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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

    Oh wait, wait, the 9800gx2 was priced 150$ lower than the GTX 280 and was performing more than gtx 280!! LOL speak about mispricing.... LOL OMG THAT'S RIDICULOUS Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    LOL that 7970 story pricing like it was the worst decision a Video card manufacturer ever made is so ridiculous chizow, it'S not a good decision either, we would all like to see lower prices considering we know the size of the die under the hood and we know it can be priced lower.

    But that GTX 280 thingy because Nvidia was thinking they had no competition was a little like taking people for DUMMIES. The radeon 4870 wasn't so mispriced, it was the gtx 280 that WAS. The GTX was uber big but didn'T justify over triple the price of 8800gt or higher price than a 9800gx2 considering the performance of those parts..... HELL NO.

    In the end, I prefer a pricing according to performance than being taken for a DUMMY by a company leading the technology with a little more performance...
    Reply
  • chizow - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    Like I said Galidou, the GTX 280 absolutely earned the original MSRP. It was a true flagship card in every respect and maintained the price:performance increase you would expect from a new next-gen GPU over its predecessor.

    You still haven't refuted this because again, the data is all out there. It was over 1.5x faster than the 8800GTX/9800GTX and roughly the same speed as the 9800GX2, the minimum baseline expectations anyone should have for a new flagship card on a new arch/gen/process.

    AMD was the one who mispriced their card at the time they could least afford to do so. Some like myself argued they just didn't know how to make money. They could've easily priced it at $400 and STILL forced Nvidia to drop prices on the GTX 280 and especially the GTX 260.

    But yes, Nvidia looked horrible after that decision but did right by their customers by issuing rebates. Now AMD is in the exact same position and stands to look badly with this pricing. Do you really think they will do the same if Nvidia forces them to cut prices on these parts? Its OK, you can say a bad thing about AMD too. ;)
    Reply
  • chizow - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    We've already covered this, because with the exception of very rare and extraordinary increases like the 8800GTX or 9700pro, 2x increases over last-gen flagships are NOT normal.

    The GTX 280 was easily 2x faster than the 8800GT, but the 8800GT was a refresh mid-range performance product. Whatever price:performance discount it carried already existed compared to the high-end parts of the time like the 9800GTX and 9800GX2, where it cost significantly less for excellent performance.

    Similarly, in these last few generations of cards mid-range cards like the GTX 460 and GTX 560 can be had for less than half of what a GTX 480 or GTX 580 cost but they perform much better than the cost would indicate. Obviously the top Kepler does not need to be 3x faster than the GTX 560 in order to command a $500 price tag commensurate with the flagship slot.

    In summary, the top cards do command a premium and determine the pricing for all cards that follow, but their merit for commanding that top price is judged against previous cards and generations.

    Its already become obvious that 15-25% increase from Tahiti over Fermi doesn't carry enough mustard to push the stack, since its momentum wasn't enough to even shift the metric at the second stop, the 7950.
    Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    It was the same performance than a 9800gx2 when it was in 2560* resolution because of memory, for the rest(99.5% of the people with 1080p or less back then) the 9800gx2 was truncating the gtx280 for 150$ less. Reply
  • chizow - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    No it was trading blows with the 9800GX2 and beating it at the highest resolutions and AA settings that mattered for people looking to upgrade.

    This is going to happen with any new flagship part because of the overall increased pipeline. High-end cards are meant to push high-end settings and resolutions because what you have is usually enough at lower end settings. This is why we "upgrade".

    Regardless, X2 parts are always going to carry some performance advantage at cheaper prices but that's because single-GPU always carries a premium that goes with being the top single-GPU flagship.

    You can look at any forum and you see this decision making process all the time with both last-gen GPUs and newer ones.

    But back to the point. Flagship next-gen GPUs do generally tend to compete with last-gen X2 in performance, not always a convincing win across the board, but enough to effectively retire those cards. That's clearly not the case with the 7970.
    Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    Nope you still can,T say something wrong about Nvidia you corrected them by saying they issued rebates to their customers, and AMD is not in the same position, they did not price it for dummies, it'S accordingly to it'S performance... wow when will you realize triple the price and according to it'S performance is different? that's all I wan you to say lol! Reply
  • chizow - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    Is the 7970 triple the performance of the 6950? So then how does it justify 3x the price?

    Its amazing how you want to try to hold Nvidia to this flawed logic and dismiss it when the 7970 fails even WORST at meeting it.

    Again, this just makes you look incredibly stupid or incredibly dishonest, neither of which are flattering.
    Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    it'S not triple the price of 6950 it's a LITTLE more than double, fi you have to lie this discussion is over..... when I said triple the price of the 8800gt I was gentle, 650$ for gtx 280 while 8800gt were selling for I remember I got one for 180$ so that's in fact three times and a half, plus we're comparing a 1gb video card price to a 3gb while GTX 280 and 8800gt had 256mb difference.... Now that I see you have to lie I don't want to continue this, I may be not right in EVERYTHING I say but I ain't lying big time....

    I prefer to be honest in my opinion than being dishonest in a certitude.....

    Ati radeon 3870 sucked big time, they never offered as good a competition to Nvidia after the X1xxx products in my opinion and Nvidia have(most of the time) got better drivers, I prefer their interface, I dislike catalyst. Here's what I have to say about ATI and I have not much wrong about Nvidia but at least I can say I see both side of the medal.

    Good luck in the future, peace out.
    Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    I was offering you my perception ok I played the troll but I never lacked respect to you, I'm not saying you are stupid or anything while you did, respect is something you can't buy.

    I may be poking your opinions because you see them as fact but thing is perception is different for everyone. I do not see anything SO wrong in the pricing of the 7970 while you obviously see something very bad in it. I can'T make you see my point of view so I guess you and I are right, depends for who reads us.

    respect.
    Reply

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