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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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  • chizow - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    No its not my standard, its the standard for what the market will bear using historical data points as my evidence.

    Buts its fine, its clear illogical and irrational people such as yourself don't have any standard to determine buy decisions, which is fine too.

    Ignorance is bliss.
    Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    LOL ultimate knowledge is crazyness... Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    I'm not saying at ANY time that the pricing is super right, that it is the right thing to do, I'm just saying from the beginning that it isn'T the worse that ever happened while you're making a freaking case of it. Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    And btw, the freaking card is around 75-90% faster than a 6950 which isn't bad. Nothing amazing but... That gtx 280 was around 65% to 100% faster than a 8800gt(2 gen below gtx2xx series). Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    Whenever any card came out there was already a part that was an x2 card more powerful and cheaper that what was actually out there, what'S new today? Reply
  • JNo - Thursday, February 02, 2012 - link

    @chizow,

    You keep writing like AMD couldn't adjust their prices after Kepler's launch. Also, you do realise that AMD isn't competing with nvidia's 580 from a year ago right? They are competing with it *right now*.

    Well done if you bought the 580 a year ago but which card is better value today if you're a buyer? Right now the 7970 looks to be a better price performance proposition. If AMD's pricing makes the 580 look poor, nvidia are free to adjust their pricing but I'd go for the 7950 personally as it is right now.

    And no point pre-judging AMD pricing based on a for 'after the Kepler launch' argmument. Just because nvidia haven't adjusted pricing downwards, doesn't mean AMD won't.

    I'm not an AMD fan (I buy both camps) but your arguments don't make sense.
    Reply
  • chizow - Thursday, February 02, 2012 - link

    @JNo

    I'm not ignoring that possibility at all, I've actually alluded to the possibility on numerous occasions with my "when Kepler launches" comments. It hinges greatly on what Nvidia does of course and how Kepler performs but I don't think ANYONE expects Nvidia to introduce "next-gen" parts at last-gen performance levels because that's the ONLY way AMD's current pricing on these Tahiti parts will make sense. Why? Because they're basing next-gen pricing on last-gen performance.

    Instead, what's most likely to happen based on historical pricing and performance metrics, Nvidia will release a new line-up that will completely shift the current market that effectively makes last-gen price/performance obsolete and establishing a new metric that will offer roughly +50% performance at the same price points. Again, mountains of historical evidence from both Nvidia and AMD back my point. This is what is expected from "Next-Gen" architectures on "Next-Gen" fabrication processes.

    What AMD is doing here is cashing in short-term profits but ignoring long-term repercussions. As I stated in another comment, the people most likely to buy this product are AMD's most devout and loyal fans. IF they have to drop the pricing on these Tahiti parts because they were forced to so shortly after launch as a result of Nvidia's Kepler price/performance, how do you think these early adopters are going to feel? Their biggest fans are going to feel the biggest burn.

    There is precedence for this with the GTX 280 launch. Nvidia did right by their customers by issuing rebate checks for $100-150 per card. Do you think AMD is willing to do the same? Just something to consider.
    Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    People like you love to look at benchmark results that support their statements, and ignore the rest of them.

    Your statement is no more accurate than the statements of those that say the 7970 is barely faster than the GTX 580.

    ;)
    Reply
  • swx2 - Thursday, February 02, 2012 - link

    Are you listening to your self? did you just say that a overclocked 7970 (current gen card) is JUST NOW competitive with a last gen card? And you think that AMD has done well with this accomplishment?

    ...what-is-this-i-don't-even...
    Reply
  • Iketh - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Ladies and gentlemen, drugs are bad for you. Reply

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