Conclusion: Opportunity Missed
The HD 7990 cuts an imposing figure. It is a gargantuan card equipped with two Tahiti XT cores, delivering some impressive framerates and the massive heatsink ensures quiet operation, unlike the spectacularly loud dual GPU Radeons of yore. However, the HD 7990 is more than a year late so instead of being the undisputed champion of the graphics market, it has to contend with the likes of NVIDIA’s GTX 690.
As a flagship product, one can’t help but be impressed with what AMD has achieved here. Despite being saddled with an architecture that consumes copious amounts of power and pumps out a significant amount of heat, they were able to (finally) release a solution which can compete against the best NVIDIA has to offer. On paper that is.
The first chinks in the HD 7990’s armor are more than evident when playing some of today’s most popular games. Far Cry 3, Tomb Raider and Crysis 3 are just a few of the many titles which stutter along, lacking the relative fluidity provided by a GTX 690. Granted, the GTX 690 has a few minor hiccups of its own but this is an old problem for AMD and one which obviously persists to this day. A solution is supposed to be rolled out in the coming months (check out the Postscript page for a tantalizing look at what's in store) but AMD has been unable to provide an official release timeline, providing cold comfort to anyone who buys this $1000 graphics card right now.
Drivers don’t help this situation either with the HD 7990 lacking an Eyefinity profile for Assassin’s Creed III while the profile for Far Cry 3 is thoroughly broken with an out-of-wack HUD marring the experience. That’s a bit of an embarrassment for a card which is supposed to thrive in multi monitor environments.
So regardless of frame time issues and some minor driver hiccups, is the HD 7990 today’s fastest graphics card in terms of raw rendering speed? FRAPS certainly thinks so but there’s more to this review than just a narrowly focused story told by software solutions. When looking at the actual on-screen framerates, the HD 7990’s tendency to either drop or partially render frames leads to reduced onscreen performance in nearly every title. The end result is slower performance than a GTX 690 in this key metric.
Make no mistake about it, the HD 7990 is a great card which will likely have a bright future (provided AMD gets a handle on frame delivery at some point) but right now, NVIDIA’s GTX 690 is superior in almost every conceivable way. It provides smoother gameplay, more consistent framerates and lower power consumption without costing a dime more or exhibiting the HD 7990’s tendency for distracting amounts of coil whine. AMD does however hold a serious edge in the value-added department with their inclusion of eight free games. Indeed, when we look at the HD 7990, we see unrealized potential above all else.
If anything, we’re confused as to why AMD felt they had to release this card right now. A fix for the HD 7000 series’ frame latency headaches is just over the horizon, potentially negating many of the subpar results we saw. In addition, AMD’s board partners have already introduced a relatively successful batch of HD 7990 cards in the form of ASUS’ expensive ARES and PowerColor’s $899 Devil 13.
There was an opportunity here to have board partners continue with their own dual GPU cards while striving to make the “reference” HD 7990 a poster child for improved onscreen fluidity and consistent frame delivery. That didn’t happen. Instead, we have a high priced graphics card which highlights AMD’s faults without bringing anything particularly new to the table. It's like AMD is saying "buy this now and we'll give you some great results....soon."
Considering the original dual HD 7970 New Zealand card was supposed to have been released in early 2012, AMD would have truly benefited by keeping this new Malta product in the oven for just a bit longer. If you don't believe us, look no further than what their Frame Pacing prototype driver brings to the table.
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