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

A Texture Quality Problem Confirmed And Fixed

We did, in fact, find texture quality anomalies in AMD's new Radeon HD 7000 series, and we were originally concerned that history was repeating itself when we discovered the problem. If you've paid any attention to the graphics space over the past 10 years, you'll probably remember a time when ATI and Nvidia quietly played around with image quality, sacrificing visual fidelity for performance in order to help their products perform better in high-profile game benchmarks.

To be clear, the discrepancies we found on the Radeon HD 7000 cards aren’t obvious until you start poring over screen captures. With that in mind, we're still reminded of a time when some folks argued that optimizations are acceptable if they're not noticeable during game play. Despite this contrarian view, common sense won out in the court of public opinion and users made it clear that they wanted to see the output quality that the developer intended. Since then, it has been acceptable to give players the option to lower quality in exchange for performance, but the default setting is sacred, and we expect a similar experience across all graphics cards when it's employed.

Based on our original findings, it wasn’t a stretch to question if AMD had decided to try an old trick with the 7000 series, giving up hard-to-notice texture detail for a couple of frames per second in some games. We’re glad that AMD responded, clarified the situation, and provided proof in a fixed pre-release driver, plus a commitment to include that resolution in the upcoming Catalyst 12.4 WHQL driver. The driver it sent us for testing suggests that the issue can be solved without sacrificing performance.

As a tech journalist, it’s somewhat gratifying to identify a problem and then work with a vendor to get it fixed, and Tom’s Hardware has a rich history of this kind of investigative journalism.

I will say that I’m a bit surprised that the original findings we published in the Radeon HD 7870/7850 launch article didn’t seem to generate a significant amount of concern from our readers or the community. Toying with graphics quality is a slippery slope, and it should be something enthusiasts care about. Perhaps today's power users have more faith that these kinds of problems are nothing more than rare accidents that get fixed quickly and on their own. In this case, it appears the end result will probably mirror that optimistic expectation. But I think it’s important to stay diligent about defending the quality expectations we have of both AMD and Nvidia. Indeed, if Catalyst 12.4 goes live and the fix isn’t included, we’ll be the first to let you know.