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Do AMD's Radeon HD 7000s Trade Image Quality For Performance?

Test System And Benchmarks

While the primary test system we used is specified below, we also recreated our results on a number of systems in order to verify the image quality issues we encountered. 

When viewing the screenshots, keep in mind that all of the games from which we captured screenshots have some inevitable variation that don't impact texture quality. For instance, Crysis 2 and Battlefield 3 employ dust and fog effects that can't be timed exactly. Skyrim features a lot of moving grass and foliage. Metro 2033 has flickering lights. As a result, we can't XOR an image to come up with a definitive word on driver influence. Fortunately, we're not looking for general differences, but rather the appearance of texture quality specifically.

Also note that screenshots are blown up to 200% to make the differences easier to spot.

Now, let’s get the specifications and particulars out of the way so we can move on to the actual analysis:

Test System
CPUIntel Core i7-3960X (Sandy Bridge-E), 3.3 GHz, Six Cores, LGA 2011, 15 MB Shared L3 Cache, Hyper-Threading enabled. Overclocked to 3.6 GHz
MotherboardASRock X79 Extreme9 (LGA 2011) Chipset: Intel X79 Express
NetworkingOn-Board Gigabit LAN controller
MemoryCorsair Vengeance LP PC3-16000, 4 x 4 GB, 1600 MT/s, CL 8-8-8-24-2T
GraphicsAMD Radeon HD 6970880 MHz GPU, 2 GB GDDR5 at 1375 MHzAMD Radeon HD 78701000 MHz GPU, 2 GB GDDR5 at 1200 MHzAMD Radeon HD 7970925 MHz GPU, 3 GB GDDR5 at 1375 MHzNvidia GeForce GTX 580772 MHz GPU, 1.5 GB GDDR5 at 1002 MHz
Hard DriveSamsung 256 GB (SSD)
PowerePower EP-1200E10-T2 1200 W ATX12V, EPS12V
Software and Drivers
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 7 x6, Service Pack 1
DirectXDirectX 11
Graphics DriversRadeon: Catalyst 12.3 WHQL,Radeon 7800 Launch Beta Driver (8.95.5-120224a-134185E-ATI),Fixed Beta Driver 12.4 RC 4 (8.95.5-120327a-136160E-ATI)GeForce: 295.73 WHQL