Introducing AMD’s HD 6790
Today we are introducing the HD 6790, AMD’s midrange video card. It is a budget solution as it etails for what AMD calls a “hard pricing” of $149 and it is expected to perform well at 1920×1080 resolution. Here it is in its most basic engineering sample form as AMD’s partners will decide even whether it will have one 6-pin PCIe connector or two. It is designed to crush Nvidia’s recently released GTX 550 Ti in both price and performance.
AMD Graphics and Nvidia are locked in a perpetual battle to one up each other in what can only be described as a “graphics war”. Nvidia had issues with introducing their Fermi DX11 architecture and video cards and AMD beat them to the market by over six months with the first DX11 video cards. In April of last year, Nvidia launched their GTX 470 and GTX 480 which were criticized for being hot-running, power-hungry and loud although they offered somewhat higher performance than AMD’s HD 5870 and HD 5850. It appears that AMD actually believed that Fermi was unfixable.
However, a few months later, Nvidia’s midrange GTX 460 turned out to be a very successful reworking of GF100 Fermi into GF104 that scaled well, ran cool, had good thermal characteristics, overclocked well and no doubt ate into AMD’s then DX11 90% marketshare. To combat GTX 460, AMD released their HD 6000 series codenamed “Barts” with HD 6870 and HD 6850 being debuted this past October. This is not AMD’s high end, codenamed “Cayman”, which arrived at the end of last year, but rather their upper-midrange which was renamed from HD 58×0 series and is designed to take on and surpass the GTX 460 and all of its variants. Both the AMD and the Nvidia GPUs are relatively complex and expensive to make so it stands to reason that lower-cost similarly-performing GPUs would be introduced to improve their margins.
We see that the HD 6970 and HD 6950 are designed to combat Nvidia’s brand new reworked GF110 which debuted since the HD 68×0 launch as thermally tamed and quiet-running GTX 580 and GTX 570 video cards which significantly surpass the HD 58×0 series’ performance. And of course Nvidia has upped the GTX 460 ante by releasing their GTX 560 TI a couple of months ago. Finally, just over two weeks ago, Nvidia aimed for AMD’s bread and butter, the HD 5770 with their $150 “soft priced” GTX 550 Ti.
Today we see another ‘Barts’, the HD 6790, AMD cut-down GPU basically replacing their HD 5830; at least as a “spiritual successor” as it fill the same hole in AMD’s lineup between the HD 5770 and the HD 6850. This card has been designed to completely crush the GTX 550 Ti’s performance. The reference version is physically a long card the same size as the HD 6870. Of course, AMD Graphics’ AiB partners are free to engineer this card as they see fit. Here is a Powercolor version with only one 6-pin PCIe connector.
ABT was represented by this editor at AMD’s Press Day at the famous LA Exchange in October and saw AMD’s vision unfold further for us. Since we are going to focus on the HD 6790 ‘s performance in 28 games, we will only give you the barest outline of their 5 hour presentation which covered “Barts”, “Cayman” and “Antillies” graphics cards. We do see that the reason that they chose downtown Los Angeles is symbolic of their increasing commitment to the movie industry and they have partnered up with several Hollywood movie studios to increase productivity by using AMD hardware and know how. They also used the presentation to introduce their support for 3D in PC gaming and 3D for video playback.
AMD’s Press Event was called “Believe Your Eyes” and they laid out their vision for the world’s press. AMD feels that Fusion is uniquely suited to conquer the world and they stress the “firsts” they have accomplished, including being first to bring DX11 GPUs to market very quickly and successfully. They are quite proud of their marketshare and do not intend to allow Nvidia to easily make inroads.
AMD points out the advantages of their Eyefinity which now allows more displays to be driven off of a single card – up to six displays now with a hub adapter – rather than with Nvidia’s competing Surround solutions which require two similar video cards running in SLI to power 3 displays.
A rose by any other name …
Today, AMD Graphics is proud to introduce a new Barts, the HD 6970, with better performance, but still on the same 40 nm process as the Cypress 5000 series. With the release of the HD 6790, AMD wants to tackle 1920×1080 gaming with a $150 video card. Here is another look at the engineering sample. The connectors will be the same with the exception of a choice of either one or two 6-pin PCIe connectors. Obviously two connectors are usually better for overclocking than one.
Here is AMD’s continuation of their video card strategy with the addition of the new HD 6990 at the very top and now the HD 6970 coming in above the HD 5700 series in performance but at a similar launch price:
Until now, we only saw changes to the upper midrange and at the high end. AMD continued the HD 5700 series until now; unchanged, as they evidently felt unchallenged by Nvidia’s GTS 450 which we reviewed here against HD 5750. In the above chart, we see the HD 5800 series diverge into 3 streams – the “Antilles” reviewed today, an “X2″ video card at the highest end as a successor to the current dual-GPU HD 5970; the “Cayman” as HD 6970 and HD 6950 which is using AMD’s fastest single GPU to succeed to surpass the Cypress HD 5870.
Here is the updated product strategy since AMD is responding to the newly released GTX 550 Ti which is faster than the HD 5770 and which we reviewed a few days ago here. AMD’s partners have already renamed the OEM HD 5750/5770 into HD 6750/6770, so the “6790” choice of a name is logical as it positions the new card as shown below.
Here is the Sapphire HD 6790.
Frankly, on paper the HD 6790 looks to be no improvement at all over the HD 5770. The only obvious advantage is the 256-bit memory bus which helps at higher resolutions. However, AMD claims close to a 30% improvement over the HD 5770 from architectural improvements and other tweaks which should then put it solidly faster than the GTX 550 Ti which only edged out the HD 5770 overall. We shall test it for you. But first see what’s new in HD 6790 over the HD 5770. We will soon see that it has more in common with HD 68×0 than HD 57×0.
What’s new in HD 6790?
Since “seeing is believing” is AMD’s theme for the 6000 series launch and it is all about the 3 “eyes”, we shall briefly cover them again here:
Under Eyedefinition, we see a further subdivision with more efficient tesselation; there is mention of a Barts tweaked engine, offering up to 2x the tessellation performance of the HD 58×0 GPUs – an area where AMD was perceived weak in comparison to Nvidia’s Fermi GPUs in heavily tessellated benchmarks and games. With Cayman we see the potential for a further increase of geometry performance and we also see mention of enhanced architecture for efficiently using GPU compute and for improvement and performance in games. We also note improvements in Anisotropic Filtering (AF) and new Anti-Aliasing modes – morphological AA and EQAA.
Eyespeed refers to GPU compute and to AMD’s “open initiative” approach to (everything and especially to) OpenCL, in contrast to Nvidia’s use of their own proprietary GPU language, CUDA. We see AMD partnering with Cyberlink, Arcsoft, Viewdle, Adobe, Microsoft and more companies (some of which are also Nvidia’s partners) to bring you, the end consumer, quality video processing and playback; and of course, UVD 3 accelerated decoding for 3D BluRay playback.
In our HD 68×0 launch article, we evaluated AMD’s claim of 35% better performance per mm over HD 58×0 and found that the HD 6870 is about equal in performance to HD 5850 overall. Not really too much has architecturally changed from Cypress except that Barts has up to 2x the performance of the tessellator in the HD 58×0 GPU. Here is the Barts GPU from AMD’s own presentation slide.
We were able to confirm that tessellation was superior in Barts over Cypress in Tessellation-heavy games and engines; in Lost Planet 2 and in Unigine’s Heaven, we saw the weaker-performing HD 6870 beat the generally faster HD 5870. We note that the HD 6790 still uses the Radeon’s VLIW5 core architecture. Overall efficiency will be improved over the HD 5570 Cypress GPU.
To see what it brings new, we note that the UVD engine has been updated; HDMI 1.4a is available for 3D Blu-ray and we see an improved Tesselator Engine. AMD now uses a second Ultra Threaded Dispatch Processor and an improved engine logic. We have noted in previous reviews, that Nvidia’s Fermi GPUs are faster in heavily tessellated scenes than competitive AMD Cypress GPUs. Well, now AMD claims a solid tessellation improvement over Cypress and HD 58×0 series and calls their method “tessellating the right way”.
Morphological Adaptive AA
AMD’s new morphological anti-aliasing technique works as a post process effect. In other words, the GPU finishes rendering each frame as usual – but before presenting it to the display, it runs it through another shader pass to perform the filtering. This differs from traditional multi-sample and super-sample AA techniques where the filtering occurs during the rendering of each frame. In fact, this technique can eliminate aliasing for still images, though it’s intended to work better when in motion.
The filter works by first detecting high contrast edges with various pixel-sized patterns that are normally associated with aliasing, and assumes they should actually be straight lines that are not aligned to pixel edges. It then estimates the length and angle of the ideal line for each edge, and determines the proportional coverage by the lighter and darker color for each pixel along the edge. Finally it uses this coverage information to blend the colors for each pixel. All of this is actually being accomplished by the Catalyst drivers through a DirectCompute shader while the Local Data Share is used to keep adjacent pixels in memory for a low overall overhead. It will be interesting to see if AMD chooses to extend this morphological adaptive AA to the 5000 series as there is no reason it cannot be done, except perhaps to differentiate HD 6000 series from the current one.
AMD’s diagrams (below) should help to illustrate how this is accomplished.
Since the edge detection step requires frequent sampling and re-sampling of adjacent pixel colors, it offers a lot of opportunities for data re-use by using the LDS (Local Data Share) hardware to avoid redundant data fetches and to significantly improve performance.
Anisotropic Filtering (AF)
With the HD 5000 series, AMD brought genuine angle-independent filtering to gaming by putting an end to angle-dependent deficiencies. The AMD Radeon HD 6900 series continues to support fully angle invariant anisotropic filtering, and incorporates further improvements in LOD precision relative to the ATI Radeon HD 5000 Series. These image quality benefits come with no additional performance cost and remain enabled at all Texture Filtering Quality settings.
Like Cypress, all Barts, Cayman and Antilles GPUs are produced with the 40 nm process. AMD’s reference Cayman Radeon HD 6970 has 800 Stream Processors with its core operating at 840 MHz with 1GB of GDDR5 at 4.2 GHz (880/1050 MHz) on a 256-bit bus. There are 16 ROPs and 64 Texture units which means it was severely cut down from the HD 6850 so as not to compete with it performance-wise.
The HD 6790’s 256-bit bus is going to be a natural advantage over it’s rival the GTX 550 Ti’s 192-bit bus at higher resolutions. In fact, Nvidia advertises their GTX 550 Ti as suited for 1680×1050 while AMD says their HD 6790 is perfect for 1080 resolutions
The HD 6790’s maximum load board power is 150 watts and its idle is 19 watts and it uses either a single 6-pin or else two 6-pin PCIe cables. Here is the specification chart for the HD 6790.
We put all of our Radeon cards through their paces this week with the very latest WHQL drivers – Catalyst 11-2 except for HD 6790 and HD 5770 which used the latest preview drivers 11.4. This driver brought some good performance increases over the 11-2 WHQL drivers. We used the release driver for the GTX 550 Ti (267.59) and the latest WHQL 266.58 for the other Nvidia video cards. We did not find a lot of performance increases when we partially tested the new 270 preview drivers from Nvidia and will leave that testing for later.
Is AMD’s HD 6790 worth $20 or so more than the GTX 550 Ti and what about the GTX 460?
We naturally want to know if the new AMD HD 6790 card is worth $150 as we compare it to the $150 GTX 550 Ti – now regularly discounted to $130 – and the $150 GTX 460; after all it is in the same price range. We will have to do the testing and then you can answer these questions for yourself together with us in our conclusion.
The overclock on our HD 6790 can best be described as decent – from 840/1050 MHz to 940/1200MHz . It was not stable at 970 MHz and we had some issues with the unseasonably warm temperatures in our testing lab that went in excess of 80F. We only used CCC to set our Radeon overclocks and we did not increase the core voltage nor change the fan profile and we tested in a very warm environment that could be described as “Summer-like”. We settled on only a moderate vRAM overclock as we did not get consistent performance improvement going much higher.
We used our Intel Core i7-920 at 3.8 GHz for this evaluation with turbo on (one core will hit 3.99GHz) so there was almost zero chance of any significant CPU bottlenecking. Read on to see our test bed and the games we used.
Test Configuration – Hardware
- Intel Core i7 920-reference 2.66 GHz and overclocked to 3.8 GHz; 21x multiplier for 3.97 GHz, Turbo is on.
- Gigabyte EX58-UD3R (Intel X58 chipset, latest BIOS, PCIe 2.0 specification; CrossFire/SLI 16x+16x).
- 6 GB OCZ DDR3 PC1800 Kingston RAM (3×2 GB, tri-channel at PC1600 speeds; 2×2 GB supplied by Kingston)
- AMD Radeon HD 6790 (1GB 840/1050 and overclocked to 940/1200MHz) supplied by AMD
- AMD Radeon HD 6950 (2GB 800/1250 MHz) supplied by AMD
- AMD Radeon HD 6870 (1GB, reference clocks, 900/1050 MHz) supplied by AMD
- Diamond Radeon HD 5870 (1GB reference clocks 850/1200MHz)
- AMD Radeon HD 5770 (1GB, reference clocks 850/1200MHz), on loan by a friend
- GeForce GTS 450 (1GB reference clocks 675/1800MHz) supplied by Galaxy
- EVGA GeForce GTX 550 Ti; 1GB at reference clocks (901/2180MHz) supplied by EVGA
- GeForce GTX 560 Ti, 1.0 GB reference design and clocks (833/2004 MHz), supplied by Galaxy/Nvidia
- GeForce GTX 570, 1.2 GB reference design and clocks (732/1900 MHz), supplied by Nvidia.
- Onboard Realtek Audio
- Two identical 500 GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 hard drives configured and set up identically from drive image; one partition for Nvidia GeForce drivers and one for ATI Catalyst drivers
- Thermaltake ToughPower 775 W power supply unit supplied by Thermaltake
- Thermaltake Element G Case supplied by Thermaltake
- Noctua NH-U12P SE2 CPU cooler, supplied by Noctua
- Philips DVD SATA writer
- HP LP3065 2560×1600 thirty inch LCD; ASUS VG236 120Hz 1920×1080 twenty-three inch LCD with 3D Vision kit supplied by Nvidia/ASUS.
Test Configuration – Software
- ATi Catalyst 11.2 WHQL driver for all Radeons except for HD 6790 and HD 5770 (11-4 beta); highest quality mip-mapping set in the driver; surface performance optimizations are off; “use applications settings” are checked
- NVIDIA GeForce release candidate 267.59 for GTX 550 Ti; WHQL 266.58 used for the other GeForce cards. High Quality
- Windows 7 64-bit; very latest updates
- DirectX July/November 2010
- All games are patched to their latest versions.
- vsync is forced off in the control panel.
- Varying AA enabled as noted in games and “forced” in Catalyst Control Center for UT3 ; all in-game settings are specified with 16xAF always applied; 16xAF forced in control panel for Crysis.
- All results show average, minimum and maximum frame rates except as noted.
- Highest quality sound (stereo) used in all games.
- Windows 7 64, all DX9 titles were run under DX9 render paths, DX10 titles were run under DX10 render paths and DX11 titles under DX11 render paths.
- X3:Terran Conflict
- Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
- Call of Duty 4
- Unreal Tournament 3
- Batman: Arkham Asylum
- Grand Theft Auto IV
- Serious Sam, Second Encounter HD (2010)
- Left 4 Dead
- Grand Theft Auto IV
- Mafia II
- Call of Juarez
- Lost Planet
- World in Conflict
- Far Cry 2
- Just Cause 2
- Resident Evil 5
- Alien vs. Predator
- STALKER, Call of Pripyat
- Dirt 2
- F1 2010
- Metro 2033
- Lost Planet 2
- H.A.W.X. 2
- Heaven 2
We have got an interesting project going. Let’s check our results to see if the HD 6790 delivers all that AMD promises. You are going to particularly want to note the HD 6790’s performance in relation to the HD 5770 that it replaces as well as to its competition, the GTX 550 Ti and GTX 460 which sit close to its price range.
Vantage is Futuremark’s DX10 test. It is really useful for tracking changes in a single system – especially driver changes. There are two mini-game tests, Jane Nash and Calico and also two CPU tests, but we are still focusing on the graphics performance. Here is a scene from Vantage’s second mini-game.
Let’s go right to the graphs and first check the basic tests with the default benchmark scores:
For our purposes here, Vantage is a meaningless test although they do attempt to compare one video card’s performance to another by using two short timedemos. For that matter we see good scaling as the GTX 550 Ti is overclocked although it never comes close to the GTX 460 performance in these two tests. Let’s move on to the latest Futuremark benchmark, 3DMark11 which is DX11 only.
3DMark11 is Futuremark’s brand new DX11-only benchmark. We are keeping track of the overall (for these tests, meaningless) scores and the framerates of the 4 graphics tests (which are more meaningful). First the basic tests results.
We note the rankings. Unfortunately, scores are completely meaningless when they are presented in this way. However, the next set of tests actually measures framerates of four short timedemos that focus on DX11 graphics performance.
We see an interesting lineup. Unfortunately for our purposes, 3DMark11 scores are just as meaningless as Vantage in an attempt to compare one video card’s performance to another – even in the same system.
Let’s move on to PC games and to real world situations and we will create our “snapshot” of current performance of the new HD 6790 vs. the GTX 550 Ti to attempt to determine price to performance and how it fits in the current line up and especially how well they do against the HD 5770.
F.E.A.R. – First Encounter Armed Assault is a DX9c game by Monolith Productions that was originally released in October 2005 by Vivendi Universal Production. Later, there were two expansions with the latest, Perseus Mandate, released in 2007. Although the game engine is aging, it still has some of the most spectacular effects of any game. F.E.A.R. showcases a powerful particle system, complete with sparks and smoke for collisions as well as featuring bullet marks and other effects including “soft shadows”. This is highlighted by the built-in performance test, although it was never updated.
This performance test will tell you how F.E.A.R. will run, but both of its expansions are progressively more demanding on your PC graphics and will run slower than the demo. We always run at least two sets of tests with all in-game features at ‘maximum’. F.E.A.R. uses the Jupiter Extended Technology engine from Touchdown Entertainment. We test this game with the most demanding settings. We use fully maxed details with 4xAA/16xAF; soft shadows ‘off’, as they do not play well with AA. Let’s start first at 2560×1600:
We see the new HD 6790 faster is than the GTX 550 Ti and it completely overwhelms its replacement, the HD 5770. However, the GTX 460 plays a spoiler. The GTX 450 and the HD 5770 cannot play F.E.A.R. at the highest resolution whereas the GTX 560 Ti and HD 6790 are fine. We see the HD 6790 also scale well with overclocking. Let’s look at 1920×100:
At 1920×1200 resolution there is not much difference in practically playing F.E.A.R. between the fastest and the slowest video configurations as the minimums are already sufficiently high. However, in this old DX9 game, the GTX 550 Ti is slightly faster than the HD 6790.
X3: Terran Conflict
X3:Terran Conflict (X3:TC) is another beautiful stand-alone benchmark that runs multiple tests and will really strain a lot of older video cards. X3:TC is a space trading and combat simulator from Egosoft and is the most recent of their X-series of computer games.
X3:TC is a standalone expansion of X3: Reunion, based in the same universe and on the same engine. It complements the story of previous games in the X-Universe and especially continues the events after the end of X3: Reunion. Compared to Reunion, Terran Conflict features a larger universe, more ships, and of course, new missions. The X-Universe is huge. The Terran faction was added with their own set of technology including powerful ships and stations. Many new weapons systems were developed for the expansion and it has generally received good reviews. It has a rather steep learning curve.
First we note the results at 2560×1600 with completely maxed out settings plus 8xAA:
The minimums are the same but the HD 6790 edges the GTX 550 Ti which in turn beats the HD 5770 which is solidly faster than the GTX 450. This is good progress!
All of our video cards run close to each other in a fairly tight grouping. The GTX 550 Ti does its job and beats its rival the HD 6790 until that card is overclocked.. However, all of our video cards perform well and all of them experience similar minimum framerates and a similar playing experience. We also note no change in the minimums by overclocking although the HD 6790 scales in the averages as expected.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is an objective-driven, class-based first person shooter set in the Quake universe. It was developed by id Software and Splash Damage and published by Activision. Quake Wars pits the combined human armies of the Global Defense Force against the technologically superior Strogg, an alien race who has come to earth to use humans for spare parts and food. It allows you to play a part, probably best as an online multi-player experience, in the battles waged around the world in mankind’s desperate war to survive.
Quake Wars is an OpenGL game based on id’s Doom3 game engine with the addition of their MegaTexture technology. It also supports some of the latest 3D effects seen in today’s games, including soft particles, although it is somewhat dated and less demanding on video cards than many DX10 games. id’s MegaTexture technology is designed to provide very large maps without having to reuse the same textures over and over again.
For our benchmark we chose the flyby, Salvage Demo. It is one of the most graphically demanding of all the flybys and it is very repeatable and reliable in its results. It is fairly close to what you will experience in-game. All of our settings are set to ‘maximum’ and we also apply 4xAA or 8xAA plus 16xAF in game. First we test at 2560×1600 resolution with all settings fully maxed in-game plus 4xAA/16xAF:
This game was not playable at this high resolution with any AA on our other $130-$180 except for the GTX 460 until we overclocked our HD 6790. So let’s crank up the anti-aliasing from 4x to 8x while we test at 1920×1200 resolution.
There are definite issues with the HD 5770 and this driver with some of the OpenGL games that we tested. Fortunately this does not seem to affect the 6000 series which we tested later on just before this review was published nor does our HD 5770 have issues with Catalyst 11-2 WHQL driver. The HD 6790 edges the GTX 550 Ti which are in turn way faster than the GTS 450 and we could get very playable framerates at the target 1680×1050 with maxed-out AA or at 1920×1200 with less AA.
Wolfenstein is a science fiction first-person shooter video game mostly co-developed by Raven and id Software and published by Activision. It is the sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and uses the id Tech 4 engine. The game was released in 2009. Our timedemo benchmark was created by ABT’s own Senior Editor and lead reviewer, BFG10K. It is very accurate and totally repeatable.
First we test at 2560×1600 with completely maxed out in-game settings.
This resolution is too demanding for our HD 6790 and GTX 550 Ti although they both beat up on the GTS 450 which produces a slideshow at the same settings. The HD 5770 is a no show with the OpenGL games we tested and with the 11.4 beta driver. Now we test at 1920×1200 with maxed-out settings.
Fortunately the Wolfenstein game is not so demanding at 1920×1200 that the HD 6970 peformance is sufficient to blast it past the GTX 560 Ti. We also note good improvement in framerates by increasing the core’s clockspeed.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (CoD4) is a first person shooter running on a custom engine. It has nice graphics but the engine is somewhat dated compared to others and it runs well on modern PCs. It is the first CoD installment to take place in a modern setting instead of in World War II.
It differs from the previous Call of Duty games by having a more film-like plot that uses intermixed story lines from two perspectives; that of a USMC sergeant and a British SAS sergeant. There is also a variety of short missions where players control other characters in flashback sequences to advance the story. Call of Duty 4’s move to modern warfare introduced a variety of modern conventional weapons and technologies including plastic explosives.
There are currently about 20 multiplayer maps in CoD4. It is still very popular. CoD Modern Warfare 2 was also released with updated visuals but it is also not very demanding on graphics cards.
Our timedemo benchmark was created by ABT’s own Senior Editor and lead reviewer, BFG10K. It is very accurate and totally repeatable. Here is CoD4, first at 2560×1600 resolution with all in-game settings completely maxed out plus 4xAA:
We see that a popular multiplayer game is very playable even on midrange graphics cards and it plays very smoothly with this generation’s top video cards. The HD 6790 is faster than the GTX 550 Ti and overclocked it is slightly faster than the GTX 460. It does an admirable job compared with the HD 5770 that it replaces and it scales nicely with increasing clockspeeds.
Unreal Tournament 3 (UT3)
Unreal Tournament 3 (UT3) is the fourth game in the Unreal Tournament series. UT3 is a first-person shooter and online multiplayer video game by Epic Games. Unreal Tournament 3 provides a good balance between image quality and performance, rendering complex scenes well even on lower-end PCs. Of course, on high-end graphics cards you can really turn up the detail. UT3 is primarily an online multiplayer title offering several game modes and it also includes an offline single-player game with a campaign. For our tests, we used the very latest game patch for Unreal Tournament 3.
The game doesn’t have a built-in benchmarking tool, so we used FRAPS and did a fly-by of a chosen level. Here we note that performance numbers reported are a bit higher than compared to in-game. The map we use is called “Containment” and it is one of the most demanding of the fly-bys. Our tests were run at resolutions of 2560 x 1600 and 1920 x 1200 with UT3’s in-game graphics options set to their maximum values.
One drawback of the way the UT3 engine is designed is that there is no support for anti-aliasing built in. We forced 4xAA for 2560×1600 and 8xAA for 1920×1200 in each vendor’s control panel; 8xQ for Nvidia to match AMD Graphics’ 8xMSAA settings. We record a demo in the game and a set number of frames are saved in a file for playback. When playing back the demo, the game engine then renders the frames as quickly as possible, which is why you will often see it playing it back more quickly than you would actually play the game.
Here is Containment Demo, first at 2560×1600 with 4xAA forced in each vendor’s control panel:
At this extremely high resolution, the GTX 550 Ti is faster than the HD 6790. Now at 1920 x 1200 and with 8xAA (8xQ in Nvidia’s Control Panel) forced.
There is absolutely no problem playing this game fully maxed-out with any of our graphics configurations except for the GTS 450. The HD 6790 beats the GTX 550 Ti and HD 5770 at its target resolution. The GTX 460 stands out for its price and the GTX 560 Ti as a much more expensive card has no trouble handling the HD 6870. The HD 5770 just edges the overclocked GTX 550Ti in the averages at 1920×1200 although the GeForce beats the Radeon in the minimums.
The game is played as an over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective action-adventure game with a primary focus on Batman’s combat abilities, stealth, detective skills and complete with an arsenal of gadgets that can be used in both combat and as exploring in “detective mode”.
Batman: Arkham Asylum uses a highly modified version of the Unreal Engine 3. It does not support AA natively but must be added in and supported by the game’s developer. Unfortunately we cannot compare Batman: Arkham Asylum using our GeForce exactly against the Radeon with PhysX on; so all of our testing is with it off. We are using the Game of the Year Edition of Batman: Arkham Asylum which supports in-game AA settings for both Radeon and GeForce cards.
We begin testing at 2560×1600 with details maxed and with 8xAA applied in the game’s setting control panel (8xQ for Nvidia).
1920×1200 can only be faster.
All of our cards can play Batman at 1920×1200 with 8xAA. The HD 6970 trades blows with the GTX 460 while the HD 5770 is faster than the GTX 550 Ti and the GTS 450 is solidly beaten by its replacement.
Left 4 Dead
Left 4 Dead (L4D) is a 2008 co-op first-person shooter that was developed by Turtle Rock Studios and purchased by Valve Corporation during its development. Left 4 Dead uses Valve’s proprietary Source engine . L4D is set in the aftermath of a worldwide pandemic which pits its four protagonists against hordes of the infected zombies. There are four game modes: a single-player mode in which your allies are controlled by AI; a four-player, co-op campaign mode; an eight-player online versus mode; and a four-player survival mode. In all modes, an artificial intelligence (AI), dubbed the “Director”, controls pacing and spawns, to create a more dynamic experience with increased replay value. It is best as a multiplayer game with humans.
There is no built-in benchmark, so we created our own custom time demo which is very repeatable. The game is updated regularly by Steam and we chose the highest detail settings and 8xAA. We will save our comments until after we present both charts. First we test at 2560×1600 resolution:
On to our next chart at 1920×1200:
Left 4 Dead leaves the HD 6790 mauling the GTX 550 Ti which generally ahead of the HD 5770. The GTS 450 even struggles at 1920×1200 with our settings. There is a solid performance increase over last year’s 150 dollar cards.
Grand Theft Auto IV
Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA IV) is a sandbox-style action-adventure video game released by Rockstar in late 2008. It is the sixth game in the Grand Theft Auto series. Two episodic expansion packs have since been released since then as late as April of this year. The game is set in a redesigned rendition of Liberty City, a fictional city based heavily on modern day New York City. It follows Niko Bellic, a war veteran from Eastern Europe. He comes to the United States in search of the American Dream and enters a world of organized crime, gangs and corruption. GTA IV is mostly composed of elements from driving games and third-person shooters which features free-roaming gameplay. It features an online multiplayer mode, the first of the GTA series to do so. Here are the settings that we used. The 1.5GB GTX 480/570/580 and 2GB HD 69×0 Radeons, by virtue of having more than 1GB vRAM, can use even higher settings than the 1GB video cards (which are pictured below running nearly out of resources).
First we tried to test at 2560×1600 resolution. The in-game menu did not allow us to set all of the detail levels to ‘high’ for the GTX 550 Ti.
This benchmark appears to be at the very least, highly CPU-limited at 1920×1200. In GTA-IV, the GTX 550 Ti wins over the HD 6790 at 1920×1200.
Serious Sam Second Encounter HD (2010) Serious Sam is the title of a series of first-person shooters created by the Croatian development team Croteam. It follows the adventures of its hero Sam “Serious” Stone and his fight against the forces of the extraterrestrial overlord Mental who seeks to destroy humanity. Its gameplay is a throwback to early first-person shooters like Quake and Doom with the twist of being set in wide-open environments with large groups of enemies attacking at any time, and there are many hidden areas and treasures to find and puzzles to solve.
Serious Sam features cooperative gameplay and allows for split screen action supporting up to 4 players. Serious Sam: The Second Encounter was remade as “HD” using Serious Engine 3. It was released on April, 2010 for PC. Besides updated visuals, new game modes including “Co-op Tournament” and “Survival” for single player, were introduced in this remake.
We use the basic 3 “ultra” presets for benching Serious Sam: The Second Encounter HD. There is possible further fine-tuning which will make the game even more demanding, but we chose the “ultra” presets with only one higher GPU setting, to allow for testing beyond 1920×1080.
We test first at 2560×1600 resolution:
Our settings are way too high so we test at 1920×1200 with the same ultra presets:
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter HD on the Serious 3 engine is quite demanding . The HD 6790 edges the GTX 560 Ti and the GTX 560 Ti trades blows with the HD 6870, the HD 6950 is a bit faster and the stock GTX 550 Ti is solidly faster than the HD 5770 and an excellent upgrade over the GTX 450 which produces a slideshow.
Mafia II is a third-person action-adventure video game which is the sequel to Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven. It is developed by 2K Czech and is published by 2K Games and was released last year. Mafia II is set from 1943 to 1951 in Empire Bay which is a fictional city based mostly on San Francisco and New York City along with some influences from Chicago and also Detroit.
Mafia II is a gritty drama which chronicles the rise of World War II veteran Vito Scaletta who joins the Falcone Crime Family and becomes a ‘made’ man. There are 15 chapters in the game and over two hours of game engine generated cutscenes. Mafia II makes extensive use of Nvidia’s PhysX whose full effects are seen smoothly only by playing on a PhysX-enabled GeForce and preferably with a second video card dedicated to it.
For this article, we used the full retail game with Mafia II’s built-in benchmark with the highest settings for 2560×1600 and 1920×1200 – without PhysX – and this time we will reserve comment until after presenting the charts.
First we test at 2560×1600.
Now at 1920×1200:
And finally at 1680×1050.
The HD 6790 is faster than the GTX 550 Ti or the HD 5770.The GTX 560 Ti falls slightly behind the HD 6870 and it takes an overclocked GTX 550 Ti to beat the HD 5770. As is usual, the GTX 450 is well replaced with a GTX 550 Ti although it along with the HD 6790 is never in any danger of reaching GTX 460 speeds.
This covers our DX9 games. Let’s move on to DX10 and DX11 games to see if anything changes.
Call of Juarez
Call of Juarez is one of the very earliest DX10 games. It is loosely based on Spaghetti Westerns that became popular in the early 1970s. Call of Juarez features its Chrome Engine using Shader Model 4 with DirectX 10. Our benchmark is built into Call of Juarez. It runs a simple flyby of a level that is created to showcase its DX10 effects. It offers good repeatability and it is a good stress test for DX10 features in graphics cards, although it is not quite the same as actual gameplay because the game logic and AI are stripped out of this demo.
Performing Call of Juarez benchmark is easy. You are presented with a simple menu to choose resolution, anti-aliasing, and two choices of shadow quality options. We set the shadow quality on “high” and the shadow map resolution to the maximum, 2048×2048. At the end of the run, the demo presents you with the minimum, maximum, and average frame rate, along with the option to quit or run the benchmark again. We always ran the benchmark at least a second time and recorded that generally higher score.
Here are Call of Juarez DX10 benchmark results, first at 1920×1200 (there is no 2560×1600 option available in the benchmark):
Now we test at 1680×1050:
Here the HD 6790 beats the GTX 550 Ti which in turn leads over the HD 5770. The GTS 450 brings up the rear and the GTX 460 is solidly faster than either of the new cards.
Lost Planet: Extreme Condition is a Capcom port of an Xbox 360 game. It takes place on the icy planet of E.D.N. III which is filled with monsters, pirates, big guns, and huge bosses. This frozen world highlights high dynamic range lighting (HDR) as the snow-white environment reflects blinding sunlight as DX10 particle systems toss snow and ice all around.
The game looks great in both DirectX 9 and 10 and there isn’t really much of a difference between the two versions except perhaps shadows. Unfortunately, the DX10 version doesn’t look that much better when you’re actually playing the game and it still runs slower than the DX9 version.
We use the in-game performance test from the retail copy of Lost Planet and updated through Steam to the latest version for our runs. This run isn’t completely scripted as the creatures act a little differently each time you run it, requiring multiple runs. Lost Planet’s Snow and Cave demos are run continuously by the performance test and blend into each other.
Here are our benchmark results with the more demanding benchmark, Snow. All settings are fully maxed out in-game including 2x or 4xAA/16xAF. Let’s start with 1920×1200 resolution with 2xAA.
The resolution is set too high for our target cards. Next we test at 1680×1050 and with 4xAA:
This time, the stock HD 6790 comes pretty close to GTX 460 performance. The HD 6870 is edged by the GTX 570 while the HD 5770 convincingly beats all flavors of GTX 550 Ti. In fact, the HD 6870 is faster than our GTX 560 Ti .
Next we move on to Crysis, a science fiction first person shooter by Crytek. It remains one of the most demanding games for any PC and it is also still one of the most beautiful games released to date. Crysis is based in a fictional near-future where an alien spacecraft is discovered buried on an island near the coast of Korea. The single-player campaign has you assume the role of USA Delta Force, ‘Nomad’ who is armed with futuristic weapons and equipment.
Crysis uses DirectX10 for graphics rendering. A standalone but related game, Crysis Warhead was released the following year. CryEngine2 is the game engine used to power Crysis and Warhead and it is an extended version of the CryEngine that also powers Far Cry. As well as supporting Shader Model 2.0, 3.0, and DirectX10’s 4.0, CryEngine2 is also multi-threaded to take advantage of dual core SMP-aware systems and Crytek has developed their own proprietary physics system, called CryPhysics.
It is noted that actually playing this game is a bit slower than the demo implies. All of our settings are set to the in-game maximum’s “very high” including 2xAA for 2560×1600, 1920×1200 and for 1680×1050 and we force 16xAF in the control panels. Here is Crysis’ Island Demo benchmark, first at 1920×1200 resolution:
Now we test at 1680×1050.
The overclocked HD 6790 is slightly faster than the GTX 460 and it demolishes it competition, the GTX 550 Ti. In fact, the GTX 550 Ti is behind the HD 5770 until it is overclocked. We will make sure to test further in Warhead, a better optimized game.
Crysis Warhead is a science fiction first-person shooter computer game developed by the Hungarian studio Crytek and published by Electronic Arts. Crysis Warhead is a stand-alone expansion to Crysis that was released in 2008. It is optimized better than the original Crysis to look as good with less hardware resources required to render it.
We test first at 1920×1200 with 2xAA at maxed-out Enthusiast (Very High) settings.
Now we test at 1680×1050 with 2xAA/16xAF with maxed-out in-game “Enthusiast” (very high) settings:
The HD 6790 is solidly faster than the GTX 550 Ti and the overclocked version is not far behind the stock GTX 460. The GTX 560 Ti is slightly faster than the HD 6870 and as in Crysis, the HD 5770 beats the GTX 550 Ti until it is overclocked when the situation becomes reversed.
Far Cry 2 uses the name of the original Far Cry but it is not connected to the first game as it brings you a new setting and a new story. Ubisoft created it based on their Dunia Engine. The game setting takes place in an unnamed African country, during an uprising between two rival warring factions. Your mission is to kill “The Jackal”; the Nietzsche-quoting mercenary that arms both sides of the conflict that you are dropped into.
The Far Cry 2 game world is loaded in the background and on the fly to create a completely seamless open world. The Dunia game engine provides good visuals that scale well. The Far Cry 2 design team actually went to Africa to give added realism to this game. One thing to especially note is Far Cry 2’s very realistic fire propagation by their engine that is a far cry from the scripted fire and explosions that we are used to seeing.
First we test Far Cry 2 benchmark at 2560×1600 with AI enabled and we use the Ranch Long benchmark with ultra settings plus 4xAA.
We are getting unsatisfactory minimums so let’s move on down to 1920×1200 resolution while increasing our AA from 4x to 8x.
Now we test at 1680×1050 and still with 8xAA.
In Far Cry 2, the GTX 550 Ti is faster than the HD 6790 and the GTX 560 Ti even beats the fastest Radeon we tested, the HD 6950, in this game.
World in Conflict Soviet Assault
World In Conflict is set in an alternate history Earth where the Cold War did not end and Russia invaded the USA in 1989 and the remaining Americans decided to strike back. World in Conflict (WiC) is a real-time tactical/strategy video game developed by Massive Entertainment and released in 2007. The expansion, Soviet Assault, was released in 2009.
Although it is generally considered a real-time strategy (RTS) game, World in Conflict includes gameplay typical of real-time tactical (RTT) games. WiC is filled with real vehicles from both the Russian and the American military. There are also tactical aids, including calling in massive bombing raids, access to chemical warfare, nuclear weapons, and far more.
Here is yet another amazing and very customizable and detailed DX10 benchmark that is available in-game or as a stand-alone. We use the full retail game’s in-game benchmark as it offers more settings than the demo and is updated by patches. The particle effects and explosions in World in Conflict Soviet Assault are truly spectacular! Every setting is fully maxed out.
We start our benching at 1920×1200:
Now we test at 1920×1200
You can call the results in World in Conflict a blow-out between the HD 6790 and the GTX 550 Ti. The GTS 450 is eating radioactive dust while the HD 6790 and the GTX 550 Ti can achieve playable results in this game at 1680×1050.
Just Cause 2
Just Cause 2 is a 2010 sandbox-style action video game by Swedish developer Avalanche Studios and Eidos Interactive and is the sequel to the 2006 video game, Just Cause. Just Cause 2 employs the Avalanche Engine 2.0 which an updated version of the engine used in the original and there are impressive visuals as it is made just for DX10.
It is set on the fictional tropical island of Panau in Southeast Asia. Rico Rodriguez returns as the protagonist who aims to overthrow the evil dictator “Baby” Panay and also to confront his former boss, rogue agent Tom Sheldon. The game play is similar to that of its predecessor in that the player is free to roam the huge open world without a need to focus on the storyline. The Just Cause 2 AI has been rewritten and it even includes dual-grappling hooks which give players the ability to tether unlimited objects to each other including the tethering of enemies to vehicles and to each other which works very well as one of your goals is to cause maximum chaos. It is a lot of fun!
Here are the maximum settings available to a GeForce card; the bottom two, the Bokeh Filter and GPU water simulation, are unavailable to Radeons and they are left off on all runs to give solid apples-to-apples comparisons for all of our tested video cards and we used the Dark Tower benchmark built into the retail game. First the benches at 2560×1600 with 8xAA:
Let’s look at the performance at 1920×1200 but now with 8xAA, as in our usual testing:
Again it takes the overclocked GTX 560 Ti to catch the stock HD 5770.
Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X.
Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. is an air combat video game developed published by Ubisoft. It was released in United States on March 6, 2009. You have the opportunity to fly 54 aircraft over real world locations and cities in somewhat realistic environments that are created with satellite data. This game is a more of a take on flying than a real simulation and it has received mixed reviews.
The game story takes place during the time of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. H.A.W.X. is set in the year 2014 where private military companies have replaced government-run military in many countries. The player is placed into the cockpit as an elite ex-military pilot who is recruited by one of these corporations to work for them as a mercenary. You later return to the US Air Force with a team as you try to prevent a full scale terrorist attack on the United States which was started by your former employer.
H.A.W.X. runs on DX10.1 faster and with more detail than on the DX10 pathway. All of our video cards can take advantage of DX10.1. Let’s check out H.A.W.X. with our top cards at 2560×1600 with fully maxed out in-game settings and 8xAA:
The GTX 550 Ti flies away from the HD 6790 and the HD 5770 at this resolution although it is too demanding for any of the lower-end cards. Here are our results at 1920×1200 resolution:
Now the HD 6790 edges the GTX 550 Ti. Let’s drop the resolution further to 1680×1050.
This time the stock GTX 550 Ti sits well ahead of the HD 5770 and between the stock and the overclocked HD 6790s. It’s an interesting formation.
Resident Evil 5
Resident Evil 5 is a survival horror third-person shooter developed and published by Capcom that has become the best selling single title in the series. The game is the seventh installment in the Resident Evil series and it was released for Windows in September 2009. Resident Evil 5 revolves around two investigators pulled into a bio-terrorist threat in a fictional town in Africa.
Resident Evil 5 features online co-op play over the internet and also takes advantage of Nvidia’s 3D Vision technology. The PC version comes with exclusive content the consoles do not have. The developer’s emphasis is in optimizing high frame rates but they have implemented HDR, tone mapping, depth of field and motion blur into the game.
Resident Evil 5‘s custom game engine, ‘MT Framework’, already supports DX10 to benefit from less memory usage and faster loading. Resident Evil 5 gives you choice as to DX10 or Dx 9 and we naturally ran the DX10 pathway. There are two benchmarks built-into Resident Evil 5. We chose the variable benchmark as it is best suited for testing video cards. Here it is at 2560×1600 resolution with maxed out in-game setting plus 8xAA:
Finally we test at 1680×1050.
All of our video cards turn in respectable performances and their overall playability is similar at 1920×1200 except for the GTS 450. And this time we see the GTX 550 Ti lead over HD 5770 at all clocks at its target resolution of 1680×1050 but the HD 6790 is faster still at all tested resolutions.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Call of Pripyat is the third game in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series. All of these games have non-linear storylines which feature role-playing game elements. In both games, the player assumes the identity of a S.T.A.L.K.E.R.; an illegal artifact scavenger in “The Zone” which encompasses about 30 square kilometers. It is the location of an alternate reality story surrounding the Chernobyl Power Plant after another (fictitious) explosion. S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Call of Pripyat features “a living breathing world” with highly developed NPC creature AI.
Call of Pripyat is compatible with DirectX 8, 9, 10 and 10.1. It uses the X-ray 1.6 Engine with dX 11, one outstanding feature being the inclusion of real-time GPU tesselation– a Shader model 3.0 & 4.0 graphics engine featuring HDR, parallax and normal mapping, soft shadows, motion blur, weather effects and day-to-night cycles. As with other engines using deferred shading, the original DX9c X-ray Engine does not support anti-aliasing with dynamic lighting enabled, although the DX10 and DX 11 versions do.
We are using the stand-alone “official” benchmark by Clear Sky’s creators. We picked the most stressful test out of the four, “Sun shafts”. It brings the heaviest penalty due to its extreme use of shaders to create DX10/DX10.1 and DX11 effects. We ran this benchmark fully maxed out in DX11.0 with “ultra” settings plus 4xAA, including applying edge-detect MSAA which chokes performance even further.
Here we present our maxed out DX11 settings for S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Call of Pripyat DX11 benchmark with 2xAA at 1920×1200:
The GTX 550 Ti beats its competition the HD 6790 by a little but but is still too low in the minimums. Now we drop the resolution to 1680×1050.
This game is still really hard on mid-range video cards. Although the GTX 550 Ti is slightly faster than the HD 6970, both are significantly faster than the GTX 450 and the HD 5770. We would recommend dropping details further if you want to play at 1680×1050 in DX11.
Aliens vs Predator Aliens vs. Predator, known to fans as Aliens versus Predator 3 or AvP3 is a video game developed by Rebellion Developments, and published by Sega in February 2010. It is the sixth game of the Aliens versus Predator game series.
There are three campaigns in the game, one for each race or faction (the Predators, the Aliens and the Colonial Marines), that form one main storyline although they differ in objectives depending on your choice of campaign. Alien vs Predators DX11 benchmark is a stand alone bench that as the name says is only for DX11 cards. It is more demanding than actually playing the game generally.
First we bench at 1920×1200 with maxed out settings plus 2xAA.
Now we test at 1680×1050 and 2xAA.
With Aliens vs Predator DX11 benchmark, the HD 6970 is noticeably faster than the GTX 550 Ti.
Colin McRae: DiRT 2 is a racing game that was released in September 2009, and is the sequel to Colin McRae: Dirt. It includes many new race-events, including stadium events as your RV travels from one event to another in many real-world environments across four continents. Dirt 2 includes five different event types even allowing you to compete at new locations. It also includes a new multiplayer mode.
Dirt 2 is powered by an updated version of the EGO engine which was featured in Race Driver: Grid. This updated EGO engine also features an updated physics engine. We are using the Dirt 2 full retail game built-in benchmark at the highest “ultra” DX11 setting with 8xAA applied.
First we test at 2560×1600:
The HD 5770 is ahead of the GTX 550 Ti and the HD 6790 moves past both of them but our tested resolution is too demanding. What about 1920×1200?
This time the GTX 550 Ti is faster than the HD 5770 and the HD 6790 moves past both of them. Let’s try 1680×1050 resolution.
This time the GTX 550 Ti beats the stock HD 6790 at 1680×1050 resolutions although it loses at higher resolutions. However, even the lowest priced GTS 450 can play this game satisfactorily at medium-high resolutions.
Metro 2033 is the “Crysis” of 2010. It is a very demanding game on any PC with the very latest DX11 visuals. Metro 2033 is an action-oriented video game with a combination of survival horror, and first-person shooter elements. The game is based on the novel “Metro 2033″ by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. It was developed by 4A Games in Ukraine and released in March 2010.
The game utilizes multi-platform 4A Engine and there is some doubt if the games engine is related to the original XRay engine used in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. The Metro 2033 story takes place mostly in post-apocalyptic Moscow’s metro system but occasionally the player has to go above ground on some missions and to search for valuables. Metro 2033‘s locations reflect the dark atmosphere of real metro tunnels but in a much more dangerous and lethal manner. Strange phenomena and noises are frequent, and mostly the player has to rely only on their flashlight to find their way around in otherwise total darkness. Even more deadly is the surface as it is severely irradiated and a gas mask must be worn at all times due to the toxic air.
THQ has released an official benchmark for Metro 2033 which provides minimum/maximum/average framerates, and you can adjust many graphics settings including PhysX, AA, DOF and tessellation, and the number of runs. Our presets are set to maximum (very high) with 1xAA and no PhysX nor DOF enabled. Here is our first chart at 1920×1200.
We are noticing severe lag. We continue to test at Very High settings with AA and DOF off except as noted and now at 1680×1050:
All of our single cards struggle with Metro 2033 with the aggressive settings that we used. Metro 2033 is an interesting benchmark and we see the HD 5770 is barely ahead of the GTX 550 Ti while the HD 6790 is faster than either of them.
F1 2010 is a racing game based on the 2010 season of the Formula One world championship and the sequel to the 2009 video game in the same series. It was released in September 2010 by Codemasters. The EGO 1.5 engine powers it. The weather system is one of the best seen in a racing game and requires the player to adjust to changing track conditions. Watch out for bad AI drivers! First we test at 2560×1600 using ultra settings with the built-in benchmark.
We have unacceptable dips in the minimums for our target cards. The HD 5770 races away from all varieties of the GTX 550 Ti and the HD 6790 beats the GTX 460. Now we test at 1920×1200.
Lost Planet 2
Lost Planet 2 is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition and is also made by Capcom. The events take place ten years after the first game and on the same, now thawed, EDN III. The PC version was released on October 12, 2010 and it runs on the MT-Framework 2.0 engine; an updated version of the engine used in several Capcom games. Campaign mode can have up to 4 players working together over the Internet. Lost Planet 2 allows players to create and customize their own characters which will allow them to unlock more things after leveling up and downloading content.
We are using the retail game’s built-in benchmark in DX11 with maximum settings. As the game is quite demanding, we first test at 2560×1600 resolution with no AA.
The HD 6790 is faster than the GTX 550 Ti. Let’s test at 1920×1200 and with 4xAA.
Now with the extra AA, the GTX 550 Ti takes a slight lead.
Our settings are still too demanding although the GTX 550 Ti is much faster than the HD 5770 and it sits in between the stock and overclocked HD 6790. We would not play this game maxed out in DX11 with either the GTX 550 Ti nor the HD 6790.
Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 2
Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 2 is an air combat video game developed by Ubisoft for PC. We are using the built-in benchmark from the full retail game. The way tessellation is implemented shows AMD graphics cards are perhaps unnaturally slow compared with other DX11 titles although their newer drivers have made significant performance gains over earlier drivers in H.A.W.X. 2. without sacrificing any noticeable image quality.
H.A.W.X. 2 runs on DX11 faster and with more detail than on the DX10 pathway. Here the emphasis is on terrain tessellation which looks outstanding in DX11 and “flat” in DX10. Let’s check out H.A.W.X. 2 with our video cards at 2560×1600 and with fully maxed out in-game settings and with 8x.
Now we test at 1920×1200.
The GTX 550 Ti simply flys away from the HD 6790 and even beating the HD 5870 (which is limited by its single tessellator) . However, the single Radeons can also play this game maxed out at 1920×1200. The GTXes are top guns in this benchmark.
Heaven 2.0 Unigine
Finally we come to our last benchmark, Heaven 2.5, on the Unigine engine. It uses DX11 and heavy tessellation which will strain any graphics card. At least two DX11 games based on Unigine are expected to be released this year. We use the setting for “extreme tessellation” and high shaders and we also set AF to 16x. We will tell you right now that this test chokes the GTX 590 at the highest settings and resolution so we do not run it at 2560×1600.
Even the GTS 450 had no trouble beating the HD 5770 with extreme tessellation and 2xAA at 1920×1200. The real surprise is the HD 6790 beating the GTX 550 Ti while the overclocked HD 6790 even edges the HD 5870. Now let’s look at 1680×1050:
The HD 6790 beats the GTX 550 Ti is faster than the HD 5770 and even the older architecture HD 5870 at the extreme tessellation setting of this benchmark. However, this is a synthetic benchmark and we will withhold judgment until we play PC games using the Unigine engine.
Overclocking, noise and power usage
We easily overclocked our HD 6790 from 840MHz to 960MHz on the core. Unfortunately, our ambient temperatures rose into the 80sF as an unusual early Spring heat wave hit our local high-desert testing lab and we backed down the overclock to 940MHz where it proved to be rock solid. Playing with the memory clocks were a bit more tricky as we could get higher clocks than we settled on, but the performance results were not consistent so we settled on a bump to 1200MHz (from 1050MHz).
The HD 6790 has about the same or a bit more fan noise than the EVGA GTX 550 Ti which we also judged slightly quieter in comparison to the Radeon HD 5770 which is already a very quiet card. You are never aware of any of these cards during gaming even when they spin up under load – even if you are listening for their fan’s noise. However, it also doesn’t matter what the HF 6790’s reference fan sounds like because the partners are not going to use AMD’s engineering sample design that we tested anyway.
This power draw section is unfinished. We plan to add numbers later. Basically, the numbers are very close overall and are in the same class in power draw and thermals. Both cards are very close; although the HD 6790 uses a bit more power than the HD 5770, it draws a bit less than the GTX 550 Ti.
Price to Performance
The HD 6790 leads the GTX 550 Ti in most of the benchmarks and it is a solid improvement over the HD 5770. We note that the GTX 460 completely stands out as a wild card to put up against the two new cards since they are all priced similarly at about $150 with the GTX 550 Ti street-priced about $20 less. Leaving the GTX 460 off of our chart would have made a completely different impression of the new Barts Radeon. The HD 6790 does succeed as a high-quality successor to the HD 5770 although they are totally eclipsed by the GTX 460’s strong price to performance ratio.
Let’s take a look at current suggested and very general USA etail pricing. AMD wants the HD 6790 to be “hard priced” at $149
- HD 6790 – $149
- GTX 460 – $149 ($115 after MiR for the 768M to over $139 after rebate for the 1GB version)
- HD 5770 – $129 minus $20 rebate
- GTX 550 Ti – $149 minus $20 rebate
- HD 6850 – $165-$20 rebate
Of course you have to consider the street pricing of the GTX 460 is at about or below $160 – considerably less for the 768MB version which will still generally beat both the GTX 550 Ti and the HD 6790. There is also the HD 6850 which we do not have for evaluation that would also be faster than the HD 6790 and it is available for five dollars less if you are willing to wait for the rebate.
Did AMD succeed with HD 6790?
It appears that AMD succeeded in doing what they set out to do. They succeeded in beating the GTX 550 Ti’s performance; something the aging HD 5770 was unable to do even super-overclocked. However, it also appears that AMD was somewhat surprised by the GTX 460 and Nvidia’s willingness to blow it out to gain market share. If this card did not exist and the HD 6850 was not priced below the price of the HD 6790, we would have no trouble recommending it in a heartbeat. However, they do exist and they make it hard to recommend a less powerful and more expensive card. In the case of the EVGA GTX 550 Ti a couple of days ago, it got a “Great Value” award due to the fact that it is already discounted to $129 after rebate and it came with a game and 3DMark11 included.
What is going to make this especially interesting is that Nvidia may well release another video card based on a GF114 variant (GTX 560 SE or Non-Ti) to finally replace the GTX 460 that may be even faster still although this is pure speculation now. One thing for sure – exciting times in the Graphics Wars are still ahead! We also wait to see what market pricing does.
It is pretty clear from our 28 games and three synthetic tests that the HD 6790 is a quality upgrade over the aging HD 5770 video card. The new HD 6790 – in this snapshot in time – has the clear distinction of beating the GTX 550 Ti performance-wise. At a suggested retail price of $149, it sets the HD 6790 just above the average price of HD 6850 (after rebate) or the GTX 460. We also expect that much of the HD 6790’s success will depend on market pricing and also what Nvidia does with their GeForce pricing as the two companies respond to each other. Basically, the HD 6790 is an improvement in every way over the HD 5770 although coming in with a small price premium.
The HD 6790
Pros and Cons:
- The HD 6790 is much faster than its predecessor, HD 5770 and is it faster than the GTX 550 Ti.
- There is further room for overclocking and good scalability.
- New architecture brings support for GPU computing and a level of performance way beyond the last generation.
- DX11 and greatly improved support for tessellation, 1 GB vRAM and a 256-bit pathway brings even more performance over the HD 5770.
- CrossFire-X technology allows you to harness two or more GPUs for faster gaming at higher detail levels and resolutions.
- Enhanced AA and more control over settings
- Experience 3-panel Eyefinity for much less expense than with Nvidia’s competing Surround.
- It is expensive at $150 – more than the HD 6850 after rebate or the GTX 460, both of which are faster; the market will ultimately decide the pricing
We do not know what the future will bring, but this new HD 6790 brings a decent performer to the Radeon family. Look for them immediately at an etailer. This editor believes that AMD brings a very full-featured DX11 GPU lineup to the market that will find good acceptance among customers and their fans alike. The new Barts architecture including the HD 6790 is a solid improvement over Cypress and Juniper and it translates to higher performance in gaming.
If you currently game on an older generation video card, you will do yourself a big favor by upgrading. The move to a HD 6790 will give you better visuals on the DX11 pathway and you are no doubt thinking of CrossFire-X if you want to get even higher performance. Perhaps you want to use Eyefinity’s multi-panel display (which we are going to explore in a future article versus 3-panel Surround).
The competition is hot as the prices on even the new video cards have softened and Nvidia offers their own set of features including PhysX, CUDA and 3D Vision. Stay tuned, there is a lot coming from us at ABT. Stay tuned for a further evaluation of HD 6990 versus GTX 590 at 5760×1080 and 2560×1600 and also an evaluation of 3D Vision/Surround. We also plan to test Surround versus Eyefinity.
ABT Senior Editor
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