Dueling Drivers, A PR Do-Over, & The Test

Coinciding with the launch of the 7970GE, both AMD and NVIDIA have released new drivers this week. For AMD the 7970GE will be launching with the Catalyst 12.7 beta, while NVIDIA has released the 304.48 betas for the entire lineup. For both AMD and NVIDIA these are major performance drivers, with both groups seeing significant performance in a handful of games.

We’ll take a look at the full performance spectrum starting with our regular benchmarks on the next page, but first we wanted to quickly break out the performance impact of the driver changes for both the 7970 and the GTX 680 at 2560x1600.

The biggest gains for AMD and NVIDIA are seen in DiRT 3 and Shogun 2 respectively. For reasons we’re not fully sure of, AMD has managed to significantly improve their performance on DiRT 3 and turn the tables on what was previously a game favoring NVIDIA. At the same time however NVIDIA has finally fixed the Kepler performance bug that was introduced in the March update for Shogun 2, restoring performance to where it was before the update and pushing NVIDIA ahead of AMD once more.

Meanwhile AMD sees lesser gains in Batman, BF3, and Skyrim, while NVIDIA also gains on Batman but that’s about it. Altogether AMD’s latest driver update has pushed their average performance ahead slightly more than NVIDIA’s, which for the 7970 versus the GTX 680 means that the GTX 680 now leads by about 9% instead of 10%. It’s not nearly enough to change any recommendations, but the fact that AMD and NVIDIA have swapped leads in certain games is a reminder of how important drivers can be and how volatile performance leads are.

A PR Do-Over

Because the 7970GE is functionally identical to the 7970 save its higher clocks and PT Boost, we’re opting to use our limited time to focus solely on performance. With that said it was interesting to see that AMD is very much treating the 7970GE launch as a do-over for the 7900 series. In their press presentation they spent a fair bit of time focusing on various aspects of the 7900 series and GCN we’re already familiar with, such as compute performance, their Leo technology demo, and of course GCN.

None of this has any direct relevance to the performance of the 7970GE, but we thought it was worth mentioning since it gives a bit more insight into how AMD is approaching things. This is all we’re going to say on the matter, but we have reproduced a few of the press slides below for any of you that are interested.

The Test

CPU: Intel Core i7-3960X @ 4.3GHz
Motherboard: EVGA X79 SLI
Chipset Drivers: Intel 9.​2.​3.​1022
Power Supply: Antec True Power Quattro 1200
Hard Disk: Samsung 470 (256GB)
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws DDR3-1867 4 x 4GB (8-10-9-26)
Case: Thermaltake Spedo Advance
Monitor: Samsung 305T
Asus PA246Q
Video Cards: AMD Radeon HD 5870
AMD Radeon HD 6970
AMD Radeon HD 7870
AMD Radeon HD 7950
AMD Radeon HD 7970
AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 470
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680
Video Drivers: NVIDIA ForceWare 304.42 Beta
AMD Catalyst 12.7 Beta
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

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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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