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Final Words

With 3 major launches in under 3 months it seems like I’ve written he same thing time and time again, and that wouldn’t be an incorrect observation. By being the first to deploy 28nm GPUs AMD has been enjoying a multi-month lead on NVIDIA that has allowed them to set their own pace, and there’s little NVIDIA can do but sit back and watch. Consequently we’re seeing AMD roll out a well-orchestrated launch plan unhindered, with AMD launching each new Southern Islands card at exactly the place they’ve intended to from the beginning.

At each launch AMD has undercut NVIDIA at critical points, allowing them to push NVIDIA out of the picture, and the launch of the Radeon HD 7800 series is no different. AMD’s decision to launch the 7870 and 7850 at roughly $25 to $50 over the GTX 570 and GTX 560 Ti respectively means that NVIDIA’s cards still have a niche between AMD’s price points for the time being, but this is effectively a temporary situation as NVIDIA starts drawing down inventory for the eventual Kepler launch.

Starting with the Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition, AMD is effectively in the clear for the time being. At roughly 9% faster than the GTX 570 there’s little reason to get the GTX 570 even with the 7870’s price premium; it’s that much faster, cooler, and quieter. With the launch of Pitcairn and the 7870 in particular, GF110 has effectively been removed from competition after a nearly year and a half run.

As for the Radeon HD 7850, things are not so clearly in AMD’s favor. From a power perspective it's by far the fastest 150W card you can buy, and that alone will earn AMD some major OEM wins along with some fans in the SFF PC space. Otherwise from a price perspective it’s certainly the best $250 card you can buy, but then that’s the catch: it’s a $250 card. With GTX 560 Ti prices starting to drop below $200 after rebate, the 7850 is nearly $50 more expensive than the GTX 560 Ti. At the same time its performance is only ahead of the GTX 560 Ti by about 9% on average, and in the process it loses to the GTX 560 Ti at a couple of games, most importantly Battlefield 3 by about 8%. AMD has a power consumption lead to go along with that performance lead, but without retail cards to test it’s not clear whether that translates into any kind of noise improvements over the GTX 560 Ti. In the long run the 7850 is going to be the better buy – in particular because of its additional RAM in the face of increasingly VRAM-hungry games – but $199 for a GTX 560 Ti is going to be hard to pass up while it lasts.

Of course by being in the driver’s seat overall when it comes to setting video card prices AMD has continued to stick to their conservative pricing, both to their benefit and detriment. The 7800 series isn’t really any cheaper than the 6900 series it replaces; in fact it’s probably a bit more expensive after you factor in the rebates that have been running on the 6900 series since last summer. But these prices stop the bleeding from what has been an aggressive price war between the two companies over the last 3 years, which is going to be of great importance to AMD in the long run.

Nevertheless we’re largely in the same situation now as where we were with the 7700 series: AMD has only moved a small distance along the price/performance curve with the 7800 series, and they’re in no particular hurry to change that. But if nothing else, on the product execution side of things AMD has done a much better job, getting their old cards out of the market well ahead of time in order to keep from having to compete with themselves. As a result your choices right now at $200+ are the 7800 and 7900 series, or last-generation Fermi cards. Otherwise we’re in a holding pattern until AMD brings prices down, which considering Pitcairn is the replacement for the Barts-based 6800, could potentially be quite a reduction in the long run.

Wrapping things up, at this point in time AMD has taken firm control of the $200+ video card market. The only real question is this: for how long? AMD enjoyed a nearly 6 month lead over NVIDIA when rolling out the first generation of 40nm DX11 cards, but will they enjoy a similarly long lead with the first generation of 28nm cards? Only time will tell.

Overclocking: Gaming & Compute Performance
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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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