AMD ended 2011 on a good note by unleashing the fastest single GPU card in the market and once again beating its next-gen graphics opponent.
The Radeon HD 7970 outperformed the GeForce GTX 580 by over 20% in our tests, and that performance is made even sweeter by the fact that Nvidia's response is months away. This lack of competition has given AMD the confidence to sell its flagship graphics board at an unusually high retail price of $ 549 – an area normally dominated by Nvidia.
While the list price of the HD 7970 is "only" 42% more powerful, it is 60% higher than the 6970. In addition, the actual retail price of the new card is closer to $ 600, about $ 100 more expensive than the one GTX 580.
This is a tough sell, in our opinion, and with limited supply, prices are unlikely to fall until Nvidia recovers its pounding spot with Kepler later this year. With that in mind, value-conscious enthusiasts looking for a high-end card are likely to find better solutions than the HD 7970.
Conveniently, AMD offers a potentially valid alternative with its Radeon HD 7950, which is essentially a cheaper version of the HD 7970. The HD 7950 costs $ 419 for the 1536 MB version and $ 449 for the full 3072 MB version. While it's currently possible to find a 3GB model for $ 449, you can expect to pay closer to $ 500. For example, the GV-R795WF3-3GD gigabyte card we're looking at today (also called WindForce 3 in some markets) is $ 490 and touts some notable upgrades.
Gigabyte redesigned the circuit board and installed an improved cooler that is said to lower temperatures and improve overclocking. Given the respectable performance of the HD 7970, we expect the HD 7950 to perform well. Before we hit the benchmarks, let's open the hood and take a closer look at Gigabyte's HD 7950 offering.
Radeon HD 7950 WindForce 3 in detail
Like its faster sibling, the Radeon HD 7950 measures a typical length for today's high-end graphics cards at 27 cm. For example, the HD 6950 and the GeForce GTX 580 are 27 cm long.
The HD 7950 GPU is manufactured in a 28 nm process, which enables AMD to press 4313 million transistors into a 352 mm2 chip.
By default, the GPU core runs at 800 MHz, 14% slower than the HD 7970, and the GDDR5 memory runs 9% slower at 1250 MHz. These are the same core and memory frequencies as the HD 6950. However, Gigabyte's HD 7950 is overclocked to 900 MHz and 1250 MHz. The 13% increase in the core clock rate should have a positive effect on performance.
While the HD 6950 uses a 256-bit bus, the HD 7950 is 384-bit, which increases the available memory bandwidth from 160 GB / s to a much healthier 240 GB / s.
As can be expected, the core configuration of the HD 7950 is reduced compared to the HD 7970. The faster card has 2048 SPUs, 128 TAUs and 32 ROPs while the HD 7950 has 1792 SPUs, 112 TAUs and the same 32 ROPs (13% fewer SPUs and TAUs).
What makes the Gigabyte iteration unique is the WindForce 3X solution with "Triangle Cool" technology. The cooler uses three extremely quiet 75mm PWM fans attached to a custom cover. Underneath these fans is a massive heat sink made up of three main parts connected by 8mm copper heat pipes.
The heart of this setup is the largest block with a unique RAM heat sink for cooling the GDDR5 modules. This heat sink also features Triangle Cool technology which uses a series of fins and triangular clip modules to better direct the airflow over the heat sink.
According to Gigabyte, Triangle Cool technology can lower temperatures by up to 35% compared to traditional designs. So we're excited to see how cool this HD 7950 is.
To provide the card with sufficient juice, AMD includes two 6-pin PCI Express power connectors. This is the same setup as for the HD 6950, 5870, 6870 and GTX 580 and 570 graphics cards.
Of course, the HD 7950 supports Crossfire, so it has two connections to bridge two or more cards. The only other ports are on the I / O control panel, where you'll find a double DL-DVI port, a single HDMI 1.4a port, and two mini DisplayPort 1.2 sockets.
All HD 7950 support a maximum resolution of 2560 x 1600 on up to three monitors. With a multi-stream hub using the mini DisplayPort 1.2 sockets, the card can supply power to up to six screens.