AMD HD 7990 Review; Malta Arrives
The story behind AMD’s HD 7990 has been anything but straightforward. What was originally a dual GPU product code named New Zealand has gradually morphed into the card we see today. Originally, it was to be released in the first quarter of 2012 but various delays and technical hurdles pushed the card’s –now named “Malta”- release date back to today.
This isn’t the first HD 7990 around either. In order to combat NVIDIA’s GTX 690, AMD gave the HD 7990’s naming rights to their board partners and PowerColor eventually came out with their HD 7990 Devil 13. That card paired up two standard HD 7970 cores but also offered a secondary BIOS which pushed core speeds to 1GHz. As one might have expected, the Devil 13’s price was stratospheric at a cool $1000 but that was eventually reduced to $899 before its discontinuation prior to AMD’s own launch.
In order to create Malta, AMD started with two standard HD 7970 cores, each with 2048 processors and 3GB of GDDR5 memory. Due to heat and power consumption concerns, each Tahiti XT GPU doesn’t quite hit GHz Edition speeds but they do improve upon reference HD 7970 specifications. While the 950MHz (1GHz during its Boost phase) may not bring the HD 7990 in line with the performance of two HD 7970 GHz Edition cards, the 6Gbps memory rate on a 384-bit bus should eliminate any memory bottlenecks.
For the time being, AMD hasn’t been forthcoming about the actual TDP of their latest creation but expect it to be somewhere around the 450W to 500W mark. That’s a massive amount considering NVIDIA’s GTX 690 pumps out around 300W of heat but the HD 7990 is expected to outperform it by a significant amount in some situations.
Pricing is typically one of the biggest question marks whenever dual GPU cards are on the table and make no mistake about it, the HD 7990 is expensive by any stretch of the imagination. At $1000 it matches the GTX 690 and newer GTX TITAN while also being some $100 more expensive than two individual HD 7970 GHz Editions. However, this will be the world’s fastest graphics card so there’s a premium associated with that as well.
While a grand may sound like a ton of money to spend on a single graphics card, AMD softens the blow by adding a massive gaming bundle. Every HD 7990 purchaser will receive download codes for eight Gaming Evolved titles: Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon, Crysis 3, Bioshock infinite, Tomb Raider, Far Cry 3, Hitman: Absolution, Sleeping Dogs and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. All told, that’s just over $300 worth of freebies.
The HD 7990 is one of the more unique looking reference graphics cards on the market. While its plastic fan shroud doesn’t have the high end materials as the GTX 690, the design is built primarily for cooling performance. This isn’t unique either since AMD has used this heatsink on their FirePro S10000, though there have been a few minor changes to improve airflow.
The two cores communicate with one another via a high bandwidth 48 lane PCI-E 3.0 PLX bridge chip which has the ability to push over 96GB/s of information. In addition, the HD 7990 can take advantage of AMD’s innovative Zero Core technology, essentially allowing one core to be shut down in idle scenarios to further reduce its power signature.
AMD’s approach to the HD 7990’s heatsink engineering really boils down to brute force. They’ve equipped it with a trio of large, low RPM axial fans which push cool air down onto a massive copper / aluminum fin array, making this one of the quietest high performance cards on the market. Unfortunately, the layout virtually ensures exhaust air is blown into your case but it should lead to some great core temperature results.
In order to cope with the power input required by the two Tahiti XT cores, a pair of 8-pin connectors has been included and we’d recommend you use nothing less than an 850W PSU when using the HD 7990. AMD also added their standard two-position BIOS switch in case an enthusiast wants to flash a secondary overclocked BIOS to the card.
AMD is predicting the HD 7990 will be primarily used in Eyefinity environments so they’ve equipped it with a single DVI output as well as four mini DisplayPort connectors. We’d expect most board partners to include mini DP to DP adaptors with their cards for native 3x1 Eyefinity support but 3x2 setups aren’t natively supported unless using a daisy-chain layout or secondary hub.
To better distribute the massive amounts of heat generated by two cores and 6GB worth of GDDR5 AMD has installed a complete coverage heat spreader on the rear quarters. There are a few openings here and there but for the most part, the heatsink covers all of the components and memory modules behind the GPUs.
The HD 7990 may be one of the fastest and quietest dual GPU cards available but it is also one of the longest. At 12” it is longer than the GTX 690 and HD 7970 Ghz Edition and will have problems fitting into certain cases.
Another thing to take into account is availability. Following in the footsteps of AMD’s last few releases, the HD 7990 will only be available in about two weeks and even then, quantities will be severely limited.
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