XFX HD Radeon 6790 Review

RHKCommander959 - 2011-04-19 14:59:44 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: RHKCommander959   
Reviewed on: May 5, 2011
Price: $154

Introduction:

AMD is continuing to push lower and lower on the scale of new GPUs. The Barts core used on the 6870 and 6850 has been chopped up further to make the 6790s, perhaps by quality binning and using cores that couldn't pass as a full Barts core. Early speculation thought unlocking the core to the equivalent of a 6870 or 6850 was possible but AMD has said that the sections were physically cut and unlocking is impossible. Whether or not the 6790s can be unlocked or not remains to be seen for sure. The core has over 1.7 billion transistors on a 40nm fabrication node attached to the PCB with a 256-bit memory bus and 1GB of GDDR5. The clock speed has been increased on this core to 840 MHz core and 1050 MHz memory for factory reference. 800 Shaders are enabled on the core. The paper specifications are very similar to the prior generation's 5770.

The card under review here is from XFX and is set for stock clocks. The card features dual PCIe power connections and a dual-fan heat sink with three heat pipes with direct contact. The outputs are compromised of two DVI ports (one of which is VGA), two mini DisplayPorts and an HDMI port.

 

Closer Look:

The box from XFX is similar to their other offerings in dimensions. The box is predominately black and red with two red blower motors (although the card uses fan impellers not blower motors). The front is plenty descriptive of the main features. PCIE 2.1, 1GB GDDR5 memory, dual-fans, et cetera. Rotating to the back side lists the specifications and features very well, covering most of the important details. The middle explains some of AMD's video technology like Eyefinity for multiple screens, DirectX 11 support, HD3D 3D gaming and accelerated parallel processing APP technology. The bottom reiterates many of the features listed to the left and on the front. Most everything is listed except the speeds but most consumers wouldn't be interested in that anyway unless looking for an overclocked card.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first side has AMD and XFX's logos and web address and explains Stereoscopic 3D gaming at length. The main information is that 3D glasses and hardware are needed to game in 3D. They also suggest visiting www.ddd.com for middleware support. The other side is virtually the same except it has bubbled information where the 3D information was on the other side.

 

 

The first long side has the least information on it out of all the sides but is still nicely decorated and has the card model and brand on it. The last side has the barcodes and system requirements, included components, suggested usage, and a few of the capabilities of the card listed. The card is also RoHS and FCC compliant. A proof of purchase is located at the bottom right corner.

 

 

The standard XFX black box is inside of the main packaging. The design is always the same except for the dimensions which change slightly for each card model. The company website www.xfxforce.com and company logo are printed on the top. Opening the box reveals a tray holding the manuals, power supply advertisement, driver disk. There are usually some accessories but this card has none.

 

 

Removing the tray and paperwork shows the video card in its antistatic bag. The box has been designed to fit around the card shape decently. It also provides a good amount of structural protection with three layers of cardboard between the outside world and the card. The box is even formed around the PCIe slot and the I/O bracket!

 

 

Four very similar papers are included in the accessories: graphics drivers, quick install, driver guides, and warranty information. They all match each other except for the words on the front and the contents. Also the driver packet has a notch at the top to aid in pulling the disk out. An advertisement for the XFX PRO series PSUs is also included to show off their designs. There is also a door hanger with a World War 2 theme except these Zeros have XFX logos on them. Flipping the door hanger over shows the serial number and warranty information for the video card.

 

 

With everything unpacked and detailed, it is time to move on and get a closer look at the card itself.

Closer Look:

The XFX HD Radeon 6790 is a mid-range offering developed off of the 6870 and 6850 technology. They all have Barts cores with the original core having 1120 Stream Processors, 56 texture units and 32 render units. The 6850 has part of the core disabled to lower the Stream Processors to 960 and 48 TMUs, while the 6790 is lowered again to 800 and 40 TMUs. All three cards have the same memory configuration of 1GB GDDR5 on a 256-bit memory bus and generally share all of the same features aside from clocks and core configurations. Even the board setup is similar on most of the cards out on the market.

AMD can control the amount of Stream Processors and texture units easily because they reside in clusters called Single Instruction Multiple Data blocks. These SIMD blocks each hold 80 processors and four TMUs. By disabling SIMDs AMD can cut back performance to fill market gaps. The stock Barts core has 14 SIMDs, disabling two groups creates the core for the 6850 and disabling another two is how the 6790 was created. With this method, AMD can bin the cores and take the less capable parts and disable groups to save cores and money while producing another product. According to AMD, the SIMDs have been fused off, so unfortunately BIOS flashing will not unlock them as was possible on some 6950s (if the news is true). The Barts core is built on the 40nm fabrication node at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, where AMD has had their GPUs made for quite a while rather than Global Foundries. The 6790 should have a low TDP. Two PCIe power connections are included on some cards but only to aid in overclocking as one is more than capable enough to power the card.

The top of the card shows that both fans are translucent gray. Adding in some LEDs would look nice for anyone into that. Two silver lines run the length of the card and add some flair. The XFX logo and card model are near the output side. The three heat pipes can be seen running along the top of the card. Flipping the card over shows the exposed backside. Two power connectors are side mounted at the rear and the card only has one CrossFireX connection near the output side. XFX has put two warranty stickers on the heat sink bolts that state removing them voids the warranty. These are spring loaded and the card is mid-range thus no back plate was used as is common for mid- and low-end cards. This is odd considering XFX use to be 'modder friendly' as their website still states.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sides of the card are open. Air can escape from the front and back as well as the sides. This can cause system temperatures to climb as the card reheats prior exhaust air. In a system with good airflow it isn't a problem but others might have higher operating temperatures. Some side venting on the slot side is good to help cool the motherboard components. The other side has another XFX sticker with the model number on it. The heat pipes extend out with two under one fan and the other fan sitting partially over the heat sink base and the third heat pipe. Both the power connections and CrossFireX port are located on this side.

 

 

The output side has two DVI ports (one of which is labeled VGA and has limited output) two mini DisplayPorts, and an HDMI 1.4a port. The grill is a custom job with XFX machined into it. The HDMI port has a screw to reinforce it, to help keep it from breaking during usage. The I/O plate is also attached directly to the fan shroud with two screws, providing some rigidity. The rear of the card has 13 holes in the center for ventilation and two more for side access to the power ports and fan header. Hopefully consumers won't be paranoid over the 13-stigma. The two fans sit flush with the shroud meaning that using two of these in CrossFire could be dangerous as the four spring loaded bolts on the rear of one card could potentially jam and/or damage the fans. Not a likely scenario but very possible and worth mentioning.

 

 

Two 6-pin PCIe slots are installed on most of the 6790s, although some versions only have one. The power requirements are low enough that only one is really needed although some manufacturers have opted for the second connection to give enough headroom for high overclocking. These power connectors are side mounted. The card only comes with one CrossFireX connection in the standard location near the I/O panel, the design has been changed so older CrossFire dongles are not compatible anymore.

 

 

With the heat sink removed, the core is exposed in its entirety. AMD continues to use exposed cores on their GPUs with a shim to help protect them from cracking when the heat sink is installed. This method provides better thermal conduction over designs with integrated heat shields. The only problem with this design is when mated with direct-contact heat pipe coolers with rough bases (as is the case here). The memory is produced by Hynix, model H5GQ1H24AFR-T2C. These modules are clocked in at 1050 MHz with 128MB density each. These T2C versions are rated for 1250 MHz at 1.5V so they should have a decent amount of headroom! The base has been machined to be flat although the cut is rough, the gaps between the heat pipes is very noticeable and needs to be packed with thermal paste to improve conductivity. Generally, direct contact heat pipe coolers provide some of the best cooling. Four small screws attach the base plate to the fan shroud. Both fans are wired together and connect through a two-wire fan header at the rear of the card.

 

 

Time to check out the specifications and features before overclocking it!

Specifications:

Graphics Engine
AMD HD Radeon 6790
Bus Standard
PCI Express 2.1
Video Memory
1GB GDDR5
Engine Clock
840 MHz
Memory Clock
4200 MHz (1050 MHz GDDR5)
Memory Interface
256-bit
Fabrication node
40nm
Interface
mini DisplayPort Output : x 2
DVI Output : x 2
HDMI Output : x 1
Accessories
1x Driver Manual
1x Driver Disk
1x Manual
1x Warranty information packet
1x PSU advertisement
1x Warranty door tag
Technologies
DirectX 11
Shader Model 5
Unified Video Decoder 3
HDMI 1.4 with 7.1 surround

 

Features:

 

 

 

All Information courtesy of XFX@ http://xfxforce.com/en-us/products/graphiccards/HD%206000series/6790.aspx

Testing:

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.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocking the XFX HD Radeon 6790 was simple enough. I ran into an odd glitch where the card kept trying to run at 775 MHz (the stock clock rate of the 6850 - its bigger brother). With MSI Afterburner 2.2.0b2 and unofficial overclocking enabled, I was able to correct the clock speed and also overclock it. Overdrive failed to overclock it, pretty common for beta drivers and AMD is supposed to have a release coming soon. The card would run stable in most of the testing up to 995 MHz core although it would crash in a few of the benchmarks until I went down to 980 MHz. If voltage control is unlocked in the future, the card would very easily pass 1 GHz. I pushed the memory up to 1250 MHz stable and left it there with more headroom available. Temperatures ranged from the low 30°C's up to mid-60°C's and AMD PowerPlay was unable to work fully in overclocked idle operation from my observations.

 

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

Testing for the maximum clock speed consists of looping Crysis Warhead and Unigine 2.5 for 30 minutes 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.

   

 

  1. Aliens vs. Predator
  2. Metro 2033
  3. Crysis Warhead
  4. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  5. Just Cause 2
  6. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.1
  7. Batman: Arkham Asylum
  8. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
  9. 3DMark 11 Professional
  10. 3DMark Vantage
  1. Temperature
  2. Power Consumption

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.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

The 6790 comes in last at all resolutions but it is at the low end of the spectrum in power too. The nearest cards are the 6850 and GTX 465. Overclocking brings the card up to nearly the level of a stock 6870 and put up a good fight with the stock GTX 465.

Testing:

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.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

Same as last time. In two of the three resolutions, the overclocked 6790 could match or beat the GTX 465. But, once the GTX 465 was overclocked, it pushed way past the card.

Testing:

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.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

In the higher resolutions the 6790 beat the GTX 465 with both cards garnering the lowest performance.

Testing:

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.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

The results are similar again, with Modern Warfare 2, the frames are high enough that the game is very playable through the resolutions.

Testing:

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.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

Just Cause 2 is playable at the lower resolutions. With overclocking, the 6790 comes in close to the stock 6850.

Testing:

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.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

The results are similar once again on Unigine. The 6790 is several FPS behind the other cards but overclocking helps it catch up some.

Testing:

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.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

Bad Company 2 is playable at the lower resolutions. Overclocking gave the cards very good gains of several FPS across the board.

Testing:

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.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

At Entry, the overclocked 6790 was on par with the 5850 Toxic, no small feat for this card. It also manages to beat or match a stock 6850 when overclocked in all three tests.

Testing:

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

   

   

Higher = Better

 

The results in Vantage echo all of the other test results. Pricing will decide if the GTX 465 or the 6790 is a better buy as the GTX 465 has better performance.

Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using MSI Kombuster, which is paired with MSI's Afterburner overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using the stability test set to a resolution of 1920 x 1200 using 8xAA. I will use a 15 minute time frame 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. For load testing, the GTX 500 series, I will use Crysis Warhead running at 2560 x 1600 using the Gamer setting with 8xAA looping the Avalanche benchmark scenario, as I have found this to put a load close to that of Kombuster on a video card. This is needed as a way around the current limiting ability of the GTX 500 series when it detects programs that put an unrealistic load on the GPU, which Kombuster does.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

Lower = Better

 

Temperature performance was about average at stock, overclocking with the fan at 100% lowered the temperature 1°C. Overclocking idle temperatures were so high because AMD PowerPlay would not operate with the beta drivers/MSI Afterburner so the clocks didn't drop to save power.

Testing:

Power Consumption of the system will be measured in both idle states and loaded states and will take into account the peak voltage of the system with each video card installed. I will use MSI Kombuster to load the GPU for a 15 minute test and use the peak load of the system as my result for the maximum load. The idle results will be measured after 15 minutes of inactivity on the system. For load testing the GTX 500 series, I will once again use Crysis Warhead run at 2560 x 1600 using the Gamer setting with 8xAA looping the Avalanche benchmark scenario.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

Lower = Better

 

Power consumption was the lowest in three of the four charts for the XFX HD Radeon 6790. The Idle Overclock results are skewed because AMD PowerPlay was not operating properly so the clock speeds weren't being throttled to save energy.

Conclusion:

The XFX HD Radeon 6790 had the best energy results of all the cards. The thermal scores were good as well but not at the head of the pack. The card operated very quietly throughout the whole test suite and overclocked decently to 980 MHz core and 1250 MHz memory fully stable. XFX ran the 6870 PCB with two 6-pin power connections to allow for higher overclocking although the 6790s themselves don't need dual connectors. Gaming showed that this card was at the bottom of our test group but it put out good performance for being mid-range. The size of the card is average and should easily fit into almost all systems. The outputs are standard fare from AMD now with two DVI ports, two miniDisplayPorts and a HDMI port. Although, one of the DVI ports was labeled VGA and thus has a lowered resolution capability.

Everything worked properly on the card. It overclocked nicely with a ton of headroom left on the memory! If the card is capable of software voltage modification (which it looks to be able to do) then it should easily pass 1 GHz core overclocks. With dual fans, the noise output is very low in comparison to designs with blower motors. All of the features that this card carries with it make it a very attractive upgrade for users currently stuck with on-board graphics. The card is plenty capable of gaming as long as the settings aren't too hardcore. All of the games in the test suite ran fine when set properly and visual quality wasn't severely affected either. With low power consumption, high quality video output and the ability to game, this card can fit into media, casual gaming and office PCs very well!

The only cons were that the base of the heat sink was a bit rough and the gaps between the heat pipes and the heat sink base were large. Thermal performance was very good so this shouldn't deter any. Beta drivers work fine except Overdrive which didn't want to set the card speeds but did work with fan control. A new driver release slated to come out soon from AMD should patch this up just fine. Right now, consumers can purchase more powerful cards for around the same price thanks to rebates with older generation products. Even some 6850s and GTX 460s are going for less, so pricing will have to be adjusted to help the card sell.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: