PowerColor HD 6790 Review
Reviewed by: RHKCommander959
Reviewed on: April 4, 2011
Now that AMD has solidified their higher ranks of graphics cards, they've finally got time to work on mid-range and lower cards. First up is the AMD Radeon HD 6790, this design packs 800 Stream Processors on the Barts core, similar to the Juniper series 5770s although the internal designs have been changed to make the card more efficient in less space. The core is clocked at 840MHz while the 1GB GDDR5 memory is set at 1050MHz on a 256-bit bus equating to approximately 134.4 Gb/s memory bandwidth, the same configuration as on a 6870. There exists a possibility that this card could unlock more Stream Processors to either the 6850 or 6870 level with BIOS flashing as has been done with the other 6-series cards. The TDP is less than 150W since it only needs two sources of power: the x16 slot provides up to 75W and each 6-pin power connector up to another 75W. The overall design is similar to the 6800-series cards, as the core is the same with some features disabled. The PCB has room for a second 6-pin power plug, and another DVI and Mini DisplayPort output.
The 6790 being reviewed today was sent by PowerColor with stock clock speeds. The heat sink used has three heat pipes and an aluminum base. The memory is passively cooled and the card is covered by a shroud with a fan impeller in the center to cool the heat sink. With four different outputs supported: DVI, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, and VGA through an adapter, connectivity from this device covers most of the consumer market.
The front of the box features a winged knight wearing decorative armor, wielding a purplish sword of energy or something similar, in a field on a dark cloudy day. Rarely does box art have much to do with the product in the computer industry. PowerColor has used similar art on their other products. The top right has two stickers, one saying that the card has 1GB of GDDR5 memory and the other saying it has DVI, HDMI, and a Mini DisplayPort for outputs. The bottom shows that the card is a AMD Radeon HD 6790 that supports up to three displays in tandem through AMD Eyefinity. The back of the box lists some specifications and features briefly, and then to the right summarizes the features in seven more languages to 256-bit memory bus, Shader Model 5 support, and DirectX 11. The card scores 4.5 stars in gaming, and 5 for video and office capabilities. The main features that are important are: 40nm GPU core with 800 Stream Processors, 1GB GDDR5 memory on a 256-bit memory bus, DirectX11 and Shader Model 5 compatible, PCI Express 2.1 support, and built in HDMI 1.4 with 7.1 surround sound output capability.
The sides of the box match the rest with the background and art carrying over. The first side lists the power and system requirements: one open PCI Express x16 slot on the motherboard, a 500 Watt power supply with two 6-pin PCI Express power connectors (card only needs one however), 1GB of system memory, and so on. The other side has a barcode where all the information was on the first side. Both sides boldly list the card type and at the bottom the PowerColor brand.
The top is simple, showing brand and type. The whole box has a smooth satin touch to it. Opening the main box reveals a two level folded box. On the top is the graphics card and underneath the foldable cardboard platform that it sits on are the accessories. The card is protected by a standard PET antistatic bag. Through the bag you can catch a glimpse of what the card looks like, an impeller sitting in the center of the card, to the right, the knight from the box with Radeon HD 6790 over his head. This package came with three items: one VGA adapter, driver disk and multilingual manual. They also likely come with a Molex to 6-pin PCI Express cable adapter but this package was missing one.
Continue on for a closer look at the card itself!
The new AMD Radeon HD 6790s are all Barts cores with some rendering capability scaled back. They have 800 Stream Processors: 10 Single Instruction, Multiple Data (SIMD) blocks enabled whereas the 6850 and 6870 have 12 and 14 enabled respectively. Each block has 80 Stream Processors and four texture mapping units (TMUs) per SIMD. The card retained the 32 Raster Operation Processors of the Barts core. The core was built at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) on their 40nm fabrication node, this design was originally intended to be built at 32nm but TSMC chose to cancel the process. The memory bus is 256-bit with the 1GB of GDDR5 of memory clocked at 1050MHz has a bandwidth of approximately 134.4 Gb/s, this is pretty high considering the card is in the very middle of the 6-series AMD design.
The PowerColor Radeon HD 6790 has three outputs: one mini DisplayPort, one HDMI, and one DVI port. The box also included a VGA adapter so four different standards are supported out of the box. The top of the card has two stickers on it, to the left is the PowerColor brand and to the right is the card type along with the knight from the box art. The whole device is a fan shroud, the center holds the fan impeller that is nearly as wide as the card. Some of the heat pipes can be seen underneath as well. The back side is empty of large electronics, several spots have been left out: there is room for a second mini DisplayPort and DVI output, another 6-pin PCI Express power connection, and several capacitors and so on are missing. The card is likely a 6800-card that was lowered down. The card only has one CrossFireX slot, in the same location as always. AMD made the slot differently than the older generations, and the box didn't contain a CrossFireX dongle, something to be aware of!
The side shots show some of the capacitors and chokes hiding underneath the heat sink, you can also see the three heat pipes centered over the GPU core. The design of the shroud allows the card to receive air easily even when butted up to another card. Back when computers started having multiple cards, some manufacturers made the mistake of not giving enough space around the blower motor or fan to intake air when sandwiched next to another card and temperatures would climb dangerously as the card suffocated!
The front of the card features three outputs: mini DisplayPort, HDMI, and DVI. Above these is an exhaust grill to help get some of the heated air out of the case, however the design blows air in every direction, mainly to both ends of the card so only some air will exhaust out of the case. Having a positive pressure air design in the case will help ventilate more. The rear of the card is where the power connector resides, the three pin fan connection is nearby as well.
The base of the heat sink is rough but adequate for the job, it is flat enough. Four screws at opposite ends of the base plate attach to the shroud and hold the two together. Four standoffs are used to mount the heat sink to the graphics card via screws with springs attached to provide adequate mounting force while not bending the PCB nearly as much as they would without them. Still not as secure as a back plate but they'll suffice. Looking at the GPU-side of the card you can see several electronics missing. To reiterate, this was probably a 6800-series card that got chopped down to help fill the market gap. The core is rectangular and mounted roughly 45° offset with the card. Eight GDDR5 memory ICs from Elpida provide the card with 1GB of memory, the card uses a 256-bit memory bus to connect through. The card should see around 134.4 GB/s memory bandwidth, not too shabby for a mid-range card.
The 6790 Barts LE core is produced at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) on their 40nm fabrication process, originally this series was intended to be launched on a 32nm process but TSMC cancelled. The next series should be produced on 28nm technology. The Barts core has a die size of 255 mm² and roughly 1.7 billion transistors. The 6790 has had 4 SIMD cores disabled to lower its performance enough for the mid-range market, it still has 32 ROPs, 40 TMUs, and 800 Stream Processors. It may be possible to unlock the extra cores if AMD has only employed a BIOS lock, although additional modification would likely be needed to make this card stable since it only has one 6-pin power connection and would likely draw too much power. The memory was provided by Elpida this time around and uses 1.5V, the model number is EDW1032BABG.
Time to take a look at the features!
|AMD HD Radeon 6790|
|PCI Express 2.1|
|4200 MHz (1050 MHz GDDR5)|
DisplayPort Output : Yes x 1
DVI Output : Yes x 1
HDMI Output : Yes x 1
1x DVI to D-Sub VGA adapter
1x Driver Disk
Shader Model 5
Unified Video Decoder 3
HDMI 1.4 with 7.1 surround
- AMD Accelerated Parallel Processing: Offload data parallel compute tasks from CPU to GPU
- AMD CrossFireX: Multi-GPU support offers superior scalability
- AMD HD3D: Play your favorite games in full stereo 3D, and get incredibly rich and interactive gameplay with AMD HD3D technology
- Microsoft DirectX 11: Deliver ultimate HD gaming performance for the latest games and DirectX 11 applications
- ATI Eyefinity Technology
- Microsoft Windows 7 Support
- 40nm Process Technology
- 3rd Generation TeraScale Engine
- PCI Express 2.1 x16 bus interface
- Advanced 256-bit GDDR5 memory interface
- HDMI 1.4a support with Deep Color, 7.1 High Bitrate Audio and 3D Stereoscopic support
- On chip HDCP Support
- Enhanced Unified Video Decoder(UVD 3)
- Dynamic power management with ATI PowerPlay™ technology including memory clocks
- Dolby® TrueHD and DTSHD Master Audio TM Support
- Enhanced Internet Brower Applications
- GPU acceleration support for Microsoft Office 2010
All Information courtesy of PowerColor
The testing consists of running Aliens vs. Predator, Metro 2033, Crysis Warhead, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Just Cause 2, Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.1, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, 3DMark 11 Professional, 3DMark Vantage, and temperature/power consumption testing. Three common resolutions are used for all the tests with 4AA and 16AF settings, but the 3DMark tests have four resolutions/runs. After a run through all the tests, the card is overclocked to roughly its maximum stable capabilities and then tested again. Settings stay the same for each card tested so the results can be compared. All testing is done on similar hardware running 64-bit Windows 7. The charts are all organized in terms of best to worst performance.
- Processor: Intel i7 920 @ 3.60GHz
- Motherboard: ASUS P6X58D-E
- Memory: Mushkin Redline DDR3 1600MHz 6-8-6-24
- Video Card: ASUS GTX550 Ti DirectCU TOP
- Power Supply: Mushkin 800 watt modular power supply
- Hard Drive: 1 x Seagate 7200.12 1TB SATA
- Optical Drive: LG DVD-RW
- OS: Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
- Case: Hiper Osiris
Comparison Video Cards:
- Sapphire HD 6990
- AMD HD 6970 CrossfireX
- HD 6970 & HD 6950
- Sapphire HD 5970 2GB
- Sapphire HD 5870
- Sapphire HD 5850 Toxic 2GB
- XFX HD 6870
- XFX HD 6850
- ASUS GTX 580 SLI
- ASUS GTX 570 SLI
- NVIDIA GTX 580
- NVIDIA GTX 570
- NVIDIA GTX 480
- Galaxy GTX 470 GC
- EVGA GTX 460 FTW
- ASUS ENGTX465
- PowerColor HD 6790 1000/1235
Overclocking the PowerColor 6790 was simple using either AMD Graphics Overdrive with maximum speeds of 950MHz core and 1250MHz memory or MSI Afterburner v2.1 with the clock limit unlocked in the MSI Afterburner.cfg file for higher capabilities. Software voltage modification isn't supported yet. Even so, I managed to game for a while at 1010MHz core and 1260MHz memory although the system would freeze randomly. Turning the settings down, I didn't achieve reliable stability until 1000MHz core and 1235MHz memory. The card may be able to operate stable over 1GHz but was bumped down to make sure it could pass through all of the testing. It was likely the memory which was the culprit but it still managed to overclock 185MHz over stock. Replacing the stock thermal paste netted a decrease of a few degrees, temperatures were never a problem though. GPU-Z doesn't yet detect the card properly, it only gets a few things right including the clock speeds, card name and drivers.
Maximum Clock Speeds:
Testing for the maximum clock speed consists of looping Crysis Warhead and Unigine 2.5 for 30 minute each to see where the clock speeds will fail when pushed. If the clock speed adjustment fails, then the clock speeds and tests are rerun until they pass the full one hour of testing.
- Gaming Tests:
- Aliens vs. Predator
- Metro 2033
- Crysis Warhead
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
- Just Cause 2
- Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.1
- Batman: Arkham Asylum
- Battlefield: Bad Company 2
- 3DMark 11 Professional
- 3DMark Vantage
Aliens vs. Predator, developed by Rebellion Developments, is a science fiction first-person shooter and is a remake of its 1999 game. The game is based off the two popular sci-fi franchises. In this game, you have the option of playing through the single player campaigns as one of three species, the Alien, the Predator, and the Human Colonial Marine. The Game uses Rebellion's Asura game engine that supports Dynamic Lighting, Shader Model 3.0, Soft Particle systems, and physics. To test this game I will be using the Aliens vs. Predator benchmark tool with the settings listed below. All DirectX 11 features are enabled.
- SSAO = On
- Texture Quality = Very High
- Hardware Tesselation = On
- Advanced Shadow Sampling = On
Higher = Better
AVP was hard on the 6790, but if you look back, overclocking brought it up to the level and past that of the stock HD 6850 and GTX 465!
Part first-person shooter, part survival horror, Metro 2033 is based on the novel of the same name, written by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. You play as Artyom in a post-apocalyptic Moscow, where you'll spend most of your time traversing the metro system, with occasional trips to the surface. Despite the dark atmosphere and bleak future for mankind, the visuals are anything but bleak. Powered by the 4A Engine, with support for DirectX 11, NVIDIA PhysX and NVIDIA 3D Vision, the tunnels are extremely varied — in your travels, you'll come across human outposts, bandit settlements, and even half-eaten corpses. Ensuring you feel all the tension, there is no map and no health meter. Get lost without enough gas mask filters and adrenaline shots and you may soon wind up as one of those half-eaten corpses — chewed up by some horrifying manner of irradiated beast that hides in the shadows just waiting for some hapless soul to wander by.
- DirectX 11
- Global settings = High
- Physx = off
Higher = Better
Metro 2033 has always been hard on single GPU solutions, overclocking brought the 6790 to the performance level of a stock GTX 465.
Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the story line of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the island. Along the way there are EMP blasts and aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the CryEngine 2.
- Frost Map
- DirectX 10
Higher = Better
The results are similar to the last with Crysis Warhead, however the first resolution would be mostly playable aside from busy scenes with the overclocked 6790 using these settings.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is an iteration of the venerable first person shooter series, Call of Duty. Despite its long, successful pedigree, the game is not without substantial criticism and controversy, especially on the PC. Aside from the extremely short campaign and lack of innovation, the PC version's reception was also marred by its lack of support for user-run dedicated servers, which means no user-created maps, no mods, and no customized game modes. You're also limited to 18-player matches instead of the 64-player matches that were possible in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Despite all this, the game has been well received and the in-house IW 4.0 engine renders the maps in gorgeous detail, making it a perfect candidate for OCC benchmarking. You start off the single player missions playing as Private Allen and jump right into a serious firefight. This is the point where testing will begin. Testing will be done using actual game play with FPS measured by Fraps.
- In-game settings to Maximum
- Fraps measured Gameplay
Higher = Better
The results are the same yet again, except the 6790 manages to just barely pass the GTX 465 on the highest resolution (stock speeds) and come close to matching it when the cards were overclocked. All resolutions are playable.
Just Cause 2 is a third-person shooter that takes place on the fictional island of Panau in Southeast Asia. In this sequel to 2006's Just Cause, you return as Agent Rico Rodriguez to overthrow an evil dictator and confront your former boss. When you don't feel like following the main story line, you're free to roam the island, pulling off crazy stunts and causing massive destruction in your wake, all beautifully rendered by the Avalanche Engine 2.0. In the end, that's what the game basically boils down to — crazy stunts and blowing things up. In fact, blowing things up and wreaking havoc is actually necessary to unlock new missions and items.
- Global Settings = High
- Water Detail = Medium
- Dark Tower Time Demo
Higher = Better
Overclocking helped the 6790 quite a bit in Just Cause 2. At stock, the 6790 and the 5-series high-end cards scored similarly, overclocking brought the card to the level of the stock 6850.
Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.0 is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on the Unigine engine. What sets the Heaven Benchmark apart is the addition of hardware tessellation, available in three modes — Moderate, Normal and Extreme. Although tessellation requires a video card with DirectX 11 support and Windows Vista/7, the Heaven Benchmark also supports DirectX 9, DirectX 10 and OpenGL. Visually, it features beautiful floating islands that contain a tiny village and extremely detailed architecture.
- Shaders = High
- Tesselation = Normal
- Measurement = FPS
Higher = Better
Unigine is another challenging benchmark for these mid-range cards to put up with. The results are similar yet again.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is a first-person shooter developed by EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE) and published by Electronic Arts for Windows, PS3 and XBox. This game is part of the Battlefield franchise and uses the Frostbite 1.5 Engine, allowing for destructible environments. You can play the single player campaign or multiplayer with five different game modes. Released in March 2010, it has so far sold in excess of six million copies.
- Global settings = Advanced
- HBAO = Off
Higher = Better
Bad Company 2 was playable throughout most of the testing. At 2560 x 1600 things are not as smooth though.
3DMark 11 is the next installment for Futuremark in the 3DMark series with Vantage as its predecessor. The name implies that this benchmark is for Microsoft DirectX 11 and with an unintended coincidence, the name matches the upcoming date in number (which was the naming scheme to some prior versions of 3DMark nonetheless). 3DMark 11 is designed solely for DirectX 11 so Windows Vista or 7 are required along with a DirectX 11 graphics card in order to run this test. The Basic Edition has unlimited free tests on performance mode whereas Vantage only allowed for a single test run. The advanced edition costs $19.95 and unlocks nearly all of the features of the benchmark and the professional edition runs $995.00 and is mainly suited for corporate use. The new benchmark contains six tests, four of which are aimed only at graphical testing, one to test for physics handling and one to combine graphics and physics testing together. The open source Bullet Physics library is used for physics simulations and although not as mainstream as Havok or PhysX, it still seems to be a popular choice.
With the new benchmark comes two new demos that can be watched, both based on the tests but unlike the tests, these contain basic audio. The first demo is titled "Deep Sea" and have a few vessels exploring what looks to be a sunken U-Boat. The second demo is titled "High Temple" and is similar to South American tribal ruins with statues and the occasional vehicle around. The demos are simple in that they have no story, they are really just a demonstration of what the testing will be like. The vehicles have the logos of the sponsors MSI and Antec on their sides with the sponsorships helping to make the basic edition free. The four graphics tests are slight variants of the demos. I will use the three benchmark test preset levels to test the performance of each card. The presets are used as they are comparable to what can be run with the free version so that results can be compared across more than just a custom set of test parameters.
- Default test settings
- Entry test 1024 x 600
- Performance test 1280 x 720
- Extreme test 1920 x 1080
Higher = Better
Last in the pack again with 3DMark 11. Overclocking does help the 6790 catch up (as has been the trend).
Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista-based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. "Entry" is 1024 x 768 progressing to "Extreme" at 1920 x 1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.
- Settings (each preset): Default Testing
- Entry: 1024 x 768
- Performance: 1280 x 1024
- High: 1680 x 1050
- Extreme: 1920 x 1200
Higher = Better
Overclocking had the 6790 sitting between a stock 6870 and 6850 for Vantage, no small feat considering the similarities between the three cards.
Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using Crysis Warhead with MSI's Afterburner overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using a resolution of 1920 x 1200 using 8xAA. I will use a 10 run sequence to run the test, ensuring that the maximum thermal threshold is reached. The fan speed will be left in the control of the driver package and video card's BIOS for the stock load test, with the fan moved to 100% to see the best possible cooling scenario for the overclocked load test. The idle test will be a 20 minute cool down with the fan speeds left on automatic in the stock speed testing and bumped up to 100% when running the overclocked idle and load testing.
- Monitoring with MSI Afterburner
- Crysis Warhead 1920 x 1200 8X AA
- 10 run sequence
- 20 minute idle duration
- Temperature measured in degrees Celsius
Lower = Better
Temperatures were pretty good for the 6790, it tied for second lowest stock load temperature even! Changing the thermal paste lowered the temperature some, but the testing was done with the stock thermal paste to show what the card would do out of the box.
The PowerColor Radeon HD 6790 provided decent performance and overclocking capability while operating with good temperatures. When overclocked it was able to catch up to some of the higher-up cards. It also scores several frames higher than a 5770 which it is replacing basically. The design looks OEM with a similar heat sink to ones used on other cards such as the new Sapphire HD 6790. Power requirements are low considering the card only has one six-pin power connector. This means that the TDP is a fair bit under 150W. With four different outputs supported, this card is a great drop-in for media and office users. It supports HDMI 1.4 for 1080p television with 7.1 surround sound capabilities, has mini DisplayPort for future proofing as well as being able to convert it to another output such as HDMI, DVI, and so on and, a DVI port with an adapter to convert it to VGA. The only people who can't hook up are using S-video and unlikely to exist in this market. I couldn't hear the card operating over the case fans unless I manually set the fan speeds. Even then, this card at 100% is much quieter than most blower-motor based solutions running at 50%!
The cons and other things worth noting are as follows: the heat sink base-plate is rough although, it is more important to be flat than it is to be smooth; the card is flexible since it has little support. This isn't a big problem, it just means that care is needed when shipping and installing the card; the fan shroud is in the way of the six-pin power connector when you try to uninstall a connection and can cause the card to flex if the user isn't being extra careful when trying to remove it; and lastly, there is no CrossFireX dongle. Note that the card works perfectly. These are just things to be aware of. Looking at the card from the point-of-view of a typical consumer, the only problem would be that the shroud is in the way of the release clip for the power connector.
Competition could be strong depending on the price point for these cards as NVIDIA have a strong mid-range offering with good prices as seen with the GTX 460 and GTX 550 Ti cards. Overclocking to 1GHz from 840MHz is no small feat and this card did it without having to up core voltage, and it also overclocked the memory to 1235MHz from 1050MHz. If priced properly, this card would be a great contender in the mid-range market!
- Good operational temperatures
- Many connectivity options
- AMD Eyefinity
- Quiet operation
- Good overclocker
- Great multimedia card
- Shroud gets in way when unplugging power