Final Words

The launch of the Radeon HD 7970 has presented us with a great deal of data and even more subjects to consider, so it’s difficult in the best of times to try to whittle this down to a single conclusion. Nevertheless, based on our testing I believe there are two distinct conclusions to be drawn: the case for gaming, and the case for computing.

Gaming

At the end of the day the 7970 is specifically targeted as a gaming workhorse. Regardless of any architecture changes, what’s important is how fast the card is, how much it costs, whether it works correctly, and what its physical attributes are like. With respect to all of these aspects AMD has made an acceptable card, but this is not a groundbreaking product like we’ve seen in the past.

The fact of the matter is that since 2008 we’ve become spoiled by AMD’s aggressive pricing. More than anything else the low prices of the Radeon HD 4870 and Radeon HD 5870 made those products superstars thanks to their performance for the price and their undercutting of NVIDIA’s competing cards. The Radeon HD 5870 was definitely fast, but at $379 it was a steal, which is part of the reason prices for it never stabilized at that low a level.

At the same time the 7970 is not the 5870. The 5870 relative to both NVIDIA and AMD’s previous generation video cards was faster on a percentage basis. It was more clearly a next-generation card, and DX11 only helped to seal the deal. Meanwhile if you look at straight averages the 7970 is only around 15-25% faster than the GTX 580 in our tests, with its advantage being highly game dependent. It always wins at 2560 and 1920, but there are some cases where it’s not much of a win. The 7970’s domination of the 6970 is more absolute, but then again the 6970 is a good $200 cheaper at this point in time.

Meanwhile the presence of previous generation dual-GPU cards will continue to muddle the picture a bit further. We remain as sheepish as ever on multi-GPU cards and believe a high performance single GPU card is still a better investment in most situations, but there’s no denying that the GTX 590 and Radeon HD 6990 are quite capable cards today if you can put up with the noise and the inherent issues with alternate frame rendering.

Ultimately the past few years have seen AMD make great technical progress, but on the business side of things it’s NVIDIA that has made all the money. GCN will help AMD here by improving their professional product line, but the other part of that equation is for AMD to stop selling their cards for so little when they don’t have to. And this is what we’re seeing with the Radeon HD 7970. AMD has chosen to price the 7970 like a current generation card – it’s priced relative to a 3GB GTX 580 – and that’s a fair metric. What it isn’t is groundbreaking in any sense.

So at the end of the day AMD has once again retaken the performance crown for single-GPU cards, bringing them back to a position they last held nearly 2 years ago with the 5870. To that AMD deserves kudos, and if you’re in the market for a $500+ video card the 7970 is clearly the card to get – it’s a bit more expensive than the GTX 580, but it’s reasonably faster and cooler all at once. However if you’ve been waiting for 28nm GPUs to bring about another rapid decrease in video card prices as we saw with the 5870, you’re going to be waiting a bit longer.

Compute

The Radeon HD 7970 may be a gaming product, but today was just as much a launch for AMD’s Graphics Core Next architecture as it was for their new single-GPU king. GCN is the biggest architecture overhaul for AMD since R600 in 2007, and it shows. AMD has laid out a clear plan to seriously break into the GPU computing market and GCN is the architecture that will take them there. This is their Fermi moment.

At this point I’m not comfortable speaking about the compute performance of GCN in absolutes, but based on our limited testing with the 7970 it’s clear the potential is there. At times it’s competitive with the Fermi-based GTX 580 and at other times it’s quite a bit faster. In the hands of experienced developers and given enough time to learn the quirks of GCN, I believe GCN will prove itself. It’s much too early to tell if it will be able to withstand the eventual arrival of NVIDIA’s Kepler, but certainly this is the best shot AMD has ever had.

Performance aside, it’s clear that AMD’s SIMD architecture will make GPU compute development for GCN much easier; of that there is no question. This is important as GCN isn’t just about HPC computing, it’s about fully embracing Fusion. AMD’s CPU plans are built upon GCN just as much as they’re built upon Bulldozer, and for GCN to deliver on its half of the heterogeneous computing aspect of Fusion it will need to be easy to program and it will need to perform well. It would appear AMD has the hardware to make the former happen, now time will tell if GCN Fusion can deliver on the latter.

Power, Temperature, & Noise
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  • Wreckage - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    That's kind of disappointing. Reply
  • atticus14 - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    oh look its that guy that was banned from the forums for being an overboard nvidia zealot. Reply
  • medi01 - Tuesday, January 3, 2012 - link

    Maybe he meant "somebody @ anandtech is again pissing on AMDs cookies"?

    I mean "oh, it's fastest and coolest single GPU card on the market, it is slightly more expensive than competitor's, but it kinda sucks since AMD didn't go "significantly cheaper than nVidia" route" is hard to call unbiased, eh?

    Kind of disappointing conclusion, indeed.
    Reply
  • ddarko - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    To each their own but I think this is undeniable impressive:

    "Even with the same number of ROPs and a similar theoretical performance limit (29.6 vs 28.16), 7970 is pushing 51% more pixels than 6970 is" and

    "it’s clear that AMD’s tessellation efficiency improvements are quite real, and that with Tahiti AMD can deliver much better tessellation performance than Cayman even at virtually the same theoretical triangle throughput rate."
    Reply
  • Samus - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    I prefer nVidia products, mostly because the games I play (EA/DICE Battlefield-series) are heavily sponsered by nVidia, giving them a developement-edge.

    That out of the way, nVidia has had their problems just like this card is going to experience. Remember when Fermi came out, it was a performance joke, not because it was slow, but because it used a ridiculous amount of power to do the same thing as an ATI card while costing substantially more.

    Fermi wasn't successful until second-generation products were released, most obviously the GTX460 and GT430, reasonably priced cards with quality drivers and low power consumption. But it took over a year for nVidia to release those, and it will take over a year for ATI to make this architecture shine.
    Reply
  • kyuu - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    Wat? The only thing there might be an issue with is drivers. As far as power consumption goes, this should be better than Cayman. Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    He's saying the 28mn node will have further power improvements. Take it as an amd compliment - rather you should have. Reply
  • StriderTR - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    EA/Dice are just as heavily sponsored by AMD, more in fact. Not sure where your getting your information, but its .. well ... wrong. Nvidia bought the rights to advertize the game with their hardware, AMD is heavily sponsoring BF3 and related material. Example, The Controller.

    Also, the GTX 580 and HD 6970 perform within a few FPS of each other on BF3. I run dual 6970's, by buddy runs dual 580's, we are almost always within 2 FPS of one and other at any given time.

    AMD will have the new architecture "shining" in far under a year. They have been focused on it for a long time already.

    Simple bottom line, both Nvidia and AMD make world class cards these days. No matter your preference, you have cards to choose from that will rock any games on the planet for a long time to come.
    Reply
  • deaner - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    Umm, yea no. Not so much with nvidia and EA/DICE Batttlefield series giving nvidia a development edge. (if it does, the results are yet to be seen)
    Facts are facts, the 5 series to our current review today, the 7970, do and again continue to edge the Nvidia lines. The AMD Catalyst performance of particular note, BF3, has been far superior.

    Reply
  • RussianSensation - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    ."..most obviously the GTX460 and GT430, reasonably priced cards with quality drivers and low power consumption. But it took over a year for nVidia to release those"

    GTX470/480 launched March 26, 2010
    GTX460 launched July 12, 2010
    GT430 launched October 11, 2010

    Also, Fermi's performance at launch was not a joke. GTX470 delivered performance between HD5850 and HD5870, priced in the middle. Looking now, GTX480 ~ HD6970. So again, both of those cards did relatively well at the time. Once you consider overclocking of the 470/480, they did extremely well, both easily surprassing the 5870 in performance in overclocked states.

    Sure power consumption was high, but that's the nature of the game for highest-end GPUs.
    Reply

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