AMD Radeon HD 7950 Launch Review

Product: AMD Radeon HD 7950 Video Card
Company: AMD
Author: James Prior
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: January 31st, 2012

Summary & Conclusions

Where the AMD ATI Radeon HD 5850 and AMD Radeon HD 6950 cards were the sweet spot options, the Radeon HD 7950 is a premium offering. For the Southern Islands series of GPU's, the performance gamer and enthusiast gamer offerings well suited to the common resolutions and in-game settings of today will fill in at a later date (in this quarter, if AMD maintains this pace) for the popular upgrades and higher volume sales. At the last new DirectX standard and new Windows introduction point, AMD executed excellently and delivered their entire new product line up before the competition began introducing theirs. This resulted in a period of time where AMD products sold for higher than SEP for a significant amount of time. This is likely not an opportunity AMD want to miss again; it's easy to adjust SEP down after launch; harder, but not impossible, afterwards (HD 5850, anyone?).

The most popular primary display resolutions on STEAM are currently 1680x1050 (17.89%), 1280x1024 (11.68%), and 1920x1080 (7.53%). The performance results show that unless you're an image quality enthusiast - running 1920x1080 with EQAA, Adaptive AA, MLAA, or SSAA, everywhere; or perhaps 3D on a Fast HDMI display - the new Radeon HD 7900 series are more GPU than you need today, but upcoming games will surely make them more relevant in the coming 18 months. As an upgrade option from a first generation DirectX 11 card, or an aging DirectX 10 model, this is a great long term choice - if not a $199-$299 'sweet spot' option.

AMD's choice of pricing indicates the value and worth they feel is inherent in the AMD Radeon 7900 series. For some this will be seen as validation of NVIDIA's pricing strategy, and a shift from the 'sweet spot'. Premium pricing brings with it Premium perception, which should help AMD to chase the overall NVIDIA marketshare dragon to ground, although AMD currently leads DX11 usage in the STEAM survey (of all DX11 GPUs, 57% are AMD/ATI).

Brave enthusiasts will surely try to take the Tahiti GPU to 50% overclocks regularly; the chip appears voltage limited for frequency, meaning ultimately cooling will determine final clocks. AMD obviously could have launched a 250W Pro part and a 300W XT part, but didn't; when your product execution gets you first out of the gate on the new process node with the new common API standards, you can afford to build in a balanced power/performance margin. It's going to be a very special GeForce GTX 580 that can overclock enough to hang with the Tahiti boys, although that's to be expected given the age of the Fermi product line.

This headroom should give some nice room for Add-In Board partners to play with their custom designs, and whets our appetite for New Zealand, the dual-Tahiti card. PowerTune and careful binning brought the HD 6990 (the dual-Cayman GPU card, Antilles) to market at very nearly double Cayman XT specifications but only 375W. By selecting the default voltage and clocks they have, AMD might be making it easier to get the new dual-GPU Fastest Graphics Card on the planet contender to market, before dropping in a refresh for the XT (XTX, anyone?)perhaps in the 7980 numbering spot.

Once again AMD have proven they know how to make great engineering; Tahiti is awesome hardware. It's clear that AMD are redefining what they want to be with the AMD Radeon HD 7900 series. They want to be the premium choice; the best you can buy, never settle. With the new driver enhancements, it's hard to argue against that unless you're emotionally and financially invested in your current purchases of proprietary technology; although the autumn driver woes weren't exactly AMD's finest moment. The problems with drivers have been recognized and appear to be beginning to be addressed with a solid investment of that most important resource - money. 2012 brings with it Windows 8 and DirectX 11.1 and AMD are already providing the hardware for developers to prepare for it, as well as new levels of performance. AMD have consistently publicly supported common and industry standards, which ultimately benefits everyone (if they are adopted, are you listening Bullet?). Proprietary products and solutions may hit the market first, but the open, common standards tend to be the ones that last. If you're looking for a new high end GPU, the only way to justify avoiding the AMD Radeon HD 7900 series is if you've got a significant investment in a proprietary technology that won't transfer. At $449, the AMD Radeon HD 7950 doesn't really move Radeon perf/$$ forwards, but does move performance/watt further along the right path - as well as offering great single GPU performance, image quality and features.