New card helps AMD survive a stall in product releases

Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD) has seen its PC component GPU sales stall somewhat amid a reinvigorated NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA).  To make matters worse, the 8000M series, which AMD said back in 2012 would drop this year has been shelved -- possibly till 2014.

I. An In-Between Release

Today brought a new desktop GPU product announcement from AMD -- the Radeon HD 7790, the first Bonaire chip GPU, a member of the new Sea Islands family.  The new 7000 series launch is mostly about filling in the gaps in AMD's aging product lineup. Namely, the GPU falls roughly between the Radeon HD 7850 and the Radeon HD 7770 in performance -- a gap where NVIDIA's GK106-powered GeForce GTX 650 Ti currently lurks.

Manufactured on the same Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Comp., Ltd. (TPE:233028 nm process, the device packs the same 1 GHz core clock, but 40 percent more shader cores than the Radeon HD 7770, thanks to its 500M extra transistors. 

AMD HD 7790

The number of texture units has also been bumped.

One piece of good news for AMD is that support from third party OEMs appears to be pretty strong.  In total 7 companies have commited to board designs.  Among them are familiar faces like Sapphire and fresher partners like ASUSTek Computer Inc. (TPE:2357).

Sea Islands die
The Sea Islands die is similar to some of the Southern Islands dies.

Most board OEMs will be offering a factory overclocked part; the cost of this custom cooler and warrantied overclock will typically be about $10 USD over the base price.  Buyers of all HD 7790 models will also be treated to a voucher for a free copy of Bioshock Infinite, a nice perk.

II. Good Bang for the Buck, but Only 1 GB GDDR5

On the firmware side AMD has tweaked PowerTune -- its voltage regulation technology -- which has a fair impact on performance by allowing the GPU to boost into a higher state more often.  AMD has also opened up more of PowerTune's inner workings to board OEMs, allowing them more flexibility to tweak their designs.

On the compute side, Bonaire improves the efficiency of the parallel work queue, and makes other tweaks.  Overall the architecture is almost identical to Southern Islands, but compute -- one area where AMD has traditionally lagged -- is the one area where the company has put in the most work.  Hence the architecture is being dubbed Graphics Core Next 1.1 by some, as it's more of a minor update to the original architecture than a redesign.

The new GPU is priced at $15 USD above the GTX 650 Ti, so it better beat it in performance.  And it does.

In AnandTech's benchmarks, both the standard and overclocked HD 7790 parts beat out the Geforce GTX 650 Ti by a healthy margin -- around 12 percent.  The GTX 650 Ti are cheaper, but at its price point the HD 7790 appears to be the best value, making this a good launch for AMD.

AMD official HD 7790
For those curious about what the $10 overclock/heatsink will buy you, in AnandTech's testing, the overclocked models had about a 6-7 percent clockspeed increase and a 6 percent performance increase.

Ultimately, though, some reviewers like AnandTech are suggesting that the 1 GB GDDR5 will stifle the card's long term potential (and the Geforce GTX 650 Ti's as well), suggesting that the 2 GB Radeon HD 7850 is the most compelling buy of the pack, if you can afford it.

Sources: [AMD], AnandTech

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