It was less than a year ago that Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD) launched the Radeon HD 6000 series (January 4, 2011, to be precise). The 6000 series didn’t revolutionize the world of performance gaming and didn’t top the single-card performance charts, but it did allow AMD to stay competitive with rival NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) on the basis of price, if not performance.
I. Why the Radeon HD 7970 is a Huge Launch for AMD
In other words, the Radeon HD 6000 series was all about surival in the face of the dominant GeForce 500 series — conceding performance, but still winning on the merits of a low price.
The 7000 series launch is a very different kind of lauch. AMD is unleashing a new architecture — “Graphics Core Next” (GCN) — on the world. And it has aggressively targetted the performance crown, and largely succeeded. That launch begins today with the release of the Radeon HD 7970 Tahiti.
A couple of quick notes —
Like most past video card architecture bumps (e.g. NVIDIA’s 4xx series Fermi and AMD’s 2xxx Series VLIW4), the hype exceeds the performance and leaves people with a sense of disappointment. Likewise the price is bumped higher than many would like. But at the same time, like those previous architectures, it does — to a degree — deliver on its lofty performance processes. In that definition, while some may hate it (as most champions are hated), AMD has thus far suceeded in the objectives it set for the the Radeon HD 7970 Tahiti and the Southern Islands (aka. HD 7000 Series) family.
Unlike the previous generation, AMD is no longer gunning for the budget market. It’s pricing its new high end single GPU solution in line with NVIDIA’s premium pricing — even a bit higher. It remains to be seen if this move backfires in January, when NVIDIA drops its 600 Series, but AMD could always slide down the prices next month to compensate, while getting a bit of extra green from early adopters.
II. The Specifications
So how does the card stack up compared to the previous generation AMD model, specs-wise?
(“Real world” Power, Noise, and Temperature levels taken courtesy of Anandtech) (Both GPUs are produced on processes by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Comp., Ltd. (TPE:2330).)
III. The Performance
As you can see most of the improvements line up at somewhere between 30 to 50 percent (specs lead). The results are about what you’d expect. Where as the Radeon HD 6970 at best managed a tie with the GeForce 580 in most games, and at worst trailed it by a significant percentage, the Radeon HD 7970 consistently beats the GeForce 580, according to Anandtech‘s exhaustive benchmarking.
Its average win, depending on resolution, is between 15 to 25 percent (gaming lead), with better results generally observed at higher resolutions. The overall results range from 5 percent faster to 35 percent faster — in other words, Anandtech could not find a game scenario in which the GeForce 580 was capable of beating AMD’s latest and greatest.
In that regard, it’s easy to crown AMD the new king of single card performance. Of course, with the GeForce GTX 680 likely to drop in January 2012, it remains to be seen whether AMD can cling to this victory.
Where the new card shows the most improvement is in GPU computing. Performance in many benchmarks increases between 60 and 100 percent over the previous generation. In many ways, between its graphics and GPU computing gains, Southern Islands is AMD’s Fermi, so to speak.
The only difficulty for AMD here is that many GPU Computing users have already jumped onboard NVIDIA’s proprietary CUDA programming platform. While some will certainly make the transition to OpenCL, NVIDIA has really gone the extra mile in terms of providing developer resources, training, and API documentation. Thus the transition to OpenCL may not be as smooth as some would hope.
IV. New Features and Conclusions
Round out the HD 7970 package are an array of new technologies that either may eventually offer faster/prettier games, or improve performance in specific applications:
All in all, the Radeon HD 7970 is a “mission success” story. However, customers would be wise to wait about a month to see where exactly this exciting card stands, once the smoke clears and it goes head to head with the GeForce GTX 680.
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