Conclusions and Final Thoughts
At the outset of this article there were a handful of key comparisons we wanted you keep an eye on as you went through all the benchmarks we provided. Did you do it? It’s time for that pop quiz you always dreaded in school!
Seriously, I wouldn’t do that to you. The truth is that the new AMD Radeon HD 7950 3GB card is faster than the GeForce GTX 580 from NVIDIA even at its default reference clock speeds of 800 MHz and that only will get worse as AMD’s partners release models with speeds of 900 MHz or higher. In Battlefield 3, Skyrim and DiRT 3 the performance of both of these cards were pretty much in line with each other at all the resolutions we tested and you would be hard pressed to tell one is running any better than the other. In Batman: Arkham City we saw an average of a 5% lead for the HD 7950, in Metro 2033 that lead spiked to 16% and in Deus Ex: Human Revolution we saw it as high as 21%. Those numbers are definitely worth nothing and show you the raw power that that Radeon HD 7950 3GB can provide.
Comparing the HD 7950 to its bigger brother, the HD 7970, we found that the more expensive Tahiti GPU performed 10-25% depending on the benchmark. The largest gap was seen in our Battlefield 3 testing where the two cards had as much as a 25% performance difference at the highest resolution and the smallest gap was found in Batman where only 10% separated them. With a 20% difference in DiRT 3, 15% in Metro 2033 and 20% in Deus Ex you can definitely see the performance advantages to move UP to the HD 7970 but only if you are going to be using a 30-in display or going for a triple (or five) panel Eyefinity configuration.
In areas where CrossFire worked as expected (DiRT 3, Metro 2033), adding a second Radeon HD 7950 3GB brought performance improvements as high as 95%! The problem for AMD is that only two of the games we tested worked "correctly" and even if we remove Skyrim from the picture (as it tends to be CPU bound) then we are left with three games it didn’t work right in. Battlefield 3 saw great scaling at 1680×1050 and 1920×1080 but nothing at 2560×1600. Batman: Arkham City doesn’t scale at all and in fact actually decreases performance depending on the resolution you are running at. Deus Ex: Human Revolution has some very obvious "dips" in frame rates that drag down what should be a great performance from CrossFire. These driver issues MUST BE WORKED OUT for AMD to be considered reliable again in the software department. Not only that, but we need to NOT see these kinds of problems in tier-1 gaming titles ever again…
Overclocking performance was a complete success as well as we were able to push the core clock speed on the HD 7950 up to 1050 MHz, a solid 30+% boost. The system was completely stable and we were able to run our full suite of games on the overclocked card without seeing a huge spike in power consumption (it went from 294 watts to 322 watts). And, seeing a jump in BF3 performance by 20% to nearly match the levels of the $100 more expensive Radeon HD 7970 3GB impressed me even further.
Power and Efficiency
What might make the Radeon HD 7950 3GB even more impressive is that it does all of this while using 50 watts less power than the Radeon HD 6970 2GB. Seeing performance increases as large as we did between Cayman and Tahiti, it seems to indicate that the move from the 40nm process to the 28nm process has in fact gone pretty well and, if TSMC can get inventory running, could mean good things for both NVIDIA and AMD going forward.
Also worth noting is the ZeroCore Power Technology (on both the Radeon HD 7970 and the new HD 7950) that brings the power consumption of the GPU to under a single watt when the screens are put into sleep mode. And for users that like to go with multi-GPU setups you will be glad to know that this feature will also turn off (even the fans!) the secondary GPUs when you are simply running in Windows. This should offer noticeable sound and heat dissipation improvements.
There aren’t really a huge amount of new features for the SI architecture – Eyefinity is still the only single-GPU option for running multiple display gaming configurations and in fact this new GPU may actually offer enough performance to push a 5760×1080 configuration on a single card. NVIDIA’s GTX 500-series still requires you to have an SLI configuration to get Surround to function and then you dive into the world of multi-GPU issues that we have noted in several places in this review.
The availability of Eyefinity + HD3D is interesting but isn’t really an HD 7970 exclusive; the 12.1 drivers offer this on Radeon 6000 series cards as well. DDMA (discrete digital multi-point audio) could really change the way users interact with different audio/video sources on their PCs but we are going to have to wait and see implementations of it before making a conclusion there.
Texture filtering has been improved, the new Steady Video 2.0 will be available soon and we have already discussed PowerTune and ZeroCore technologies and what advantages they offer.
Pricing and Availability
One thing that AMD doesn’t really have going for it with this generation is a big price advantage and that has really how the company has been able to keep its name as prevalent with gamers as it has been the last 12 months. With the release of the Radeon HD 7970, rather than undercut NVIDIA, AMD decided to price it based on the current performance and pricing on the GTX 580. The same thing is happening basically with the HD 7950:
- AMD Radeon HD 7950 3GB – $449
- AMD Radeon HD 7970 3GB – $549
- AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB – $349
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB – $499
At $100 less than the Radeon HD 7970 3GB, the HD 7950 3GB actually seems like a pretty good buy; you can overclock the performance enough to ALMOST reach the reference performance of the more expensive card. Compared to the GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB average selling price of $499, the HD 7950 again looks like a great card considering it outperforms the NVIDIA option. I can’t shake the feeling that AMD is doing a disservice to itself in the long run by keeping prices this high though I understand WHY they are doing it.
The fact is that AMD is likely still capacity constrained by the 28nm process at TSMC and pricing any of these cards lower might actually HURT the company’s reputation. If the HD 7950 3GB were being released today for $349 I think just about every sane gamer on the planet would want one but if AMD doesn’t have the inventory to cater to that many buyers, what is the point of offering it at that price? It would cause anger and resentment from the very audience they are trying to cater to so instead we see higher prices that allow AMD to make a bit more profit and temper demand as well until capacity might soon catch up.
The AMD Radeon HD 7950 3GB graphics card based on the same Southern Islands architecture and Tahiti GPU that we first tested with the Radeon HD 7970 3GB looks to be another success. AMD now has two different GPU options available for consumers that are faster than the best single-GPU options from NVIDIA, a feat that AMD hasn’t been able to accomplish in quite a long time. Being first to the 28nm technology might cause some problems with inventory but it seems obvious that they are benefiting in enough ways to make up for it, at least in terms of mindshare, if not marketshare.
If AMD and its partners can get 900 MHz options out there for under the price of the GeForce GTX 580 and just as importantly, keep them in stock, then I think we have another big winner on our hands. The HD 7950 3GB is faster than the GTX 580, uses less power, offers more features, has twice the frame buffer capacity for higher resolutions and multi-display gaming and costs less. That is a conclusion that demands an Editor’s Choice if I ever heard one; we only hope you’ll see these cards in stock to buy for yourself.
Be sure to check out our two videos below, one on the Radeon HD 7950 and the other on HD 7950 CrossFire!