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Radeon HD 7800: Great Performance, Price, And Power. But Is It Ready?

AMD Radeon HD 7870 And 7850 Review: Pitcairn Gets Benchmarked
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Before we go any further, consider the aggregate average game performance at 1080p:

The Radeon HD 7870 and 7850 offer impressive performance, extremely low power usage, and attractive estimated prices (at least in North America) compared to cards offering similar performance. They run coolly and quietly, making them easy to live with, too. That covers the most important questions gamers ask when they hear about new graphics cards. From almost every angle, consider us impressed. Sure, we could complain yet again about the lack of VCE support several months after AMD announce the feature, but that doesn’t affect these cards’ ability to play games.

Unfortunately, our in-depth look at these cards in two different labs on opposite ends of the world turned up a handful of unexpected issues, too. Igor Wallsosek in our German lab reports back with a lot of Radeon HD 7850-related issues: NewTek’s LightWave crashes with 4x AA or higher, Autodesk’s 3ds Max crashes in DirectX mode, and the card is incapable of running StarCraft II at its stock clocks. It would be tempting to chalk all of that up to a bad sample, but we had problems with our 7850 as well. World of Warcraft was particularly unstable, requiring a restart after every crash. And sometimes our test bed simply wouldn’t boot with the 7850 installed.  Then there’s the whole issue of texture quality issues on both of the new 7800s. Oof.

We’ve never seen a graphics card with so much potential for £185. But there are clearly issues to work out of the Radeon HD 7850. In this case, a paper launch might be the best possible thing for AMD, especially if it needs to tweak hardware specs and the driver.  Interestingly AMD claims that none of its partners plan to use the reference board design. If our problems are specific to AMD’s own implementation, shipping 7850s could be better behaved. With weeks to go before these cards are available, we’re able to reserve judgement. On the other hand, both of the Radeon HD 7870s in our labs work great, so there’s little stopping us from recommending that card. Priced at £260, it performs a lot like the £370-ish GeForce GTX 580 and the £365 Radeon HD 7950. At this point, it’s hard to see spending extra money on either of those two technically higher-end boards unless you need a firmware selector switch or a three-/four-way multi-card setup. We can’t issue the Radeon HD 7870 an award, since it’s not available for sale, but consider us impressed.

There’s just one little caveat. We already know that Nvidia’s next-gen architecture is very near on the horizon. We already have to wait for the Radeon HD 7800s to hit store shelves. Could it be so bad to wait a little while longer to see how Kepler does? As a rule, I feel that waiting for “the next big thing” is a fool’s game when it comes to technology. But with two new architectures on the cusp of going head-to-head, weeks apart, this could an exception to that personal policy.

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