The AMD Radeon HD 6790 Graphics Card

AMD Radeon HD 6790 Intro Slide

Tonight AMD is releasing another new video card called the Radeon HD 6790. This video card shouldn't come as too much of a surprise as they were made available on the retail market before the card officially announced by AMD. The AMD Radeon HD 6790 isn't a revolutionary change, but it is more of an evolutionary change. What do we mean by that?  Well, the AMD Radeon HD 6790 is nothing more than a 40nm Barts core that has some things disabled and the clock speeds adjusted. Remember when AMD announced the AMD Radeon HD 5870 and Radeon HD 5850 graphics cards back in 2009 and then followed both of those up with a Radeon HD 5830?  That card used same PCB that the Radeon HD 5870 used, but had more stream processors (ALU's) disabled that either the Radeon HD 5850 and Radeon HD 5870. It made up for the disabled stream processors by having a higher clock speed than the Radeon HD 5850, which meant it also consumed more power. It was a very strange card, but it worked and fit in the Radeon HD 5800 series as it used a "Cypress" core. Think of the AMD Radeon HD 6790 as a Radeon HD 6830.

AMD Radeon HD 6000 Series Graphics Card Lineup

AS you can see the AMD Radeon HD 6790 fills in the gap between the Radeon HD 6850 ($144.99) and the Radeon HD 5770 ($99.99). The AMD Radeon HD 6790 has an MSRP of $149.99 and is already available in the market. We expect the AMD Radeon HD 6790 to fall in price in the days to come as numerous AMD Radeon HD 6850 video cards can be had for $145-$150 after rebate. We figured the AMD Radeon HD 6790 would be called the Radeon HD 6830 and it looks like many others thought this way as well as AMD issued this statement on the nomenclature of the card:

"The AMD Radeon HD 6790 products are positioned between our AMD Radeon HD 6850 and the HD 6770 (the OEM equivalent of the HD5770). The performance of the HD 6790 is roughly 20% higher than the HD 5770/6770, which makes a lot of sense when you consider the performance difference between most HDxx50 and HDxx70 products. Juxtaposing the product's specifications may shed some additional light on this. The AMD Radeon HD 6790 shares many 3D engine configuration similarities with to the rest of the AMD Radeon HD 6700 Series. Namely, the 800 stream processors are common across the HD 6790 and HD 6770, while 16 render back-end units are common across the entire HD 6700 Series of products. Ultimately, we are trying to help buyers better understand just the performance of the product by providing what we feel is the most descriptive branding." - AMD Marketing

That being said we still feel that AMD should call this card the AMD Radeon HD 6830 to keep it consistent with what they did on the last product series.

AMD Radeon HD 6790 1GB Specifications

As you can see the AMD Radeon HD 6790 has a 840MHz core clock and a 1050Mhz memory clock.  The card has 800 stream processors and is rated as having 1.34 TFLOPS of compute power. Not bad numbers and you can see how it stacks up to the AMD Radeon HD 6850 and Radeon HD 6870 below.

  Core Clock
Memory Clock
ALU's
 Board TDP
TFLOPS
AMD Radeon HD 6790
840MHz  1050MHz  800  150W  1.34
AMD Radeon HD 6850
 775MHz  1000MHz  960  127W  1.5
AMD Radeon HD 6870
900MHz 1050MHz  1120  151W  2.0

The AMD Radeon HD 6790 has 320 fewer stream processors and the ones that it has left run 60Mhz slower than the AMD Radeon HD 6870. As you can see both the core and memory clock speeds on the AMD Radeon HD 6790 are higher than what is seen on the AMD Radeon HD 6850.

AMD Radeon HD 6790 1GB Video Card

Pictured above is the AMD Radeon HD 6790 graphics card that AMD sent out and if it looks familiar to you don't be surprised. The reference design that AMD sent out is identical to the AMD Radeon HD 6870.  It's the same exact PCB and cooler that is used on the Radeon HD 6870! We asked AMD about this and they said that the cards on the market won't look like this:

Though the reference boards we sent out to you may resemble the 6870, the AIB designs will vary greatly from what you’re seeing on our sample boards, including PCB, power connectors, cooler design etc. This means the AIBs have the choice to, e.g. include one or two power connectors on the PCB. - AMD Marketing

Since AMD said that retail cards won't be based on this design it means that our performance numbers should represent what you see on the store shelves, but the power consumption, temperature testing and overclocking results will greatly vary.

The Radeon HD 6790 Up Close

AMD Radeon HD 6790 1GB Video Card

At first glance the AMD Radeon HD 6790 1GB GDDR5 video card looks identical to the Radeon HD 6870 1GB GDDR5 and that is because they are indeed the same exact card in this instance. AMD based the Radeon HD 6790 on the  Radeon HD 6870 reference design card as we mentioned in the introduction. This means we are testing a dual-slot card with a PCB that measures 10.5" in length and has two 6-pin PCIe power connectors that are located along the top edge of the video card.

AMD Radeon HD 6790 1GB Video Card Front

Since the AMD Radeon HD 6790 reference card isn't going to be on the retail market we won't go into much depth on this one as there is no point.

AMD Radeon HD 6790 1GB Video Card

Everything is the same as the Radeon HD 6870 and we covered that layout back in 2010 right here. AMD did let us know that the retail cards will look more like the PowerColor AX6790 1GBD5-DH video card that can be seen below.

AMD Radeon HD 6790 1GB Video Card

As you can see this card features just one 6-pin PCIe power connector and a custom designed PCB and cooler that is nothing like what AMD sent us to review.

The Test System

All testing was done on a fresh install of Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit with all the latest updates installed. All benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no other software programs running. The Kingston HyperX T1 DDR3 memory modules were run in triple-channel mode at 1866MHz with 8-8-8-24 1T timings. The ASUS P6X58D-E motherboard was run using BIOS 0502 with the processor running stock settings and Turbo enabled.

Drivers Used For Testing:

Windows 7 Drivers Used:
Intel Chipset Inf Update Program V9.1.1.1025
Realtek Audio Driver V6.0.1.6037 for Windows 64bit Windows 7.(WHQL)
Marvell Yukon Gigabit Ethernet Driver V11.10.5.3 for 32/64bit Windows 7.(WHQL)
Marvell 9128 SATA 6Gbps Controller Driver V1.0.0.1036 for 32/64bit Windows 7.

 

The Video Card Test System

Here is the Intel LGA 1366 Test platform:

Intel Test Platform

 

Component

 

Brand/Model

 

Live Pricing

 

 Processor

Intel Core i7-970

 

 Motherboard

ASUS P6X58D-E

 

Memory

6GB Kingston DDR3 1866MHz

 

 Video Card

 

 See Below

 

 Hard Drive

 

 Crucial C300 256GB SSD

 

 Cooling

 

 Titan Finrar

 

 Power Supply

Corsair HX850W

 

 Chassis

 

 None (Open Bench)

 

 Operating System

 

 Windows 7 Ultimate 64-Bit

Video Cards Tested:

AMD Radeon HD 6790 Video Card GPU-Z 0.5.2 Details:
AMD Radeon HD 6790 Video Card GPU-Z 0.5.2 Details
AMD Radeon HD 6790 GPU-Z 0.5.2 Details

Aliens vs. Predator

Aliens vs Predator D3D11 Benchmark v1.03

Aliens vs Predator D3D11 Benchmark v1.03 is a standalone benchmark test based upon Rebellion's 2010 inter-species shooter Aliens vs. Predator. The test shows xenomorph-tastic scenes using heavy tessellation among other DX11 features.

Aliens vs Predator D3D11 Benchmark v1.03

We cranked up all the image quality settings in the benchmark to the highest level possible, so we were running 4x AA and 16x AF with SSAO enabled at both 1920x1200 and 1280x1024 on all the video cards.

Aliens Vs. Predator Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results:  The AMD Radeon HD 6790 impressed us on AvP as it beat out all of the GeForce GTX 550-Ti video cards that we pitted this card against.  Considering two of those cards are factory overclocked these results are a good sign for AMD as they want to win the $150 price segment. The AMD Radeon HD 6790 was able to run the benchmark at 31FPS at 1280x1024 with all the eye candy turned on.  This was 29% faster than the Radeon HD 5770!

Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 is a sandbox style action video game currently under development by Swedish developer Avalanche Studios and Eidos Interactive, published by Square Enix. It is the sequel to the 2006 video game, Just Cause. 

Just Cause 2 Game Settings

Just Cause 2 employs a new version of the Avalanche Engine, Avalanche Engine 2.0, which is an updated version of the engine used in Just Cause.  The game will be set on the other side of the world, compared to Just Cause, which is on the fictional tropical island of Panau in Southeast Asia. Rico Rodriguez will return as the protagonist, aiming to overthrow the evil dictator Pandak "Baby" Panay and confront his former boss, Tom Sheldon.

Just Cause 2 Benchmark Results
Benchmark Results: The AMD Radeon HD 6790 was running JC2 at 35FPS at 12x10, which was faster than the Radeon HD 5770 that was at 32FPS and just slightly behind the Radeon HD 6850 at 42FPS. The AMD Radeon HD 6790 was faster than the GeForce GTX 550-Ti once again. 

Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 is an action-oriented video game with a combination of survival horror and first-person shooter elements. The game is based on the novel Metro 2033 by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. It was developed by 4A Games in the Ukraine. The game is played from the perspective of a character named Artyom. The story takes place in post-apocalyptic Moscow, mostly inside the metro station where the player's character was raised (he was born before the war, in an unharmed city), but occasionally the player has to go above ground on certain missions and scavenge for valuables.

Metro 2033 Settings

This is another extremely demanding game. Settings were left at High quality and Advanced DirectX 11 settings were left at default. The section of Metro 2033 tested was the Prologue with fraps polling from when you are climbing up the ladder until opening the door to exit the metro station. This section includes many features found throughout the game including four creatures which attack you before you exit the building, dense particles, ammo in cabinets, a few computer controlled sections and, of course, Miller, your first companion.

Metro 2033

Benchmark Results: Metro 2033 does really well on the AMD Radeon HD 6790 with the CATALYST 11.4 video card drivers. It performed better than the AMD Radeon HD 6850, but remember those tests were done on CATALYST 10.10 drivers and AMD has improved performance since then on Metro 2033.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat

Stalker Call of Pripyat DX11 Performance Benchmark

The events of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat unfold shortly after the end of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl following the ending in which Strelok destroys the C-Consciousness. Having discovered the open path to the Zone's center, the government decides to stage a large-scale operation to take control of the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat utilizes the XRAY 1.6 Engine, allowing advanced modern graphical features through the use of DirectX 11 to be fully integrated; one outstanding feature being the inclusion of real-time GPU tessellation. Regions and maps feature photo realistic scenes of the region it is made to represent. There is also extensive support for older versions of DirectX, meaning that Call of Pripyat is also compatible with older DirectX 8, 9, 10 and 10.1 graphics cards.

Stalker Call of Pripyat DX11 Performance Benchmark

The game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: CoP has no internal benchmarking tools built into the game engine, but they do have a standalone benchmark available that we used for our testing purposes. The screen capture above shows the main window of the benchmark with our settings. Notice we are running Enhanced Full Dynamic Lighting "DX11" as our renderer.

Stalker Call of Pripyat Advanced Image Quality Settings

Under the advanced settings we enabled tessellation and 4x MSAA. We didn't enable ambient occlusion as we wanted to use these test settings for mainstream cards down the road and these settings should be tough enough to stress any and all DX11 enabled video cards.

Stalker Call of Pripyat Advanced Image Quality Settings

Benchmark Results: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat showed the AMD Radeon HD 6790 performing near the top of the pack when it comes to $150 gaming graphics cards.  It was faster than the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550-Ti reference design, but was slower than the overclocked versions by ASUS and MSI. Notice the AMD Radeon HD 6790 was 30% faster than the AMD Radeon HD 5770 again in this benchmark at 1280x1024!

H.A.W.X. 2 Benchmark

We wanted to include a new benchmark for this review, so Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 was added in to see how it looked. This benchmark got some attention recently for not being neutral over the failure to use optimized code for better tessellation performance on AMD and NVIDIA cards.

Tom Clancy's HAWX 2

Aerial warfare has evolved. So have you. As a member of the ultra-secret H.A.W.X. 2 squadron, you are one of the chosen few, one of the truly elite. You will use finely honed reflexes, bleeding-edge technology and ultra-sophisticated aircraft - their existence denied by many governments - to dominate the skies. You will do so by mastering every nuance of the world's finest combat aircraft. You will slip into enemy territory undetected, deliver a crippling blow and escape before he can summon a response. You will use your superior technology to decimate the enemy from afar, then draw him in close for a pulse-pounding dogfight. And you will use your steel nerve to successfully execute night raids, aerial refueling and more. You will do all this with professionalism, skill and consummate lethality. Because you are a member of H.A.W.X. 2 and you are one of the finest military aviators the world has ever known. H.A.W.X. 2 is due out on November 16, 2010 for PC gamers.

Tom Clancy's HAWX 2

We ran the benchmark in DX11 mode and cranked up all the Antialiasing and Advanced image quality settings. We also enabled hardware tessellation as without that setting turned on the cards were getting well over 120FPS at a resolution of 1920x1200 and over 160FPS at 1280x1025. We wanted to stress the cards a bit and enabling tessellation appeared to do the trick as you'll see below.

Tom Clancy's HAWX 2 Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results: HAWX 2 was the first benchmark where the AMD Radeon HD 6790 falls behind the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550-Ti, but only by 6FPS or 10%.

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware. 3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.

3DMark Vantage

The Extreme settings were used for testing, so a resolution of 1920x1200 was used.

3DMark Vantage Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results: The AMD Radeon HD 6790 showed that it was faster than the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550-Ti in 3DMark Vantage with the Extreme settings enabled. Futuremark 3DMark Vantage showed the Radeon HD 6790 was 17% faster than the Radeon HD 5770.

3DMark 11

Futuremark 3DMark 11 Benchmark

3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world’s most popular benchmark for measuring the 3D graphics performance of gaming PCs. 3DMark 11 uses a native DirectX 11 engine designed to make extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11, including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.

Futuremark 3DMark 11 Benchmark Settings

Since Futuremark has recently released 3DMark11 we decided to run the benchmark at both performance and extreme presets to see how our hardware will run.

3DMark 11 Extreme Benchmark Results:

Futuremark 3DMark 11 Benchmark Results

3DMark 11 Performance Benchmark Results:

Futuremark 3DMark 11 Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results: The AMD Radeon HD 6790 beat out even the overclocked NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550-Ti video cards in 3DMark 11 in both the Performance and Extreme presets!

Unigine 'Heaven' DX11

Unigine DirectX 11 benchmark Heaven

The 'Heaven' benchmark that uses the Unigine easily shows off the full potential of DirectX 11 graphics cards. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. With the interactive mode emerging, experience of exploring the intricate world is within reach. Through its advanced renderer, Unigine is one of the first to set precedence in showcasing the art assets with tessellation, bringing compelling visual finesse, utilizing the technology to the full extent and exhibiting the possibilities of enriching 3D gaming. The distinguishing feature of the benchmark is a hardware tessellation that is a scalable technology aimed for automatic subdivision of polygons into smaller and finer pieces so that developers can gain a more detailed look of their games almost free of charge in terms of performance. Thanks to this procedure, the elaboration of the rendered image finally approaches the boundary of veridical visual perception: the virtual reality transcends conjured by your hand.

DirectX 11 benchmark Unigine engine

We ran the Heaven v2.1 benchmark that just recently out with VSync turned disabled, but with 8x AA and 16x AF enabled to check out system performance. We ran the benchmark at 1920x1200 and 1280x1024 to see how the benchmark ran at some different monitor resolutions. It should be noted that we ran the new extreme tessellation mode on this benchmark.  These are the toughest settings that you can run on this benchmark, so it should really put the hurt on any graphics card.

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Benchmark Results: We thought that in this tessellation heavy benchmark that the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550-Ti would easily beat the AMD Radeon HD 6790, but that wasn't exactly the case. The AMD Radeon HD 6790 did better at higher resolutions and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550-Ti did better at a lower resolution.  The AMD Radeon HD 6790 did night and day better than the Radeon HD 5770 as we noted a 34% performance improvement!

FurMark 1.8.2

FurMark 1.8.2

FurMark is a very intensive OpenGL benchmark that uses fur rendering algorithms to measure the performance of the graphics card. Fur rendering is especially adapted to overheat the GPU and that's why FurMark is also a perfect stability and stress test tool (also called GPU burner) for the graphics card.

FurMark 1.8.2

The benchmark was rendered in full screen mode with no AA enabled on both video cards.

Furmark Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results: Furmark showed that the AMD Radeon HD 6790 is once again faster than the GeForce GTX 550-Ti and Radeon HD 5770 graphics cards!

Temperature Testing

Since video card temperatures and the heat generated by next-generation cards have become an area of concern among enthusiasts and gamers, we want to take a closer look at how the graphics cards do at idle and under a full load.

AMD Radeon HD 6790 Video Card Idle Temperature:

AMD Radeon HD 6790 GPU-Z 0.5.2 Details

As you can see from the screen shot above, the AMD Radeon HD 6790 had power idle states of 100MHz on the GPU core clock and 150MHz on the memory. We observed the AMD Radeon HD 6790 reference design to idle at 35C in a room with a temperature of 24C.

We fired up FurMark and ran the stability at 640x480, which was enough to put the GPU core at 100% load in order to get the highest load temperature possible. This application also charts the temperature results so you can see how the temperature rises and levels off, which is very nice. The fans on the video card were left on auto during temperature testing. When we hit the space bar to stop the rendering the temperature dropped.

AMD Radeon HD 6790 Video Card Load Temperature:

AMD Radeon HD 6790 Video Card Load Temp

The AMD Radeon HD 6790 peaked at 71C according to Furmark and that is pretty good for a dual-GPU video card. We hit 73C on the AMD Radeon HD 6870 and 63C on the AMD Radeon HD 6850 in case you were wondering how those two cards performed on the same test with the same air temperature in the room.


AMD Radeon HD 6790 Video Card Load Temp

We fired up Heaven 2.1 and noticed that in GPU-Z the GPU load was roughly 100% during the benchmark. The sound level wasn't that bad at idle (21% or 1024RPM) or full load during gaming (31% at 1827RPM). If you've ever heard a Radeon HD 6870 then you'll know exactly what this card sounded like.

Power Consumption

For testing power consumption, we took our test system and plugged it into a Kill-A-Watt power meter. For idle numbers, we allowed the system to idle on the desktop for 15 minutes and took the reading. For load numbers we measured the peak wattage used by the system while running the OpenGL benchmark FurMark 1.8.2 at 1280x1024 resolution.

Total System Power Consumption Results

Power Consumption Results: The AMD Radeon HD 6790 did so-so in the power consumption test as it drew 109W at idle and 249W at load. We call this so-so as it used more power than the AMD Radeon HD 6850 reference design and was slower than this card in all the benchmarks.  We don't like the fact that this card is slower than the AMD Radeon HD 6850, but still manages to use more power.

AMD Radeon HD 6790 1GB Overclocking

AMD Radeon HD 6790 Video Card Overclocking

To overclock the AMD Radeon HD 6790 graphics card, we used the AMD Overdrive utility that is part of the CATALYST Control Center. When you 'unlock' the ATI Overdrive, you can manually set the clock and memory settings.

AMD Radeon HD 6790 Video Card Overclocking

We were able to reach 900Mhz on the core and 1120MHz on the memory before we started having stability issues.  We could have gone higher if we increased the GPU Voltage, but to keep things simple we used just the AMD Overdrive utility to see how far we could push this reference card.

To test out the overclock we fired up 3DMark Vantage to see what this overclock was like. 

The AMD Radeon HD 6790 Video Card Overclocked 840MHz/1050MHz:

ATI Radeon HD 66790 OC Video Card Overclocking

The AMD Radeon HD 6850 Video Card Overclocked 900MHz/1120MHz:

ATI Radeon HD 6790 Video Card Overclocking

As you can see the 3DMark Vantage score went from X5480 to X5887, which is an improvement of 7% from this mild overclock.  Not bad performance, but then we looked back and noticed that we scored X6063 on the AMD Radeon HD 6850 on the same test system. It looks like we need even higher clock speeds to compete with all the extra cores on the Radeon HD 6850!

The AMD Radeon HD 6850 Video Card Stock 775MHz/1000MHz:

AMD Radeon HD 6850 OC Video Card Overclocking

Let's see what it does in real games.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550 Graphics Card Overclocked

The jump from 840MHz to 900MHz on the AMD Radeon HD 6790 core clock helped boost performance by 6% in AvP at a resolution of 1920x1200.  So it looks like a gain of 6-7% can be easily achieved on the Radeon HD 6790 reference design.

Final Thoughts & Conclusions

The AMD Radeon HD 6830 6790 turned out to be a very nice graphics card for the price. We saw it consistently beating the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550 Ti 1GB video card, which is the latest and greatest offering from NVIDIA at the $150 price point. It looks like we need to get over our nomenclature issues and give this card the credit that it is due! If you like to game at 1680x1050 or lower then a card like the AMD Radeon HD 6790 should be on your short lists of sub $150 graphics cards! We were able to play Starcraft II, Bad Company 2, F1 2010 and of course all the games we benchmarked in this review just fine on this card at 1280x1024 and 1680x1050 with the eye candy cranked up. 

Overclocking was very easy to do on the Radeon HD 6970 thanks to the AMD OverDrive utility.  We were able to reach 900MHz on the core clock and that is significant as that is the default clock speed of the AMD Radeon HD 6870 graphics card.  This extra boost help us see an additional 6-7% in performance and it should be interesting to see what the third party designs for this card will be able to do when it comes to overclocking performance.  With custom PCB and cooler designs it is likely that we see even better overclocks than this.

AMD Radeon HD 6790 1GB Video Card

That said, the price of the AMD Radeon HD 6790 does concern us a little bit as there is some overlap right now at this price range. You can get the HIS Radeon HD 6850 from Newegg for $144.99 plus shipping after rebate and as you saw in our benchmarks that card was faster in the testing. This card also faces tough competition from the GeForce GTX 460 768MB cards as we saw the ASUS ENGTX460 at Newegg for $129.99 plus shipping after rebate and that card did lose too often. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550 Ti didn't do too hot in many of the benchmarks, but we found the Galaxy GeForce GTX 550 Ti for $114.99 plus shipping after rebate. So, if you want to spend $150 on a video card you have a number of really good cards to pick from and it really depends on what you want to do at the end of the day.  The AMD Radeon HD 6790 can run 3+ monitors thanks to AMD Eyefinity technology, but then again you can't run PhysX, steroscopic 3D or CUDA applications like you can on the NVIDIA graphics cards. If you don't care about any of that and run just one monitor and play games for fun then you have a much easier decision to make. With the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 series reaching the end of their life cycle, so we'd stick with the AMD Radeon HD 6790 or Radeon HD 6850 for the $145-$150 price range since they are the fastest card for the buck and we would expect longer driver support and maybe even some more performance gains in the months to come.

Legit Bottom Line: The AMD Radeon HD 6790 turned out to be a very nice card and it gives the GeForce GTX 550 Ti a good old fashioned beat down!

AMD Radeon HD 6790 1GB Video Card Front