We have something a little special for you today.
With the recent influx of exceptionally high-end GPUs such as the HIS HD6990 on test today, and the GTX590 it's clear that even a 1920x1200 single screen really isn't doing justice to the cards and their abilities.
What we really needed was a triple screen setup to push them hard and test them in the way they're designed.
Thankfully, courtesy of Iiyama, we now have three screens to run these cards at a massive 5760x1080 resolution, which is what we're doing today for the HIS HD6990, and over the coming weeks we'll go back and look at the other high-end solutions and see how they fare.
It's a monster of a review that's taken an age to put together, so without further ado let's crack on.
The HIS Digital HD6990 is a reference style card running at the standard 830 MHz. A whopping 4GB of GDDR5 ensures that even in Eyefinity mode the card shouldn't run out of frame buffer.
|Core Clock||830 MHz|
|Memory Clock ||5000 MHz|
|Memory Size||4096 MB|
|Memory Interface||256 bit|
|Interface||PCI Express x16 (PCI Express 2.1)|
|Card Dimension||12.8 x 4.2 x 32 cm cm (HxWxD)|
|Box Dimension||37.8 x 9.45 x 15.25 cm cm (HxWxD)|
HIS products should always be lauded for coming in greatly reduced packaging when compared to some of the cards we see. Why double the size of the cardboard, and therefore trees, used if you don't need to.
The card itself is a reference design with those two PCI-e 8pin inputs making sure the twin GPUs are fed with all the power they need.
On a card such as this connectivity is the priority. The HD6990 has one DVI-D and four DisplayPort adaptors. As DisplayPort monitors are a rare breed HIS have kindly included two active adaptors along with the HD6990.
Active adaptors basically allow you to use standard DVI monitors from the DisplayPort headers. By including them in the package HIS allow you to get the benefits of Eyefinity without needing either a host of new monitors or purchasing the expensive active adaptors yourself.
Besides these we have the normal other accessories that we'd expect, namely a Crossfire bridge, a DVI to VGA adaptor and some power converters.
And so to the test setup. As well as a plethora of games we're also bringing out the big hardware to make sure that we're doing justice to the HIS HD6990. After all, you're unlikely to have such a beast of a graphics card in a dual-core setup.
HIS Digital HD6990 with Catalyst 11.5 Drivers
Gigabyte Assassin X58 Motherboard
Intel Core i7 980X @ 4.4 GHz
6GB Mushkin Redline DDR3 RAM
Corsair AX1200 PSU
3x Iiyama Prolite E2473HDS
Windows 7 x64
The last thing we'd want to do is limit the GPU with the CPU, hence today we're using the Intel Core i7 980X overclocked to 4.4 GHz.
For our Eyefinity testing Iiyama kindly supplied us with three Prolite E2473HDS monitors.
They certainly have outstanding picture quality. The 2ms response time and wide viewing angles are perfect for Eyefinity gaming, and the 1920x1080 resolution is great for ensuring a lack of borders as 16:9 is so common.
Before we get into the meat of the review there are a few things to be aware of.
Firstly we're providing you with a screengrab of the game so you can get a feel for how it looks in triple-screen goodness. Of course these images are big (5760x1080 and around 1MB each) so prepare to be patient and scroll a little.
Secondly for the 1920x1080 tests we have everything max'd out like we normally do, but for the Eyefinity tests we've attempted to balance the image quality with playability. So we've also included a shot of the settings used for each game.
Finally although three of our games (Metro2033, Crysis Warhead and Far Cry 2) appear all the time and so can be compared to other setups, the bulk of the games we've only got a comparison between how big a drop-off the performance has with the tripling of the resolution. In the coming weeks these graphs will flesh out as other reviews appear.
Phew. Got all that? Let's get on with it then.
Call of Duty Black Ops
Black Ops definitely shows its console roots as either single screen or Eyefinity don't ruffle the HIS HD6990 whatsoever. Also the in-game shot shows that instead of giving you more to see, it merely stretches what already exists.
In Game Shot
Crysis 2 is, sadly, yet another console port and once again the HD6990 has absolutely no problems in handling the game as seriously playable frame-rates.
Thankfully it does Eyefinity properly and is a real sight to behold.
In Game Shot
The earlier game in the Crytek triplet is the first of our games designed for PCs and unsurprisingly the first game that starts to push the HIS Hd6990 hard. The only difference between the single screen settings and the Eyefinity setup is that in Eyefinity we've had to turn the AA off to retain a playable frame-rate. Still 30 FPS in 5760x1080 can't be sniffed at.
The only odd thing Eyefinity introduces is that the camera appears to be almost a fish-eye lens, with the two side screens giving a very wide-angle look to the scenery. People can appear to be right next to you and yet they're not that close.
In Game Shot
The HIS HD6990 has so little trouble handling Dirt 2 that, amazingly enough, it's a tenth of a frame better on the three screens than it is on a single. Ok it's not a noticeable difference, but it shows the power available with the HIS card.
The improvement in immersion is amazing with the HIS HD6990 filling the Iiyama's with in-car goodness.
In Game Shot
Far Cry 2
By virtue of its rather aged status Far Cry 2 can be absolutely run to the stops without it dropping below the golden 60FPS mark. Even more surprising given how strange some of the earlier games have handled the Eyefinity setup, it's dealt with flawlessly by the Dunia engine. Youth is no marker of quality.
In Game Shot
Mafia 2 definitely looks the business on three screens. It's also the first game that the HD6990 really takes a hit in the move from a single screen to the Eyefinity setup. Although by virtue of the slower pace of the game the 45 FPS average is easily smooth enough, and as you can see below this is with everything still on maximum.
In Game Shot
Always one of the most demanding games in the OC3D line-up, Metro2033 performs much better than expected once stretched over three screens.
We've always held that there is something about the design of the game that prefers two GPUs to one, and it's clear that once you've got two GPUs under the bonnet the engine scales very well. The HIS HD6990 smashes through 60FPS on a single screen but even our Eyefinity setup only drops to 45 FPS. Impressive.
In Game Shot
Medal Of Honor
After a run of PC-based titles we're back to a console port with understandable results. The HIS Digital HD6990 has absolutely no problems at all spanking Medal Of Honor. It's great to see that it handles the three screens perfectly, being one of the best titles so far.
In Game Shot
Resident Evil 5
Despite Resident Evil 5 being a console port, it's a Capcom game and so quality is the very highest, as every Capcom PC game has been in recent years. The HD6990 is definitely up to the task, giving insane frame-rates on a single screen and nearly 100 FPS even in when put into Eyefinity mode across the three Iiyamas.
Fraps decided not to play ball with Resident Evil, giving a multi-coloured mess rather than a proper screenshot. However it scaled nicely across the three displays in both DX9 and DX10 modes.
Switching to DirectX 10 has no really detriment to the smoothness of the game, merely makes it look that bit nicer.
Need For Speed Shift 2
Anyone who had a 4870X2 will remember how poorly the original Need for Speed Shift performed, and sure enough whatever that particular issue was is still prevalent in Need For Speed Shift 2. This is very disappointing as the game rocks on single cards quite happily. As it is, right now, it's an unplayable mess on even the single screen. Looks okay though and takes full advantage of the Eyefinity.
In Game Shot
S.T.A.L.K.E.R Call of Pripyat
There are an incredible amount of settings within Stalker, so rather than fill multiple pages up showing them all, this is the important one. On the other screens all the boxes are ticked and the SSAO is as high as it goes.
It unquestionably adds a lot to the gaming experience to have so much peripheral vision and Stalker handles it with aplomb.
The HIS HD6990 takes a huge performance hit running at such a high level of detail, but still remains perfectly playable. This is a great example of why we wanted an Eyefinity setup for testing, as 132FPS average on a single screen doesn't really teach us anything.
In Game Shot
Wow that was quite the review. I hope you all enjoyed it as much as we did putting it together.
So how did the HIS Digital HD6990 perform?
In a word, exceptionally well. We've been intrigued for some time to see how high-end cards perform when used as they're intended. The HD6990 from HIS Digital clearly has bags of performance available to it as even the seriously strenuous games such as Metro 2033 or Stalker could be run at fearsome image quality settings and 5760x1080 resolution, but still give us playable frame-rates.
The only games that were hindered significantly were Crysis Warhead and Shift 2. Crysis Warhead is, as we've demonstrated before, not very well optimised and even 5 grands worth of hardware can't get it to stretch its wings. Shift 2 obviously has issues with AMD hardware, just like Shift 1 did. Hopefully this will be patched out, but it's something to be aware of.
Otherwise the HIS HD6990 was as good as other HD6990 cards we've tested on the single screen, but it's the Eyefinity that's the main point of today's review and it was faultless. Any "strangeness" is either in the way that the AMD drivers work, or the way games themselves handle such a wide resolution.
Getting Eyefinity to work is simplicity itself. Boot up with one monitor installed, plug the other two in and tick the Eyefinity box in the drivers. All very simple. AMD have gone a slightly curious route with needing to set programs to work on certain monitors and there definitely is, as always, room for improvement. Although AMD/ATI drivers are nowhere near as bad as they used to be, there is certainly a few areas that they could adjust. Whether the foundation of the Catalyst Control Centre is capable of a fundamental change or if AMD will need a wholesale makeover remains to be seen. Certainly for the average end-user there are ways in which they could make it more user friendly.
How games take advantage of the Eyefinity is a little hit and miss. Black Ops went for just stretching a basic image wider and Crysis Warhead had a definite fish-eye quality to it, but otherwise all the games we tested did exactly what you'd expect from having an extra screen either side, and that's give you more peripheral vision.
Speaking of the screens, credit has to go to Iiyama for providing us with the necessary monitors. The Prolite E2473HDS had rich colour and even brightness thanks to its LED backlighting. Even being off to the side at an angle the picture rendition remained sharp and we didn't even need to calibrate them. Such consistency is a sure sign of a strict manufacturing process.
So are there any down sides? Sadly, like everything, there are and it's the same problem that we had when we first reviewed the HD6990 back in March. Unfortunately the reference cooler is woeful, being almost wholly unable to keep the temperatures in check without spinning up to intolerably loud levels. Whilst this isn't a problem that affects the HIS HD6990 alone, nonetheless by choosing to stick with the reference design it retains those same issues.
Thankfully the eye-watering price has come down some in the intervening months and so it's just over the £500 mark instead of being £600. A huge amount of performance for the money.
That immense performance is enough to give the HIS Digital our OC3D Performance award.
Thanks to Iiyama for the monitors and HIS Digital for providing the HD6990 for review. Discuss in our forums, and check back next week when we put the GTX590 through similar torture.