AMD Radeon HD 7950 Review Feat. Sapphire & XFX: Sewing Up The High-End Marketby Ryan Smith on January 31, 2012 9:02 AM EST
When AMD launched the Radeon HD 7970 last month there was a great deal of speculation that the Radeon HD 7950 would be their direct GeForce GTX 580 competitor, and indeed this has proven to be the case. While the 7970 sails past the GTX 580—and AMD has priced it based on that—the 7950 and the GTX 580 are trading blows on a game-by-game basis, similar to what we saw last year in comparing the GTX 500 series and the Radeon HD 6900 series. But when the 7950 wins it wins big, while the same cannot be said of the GTX 580; the only real weakness for the 7950 right now is Battlefield 3, and while that’s an important game it’s but one of several.
Ultimately it’s not a fair fight, not that AMD ever intended it to be one. Outside of a few corner cases the 7950 renders the GTX 580 irrelevant, and while it’s not quite as immense as what the 5850 did to the GTX 285 2 years ago the outcome is much the same. With the 7950 AMD can deliver performance similar to if not better than the GTX 580 while consuming significantly less power and enjoying all the temperature & noise benefits that provides, making it a very attractive card.
On that note the cooling situation makes the launch of the 7950 one of the more unusual high-end product launches in recent history. With high-end cards typically sticking to reference designs for the first phase of their lives the 7950 lineup is going to be much more varied than normal, not only in gaming performance due to factory overclocks but in cooling performance too. While we can speak in absolutes about the gaming performance of the 7950 there is no common thread on cooling performance—it needs to be evaluated on a per-product basis, so it will be important to do your research.
Meanwhile the $450 price tag is unfortunately not very aggressive on AMD’s part, but with their lead in rolling out their new lineup this is to be expected. Given its performance the 7950 only needs to be as cheap as the cheapest GTX 580 and that’s exactly what AMD has done. There will ultimately be a massive price shakeup at the high-end due to 28nm, but this looks like it won’t happen until AMD has some competition at 28nm or 7900 sales slow down significantly.
Finally, what about our retail sample cards, the XFX R7950 Black Edition Double Dissipation and the Sapphire HD 7950 Overclock Edition? These two cards clearly embody the type of variety we’re going to see from AMD’s partners; they have fairly large factory overclocks and large open air coolers, and with these customizations AMD’s partners are hoping to set themselves apart from each other while justifying a higher MSRP in the process.
Overall the Sapphire HD 7950 Overclock Edition is the clear winner among the two cards. While I believe our specific sample is well above the average card due to its extremely low VID, in terms of design Sapphire has clearly done their homework and it shows with an excellent cooler that is ridiculously quiet and equally as cool. The factory overclock isn’t anything that shouldn’t be achievable on your own, but if you’re serious about overclocking the cooler alone would be enough to justify the extra $30.
On the other hand the XFX R7950 Black Edition Double Dissipation ends up being a bummer, particularly compared to its 7970 based sibling. For what an open air cooler can do it’s simply too hot and too loud; the numbers we’re seeing would be acceptable for a blower, but not for an open air cooler. The gaming performance is great thanks to its best in class factory overclock, but this isn’t enough to overlook the obvious cooling troubles.
Wrapping things up, so far we’ve looked at single card performance, but what about CrossFire? Later this week we’ll be looking at 7970 and 7950 CrossFire performance, and what the plethora of open air coolers means for 7950 users. So stay tuned.