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AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition Review: Give Me Back That Crown!

AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition Review: Give Me Back That Crown!
By , Igor Wallossek

After watching its Radeon HD 7970 get outperformed first by Nvidia's GeForce GTX 680, and then its 670, AMD is striking back with higher clocks and a new driver that hits the afterburners in several games. But are the gains worth paying extra for?

Can you believe the Radeon HD 7970 was introduced six months ago? In those 180 days, we’ve seen AMD claim the single-GPU performance crown, flesh out an entire family of graphics cards based on its capable GCN architecture, and then lose its fastest-in-the-world title to Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 680. I’m working on a script for the movie.

Along the way, though, we’ve wondered about the company’s approach to pricing. Even after Nvidia launched a faster, less expensive card, AMD kept selling its Radeon HD 7970 for $550. It eventually shaved off $70, only to see the competition kick out an even cheaper board (GeForce GTX 670) able to rout the 7970 in most games.

At no point was AMD’s flagship ever a bad card, though. Its dominance was simply contested quickly—and frustratingly—by a competing piece of hardware suffering such poor availability that you had to sign up for notifications just to catch it in stock. Although 680s are in stock now, as recently as a couple of weeks ago they were mostly a threat on paper. But the GeForce GTX 670 has always been a lot more accessible at $400, putting the Radeon HD 7970 under significant pressure. Certain 7970s are even down as low as $450.

To the point, with the maturation of TSMC’s 28 nm manufacturing process, AMD is discovering that a greater number of its Tahiti GPUs are running stably at higher core clock rates. Now, we already knew that the Radeon HD 7900s overclocked well. But rather than leaving extra performance on the table for enthusiasts to exploit on their own time, the company is unveiling a Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition card that purportedly one-ups Nvidia’s GTX 680 and gives AMD a reason to push prices back up.

Meet The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition

Physically, this is the Radeon HD 7970 you already know. Put AMD’s reference GHz Edition card next to the one launched six months ago and you can’t tell them apart. What few differences there are all materialize under the card’s 11”-long fan shroud.

Most obvious is a higher core clock rate. Officially, AMD lists it at 1000 MHz—a bump up from the original version’s 925 MHz frequency. But it also enables a higher 1050 MHz P-state that the GPU favors when thermal headroom allows. AMD is marketing this combination of clock rates as PowerTune with Boost.

If you’re not already familiar with what PowerTune is or how it works, I break it down in my Radeon HD 6970 and 6950 review. Basically, though, AMD confirmed for us that PowerTune with Boost is the same exact thing, plus the ability to dynamically increase voltage. The company says its 1 GHz clock is fixed, and altering Overdrive’s frequency slider only changes the maximum boost level.

But it seems like you could also describe the 7970 GHz Edition as a 1.05 GHz card that, subjected to a synthetic power load like FurMark, drops 50 MHz and some voltage to not violate its TDP. After all, that’s what PowerTune has done for a year and a half.

The other performance enhancement comes courtesy of faster memory. Back when AMD launched the Radeon HD 7970, it “only” had access to 1375 MHz GDDR5 modules. On a nice, wide 384-bit bus, they were good for 264 GB/s of aggregate bandwidth. Now it’s using 3 GB of 1500 MHz modules on the same bus to push 288 GB/s.


Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition
Radeon HD 7970
GeForce GTX 680
Stream processors
204820481536
Texture Units
128128
128
Full Color ROPs
3232
32
Graphics Clock
1000 MHz Base / 1050 MHz Boost
925 MHz1006 MHz
Texture Fillrate
134.4 Gtex/s
118.4 Gtex/s
128.8 Gtex/s
Memory Clock
1500 MHz
1375 MHz1502 MHz
Memory Bus
384-bit
384-bit256-bit
Memory Bandwidth288 GB/s
264 GB/s
192.3 GB/s
Graphics RAM
3 GB GDDR53 GB GDDR5
2 GB GDDR5
Die Size
365 mm2365 mm2
294 mm2
Transistors (Billion)
4.314.31
3.54
Process Technology
28 nm28 nm28 nm
Power Connectors
1 x 8-pin, 1 x 6-pin1 x 8-pin, 1 x 6-pin2 x 6-pin
Maximum power (TDP)
250 W250 W
195 W
Price
$500 MSRP
$450 Street
~$520 Street


AMD acknowledges that the Tahiti GPU itself is exactly the same. If you want the skinny on that, feel free to reference back to our Radeon HD 7970 launch coverage. Everyone else, let’s move on to a deeper analysis of PowerTune with Boost.

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Top Comments
  • 32 Hide
    EzioAs , June 22, 2012 6:33 AM
    AMD's Driver team really deserve praise this time. Kudos AMD!
  • 26 Hide
    DataGrave , June 22, 2012 6:00 AM
    Quote:
    Nvidia has started a HORRIBLE trend in the business that I hope to dear god AMD does not follow suite.
    100% acknowledge

    And for the gamers: take a look at the new UT4 engine! Without excellent GPGPU performace this will be a disaster for each graphics card. See you, Nvidia.
  • 26 Hide
    vmem , June 22, 2012 5:48 AM
    jrharbortTo me, increasing the memory speed was a pointless move. Nvidia realized that all of the bandwidth provided by GDDR5 and a 384bit bus is almost never utilized. The drop back to a 256bit bus on their GTX 680 allowed them to cut cost and power usage without causing a drop in performance. High end AMD cards see the most improvement from an increased core clock. Memory... Not so much.Then again, Nvidia pretty much cheated on this generation as well. Cutting out nearly 80% of the GPGPU logic, something Nvidia had been trying to market for YEARS, allowed then to even further drop production costs and power usage. AMD now has the lead in this market, but at the cost of higher power consumption and production cost.This quick fix by AMD will work for now, but they obviously need to rethink their future designs a bit.


    the issue is them rethinking their future designs scares me... Nvidia has started a HORRIBLE trend in the business that I hope to dear god AMD does not follow suite. True, Nvidia is able to produce more gaming performance for less, but this is pushing anyone who wants GPU compute to get an overpriced professional card. now before you say "well if you're making a living out of it, fork out the cash and go Quadro", let me remind you that a lot of innovators in various fields actually do use GPU compute to ultimately make progress (especially in academic sciences) to ultimately bring us better tech AND new directions in tech development... and I for one know a lot of government funded labs that can't afford to buy a stack of quadro cards
Other Comments
  • 14 Hide
    esrever , June 22, 2012 5:00 AM
    50 mhz boosts are kinda low imo
  • 6 Hide
    Darkerson , June 22, 2012 5:03 AM
    My only complaint with the "new" card is the price. Otherwise it looks like a nice card. Better than the original version, at any rate, not that the original was a bad card to begin with.
  • 2 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , June 22, 2012 5:06 AM
    Thanks for putting my name in teh review :D 

    now if only you could bold it :lol: 
  • 6 Hide
    wasabiman321 , June 22, 2012 5:06 AM
    Great I just ordered a gtx 670 ftw... Grrr I hope performance gets better for nvidia drivers too :D 
  • 16 Hide
    hellfire24 , June 22, 2012 5:38 AM
    not trying to be a fanboy but "Still GTX 670 gives you best BANG FOR DA BUCK!"
  • 26 Hide
    vmem , June 22, 2012 5:48 AM
    jrharbortTo me, increasing the memory speed was a pointless move. Nvidia realized that all of the bandwidth provided by GDDR5 and a 384bit bus is almost never utilized. The drop back to a 256bit bus on their GTX 680 allowed them to cut cost and power usage without causing a drop in performance. High end AMD cards see the most improvement from an increased core clock. Memory... Not so much.Then again, Nvidia pretty much cheated on this generation as well. Cutting out nearly 80% of the GPGPU logic, something Nvidia had been trying to market for YEARS, allowed then to even further drop production costs and power usage. AMD now has the lead in this market, but at the cost of higher power consumption and production cost.This quick fix by AMD will work for now, but they obviously need to rethink their future designs a bit.


    the issue is them rethinking their future designs scares me... Nvidia has started a HORRIBLE trend in the business that I hope to dear god AMD does not follow suite. True, Nvidia is able to produce more gaming performance for less, but this is pushing anyone who wants GPU compute to get an overpriced professional card. now before you say "well if you're making a living out of it, fork out the cash and go Quadro", let me remind you that a lot of innovators in various fields actually do use GPU compute to ultimately make progress (especially in academic sciences) to ultimately bring us better tech AND new directions in tech development... and I for one know a lot of government funded labs that can't afford to buy a stack of quadro cards
  • 4 Hide
    andrewcarr , June 22, 2012 5:58 AM
    So happy :) 
  • 26 Hide
    DataGrave , June 22, 2012 6:00 AM
    Quote:
    Nvidia has started a HORRIBLE trend in the business that I hope to dear god AMD does not follow suite.
    100% acknowledge

    And for the gamers: take a look at the new UT4 engine! Without excellent GPGPU performace this will be a disaster for each graphics card. See you, Nvidia.
  • 7 Hide
    cangelini , June 22, 2012 6:04 AM
    mayankleoboy1Thanks for putting my name in teh review now if only you could bold it

    ;-)
    Excellent tip. Told you I'd look into it!
  • -3 Hide
    scrumworks , June 22, 2012 6:11 AM
    When do you actually start using new games for benchmark? Let me give you a hint, WoW is not a new game and neither it's performance is any meaningful, because it's badly coded and looking a game and graphics are lousy Quake 2 level. See it yourself what kind of game they are testing here: http://tinyurl.com/dxarebj
  • 7 Hide
    esrever , June 22, 2012 6:12 AM
    could you do power consumption with a game instead of 3dmark? it seems these cards uses much less power durring gaming and 3dmark doesn't give a realistic showing. Maybe have both graphs would be nice so you know the maximal as well as the general gaming power use.
  • 0 Hide
    DataGrave , June 22, 2012 6:18 AM
    Quote:
    Maybe have both graphs would be nice so you know the maximal as well as the general gaming power use.
    Page 2 - 4
  • 32 Hide
    EzioAs , June 22, 2012 6:33 AM
    AMD's Driver team really deserve praise this time. Kudos AMD!
  • 10 Hide
    cangelini , June 22, 2012 6:39 AM
    scrumworksWhen do you actually start using new games for benchmark? Let me give you a hint, WoW is not a new game and neither it's performance is any meaningful, because it's badly coded and looking a game and graphics are lousy Quake 2 level. See it yourself what kind of game they are testing here: http://tinyurl.com/dxarebj

    WoW is meaningful, actually.
    New games will make it in when vendors start giving us more than two or three days to retest all of their graphics cards :) 
  • 7 Hide
    vrumor , June 22, 2012 6:51 AM
    recon you are about as big of a fanboy of nvidia as people who are disliking your comment are of AMD. So before ya spout off about fanboi'ism, look in the mirror bud. I have a 7970 and until I read this I would tell people all day to get a 670. So I guess it holds true, truth hurts huh?
  • 2 Hide
    sarinaide , June 22, 2012 7:02 AM
    Very nice work, basically upping the way lower than Nvidia clocks to restore parity in performance. Obviously the buffed up speeds will increase the load power but the idle power and low state draws still are industry leading. A very good update.
  • 5 Hide
    masterjaw , June 22, 2012 7:16 AM
    Either way, this will be good for the competition and for us consumers.

    And here's me, hoping that this kind of competition landscape would still be present in the enthusiast CPU market.
  • -9 Hide
    xtreme5 , June 22, 2012 7:27 AM
    what????????? AMD over the GTX 680 no no, it's not possible noooooooooooooooooooooooo....
  • 8 Hide
    sarinaide , June 22, 2012 7:45 AM
    recon-ukMeh at best.



    I really hope this is trolling, rather than a calous endeavor to discredit a competitors product.
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