AMD Radeon HD 7970 Launch Review

Product: AMD Radeon HD 7970 Video Card
Company: AMD
Author: James Prior
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: December 24th, 2011


The AMD Radeon HD 7970 is a (little over) mid-sized GPU with full-size performance; killer paper specs followed by killer performance. Unfortunately for us regular joe consumers, AMD has noticed that fact, and the halcyon bang/buck value days of Radeon cards appear over. In a global economy where every company (including AMD) is optimizing for efficiency, AMD is (soft) launching an ultra enthusiast single GPU card for Christmas. With the current one year old competition well and truly trounced, the AMD Radeon HD 7970 is a deserving winner of the title 'World's Fastest Single GPU'. It also does this at a price point cheaper than the equivalent frame buffer competitor card, which is in apparently scarce supply.

With the AMD Radeon HD 7970 you're getting more than gaming performance, you get the best multi-panel support out of the box, support for mainstream, common standard 3D, future compatibility with DirectX 11.1 3D games, higher quality visuals and extensive media capabilities, and several years of game/application performance increases and bugfix fixes, too. The icing on the cake is the fantastic new ZeroCore Power mode. Not only reducing idle to power to truly low levels, it also works with no changes to your use case - when your monitor goes to sleep, so does your graphics board. Perfect for those in dorm rooms who like to leave their computers on overnight acquiring, er, keyboard drivers.

All is not perfect, however. The cooling solution is a compromise; you'll have to settle for less than great acoustics as the fan isn't really quiet enough for a premium product. The second compromise is the biggest - software support. There are plenty of niggles in VECC, and the recent fumble with Saint Row: The Third, Battlefield 3, Skyrim and RAGE launch support doesn't inspire premium product confidence. A continued lack of an option for forced SSAA/Alpha texture AA/SSAO to be added to modern game titles in 2012 isn't premium enough. This is a brand new architecture with all the driver teething troubles accompanying that; you might be settling for less than you can expect for a premium $549 price tag.

AMD has executed very well in the graphics space for the last three years, delivering on promises to improve performance through hardware, software and ISV relations. Neal Robison tells us AMD is increasing its budget and people power in that last area for 2012, working hard to get more developers and games working their best with AMD hardware to use in their dev and QA cycles. GCN is easier to code for, has massive amounts of compute capability and plenty of features for developers to leverage for implementing their tweaks and tricks. AMD's outline for Catalyst features and improvements are heading in the right direction, finally getting towards solving some of the problems that premium features such as Crossfire, Eyefinity and HD3D present to users.

While initially we thought 'Weren't we supposed to get 50% more perf, for the same money? Y'know, the whole process shrink thing makes more transistors in the same area cost about the same?', we then looked further into the wayback machine and looked at the top single GPU cards and pricing: the X1950XTX was $525, the 8800 GTX Ultra $850, the GTX 280 $650. AMD's RV770 changed the pricing tiers, forcing triple digit rebates on NVIDIA's higher performing cards, and causing the GTX 285 to launch at $399, while AMD's follow up HD 5870 dropped at $379. Did the R&D and new process cost get so much more expensive that this is not possible anymore? Is this AMD's admission that NVIDIA had it right for pricing, and that you just can't build GPUs to the lower price points and make money? Or is it a drive to both increase revenue and build more room for the rest of line up? Either way, the $549 pricing seems to give the competition too much breathing room; $499 would have been the metaphorical glove-to-the-face, whereas $549 is squaring shoulders and puffing out the chest. The biggest problem with the HD 7970's $549 tag is the possible knock-on effect this will have on the rest of the lineup - will the 7800 series simply replace the 6970/50 at around the same price and performance with the only benefits being DX11.1 & ZeroCore power? What about the 7700 series, will they be similar performance and price to the 6800s, too, a new architecture with little to no performance increase? Say it ain't so!

The AMD Radeon HD 7970 is a 'woohoo-it's-fast-card!', and one that NVIDIA may have a tough time catching with their upcoming Kepler based products. AMD told Rage3D that they would deliver in Q4 '11, and they did by the skin of their teeth. You may have to settle for your backorder to be filled after January 9th, but if you're running any single GPU card and you want more performance, this is your highest quality, most power sensitive, best performance option.