AMD Radeon HD 7870 And 7850 Review: Pitcairn Gets Benchmarked

Features, MLAA 2.0, And SSAA Updates

The Radeon HD 7800 family includes the same list of features inherent to the other 7000-series cards. It centers on the Graphics Core Next architecture, it offers an evolved implementation of Eyefinity, it supports the same general-purpose GPU compute features as the other cards, it boasts ZeroCore Power management, and its tessellation performance is improved. Then, there are all of the capabilities that AMD claims, but that we can’t test: discrete digital multi-point audio (DDMA), Partially Resident Textures (PRTs), 3 GHz Fast HDMI support, and DirectX 11.1/OpenCL 1.2/DirectCompute 11.1 support. We covered all of that in our Radeon HD 7970 preview, so feel free to read that piece for more background.

We’re still missing one touted Radeon HD 7000 series feature, though: the video codec engine, or VCE. This is a multi-stream hardware-based H.264 encoder that potentially represents AMD’s answer to Intel’s Quick Sync technology. What we’ve been told, however, is that software for the feature currently exists, but because the drivers aren’t ready, it’s toggled off. At some point in the future when AMD is ready to go, it’ll switch VCE on and whatever application infrastructure is in place will work. Company representatives tell us to expect functionality in about a month.

Morphological Anti-Aliasing 2.0

This feature has nothing to do with the Radeon HD 7000 series specifically, as it’s an update to the morphological filtering algorithm used by all of AMD’s cards, from the Radeon HD 4000s onward. The company is claiming enhanced image quality and better performance with its improved MLAA 2.0 that’ll be included with the Catalyst 12.3 beta and Catalyst 12.4 WHQL drivers.

Since we have access to a preview version of 12.3, we ran a few tests to see how AMD’s updated software affects performance, if it can keep pace with Nvidia’s fast FXAA software-based anti-aliasing, and if image quality is better.

We used The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for our MLAA 2.0 tests because it’s a game that suffers from a lot of foliage aliasing artifacts that aren’t corrected by hardware-based multisample anti-aliasing. It’s also a good opportunity to compare MLAA 2.0 to FXAA, as the game includes native support for Nvidia’s technology.

It turns out that some games are buggy with MLAA and Skyrim seems to be one of them, making it a less than ideal platform for drawing comparisons between AMD’s first- and second-generation implementations. Fortunately, we can at least conclude that whatever issues were present previously are fixed. Overall performance falls short of Nvidia’s FXAA, but frame rates are only part of the story. Graphics quality is at least as important.

As you can see, FXAA yields a blurrier picture than AMD’s morphological anti-aliasing, and MLAA 2.0 results in an even crisper picture compared to the original. This might be something we revisit in a future story. For now, due to yet another tight deadline, we’re forced to move on.

Supersampling Anti-Aliasing Improvements

AMD claims that the Catalyst 12.2 driver adds supersampling support for DirectX 10 and 11 games, the lack of which we lamented in last year’s Anti-Aliasing Analysis, Part 1: Settings And Surprises article. Although supersampling is often unusable due to a large performance hit, it’s tied to AMD’s Adaptive Anti-aliasing, a largely ignored mode that has tremendous potential for improving image quality in games with aliased transparent textures without the huge performance penalty of SSAA. As we mentioned in that article, Nvidia’s implementation (called Transparent AA) enjoyed much better game compatibility with new titles. So we’re excited about the prospect of a reliable Adaptive AA mode, too.

AMD also says that automatic level-of-detail adjustments will be included with the Catalyst 12.3 and 12.4 WHQL drivers to improve the sharpness of textures while using SSAA. We’ve been told that this feature “is currently only available on Southern Islands-based cards." This isn’t something we were able to find proof of in the limited tests we had time to perform, but we plan to dig deeper into anti-aliasing in a follow-up article.

Create a new thread in the US Reviews comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
172 comments
    Your comment
    Top Comments
  • alidan
    can someone tell me why
    low settings were benched at the lowest resolution
    mid settings at 1920x1080
    and the highest at 2560x1440 (and not 2560x1600)

    i mean most of us play games in the 1920x1080(1200) range, and if we are spending 200+ on a gpu, we will have about that kind of monitor... while if you have a 2560x1440(1600) monitor, you aren't wasting your time with these cards, even if its for crossfire.

    what im saying is i would rather see the 1920x1080 resolution get the highest possible settings, as thats what most of us who want to max the settings will play at.
    52
  • hardcore_gamer
    Wow..7870 has nearly half the power-draw of GTX 570 and performs better . IMO this is the most impressive card in GCN line up so far.
    31
  • ilysaml
    Watch the benches well, the HD 7870 almost beating the GTX 580.
    22
  • Other Comments
  • hardcore_gamer
    Wow..7870 has nearly half the power-draw of GTX 570 and performs better . IMO this is the most impressive card in GCN line up so far.
    31
  • ilysaml
    Watch the benches well, the HD 7870 almost beating the GTX 580.
    22
  • alex3064
    what date is this 7850/7870 actually launched
    -18
  • esrever
    AMD saved the best for last it seems. Although a bit over priced, these cards are amazing performance/watt with all the new features. Nice to see the 7870 take a few blows at the 580 in a few games. Can't wait to see what kepler can do as well!
    20
  • alex3064
    alex3064what date is this 7850/7870 actually launched

    i mean when will it be launched in market
    -6
  • theuniquegamer
    impressive performance of 7870 (i was disappointed by the 7770's performance )And what about microshuttering? Is it present in 7870 CF?
    4
  • hardcore_gamer
    ilysamlWatch the benches well, the HD 7870 almost beating the GTX 580.


    Looking at the performance graphs, 7870 performs very close to 7950 which has 40% more SPs and a 384 bit memory interface. I think AMD reduced the performance of 79xx series on purpose so that they can release a better card just before the launch of Kepler.
    16
  • _Pez_
    the 7870 is quite impressive. O.O almost the same gaming capability of the 580 for 350. OMG!
    18
  • hardcore_gamer
    alex3064i mean when will it be launched in market


    It is there in the first page. "you won’t be able to buy the card until at least March 19th, AMD tells us."
    11
  • Onikage
    7870 is a sensational card !!! even at this given price!!!
    what a card !!!
    DAY 1 BUY !
    17
  • Memnarchon
    From what I read from other sites also, the performance is a little bit lower (7850 is between 6950 and 6970 and 7870 is between 6970 and 7950 like: Clicky-Clicky ) but their power consumption is amzing. I mean, the 7850 draws only 100 watt and requires only one 6pin while it offers performance of 6950+5%!!!!!!!! This along with a sandybridge (with its low power consumption) will make a powerful gaming system with only a $40 corsair/antec psu!!!! Now the only thing that is left is an answer from nvidia so we can see prices going down.
    11
  • agnickolov
    Whatever happened to the 2D benches?
    6
  • xtreme5
    KEPLER should be the fastest video cards in the world>>>>
    -31
  • dragonsqrrl
    Wow. In my opinion the HD7870 is the most impressive card in the 7000 series lineup thus far. It outperforms the HD6970 by a wide margin and comes damn close to the GTX580. Performance, price, power, temperature, noise... all positive.

    And all of this can be had for $350. Without question the best deal in the lineup.
    17
  • tomfreak
    Only 7000 series card that isnt priced stupidly.

    btw, none of the AMD partners use blower design cooler? wtf!!! Blower card is what I need! Especially my existing mid tower ATX aluminium case are old design from way back in AthlonXP.
    6
  • alidan
    can someone tell me why
    low settings were benched at the lowest resolution
    mid settings at 1920x1080
    and the highest at 2560x1440 (and not 2560x1600)

    i mean most of us play games in the 1920x1080(1200) range, and if we are spending 200+ on a gpu, we will have about that kind of monitor... while if you have a 2560x1440(1600) monitor, you aren't wasting your time with these cards, even if its for crossfire.

    what im saying is i would rather see the 1920x1080 resolution get the highest possible settings, as thats what most of us who want to max the settings will play at.
    52
  • beetlejuicegr
    Ahh i knew 78xx cards would be awesome, i am still very happy with my 5870. 7870 with just 1-2 fps difference from 580s and 7970s at some games is so impressive! I will totally recommend these two cards to friends, maybe me, if my wife doesn't notice haha
    7
  • beetlejuicegr
    alidancan someone tell me why low settings were benched at the lowest resolutionmid settings at 1920x1080and the highest at 2560x1440 (and not 2560x1600)i mean most of us play games in the 1920x1080(1200) range, and if we are spending 200+ on a gpu, we will have about that kind of monitor... while if you have a 2560x1440(1600) monitor, you aren't wasting your time with these cards, even if its for crossfire. what im saying is i would rather see the 1920x1080 resolution get the highest possible settings, as thats what most of us who want to max the settings will play at.


    Your are definitely right here m8
    19
  • nevskilol
    AMD is innovative releasing next generation cards that barely perform on the level of a gtx 580, a card that is nearly 1.5 years old. the HD 7970s is a piece of garbage i got one to update from a gtx 560 448 core classified, and the results were very disappointed lower FPS in starcraft 2 and skyrim and a ton of crashes to go along with it ( THOSE LOVELY AMD DRIVERS). AMD will always be second best and trash, i returned the HD 7970 i got and picked up at second gtx 560 448 core classy for SLI. I will either pick up a 680 or 690 upon release. I gave AMD, a shot and they are complete trash, AMD fanboys are dellusional if they think ANY of the AMD 7xxx series is even close to next generation quality. GOOD JOB AMD you did what nvidia did over a year ago. the trash they sell is over price ridiculously, people who buy this garbage will get a rude awaking when kepler dongs all over this trash
    -37
  • devils_advocate
    I cant wait to see some one add one more PCI E on 7850. That will really allow it to O.C well. Easily match 7870 stock and probably more.
    -6