AMD Radeon HD 6790 £110
5th Apr 2011 | 04:01
A confusingly branded shoestring gaming card
AMD Radeon HD 6790: Overview
Tired of the ultra high-end, stupidly expensive graphics cards? How about more of a budget offering in the shape of an AMD Radeon HD 6790 then?
In the red corner- AMD. In the green corner, Nvidia. Age-old adversaries locked in an epic technological arms race.
Lately the battles have been fought at the high end of the price spectrum, atop Mount Expensive, both parties chucking massive dual-discrete GPUs at each other in the shape of the AMD Radeon HD 6990 and the Nvidia GeForce GTX 590.
However, it's the more affordable cards that ultimately win the war.
Last generation, AMD focused its energy on such volume cards and came up trumps.
The hugely powerful AMD Radeon HD 5970 threw this philosophy out of the window though, and with the current generation of cards, it's back to a performance blow-for-blow assault on Nvidia's array of hardware.
As a result prices are tumbling and therefore the thrifty gamer isn't exactly spoiled for choice at the budget end of the market either.
The AMD Radeon HD 6790 contains all the same numbers as the Radeon HD 6970, the more prodigious mathematicians amongst you may have noted, however, it's built around the Barts LE chip rather than the more powerful Cayman Pro found in its almost-namesake.
AMD Radeon HD 6790: Benchmarks
The Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 Ti that this new AMD offering was supposed to blow out of the water actually stands up for itself very well. It's pretty much a dead heat between the two in both versions of DirectX.
Aand as they vie for the lead in single frames, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 trounces them both.
DirectX 11 tessellation performance
DirectX 11 gaming performance
DirectX 10 gaming performance
AMD Radeon HD 6790: Verdict
We'd have been excited to see a stripped down version of the Cayman chip for this price, but the Barts LE is essentially the same architecture as the Cypress chip found in the Radeon HD 5870 or Radeon HD 5850 series cards.
It's a semi-skimmed build of the AMD Radeon HD 6850's Barts Pro GPU, and in fact the components are stripped down both on and off die.
That means 800 stream processors to the 6850's 960 and half the ROPs at 16. The Radeon HD 6790 isn't replacing anything, it's a middle ground between the now ridiculously cheap HD 5770 and the entry level 6 series cards, also designed to compete directly with Nvidia's GeForce GTX 550 Ti.
After the success of the GeForce GTX 580 and GTX 460 at either end of the market, the middling GeForce GTX 550 Ti arrived to a resounding cry of 'it's alright.'
AMD reckons its Radeon HD 6790 beats Nvidia's by 'up to 30%' in most titles.
As much as we'd like to champion a little card capable of such performance, we've found that simply isn't true - at least not in the games in our test suite. In fact, it struggles to keep up.
And when you look at the specs of both cards side by side, we're not sure exactly how they're hoping to outperform the GeForce GTX 550 Ti.
Nvidia's offering packs 24 ROPs against the AMD HD 6790's 16 and a 900MHz core clock that highlights just how underpowered the AMD Radeon HD 6790 actually is.
That aforementioned 256-bit memory bus on the HD 6790 ought to give it the upper hand when it comes to post-processing tasks, but otherwise it simply doesn't have the muscle to barge the 550 Ti out of contention.
It does run pleasingly cool at 68 degrees under loud and comfortably clocks up to 930 MHz core speed, but any further boosting is hampered by the absolute loudest GPU fan in the world.
AMD has stalled on giving us the correct UK pricing for the AMD Radeon HD 6790, but we expect it to go directly against the Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 Ti. That would put it in the £110 ballpark, and very close in price to the GTX 460.
But not that close in terms of performance.
For now then Nvidia's GeForce GTX 460 is still the king of the budget DX11 cards, you can pick up a full-fat 1GB version of Nvidia's beauty for £120.
Unfortunately then the AMD Radeon HD 6790 is just an also-ran.
It performs fairly well in our test suite of games, especially at the lower resolutions.
Pricing is still to be confirmed by AMD, though we expect it to be priced directly against the Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 Ti. Unfortunately that means that it's also priced directly against the Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 1GB edition.
And that's a card that takes it to the cleaners for around the same sort of cash.
An encouraging focus towards budget cards from AMD, but simply too underpowered.