBruceBruce 2011-03-20 16:19
Thanks for the props, Robert. As for your boundless altruism, I'll go you one better. You put gas in my wife's car for the time that you have the card, and it's a deal. [%^)
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# RE: Counter OfferRobert17 2011-03-20 16:22
Does she actually drive it?
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# Just got mineCom-Tek Chris 2011-03-22 06:43
I know this was written for the PowerColor card but I just received my HIS yesterday and installed it last night. I guess my bottle neck is my resolution and my monitor. I have a 28" 60Hz, 1920x1200 Hanns-G monitor with 3ms response. I just don't see the gain from this series and going back to my 2x 465 GTX Nvidias or my 2x 580 GTX's in SLI. For the ATI fans I also have 2x 5850's in X-Fire and they also run like beasts. Its kinda like having a Race Car that does 205+ MPH but because you live in a heavy school zone there are always police which limits your choice to either follow the law or get arrested (Kind of a bad analogy but I'm sure you get my drift).

So now I have spent $720 on this card, damn I need a new hobby, I've now spent over $2,500 on video cards in the last 6 months.
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# RE: Just got mineOlin Coles 2011-03-22 07:17
I'm curious what kind of games you're playing, because that could be an indication of your bottleneck. Anything will play Battlefield or Starcraft at high frame rates, but the same cannot be said for titles such as Metro 2033.
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# RE RE: Just got mineCom-Tek Chris 2011-03-22 07:33
I'm playing Battlefield Bad Company 2 and a few other FPS games. I figured that was my problem. And BFBC2 is more CPU intensive, I playing Battlefield on my AM3 1090T 6 Core which is more than enough for that game. I need to start HA (Hardware Anonymous) for geeks, but I'm afraid it would be a blood bath of which brand name was better, lol.
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# A thoughtCom-Tek Chris 2011-03-22 06:59
How come we are pitting this against the Nvidia 400 series and not a set of 560ti's in SLI or a a single 580 GTX? I notice that the scores are up against a set of 460 GTX's in SLI and a couple of 6xxx series in cross-fire mode but none of the big cards from Nvidia in SLI. Was this because of a price to power thresh hold? Or because of availability in cards? I know my 2 580 GTX's his the $1,100 mark when I purchased both so maybe it is unfair to compare it to a single card that is $400 less, but still it would be nice to have the scores posted for comparison for both sides of the fan base. Hands down though, I love this 6990, its fast, sweet, and feels like there is a lot of technology in it. Even Nvidia Fan Boys would be impressed with the sheer speed of this card.
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# RE: A thoughtOlin Coles 2011-03-22 07:18
If we had two of everything, we'd put them in SLI or CrossFire. Since one card arrives as another is ready to launch, we're restricted by deadlines and must move to the next project.
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# RE RE: A thoughtCom-Tek Chris 2011-03-22 07:34
Do you have to send back the cards your given? If not what do you do with them? Or do I dare ask, lol.
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# RE: RE RE: A thoughtOlin Coles 2011-03-22 07:37
Only a few products get returned, but it's a matter of finding time to review more than one product of the same series before the next arrives. These reviews take more time than you could imagine (I invite you to try sometime), and after one article in published a manufacturer usually has something new in our hands.
All of my video cards sit in a giant cardboard box, and get sold about 16 months after they've launched and gone EOL.
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# RE: RE RE: RE: A thoughtCom-Tek Chris 2011-03-22 08:43
I have done Bench Marking in the past with all new hardware, always trying to squeeze that extra 100 points out, lol, I don't do much anymore just because of the time it takes. I am a business owner and there are days where I start at 6am and get home at 10pm only to find that I have a 1/2 dozen build outs that are to be done by the next am, so I pull a 24hr shift that turns into a good 36hr shift, lol, did I mention I have a wife and 5 kids?...................so the drama continues in the life of "Im a computer engineer/network security consultant/Father/Guy who likes to game/Guy who races cars in the SCCA in the season which is here now/Guy who builds computers and provides support for local residents and business's and also donates computers to new local schools that burnt down 2 years, lol, yes I love life and all it offers..........did I mention I love Chinese food and hot pockets?
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# RE: RE: RE RE: RE: A thoughtOlin Coles 2011-03-22 08:48
Replace kids with friends, keep computer engineer/network security consultant/SCCA racer, and add target shooting enthusiast. Also replace Chinese food with Thai, and hot pockets for Wheat Thins, and we're on the same page.
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# Thanks BruceCom-Tek Chris 2011-03-22 07:15
Thanks Bruce for the in-depth article, it was very informative and I'm sure will encourage decisions on owning this card. Keep up the good work.
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# You're WelcomeBruceBruce 2011-03-22 20:34
Olin's spot on about product availability v. time to do the review. As Einstein said, "The reason time exists is so that everything doesn't all happen at once." My corollary to that is, "Space exists so that everything doesn't all happen at the same place."

So, check out Olin's HD 6990 reviews for comparisons to the GTX 570 and 580 cards. I was surprised that the 580 SLI didn't wipe the mat with the competitors. It was faster, but not in another league, you know....

I'm very curious to see how well NVIDIA manages the balance between electrical power, heat and processing power with their rumored dual-GPU card. At this stage of the game (40nm GPUs), there's only so much juice that you can pump through a single card and the winner is the one that's more efficient per watt. We'll have to wait another week or so, to see.

FWIW, I prefer Triscuits....LOL
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# RE: You're WelcomeOlin Coles 2011-03-22 20:37
Ah, Triscuits and wine cheese. One of my nostalgic favorites!

PS: Check back here at 6AM PST on 03/24 for "The Next Big Thing".
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# RE: RE: RE RE RE: RE: A thoughtCom-Tek Chris 2011-03-22 09:07
My wife pushes the wheat thins/Crackling Oat Bran Cereal.....a lot! And I just tried Thai recently, the curry wasn't to bad. My goal is to lose 30 pounds this year. I just got over the Flu and I have kept 12 pounds of that off, lol, its going to be a good year. Now if I can just get my hands a new AM3+ 8 Core, another 6990 for X-Crossfire Mode, now that would finish the year off with a POW!
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# PC Case SizeVaughn Janes 2011-03-22 16:49
What PC Case do you have in that picture, I hope its not really expensive. If it is do you think you could link a cheaper Pc case?
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# CM Storm SniperBruceBruce 2011-03-22 17:30
It's a CM Storm Sniper, which I reviewed here: benchmarkreviews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=398&Itemid=61

It's not cheap, unfortunately, unless you find a deal. The good news is that there have been a ton of inexpensive gaming chassis reviewd on this this site recently, and I'd bet at least half of them would be able to handle this card, at 305 mm long.
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# Forgot to make it a replyVaughn Janes 2011-03-22 17:39
Ok Coolio, its way cheaper than the one I found (##shopbot.ca/pp-corsair-obsidian-800d-corsair-price-208226.html) Thanks.
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