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  

 

Getting the Most Out of GCN: Driver Improvements
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  • xeridea - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Tru Dat Reply
  • xeridea - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    But not as bad as the Obamination we are in today. Reply
  • bji - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Which is better than the Bush clusterf** we were in yesterday ... Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Too bad we can't actually blame stupidity on some drug that we can prevent people from smoking.

    ;)
    Reply
  • dagamer34 - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    So you want to wag your finger at AMD for trying to make money when Nvidia has decided not to show up for a few months? Everyone knows that competition drives lower prices and right now AMD doesn't have any at the truly high end. If you want the parts now, you can pay up or wait. It's that simple.

    I am actually glad AMD is competing at the truly high end again because it shows confidence in their products. Confident products = bolder designs in the long term.
    Reply
  • chizow - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Actually I've been saying for years AMD missed an opportunity to profit by mispricing their RV770 badly. Ever since that time they've been trying to dig themselves out of the pricing mistake they caused, because as a direct result, Nvidia dropped their flagship single-GPU prices to $350-400 for the 2nd tier and $500 for the top single gpu. Since AMD's subsequent parts have always trailed Nvidia's same-gen parts, they were obviously forced to price their cards according to Nvidia's performance, which generally meant $400 or less.

    The problem is that SI offers none of the performance and value you would expect from a next-gen part, nor does it raise the bar for price/performance. It only manages to keep the status quo using last-gen metrics and the 7950 is direct proof of this. Its roughly the same price and performance as the GTX 580, which would've been great if this were 2010 when the GTX 580 launched, but its 2012 now.
    Reply
  • arjuna1 - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    leave it to an nvidia fanboy to twist facts around as needed to put nvidia on top. Reply
  • chizow - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    I didn't say Nvidia was on top...

    But honestly, as an ATI fan take a look at the 6970 results compared to the 7950 and then ask yourself if you really think the 7950 is worth the price at $450-500 compared to the $300-350 for a 6970....

    I mean if you thought the 6970 was a great deal compared to the GTX 580 how on earth could you think the 7950 is some amazing bargain some 14 months later?
    Reply
  • Galidou - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    OMG and you just realized that? Welcome in 2012, you hav ebeen sleeping for the last 20 years?!?

    Video card manufacturers have done that a thousand times before... Nvidia and Ati with their rebranding and next gen higher priced than last gen for the same performance... The top segment was never meant to be performance/price top of the chart.... OMG.

    So by listening to what you said from the beginning, anything below gtx 580 is useless, because you can find last gen video card lower priced for more or same performance, because of the next-gen price premium... HELLO!?! wake up...

    You can find gtx 480's at a way lower price than gtx 570's on the bay for about the same performance...

    You can find radeon 4870 about half the price of 6770's for about the same performance....

    And so on....
    Reply
  • chizow - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    I don't think you understand that in your attempt to discredit my point, you've actually completely validated it.

    Yes, historically when a new part releases it compresses prices and forces older last-gen parts to drop in price as the new price:performance metrics dictate a drop in price with the next-gen level of performance.

    None of this is occurring with SI because AMD has priced this part exactly where its performance lies because they are basing this on last-gen metrics. If anything, lower tier parts are probably UNDER priced relative to performance compared to SI and have no reason to drop in price.
    Reply

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