Announced late last month and shipping 3 weeks ago, AMD kicked off the 28nm generation with a bang with their Radeon HD 7970. Combining TSMC’s new 28nm HKMG process with AMD’s equally new Graphics Core Next Architecture, AMD finally took back the single-GPU performance crown for the first time since 2010 with an all-around impressive flagship video card.

Of course AMD has always produced multiple video cards from their high-end GPUs, and with Tahiti this was no different. The second Tahiti card has been waiting in the wings for its own launch, and that launch has finally come. Today AMD is launching the Radeon HD 7950, the cooler, quieter, and cheaper sibling of the Radeon HD 7970. Aimed right at NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 580, AMD is looking to sew up the high-end market, and as we’ll see the Radeon HD 7950 is exactly the card to accomplish that.

AMD GPU Specification Comparison
  AMD Radeon HD 7970 AMD Radeon HD 7950 AMD Radeon HD 6970 AMD Radeon HD 6950
Stream Processors 2048 1792 1536 1408
Texture Units 128 112 96 88
ROPs 32 32 32 32
Core Clock 925MHz 800MHz 880MHz 800MHz
Memory Clock 1.375GHz (5.5GHz effective) GDDR5 1.25GHz (5GHz effective) GDDR5 1.375GHz (5.5GHz effective) GDDR5 1.25GHz (5GHz effective) GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 384-bit 384-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Frame Buffer 3GB 3GB 2GB 2GB
FP64 1/4 1/4 1/4 1/4
Transistor Count 4.31B 4.31B 2.64B 2.64B
PowerTune Limit 250W 200W 250W 200W
Manufacturing Process TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm
Price Point $549 $449 $350 $250

As has been the case for AMD since the 5000 series, AMD has gone with a two-pronged approach to binning and cutting down their flagship GPU for their second-tier card. The first change is an across-the-board reduction in clockspeeds, with the core clock being dropped from 925MHz to 800MHz and the memory clock being dropped from 5.5GHz to 5GHz. The second change is that the shader count has been reduced from a full 2048 SPs to 1792 SPs, accomplished by disabling 1 of the GPU’s 8 CU arrays and allowing AMD to use Tahiti GPUs with a defective CU array that would have never worked in the first place.

No other changes have been made, a particularly important consideration since it means all 32 ROPs and the 6 64bit memory channels are still in place. Altogether this gives the 7950 86% of the ROP throughput, 75% of the shader and texture throughput, and 91% of the memory bandwidth of the 7970. This should put the 7950 in direct competition with NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 580, which typically trails the 7970 by a similar degree. Otherwise compared to the 6000 series, this makes the core performance gap between the 7950 and 7970 a bit bigger than between the 6970 and 6950, while the memory bandwidth gap is identical.

The tradeoff of course on a second-tier part is that while performance has been reduced so has power consumption. Just as with the 7970, the 7950 takes after its 6000-series predecessor, shipping with a 200W maximum board power limit. With the 7000 series AMD has not been publishing any kind of typical power numbers and thereby making the board power limit the only number they publish, but also making for a far more accurate TDP than past estimated TDP numbers as it’s an absolute limit. For gaming scenarios you’re almost always looking at less than 190W power consumption, though the spread between typical power and the PowerTune cap is not as wide on the 7950 as it was the 7970. Meanwhile for idle power consumption AMD is not providing an official number there either, but with the use of power islands the difference in idle power consumption between various core configurations has been virtually eliminated. Idle TDP should be 15W, while long idle is 3W.

In a bit of an unusual move for AMD, for the 7950 they are doing away with reference designs entirely. All 7950s will be custom to some degree—the first run will use a partner’s choice of cooler alongside a new PCB from AMD specifically for the 7950, while in the future partners will have the option of going fully custom. Furthermore partners will be shipping factory overclocked parts from right out of the gate, and at this point we’re not even sure just how many models will actually be shipping at stock clocks; neither MSI or Sapphire have a stock clocked card as part of their lineup. Overall at the low-end we’re seeing overclocked cards shipping as low as 810MHz, while 900MHz is particularly common at the high-end.

The use of customized factory overclocked cards is not unusual for AMD’s lower-end cards, but this is the first time we’ve seen AMD’s partners launch factory overclocked parts out of the gate like this, and it’s the first time we’ve seen AMD launch a part over $200 without a reference cooler. As a result the 7950 will be a true Your Mileage May Vary situation, with the gaming performance and physical performance characteristics depending heavily on how a partner has configured their card.

Radeon HD 7950 Partner Specification Comparison
  AMD Radeon HD 7950 (Stock) Sapphire HD 7950 Overclock Edition XFX R7950 Black Edition Double Dissipation
Stream Processors 1792 1792 1792
Texture Units 112 112 112
ROPs 32 32 32
Core Clock 800MHz 900MHz 900MHz
Memory Clock 1.25GHz (5GHz effective) GDDR5 1.25GHz (5GHz effective) GDDR5 1.375GHz (5.5GHz effective) GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 384-bit 384-bit 384-bit
Frame Buffer 3GB 3GB 3GB
FP64 1/4 1/4 1/4
Transistor Count 4.31B 4.31B 4.31B
Manufacturing Process TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm
Warranty N/A 2 Years Lifetime
Price Point $449 $479 $499

For the launch of the 7950 AMD shipped us a pair of internal reference cards built on the 7970 PCB and cooler. Since no one will actually be shipping a card like this—although they technically could if they wanted to—we also went looking for partner cards, which XFX and Sapphire provided. The XFX R7950 Black Edition Double Dissipation and Sapphire HD 7950 Overclock Edition are far more representative of what we’re actually going to see on the market; factory overclocks aside, both use open air coolers, just as with every other 7950 card we’ve seen the specs for ahead of today’s launch. Given the lack of any cards using fully exhausting blowers, it would appear that AMD and their partners have become particularly comfortable with open air coolers for 200W cards.

Last but not least of course, is pricing. AMD is continuing their conservative pricing strategy of trying to price their cards against existing competitive cards, rather than using the cost savings of the 28nm process to bring down prices across the board. As a result the 7950 is priced at $449, $100 below the 7970 and almost directly opposite the cheapest GeForce GTX 580s, making the 7950 a de facto GTX 580 competitor. This pricing strategy seems to have worked well for the 7970—cards are still selling at a brisk pace, but the shelves are rarely completely bare—and it looks like AMD is going to continue following it while they can. Meanwhile the fact that the 7950 is an entirely semi-custom lineup means that pricing is going to be equally variable, with high-end factory overclocked cards such as the Sapphire and XFX going for $479 and $499 respectively.

Winter 2011 GPU Pricing Comparison
  $750 GeForce GTX 590
Radeon HD 6990 $700  
Radeon HD 7970 $549  
Radeon HD 7950 $450+ GeForce GTX 580
Radeon HD 6970 $350 GeForce GTX 570
Radeon HD 6950 2GB $250  
  $240 GeForce GTX 560 Ti
Radeon HD 6870 $160  


Getting the Most Out of GCN: Driver Improvements


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  • chizow - Wednesday, February 01, 2012 - link

    Sorry, but this is incorrect. Nvidia and AMD are direct competitors when it comes to GPUs so relative performance directly influences price.

    This is why AMD cannot sell CPUs for more than $200. They don't have anything faster than Intel's 10th+ fastest processors (spread over 2-3 generations, its pretty sad actually), so they can't just price Bulldozer at $1000 by slapping an X on it and expect to sell any.

    There is a ceiling on the prices they can charge however due to economic and external factors like price elasticity of demand, disposable income, GDP, competing products (consoles etc) so within that construct, AMD and Nvidia have to price their products to make them most attractive to prospective buyers.

    They know exactly what % of the market will bite at each price and performance tier using their own gathered market research as well as independent firms like Peddie etc. $400+ is high-end enthusiast, in order to price here, you have to be the top dog, or the 2nd tier. The top dog sets the table for every other GPU, it doesn't matter who makes it.

    Historically, this next-gen top dog has shifted the price and performance metric for all next-gen GPUs because the market expects and demands it. That's just progress. Tahiti brings nothing to the table in this regard, its performance is incremental but its pricing just maintains the status quo.

    The problem is Tahiti's pricing indicates the GTX 580 was the target it was shooting for, the problem is, they should've been taking aim at Kepler.
  • JNo - Thursday, February 02, 2012 - link

    chizow - the new pirks? Reply
  • TerdFerguson - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Chizow is right, you guys are wrong. Get over it.

    Consumer electronics are supposed to get cheaper AND faster at tremendous rates. In failing to improve their price/performance ratio over a couple of generations, AMD has failed. NVidia is failing pretty badly right now, too, but since this is an AMD release, AMD is getting the flack at the moment. If you apply AMD's pricing model to any other consumer electronics product, it becomes very evident that things are very broken. Would you pay $4k for a Ivy Bridge CPU, because IB > SB > Core2 > Core > P4 > P3 > P2 > Pentium > 486 > etc, and a better chip must always command a price premium? Doh, of course you wouldn't.
  • mdlam - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Pricing is determined and adjusted based on the law of efficient markets. the 580 is 500 dollars only because people are still willing to pay for it, not because of Chizow's ridiculous theory that companies conspire these fabulous schemes to trick people out of their money. So based on this existing market of people willing to pay 500 dollars for gtx580 performance benefits, AMD is going to TAKE those customers away by giving more for less, or more for more in a linear price/performance scale. It's just how markets work, prices don't revolve around these God-like rules of tier1, tier2, tier3. Guess what, AMD is right, because these cards right now are selling higher than the $550 retail price. They should have priced it at $650! Reply
  • mdlam - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    And there is no flawed pricing model to AMD that would end up with a slippery slope of $4k for an Ivy bridge. Prices = aggregate buying desire of the market. All markets usually hit a ceiling price for an item, no matter what it is. Some people have a high ceiling, some people have a low ceiling, its not anyone's fault, its just the fact of life. Any company, AMD or NVIDIA, or INTEL, will price to sell to people with higher ceilings, and when demand is met, lower price to increase adoption from folks with lower ceilings. Reply
  • chizow - Wednesday, February 01, 2012 - link

    Sorry, not in this market.

    If you think this is OK, there would never be any progress in the semiconductor market. Its not like we're talking cars here where a new model year means a few minor upgrades.

    With GPUs, CPUs and any other semiconductor, you expect FASTER performance at the SAME prices or CHEAPER prices. That's called progress.

    The law of efficient markets would tell you if you bought a GTX 580 14 months ago, you made the right call. Buying today, you're setting yourself up for some heartache, but more probably, you're kicking yourself for waiting.
  • Arnir69 - Friday, February 03, 2012 - link

    I'm really disappointed with 7950 too, it's a little bit better than 580 but not enough to justify a such a long wait, it's performance is well short of expectation in BF3. Reply
  • hyperdoggy - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    While I'm not in favor of the prices AMD has set for the new cards, you do realize that Nvidia has never prices their cards low right? A quick price check history will show you since the FX day Nvidia has priced their card to sell your kidney. It was the tnt days that Nvidia did a price favor vs their competitors. I bet you my right kidney(i sold my left one for a 8800gtx for $650 day 1 of lunch) that Kepler will be no different, regardless of what its performance will be.

    I never got the fanboy aspect of things, you see gamers that can calculate min-max fps better than most math majors yet somehow only see red or green when the numbers are laid out right in front of them. I'm shame to say i'm old enough to been around from the voodoo days, i went to Voodoo, Nvidia, Ati, Nvidia, Ati, Nvidia, and now name AMD for more than i can remember. Go for what's best at the time you need an upgrade. Stop making yourself colored hulk when your team doesn't have a product to be competitive.
  • SlyNine - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Yea and the 8800GTX kicked stomped the crap out of the competition. This is just a bump up, and kick stomp prices.

    Plus this is AMD not Nvidia. Where is the 5870, the 9700pro. This is closer to a 5800Ultra or a 2900XT. Of course those cards at least had some real competition in the form of a 8800GTX and 9700pro.

    If the 8800GTX and 9700pro would have only increased performance as much as say the 6970 or 580GTX ( compared to their previous cards 5870/480) then the analogy would truly work and the 7970 would basicly be the 2900XT/5800Ultra of its day.
  • chizow - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Actually if you look at recent pricing history, you'd see Nvidia has kept their flagship pricing in-line and much lower than what we are seeing here with SI, despite the fact Nvidia had the leading part for that generation in both cases with the GTX 480 and GTX 580.

    Both of those parts launched at $500 and were faster than AMD's competing same-generation part. If Nvidia did the same as AMD, the 580 would've been priced at $550-600 for that 10-15% performance bump over the 480, but they kept their pricing constant while increasing performance. As I stated earlier, AMD definitely had a hand in this when they undercut the GTX 280 so badly in 2008, but Nvidia did learn their mistake and has not raised the pricing metric since.

    Now Nvidia does have a decision to make. If they beat SI with Kepler as expected, they can go with AMD's pricing which will again, make no sense. Or they can stick to their historical price/performance model and make AMD look really bad just as AMD did to them 3 1/2 years ago.

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