Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Radeon HD 7800s: Great Performance, Price, And Power. But Are They Ready?

AMD Radeon HD 7870 And 7850 Review: Pitcairn Gets Benchmarked
By

Before we go any further, consider the aggregate average game performance at 1920x1080:

The Radeon HD 7870 and 7850 offer impressive performance, extremely low power usage, and attractive estimated prices (at least in North America; we're sorry, Europeans) compared to cards offering similar performance. They run coolly and quietly, making them easy to live with, too. That covers the most important questions gamers ask when they hear about new graphics cards. From almost every angle, consider us impressed. Sure, we could complain yet again about the lack of VCE support several months after AMD announce the feature, but that doesn’t affect these cards’ ability to play games.

Unfortunately, our in-depth evaluations in two different labs at opposite ends of the world turned up a handful of unexpected issues, too. Igor Wallsosek in our German office reports back with a lot of Radeon HD 7850-related issues: NewTek’s LightWave crashes with 4x AA or higher, Autodesk’s 3ds Max crashes in DirectX mode, and the card is incapable of running StarCraft II at its stock clocks. It would be tempting to chalk all of that up to a bad sample, but we had problems with our 7850 as well. World of Warcraft was particularly unstable, requiring a restart after every crash. And sometimes our test bed simply wouldn’t boot with the 7850 installed. Then there’s the whole issue of texture quality issues on both of the new 7800s. Oof.

We’ve never seen a graphics card with so much potential for $250. But there are clearly issues to work out of the Radeon HD 7850. In this case, a paper launch might be the best possible thing for AMD, especially if it needs to tweak hardware specs and the driver. Interestingly, AMD claims that none of its partners plan to use the reference board design. If our problems are specific to AMD’s implementation, shipping 7850s could be better behaved. With weeks to go before these cards are available, we’re able to reserve judgement. On the other hand, both of the Radeon HD 7870s in our labs work great, so there’s little stopping us from recommending that card. Priced at $350, it performs a lot like the $470-ish GeForce GTX 580 and the $465 Radeon HD 7950. At this point, it’s hard to see spending extra money on either of those two technically higher-end boards unless you need a firmware selector switch (which the 7950 offers) or a three-/four-way multi-card setup. We can’t issue the Radeon HD 7870 an award, since it’s not available for sale, but consider us impressed. 

There’s just one little caveat. We already know that Nvidia’s next-gen architecture is very near on the horizon. We already have to wait for the Radeon HD 7800s to hit store shelves. Could it be so bad to wait a little while longer to see how Kepler does? As a rule, I feel that waiting for “the next big thing” is a fool’s game when it comes to technology. But with two new architectures on the cusp of going head-to-head, weeks apart, this could an exception to that personal policy.

Update: We’ve been working to diagnose the source of our stability issues with the Radeon HD 7850 card provided to us by AMD. Additionally, the company sent us a second card for testing.

Our efforts reveal compatibility issues with our original Core i7-3000-series test platform. A second configuration, built using a Gigabyte X58A-UD3R motherboard and Core i7-920 CPU, is much more stable with the Radeon HD 7850 installed. In fact, we’re able to overclock both samples in excess of 1 GHz, although we still experience crashes at in World of Warcraft with 4x MSAA at stock clocks. Given additional testing, we’re also seeing instability with the 7870 in WoW with anti-aliasing applied. We have to suspect that there’s a game or driver issue at fault.

To recap, both Radeon HD 7850s are unstable on our Sandy Bridge E-based configuration. Sometimes it takes multiple attempts to boot up. Other times we encounter texturing anomalies. This is puzzling because no other graphics cards demonstrate stability problems on this platform, including the Radeon HD 7870 sample based on an identical reference PCB.

As for our Tom’s Hardware lab in Germany, the sample there suffers intolerance to overclocking on multiple test beds, and needs to be underclocked slightly in order to complete a StarCraft II benchmark. This card also demonstrates instability when using professional workstation apps in OpenGL mode: Lightwave crashes when 4x MSAA is applied, and Maya is generally unreliable under OpenGL.

With this new information in hand, we’re inclined to believe the Radeon HD 7850 problems in the Tom’s Hardware US lab are primarily related to platform compatibility, whereas the Tom’s Hardware DE lab received a problematic sample. Based on this, we’re hopeful that the Radeon HD 7850s that ship to retail won’t exhibit the issues experienced by either Tom’s Hardware office. We’re looking forward to testing its overclocking capabilities in a future piece.

Display all 172 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
Top Comments
  • 52 Hide
    alidan , March 5, 2012 6:28 AM
    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.
  • 31 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , March 5, 2012 5:06 AM
    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.
  • 23 Hide
    ilysaml , March 5, 2012 5:11 AM
    Watch the benches well, the HD 7870 almost beating the GTX 580.
Other Comments
  • 31 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , March 5, 2012 5:06 AM
    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.
  • 23 Hide
    ilysaml , March 5, 2012 5:11 AM
    Watch the benches well, the HD 7870 almost beating the GTX 580.
  • 20 Hide
    esrever , March 5, 2012 5:16 AM
    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!
  • -6 Hide
    alex3064 , March 5, 2012 5:16 AM
    alex3064what date is this 7850/7870 actually launched

    i mean when will it be launched in market
  • 4 Hide
    theuniquegamer , March 5, 2012 5:24 AM
    impressive performance of 7870 (i was disappointed by the 7770's performance )And what about microshuttering? Is it present in 7870 CF?
  • 16 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , March 5, 2012 5:29 AM
    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.
  • 18 Hide
    _Pez_ , March 5, 2012 5:34 AM
    the 7870 is quite impressive. O.O almost the same gaming capability of the 580 for 350. OMG!
  • 11 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , March 5, 2012 5:36 AM
    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."
  • 17 Hide
    Onikage , March 5, 2012 6:02 AM
    7870 is a sensational card !!! even at this given price!!!
    what a card !!!
    DAY 1 BUY !
  • 11 Hide
    Memnarchon , March 5, 2012 6:15 AM
    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.
  • 6 Hide
    agnickolov , March 5, 2012 6:18 AM
    Whatever happened to the 2D benches?
  • 17 Hide
    dragonsqrrl , March 5, 2012 6:25 AM
    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.
  • 6 Hide
    tomfreak , March 5, 2012 6:26 AM
    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.
  • 52 Hide
    alidan , March 5, 2012 6:28 AM
    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.
  • 7 Hide
    beetlejuicegr , March 5, 2012 6:34 AM
    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
  • 19 Hide
    beetlejuicegr , March 5, 2012 6:35 AM
    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
  • -6 Hide
    devils_advocate , March 5, 2012 6:49 AM
    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.
Display more comments