Meet The Radeon HD 7870 & Radeon HD 7850

For today’s review AMD sent over a 7870 and a 7850. Both are built on the 7870 reference design, so the cards are functionally identical except for the configuration of their respective GPU and the number of PCIe power sockets present.

For retail cards this will be very similar to the 7700 series launch, with partners doing semi-custom cards right away. In fact among the list of cards AMD sent us only Club3D will be using the complete 7870 reference design, while everyone else will be using the reference PCB along with their customary open air coolers. The 7850 will be even more divergent since AMD actually has a different, shorter reference PCB for these cards. Consequently our 7850 has very little in common with retail 7850s when it comes to their construction.


The Radeon HD 7850 Reference Design - Only Sampled To Partners

Starting as always with the cooler, the 7870 reference design is effectively a smaller version of the 7970 reference design. Here AMD is once again using a blower design with a slightly smaller blower, shrouded in the same hard red & black plastic as with the 7900. Underneath the shroud we find AMD’s heatsink, which utilizes a copper baseplate attached to 3 copper heatpipes, which in turn run into an aluminum heatsink that runs roughly half the length of the card. This is fairly typical for a blower design for a sub-200W card, but again almost all of the retail cards will be using a completely different open air design.

The 7870 PCB itself runs 9.5” long, with an additional .25” of shroud overhang bringing the total to 9.75”. Our card is equipped with 8 5GHz 256MB Hynix GDDR5 memory chips, the same 5GHz chips that we saw on the 7700 series. For the 7870 power is provided by a pair of 6pin PCIe power socket, while the sub-150W 7850 uses a single socket. Both cards feature a single CrossFire connector, allowing them to be paired up in a 2-way CrossFire configuration.

Meanwhile for display connectivity AMD is using the same configuration as we’ve seen on the 7900 series: 1 DL-DVI port, 1 HDMI port, and 2 miniDP ports. Interestingly, unlike the 7900 series and 7700 series there is a set of pads for a second DVI port on the card, and while AMD doesn’t make use of them at least one XFX card will. The 7800 series as the same display configuration options as the 7900 series though, so while it can drive up to 6 monitors it can only drive 2 TMDS type displays at once, and if you want to drive a full 6 monitors you’ll need a MST hub.

Finally, I wanted to touch on marketing for a bit. We typically don’t go into any detail on marketing, but with the 7800 something AMD did caught my eye. One of AMD’s marketing angles will be to pitch the 7800 series as an upgrade for the 5800 series; AMD doesn’t typically pitch cards as upgrades in this manner, and the 5800 comparison is especially odd.

At 2.5 years old the 5800 series is no longer the video card king but it’s also not particularly outdated; other than tessellation performance it has held up well relative to newer cards. More specifically, the 7800 series performance is roughly equal to the 6900 series, and while the 6900 series as a step up from the 5800 series it was not a massive leap. With its $350/$250 MSRP the 7800 series has common pricing with the 5800 series, but at only 20-40% faster than the 5800 it’s not the kind of step up in performance that typically justifies such a large purchase. Of course AMD’s conservative pricing has a lot to do with this, but at the end of the day it’s odd to call the 7800 series the upgrade for the 5800 series when the 7950 is the more natural upgrade from a performance perspective.

AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition & Radeon HD 7850 Review Further Image Quality Improvements: SSAA LOD Bias and MLAA 2.0
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  • DeViLzzz - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    It is not the dumbest statement ever. Have you looked at multiple sites benchmarks ? Clearly a 2 GB 6950 Power Color flashed to a 6970 or a 6970 is worth keeping. Hardly an improvement over those situations for the price you would be paying for a 7870 and 7850. Reply
  • ExarKun333 - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    Then you don't follow the graphic card industry very well at all. Reply
  • MadAd - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    did i just read a different review? looking at this i did - Im on the 6950 and no theres not enough performance difference.

    also, comparing apples to oranges and saying theres a gain isnt going to work - if someones going to OC a 7*** then im sure they have also OC their 6***, so comparing a straight 6*** to the 7*** OC results and calling it a difference is smoke and mirrors.
    Reply
  • cactusdog - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    You guys dont get it. Why are you comparing the 7870 to a 6950? Should be the 6870 but even then The 7870 smashes the 6950 when overclocked. the 7870 performs like a stock 7970 when overclocked. You cant compare overclocking on the 6 series to the 7 series. The 7 series is the sandy bridge of GPUs.

    Why compare last gens high end to this gens mid range? If you have a 6950/6970 you should be looking at a 7950/7970. A 7950/7970 will give you 70% increase in performance when overclocked. AMD left heaps of overclocking headroom for easy overclocking.

    Sure, the price is a little high now, but just wait a few weeks until Nvidia cards arrive and prices will come down. New tech is always a little expensive when it first comes out but no one is forcing you to buy now. Just wait a couple of weeks
    Reply
  • Kiste - Tuesday, March 06, 2012 - link

    "Why compare last gens high end to this gens mid range?"

    Because were introduced at the same price point. Video card names/numbers are completely arbitrary, you have to compare cards at a given price point.
    Reply
  • xrror - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    So I have one the the early 6950 2GB cards unlocked to 1536 shaders, and a 935/1275 overclock.

    Running at 1920x1200 in skyrim with the high resolution texture packs from Bethesda starts to lag.

    Yes I'm being petty, but as a PC gaming smoe, I'm looking for a card that's under $300 that will dominate what I have.

    I can't find a confident vote for a strong successor in the sub $300 range to replace my current card.

    This makes me sad. Also with all the growing pains 69xx series had - and AMD's dumping of VLIW4 makes me pretty sure 69xx is a dead end for any future driver improvements.

    Maybe I can sell my 6950 for $100 to subsidize a 79xx or a Kepler?
    Reply
  • Zoomer - Wednesday, March 07, 2012 - link

    I'll take it. Reply
  • mpschan - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    I'd tend to agree with your assessment. Only those looking for bleeding edge performance should consider the upgrade to the 7900 series.

    The price/performance curve is a little disappointing, but not unexpected. This is what happens when you:

    a) Move to a new process
    b) Implement a new architecture
    c) (Most importantly) Have no competition

    They need to make their money back on the first two, and having no competition allows them to do that and then some.

    But look at the thermals and power draw. Decreased power usage with a small gain in performance? Where have I seen that before ... oh I know, Intel!

    Welcome to tick-tock folks. They took their process shrink and used it to allow them to draw less power, not tear up the performance charts.

    This means the next generation on 28nm has room to expand. 1280 SP for the 7870 can be 1600 for the 8870. A 212mm2 die can be 300mm2. 190w can be 220w.

    Ultimately the performance of these cards will come down to power drawn. The huge jumps in performance that we used to see existed because of drastically improving fabrication technologies combined with better ways of rendering screens. I think those days will be few and far between now.
    Reply
  • arjuna1 - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    You have a point, this generation is not worth spending the $$$ to "sidegrade". I don't kepler doing anything to change that other than forcing AMD to have decent prices. Reply
  • cactusdog - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    How is a 7950/7970 a "sidegrade"?? To a 6950/6970? Its a massive performance increase. If you have a highend 6 series GPU you should be looking at highend 7 series. Not midrange. Reply

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