There used to be quite the fight between AMD and NVIDIA for the bragging rights of having the world's fastest consumer graphics card. Most recently, about 18 months ago, the companies aligned launches such that dual-GPU monstrosities were available within weeks of each other. The last-generation NVIDIA GeForce GTX 590 took on AMD's Radeon HD 6990 and promptly lost.
Come back to today and the two firms' best GPUs are based on newer technology. NVIDIA laid the smackdown by pulling the GeForce GTX 690 seemingly out of nowhere. The card's elegant design belies raucous performance and, if you can stomach the £850 price tag, there's nothing better out there.
But wait a minute, AMD's not thrown in the towel just yet. There were rumours of a dual-GPU 'New Zealand' card based on HD 7000-series technology, and we expected such a beast to appear at retail in June. That's patently not happened, with AMD pushing back the date, so PowerColor, one of AMD's more enterprising partners, is taking up the challenge and custom-designing said card.
Known as the Devil 13 HD 7990 and due to be made available in limited quantities during the first week of September 2012, here is the abomination that'll cost the best part of a grand.
PowerColor says this is the first and only dual AMD Tahiti XT GPU on the market. We've seen pre-productions samples before, most notably at COMPUTEX, but this here is the final product. Confirming earlier suspicions, the triple-slot-taking card is to ship with standard Radeon HD 7970 frequencies of 925MHz core, rising to 1GHz core when using a second BIOS profile made available by pressing the red button on the back. The memory, meanwhile, comprises of a total of 6GB - 3GB per GPU - run at a regular 5,500MHz.
There's no indication whether it will feature the PowerTune With Boost Technology (PTWB) present on the latest batch of high-end Radeons, though we sincerely hope it does. Three 8-pin PCIe connectors power the behemoth, which is cooled by three fans and no fewer than 10 heatpipes. PowerColor says it uses a 16-phase power supply that has been designed solely for this board.
Wider and taller than most graphics cards you're accustomed to, the I/O section is actually standard for an AMD card. Single- and dual-link DVI share the space with HDMI and two mini-DisplayPort. You'll need either a DisplayPort-equipped monitor or active DP-to-DVI/HDMI dongle if you want to run a trio of screens for Eyefinity gaming.
The tidy package includes the GPU-supporting PowerJack, which is a height-adjustable pillar that helps keep big, meaty graphics cards in place. It's actually needed, too, as the Devil 13's one of the largest, heaviest cards we've ever come across. For what it's worth, and a little odd, PowerColor also throws in an 11-piece screwdriver kit.
We'll be able to answer the question of whether this is the fastest card in the world by the end of next week in a full-on review. Who's your betting on: GeForce GTX 690 or PowerColor's Devil 13?