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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  • Prosthetic Head - Friday, February 3, 2012 - link

    I purchased a second hand 4850 and put a nice custom cooler on it about 3.5 years ago. It runs near silent and performs more than adequately in all the games I play. I honestly don't see the excitement in GPU announcements unless they really are game changers (59XX, 9800XT --> 6800, X800 type leaps). I realise I'm not a bleeding edge gamer & some of you are and thats great - It means second hand high end GPUs available regularly for the same price as low end offerings less than a year later.

    The only thing that tempts me about the new architectures is the compute performance. I actually use this for some computational chemistry work and the upgrade looks well worth it if I do more of this type of work.

    The improving performance / power ratio is also of interest since I don't like loud fans, hot computers or excessive electricity consumption.
  • Galidou - Saturday, February 4, 2012 - link

    Don't worry, chizow is a fanboy, there's nothing to do against greenies, they have a closed mind :P

    He never said anything wrong about nvidia but sure has a ton of things to say about AMD. He speaks of overclockability of GTX 580, get an answer about how overclockable the 7970 and then changes his mind and says he cares about OC but not much about stock cards OC(which the 7970 seems to do VERY well).

    Makes no sense when you say things and then right after what you say has no value for the other team.....
  • chizow - Saturday, February 4, 2012 - link

    No, I said it makes no sense to compare one stock part to one that's overclocked. If you want to compare apples to apples, you overclock both, I have no problem with that and I think you'll find that both parts overclock similarly so the original difference in stock performance holds true.

    Only a fanboy would try to compare stock to OC results as you and others apparently tried to do.
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 5, 2012 - link

    I never tried to compare any video card, I'm a proud owner of both camps video card, from geforce 2 gts all the way up to 6850 in crossfire and gtx 560 ti in other rig... thing is you never said anything wrong about Nvidia and I can say wrong things and good things about both camps being an owner of MULTIPLE of their cards...

    Someone with only one side of a story shouldn't be used as a reference for righteousness in judgement... Like taking a judge for an affair of murder while the judge himself is in the family of the murdered one.....

    Anyway just my two cents...
  • chizow - Sunday, February 5, 2012 - link

    If you never tried to compare any video card, why are you defending someone who did then?

    As usual with these kinds of threads arguing with ignorant fanboys, I'm simply keeping things honest and correcting erroneous flaws in facts or logic.

    Does it make sense to you to make a comparison about one overclocked part compared to another stock part, then declare the OC'd part the winner based on those results?

    Of course not!

    As for your two cents, keep them, you will need to save every penny to make the jump from 6850 or GTX 560ti to 7950s at these prices.
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 5, 2012 - link

    There was bad things about AMD and Nvidia in history and thing is you can only mention bad things from one side. I'd never listen to someone that already has a choosen side to speak about ANYTHING in my whole life, simply because you won't be able to hear the absolute truth from the defender of only one side...
  • chizow - Saturday, February 4, 2012 - link

    No, but you were talking about me. So, please explain what you think determines pricing in this market since you insist I have no clue, or YOU shut up.

  • chizow - Saturday, February 4, 2012 - link

    Yes of course, because it would be negligent not to from any perspective.

    Anyone who buys something at any point needs to project the market, needs to weigh the potential for obsolescence. That's a large reason why companies do NOT disclose unannounced products as not to erode their own sales before a product goes EOL.

    Similarly, it would be negligent if AMD didn't project Nvidia's next-gen parts given they use the same fab and process. And right now, AMD is basically telling you with this price that they either 1) are ignoring Nvidia's 28nm partsor 2) think Nvidia's 28nm parts perform the same as their 40nm parts or 3) don't think their customers are smart enough to realize 1 or 2.

    Either way, they're going to look the fool once Nvidia does release their 40nm parts.
  • chizow - Saturday, February 4, 2012 - link

    You mean the super-OC'd Classified 3GB versions that perform within a few % points of the 7970? Yeah of course there are. You'd be a moron not to realize the difference, or you're just being dishonest. With you it could be either.

    Most 580s are in the same price range as the 7950, $440-500, because once again, they deserved that price tag when they launched 14 months ago and the release of the 7950 has done nothing to make Nvidia drop the price on them.

    But as I said, this price and performance level will be retired soon, but obviously not as a result of the "next-gen" Tahiti parts. We'll most likely have to wait for the real "next-gen" parts with Kepler to shift this stagnant price:performance metric.
  • chizow - Saturday, February 4, 2012 - link

    No, only a moron would blow $500 on another card a year later that performs the *SAME* as the card they paid $500 for a year earlier. And that's why the 7950's pricing sucks.

    There's light at the end of the tunnel, you may finally be getting it lol.

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