HD 7990 Review; PowerColor’s Devil 13
Unlike some reviews, this one is about a card that almost never was and the efforts of a board partner to forge ahead anyways with a product that flies in the face of adversity. It’s called the HD 7990 Devil 13 and it begs to be noticed.
Ever since AMD introduced gamers to their new Graphics Core Next architecture, rumors of a dual GPU product code named New Zealand and branded HD 7990 ran rife throughout the industry. Naturally, AMD helped things along by teasers within marketing slides and a few other hints along the way but after waiting months for a release, the mythical HD 7990 was nowhere to be found.
In order to properly set the stage here, it is important to discuss why AMD seems to have failed in their efforts to create a bona fide “official” dual GPU product in spite of an initial lead over NVIDIA. The issue here isn’t a lack of intent, strategy or focus but rather technological limitations that caused some insurmountable roadblocks during development. Despite being fabricated on a relatively efficient manufacturing process, AMD’s Tahiti cores tend to run quite hot and require a significant amount of power. Careful binning, judicious application of voltage constraints and lower clock speeds could have allowed a dual HD 7970 card to come to fruition but the competition’s Kepler architecture prevented that. The quick release of NVIDIA’s GTX 690 delivered a crushing blow to AMD’s exclusive claim over the performance crown and shattered the performance per watt ratio for dual GPU products. Competing against it wasn’t impossible but even after numerous delays the effort would have required a massive investment for a limited return. We’re guessing the ROI ratio didn’t sit quite well since those resources could have been –and will likely be- put towards upcoming architectural developments instead.
Naturally, some still held hope for the mythical HD 7990 and everyone wanted to avoid a GPU generation without a halo Radeon product. From what we have heard, AMD finally dropped the project a few months ago and handed off the hot potato to board partners, basically giving out the baseline specs and naming rights while deferring the financial burden. Given the market conditions, there weren’t many takers but PowerColor did step up to the plate and the end result is their HD 7990 Devil 13.
Despite its odd “Devil 13” moniker, this card is exactly what many initially wanted the HD 7990 to be: a single PCB solution that combines a pair of fully endowed Tahiti XT cores However, PowerColor has gone above and beyond the call of duty by also including a secondary BIOS which turns the dial up to eleven. Pressing a single button grants this card core speed that matches that of AMD’s HD 7970 GHz Edition (without the Boost feature) and could allow it to capture the overall performance crown. Memory speeds do remain at 5.5Gbps but that shouldn’t hinder performance all that much.
The development of PowerColor’s HD 7990 has been plagued by issues; many of which haven’t been publicized. Initially, it was supposed to be shown at GamesCon but was pulled at the last minute due to a technical glitch. Then, the first batch of cards ended up arriving at PowerColor’s warehouse with improperly mounted heatsinks. Some of these glitch-prone units did end up in reviewers’ hands but PowerColor fixed the thermal problem and then re-validated every card before sending them out to retail channels. Hardware Canucks received a unit from the first retail shipment so we’re confident our results will be in line with reality.
Make no mistake about it; the HD 7990 Devil 13 will be a rare card. Just 200 of them will be making their way into the hands of gamers and with an astronomical, GTX 690-matching price of $1000 only a small segment of the population will be able to afford one. Nonetheless, PowerColor does seem to have something interesting here which could (finally!) prove to be a direct competitor against NVIDIA’s flagship product.
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