Going into this review, I was perfectly happy to set myself up for disappointment since dual GPU cards have almost always fell short of expectations. Whether it was driver issues, excess noise or something else, there has usually been some major pothole preventing me from buying what products like the GTX 295, HD 4870X2 and HD 5970 were trying to sell. AMD’s HD 6990 on the other hand has proven that my apprehension was misplaced as it threaded its way perfectly between the two other top-end Crossfire solutions.
What we have with Antilles is an experience which is which is quite a bit different from the ones its predecessors put forth. Instead of shaky game support, a Dust Buster-like acoustical profile and rampant core heat, the HD 6990 currently has a good driver foundation which backstops some truly impressive performance results. The GPUs themselves are kept relatively cool by way of an innovative cooling system that is no louder than a pair of HD 6950 cards. Unfortunately, the voltage regulator hiss is annoying and can usually be heard above any noise the fan makes...and the fan isn't what you would call quiet.
Power consumption numbers may seem stratospheric for a single card but that’s the price one has to pay for class-leading framerates. With that being said, if put into context against competing dual card setups, AMD’s choice to pick low leakage cores coupled with relatively low temperatures tends to keep overall power needs at a lower point than many would have expected.
If rumors are to be believed and NVIDIA is well on their way towards designing a competitor to Antilles, things could get very interesting indeed. Judging from our results, AMD’s new card holds its own against GTX 570s in SLI which makes perfect sense consider its price lines up perfectly against the competition’s dual cards. Things do turn around at 5760 x 1080 resolution with AA enabled where the GTX 570’s framebuffer proves to be insufficient and the HD 6990 can pull ahead. Against the ultra expensive dual GTX 580s, Antilles is simply overpowered at every turn but that was to be expected considering the $1000 price of NVIDIA’s high end setup.
As with every other multi core graphics cards, the success or failure of the HD 6990 largely hinges on AMD’s driver development team stepping up to the plate in a big way. As we saw in testing, its mission accomplished….for now. If they can keep this head of steam going and roll out application profiles in rapid order as the busy spring gaming season heats up, then early adopters should have nothing to fear. However, if Crossfire support for new games trickles out months after release, Antilles’ design could be rendered ineffective in short order. It should also be mentioned that while driver stability was spot-on, the Catalyst Control Center is another matter altogether and if you’re upgrading from a previous AMD card, be ready to face some possible issues.
True success in the graphics card market is hard to come by but AMD seems to have found the right formula for Antilles. Even though pricing alone will likely keep most people away, it has forced me to rethink my preconceptions about dual core products. As such, it really does deserve consideration for those of you looking for best money can currently buy.
There are sure to be challenges for the HD 6990 in the future but if initial indications are anything to go by, AMD is ready and willing to ensure that it succeeds.
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