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

    No the prices haven't dropped because there's no need to when the 7950 is about the same performance for the same price.

    As for basic economics, again, you're wrong.

    Prices do fall without competition, look at the CPU industry. AMD STILL doesn't have a CPU that competes with the CPUs Intel was putting out 3 years ago.

    Yet prices continue to fall, Intel continues to produce faster CPUs.

    Why? Because Intel is competing with itself and its consumers need incentive to buy a new CPU. People will not pay the same price for the same speed processor, they demand innovation, progress. They also won't pay significantly more for marginal increases.

    They expect more performance at the same prices, which is the same expectation as in the GPU market. Unless you're AMD and their fans I guess.
  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    I didn't say anything about the 7970's stock levels, because unlike the 7950, it did actually sell out the 1st day. But there is actually a reason for someone to upgrade to it.

    The 7950? Not so much, not at that price anyways. If anyone wanted that performance it was there 14 months ago for the same price.

    But yeah if you want to compare to past launches, you never saw stock of 5850/5870, 470/480, 570/580 for more than a few minutes at Newegg. Why? Because the performance was there for the asking price.

    With these Tahiti cards at the prices and performance, its just lukewarm reception.
  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    Nice try deflecting. Please retract your stupid statement about "price always reflecting performance", thanks. RV770 was obviously a price mistake that AMD has clearly tried to correct over the last 3-4 generations since evident by their ever-increasing prices. Either way, you're wrong.

    Not to mention the 3870 wasn't even the same generation. But yes that card wasn't high end because of its lackluster performance and the fact it was late. It was a refresh of the 2900 and was up against the 8800GT, another refresh part. Regardless, it was still AMD's highest performance single-ASIC SKU, so if it wasn't high-end that just means AMD had nothing worthy of high-end that generation.

    Same may happen this round if this is all SI has to offer on 28nm. :(
  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    Sure it is, because in this price range, the only people who would be interested in buying it are the people looking to upgrade who have already spent this amount.

    Sure there's going to be a few first time buyers who may pick this card up and it makes some sense, but this card isn't going to be a worthwhile upgrade for the vast majority of buyers who already have something from the last few generations.

    They expect more, simply put.
  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    Sure they can, its called projecting or forecasting. It would be negligent of them to ignore what Nvidia has to offer, and similar for Nvidia. Given they share the same fab its obvious neither have a technology advantage, so you have to target your competitor's product using that same technology. Anything less would be irresponsible.
  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    Rarson, maybe we need to take a step back. You keep insisting I don't understand how this market works, or how pricing is supposed to work. Maybe you can explain how YOU think it works.

    Let's start off with the basics:

    What do you think drives price in the GPU market?

    What do you think dictates a particular price:performance metric?

    Do you think these two variables continue to scale linearly to infinity as one or the other increases?

    What do you think resets this price:performance metric, if at all?

    If you can start by answering these questions, and then go back and try to reconcile historical price:performance data points going back to say, the 8800GTX that'd be great.

  • chizow - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    Translation: "I have really low expectations when it comes to GPUs on a new process/technology/architecture"
  • So Sick - Friday, February 3, 2012 - link

    CHizzo you talk about a pricing error from AMD but you know what was a the absolute least flattering act in history of the gpu?

    When AMD released their Radeon 9700 pro the 5800 ultra from nv stumbled caused by an error making it incapable of running aa correctly...after that the ultimate chaos ever shown in history of hardware was spread by your beloved green hope crew. They had a communication crisis resulting in 3 different versions of their nv40 on different departments without knowing this from each other words the cooperation with their own green colleagues died for a moment and time stood still. Ever since that shameful fact Nvidia is passing AMD..A lot of time they only clzaim they will be fatser in the future like they do now...thank you nv for the green hope in these dark times.....

    chizzo take your shizzle talk and stop making a fool of urself please
  • So Sick - Friday, February 3, 2012 - link

    in the vid you see how 3d11 has these results:

    7950oc P11392
    580oc: P7500? at most...
  • Boushh - Friday, February 3, 2012 - link

    I don't mean to rain on your parade.

    But when a new product is released, the most obviouse thing to do is to price it at the same level as the highest product from the competitor. Thus AMD should have priced the 7970 around the same amount as the 580.

    By doing this you put the pressure on the competitor. You also make sure people choose your product because it is the same price as that of the competitor, but faster, beter, etc.

    It's the same what happend just before the release of the Core architecture by Intel. AMD knew that the Core CPU's where much faster, and didn't have anything to compete. Instead of cutting the prices early and gain market share, they waited untill after the last posiible moment to lower their prices.

    Sure, the made a dollar or 2, but at what price ?

    Once you have the advantage on your competitor, you should use it anyway possible to harm your competitor.

    And AMD has the advantage, but they fail to make any use of it at the moment.

    Which gives the impresion they don't care about there market share, or if Nvidia would be forced to lower the prices of their products before they wanted to, or if Nvidia will be forced to release there products before they are ready.

    But obviously you don't care about that..

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