AMD Radeon HD 6790 review

A confusingly branded shoestring gaming card

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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.

We liked:

It performs fairly well in our test suite of games, especially at the lower resolutions.

We disliked:

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.

Final word:

An encouraging focus towards budget cards from AMD, but simply too underpowered.

Tech Specs

Product TypeGraphic Card
Chipset ManufacturerATI
Chipset ModelHD 6790
Chipset LineRadeon
Chipset SeriesHD 6000
Maximum Resolution2560 x 1600
Brand NameSapphire
Standard Memory1 GB
Host InterfacePCI Express 2.0
Bus Width256 bit
Multi-GPU TechnologyCrossFireX
Analog SignalYes
Digital SignalYes
Dual Link DVI SupportedYes
Number of DisplayPort Outputs1
Number of DVI Outputs2
Number of HDMI Outputs1
Cooler TypeFan Cooler
Memory TechnologyGDDR5 SDRAM
Form FactorPlug-in Card
ManufacturerSapphire, Inc
Memory Speed4200 MHz
Product Model11194-00-20G
Product NameRadeon HD 6790 Graphics Card
Package TypeRetail
Manufacturer Part Number11194-00-20G
Manufacturer Website Address
Marketing Information

The new SAPPHIRE HD 6790 shares many all the capabilities of the successful SAPPHIRE HD 6800 series, including multi-screen gaming with AMD Eyefinity, support for all the advanced graphical features of Microsoft DirectX 11 and delivering spectacular video clarity, speed and visual effects, including 3D stereoscopic displays.

Package Contents
  • Radeon HD 6790 Graphics Card
  • CD
API SupportedDirectX 11.0, OpenGL 3.2, DirectCompute