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The ongoing war between Nvidia and AMD for supremacy over the PC gaming landscape has been like the Hatfields and the McCoys of enthusiast computing: long, bitter, and deeply entrenched. Contrary to rumors, AMD hasn't revealed a dual R9 290/290X card yet, but the Radeon HD 7990 is the next best thing, combining two HD 7970 GPUs onto one card. It didn't come out until spring 2013, though, which was long after Nvidia's own dual-GPU behemoth, the GeForce GTX 690, had dug in its heels. And it wasn't until mid-summer that AMD began to address the stuttering issues that marred its multi-GPU setups. With AMD's R9 series arriving late last year, this crown jewel didn’t really have much time to shine. Today, we'll try and change that, pitting this Cadillac of a card against nothing less than Battlefield 4, with everything maxed out and running at 1920x1080. With the previous Battlefield regularly favoring Nvidia cards, this might seems like enemy territory. But this time, AMD is working closely with the developer to make sure nothing goes awry.
Note: This article was originally featured in the Holiday 2013 issue of the magazine.
We're not working with a tight budget this time, so our roughly $750 video card will have some appropriately fancy company. With two 8-pin power connections, the 7990 draws a lot of juice, so that's our first consideration. We went with an 800-watt Cooler Master Silent Pro Gold. As its name indicates, it's a "gold"-rated PSU, so it will work efficiently, and it has some other nice features that we'll get into later. We also wanted a nice motherboard and CPU that could handle all the bandwidth that a dual-GPU card needs—that led us to the Asus X79 Deluxe and a Core i7-4960X. This is the LGA2011 platform, which gives us up to 40 PCI Express lanes, while LGA1150 boasts just 16 lanes. Since LGA2011 uses quad-band memory architecture, we'll be using four sticks of RAM. That’s not critical for gaming, but the extra bandwidth is great for video encoding. For storage, we have a speedy 240GB SanDisk Extreme II SSD to boot with and run games from, and a 3TB Seagate Barracuda for media storage.
Our favorite item, though, has to be the case in which everything gets crammed. That would be the Silverstone FT04 mid-tower. It's not the easiest case we've ever worked with, but the end result is pretty cool, in more ways than one. You've probably noticed that the picture on the opposite page appears to be reversed. That's not an optical illusion. The inside of the case was designed on Opposite Day, and that has some neat side effects that we'll dig into soon.
|PSU||Cooler Master Silent Pro Gold 800W||$160|
|Mobo||Asus X79 Deluxe||$350|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-4960X||$1,000 (street)|
|Cooler||Phanteks TC14PE||$80 (street)|
|GPU||AMD Radeon HD 7990||$550 (street)|
|RAM||4x 4GB Corsair Vengeance LP||$150 (street)|
|Hard Drive||240GB SanDisk Extreme II||$225 (street)|
|SSD||3TB Seagate Barracuda||$135 (street)|
|Fans||Samsung SH-S223||$15 (street)|
|OS||Windows 8 64-bit OEM||$90 (street)|
The HD 7990 is about 12 inches long, so it's not for the faint-hearted builder. Our case officially has 13.3 inches of room, so it'll work. We wanted to use the case's bundled VGA bracket, which prevents the card from sagging, but it obstructed our jumbo CPU cooler. Fortunately, the HD 7990 has a metal backplate to keep it from bending, so the bracket’s not critical. (Water-cooling the CPU would allow use of the bracket). The card needs two 8-pin cables, which can be challenging to route in a traditional case layout, but here the power supply is installed right above the card, in the top of the case, so the cables don't need to do anything complicated to supply juice.
The top of the case is no longer a common location for a power supply, but Silverstone is shaking things up. In ye olden days, the practice fell out of favor, as PSUs ended up sucking in heat rising off the CPU cooler and the video card, which was bad for long-term reliability. In the FT04, however, the power supply has a meshed vent right above it to aid cooling. Just remove a few thumbscrews in the back to slide off the case top and get the PSU inside. The top of the case has a built-in bracket to support the PSU's weight. Minimal heat comes off the GPU right below because the intake fans have been reversed, since the motherboard is flipped. The overall thermal design is much improved from earlier implementations. The side panels has tabs on the back that overlap with the top panel, so you have to remove the sides before taking off the top, then do the same in reverse.
The X79 Deluxe (not to be confused with the older P9X79 Deluxe) has a number of interesting features. We like the beefy voltage regulators, integrated dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, eight SATA 6Gb/s ports, DTS audio, push-button USB-based BIOS updates, and even dual LAN ports and a stainless-steel I/O plate (pictured). The black-and-gold theme is also rather pimp. As an added bonus, the board recognized our Ivy Bridge-E CPU right away. This Intel chip is not a huge upgrade from the Core i7-3960X, but it performs moderately faster and generates a lot less heat. It's a hexa-core chip with Hyper-Threading. Games don't usually make much use of HT, but Battlefield 4 hungrily chews up every available processing thread. So it's nice to have 12.
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