November 2009: AMD Radeon HD 5970
Two months after launching the Radeon HD 5870, AMD introduced its Radeon HD 5970, the first dual-GPU equipped Radeon without the X2 suffix. This monster boasted 3200 total stream processors, a 725 MHz core clock, and dual 1 GB banks of GDDR5 memory at a 4 MT/s effective data rate. Although Nvidia released the impressive GeForce GTX 480 a few months later, it couldn't best the Radeon HD 5970. Even the GeForce GTX 580 wasn't fast enough to cleanly sweep its competition in November 2010, and AMD's card held the championship belt for more than a year.
March 2011: AMD Radeon HD 6990 And Nvidia GeForce GTX 590
In March of 2011, both AMD and Nvidia showed us their ultra high-end dual-GPU flagships. The Radeon HD 6990 has a total combined 3072 ALUs, an 830 MHz core clock, and dual-2 GB banks of GDDR5 memory at 5 GT/s. The GeForce GTX 590 features a total 1024 CUDA cores, a 607 MHz core, an independent 1215 MHz shader clock, and two banks of RAM at 3412 MT/s. These cards trade blows, depending on the application and settings, and were released at darn close to the same time. Some folks (like our editor-in-chief Chris Angelini) might argue that the GeForce GTX 590 should win based on the Radeon HD 6990's overly-loud cooling fan (Ed.: Actually, I'd skip both cards, personally), but we'll keep raw performance as the main criteria for this list and call this one a tie. Unfortunately, these cards quickly sold out, and we're seeing dismal availability of both flagships.
At this point, it's up to Nvidia or AMD to change the status quo with their next-generation graphics chipsets, and as always, we're looking forward to report what the future will bring. We hope you enjoyed our trip through graphics card history as much as we did; it stirred up a lot of good memories.