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
AMD Price NVIDIA
  $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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  • chizow - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    You want to talk about respect while throwing out inflammatory comments like fanboy every reply while ignoring the actual facts and logic of an argument? Respect is given where its due.

    Anyways, like I said, just draw out the pricing history on these high-end parts for the last 5-6 years and you will see what AMD is doing here is unprecedented. At no point has one of these GPU makers ever asked for flagship prices with so little improvement over the last-gen flagships when using a new process node/GPU architecture.

    If you are a reasonable person who is deserving of respect, I think you will find truth and reason in what I've written here, fanboyism and lack of respect aside.
    Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    Find me anywhere I called you an idiot or a stupid or anything, the worse I said is that ultimate knowledge is crazyness, never called you crazy or ANYTHING, while you did it again., sad to see you have to resolve to those strategy as arguments....

    The lowest price I can find right now of the 7970 is 520$ and lowest I can find for 6950 is 240$, a little more than double as I said.

    I said I trolled and I know it inflammatory comments and lack of respect is different, I was poking your ''facts'' and the way you react and still lack of respect toward me just shows even more...

    ''who is deserving of respect''

    EVERYONE deserves respect and I will still respect you even if you don't for me because respect can't be bought, it is acquired or applied...
    Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    And btw you still forgot to input the amount of memory which is 3gb that you forget everytime in your comments.... Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    ''If you are a reasonable person who is deserving of respect''

    I just still can't beleive you said that... ''who is deserving respect'' it's deceiving to see such lack of respect in a conversation about gpus,

    I understand what you mean, Nvidia as always been about giving double the performance of last gen but they are hitting a wall where it won't be possible until they change the limit of the max TDP which is 300w, they are very close to it, I guess they left some space for double chip cards, but nvidia which isn't their strenght of watt/performance will probably have to change things if they want to squeeze double the gtx580 in their gtx680 in 300w TDP...

    Considering ATI are the best at watts/performance and they only squeezed that kind of performance in 250w.....
    Reply
  • chizow - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    6950 was as cheap as $180-$200 in some sales and the 7970 is $550-$600, so yes at times it was 3x.

    But the point remains, the 7970 does a worst job at upholding your standard than the GTX 280.

    Also, it was a full 2x framebuffer, 8800GT was only 512MB, same as the 9800GX2 which was a massive amount of VRAM at the time. It was also more than the 512MB on the original 4870 with a full 512-bit bus.

    Once again, the 280 was a flagship card by every metric, if you want to argue honestly over the facts, at least try to be honest about it.
    Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    Yes you're right the 8800gt was 512mb, wasn'T there a 1gb version? I can'T remember...
    4870 was cheating, it used the first ddr5 memory so it doubled the bandwidth without adding die size, which helped ALOT to it'S great performance, I still like my 4870 which can almost still run everything very well...
    Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    ok you want to go in the ''as cheap as'' well my friend got right after me a rebate with special and had a 8800gt for 150$ after everything, I was using regular price for my 8800gt at 180$, so consider a 8800gt at 150$ times 4.33 = 650$, wow, 4 times and a third.... Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    IT WAS A FLAGSHIP CARD LOL the radeon 4870 got so close to it with a die half as big and that was what, a month and a half later... speak about flagship at 650$ Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    worse than that, the radeon 4870 wasn't even meant to compete with the high end, AMD had left that market for single GPU but still it came SO CLOSE... speak about Flagshipn amzingness that doubles the previous generation..... Reply
  • Galidou - Sunday, February 05, 2012 - link

    If you find something to say against my last comment I'm over with you, your closed mind will be the strognest I have ever seen. He will find a reason of the gtx 280 selling so high because of the Nvidia's CEO not having enough food on the table so they had to adjust the price....

    Poor them, send them food, they're starving!!
    Reply

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