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Final Words

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.

Overclocking: Game & Compute Performance
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  • chizow - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Now it starts to become obvious why people shouldn't be doing cartwheels in the streets over Southern Islands. Its a nice chip, it really is. But the problem with its pricing just became even more obvious with the 7950 as AMD is selling you yesterday's performance at next-gen prices. In other words, if you wanted this level of performance, you could've gotten it a year ago with the GTX 580 for almost the same price....over a year ago....

    And that's why AMD's pricing of these parts fails. With the 7950 it all comes into focus and if it wasn't clear before, it will become crystal once Kepler drives the nail home when it launches at its expected prices and performance levels. What's left for AMD to launch? A 7870 that's as fast as the 6970 but costs $50 more? A 7850 that's as fast as the 6950 but costs $75 more? Do we really think Nvidia is going to launch a 580 equivalent at 28nm and price it at $450? See how it all comes into focus?

    But Nvidia really has a chance to return the favor to AMD here with a pricing debacle of GTX 260/280-esque proportions. If GK104 comes within spitting distance of the 7970 or even 7950 at $300, AMD is going to look really bad. If GK110 beats the 7970 by 20-25% and costs only $500, AMD execs will be jumping out of windows. We're talking about issuing rebate checks that AMD can't afford to write on every 7950/7970 sold at these ridiculous prices for however many months it takes until Nvidia releases Kepler.
    Reply
  • Goty - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    1) I believe you mean "consistently faster than last-gen performance for the same price", which is how it will remain until NVIDIA gets a card out that can compete.

    and

    2) Keep dreaming.
    Reply
  • chizow - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    1) Well the good news is Nvidia decided to compete over a year ago when they launched the GTX 580. At these prices AMD has set, Nvidia is still amazingly competing with their 14 month old last-gen parts.

    and

    2) The better news is AMD has set the bar extremely low for Nvidia. Should be easy pickings for Kepler.
    Reply
  • halo37253 - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Yet a overclocked 7970 is about as fast as a gtx590, yeah... nvidia sure is competing. lol

    Really there is no reason to get a nvidia card right now, with the gtx580 and its continuing high costs not even able to hold its own again even a 7950. Once the 7xx series launches I can see AMD launching the hd89xx series no to long after with XDR2 memory and higher clocked cores.

    For overall performance per watt it seems AMD cant be touched right now.
    Reply
  • kashifme21 - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    The real question is, Do we really need these upgrades anymore. I mean todays games barely push tech. Most of my friends are happy with their 5870's and GTX 480's we bought about 2 years back

    Thing is games are designed with consoles in mind and with next gen console hardware rumors to be around the level of 6670 GPUs, why would anyone upgrade anymore, unless they intend to be running multiple screens.

    I personally run GTX 580 SLI. I think i personally wont be upgrading until i see a game that actually stresses my system in eyefinity settings.

    Its a sad state but many games recently released dont even support freatures like AA or even any pc options, games are rather straight console ports, with PC as an after thought. Why buy such expensive hardware for ports?
    Reply
  • jleach1 - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    I agree. Even my 5850 hasn't stressed much in recent games...and I bought it for 280 USD a couple years ago.

    Performance per dollars, and temp per dollar, AMD is on target, more often than not....now, if only we could get the FX sorted out...

    I used to buy nvidia cards, but haven't since the 5000 series, and it looks to continue this way.

    The moral is, competition is ultimately what brings prices down and motivation to up the performance.

    I hope AMD can throw out something cool soon on the CPU side, because while I always have, and likely will continue to buy Intel, I love the competition. Sorry, I sorta gave up on AMD after the i7-930 came out. But that doesn't mean I'm not rooting for them...even if it is only for the sake of competition.
    Reply
  • TerdFerguson - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    On the other hand, upgrading the 5850 that you've had for several years is going to require you to jump to a /higher/ price tier. That's insanity. If that kind of pricing structure existed for ANY other consumer electronics product, people would be vocally antagonistic. AMD deserves some antagonism. Reply
  • JonnyDough - Wednesday, February 01, 2012 - link

    I disagree. Supply and demand. They don't have the supply and there's a big enough demand to keep prices inflated. Nobody can be upset at all about the prices. If you don't like them, don't buy the product. It's that simple. Capitalism fails us often, but here's a case where it works just fine. :) Reply
  • TerdFerguson - Wednesday, February 01, 2012 - link

    By your foolish reasoning, AMD would be in top form if it produced and sold just a couple of hand-crafted units each quarter. That they can't meet volume demand is a failing, not a benefit. Reply
  • artk2219 - Wednesday, February 01, 2012 - link

    I've got to say that I agree with JohnnyDough, in the short term keeping prices high and making a killing off of each card sold is a good thing for AMD, not so great for us consumers but again, its not like anyone is forcing you to buy it. However you are correct in that in the long term that is a failing strategy for a company like AMD, its not like they're making luxury sports cars :). Either way it makes no difference to me and it puts them in a great position for a coming price war with Nvidia and Kepler which will inevitably be faster, I just hope Nvidia does something about their power profile. Reply

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