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Sapphire Radeon HD 6990 4GB Video Card Review

Our Sapphire HD 6990 4GB has literally just arrived and we test it straight away to find out what kind of performance is on offer from this beast.

Manufacturer: SapphireTech
15 minutes & 58 seconds read time

Introduction and Package Pictures


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I really thought it would be more of a race to the release of a Dual GPU card. We heard rumors that NVIDIA would have something at CeBIT, but that's come and gone and nothing was really announced or mentioned. It was similar for the AMD camp, but over that time we knew that the card was coming out within the second week of March.

Instead it seems the NVIDIA Dual GPU card has gone a little quiet and the AMD offering has arrived. It's quite possible that NVIDIA want to make sure they're offering a faster card than the AMD one and it's going to take this card to be released before they know exactly what kind of performance they're aiming for.

We're going to be getting into the performance side of things quite quickly here, because if you haven't already seen it, we did quite a large article that covers all the technical information regarding the new model. There we also included some pictures of the Sapphire card and spoke about some of the other extras that we're seeing from this series. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend that you check it out here as it will give you some of the more technical information regarding the specifications and a much closer look at everything on the card.

Because we did this article, we're just going to look at some of our own pictures of the card and then we'll have a quick look at the specifications with GPU-Z and recap the clocks that are on offer.

Package Pictures

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Card Pictures & Specification

Card Pictures

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Again, as we mentioned in the introduction, to get a good run down on what exactly we're looking at here we highly recommend that you take the time to head over to our Technical Preview that covers all this information and more.


The Sapphire card like you would expect carries with it just the reference clocks; of course there are two positions our "Dual BIOS" switch can be placed in which carries with it two different speeds.

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In "Position 2" (the shipping position) you can see above our clocks come in at 830MHz on the core and 5500MHz QDR on the memory. Below, though, you can see the card in "Position 1" which keeps the memory at the same 5500MHz QDR, but increases the core to 880MHz.

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Again, though, if you want to find out more about this features we really recommend that you take the time to check out our Technical Preview.

Test System Setup and 3DMark 11

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We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: Intel, ASRock, Kingston, Mittoni, Noctua and Corsair.

Being such a new high end card, we've got a large line-up of models we'll be comparing the Sapphire HD 6990 4GB to, and because it's a dual GPU card we'll be putting a lot of the focus on dual GPU setups from both AMD and NVIDIA.

On the AMD front we've got the stand alone flagship single GPU HD 6970 2GB; we've also got the HD 6870, HD 6950 and the HD 6970 all in CrossFire. For NVIDIA we've got their flagship model, the GTX 580, and we've also got the GTX 560 Ti and GTX 580 in SLI.

We would've liked to have included a HD 5970 2GB, but both of my samples are dead and have been for a little while now. It's the main reason we don't use the model anymore in our Catalyst articles.

The focus is indeed dual GPU setups and that's because while the HD 6990 4GB is only a single card, it does carry with it two cores and it's important to know how this single card compares to those dual GPU, dual card setups.

Also, initially we'll be just testing the HD 6990 4GB at its out of the box speed, which is "Position 2" on the Dual BIOS switch. We will look at "Position 1" or "AUSUM" mode when we also look at overclocking in a separate article coming soon.

Let's get started!

3DMark 11

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world's most popular benchmark. Designed to measure your PC's gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

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Straight out the gate we can see the kind of performance we're getting out of the box from the HD 6990 4GB. Overall it's a little behind the HD 6970 CF setup as we would expect and a little behind the GTX 580 SLI setup. Clearly the fastest single card solution here, though.

3DMark Vantage

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
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3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware.

3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.

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We know it's a dual GPU card, but damn this is some quick performance for a single card still. We'll see how it goes when we get into the games.

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 2
Developer Homepage:
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New benchmark grants the power to unleash the DirectX 11 potential in the gift wrapping of impressively towering graphics capabilities. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. With the interactive mode emerging experience of exploring the intricate world is ensured within reach. Through its advanced renderer, Unigine is one of the first to set precedence in showcasing the art assets with tessellation, bringing compelling visual finesse, utilizing the technology to the full extend and exhibiting the possibilities of enriching 3D gaming.

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Very strong performance is again seen under Heaven benchmark with the performance being as you would expect. In this case, though, we're a little closer to the HD 6950 CF setup.

Benchmarks - Resident Evil 5

Resident Evil 5

Version and / or Patch Used: Demo Benchmark
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Resident Evil 5 is a survival horror video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the seventh installment in the Resident Evil survival horror series, and was released on September 18. Resident Evil 5 revolves around Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar as they investigate a terrorist threat in Kijuju, a fictional town in Africa.

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As soon as we get into the Dual GPU setups performance is very close between most of the setups.

Benchmarks - Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 is an arcade-style flight action game developed by Ubisoft Romania and published by Ubisoft. The game is the sequel to Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X., released in 2009.

The game begins with Colonel David Crenshaw participating in a routine patrol mission in the Middle East. After halting an insurgent attack, a volley of missiles is fired at the Air Force base that Crenshaw was stationed at, with one of the missiles disabling Crenshaw's aircraft, resulting Crenshaw being in enemy captivity. A joint strike force composed of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and a Ghost Recon squad executes an operation to rescue Crenshaw. In Scotland, Royal Navy Pilot Colin Munro encounters an unidentified passenger aircraft that explodes from an on-board bomb when undergoing training exercise. In Russia, an air force squadron led by Colonel Denisov and Captain Dmitri Sokov engages separatist aircraft but is ordered to retreat from the region after numerous Russian military installations have been attacked.

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H.A.W.X. 2 does indeed tend to favor the NVIDIA offerings, but you can see here there's just some massive performance to be had from this card under this game.

Benchmarks - Mafia II

Mafia II

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

Mafia II is a third-person action-adventure video game, the sequel to Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven. It is developed by 2K Czech, previously known as Illusion Softworks, and is published by 2K Games. The game is set from 1943 to 1951 in Empire Bay (the name is a reference to New York's state nickname "The Empire State"), a fictional city based on San Francisco and New York City, with influences from Chicago and Detroit. The game features a completely open-ended game map of 10 square miles. No restrictions are included from the start of the game. There are around 50 vehicles in the game, as well as licensed music from the era.

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Mafia 2 doesn't make the best use out of CrossFire as it does SLI. You can see some good numbers across the board with the HD 6990 4GB performing very close to the HD 6970 2GB CF setup, and more importantly the numbers are strong at all resolutions, but Mafia 2 really prefers the NVIDIA offerings.

Benchmarks - Lost Planet 2

Lost Planet 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark - Test A Scene 1
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Lost Planet 2 is a third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition which is also made by Capcom, taking place ten years after the events of the first game, on the same fictional planet. The story takes place back on E.D.N. III 10 years after the events of the first game. The snow has melted to reveal jungles and more tropical areas that have taken the place of more frozen regions. The plot begins with Mercenaries fighting against Jungle Pirates. After destroying a mine, the Mercenaries continue on to evacuate the area, in which a Category-G Akrid appears and attacks them. After being rescued, they find out their evacuation point (Where the Category-G appeared) was a set-up and no pick up team awaited them. The last words imply possible DLC additions to the game, "There's nothing to be gained by wiping out snow pirates... unless you had some kind of grudge."

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You just know people are going to say, these cards aren't made for single screen setups and that, but it's just not true. At 2560 x 1600 Lost Planet 2 kills every single card solution until today, and yes it's a dual GPU offering, but it's so important to remember it's only taking up one of your PCI-E slots.

Benchmarks - Aliens vs. Predator

Aliens vs. Predator

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage:
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Aliens vs. Predator is a science fiction first-person shooter video game, developed by Rebellion Developments, the team behind the 1999 original PC game, and published by Sega for Microsoft Windows, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. The game is based on the Alien vs. Predator franchise, a combination of the characters and creatures of the Alien franchise and the Predator franchise. There are three campaigns in the game, one for each race/faction (the Predators, the Aliens and the Colonial Marines), that, while separate in terms of individual plot and gameplay, form one overarching storyline.

Following the storyline of the campaign modes comes the multiplayer aspect of the game. In this Multiplayer section of the game, players face off in various different gametypes in various different ways.

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Aliens vs. Predator 2 is again a super intensive game and here you can see across the board we've got fantastic performance at all resolutions and again all in a card that takes only one PCI-E slot.

Benchmarks - Street Fighter IV

Street Fighter IV

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

While Street Fighter IV features models and backgrounds rendered in 3D, the gameplay remains on a traditional 2D plane, with the camera having freedom to move in 3D at certain times during fights, for dramatic effect. Producer Yoshinori Ono has stated that he wanted to keep the game closer to Street Fighter II. A new system called "Focus Attacks" ("Saving Attack" for the Japanese version) has been introduced, as well as Ultra moves. The traditional six-button control scheme returns, with new features and special moves integrated into the input system, mixing classic gameplay with additional innovations.

All the characters and environments in Street Fighter IV are rendered as 3D models with polygons, similar to the Street Fighter EX sub-series Capcom produced with Arika. However, there are a couple of key differences. Art director and character designer Daigo Ikeno, who previously worked on Street Fighter III 3rd Strike, opted for non-photorealistic rendering to give them a hand-drawn look, with visual effects accented in calligraphic strokes, ink smudges and ink sprays during the fights.

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SF IV is good for a laugh and you can see the serious performance that's again on offer from this single card solution.

Benchmarks - Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01
Timedemo or Level Used: Ranch Long
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
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The Dunia Engine was built specifically for Far Cry 2 by the award-winning Ubisoft Montreal development team. It delivers the most realistic destructible environments, amazing special effects such as dynamic fire propagation and storm effects, real-time night-and-day cycle, dynamic music system, non-scripted enemy A.I. and so much more.

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Far Cry 2 holds no surprises with just very strong performance across the board at all resolutions. The card continues to perform just as we would expect it to.

Benchmarks - Batman Arkham Asylum

Batman Arkham Asylum

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Batman: Arkham Asylum exposes players to a unique, dark and atmospheric adventure that takes them to the depths of Arkham Asylum - Gotham's psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. Gamers will move in the shadows, instigate fear amongst their enemies and confront The Joker and Gotham City's most notorious villains who have taken over the asylum.

Using a wide range of Batman's gadgets and abilities, players will become the invisible predator and attempt to foil The Joker's demented scheme.
Batman: Arkham Asylum features an original story penned exclusively for the game by famous Batman author and five-time Emmy award winner Paul Dini, whose credits include Lost season one and Batman: The Animated Series.

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You can see under Batman AA we've hit a wall with our minimum FPS which is something we see a lot on these high end setups. There's no surprise at all, though, when it comes to the card offering playable FPS.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF

High Quality AA and AF

Our high quality tests let us separate the men from the boys and the ladies from the girls. If the cards weren't struggling before they will start to now.

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Cranking up all that Eye Candy doesn't berng the card to its knees in any sense of the word. Just some fantastic power on tap here that helps create a great gaming experience.

Temperature Test

Temperature Tests

The temperature of the core is pulled from MSI Afterburner with the max reading used after a completed run off 3DMark Vantage and the Performance preset.

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Out of the box the HD 6990 4GB really isn't that hot a running card considering we've got these two power hungry GPUs sharing only a single fan. AMD have clearly put some thought into the cooling solution.

Sound Test

Sound Tests

Pulling out the TES 1350A Sound Level Meter we find ourselves quickly yelling into the top of it to see how loud we can be.

After five minutes of that we get a bit more serious and place the device two CM away from the fan on the card to find the maximum noise level of the card when idle (2D mode) and in load (3D mode).

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Under 3DMark Vantage where we take our noise levels the card is again not too bad at 67.2 dB. What I noticed sometimes, though, during my testing was the card would become more audible. I pulled out the sound meter and grabbed a number of 75.3 dB at its worst times. All day during my testing the card only hit this a couple of times and for the most part it was under 70 dB, but it was something that had to be mentioned.

Power Consumption Tests

Using our new PROVA Power Analyzer WM-01 or "Power Thingy" as it has become quickly known as to our readers, we are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into AC wall socket).

There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.

The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a SSD hard drive is used with a single CD ROM and minimal cooling fans.

So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.

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Power draw on the card is strong with it coming in lower than the HD 6970 CF setup. It's actually a good 75watt lower which is impressive. Of course "AUSUM" mode is where it will probably got all pear shaped.

Total Performance Rating (TPR)

Total Performance Rating

The TPR graph is a combination of all our benchmarks in which NVIDIA and AMD are on an even playing field.

The TPR number is a combination of:

3DMark 11, Heaven Benchmark V2, Resident Evil 5, Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.2, Mafia 2 (PhysX Off), Lost Planet 2, Aliens vs. Predator, Street Fighter IV, Far Cry 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum (PhysX Off) and our four High Quality tests which include Mafia 2, Aliens vs. Predator, Street Fighter IV and Far Cry 2.

All of the benchmark results achieved are then combined into a single number. As this graph will grow over time and cards won't be re-tested, next to each model you'll find the driver version that was used when the card was benchmarked.

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Overall the HD 6990 4GB doesn't hold any real surprises after you look at what's on offer. You've essentially got two HD 6970s strapped to a single PCB that are slightly down clocked. What's that create overall? Slightly lower performance than a pair of HD 6970s in CrossFire.

Total Value Rating (TVR)

Total Value Rating

The TVR graph is the TPR score divided by the price of the video card. The price of the video card is based on the list price of the model on In the event the card isn't listed, it will be based on the U.S. $ MSRP given to us by the manufacturer.

In the event we can't source a price from either, the product will not receive a TVR rating. As with our TPR graph, the amount of video cards on the list will grow over time and the price of the model won't change from what it was when first reviewed. For this reason the U.S. $ price that the card is based off will be included next to the name of the model.

In the event you want to find the TVR rating yourself based on the current price, all you have to do is simply divide the TPR number by the list price.

TVR numbers are rounded to the nearest whole number; 100.3 will be 100; 100.8 will be 101 and 100.5 will be rounded down to 100.

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At $699 US this card doesn't exactly scream value, but its price isn't that bad considering what you've got. Compared to buying two separate HD 6970 2GB cards as well, there's really not all that much of a premium.

Final Thoughts

Like I just said in our Total Performance Rating graph, the Sapphire HD 6990 4GB doesn't really shock us when it comes to performance. Without the card I could probably quite easily emulate results similar to what we've got here today with the HD 6970 in CrossFire slightly down clocked.

So what? We're left a little disappointed? Not at all; the thing is when you slot that single card into that single PCI-E slot it all comes together. The amount of performance coming out of a single card is just crazy, so crazy, and that's what makes the card so appealing.

I loved the HD 5970 2GB; sure it had problems, especially at launch, but it was great to have that amount of power on offer from a single card. That single card was able to handle my EyeFinity setup with no issue at all. I didn't want to have to use two cards, so much so that when I started having issues with my HD 5970 that I just threw in a HD 6870. I've been waiting months for a replacement to that and I've found it.

You know that the fanboys are going to come out now, though, and we're going to get into that "Fastest Single GPU" argument. Sure NVIDIA hold that with the GTX 580, but if you have the need for speed and you only want a single card, the HD 6990 4GB is the one to buy.

CrossFire scaling is excellent, the price is strong, the performance is fantastic, driver issues seem almost non-existent and connectivity is unreal. It's all made better by the fact that we haven't even flicked that little switch yet and made use of "AUSUM" mode.

AMD can loudly and proudly shout from the rooftops that they have the fastest video card in the world. Partners hope they're shouting it for a few months while NVIDIA no doubt hope to be shouting over them soon.

In the end, though, today the HD 6990 4GB is the Fastest Card in the World and for a lot of people that's all that matters.

We've got to give Kudos to AMD for making a card that again uses their top single GPU, the HD 6970, as the basis for the card. They haven't cut down stream processors or the memory bus width. Sure they've had to move the clocks around a little, but that's easy to overcome via overclocking.

Sapphire of course hasn't done much with the card due to the fact that it's only based on the reference design at the moment. It will be really interesting to see if Sapphire hit it up soon though and attack it with the ATOMIC or TOXIC series. I suppose only time will tell. For now, though, I have to shake the nerd chills as you do get quite giddy with the amount of performance that's on offer from this card.

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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