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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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  • Kaboose - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    7870, beats GTX 570 and is about even with the GTX 580, uses 150watts less power at load, is quieter, is cooler, and has idle power draw > 23watts less. How is this a disappointment? The only disappointment i see is the price which is the result of no competition from Nvidia. Reply
  • Kiste - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    A new generation of GPUs used to give us a whole hell of a lot more performance at any given price point. The current AMD stuff does not and that is a disappointment.

    Case in point: you even have to talk these things up by basically saying "oh, well, at least they draw less power".
    Reply
  • Kaboose - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    dropping power consumption by over 50% is something of a gimmick? Dropping load temps by 14c compared to the GTX 570 is not significant? 14c is a fairly large degree of deference, this gives higher room for overclocking as well as a cooler system overall. When Nvidia releases Kepler and we have both companies with 28nm then we can (hopefully) see some competition in price. In my opinion the 7870 at $325 would be a great card right now. Once Kepler is out $285-300 I think would be nice. I agree it is over priced right now however.

    If Nvidia releases Kepler and gives us a LOT more performance over last generation then I will concede that the 7xxx series is a failure. However from the way AMD is behaving it doesn't appear Kepler is going to do much in terms of raw performance either.
    Reply
  • Kiste - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    While reducing power consumption might not be a gimmick, it is the result of the new process node and thus in itself not particularly impressive, especially when you more or less keep the performance the same as with the previous generation.

    I'm still not impressed, sorry. Price/performance plain and simply sucks ass with these cards, barely beating the stuff that's on the market right now in that regard.

    And even with the high-end SI cards there's barely much of a performance boost compared to what's already been on the market for months.

    Sure, less power draw is nice. I won't complain about it but if a brand new generation of GPUs comes out and I am not even one little bit compelled to upgrade from my aging, heavily overclocked GTX570, then something is cleary wrong here.
    Reply
  • Exodite - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    We'll just have to wait and see what Nvidia provides when they finally decide to put competition on the market, won't we?

    I'd happily agree to finding the 7900-series not as high-performing as I'd like, and the 7700-series too expensive.

    From the reviews I've read so far the 7800-series, the 7850 especially, is pretty much the perfect card ATM.

    Low power, low noise, cool, 2GB VRAM and runs between a 560 Ti and 570 in performance.

    It's definitely the card I'd recommend to anyone at this point, especially given the fact that we'll see better coolers than AMDs atrocities once we get release versions.
    Reply
  • Iketh - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    You must live in a cold climate. You're happy with a heavily overclocked 570?? I live in FL, and that card increases my power bill $30-$70 each month over my 6870 during 3 of the 4 seasons, and I'm talking from experience. Do you have any idea how hard an A/C has to work in a small 2 bedroom house to counter the blast of heat from an overclocked gaming rig??

    If you live in a hot climate, test it for yourself.

    You don't compare just the power draw of the cards themselves....
    Reply
  • Kiste - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    I'm not quite sure if you're actually expecting a serious answer to that kind of hyperbolic drivel. Reply
  • Jamahl - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    You really don't get it do you? These cards REALLY DO heat up rooms. Where do you think the heat goes? Ever heard of the law of conservation of energy? Reply
  • londiste - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    oh damn, i need to get two of those, maybe they'll reduce my heating bill at winter :) Reply
  • Kiste - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    Spelling "really do" in capital letter doesn't make it any more less ridiculous a statement.

    My whole PC (GPU, OCed CPU, 4 HDDS) draws slightly more than 300W under typical gaming loads. You can't "heat up a room" with that, much less with just the GPU.
    Reply

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