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AMD Radeon HD 7970: Promising Performance, Paper-Launched

AMD Radeon HD 7970: Promising Performance, Paper-Launched
By , Igor Wallossek

A sample of AMD's next-generation Radeon HD 7970 landed in our lab just before Santa. Don't cross your fingers for one of these in your stocking, though. It's not available yet. Is it fast, though? Our benchmarks suggest yes, but more testing remains!

Leading into December, we didn’t really expect to see a next-generation graphics card in the 31 days before 2012. In fact, even mid-month, after we’d already been briefed, the plan was to launch in January. Windows 8 and its accompanying DirectX 11.1 API update aren’t expected for months still, and today’s high-end graphics cards are well-equipped to handle modern games. Despite the fact that AMD purportedly stopped production of its Radeon HD 6990 months ago, we were worried that rumors of poor 28 nm yields at TSMC meant there was no way a new GPU could be readied in time.

When AMD moved its launch date up to today, we were even more bowled over. The official line from AMD was that “After collecting feedback from our partners and evaluating our overall readiness…we believe this new date allows us to get ahead of the Christmas season rush and CES.” Getting ahead of the Christmas rush by launching 72 hours before the big day is a tough line to swallow, especially after a follow-up confirming that cards won't be shipping until January 9th. The unfortunate result is that a lot of AMD’s software partners were unprepared to provide us with the applications needed to properly test the GPU’s new features. So, this article officially goes down as a preview, rather than a review. We will, of course, follow up when all of the proper tools are available for testing.

Meet Radeon HD 7970

Regardless of whether or not it’s ready for the world, or the world is ready for it, AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 is up and running in the Tom’s Hardware lab. This card is no minor revision of the Radeon HD 6000 series. The company’s ”Southern Islands” architecture was re-designed from the ground up with a long list of new features and capabilities, including DirectX 11.1 compatibility. Composed of 4.31 billion transistors etched on a 28 nm process, the flagship Tahiti GPU sports about 160% of the Cayman design’s reported transistor count. However, adopting the latest lithography node allows AMD to cram that extra complexity into a 365 mm² die, which is smaller than its predecessor’s 389 mm² surface area.

Before we delve into the major architectural redesign, let’s have a closer look at the new card’s specifications compared to its competition.


Radeon HD 7970
Radeon HD 6970
Radeon HD 6990
GeForce GTX 580
Stream processors
20481536
3072
512
Texture Units
128
9619264
Full Color ROPs
32
3264
48
Graphics (Shdr) Clock
925 MHz880 MHz830 MHz772 (1544) MHz
Texture Fillrate
118.4 Gtex/s
84.5 Gtex/s159.4 Gtex/s49.4 Gtex/s
Memory Clock
1375 MHz1375 MHz1250 MHz
1002 MHz
Memory Bus
384-bit256-bit2x 256-bit
384-bit
Memory Bandwidth264 GB/s
160 GB/s160 GB/s192.4 GB/s
Graphics RAM
3 GB GDDR5
2 GB GDDR52 GB GDDR51.5-3 GB GDDR5
Die Size
365 mm2
389 mm22 x 389 mm2520 mm2
Transistors (Billion)
4.31
2.645.283
Process Technology
28 nm40 nm
40 nm40 nm
Power Connectors
1 x 8-pin, 1 x 6-pin1 x 8-pin, 1 x 6-pin
2 x 8-pin1 x 8-pin, 1 x 6-pin
Maximum power (TDP)
250 W
250 W
375 W244 W
Price
$549 MSRP
$340-$380 (Newegg)
$700-$750 (EOL)
$500-$530 (1.5 GB)
$590-$730 (3 GB)


This product boasts notable advantages over the Radeon HD 6970, with 33% more stream processors and texture units, and a 65% net memory bandwidth increase thanks to its 384-bit memory bus. The only specifications that these cards share are 32 ROPs and a 250 W TDP. Based on those figures alone (and the fact that this is apparently going to be a $550 card), we’d expect the Radeon HD 7970 to decimate the 6970, edge past the GeForce GTX 580, and fall behind AMD’s Radeon HD 6990. There’s frankly a lot more to this story than gaming performance, though, and we’ll get to that in an in-depth exploration of AMD’s new Graphics Core Next architecture.

But first, we’ll share what we know about the Radeon HD 7000 series. Despite rumors to the contrary, all of the 28 nm Radeon 7000 series GPUs, previously code-named Southern Islands, are based on the Graphics Core Next architecture. That includes the Radeon HD 7700 series (Cape Verde Core), 7800 series (Pitcairn), and 7900 series (Tahiti), at the very least. AMD may include some 40 nm products under the 7000-series umbrella, and those would employ rebranded VLIW4/5 architectures.

The Southern Islands-based cards share the same features and abilities, which is good news. Here is a slide showing the placement of new product families relative to the Radeon HD 6000 series:

As you’ll see in our tests, the Radeon HD 7900 series appears to perform as its position in the deck would suggest. Note the Q1, 2012 expected date and the unnamed dual-GPU product at the top of the food chain.

With the relative performance of Radeon HD 7000-series cards established by AMD’s marketing department, let’s have a look at the family’s unique features. We’ll start with the basics: the Southern Islands architecture.

Display 205 Comments.
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Top Comments
  • 42 Hide
    danraies , December 22, 2011 3:49 AM
    cangeliniStart treating your SO super-nice and ask for one for Valentine's Day!


    If I ever find someone that will buy me a $500 graphics card for Valentine's Day I'll be proposing on the spot.
  • 30 Hide
    thepieguy , December 22, 2011 3:32 AM
    If Santa is real, there will be one of these under my Christmas tree in a few more days.
  • 25 Hide
    cangelini , December 22, 2011 4:01 AM
    ZombeeSlayer143WOW!!! I love the conslusion; all of it, which basically is interpretted as "I'm biased towards Nvidia," and trys [desperately] to say don't buy this card! Has the nerve to mention Kepler as an alternative; right, Kepler, as in 1 year away. The GTX580 just got "Radeon-ed" in it's rear. I'm not biased towards either manufacturer, just love to see and give credit to a team of people with passion, vision, and hardwork come together and put their company back on the map, as is shown here today with AMD's launch of the 7970. It's AMD's version of "Tebow Time!!"


    Not at all, actually. It offers great gaming performance, and for everything else...we have to wait, because it's not fully baked yet. They say fools rush in. This thing launched today. We were given less than a week with it. It won't be available to even *buy* for another three weeks. Are you telling me you're ready to crown a paper winner, and you're not biased? Please...
Other Comments
  • 30 Hide
    thepieguy , December 22, 2011 3:32 AM
    If Santa is real, there will be one of these under my Christmas tree in a few more days.
  • 12 Hide
    mi1ez , December 22, 2011 3:40 AM
    Damn, that's a good looking GPU!
  • 11 Hide
    cangelini , December 22, 2011 3:40 AM
    a4mulaFrom a gaming standpoint I fail to see where this card finds a home. For 1920x1080 pretty much any card will work, meanwhile at Eyefinity resolutions it's obvious that a single gpu still isn't viable. Perhaps this will be something that people would consider over 2x 6950, but that isn't exactly an ideal setup either. While much of the article was over my head from a technical standpoint, I hope the 7 series addresses microstuttering in crossfire. If so than perhaps 2x 7950 (Assuming a 449$) becomes a viable alternative to 3x 6950 2GB. I was really hoping we'd see the 7970 in at 449, with the 7950 in at 349. Right now I'm failing to see the value in this card.


    I'll be trolling Newegg for the next couple weeks on the off-chance they pop up before the 9th. A couple in CrossFire could be pretty phenomenal, but it remains to be seen if they maintain the 6900-series scalability.
  • 7 Hide
    cangelini , December 22, 2011 3:41 AM
    thepieguyIf Santa is real, there will be one of these under my Christmas tree in a few more days.


    Hate to break it to you, but there won't be, unless you celebrate Christmas in mid-January.

    Start treating your SO super-nice and ask for one for Valentine's Day!
  • 16 Hide
    Darkerson , December 22, 2011 3:48 AM
    Well I know what I want at tax time :D 
  • 42 Hide
    danraies , December 22, 2011 3:49 AM
    cangeliniStart treating your SO super-nice and ask for one for Valentine's Day!


    If I ever find someone that will buy me a $500 graphics card for Valentine's Day I'll be proposing on the spot.
  • -3 Hide
    Zombeeslayer143 , December 22, 2011 3:56 AM
    No hard feelings to the author...thanks for the review nonethless..
  • 25 Hide
    cangelini , December 22, 2011 4:01 AM
    ZombeeSlayer143WOW!!! I love the conslusion; all of it, which basically is interpretted as "I'm biased towards Nvidia," and trys [desperately] to say don't buy this card! Has the nerve to mention Kepler as an alternative; right, Kepler, as in 1 year away. The GTX580 just got "Radeon-ed" in it's rear. I'm not biased towards either manufacturer, just love to see and give credit to a team of people with passion, vision, and hardwork come together and put their company back on the map, as is shown here today with AMD's launch of the 7970. It's AMD's version of "Tebow Time!!"


    Not at all, actually. It offers great gaming performance, and for everything else...we have to wait, because it's not fully baked yet. They say fools rush in. This thing launched today. We were given less than a week with it. It won't be available to even *buy* for another three weeks. Are you telling me you're ready to crown a paper winner, and you're not biased? Please...
  • 10 Hide
    Zombeeslayer143 , December 22, 2011 4:04 AM
    cangeliniHate to break it to you, but there won't be, unless you celebrate Christmas in mid-January.Start treating your SO super-nice and ask for one for Valentine's Day!


    Dude!!! I'm will be glued to NewEgg via my PDA and PC...I'm sooooo ooohhhh getting two of these!! If they sell for $549, I still think they provide the best value based on current high-end single GPU solutions (e.g., GTX 580, 6970, etc). Nvidia may want to consider a 20%-30% price reduction on the 580's once the 7970's are out.
  • -8 Hide
    Zombeeslayer143 , December 22, 2011 4:15 AM
    ZombeeSlayer143Dude!!! I'm will be glued to NewEgg via my PDA and PC...I'm sooooo ooohhhh getting two of these!! If they sell for $549, I still think they provide the best value based on current high-end single GPU solutions (e.g., GTX 580, 6970, etc). Nvidia may want to consider a 20%-30% price reduction on the 580's once the 7970's are out.


    You have a valid argument there. However, it's not like we need to wait for Windows 8 to see what this GPU is made of, as was the case with Bulldozer. What you see is what we will get give or take 5%?????? Heck, I don't even care for the overclocking potential. If the performance was capped at what is shown here today, I'm certain everyone will be happy. But, of course thats not the case, which brings me back to your point; it's too early, don't get excited, it's just on paper right? LOL...sure buddy...I'm so glad NewEgg was sold out of the GTX580 Classified's the past few weeks; would have regretted that purchase.
  • 6 Hide
    masterofevil22 , December 22, 2011 4:15 AM
    Ahhh....I'll be on the EGG myself and on E of Bay with my 6950 (unlocked) the day this beast this arrives!!!!!!! :D 

    WOW...Go ATI!!!!
  • 15 Hide
    jdwii , December 22, 2011 4:18 AM
    Well Amd you did it, Wow it's been a while since i was able to say that, I'm so impressed with these results everything you guys used to fail on you fixed at your GPU division. I'm not going to lie i did not think Amd would pay it off but they did. All i can say is Nice and well done. You guys beat Nvidia with a 28nnm gpu. I just wonder what's going on at nvidia and why their behind on the 28nm die, And their is rumors that Nvidia wont get their new card out until 2Q of 2012!!


    To bad these cards wont be out this year they would make a lot of money. Oh well parents usually buy them self stuff after christmas i guess.
  • 23 Hide
    aznshinobi , December 22, 2011 4:23 AM
    OMG DAT OVERCLOCKING!
    I can't wait to get the 7850 or 7870 and OC the crap out of it!
  • 10 Hide
    Zero_ , December 22, 2011 4:28 AM
    Overclocking like a baws! It DOES beat a GTX590!
  • 13 Hide
    bavman , December 22, 2011 4:42 AM
    Damn, I didn't see this coming from AMD. This card is a beast...it takes on multi-gpu cards...price is a little high, but compared to the performance it looks like an amazing value.
  • 19 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , December 22, 2011 4:48 AM
    I'm getting one of these for my <30nm build (28 nm GPU and 22nm CPU). I'm callin it the "MOORE'S AR$E"
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