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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  • Galidou - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Well then everything you said is nothing new, and is quite useless, that's what I meant. What's the point mentioning that it always has been like that and say it like if it's totally shocking like if it's new.

    ''In other words, if you wanted this level of performance, you could've gotten it a year ago with the GTX 580 for almost the same price....over a year ago....

    And that's why AMD's pricing of these parts fails.''

    Than marketting the way is done nowadays is a big FAIL but everyone knows it, ALWAYS has been like that... Car manufacturer makes new cars every year and sometimes it's worse than last year's, and higher priced....

    Ever heard of programmed obsolescence??
  • chizow - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    But this ISN'T how it usually goes, its unprecedented which is why many observers are pointing out the inconsistency. Look at history and even your own examples to show how this is out of the norm.

    I will leave you with one final question and you try to answer it with a straight face.

    If Nvidia launched their new "next-gen" architecture on a new process node like 15nm in 12-13 months and it was only 15-25% faster than the 7970 but cost 10% more, would you be happy with it and consider it some great victory???

    I don't know, I mean every way you possibly look at this, it just isn't right.
  • xeridea - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    I would poo my pants because Nvidia actually did a process shrink ahead of schedule. BY THE WAY 14nm is 2 shrinks from now, and will be about 5 years down the road.

    Following your conversation, you clearly don't know the reason behind pricing scheme. There is 0 competition with the 7900 series right now, and it is still better price/performace at its high price. Price will go down in time, but cards are always more expensive on release.... welcome to the real world.

    You could get the 580 last year for $50 more than the 7950, while using 30-80W more power (idle-game), running 10-25C hotter under load, making more noise, and slightly less performance (even with fairly new drivers for 7950).
  • chizow - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Uh, no I understand perfectly why they're pricing it this way.

    They're trying to make money and capitalize on the brief period of time they can actually charge a premium for holding the performance crown.

    But that's not going to stop keen observers like myself for calling them on it, especially when they're pricing last-gen performance at next-gen prices. They might swindle a few of their unwitting fans this time around but this will only hurt them in the long run. And by long, I mean as soon as Kepler launches.
  • mdlam - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Too bad your "keen" observations prevented you from noticing that Nvidia is also pricing their 14 month old technology at premium prices? Wait maybe it is because you are a Nvidia fanboy! I won't ever get swindled by AMD, I will only be swindled by Nvidia, says the retard. Reply
  • SlyNine - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    Then go back and look at other launches. Get the facts and stop using Adhominem attacks and showing your ignorance. Reply
  • chizow - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    No, Nvidia priced their last-gen performance based on last-gen premiums, you would expect the next-gen to shift these parts to obsolescence but obviously AMD doesn't feel their users possess the acumen to understand this paradigm.

    As for retards being swindled by Nvidia, lmao, the difference is, they would've been reveling in their ignorant bliss with this level of performance, 14 months ago. For the same price.

    Its truly amazing though, because you're falling into the exact trap AMD expects you to fall for with the pricing of this card. Honestly how can anyone defend the price and performance metric of this card 14 months later?
  • mdlam - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    AMD doesn't give a shit whether you fall for anything, neither does Nvidia. If enough people buy their cards at X price to support their billion dollar companies, then the price stays. If not, the price goes down. If more people than not refuse to buy the product, then price goes....up.... Whether its this metric or that metric or not fair or super clever AMD trap its all bullshit people make up who hold little educational knowledge in economics or business. Reply
  • mdlam - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - link

    People like you btw. Reply
  • chizow - Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - link

    Sounds like someone missed their nap.

    AMD should care actually, because the only people who would even entertain buying one of these cards are their biggest fans, the ones who are going to feel the burn the worst when the floor drops on the pricing of these products.

    Again, there is precedent for this, AMD did it to Nvidia in 2008 and Nvidia was cutting rebate checks. Do you think AMD is willing to do the same?

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