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AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition Review: Give Me Back That Crown!

AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition Review: Give Me Back That Crown!
By , Igor Wallossek

After watching its Radeon HD 7970 get outperformed first by Nvidia's GeForce GTX 680, and then its 670, AMD is striking back with higher clocks and a new driver that hits the afterburners in several games. But are the gains worth paying extra for?

Can you believe the Radeon HD 7970 was introduced six months ago? In those 180 days, we’ve seen AMD claim the single-GPU performance crown, flesh out an entire family of graphics cards based on its capable GCN architecture, and then lose its fastest-in-the-world title to Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 680. I’m working on a script for the movie.

Along the way, though, we’ve wondered about the company’s approach to pricing. Even after Nvidia launched a faster, less expensive card, AMD kept selling its Radeon HD 7970 for £450. It eventually shaved off £60, only to see the competition kick out an even cheaper board (GeForce GTX 670) able to rout the 7970 in most games.

At no point was AMD’s flagship ever a bad card, though. Its dominance was simply contested quickly—and frustratingly—by a competing piece of hardware suffering such poor availability that you had to sign up for notifications just to catch it in stock. Although 680s are in stock now, as recently as a couple of weeks ago they were mostly a threat on paper. But the GeForce GTX 670 has always been a lot more accessible at as little as £300, putting the Radeon HD 7970 under significant pressure. Certain 7970s are even down as low as £350.

To the point, with the maturation of TSMC’s 28 nm manufacturing process, AMD is discovering that a greater number of its Tahiti GPUs are running stably at higher core clock rates. Now, we already knew that the Radeon HD 7900s overclocked well. But rather than leaving extra performance on the table for enthusiasts to exploit on their own time, the company is unveiling a Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition card that purportedly one-ups Nvidia’s GTX 680 and gives AMD a reason to push prices back up.

Meet The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition

Physically, this is the Radeon HD 7970 you already know. Put AMD’s reference GHz Edition card next to the one launched six months ago and you can’t tell them apart. What few differences there are all materialize under the card’s 11”-long fan shroud.

Most obvious is a higher core clock rate. Officially, AMD lists it at 1000 MHz—a bump up from the original version’s 925 MHz frequency. But it also enables a higher 1050 MHz P-state that the GPU favors when thermal headroom allows. AMD is marketing this combination of clock rates as PowerTune with Boost.

If you’re not already familiar with what PowerTune is or how it works, I break it down in my Radeon HD 6970 and 6950 review. Basically, though, AMD confirmed for us that PowerTune with Boost is the same exact thing, plus the ability to dynamically increase voltage. The company says its 1 GHz clock is fixed, and altering Overdrive’s frequency slider only changes the maximum boost level.

But it seems like you could also describe the 7970 GHz Edition as a 1.05 GHz card that, subjected to a synthetic power load like FurMark, drops 50 MHz and some voltage to not violate its TDP. After all, that’s what PowerTune has done for a year and a half.

The other performance enhancement comes courtesy of faster memory. Back when AMD launched the Radeon HD 7970, it “only” had access to 1375 MHz GDDR5 modules. On a nice, wide 384-bit bus, they were good for 264 GB/s of aggregate bandwidth. Now it’s using 3 GB of 1500 MHz modules on the same bus to push 288 GB/s.


Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition
Radeon HD 7970
GeForce GTX 680
Stream processors
204820481536
Texture Units
128128
128
Full Color ROPs
3232
32
Graphics Clock
1000 MHz Base / 1050 MHz Boost
925 MHz1006 MHz
Texture Fillrate
134.4 Gtex/s
118.4 Gtex/s
128.8 Gtex/s
Memory Clock
1500 MHz
1375 MHz1502 MHz
Memory Bus
384-bit
384-bit256-bit
Memory Bandwidth288 GB/s
264 GB/s
192.3 GB/s
Graphics RAM
3 GB GDDR53 GB GDDR5
2 GB GDDR5
Die Size
365 mm2365 mm2
294 mm2
Transistors (Billion)
4.314.31
3.54
Process Technology
28 nm28 nm28 nm
Power Connectors
1 x 8-pin, 1 x 6-pin1 x 8-pin, 1 x 6-pin2 x 6-pin
Maximum power (TDP)
250 W250 W
195 W
Price
500 MSRP/UK Price Not Confirmed
~£380
~£450 Street


AMD acknowledges that the Tahiti GPU itself is exactly the same. If you want the skinny on that, feel free to reference back to our Radeon HD 7970 launch coverage. Everyone else, let’s move on to a deeper analysis of PowerTune with Boost.

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  • 0 Hide
    mactronix , 22 June 2012 16:51
    Wow a new customer relations low for AMD. A lot of people were unhappy when they released the 7 series cards in the first place at quite stupid price points. Sure there were those who didn't see it that way but most sites did see it that way.
    Now it seems AMD have decided to stick yet a second pair of fingers up at the consumers by basically charging for a driver release.
    I really cant believe that the business is in such a bad state that they are forced to try and squeeze every drop of coinage out of people. So it comes down to corporate greed.

    Yes it is true that this is nothing Nvidia has not done in the past but this is not about AMD Vs Nvidia so the AMD fans can forget about getting all high and mighty about history.
    Plain and Simple at every turn recently AMD have been guilty of stifling computing advances and sending GPU prices into the stratosphere.
    Mactronix
  • 2 Hide
    Steveymoo , 22 June 2012 17:58
    Wow, this is a dastardly business practice. Tweak your under performing product to run slightly faster, charge more money for it, shorten the life of the product, and use more than 40w more than your competitor. I hope too many people aren't duped by this crap, I mean, you might as well just pay less, and overclock it yourself.
  • 2 Hide
    shennan19 , 22 June 2012 21:05
    it's a shame that amd didn't go with this configuration originally as most reviews of the 7970 stated the card should run at higher default clocks. I think the shame lies that amd couldn't be bothered to go back to the drawing board with the cards board - just look at the changes nvidia made with the 480 to 580 fermi cards, that was a similar card that showed real progress...amd should have looked to improve their TDP here in a similar way, 6 months for a bios change and driver update isn't really sufficient. I for one have run amd since my 4850x2 and currently have 2 powercolor pcs 7950's in my system but i wonder at the moment whether amd's quest for the performance title is just going to encourage nvidia to make pops at their poor temperature and power control like amd once did to them- anyone remember this

    I love my 7950's by the way - i just hope amd doesn't get complacent.
  • 0 Hide
    shennan19 , 22 June 2012 21:06
    sorry link didn't post

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QkyfGJgcwQ
  • 0 Hide
    Thomas_89 , 22 June 2012 23:20
    do the new drivers also improve performance of the other 7 series cards? e.g. HD 7850?
  • 0 Hide
    abitoms , 24 June 2012 22:39
    i am mostly indifferent between cards from amd and nvidia with a slight preference toward amd...but this is ridiculous... ultra-hot running with high power consumption and roughly on-par performance.

    i hope their compute route pays off
  • 0 Hide
    Brother John , 29 July 2012 01:48
    Still sucks at Folding.