In 2009-2010, AMD launched the entire 4 chip Evergreen series in 6 months. By previous standards this was a quick pace for a new design, especially since AMD had not previously attempted a 4 chip launch in such a manner. Now in 2012 AMD’s Southern Islands team is hard at work at wrapping up their own launch with new aspirations on quickness. Evergreen may have launched 4 chips in 6 months, but this month AMD will be completing the 3 chip Southern Islands launch in half the time – 3 chips in a mere 3 months.

To that end today AMD is taking the wraps off the final piece of the Southern Islands puzzle: Pitcairn. The middle child of the family, it will be the basis of AMD’s $250+ enthusiast segment Radeon HD 7800 series. We’ve seen AMD capture the high-end with the 7900 series and struggle to control the mainstream market with the 7700 series, but how does the 7800 series fare amidst AMD’s lead in deploying 28nm GPUs? Let’s find out.

AMD GPU Specification Comparison
  AMD Radeon HD 7870 AMD Radeon HD 7850 AMD Radeon HD 6970 AMD Radeon HD 6950 AMD Radeon HD 5870
Stream Processors 1280 1024 1536 1408 1600
Texture Units 80 64 96 88 80
ROPs 32 32 32 32 32
Core Clock 1000MHz 860MHz 880MHz 800MHz 850MHz
Memory Clock 4.8GHz GDDR5 4.8GHz GDDR5 5.5GHz GDDR5 5.0GHz GDDR5 4.8GHz GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Frame Buffer 2GB 2GB 2GB 2GB 1GB
FP64 1/16 1/16 1/4 1/4 1/5
Transistor Count 2.8B 2.8B 2.64B 2.64B 2.15B
PowerTune Limit 190W 150W 250W 200W N/A
Manufacturing Process TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm
Architecture GCN GCN VLIW4 VLIW4 VLIW5
Price Point $350 $250 N/A N/A N/A

So what exactly is Pitcairn? In a nutshell, take Cape Verde (7700) and double it, and you have Pitcairn. Pitcairn has twice the number of CUs, twice the number of ROPs, twice the memory bandwidth, and of particular importance twice as many geometry engines on the frontend. This works out to 1280 SPs among 20 CUs – organized as a doubling Cape Verde’s interesting 4/3/3 configuration – 80 texture units, 32 ROPs, 512KB L2 cache, and a 256-bit memory bus. Compared to Tahiti, Pitcairn still has 12 fewer CUs and as a result less shader and texturing performance along with the narrower memory bus, but it has the same number of ROPs and the same frontend as its bigger brother, which as we’ll see creates some very interesting situations.

On the functionality side of things, the Cape Verde comparisons continue. As with all Southern Islands family parts, Pitcairn supports things such as DX10+ SSAA, PowerTune, Fast HDMI support, partially resident textures, D3D 11.1 support, and the still-AWOL Video Codec Engine (VCE). FP64 support is once again present, and like Cape Verde it’s a performance-limited implementation for compatibility and software development purposes, with FP64 performance limited to 1/16th FP32 performance.

AMD’s Pitcairn cards will be the Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition and the Radeon HD 7850. The 7870 is a full Pitcairn, clocked at 1000MHz core and paired with 2GB of GDDR5 running at 4.8GHz. It has a PowerTune limit of 190W while AMD puts its typical board power draw closer to 175, meanwhile idle power consumption is around 10W with a long idle of 3W like the rest of Southern Islands. As for the 7850 it’s the typical lower tier part, featuring 16 active CUs (1024 SPs), an 860MHz core clock, and the same 2GB of GDDR5 running at 4.8GHz as its counterpart, giving it roughly 68% the shading/texturing performance and 86% of the ROP & frontend performance of the 7870. The PowerTune limit is 150W with a typical board power of 130W, and the same 10W/3W idle power consumption as the 7870.

Altogether the 7800 series isn’t just the successor to the Barts based 6800 series in name but also the successor to the 6800 in design. This includes not only power consumption, with one card being a sub-150W part, but also with regards to things such as CrossFire, where it features a single CF connector. Interestingly enough even though Barts was already a fairly small chip for its performance, Pitcairn takes this one step further with a die size of 212mm2, which in turn contains 2.8B transistors, only 160M more than Cayman. As we’ll see when we get to our benchmarks, this makes Pitcairn a surprisingly small chip given its 6970+ performance.

Speaking of the 6970, let’s talk about the 7800 series’ competition. As AMD began winding down Cayman (6900 series) almost immediately with the launch of the 7900 series, at this point the 6900 market has effectively dried up. Having taken themselves out of competition with themselves, AMD’s only competition is NVIDIA’s lineup. From a performance and price basis the 7870 and 7850 don’t map particularly well to any specific NVIDIA products, but generally speaking they’re targeted against the GTX 570 and GTX 560 Ti respectively.

With AMD targeting the ~$320 570 and ~$210 560 Ti and given their conservative pricing on the rest of Southern Islands, it should come as no surprise that the 7800 series is priced equally conservatively. The 7870 will have an MSRP of $350, while the 7850 will have an MSRP of $250. With the 7800 series completing the launch of Southern Islands, this gives AMD a consistent price structure for the entire family: $550, $450, $350, $250, $159, and $109.

Finally, as far as availability goes this will be a delayed launch. AMD is formally unveiling the 7800 series today, but it will not go on sale until the 19th, 2 weeks from now. AMD has said that this is due to both CeBIT and the Game Developers Conference; AMD and their partners want to be able to show off the 7800 series to their respective attendees at those events, with both events being far too large to keep the 7800 under wraps. This delayed launch also means that partner cards aren’t quite ready yet, so we only have AMD’s reference cards on hand. We’ll be taking a look at partner cards later this month.

Spring 2012 GPU Pricing Comparison
Radeon HD 7950 $450 GeForce GTX 580
Radeon HD 7870 $350  
  $330 GeForce GTX 570
Radeon HD 7850 $250  
  $200 GeForce GTX 560 Ti
  $179 GeForce GTX 560
Radeon HD 7770 $159  


Meet The Radeon HD 7870 & Radeon HD 7850


View All Comments

  • Zumzifero - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    I agree with you about some of your statements but not all.
    Price are too high and everybody seems to agree.
    Then, if you are just aiming at performances I think you may find good use for some of those 69x0 still on shelves.
    These 7xx0 cards have some use anyway: 7750 are great for all those budget HP and similiar you can buy in mega-store. You can play decently phasing out hose horrendous GeF 320 you get inside.
    About apps supporting AMD vs Nvidia, I' may point out that recent NV drivers are castrated by choice with everything supporting a super expensive Quadro line, meaning you may find yourself much more comfortable with an obsolete GF260 then with a GT560ti. This does not applies for AMD that (as fare as it lasts) is not jeopardizing our effort to actually "work" on a "non pro" rig. I doubt you'd really need an HD7970 for Solidworks or 3DStudio (if you do, better go with a pro card), but if you spend several hours on a PC with these programs, I guess you may find interesting stuff like the much despised HD7850, which can play games, video, multi monitor systems and professional apps without killing you with the energy bill.
    HD7970 may not be a wonder in terms of raw power (albeit being almost as fast as a 6990 or a 590) but it actually draws less then previous generations while being so much faster.
    Still, prices are high, which I don't like, but, would you be the CEO at AMD, how would you have behaved knowing that, until Nvidia comes out with it's line costumers have no alternatives for PCI 3.0 and DX 11.1? they know they will be able to lower these prices substancially if needed.
    I'm a causal gamer, and an architect, and the programs I need are not Quadro or FirePro certified so I can happily live with mainstream graphic cards. I'm using a GTX560ti but I plan to build a new rig based on Ivy Bridge 3770, ITX 2HD Raid 1, 2 SSD (one for HD caching) inside quite small Lian Li P08...
    Since IvyB is not out yet I guess I'll wait and see what nVidia has to offer, but how bad do you think a 7850 would be in it?
    Last but not least, US is not the world, and AMD sells globally: do you know how much higher are energy bills outside your country? You can find nfo on this site if you are interested.
    Given the nVidia trend since GT200 serie (meaning horrendous power/speed ratio), I don't held my finger crossed about Kepler. I hope I'm wrong.
  • chizow - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    Its not about the % of people who own those cards, its that those are the people who would most likely be in the market for one of these GPUs since they've already bought in that range.

    Anyone who bought a GPU in the last 24-30 months has very little reason to buy one of these cards as its really not offering any significant increase in performance that they couldn't have gotten at the same price points over the last 24-30 months. That's the problem.

    Sure there's some power consumption benefits from these new parts, but that's usually just a by-product of the die shrink that's a bonus that's far lower concern than actual price and performance.

    For someone buying their 1st GPU today yeah it makes more sense to buy this over an older part, but for the rest of the market, there's really no progress here with AMD's 7-series line-up.
  • Alpert - Tuesday, March 06, 2012 - link

    I registered a account here just to reply to you, now don't you feel special. Well you should because you can't see that the 7870 is priced $200 below that of a GTX580. So I don't understand what you mean by saying

    "price/performance. Southern Island has been a huge disappointment so far".

    That don't make sense, My only complaint is a miserable $20 that is the cards being $20 over priced.
  • Zoomer - Wednesday, March 07, 2012 - link

    SI is about compute, not raw gaming performance. That's where much of the transistor budget went.

    The deep idle state probably didn't help as well. Wonder how much area that took. I doubt 7W in a desktop environment matters, as even in a crossfire setup, that's just 14 W. For laptops, sure. For dense compute clusters, maybe, if it's going to be idle.
  • steambuns - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    Never expected them to be this fast!!

    they have not shown up with online stores yet, cannot wait to pick one up

    $350 for the speed of $500 cards works for me.. 7870 in my future plans.
  • venomblade - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    The 7870 looks perfect for me! Was kinda hoping for a $300 pricepoint, but for this kind of performance I'd be more than willing to shell out a bit more. And wow looking at the skyrim benchmarks when the vram made the fps crash was just daunting. At first glance I was wondering how could the 570 and up be two times faster than a 560 ti in Skyrim. Also, not a big deal but you put "GTX 570 ti collapses beyond 1920." Reply
  • jjj - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    This is not even funny and the sad part is that AMD is being nasty and pullng the 69xx series since they were a better deal (the 6970 started at 300$ after price cuts and/or MIR).
    The entire 7xxx prod line is a huge dissapointment price wise,for now.
  • tynopik - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    why don't you use the gpu benchmarks that people actually care about? bitcoin, F@H, even RC5-72

    also various elcomsoft and other password recovery tools use the GPU
  • Ryan Smith - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    Hi tynopik;

    We've actually considered all of those programs, but we've rejected them for various reasons.

    Bitcoin: Hand optimized assembly that works poorly with brand-new cards

    F@H: Works poorly with new AMD cards. Also, difficult to benchmark

    RC5-72:Hand optimized assembly that works poorly with brand-new cards. Also, it's basically a proxy test for a fast ROTL operation.

    Password Tools: Basically a proxy test for having many simple shaders, and a proxy test for a fast ROTL operation

    Basically with the possible exception of F@H, all of those programs are the same type of edge case for AMD's old generation hardware. Which is not to say that they're not important, but we don't pick our compute benchmarks just to evaluate the relative performance of video cards. We also pick them to better understand their architectures and their strengths & weaknesses; those benchmarks would not have told us much of value about Fermi or GCN.
  • kreacher - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    I was also considering an upgrade from my 5850 and was waiting for 7800 series. Really disappointed to see the small performance gains after two generations. Reply

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