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Tahiti is the best, but the best isn't cheap

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 --
  1. This is a soft launch.  Actual hardware will likely ship in January, though preorders are beginning shortly.
  2. NVIDIA will be launching sometime in calendar Q1 2012 (fiscal Q1 2013) the GeForce 600 series.  Our sources point to a January launch, though that's probably a soft launch.  Expect NVIDIA to ship product sometime in the Feb.-March window, barring a surprise.
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.

Radeon HD 7970 two views

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)
General table
(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:
  • Direct3D 11.1 -- an industry first -- will be supported in Windows 8 games.
  • Dedicated video codec processing, w/ hybrid mode that can beat Sandy Bridge's Quick Sync in performance.
  • "Eyefinity 2.0" - Improved desktop support, e.g. centering the taskbar.
  • "Fast HDMI" - Allows 4k x 2k pixel monitors to be driven by a standard HDMI connection, for the first time.
  • Partially Resident Textures -- Allows faster high-resolution texture rendering in commercial or gaming engines that support this feature.  John Carmack invented this technology for his company iD Software's engine, and it is expected to creep into other engines in the near future.
Rage multi-texture

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.

Source: Anandtech

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RE: GTX680 in January 2012?
By MrTeal on 12/22/2011 2:29:17 PM , Rating: 2
My mistake on the second point, I thought that NVIDIA was offset 6 months in their FY from the calendar year, it turns out they're offset a full year.

Still, if they are expecting revenue in Q1 2012 and most sites are calling for a Q2 2012 launch, cards available in January 2012 seems hard to imagine.

RE: GTX680 in January 2012?
By tviceman on 12/22/2011 2:56:49 PM , Rating: 1
I think realistically Kepler will be reviewed and for sale in late March, which would give AMD 2 1/2 months of breathing room for their 28nm. The hd7970 looks like it's overall a pretty good card, but there are two things going against it that I think will come back to haunt AMD.

One, it's priced unusually high for an AMD graphics card (which is only an observation, it's still price competitive vs. Nvidia's current offerings). They are going to lose potential sales with their profit-aggresive prices, and dropping prices when Nvidia's 28nm cards come out will be a little too late as AMD will have allowed potential customers to consider Nvidia 28nm products as well.

Two, it does not beat Nvidia's gtx580 as much has the hd5870 beat the gtx285 in both price, performance, and performance per watt.

In summary, AMD has a good new high end card but if Nvidia doesn't experience production problems with Kepler like they did with Fermi, then Nvidia's top GPU will likely spawn several cards that will all outperform the hd7970.

RE: GTX680 in January 2012?
By MrTeal on 12/22/2011 3:08:43 PM , Rating: 3
One, it's priced unusually high for an AMD graphics card (which is only an observation, it's still price competitive vs. Nvidia's current offerings). They are going to lose potential sales with their profit-aggresive prices, and dropping prices when Nvidia's 28nm cards come out will be a little too late as AMD will have allowed potential customers to consider Nvidia 28nm products as well.

I'm really interested to see how Q2 shapes up. I'm looking at building IVB/28nm GPU in that timeframe, and the competition should be good if NVIDIA's partners can get their cards out the door by then. I wouldn't be surprised to see the 7970 at <$500 by then, especially with rebates, and possibly a 7980 at the $550 point.

The 7870 I'm waiting for does scare me a little though. I'm interested in a $200 card, and I don't think the 7870 will be there. I dislike the idea of Xfire for the lower end cards since you can get that level of performance from a single GPU, but if the 7870 comes in at $300 it's going to make waiting for it tough to swallow when you could buy two 6870's for $280AR with free shipping.

RE: GTX680 in January 2012?
By Sazabi19 on 12/22/2011 3:37:57 PM , Rating: 1
Just wait for the price of the 6970's to come down and get 2 of those. As long as you have a good power supply (and a cooler room, or if you like it hot...) and you can play everything (that I have played so far, doesn't include any flight sims) that is GPU intensive and have everything maxed out, even AA, at at least 1600x1200 single monitor. Thay may not impress some but I have no FPS lag and even games like Battlefield 3 play VERY smoothly. I am talking about games here, that is just me, it's what I use my rig for. A pair of 6970's should do anyone good for a while. For about $50-100 when the 7970 come out you can get a pair of 6970's and have better performance than a 7970, of course dual 7970's will be better but MUCH more expensive. It just depends on how bad you want it, how much you have to spend, and what you want it for. AMD is getting their head back in the game and they will be expensive again when they have the performance crown like they used to be (AMD FX series socket 939 ring any bells?). My 6970's will hold me over for a while just as my 4870x2 did, at least until the 8000 series, maybe even the 9000 or above? :)

RE: GTX680 in January 2012?
By MrTeal on 12/22/2011 4:18:35 PM , Rating: 2
For the amount of time I would use it, I don't think I'd want to run 2x6970s. I might game a couple hours a week if I'm lucky, so it's hard to justify running them when they'll spend 99+% of their time in idle.

Now, if AMD could deliver a good asymmetric crossfire solution that would let me use a passive 6670/6770/7670/7770 as a primary and 7950/7970 as a second card without throttling the 79xx in gaming, I would be all over that. I don't really care so much about the noise when I'm gaming since the sound is up or I'm wearing headphones anyway, but I'd be willing to spend a couple hundred bucks extra to get a near silent most of the time. I'm not sure there's anything planned or available that would let you run asymmetric XFire with the 79xx in it's ZeroCore Power state during 2D activity and only come online during gaming. If there is, AMD will be getting some of my money.

RE: GTX680 in January 2012?
By UppityMatt on 12/22/2011 6:00:50 PM , Rating: 2
I am in the same boat what i would LOVE to do is be able to use my older generation card in combination with the newer card. If they can figure out that technology its a win win for Amd because it will keep customers loyal. I currently have a 4850 sitting on a shelf because I upgraded to a 6950.

RE: GTX680 in January 2012?
By Manch on 12/23/2011 6:06:02 AM , Rating: 2
wasnt lucid supposed to put out something to do just that?

RE: GTX680 in January 2012?
By StevoLincolnite on 12/23/2011 10:14:15 PM , Rating: 2
wasnt lucid supposed to put out something to do just that?

Yep, I recall them talking about that at one stage to.

Basically though, the only real solution is to buy nVidia if you want your old cards to remain useful, then set your old card as a PhysX card.

Personally though, When I upgrade a card, the old card gets thrown into another machine, gotta' find homes for both my Radeon 6950 (Unlocked into 6970's) 2gb cards soon.

Also surprised Jason didn't mention Apple in the article. Sky must be falling. :P

RE: GTX680 in January 2012?
By Gungel on 12/22/2011 3:27:03 PM , Rating: 3
Rumors suggest a late start for the high end Kepler or GTX780.(by the way its not a GTX680, Nvidia jumped that one to keep up with AMD's higher 7-series) The first new Nvidia card is going to be a mid range card probably the GTX760 followed by the GTX770 and about 2 months later the GTX780. So we could be well into the 2nd quarter before we see any real competition to the HD7970.

RE: GTX680 in January 2012?
By MrTeal on 12/22/2011 4:21:09 PM , Rating: 2
Rumors suggest a late start for the high end Kepler or GTX780.(by the way its not a GTX680, Nvidia jumped that one to keep up with AMD's higher 7-series)

I haven't heard that, but by my quick back-of-the-napkin calculations that still makes the 7970 over 10x more powerful than the GTX780. NVIDIA's marketing team better get back to work. :P

RE: GTX680 in January 2012?
By Gungel on 12/23/2011 9:48:54 AM , Rating: 2
Nvidia marketing at its finest. Just search for GTX780 to get the story.

"Game reviewers fought each other to write the most glowing coverage possible for the powerhouse Sony, MS systems. Reviewers flipped coins to see who would review the Nintendo Wii. The losers got stuck with the job." -- Andy Marken

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