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Things are looking good for AMD, NVIDIA is challenged to step up its game

NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) was hoping to get its GeForce 600 series out sometime in early 2012.  Many were waiting for this counter-strike to Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.'s (AMDRadeon HD 79xx series launch.

I. Radeon HD 7950 Lands in a Fortunate Situation

The latest rumor shows NVIDIA skipping the 600 series and releasing a flagship GeForce 780 sometime later this year.  Whereas the Radeon HD 79xx cards are around 30-50 percent faster than their predecessors in real-world gaming benchmarks, leaked slides from NVIDIA indicate it's hoping to drop a performance bomb, doubling the productivity of the GeForce GTX 580.  In other words good things may come to those who wait -- or so NVIDIA says.

But for those who want a GPU now, AMD has your fix.  After releasing its first Southern Islands GPU a month back (the Radeon HD 7970), AMD shipped actual product three weeks ago.  Now it's fleshing out the Tahiti family (AMD's codename for Radeon HD 79xx GPUs) with the launch of the Radeon HD 7950.

Radeon HD 7950
AMD dropped the Radeon HD 7950 today, the second Tahiti card. [Image Source: AMD]

The Radeon HD 7950 is $100 USD cheaper than its Tahiti brethren.  It is also quieter and cooler.  It's less powerful than the Radeon HD 7970, but it still has enough juice to beat the GeForce GTX 580 convincingly in all but a handful of scenarios.  Prices for the GeForce GTX 580 are currently $50 higher than the Radeon HD 7950, so all this makes for very favorable market conditions for AMD.

II. The Specifications

With that general perspective in mind, let's peak at the specifications:

General1 2
(Click to enlarge)
General table
(1 "Real world" Power, Noise, and Temperature levels taken courtesy of AnandTech)
(2 Both GPUs are produceon processes by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Comp., Ltd. (TPE:2330).)


Overall, the new card's hardware isn't a revolution (other than the new architecture), but it is an evolution over its predecessor, the Radeon HD 7950.

III. Conclusions

The Radeon HD 7950 is hardly an unexpected step, but it brings AMD's new compute-friend "Graphics Core Next" (GCN) architecture at a cheaper -- well, slightly cheaper price.

The general consensus was that this is narrowly the world's second most powerful single-card GPU solution.  Let's check why.

On the GeForce GTX 580 v. Radeon HD 7950 Matchup

In games, the card won't beat NVIDIA's current generation in every title, but it will in most, and its wins are much more sizeable.  AnandTech sums this up, writing:

While the 7970 sails past the GTX GTX 580—and AMD has priced it based on that—the 7950 and the GTX 580 are trading blows on a game-by-game basis, similar to what we saw last year in comparing the GTX 500 series and the Radeon HD 6900 series. But when the 7950 wins it wins big, while the same cannot be said of the GTX 580; the only real weakness for the 7950 right now is Battlefield 3, and while that’s an important game it’s but one of several.

Similarly Hot Hardware summarizes:

Versus its main competition, the new Radeon HD 7950 performed well. In the vast majority of tests, the Radeon HD 7950 outperformed a reference GeForce GTX 580 and it blew the doors off the Radeon HD 6970. In comparison to a factory overclocked, 3GB GeForce GTX 580, however, the Radeon HD 7950 traded victories. Of course, the higher-end Radeon HD 7970 cemented its position as the current fastest single-GPU based graphics card around.

And Hardware Secrets writes:

The new Radeon HD 7950 proved to be a good contender to the GeForce GTX 580, with the advantage of being cheaper. The only game where the GeForce GTX 580 was significantly faster than the Radeon HD 7950 was FarCry 2, with the video card from NVIDIA being between14% and 19% faster. The GeForce GTX 580 was also between 5% and 6% faster on Deus Ex: Human Revolution. On Battlefield 3, both video cards achieved the same performance level. They also achieved the same performance level on DiRT3 at 1920x1200, but at 2560x1600 the Radeon HD 7950 was 5% faster. On StarCraft II, the Radeon HD 7950 was 12% faster at 1920x1200, but at 2560x1600 both achieved the same performance level.

Mo Money, Mo Problems

The reviews were also relatively unanimous in their admonishment of AMD for pricing the card so high.  The general tone was begrudging, in that they acknowledged that AMD currently enjoyed the top spot and had a bit better price than NVIDIA's offering, but on the other hand felt that the lack of aggressive pricing hurt AMD with new NVIDIA offerings on the horizon.

Writes AnandTech's Ryan Smith:

Meanwhile the $450 price tag is unfortunately not very aggressive on AMD’s part, but with their lead in rolling out their new lineup this is to be expected. Given its performance the 7950 only needs to be as cheap as the cheapest GTX 580 and that’s exactly what AMD has done. There will ultimately be a massive price shakeup at the high-end due to 28nm, but this looks like it won’t happen until AMD has some competition at 28nm or 7900 sales slow down significantly.

Hot Hardware echoes:

With that said, we wished AMD was more aggressive with Radeon HD 7900 series pricing. The Radeon HD 6970 and 6950 debuted at $369 and $299, respectively. The Radeon HD 7970 and 7950 arrive at $549 and $449. In light of competing offerings, the 7900 series is technically priced “right”, but we would have loved to see AMD come out of the gate with more aggressive pricing to make the cards more attainable for more enthusiasts and to put more pricing pressure on its main rival, NVIDIA.

Of the reviews Hardware Secrets offers an interesting counter-argument, making the case that, yes, the card is expensive, but that it offers more bang for your buck than the Radeon HD 7950.  They write:

As you can see, although the battle between the GeForce GTX 580 and the Radeon HD 7950 will depend on the game and resolution you run, the Radeon HD 7950 has a better price/performance ratio than its big sister, the Radeon HD 7970. To prove this point, consider that the Radeon HD 7970 was between 6% and 20% faster than the Radeon HD 7950 on the games we ran, but it is 22% more expensive.

Therefore, the Radeon HD 7950 is a good option if you are looking for a high-end video card and have USD 450 to spend on one.

Our Take

Interestingly these reviews don't make much mention to the coming GeForce 600 (or 700?) series, though that's likely due to nondisclosure agreements.  Presumably NVIDIA will show its hand sometime in the near future.

For now the situations is somewhat unfortunate for the consumer in that they don't really get much more value than they did 6 months ago, due to the lack of competition.  AMD is selling well, but it realizes it has the top two cards on the market, so it is selling them at premium prices.  

On the flip side of the coin, this is a rare occasion where buyer's remorse is lessened.  If you bought a GeForce GTX 580 a few months back, you really aren't missing much.

It's hard to recommend anything but AMD's Radeon HD 7970/7950 cards for those in the market for a premium GPU.  Die-hard NVIDIA fans will obviously postpone their purchases in hopes of NVIDIA's 28 nm answer to the Radeon HD 7xxx series (or even buy a GeForce GTX 580, as it still performs decently).  But for non-fans pondering a current buy, it is hard to recommend a card that might ship in the April-June window at the earliest (NVIDIA's next-gen solution) versus a card that is here today.

For those who do pony up the cash for a Radeon HD 7950, according to AnandTech the Sapphire HD 7950 Overclock Edition proved significantly superior to the XFX R7950 Black Edition Double Dissipation, with much cooler running temps and slightly better performance.

Sources: Anandtech, HotHardware, HardwareSecrets, TweakTown [GeForce rumor]

Comments     Threshold

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By StevoLincolnite on 1/31/2012 8:49:38 PM , Rating: 2
I would *love* a couple of Radeon 7950's to replace my 6950's in crossfire.

However, the cost of a single Radeon 7950 is equivalent to two Radeon 6950's here in Australia due to low supply and price gauging by the importers and distributors.

Hopefully nVidia provides some much needed competition and the price of a 7950 drops from $600~ down to $300ish.
I have patience, but more GPU power is always welcome when you game in Eyefinity.

RE: .
By ion orov on 1/31/2012 9:57:55 PM , Rating: 3
Buy from overseas, eg Amazon in the US. I've saved heaps buying gadgets/parts this way.

- Postage from Amazon is cheap (if you don't need stuff in a hurry).
- Customer/warranty service is same, maybe even better.
- Plus, the aussie dollar is strong now.

Think of it as helping the US economy :D No disrespect but last I checked, they needed the help.

I'm continuously amazed how stuff made in China, shipped across the pacific to the US and then shipped back across to Australia is cheaper than just buying from my local chain.

Price gouging indeed :/

RE: .
By stm1185 on 1/31/2012 10:08:55 PM , Rating: 2
Just wait a few months. Those prices cannot hold. Guaranteed. As soon as Nvidia's new line is out that 7950 will drop to $300, potentially even less if Nvidia delivers on their smack talk. So even if you are a die hard AMD fan, it makes 0 sense to spend the extra $150+.

Unless you have to buy right now this minute, but then you are just screwed paying last gen costs for next gen parts.

RE: .
By ion orov on 1/31/2012 11:01:11 PM , Rating: 4
Oh we know prices will drop... the problem is that here in Aus, they start out high and take the longest time to reduce.

Can't blame the companies though, as according to them, shipping stuff here is expensive.

Its well known that Aussie sharks have taken to a life of villainy... eating surfers and collaborating with Somali pirates to disrupt sea-shipping lanes and drive up the costs of goods.

Goddamned microsd-card stealing sharks.

RE: .
By StevoLincolnite on 1/31/2012 11:28:44 PM , Rating: 2
Oh we know prices will drop... the problem is that here in Aus, they start out high and take the longest time to reduce.

For sure.

I love how long it takes for a product to drop in price which can take weeks/months to trickle down to Australia.

However... As soon as there is even the slightest problem and a price rise occurs overseas... The prices go up instantly here.

Hopefully importers and distributors wake up, people are already buying online in droves to by-pass them and there crap pricing.
With our dollar being worth so much more than the USD, buying stuff is so god damn cheap overseas even when you account for the shipping.

RE: .
By Gondor on 2/1/2012 12:58:15 PM , Rating: 3
However... As soon as there is even the slightest problem and a price rise occurs overseas... The prices go up instantly here.

Same thing across Europe, the not so distant HDD price hike due to Thailand flooding waas a good example - stores immediately raised shelf prices of existing stock , not because they woudl cost more in wholesale to stock them but simply because they could.

RE: .
By sviola on 2/1/2012 8:06:40 AM , Rating: 2
Its well known that Aussie sharks have taken to a life of villainy... eating surfers and collaborating with Somali pirates to disrupt sea-shipping lanes and drive up the costs of goods.

Goddamned microsd-card stealing sharks.

+1. This made me chuckle.

RE: .
By TSS on 2/2/2012 3:51:11 AM , Rating: 2
Well everybody wants sharks with frickin lasers attached to their heads, we've got to test them somewhere.

RE: .
By Samus on 2/1/12, Rating: 0
By tviceman on 2/1/2012 11:43:41 AM , Rating: 3
~5% better performance 14 months after the gtx580 for $50 less than what the gtx580 debuted at is very disappointing, IMO.

By bug77 on 2/1/2012 2:44:22 PM , Rating: 2
If you put it like that, yes. But it's actually 5% better performance for about half the power consumption.

By FITCamaro on 2/1/2012 5:53:43 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah looking at the power consumption and temps, the difference is pretty noticeable.

I just ordered a 7950 myself. Only because my 5970 is dying though. I just wanted a card I'm not going to need to replace for 3 years. A 6970 isn't slow, but best to get the newest so I don't have to replace it for a while.

By bug77 on 2/2/2012 6:51:06 AM , Rating: 2
I'm a nvidia guy and never spent more than $300 on a video card, so this is not for me. Bu that doesn't mean I can't see the improvements this card brings to the table.

By FITCamaro on 2/2/2012 9:38:13 AM , Rating: 2
This is my first really expensive card too. The 5970 I got for free. ;)

GDDR5? Why not XDR2 Rambus memory?
By BubbaJoe TBoneMalone on 2/1/2012 4:42:43 AM , Rating: 2
Anyone know why AMD did not choose to use XDR2 instead of GDDR5. Was it because there was not a significant performance difference between the two? Please do tell.

RE: GDDR5? Why not XDR2 Rambus memory?
By nafhan on 2/1/2012 4:48:55 AM , Rating: 2
Price + RAMBUS sucks?
I'm sort of kidding about the second part (although they are having financial problems, now), but price of is a really good reason. Beyond price of the memory chips themselves, there's also the cost to design a new memory controller, and cost related to supporting three or four different memory techs in this generation of GPU's (XDR, GDDR5, and GDDR3, or DDR3).

I know XDR is used in the PS3. Do you know of any products using XDR2? Quick Google search didn't come up with anything... Generally, there's a "cost" to being the only user of a specific technology.

By BubbaJoe TBoneMalone on 2/1/2012 10:12:52 AM , Rating: 2
How about the performance difference using XDR2 compared too GDDR5? Is it significant enough to warrant the cost to design a new memory controller on AMD's next generation card? Was there any response on this from AMD? Probably not since I can't find any info using Google hence why I started this post. Just really curious. Thanks for, at least, some info.

By nafhan on 2/1/2012 12:16:00 PM , Rating: 2
How about the performance difference using XDR2 compared too GDDR5? Is it significant enough to warrant the cost to design a new memory controller on AMD's next generation card?
Since it doesn't look like the 7970 is being limited by memory bandwidth... you can infer that the real world benefit of XDR2 would have been allowing a bus about half as wide with better throughput*. So, I'm guessing the people at AMD decided that a wider bus would be cheaper and/or less risky than new and untested memory technology.

*If the numbers in the wiki article for XDR2 are correct, a 192 bit XDR2 bus maxed out at 800MHz, would provide about 307GB/s bandwidth - approx. 16% better than the 1375Mhz 384bit GDDR5 bus in the 7970.

Slayer? Not exactly the best word
By serrationlol on 2/1/12, Rating: 0
RE: Slayer? Not exactly the best word
By SkeptiCoder on 2/1/2012 8:07:03 AM , Rating: 2
So what you're saying is that if AMD's THIRD TIER card handily beats out nVidia's flagship, then AMD is in trouble? I don't get your logic.

By nafhan on 2/1/2012 4:39:21 AM , Rating: 3
Technically if you're calling the 7950 "third tier" (guessing you mean: unreleased 7990, 7970, 7950) than you'd need to call the GTX 580 "second tier" (590, 580).

Also, saying AMD's "in trouble" or not is a bit premature. We don't know enough about Kepler, yet. The last couple generations AMD has had significantly smaller dies that are only a little bit slower than competing Nvidia parts. If that trend keeps up, AMD will be fine even if Kepler is faster in an absolute sense.

If I was going to guess, though:
I'd say AMD will have less of a die size advantage than it has had the past couple generations, because they've finally had to add all the compute hardware that Nvidia's been stuck with for a while now. We'll see!

On buying, I'd hold off until Kepler comes out, regardless, as AMD will very likely drop prices at that point.

Typo in the versus gtx 580 title
By XZerg on 1/31/2012 11:22:25 PM , Rating: 2
On the GeForce GTX 580 v. Radeon HD 6950 Matchup

By XZerg on 2/1/2012 6:51:44 AM , Rating: 2
Another typo - in the first table comparing the 7950 with 6970 instead of 6950.

I don't expect prices to drop
By VooDooAddict on 2/1/2012 3:11:04 PM , Rating: 2
I don't expect prices to drop

People are thinking that NVIDIA will come it at the same pricing for a much faster part.

This is NVIDIA we are talking about. I suspect it's more likely that NVIDIA will price a faster part MORE then AMDs current offerings.

By haukionkannel on 2/1/2012 5:52:20 PM , Rating: 2

I allso thing that if Nvidia can make (as we most think) faster card than AMD79xx series, it will be more expensive allso. If it is weaker (don't think so, it will be a little bit cheaper)
The fact is that we don't know anything about Kepler other than they will release first 104 chip, that is middle range GPU... If it is 300$ as "rumored" so it will compete with AMD 78xx series. Hmmm... not much to compare at this moment.
But VooDooAddict is righ about prising in the past. Nvidia and AMD have been guite near in prize vs performance and AMD with little bit smaller chips have had some advantage in prize war. But all in all "new" Nvidia offering will be priced near AMD alternative...

By inv on 2/1/2012 7:02:33 PM , Rating: 2
Never spent more than £200 on a graphics card and i've led an exciting life.

Good Pricing Strategy
By really on 2/2/2012 1:00:16 PM , Rating: 2
While I would like to see these cards at a cheaper pricing right now I think AMD has a good strategy going. They release the cards at a higher price and sell cards to people who want a great card now. When Nvidia releases their new cards AMD can significantly drop the price and gain more budget conscious customers later while stealing customers away from NVidia.

By Performance Fanboi on 2/2/2012 2:00:33 PM , Rating: 2
I'd wait and see if they are going to get into a bit of a pricewar in this class - Nvidia can most likely afford to drop the GTX580 due to the fact it is about to be superseded and I have to believe AMD has lots of room to move as well. With Kepler just around the corner it's a good time for PC users with teams green and red having to fight for our attention (read as:$).

By BruceLeet on 2/3/2012 12:52:40 AM , Rating: 2
I really like nvidias projected specs and pricing, here we see the GTX670 @ $499 outperforming an 7970 by ~20% and a GTX680 by ~45%.

The performance scale of the GTX690 is not measured. Why they didn't compare it to a 590 or 6990 is beyond me!

I'm waiting for a proper competitor
By BruceLeet on 1/31/12, Rating: -1
RE: I'm waiting for a proper competitor
By JasonMick on 1/31/2012 10:22:47 PM , Rating: 4

Why is Dailytech comparing Fermi architecture to Graphics Core Next?

Because those are the products competing on the market TODAY.

As I clearly state in the article NVIDIA's next generation cards (Kepler) are supposed to be radically faster, so may be worth the wait.

But you can't compare unreleased products to available ones...

I hope NVIDIA delivers, as that will help lower prices and push AMD... Competition is good!

RE: I'm waiting for a proper competitor
By BruceLeet on 2/3/2012 2:55:06 PM , Rating: 2

Here are some more rumored tables for your next AMD/Nvidia blog.

Tables were taken from lenzfire, tried to link it but spamfilters, gotta love em.

By BruceLeet on 2/3/2012 3:06:03 PM , Rating: 2
Also theres some comments on lenzfire about shaders and hotclocks and them not being present on kepler architecture.

Whatever that means, look into it.

By someguy123 on 1/31/2012 10:30:02 PM , Rating: 2
Personally I found this article a bit less bias than other sites, which seem like they're evangelizing the 7950, even though it's priced pretty high and new architecture. At the bottom Mick points out that the performance doesn't necessarily smash the 580, though it's clearly faster (as is the 7970). It's understandable that people would compare it to the 580 when kepler hasn't been released yet.

By nafhan on 2/1/2012 4:27:28 AM , Rating: 4
Why is Dailytech comparing Fermi architecture to Graphics Core Next?
I'm curious... what do you think they should be comparing it with?

I ask because comparing a currently shipping product with other similarly priced currently shipping products seems reasonable to me.

RE: I'm waiting for a proper competitor
By tamalero on 2/1/2012 1:23:21 PM , Rating: 1
By the time kepler is out, we will probably have the refresh or 8XXX series.

And that is Nvidia pulls a good videocard..
Fermi really sucked back then.. awfully hot, consumed insane energy..

By haukionkannel on 2/1/2012 6:01:16 PM , Rating: 2
If AMD can keep up this pace, it is guite possible that Kepler have to compete with AMD8xxx series. If 780 comes out early 3rd quater as expected, AMD8xxx should be released 3-4 month later during the 4th quarter.
I think that 8xxx series is easier to do than 7xxx was has been. The 28nm production will be more mature, and by then AMD can benefit from the experiense of 7xxx series, so it will be minor tweak like 480 to 580 or 5870 to 6970...
Now big architectural change but a posibility to tweak existing architecture to make much faster with making changes that improve existing models.

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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