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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
Stream Processors 2048 1792 1536 1408
Texture Units 128 112 96 88
ROPs 32 32 32 32
Core Clock 925MHz 800MHz 880MHz 800MHz
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
Frame Buffer 3GB 3GB 2GB 2GB
FP64 1/4 1/4 1/4 1/4
Transistor Count 4.31B 4.31B 2.64B 2.64B
PowerTune Limit 250W 200W 250W 200W
Manufacturing Process TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm
Price Point $549 $449 $350 $250

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
Stream Processors 1792 1792 1792
Texture Units 112 112 112
ROPs 32 32 32
Core Clock 800MHz 900MHz 900MHz
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
Frame Buffer 3GB 3GB 3GB
FP64 1/4 1/4 1/4
Transistor Count 4.31B 4.31B 4.31B
Manufacturing Process TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm
Warranty N/A 2 Years Lifetime
Price Point $449 $479 $499

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
AMD Price NVIDIA
  $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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  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    Yeah and then they took out a 8800gt priced so low that they did cut their own leg themselves, lol it was ridiculous, everyone that bought a 8800gts and 8800gtx felt they had been fooled once more by the green goblin :/

    First time for ATI mispricing their video card higher and look the green goblin fans are all mad...
    Reply
  • xeridea - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Cards always cost more on release as there is built up demand and stock is low. You could have gotten almost as good of performance a year ago... if you don't care about using nearly 100W more power under load, and run 10-25C hotter. There are still 580s selling well over $500 BTW. The Sapphire card has a distinct performance advantage, uses little power, runs 27C under load cooler, near silent, and is cheaper than the average price of the 580.

    Newegg prices its $20 cheaper than cheapest 580, is faster on average (still fairly new drivers), uses a _LOT_ less power (load and idle), Zerocore power, and a lot cooler all around.. Yeah I would say that is competitive.

    Price will surely go down, especially when Nvidia finally gets off its butt and releases its next generation 3 months from now, but it won't make AMD look bad, they will just adjust prices.
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    AMD is likely charging a premium while it can. Why would it want to significantly undercut NVIDIA pricing which will force NVIDIA to lower their prices as well. It's all about margin, hopefully. Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    Well that's because it's Nvidia's job usually to price their video card higher than they perform, so the green goblin fans are mad because for the first time, AMD fans and rich kidz will buy overpriced video card from the competitor. Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Sunday, August 26, 2012 - link

    LOL
    amd fanboys are still whining about price, 8 months later, after nVidia drove down their crapship $170 and 3 free games.
    Let's face it, amd fanboys are the price whiners. Then after extensive whining, they claim, after the huge 33%+ discounts and free games, that's it's still too high so they will pinch $10 and get the slower amd card, or spend $30 more and get the slower amd card....LOL YES that's what they do.
    Reply
  • yankeeDDL - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Chizow,

    either you have a very distorted perception of reality, or you're an Nvidia fanboy.
    AMD is selling the 7950 at the same price of Nvidia's 580, with the difference that the 7950 has lower power consumption (and noise, and temperature ...) and a plethora of extras.
    If you have any clue about what marketing is, you would know that it would be very stupid to lower the price further. They already offer more for the same price: no need to make it any more attractive.

    And seriously: do you think that Nvidia, or any other company, in that position, would drop the card prices by $100? Seriously?
    If and when Kepler arrives, and if the performance is where it needs to be, then Nvidia will be welcome to lower the prices, and AMD will be forced to follow. It is called competition: that's why it is good to have two (or more) player in a market, not a monopoly.
    Reply
  • chizow - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Again, what don't you understand in my 'distorted view of reality'? I've already laid it out and many others have agreed. What AMD is doing here is unprecedented by pricing their next-gen parts according to last-gen performance.

    I asked someone else this, but what do you think the reaction would be if Nvidia took 14 months to respond to SI with a "next-gen" part that was only 15-25% faster than the 7970 but cost 10% more, or launched a 7950 equivalent for the same price? There's no progress there....

    I mean at that point, even the Nvidia fanboys would declare epic failure don't you think? It makes you wonder why the ATI fanboys don't see it the same way.

    As for marketing and competition and all that, you don't seem to get it. At the current prices, AMD makes it very hard for even their own users to justify the cost of these parts. The performance just is NOT there relative to the price when compared to last-gen parts. If they priced these cards more reasonably and similar to their last-gen parts, it would be a no-brainer. But the fact of the matter is, this level of performance was available at this price over a year ago.
    Reply
  • yankeeDDL - Wednesday, February 01, 2012 - link

    Chizow,
    what you said the 1st time was clear. No point on repeating it.
    You're convinced that AMD should lower the price: frankly, I don't care to explain you why you're wrong. I already said it: the 7950 uses lower power, is less noisy and has more features than the 580, and it offers a (little) higher performance.
    ANYONE today buying a 580 would be stupid as they would be getting less for the same price.
    So, today, AMD has no reason, whatsoever to lower the price of 7950. AMD is not in business for charity, nor is Nvidia, so if you expect miracles (price-wise) you're in for a surprise.
    Reply
  • chizow - Wednesday, February 01, 2012 - link

    Right, there's no point in anyone buying a 580 now, just as no one has any reason to buy a 7950 today. If they wanted that level of performance, they could've gotten it any time in the last 14 months for the same price. If they were willing to pay for it, they already have a 580.

    If they felt the price for that level of performance was too high, they most likely have something in their rig already that fits that price performance metric, and the 7950 does NOTHING to shift their position. There is no incentive for someone who has a 6970 who is getting 85-90% of the 7950's performance to pay 50% more to "upgrade" when they obviously didn't feel that was worth it 14 months ago.

    Similarly, do you think it is worth it to "upgrade" to a 7950 if you already own a GTX 580? Of course not! There's simply not enough incentive, and this is why AMD's pricing of this part fails (amongst many other reasons). Does that make sense?
    Reply
  • B-Unit1701 - Wednesday, February 01, 2012 - link

    What I want to know is where you got this idea that new GPU releases are 'answers' to the other guy's last release? Each new iteration of GPU tech from either side is an improvement or shrink of their own last release putting out more performance. The generation after is already half way thru design phase when the competition unveils their new card, the FASTEST an 'answer' could be developed is 2 generations, and more likely 3.

    The mistake your making is that assuming that the 580 was the bar AMD was shooting for. It wasnt. They were looking to introduce their new architecture without loosing ground. Looks like nVidias failure with Kepler will enable just that, time to tweak the new design to get the kind of performance numbers you expect to see from a 'next generation' product.
    Reply

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