Final Words

Bringing things to a close, before writing up this article I spent some time going through our archives to take a look at past GPU reviews. While AMD has routinely retaken the performance crown for a time by beating NVIDIA in releasing next-generation GPUs first – such was the case with the Radeon HD 5870 and Radeon HD 7970 – the typical pattern is for AMD’s flagship single-GPU card to trail NVIDIA’s flagship once NVIDIA has caught up. In a generational matchup AMD has not been able to beat or tie NVIDIA for the highest performing single-GPU card a very long time. And as it turns out the last time that happened was six years ago, with the Radeon X1950 XTX in 2006.

Six years is a long time to wait, but patience, perseverance, and more than a few snub moves against NVIDIA have paid off for AMD. For the first time in 6 years we can say that AMD is truly competitive for the single-GPU performance crown. The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition isn’t quite fast enough to outright win, but it is unquestionably fast enough to tie the GeForce GTX 680 as the fastest single-GPU video card in the world today. With that said there’s a lot of data to go through, so let’s dive in.

As far as pure gaming performance goes the 7970GE and the GTX 680 are tied in our benchmarks at the top single monitor resolution of 2560x1600. The 7970GE scores some impressive wins in Crysis and DiRT 3, while NVIDIA manages to hold on to their substantial leads in Battlefield 3 and Portal 2. Elsewhere we see the 7970GE win at some games while the GTX 680 wins at others, and only very rarely do the two cards actually tie. Ultimately this is very much a repeat of what we saw with the GTX 670 versus the 7970, and the 6970 versus the GTX 570, which is to say that the 7970GE and GTX 680 are tied on average but are anything but equal.

Our advice then for prospective buyers is to first look at benchmarks for the games they intend to play. If you’re going to be focused on only a couple of games for the near future then there’s a very good chance one card or the other is going to be the best fit. Otherwise for gamers facing a wide selection of games or looking at future games where their performance is unknown, then the 7970GE and GTX 680 are in fact tied, and from a performance perspective you couldn’t go wrong with either one.

As an addendum to that however, while the 7970GE and GTX 680 are tied at 2560x1600 and other single-monitor resolutions the same cannot be said for multi-monitor configurations. The 7970GE and GTX 680 still trade blows on a game-by-game basis with Eyefinity/NVIDIA Surround, but there’s a clear 6% advantage on average for the 7970GE. Furthermore the 7970GE has 3GB of VRAM versus 2GB for the GTX 680, which makes the 7970GE all the better suited for multi-monitor gaming in the future. AMD may be tied for single-monitor gaming, but they have a clear winner on their hands for multi-monitor gaming.

With that said, AMD has made a great sacrifice to get to this point, and it’s one that’s going to directly impact most users. AMD has had to push the 7970GE harder than ever to catch up to the GTX 680, and as a result the 7970GE’s power consumption and noise levels are significantly higher than the GTX 680’s. It’s unfortunate for AMD that NVIDIA managed to tie AMD’s best gaming performance with a 104-series part, allowing them to reap the benefits of lower power consumption and less noise in the process. Simply put, the 7970GE is unquestionably hotter and uncomfortably louder than the GTX 680 for what amounts to the same performance. If power and noise are not a concern then this is not a problem, but for many buyers they're going to be unhappy with the 7970GE. It’s just too loud.

Of course this isn’t the first time we’ve had a hot and loud card on our hands – historically it happens to NVIDIA a lot, but when NVIDIA gets hot and loud they bring the performance necessary to match it. Such was the case with the GTX 480, a notably loud card that also had a 15% performance advantage on AMD’s flagship. AMD has no such performance advantage here, and that makes the 7970GE’s power consumption and noise much harder to justify even with a “performance at any cost” philosophy.

The end result is that while AMD has tied NVIDIA for the single-GPU performance crown with the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition, the GeForce GTX 680 is still the more desirable gaming card. There are a million exceptions to this statement of course (and it goes both ways), but as we said before, these cards may be tied but they're anything but equal.

Noise issues aside, we’re finally seeing something that we haven’t seen for a very long time: bona fide, cut throat, brutal competition in the high-end video card segment for the fastest single-GPU video card. To call it refreshing is an understatement; it’s nothing short of fantastic. For the first time in six years AMD is truly performance competitive with NVIDIA at the high-end and we couldn't be happier.

Welcome back to the fight AMD; we’ve missed your presence.

OC: Gaming Performance
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  • Belard - Friday, June 22, 2012 - link

    Agreed. Reply
  • Articuno - Friday, June 22, 2012 - link

    A whole new card launch and yet another pair of similarly named but differently performing products because they changed a few numbers that anyone can in several free, easily available programs.

    I suppose they can do this because you can actually buy their products though, unlike the 6XX series.
    Reply
  • ExarKun333 - Friday, June 22, 2012 - link

    Yeah, tough to find 6xx products indeed. There is something called the 'internet' you could check out. Your buddy who posted for you might be able to help you out. ;) Reply
  • Pantsu - Friday, June 22, 2012 - link

    I doubt any AIB will actually release GE cards with reference cooling. Most likely they will be custom cooled, so the loudness of the reference card is a bit of a moot point.

    It's good to see some decent driver improvements from AMD. I'm still quite happy about 7970 performance at 5760x1080, and it's enough for most games when OC'd. It would be interesting to see though, whether the GE has improved the max OC. Most likely it's no better though, and you'll be better off buying an old custom 7970 for a good price and OC'ing it to the same levels as the GE.
    Reply
  • dagamer34 - Friday, June 22, 2012 - link

    The GE chips are better binned parts, one would assume that they have a bit more room for higher clocks than the normal 7970 parts. Certainly the average overclock will be higher. Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    So we can deduce that the prior 7970 overclocks were sucking down an even larger amount of enormous electrical power as those chips are of lower bin.

    I guess we need an overclocked power suction chart with an extended table for the amd housefire 7970.

    Any savings on card price or a few frames at a resolution near no one owns will be gobbled up by your electric bill every month for years - save 1 watt or 9 watts at extended idle, but when you game it's 100+ watts and beyond with the overclocked 7970 - maybe they should be $300 with 3 games.
    Reply
  • silverblue - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Well, it works both ways. You won't always be gaming, in addition there's all that compute hardware that, if properly harnessed, would save you money over competing solutions because you'd get the job done quicker. It used to be pointless to consider using anything for compute that wasn't a Quadro, Tesla or even FirePro, however those days are coming to an end.

    Having a 7970 will make sense for compute if that's your bag (there's a reason for the die size plus the extra memory and bus width), but this time, NVIDIA enjoys a performance/watt advantage which might go unchallenged for a while. Unless, of course, that extra hardware on the 7970 is properly leveraged; future games, perhaps?
    Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Friday, June 22, 2012 - link

    So do we think this will encourage nVidia to release a GeForce GK110 based product in the next few months rather than restrict it to Tesla? Reply
  • PsiAmp - Friday, June 22, 2012 - link

    Nvidia isn't holding GK110 in its sleeve waiting for something. It is unfinished in the first place and there's no manufacturing capacity to produce such a large chip. Nvidia still struggles to fix GK104 design to have good yields. GK110 would be impossible to produce in since it is twice bigger and such will have at least 4 times less yield.
    Server market is not only much more profitable, it is operating on a contract basis. Nvidia will start to produce Tesla K20 in Q4 2012.

    IF(?) desktop card based on GK110 will hit the market it won't be sooner than Q1 2013. And it is not something that you can change really.
    Reply
  • silverblue - Friday, June 22, 2012 - link

    "Of course this isn’t the first time we’ve had a hot & loud card on our hands – historically it happens to NVIDIA a lot – but when NVIDIA gets hot & loud they bring the performance necessary to match it. Such was the case with the GTX 480, a notably loud card that also had a 15% performance advantage on AMD’s flagship. AMD has no such performance advantage here, and that makes the 7970GE’s power consumption and noise much harder to justify even with a “performance at any cost” philosophy."

    Very true, however the power consumption and heat difference between the 5870 and the 480 was definitely more pronounced.

    The 680 is an incredible card, no doubt about it. It may not win in some titles, but it's hardly anywhere near unplayable either. AMD being right there at the very high end is fantastic but unless titles truly make use of GCN's compute ability, the extra power and noise are going to be hard to swallow. Still, I'd own either. :P
    Reply

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