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Just Because You're Fastest Doesn't Make You The Best

Radeon HD 7990 And GeForce GTX 690: Bring Out The Big Guns
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Performance Winner: HIS 7970 X2

On paper, HIS' 7970 X2 looks like it should outperform the other two contenders. Indeed, its elevated core and memory clock rates help the board dominate our benchmarks. In almost every test, it's the fastest card in this round-up. 

Granted, AMD's CrossFire profile for Battlefield 3 doesn’t work very well, and the company's beta Catalyst 12.11 driver accelerates performance in some (but not all) games. Even still, this card enjoys the benefit of being the fastest we've tested, matching or besting two Radeon HD 7970s in CrossFire.

What it doesn't enjoy is availability. We aren't sure when it'll show up on store shelves. And when it does, we don't know how much it will cost. Consequently, HIS' win is largely symbolic in this battle of dual-GPU behemoths.

The King of Eye Candy: PowerColor Devil13 HD7990

PowerColor gives its dual-Tahiti-based card the much-anticipated 7990 model designator, even though AMD still hasn't launched a reference design of its own. With an easily-accessible overclocked BIOS and AMD's new beta Catalyst 12.11 drivers, the board manages to edge out EVGA's GeForce GTX 690 in a number of the performance measurements. 

A generous accessory bundle, very exclusive-looking packaging, and aggressive looks make this card a collector's item. Aftermarket water cooling would even be nifty for a card like this. Unfortunately, a limited run makes it unlikely that we'll ever see blocks designed for the Devil13's GPUs.

Thanks to a head start, PowerColor's flagship board actually does show up on Newegg for $1000 (even though it's out of stock as of this writing). We're most bothered, however, by the coil whine that is audible on two separate samples we received under most forms of load.

Efficiency Winner: EVGA GeForce GTX 690

Both cards based on AMD's highest-end GPUs draw power like there is no tomorrow (or at least like you won't have a bill to pay at the end of the month). They even manage to blow past the theoretical 525 W limit defined by the PCI-SIG electromechanical specification for three eight-pin connectors and a 16-lane slot.

EVGA's GeForce GTX 690 draws a lot less power, and what it does consume it uses more efficiently. The card only takes up two slots. Plus, it's the quietest board in our round-up.

Because it launched first, EVGA's competition knew what bar they'd have to hit in order to outperform the GeForce GTX 690. As a result, this is not necessarily the fastest board in every test, though it still scores first-place finishes in some of them. The elegance with which it does its job, though, is appreciated after benchmarking the big, power-hungry Tahiti-based competition.

EVGA's three-year warranty is something to consider, too (compared to PowerColor's two-year coverage and HIS' presumed two-year guarantee).

Finally, we cannot ignore availability. Although GeForce GTX 690s were hard to find when they first launched, EVGA's offering currently goes for $1000 if you want one right now. And from what we saw over the previous 18 pages, if we were spending $1000 on a graphics card, this would be the one to buy.

Final Thoughts

None of the three cards in today's comparison dominates the competition completely. The best-performing model depends on what you're looking to do. AMD's new Catalyst 12.11 beta driver shows us that, even after running all of the benchmarks, we can still be surprised by how a GPU performs even months after its introduction. Moreover, we can never be 100% sure that one board or another will always have an advantage in a specific application.

Even though we like AMD's performance numbers post-Catalyst 12.11, we don't really like how the company got there. It might have taken the crown with its brute force, power-hungry approach, but we would have preferred a little finesse.

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Top Comments
  • 25 Hide
    twinshadow , November 8, 2012 8:47 AM
    if you are spending 1000$ dollars on a video card paying a Power bill is not an issue
  • 24 Hide
    abbadon_34 , November 8, 2012 7:57 AM
    wow, microstuttering is a now a non issue , at least AMD
  • 21 Hide
    Anonymous , November 8, 2012 6:43 AM
    thanks for the in depth analysis with adaptive V-sync and radeon pro helping with micro stutter.

    not to take away anything for the hard work performed; i would have liked have seen nvidia's latest beta driver, 310.33, included also to see if nvidia is doing anything to improve the performance of their card instead of just adding 3d vision, AO, and sli profiles.
Other Comments
  • 7 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , November 8, 2012 5:40 AM
    IMHO, the GTX690 looks best. There is something really alluring about shiny white metallic shine and the fine metal mesh. Along with the fluorescent green branding.
    Maybe i am too much of a retro SF buff :) 
  • 12 Hide
    tacoslave , November 8, 2012 6:03 AM
    i wept
  • 18 Hide
    hellfire24 , November 8, 2012 6:04 AM
    your test system is sexy!!!!!!!
  • 20 Hide
    willyroc , November 8, 2012 6:05 AM
    You can't really go wrong either way with these generally insane(so to speak) cards.
  • -7 Hide
    amuffin , November 8, 2012 6:34 AM
    Is it just me or do the 7970X2 and 7990 coolers look so fast and fugly? :heink: 
  • 21 Hide
    Anonymous , November 8, 2012 6:43 AM
    thanks for the in depth analysis with adaptive V-sync and radeon pro helping with micro stutter.

    not to take away anything for the hard work performed; i would have liked have seen nvidia's latest beta driver, 310.33, included also to see if nvidia is doing anything to improve the performance of their card instead of just adding 3d vision, AO, and sli profiles.
  • 18 Hide
    esrever , November 8, 2012 6:45 AM
    can we get some quadfire benchmarks too? :D 
  • -6 Hide
    RazorBurn , November 8, 2012 6:55 AM
    AMD's Dual GPU at 500+ Watts of electricity is out for me.. Too Much Power and Noise..
  • 7 Hide
    mohit9206 , November 8, 2012 6:56 AM
    2 670's in sli is better than spending on a 690 and 2 7950's in Xfire is better than spending on a 7990. this way you save nearly $300 both ways
  • 24 Hide
    abbadon_34 , November 8, 2012 7:57 AM
    wow, microstuttering is a now a non issue , at least AMD
  • 10 Hide
    ojas , November 8, 2012 8:02 AM
    Good read!

    But, would have liked to see 680s in SLI, to see how they scale now compared to the 690.

    Also, would using two single GPUs in CF/SLI make a difference to the micro-stuttering charts? iirc, the PCIe controller is tied to the CPU for SB/IB chips? So that would mean no 3rd party bridge in between the two GPUs as in the case of the 7990 and 690. Would that make a diff?

    How do you manage to isolate the cards' power consumption at load (idle is simpler)? And noise too: how do you block out the case fans and CPU cooler?
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , November 8, 2012 8:07 AM
    The radeon pro is saving AMD's butt

    But In the end, 690 was slower than 7990 average framerate but with Radeon Pro, it is the 7990 which is slower right?

    So yes it's better than without, but the 690 is faster, as smooth, and use a built in technology

    AMD really need to work on it's crossfire technology
  • 12 Hide
    blazorthon , November 8, 2012 8:08 AM
    amuffinIs it just me or do the 7970X2 and 7990 coolers look so fast and fugly?


    I don't think they look "fast and ugly", although I do think that the HIS model could do with some more finesse.
  • 10 Hide
    FormatC , November 8, 2012 8:17 AM
    Quote:
    How do you manage to isolate the cards' power consumption at load (idle is simpler)? And noise too: how do you block out the case fans and CPU cooler?
    The noise was measured with the open benchtable, not in case (no extra case fans and an ultra silent fan on the hidden CPU cooler)

    For the power consumption: 3 current clamps with monitoring ;) 
  • 17 Hide
    Novuake , November 8, 2012 8:42 AM
    Interesting, AMD has a winner at the top tier! That hasn't happened in a while. CODOS to that.
  • 25 Hide
    twinshadow , November 8, 2012 8:47 AM
    if you are spending 1000$ dollars on a video card paying a Power bill is not an issue
  • 6 Hide
    blazorthon , November 8, 2012 8:47 AM
    NovuakeInteresting, AMD has a winner at the top tier! That hasn't happened in a while. CODOS to that.


    Technically, HIS has a winner, not AMD because AMD didn't launch a 7990/7970X2 reference;)
  • -5 Hide
    blazorthon , November 8, 2012 8:54 AM
    twinshadowif you are spending 1000$ dollars on a video card paying a Power bill is not an issue


    Actually, the only person who I ever recommended a GTX 690 to wanted it specifically because of its low power consumption literally being enough to pay for itself compared to his previous graphics setup due to his high cost for power. Some people looking for such high end cards most certainly do care about power consumption.
  • 18 Hide
    FormatC , November 8, 2012 8:56 AM
    1 kW/h in Germany: 0.25 Euro (approx. 0.34 USD)
    This IS an issue. ;) 
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