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In 2009-2010, AMD launched the entire 4 chip Evergreen series in 6 months. By previous standards this was a quick pace for a new design, especially since AMD had not previously attempted a 4 chip launch in such a manner. Now in 2012 AMD’s Southern Islands team is hard at work at wrapping up their own launch with new aspirations on quickness. Evergreen may have launched 4 chips in 6 months, but this month AMD will be completing the 3 chip Southern Islands launch in half the time – 3 chips in a mere 3 months.

To that end today AMD is taking the wraps off the final piece of the Southern Islands puzzle: Pitcairn. The middle child of the family, it will be the basis of AMD’s $250+ enthusiast segment Radeon HD 7800 series. We’ve seen AMD capture the high-end with the 7900 series and struggle to control the mainstream market with the 7700 series, but how does the 7800 series fare amidst AMD’s lead in deploying 28nm GPUs? Let’s find out.

AMD GPU Specification Comparison
  AMD Radeon HD 7870 AMD Radeon HD 7850 AMD Radeon HD 6970 AMD Radeon HD 6950 AMD Radeon HD 5870
Stream Processors 1280 1024 1536 1408 1600
Texture Units 80 64 96 88 80
ROPs 32 32 32 32 32
Core Clock 1000MHz 860MHz 880MHz 800MHz 850MHz
Memory Clock 4.8GHz GDDR5 4.8GHz GDDR5 5.5GHz GDDR5 5.0GHz GDDR5 4.8GHz GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Frame Buffer 2GB 2GB 2GB 2GB 1GB
FP64 1/16 1/16 1/4 1/4 1/5
Transistor Count 2.8B 2.8B 2.64B 2.64B 2.15B
PowerTune Limit 190W 150W 250W 200W N/A
Manufacturing Process TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm
Architecture GCN GCN VLIW4 VLIW4 VLIW5
Price Point $350 $250 N/A N/A N/A

So what exactly is Pitcairn? In a nutshell, take Cape Verde (7700) and double it, and you have Pitcairn. Pitcairn has twice the number of CUs, twice the number of ROPs, twice the memory bandwidth, and of particular importance twice as many geometry engines on the frontend. This works out to 1280 SPs among 20 CUs – organized as a doubling Cape Verde’s interesting 4/3/3 configuration – 80 texture units, 32 ROPs, 512KB L2 cache, and a 256-bit memory bus. Compared to Tahiti, Pitcairn still has 12 fewer CUs and as a result less shader and texturing performance along with the narrower memory bus, but it has the same number of ROPs and the same frontend as its bigger brother, which as we’ll see creates some very interesting situations.

On the functionality side of things, the Cape Verde comparisons continue. As with all Southern Islands family parts, Pitcairn supports things such as DX10+ SSAA, PowerTune, Fast HDMI support, partially resident textures, D3D 11.1 support, and the still-AWOL Video Codec Engine (VCE). FP64 support is once again present, and like Cape Verde it’s a performance-limited implementation for compatibility and software development purposes, with FP64 performance limited to 1/16th FP32 performance.

AMD’s Pitcairn cards will be the Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition and the Radeon HD 7850. The 7870 is a full Pitcairn, clocked at 1000MHz core and paired with 2GB of GDDR5 running at 4.8GHz. It has a PowerTune limit of 190W while AMD puts its typical board power draw closer to 175, meanwhile idle power consumption is around 10W with a long idle of 3W like the rest of Southern Islands. As for the 7850 it’s the typical lower tier part, featuring 16 active CUs (1024 SPs), an 860MHz core clock, and the same 2GB of GDDR5 running at 4.8GHz as its counterpart, giving it roughly 68% the shading/texturing performance and 86% of the ROP & frontend performance of the 7870. The PowerTune limit is 150W with a typical board power of 130W, and the same 10W/3W idle power consumption as the 7870.

Altogether the 7800 series isn’t just the successor to the Barts based 6800 series in name but also the successor to the 6800 in design. This includes not only power consumption, with one card being a sub-150W part, but also with regards to things such as CrossFire, where it features a single CF connector. Interestingly enough even though Barts was already a fairly small chip for its performance, Pitcairn takes this one step further with a die size of 212mm2, which in turn contains 2.8B transistors, only 160M more than Cayman. As we’ll see when we get to our benchmarks, this makes Pitcairn a surprisingly small chip given its 6970+ performance.

Speaking of the 6970, let’s talk about the 7800 series’ competition. As AMD began winding down Cayman (6900 series) almost immediately with the launch of the 7900 series, at this point the 6900 market has effectively dried up. Having taken themselves out of competition with themselves, AMD’s only competition is NVIDIA’s lineup. From a performance and price basis the 7870 and 7850 don’t map particularly well to any specific NVIDIA products, but generally speaking they’re targeted against the GTX 570 and GTX 560 Ti respectively.

With AMD targeting the ~$320 570 and ~$210 560 Ti and given their conservative pricing on the rest of Southern Islands, it should come as no surprise that the 7800 series is priced equally conservatively. The 7870 will have an MSRP of $350, while the 7850 will have an MSRP of $250. With the 7800 series completing the launch of Southern Islands, this gives AMD a consistent price structure for the entire family: $550, $450, $350, $250, $159, and $109.

Finally, as far as availability goes this will be a delayed launch. AMD is formally unveiling the 7800 series today, but it will not go on sale until the 19th, 2 weeks from now. AMD has said that this is due to both CeBIT and the Game Developers Conference; AMD and their partners want to be able to show off the 7800 series to their respective attendees at those events, with both events being far too large to keep the 7800 under wraps. This delayed launch also means that partner cards aren’t quite ready yet, so we only have AMD’s reference cards on hand. We’ll be taking a look at partner cards later this month.

Spring 2012 GPU Pricing Comparison
AMD Price NVIDIA
Radeon HD 7950 $450 GeForce GTX 580
Radeon HD 7870 $350  
  $330 GeForce GTX 570
Radeon HD 7850 $250  
  $200 GeForce GTX 560 Ti
  $179 GeForce GTX 560
Radeon HD 7770 $159  

 

Meet The Radeon HD 7870 & Radeon HD 7850
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  • Galidou - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    Yep, this must be the best price/performance ratio the 7xxx series has to offer yet but still nothing worth of buying unless you got a 3 years old plus video card...

    7870 priced at 300$ I wouldn't mind changing my 6850 crossfire for one of those considering the wattage and temperature of my actual setup. I was considering a gtx580 as they can be found on ebay for around 400$ used but this 7870 is around the same in every game I play at the resolution I play them. Plus the 2gb memory and cheaper price tag for a new one...

    But I'll still wait for the price to drop or switch to kepler if price/performance is amazing... Heard it should be but it's all speculation on something that's not out yet...
    Reply
  • chizow - Tuesday, March 06, 2012 - link

    Only took 4th product launch from AMD for you to see what I was saying was true, but better late than never. ;)

    But yeah the real value right now is the last-gen parts going EOL and selling for extremely low prices. The 6950/6970s are mostly dried up in the channel, but there were GTX 480s for $219 last week, up next on the chopping block should be the 560Ti448/570/580 for great prices ahead of Kepler's launch.
    Reply
  • Galidou - Tuesday, March 06, 2012 - link

    I never said that you were totally wrong, I was only saying that it's not the worst thing that's ever happened in computer's history, while you were making a freaking case of it because I spoke against Nvidia...

    And you still can't name even an older radeon card in your short list of cheap video cards to get... At 130$ and 160$ for a radeon 6850 and 6870 respectively you still get ALOT for what you pay for. Radeon 6870 isn't far from gtx 560ti. Why mentioning it when you're being paid by the green goblin, they would stop sending your fanboy checks I guess, just teasing :P

    There's one thing extraordinary about this gen, the size plus wattage used for THAT kind of performance... is quite amazing, it should just be priced accordingly to it's die size and it would be dirt cheap LOL... but no bang for your bucks here...while in this segment of the market where you usually ''get it all'' about price/performance ratio. Lower the price of 50$ for every 7xxx video card and it will be ALOT better.
    Reply
  • BPB - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    If nothing else I gotta believe that the new nVidia cards will force a quick price adjustment from AMD. I think we'll see the AMD cards drop $25 to $50 when the nvidia cards come out. Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    After running blackbox 2.3 and wenning to the Turkish site I find something very interesting on Kepler:
    " Nvidia 's next-generation family of Kepler frequencies, dynamic graphics cards needed to improve their own work. Rumor has officially been confirmed as yet have the ability to dynamically overclock Kepler cards will leave a strong impact in the markets."
    --
    LOL - Dynamic Overclocking of Kepler similar to Intel turbo... very nice Nvidia...
    http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl...
    Reply
  • mak360 - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    "but $199 for a GTX 560 Ti is going to be hard to pass up while it lasts" I see you have to get a boot in there to AMD when possible. lol

    Most of the games are nvidia optimized where the 7850 loses one or two to the 560ti old tech.

    AMD`s been quite merciful to nvidia in regards to price points, when nvidia brings it on and the same happens (cards slot in without a challenge to AMD) I call shady business between the two or they don`t want to compete with each other, which is understandable i guess..

    Or maybe people need to forget the past and move on with "oh how nice and cheap prices were"
    Reply
  • sofreshsoclean2 - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    smoking card, faster than the 6970, fast as a gtx580 in a lot of those test but 150 smackeroos cheaper It is very close 7950 as well, finally a super fast card that is not 500 bucks. amazing card!! and nice review.

    thanks
    Reply
  • Devoteicon - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    Upgrade my overclocked 5850 for one of these? Thanks but no thanks. Reply
  • geniusloci - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    I'm going to be getting one or the other. I'll have to decide if the 7870 is worth the additional cash or not. They will most assuredly drop in price once Nvidia launches its product. Having come from a 560Ti this will feel something like a side grade in performance, but having found out how much better ATIs cards do 2D and video I simply can't return to the blurry mess which is Nvidia right now. Reply
  • Kiste - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    So it's 2012 and AMD gives us two cards that do little more than match the GTX 570 and 580 in price/performance.

    Southern Island has been a huge disappointment so far.
    Reply

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