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Mobile GPU Comparison: GeForce GTX 580M and Radeon HD 6990M

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Manufacturer: Various

The Alienware M17x Giveth

Mobile graphics cards are really a different beast than the desktop variants.  Despite have similar names and model numbers, the specifications vary greatly as the GTX 580M isn't equivalent to the GTX 580 and the HD 6990M isn't even a dual-GPU product.  Also, getting the capability to do a direct head-to-head is almost always a tougher task thanks to the notebook market's penchant for single-vendor SKUs.  

Over the past week or two, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a pair of Alienware M17x notebooks, one sporting the new AMD Radeon HD 6990M discrete graphics solution and the other with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580M.  

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AMD Radeon HD 6990M on the left; NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580M on the right

Also unlike the desktop market - the time from announcement of a new mobile GPU product to when you can actually BUY a system including it tends to be pretty long.  Take the two GPUs we are looking at today for example: the HD 6990M launched in July and we are only just now finally seeing machines ship in volume; the GTX 580M in June.

Well, problems be damned, we had the pair in our hands for a few short days and I decided to put them through the ringer in our GPU testing suite and added Battlefield 3 in for good measure as well.  The goal was to determine which GPU was actually the "world's fastest" as both companies claimed to be.

Continue reading our comparison of the GeForce GTX 580M and Radeon HD 6990M mobility GPUs!!

The specifications for both systems were very similar, but not exactly identical, so that does put a very minor damper on the results.  The Radeon HD 6990M based system had 16GB of memory compared to 8GB on the NVIDIA GTX 580M system while the NVIDIA-based notebook was running a slightly faster processor.  Here is the breakdown:

Alienware M17x Alienware M17x
AMD Radeon HD 6990M NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580M
Intel Core i7-2630QM @ 2.00 GHz Intel Core i7-2860QM @ 2.50 GHz
16GB DDR3 Memory 8GB DDR3 Memory
2 x 750GB 7200 RPM HDD RAID 0 500GB Momentus XT Hybrid Drive

Because we are testing gaming ONLY in this particular write up, the hardware differences other than the graphics processor will actually have a fairly minimal impact.   While I love the inclusion of the Momentus XT hybrid SSD/HDD in the GeForce-based M17x, it won't improve frame rates on our gaming tests.  The system memory difference, while pretty extreme from a capacity stand point, should make basically no difference either since 8GB of memory is more than enough to handle 1080p gaming scenarios.  And while the 500 MHz CPU clock speed difference could be a factor in some games and at some resolutions, I feel that our settings are high enough to warrant this basically a draw.

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Just to let you know, this is NOT a review of the Alienware M17x directly; Matt Smith will be following up with that very soon to tell you all about the form factor of these 17-in display notebooks, the build quality, general system performance and more.  Stay tuned for that!

Mobile GPU Specifications Compared

If you haven't been keeping up with the world of mobile GPUs then you might not know the details about either the GeForce GTX 580M or the Radeon HD 6990M parts.  We are here to educate you.  Here are the details in an easy to read table:

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Because the architectures are so different, a direct head-to-head between the NVIDIA and AMD parts might not tell the typical PC user what kind of performance differences there might be.  Let's put it in another light and see which DESKTOP GPU each of these mobile parts most resembles.  

For the NVIDIA GTX 580M the closest desktop part is likely the GTX 560 Ti:

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And for the Radeon HD 6990M we have the Radeon HD 6870 desktop card:

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Obviously these are pretty noticeable steps down in performance from what the model number would indicate on your desktop products, but for a GPU that is only powering a 1080p screen (unless you decide to connect external monitors) and runs with a slightly slower CPU as well, these products represent the best of the best in the mobile world.  

Our benchmarking includes Metro 2033, Lost Planet 2, DiRT 3, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and of course, Battlefield 3.  We ran the games at the M17x native resolution of 1920x1080 with quality settings usually to their highest since these GPUs are capable of running them.  

Let's get to some the results!

November 2, 2011 | 10:58 PM - Posted by Flayed Banana (not verified)

If this test is about the Nvidia GTX 580M and the Radeon 6990M then why do the screenshots from Lost Planet say Nvidia GTX 460? Wrong pictures or problems with the game?

November 3, 2011 | 01:10 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

No, those are just older screenshots that we used to demonstrate the game we were using. We don't take new ones each time we test the game.

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November 3, 2011 | 08:17 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Its unfair the testing specs for the AMD Radeon HD 6990M setup, 500Mhz makes a difference. Test with even specs or forget it.

November 3, 2011 | 01:10 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Not really true, though I did comment in our first page that the difference may skew things just slightly. The fact is with frame rates typically 40 or less, the CPU bottleneck is minimal on all of these titles.

December 3, 2011 | 02:12 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

wrong, Deus Ex, for example, is CPU bound and that's why the GTX580M is able to keep up with the 6990M. A CPU bound game will see big performance gains from a higher CPU clock.

November 3, 2011 | 11:43 AM - Posted by Alterac (not verified)

What Driver versions were you using for the testing?

November 3, 2011 | 01:12 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Ah, sorry about that! We were using the new 285.64 driver from NVIDIA.com on the GTX 580M and the 11.10 drivers that shipped with the M17x from AMD on the HD 6990M.

November 3, 2011 | 01:34 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

how could you use nvidia drivers when they dont work on alienware.. and dell only have 269.03. even doing an nvidia update refers you back to dell for drivers.if you manage to get the nvidia drivers to work, tell me how.

November 3, 2011 | 03:52 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The Verde drivers on NVIDIA.com install on the Alienware system. Download and install, not hard buddy!

November 3, 2011 | 05:39 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

^ this.

November 3, 2011 | 04:47 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Um, crappy equivalent card comparison using a 560 Ti. A 460 GTX would be the best case, but the GTX580M is really closer to an 8800GT. And as for the 6990M, compare it to a 6850 at best.

Just going by Tex fill rate and Mem Bandwidth. I'm currently running an old 275GTX with better specs than the 580M.

Now, get out of the graphic card companies pockets and start telling it like it really is. They want us to believe we are paying $400+ for something better than a $50 graphics card.

Otherwise, nice article.

November 3, 2011 | 05:40 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Umm...R U SERIOUS? An 8800 GT? You so crraazzzyy!

November 4, 2011 | 02:42 PM - Posted by Eric (not verified)

I just got done listening to the podcast and this portion was of interest to me as I have had my M17X with a 6990M for about a month or so now. I have a primary system and pretty much use this laptop for my "sitting in the living room with my wife but still gaming" system =D.

The 6990M makes gaming on a laptop an actual possibility without having to always find the lowest possible setting to play games with. While I can't play BF3 on ultra settings in multiplayer, I can play on High and still be 50 FPS+ and have an enjoyable experience. I personally don't see the value in a 300+ nvidia tax for the same performance. Good Article and I'm sure there are others out there who have been on the fence about this choice that might have a clearer decision to make.

November 6, 2011 | 03:36 AM - Posted by w chris (not verified)

Just an FYI just because you have the 580m or 6990m does not mean you have optimus or amd's equivelent. Example clevo resellers such as sager and others do not have optimus with these cards, and possibly other high end cards.

November 9, 2011 | 04:36 PM - Posted by sotoa

I just heard the podcast this morning too and a couple of reasons why I ordered the 580m on my Sager NP8170(P170HM) yesterday.

1) 3D only possible with Nvidia (or at least on these current ones)
2) Drivers are usually better from Nvidia (although AMD is getting real close lately)
3) PhysX
4) Optimus > AMD's Switchable Graphics solution (although I can't do Optimus on this 120Hz screen)
5) Bought it because I didn't hear your podcast in time >:(

Is it really, really worth the premium? Maybe not, but I have price guarantee till end of this year and I'm hoping Nvidia will do the right thing.

November 9, 2011 | 05:53 PM - Posted by w chris (not verified)

No optimus or amd switchable graphics on any sager/clevos from my understanding.

November 9, 2011 | 07:30 PM - Posted by sotoa

Ryan,
You might want to check the ram on the 580m. It should be 2GB, not 1.5GB.

November 10, 2011 | 12:44 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Battlefield 3 is a processor friendly game.

The GTX 580m machine had a more powerful processor than the 6990m machine.

Perhaps that could have been a deciding factor on the BF3 outcome. I don't think the 6990m would be that much worse on Ultra than the 580m.

November 13, 2011 | 05:16 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

What would you guys prefer? I have been searching for a while now, and trying to find out whats the best graphic card to buy.

Nvidia GTX 580M
Intel Core I7 2760qm

Next:

ATI HD 6990M
Intel Core I7 2860qm

It's one of those two that i'm planning to buy, but which one is best at running BF3 on ultra..? The price for the two setups is exactly the same..

November 14, 2011 | 09:42 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I just bought one of these over in Australia

Our models are slightly different to the US spec, but I have to say..... what a beast !!

It runs Battlefield 3 with no issues - HDMI out looks great on a plasma tv. Massive battery life.. Good on ya dell !

I also got the 6990, 256 SSD - I will get an external SSD later if the internal gets full and plug in through ESATA port. Alienware backpack.

November 16, 2011 | 12:14 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

So you would prefer the HD 6990m?

And is is on ultra your 6990M is running without issues

What cpu do you have ? :)

November 22, 2011 | 12:47 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Yep - For the price

I think the settings are all on high and it runs great

I have the 2.4Ghz CPU

I also play it using my HTC smart phone as a WIFI hotspot, then connect the 17x to it wirelessly , it runs well- even on the 32 vs 32 maps.

sometimes laggy but sometimes not - read sniper shots accross the map.!

November 22, 2011 | 08:01 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I take that back, I have the graphics set on Custom, all ULTRA and on, except for PRE alaising which is off.

November 23, 2011 | 02:28 PM - Posted by sotoa

The 580m's memory is still incorrect on the chart.

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January 16, 2012 | 03:38 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

you're lying check the dell site yourself at least in Canada its still a $300 difference, and we all know that with identical systems, the 6990m would beat the 580m in most catigories, for a far cheaper price, and the added features of the 580m are really not that desirable especially for $300+

February 1, 2012 | 12:50 PM - Posted by Goldberry (not verified)

Hey guys i only play 1 game and that is World of Warcraft Cataclysm: Pls tell which GC would be suitable for online gaming the GTX 580M or the HD 6990M as im planning to run WOW in Ultra Settings Tyvm in advance.

February 4, 2012 | 12:20 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

the GeForce GTX 580m is now $300 more then the 6990 in the alienware.ca site

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