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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  • SlyNine - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    I think it's you that has been sleeping. You're comparing EBay prices for god sakes. We are talking about new releases.

    The 5870 released 2 1/2 years ago at 379$. It was 2x as fast as the 4870.

    When the 4870 released it cost what, 300$ in mid 2008. It was over 2x as fast as the 3870.

    How about the amazing 9700pro at around 400$, In some cases being 4X faster then the 4600TI.

    This is perhaps a step up from the to the likes of the 2900XT or 5800ultra. But both of those had some rocking competition to deal with. Like the 8800GTX and the 9700pro.

    If you think this 30% better performance is worth 580$ then you have no concept of value.
  • Phate- - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    It took you long enough to notice. Better to go and have this discussion in the comments of the HD6970 review. Reply
  • Galidou - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Because it's next gen, performs better for the same price and overclocks probably WAY better plus maybe a chance to mod it to 7970? Is that enough? Reply
  • SlyNine - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Its not better performance for the same price. This time the price has scaled with performance.

    Normally when a new GPU gen releases its much better performance at the same price as the previous kings release.

    Look at the 9700pro, 8800GTX, 5870. Those were great cards for the time. The 7970 is just, Eh. Not bad enough to be considered a 2900XT or a 5800 Ultra. But at least those 2 cards had much better competition.
  • bhima - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Actually, AMD's prices for these cards are SO bad, most people will just wait or buy older tech. Hell at least Intel's Sandy Bridge i5-2500K came out at a reasonable $215 which really isn't that high for the performance you get from it... in fact, there is no other CPU at the same price that even comes close, nor was there a CPU last year for the same price that even comes close. Here, AMD is pricing themselves out of the market. Reply
  • mdlam - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Right, and their egregious pricing mistake is why all their cards are selling out since launch. Because all of AMD's business MBA's and experts are no match for your idea of "a good deal"

    Maybe you've noticed that things are usually more expensive at launch because of hype, and the fact that you have the fastest card makes pricing irrelevant. Well hell whatever, you didn't even notice that Sandy bridge 2500k opened up at $260-270 dollars at launch, what's the point in taking this further.
  • Dribble - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    I noticed that when the 5870 and 5850 came out they blew away the competition and were relatively cheap. What was the 5850 price when it came out - about half of the 7950? Yet the performance leap over previous gen for 5850 was much larger then for 7950. That's why everyone is a bit disappointed. Reply
  • gibsnium - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    The 2500k launched that the same price it is today; bought one from newegg at 219$ at launch.
  • Master_shake_ - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    doesn't anyone else remember when the 8800 ultra was released and Nvidia threw a thousand dollar price tag on it???

    how short are your memories??
  • mdlam - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    I remember it can barely run crysis Reply

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