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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  • nissangtr786 - Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - link

    At the end of the day the 7970 and 7950 are great cards. They are like going from a 65nm pentium 4 to a 45nm core 2 duo in terms of performance per watt. Yes AMD may have not cranked the power consumption like amd do but performance per watt or gflops per watt it is basically double or even better then the last generation 40nm cards.

    Imagine 10000 40nm gtx 580 running in the world or 10000 7950 running in the world. Saving 160w more each person with similar person. 160w is a lot of power enough to run nearly an m17x r3 with 6970m.

    160w multiplied by 10000 people = 1600000 watt difference for same performance of a gtx 580 and 7950. Thats 1.6m watts in simple terms more to game. If process and architecture changes of cpus and graphics cards didn't happen we would still have pentium 4's running at 3.8ghz with 6800 utras taking nearly as much power to run as an i7 3960x and 7970. Also idle watts usage go down every die shrink.
  • JNo - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    I'm surprised you didn't give the Sapphire a Gold Editor's choice award.

    It is pretty much awesome in every respect and I don't see any drawbacks.

    No I don't work for Sapphire but this is the card I'd buy tomorrow (if I really needed it/had more money!)
  • Finally - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    Sapphire did do their homework. I find it astonishing that they were the only ones to consider undervolting, while also overclocking their product. Hats off! Reply
  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    No, Tahiti is competing with the expectations of a new generation of hardware, expectations they clearly failed to meet. You don't ask for flagship prices when all you bring to the table is refresh performance of 14 month old last-gen parts. If you don't think so, but hey np, I have a copy of Madden 2010 you can buy for $60.

    How are my expectations too high? More like your expectations are too low if you were impressed with Tahiti. 15-25% faster than the last-gen flagship? Is that a joke? Once again, next-gen expectations commanding flagship prices should be AT LEAST 50% before anyone considers buying. Y'know, the same speed bump that "clusterfk" Fermi was over the last-gen parts...... Once again low expectations of AMD fans just used to being mediocre I suppose....

    And to disprove your nonsense again with historical fact, Nvidia did have the fastest card in 2010 with GTX 480, but instead of raising the prices, they kept it the same with the GTX 580. They've done this in the past as well with the GTX 280 > GTX 285. They don't raise prices on refreshes, they also don't raise prices on flagships on new generations because they learned their lesson with GTX 280 after the original pricing fiasco.
  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    Wrong again.

    The rebates were funded by Nvidia for price protected "exclusive" partners in NA and EU markets. At the time, that was EVGA, BFG and XFX.

    The partners only sent out the rebate because they received the bulk of payment after shipping to retailers, but only with Nvidia's green light. Nvidia also directly funded/reimbursed or promised more inventory using the credited difference for any existing stock in the channel when they officially dropped the price of the GTX 280 from $650 to $500 and the GTX 260 from $450 to $350. Prices on the top two cards have stayed virtually the same since.

    But yes, AMD is setting themselves up for a similar fall. If they priced the 7970 the same as the previous flagships, $500. No one would care that much. If they priced the 7950 the same as their previous 2nd tier, $380-400. No one would care that much.

    But they got greedy. For what? 15-25% improvement on a new architecture, full node, and 14 months? History is due to repeat itself, and not in AMD's favor. At least in Nvidia's case, the GTX 280 actually warranted its pricetag relative to last-gen parts. You can't even say that about the 7970.
  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    Well if a $300 card is priced where it should be and performs the same as AMD's $450 card something will certainly have to budge.

    Unless Nvidia decides to just refresh their old parts on 28nm and prices everything the same for a 5-10% increase in performance.

    In that case, we can all just not buy video cards this generation because nothing will be worth buying and we can stop pretending these new cards are some awesome new innovation.
  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    They're still $500 because demand is still strong, its close to EOL, and people still find value in Nvidia parts over AMD.

    They'll drop the prices to sell off the last few in the channel when they replace the part with something better, but in the meantime, AMD hasn't given any reason for them to slash the prices due to their greedy pricing on the 7950.

    Again, this is a departure from past launches where AMD did price their parts sensibly and forced Nvidia to lower prices on its flagship cards (GTX 285 etc).

    4 of 11 out of stock is good? After 4 days on the market? I don't think so. I think the market has spoken given every other major launch in the last few years on a high-end SKU like this has resulted in OOS for about a month.

    Demand for this part is soft, and at its price/performance that's no surprise and really shouldn't be.
  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    Really? So being the highest-end SKU that AMD produced and within 10-15% of the fastest single-GPU on the planet, it wasn't a high-end card? And I guess AMD didn't have any high-end cards that generation?

    And "pricing ALWAYS based on performance relative to the competition". So the RV770 coming within 10-15% of the GTX 280 which already launched for $650 and was selling briskly because it deserved that pricing relative to last-gen (9800GX2, 8800GTX) and AMD pricing this part for $299 made sense based on performance relative to the competition? Really?

    You're wrong. Stop posting LMAO. RV770 was a price mistake on AMD's part, a mistake they've been trying to correct ever since. Now Nvidia has a chance to return the favor because the 7970/7950 are going to be in a similar position due to the fact they're mispriced based on last-gen metrics.
  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    Newsflash: if you want the newer part, you actually expect better performance for the same price compared to parts that have been out for over a year.

    Welcome to my used car lot where I sell old cars for brand new prices.
  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    And that's exactly what's wrong with their pricing, an error that will be obvious once its competing against the products its supposed to be competing with.

    By your same flawed logic, graphics cards would be thousands of dollars as every incremental increase would incur an increase in price without limits.

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