In 2009-2010, AMD launched the entire 4 chip Evergreen series in 6 months. By previous standards this was a quick pace for a new design, especially since AMD had not previously attempted a 4 chip launch in such a manner. Now in 2012 AMD’s Southern Islands team is hard at work at wrapping up their own launch with new aspirations on quickness. Evergreen may have launched 4 chips in 6 months, but this month AMD will be completing the 3 chip Southern Islands launch in half the time – 3 chips in a mere 3 months.

To that end today AMD is taking the wraps off the final piece of the Southern Islands puzzle: Pitcairn. The middle child of the family, it will be the basis of AMD’s $250+ enthusiast segment Radeon HD 7800 series. We’ve seen AMD capture the high-end with the 7900 series and struggle to control the mainstream market with the 7700 series, but how does the 7800 series fare amidst AMD’s lead in deploying 28nm GPUs? Let’s find out.

AMD GPU Specification Comparison
  AMD Radeon HD 7870 AMD Radeon HD 7850 AMD Radeon HD 6970 AMD Radeon HD 6950 AMD Radeon HD 5870
Stream Processors 1280 1024 1536 1408 1600
Texture Units 80 64 96 88 80
ROPs 32 32 32 32 32
Core Clock 1000MHz 860MHz 880MHz 800MHz 850MHz
Memory Clock 4.8GHz GDDR5 4.8GHz GDDR5 5.5GHz GDDR5 5.0GHz GDDR5 4.8GHz GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Frame Buffer 2GB 2GB 2GB 2GB 1GB
FP64 1/16 1/16 1/4 1/4 1/5
Transistor Count 2.8B 2.8B 2.64B 2.64B 2.15B
PowerTune Limit 190W 150W 250W 200W N/A
Manufacturing Process TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm
Architecture GCN GCN VLIW4 VLIW4 VLIW5
Price Point $350 $250 N/A N/A N/A

So what exactly is Pitcairn? In a nutshell, take Cape Verde (7700) and double it, and you have Pitcairn. Pitcairn has twice the number of CUs, twice the number of ROPs, twice the memory bandwidth, and of particular importance twice as many geometry engines on the frontend. This works out to 1280 SPs among 20 CUs – organized as a doubling Cape Verde’s interesting 4/3/3 configuration – 80 texture units, 32 ROPs, 512KB L2 cache, and a 256-bit memory bus. Compared to Tahiti, Pitcairn still has 12 fewer CUs and as a result less shader and texturing performance along with the narrower memory bus, but it has the same number of ROPs and the same frontend as its bigger brother, which as we’ll see creates some very interesting situations.

On the functionality side of things, the Cape Verde comparisons continue. As with all Southern Islands family parts, Pitcairn supports things such as DX10+ SSAA, PowerTune, Fast HDMI support, partially resident textures, D3D 11.1 support, and the still-AWOL Video Codec Engine (VCE). FP64 support is once again present, and like Cape Verde it’s a performance-limited implementation for compatibility and software development purposes, with FP64 performance limited to 1/16th FP32 performance.

AMD’s Pitcairn cards will be the Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition and the Radeon HD 7850. The 7870 is a full Pitcairn, clocked at 1000MHz core and paired with 2GB of GDDR5 running at 4.8GHz. It has a PowerTune limit of 190W while AMD puts its typical board power draw closer to 175, meanwhile idle power consumption is around 10W with a long idle of 3W like the rest of Southern Islands. As for the 7850 it’s the typical lower tier part, featuring 16 active CUs (1024 SPs), an 860MHz core clock, and the same 2GB of GDDR5 running at 4.8GHz as its counterpart, giving it roughly 68% the shading/texturing performance and 86% of the ROP & frontend performance of the 7870. The PowerTune limit is 150W with a typical board power of 130W, and the same 10W/3W idle power consumption as the 7870.

Altogether the 7800 series isn’t just the successor to the Barts based 6800 series in name but also the successor to the 6800 in design. This includes not only power consumption, with one card being a sub-150W part, but also with regards to things such as CrossFire, where it features a single CF connector. Interestingly enough even though Barts was already a fairly small chip for its performance, Pitcairn takes this one step further with a die size of 212mm2, which in turn contains 2.8B transistors, only 160M more than Cayman. As we’ll see when we get to our benchmarks, this makes Pitcairn a surprisingly small chip given its 6970+ performance.

Speaking of the 6970, let’s talk about the 7800 series’ competition. As AMD began winding down Cayman (6900 series) almost immediately with the launch of the 7900 series, at this point the 6900 market has effectively dried up. Having taken themselves out of competition with themselves, AMD’s only competition is NVIDIA’s lineup. From a performance and price basis the 7870 and 7850 don’t map particularly well to any specific NVIDIA products, but generally speaking they’re targeted against the GTX 570 and GTX 560 Ti respectively.

With AMD targeting the ~$320 570 and ~$210 560 Ti and given their conservative pricing on the rest of Southern Islands, it should come as no surprise that the 7800 series is priced equally conservatively. The 7870 will have an MSRP of $350, while the 7850 will have an MSRP of $250. With the 7800 series completing the launch of Southern Islands, this gives AMD a consistent price structure for the entire family: $550, $450, $350, $250, $159, and $109.

Finally, as far as availability goes this will be a delayed launch. AMD is formally unveiling the 7800 series today, but it will not go on sale until the 19th, 2 weeks from now. AMD has said that this is due to both CeBIT and the Game Developers Conference; AMD and their partners want to be able to show off the 7800 series to their respective attendees at those events, with both events being far too large to keep the 7800 under wraps. This delayed launch also means that partner cards aren’t quite ready yet, so we only have AMD’s reference cards on hand. We’ll be taking a look at partner cards later this month.

Spring 2012 GPU Pricing Comparison
AMD Price NVIDIA
Radeon HD 7950 $450 GeForce GTX 580
Radeon HD 7870 $350  
  $330 GeForce GTX 570
Radeon HD 7850 $250  
  $200 GeForce GTX 560 Ti
  $179 GeForce GTX 560
Radeon HD 7770 $159  

 

Meet The Radeon HD 7870 & Radeon HD 7850
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  • arjuna1 - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    Metro 2033 (the highest settings bench)

    Radeon 7950 33fps
    Radeon 6970 27.5fps

    Radeon 6870 32fps (the second highest bench)

    Weee!!! $400+ for 5.5fps more.

    Not sure about you, but to me, spending that kind of cash for an imperceptible increase in performance is having no sense of money's worth.

    This generation of cards can safely be skipped until the 8xxx/7xx series from both AMD and NVIDIA.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, March 06, 2012 - link

    Picking up one specific benchmark to underline your point. Great reasoning skills, you should join a debate team! Also, that 5.5fps is still 20%, with the good track record of overclockability, it can reach as much as 40%. But you stick to your point. Reply
  • arjuna1 - Tuesday, March 06, 2012 - link

    What? were you expecting me to post a powerpoint presentation for just for you??

    The numbers are there, look at them if you want, but hey, be stuck in your point, only a frustrated basement geek can think in way to justify spending $400 +/- for less than 50% increase in performance.

    Be careful of not falling of that horse, seems pretty high.
    Reply
  • sseemaku - Tuesday, March 06, 2012 - link

    Please check the avg frame rate improvements, not some specific results. But everyone agrees that 7xxx cards are a bit overpriced and that's because they don't have competition right now. If you worry about power consumption, buy these cards now. Or more interested in price/performance, wait till Kepler is released. Reply
  • arjuna1 - Tuesday, March 06, 2012 - link

    I can agree with that, after Kepler is release prices will go down and maybe then the 7xxx series will increase in the perceived value. Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Thursday, March 08, 2012 - link

    If there's no competition then they aren't overpriced because they cannot be touched by anything, hence making their price absolutely correct !!!
    I call that "reality".
    If Kepler blows their doors off, their price will fall. That's reality too.
    It's time for all the amd is cheaper crud to go the way of the dinosaur.
    Recently a 460 was an unbeatable value. Then a 560ti was as unbeatable value. Currently a 6870 is an unbeatable value.
    These things happen, and a deal is not the general aspect of the video card prices, which generally speaking wind up right where they should be.
    The deal is the exception to the usual rule across the board, and "the deal" as in "big price drop" is usually just one card here or there for a short period of time.
    Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Thursday, March 08, 2012 - link

    Radeon cards have been coming out at $700 and $600 and $500+ for a long time man - even with competition.
    I don't know what planet you people come from when the constant repetition of "it sounds good" becomes an absolute meme and ongoing restated theme but in no way reflects even a tiny kernel of truth as far as reality goes.
    Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    Yes dagamer34, Ryan praises amd for drying up their 6000 series channel with such precision. Then we get this praise - the perfect price structure by AMD, and "it's conservative pricing" according to the author even though it's $40 and $30 higher than it's Nvidia counterpart...
    " With AMD targeting the ~$320 570 and ~$210 560 Ti and given their conservative pricing on the rest of Southern Islands, it should come as no surprise that the 7800 series is priced equally conservatively. The 7870 will have an MSRP of $350, while the 7850 will have an MSRP of $250. With the 7800 series completing the launch of Southern Islands, this gives AMD a consistent price structure for the entire family: $550, $450, $350, $250, $159, and $109."
    ---
    I see. So more expensive is conservative, and the 6 AMD price figures are perfect and consistent...
    I am so sick of it...
    Reply
  • Falkenad2 - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    Thus far, AMD's first foray into 28nm graphics has been unimpressive. From a price/performance standpoint, the 7000 series has not given the usual incentives for upgrading that is regularly associated with the move to a new node. I hope a strong competitor from nVidia is on the way, as that would bode well for consumers such as ourselves. As it stands, the 7000 series lacks value except at the very high end, where price/performance is of little concern. Reply
  • Kaboose - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    Price vs. performance is not the only factor, some people are concerned with power draw as well. Others are interested in temps, and noise. The price could use some work (come on Nvidia) but besides that the 7xxx series has been fairly impressive in regards to overclocking, power, temp, and noise. Reply

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