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  


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  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    Nonsense, we already covered this. GTX 280 was almost 2x faster than the 8800GTX and about the same performance as the 9800GX2. A true flagship card.

    ATI exceeded everyone's expectations with the RV770 but grossly underpriced their card, which is the only reason Nvidia was forced to drop their price.

    The difference this time around, is that the 7970 does NOT deserve the premium pricing relative to last-gen. The only way AMD will get off the hook is if Nvidia makes the same mistake and prices based on last-gen performance as well and prices their flagship at like $750 lol. It may happen, but I doubt it.
  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    Rofl, except I have mountains of historical evidence that back my points, while your nonsensical pricing schemes would have us deciding between new cars or new GPUs.

    Also back to that running a business part. Its obvious you have no clue what it takes to run a business.

    AMD is basically stealing from Peter to pay Paul, they're trading short-term gains for long-term profit by risking the relationship of their most loyal customers. In this business as in any other, customer satisfaction and brand loyalty is paramount.

    Unlike their fanboys, it would be criminally negligent of AMD not to consider the pricing of upcoming products from their main competitor: Nvidia. To that end, 28nm parts from Nvidia are imminent, ignoring this fact is just bad business.

    We'll see how this shakes out, but honestly I can't see AMD getting off unscathed here unless Nvidia prices Kepler outrageously.
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 5, 2012 - link

    LOL he's fun, while Nvidia made the worse pricing decision in the world like 9800gx2 priced 150$ less than a GTX 280 that performed LESS is so much funny, last gen part vs new gen part comparison here you come.... Reply
  • chizow - Sunday, February 5, 2012 - link

    What's fun is you can get 2x last-gen parts for cheaper than 1x next-gen parts anytime you want it.

    Would you buy 2xGTX 460 today instead of a GTX 580 or 7970? Most people would say no, but for those who want it, 2xold is cheaper and faster than 1xnew.
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 5, 2012 - link

    Well if you can do it anytime, what's new with 7970? Ahh it should of driven the prices down, unlike Nvidia's coming up with new gpus to drive the price up. Nvidia up the prices and ATI makes them go down here's your history of things... well things can change, we don'T live in a stable world. Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 5, 2012 - link

    Lotsa people already answering to you saying that you make no sense. My philosophy teacher once tole me: If someone come up to you and tells you: ''Hey you are a horse'' you can doubt, a second one comes to you and says the same thing, well you gotta start thinking a little bit, and if a third one comes and tells you the same thing, you should start thinking about buying a saddle. Reply
  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    And to base buying decisions without acknowledging the 800lb gorilla in the room (Kepler) while simultaneously ignoring the 6 ton elephant in the room (history) would be a monumental mistake.

    Congrats at successfully trying to manage both!
  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link


    See here's the exact flaw in your argument.

    AMD doesn't know what Nvidia's performance will be with Kepler.

    But they've priced their new product with the assumption Kepler offers no gain, no increase in performance over Fermi.

    That's the only possible way they could justify basing their new next-gen, next-process part using old part prices.

    This is a massive error in calculation, because unless you're completely oblivious it should be clearly obvious Kepler could beat Tahiti if it were nothing more than a die-shrink of Fermi with higher clocks. 15-25% is NOTHING when looking at a new process node and new architecture, its more of what you would expect from a refresh.

    But its OK, despite your claims you have no idea how this industry works, if you did you'd immediately acknowledge the prices AMD is asking for simply aren't justified with all things considered.
  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    Because that is what people who are interested in these parts base their buying decisions on. There's not enough incentive otherwise, its not like GPUs expire every 2 years. Reply
  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    There wouldn't be a problem if the 7950 launched 14 months ago, today its might as well be an exhibit at Jurassic Park.

    And the 580 for $500? Anyone who has a 580 has put a lot of mileage on those treads and gotten their money's worth. It'll get retired soon enough though, right next to that 7950.

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