AMD Radeon HD 7950 Review Feat. Sapphire & XFX: Sewing Up The High-End Marketby Ryan Smith on January 31, 2012 9:02 AM EST
Announced late last month and shipping 3 weeks ago, AMD kicked off the 28nm generation with a bang with their Radeon HD 7970. Combining TSMC’s new 28nm HKMG process with AMD’s equally new Graphics Core Next Architecture, AMD finally took back the single-GPU performance crown for the first time since 2010 with an all-around impressive flagship video card.
Of course AMD has always produced multiple video cards from their high-end GPUs, and with Tahiti this was no different. The second Tahiti card has been waiting in the wings for its own launch, and that launch has finally come. Today AMD is launching the Radeon HD 7950, the cooler, quieter, and cheaper sibling of the Radeon HD 7970. Aimed right at NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 580, AMD is looking to sew up the high-end market, and as we’ll see the Radeon HD 7950 is exactly the card to accomplish that.
|AMD GPU Specification Comparison|
|AMD Radeon HD 7970||AMD Radeon HD 7950||AMD Radeon HD 6970||AMD Radeon HD 6950|
|Memory Clock||1.375GHz (5.5GHz effective) GDDR5||1.25GHz (5GHz effective) GDDR5||1.375GHz (5.5GHz effective) GDDR5||1.25GHz (5GHz effective) GDDR5|
|Memory Bus Width||384-bit||384-bit||256-bit||256-bit|
|Manufacturing Process||TSMC 28nm||TSMC 28nm||TSMC 40nm||TSMC 40nm|
As has been the case for AMD since the 5000 series, AMD has gone with a two-pronged approach to binning and cutting down their flagship GPU for their second-tier card. The first change is an across-the-board reduction in clockspeeds, with the core clock being dropped from 925MHz to 800MHz and the memory clock being dropped from 5.5GHz to 5GHz. The second change is that the shader count has been reduced from a full 2048 SPs to 1792 SPs, accomplished by disabling 1 of the GPU’s 8 CU arrays and allowing AMD to use Tahiti GPUs with a defective CU array that would have never worked in the first place.
No other changes have been made, a particularly important consideration since it means all 32 ROPs and the 6 64bit memory channels are still in place. Altogether this gives the 7950 86% of the ROP throughput, 75% of the shader and texture throughput, and 91% of the memory bandwidth of the 7970. This should put the 7950 in direct competition with NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 580, which typically trails the 7970 by a similar degree. Otherwise compared to the 6000 series, this makes the core performance gap between the 7950 and 7970 a bit bigger than between the 6970 and 6950, while the memory bandwidth gap is identical.
The tradeoff of course on a second-tier part is that while performance has been reduced so has power consumption. Just as with the 7970, the 7950 takes after its 6000-series predecessor, shipping with a 200W maximum board power limit. With the 7000 series AMD has not been publishing any kind of typical power numbers and thereby making the board power limit the only number they publish, but also making for a far more accurate TDP than past estimated TDP numbers as it’s an absolute limit. For gaming scenarios you’re almost always looking at less than 190W power consumption, though the spread between typical power and the PowerTune cap is not as wide on the 7950 as it was the 7970. Meanwhile for idle power consumption AMD is not providing an official number there either, but with the use of power islands the difference in idle power consumption between various core configurations has been virtually eliminated. Idle TDP should be 15W, while long idle is 3W.
In a bit of an unusual move for AMD, for the 7950 they are doing away with reference designs entirely. All 7950s will be custom to some degree—the first run will use a partner’s choice of cooler alongside a new PCB from AMD specifically for the 7950, while in the future partners will have the option of going fully custom. Furthermore partners will be shipping factory overclocked parts from right out of the gate, and at this point we’re not even sure just how many models will actually be shipping at stock clocks; neither MSI or Sapphire have a stock clocked card as part of their lineup. Overall at the low-end we’re seeing overclocked cards shipping as low as 810MHz, while 900MHz is particularly common at the high-end.
The use of customized factory overclocked cards is not unusual for AMD’s lower-end cards, but this is the first time we’ve seen AMD’s partners launch factory overclocked parts out of the gate like this, and it’s the first time we’ve seen AMD launch a part over $200 without a reference cooler. As a result the 7950 will be a true Your Mileage May Vary situation, with the gaming performance and physical performance characteristics depending heavily on how a partner has configured their card.
|Radeon HD 7950 Partner Specification Comparison|
|AMD Radeon HD 7950 (Stock)||Sapphire HD 7950 Overclock Edition||XFX R7950 Black Edition Double Dissipation|
|Memory Clock||1.25GHz (5GHz effective) GDDR5||1.25GHz (5GHz effective) GDDR5||1.375GHz (5.5GHz effective) GDDR5|
|Memory Bus Width||384-bit||384-bit||384-bit|
|Manufacturing Process||TSMC 28nm||TSMC 28nm||TSMC 28nm|
For the launch of the 7950 AMD shipped us a pair of internal reference cards built on the 7970 PCB and cooler. Since no one will actually be shipping a card like this—although they technically could if they wanted to—we also went looking for partner cards, which XFX and Sapphire provided. The XFX R7950 Black Edition Double Dissipation and Sapphire HD 7950 Overclock Edition are far more representative of what we’re actually going to see on the market; factory overclocks aside, both use open air coolers, just as with every other 7950 card we’ve seen the specs for ahead of today’s launch. Given the lack of any cards using fully exhausting blowers, it would appear that AMD and their partners have become particularly comfortable with open air coolers for 200W cards.
Last but not least of course, is pricing. AMD is continuing their conservative pricing strategy of trying to price their cards against existing competitive cards, rather than using the cost savings of the 28nm process to bring down prices across the board. As a result the 7950 is priced at $449, $100 below the 7970 and almost directly opposite the cheapest GeForce GTX 580s, making the 7950 a de facto GTX 580 competitor. This pricing strategy seems to have worked well for the 7970—cards are still selling at a brisk pace, but the shelves are rarely completely bare—and it looks like AMD is going to continue following it while they can. Meanwhile the fact that the 7950 is an entirely semi-custom lineup means that pricing is going to be equally variable, with high-end factory overclocked cards such as the Sapphire and XFX going for $479 and $499 respectively.
|Winter 2011 GPU Pricing Comparison|
|$750||GeForce GTX 590|
|Radeon HD 6990||$700|
|Radeon HD 7970||$549|
|Radeon HD 7950||$450+||GeForce GTX 580|
|Radeon HD 6970||$350||GeForce GTX 570|
|Radeon HD 6950 2GB||$250|
|$240||GeForce GTX 560 Ti|
|Radeon HD 6870||$160|
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chizow - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - linkNow it starts to become obvious why people shouldn't be doing cartwheels in the streets over Southern Islands. Its a nice chip, it really is. But the problem with its pricing just became even more obvious with the 7950 as AMD is selling you yesterday's performance at next-gen prices. In other words, if you wanted this level of performance, you could've gotten it a year ago with the GTX 580 for almost the same price....over a year ago....
And that's why AMD's pricing of these parts fails. With the 7950 it all comes into focus and if it wasn't clear before, it will become crystal once Kepler drives the nail home when it launches at its expected prices and performance levels. What's left for AMD to launch? A 7870 that's as fast as the 6970 but costs $50 more? A 7850 that's as fast as the 6950 but costs $75 more? Do we really think Nvidia is going to launch a 580 equivalent at 28nm and price it at $450? See how it all comes into focus?
But Nvidia really has a chance to return the favor to AMD here with a pricing debacle of GTX 260/280-esque proportions. If GK104 comes within spitting distance of the 7970 or even 7950 at $300, AMD is going to look really bad. If GK110 beats the 7970 by 20-25% and costs only $500, AMD execs will be jumping out of windows. We're talking about issuing rebate checks that AMD can't afford to write on every 7950/7970 sold at these ridiculous prices for however many months it takes until Nvidia releases Kepler.
Goty - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link1) I believe you mean "consistently faster than last-gen performance for the same price", which is how it will remain until NVIDIA gets a card out that can compete.
2) Keep dreaming.
chizow - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link1) Well the good news is Nvidia decided to compete over a year ago when they launched the GTX 580. At these prices AMD has set, Nvidia is still amazingly competing with their 14 month old last-gen parts.
2) The better news is AMD has set the bar extremely low for Nvidia. Should be easy pickings for Kepler.
halo37253 - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - linkYet a overclocked 7970 is about as fast as a gtx590, yeah... nvidia sure is competing. lol
Really there is no reason to get a nvidia card right now, with the gtx580 and its continuing high costs not even able to hold its own again even a 7950. Once the 7xx series launches I can see AMD launching the hd89xx series no to long after with XDR2 memory and higher clocked cores.
For overall performance per watt it seems AMD cant be touched right now.
kashifme21 - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - linkThe real question is, Do we really need these upgrades anymore. I mean todays games barely push tech. Most of my friends are happy with their 5870's and GTX 480's we bought about 2 years back
Thing is games are designed with consoles in mind and with next gen console hardware rumors to be around the level of 6670 GPUs, why would anyone upgrade anymore, unless they intend to be running multiple screens.
I personally run GTX 580 SLI. I think i personally wont be upgrading until i see a game that actually stresses my system in eyefinity settings.
Its a sad state but many games recently released dont even support freatures like AA or even any pc options, games are rather straight console ports, with PC as an after thought. Why buy such expensive hardware for ports?
jleach1 - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - linkI agree. Even my 5850 hasn't stressed much in recent games...and I bought it for 280 USD a couple years ago.
Performance per dollars, and temp per dollar, AMD is on target, more often than not....now, if only we could get the FX sorted out...
I used to buy nvidia cards, but haven't since the 5000 series, and it looks to continue this way.
The moral is, competition is ultimately what brings prices down and motivation to up the performance.
I hope AMD can throw out something cool soon on the CPU side, because while I always have, and likely will continue to buy Intel, I love the competition. Sorry, I sorta gave up on AMD after the i7-930 came out. But that doesn't mean I'm not rooting for them...even if it is only for the sake of competition.
TerdFerguson - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - linkOn the other hand, upgrading the 5850 that you've had for several years is going to require you to jump to a /higher/ price tier. That's insanity. If that kind of pricing structure existed for ANY other consumer electronics product, people would be vocally antagonistic. AMD deserves some antagonism.
JonnyDough - Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - linkI disagree. Supply and demand. They don't have the supply and there's a big enough demand to keep prices inflated. Nobody can be upset at all about the prices. If you don't like them, don't buy the product. It's that simple. Capitalism fails us often, but here's a case where it works just fine. :)
TerdFerguson - Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - linkBy your foolish reasoning, AMD would be in top form if it produced and sold just a couple of hand-crafted units each quarter. That they can't meet volume demand is a failing, not a benefit.
artk2219 - Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - linkI've got to say that I agree with JohnnyDough, in the short term keeping prices high and making a killing off of each card sold is a good thing for AMD, not so great for us consumers but again, its not like anyone is forcing you to buy it. However you are correct in that in the long term that is a failing strategy for a company like AMD, its not like they're making luxury sports cars :). Either way it makes no difference to me and it puts them in a great position for a coming price war with Nvidia and Kepler which will inevitably be faster, I just hope Nvidia does something about their power profile.