Late last year AMD introduced the HD 7970, its new high-end video card based on the 28 nm Tahiti GPU. In the first three months of this year three more video cards followed. The Radeon HD 7950 based on the same GPU, the Radeon HD 7770 GHz Edition based on Cape Verde, and the Pitcairn-based Radeon HD 7870 GHz and 7850.
This completes the new Radeon HD 7000 series, with the exception of a dual-GPU version to be released later. Hardware.Info extensively tested all new Radeons, and when possible in Crossfire. In this review we will tell you in detail what to expect from the new video cards in terms of performance and features.
2011 was not the most exciting year for video card aficionados. All high-end graphics cards released last year were based on existing GPU technology. In October 2010 AMD introduced the Radeon HD 6850 and the 6870. In December 2010 until recently leading models were brought to market - the Radeon HD 6950 and 6970. nVidia introduced the GeForce GTX 580 in November 2010, based on a GPU that is identical performance-wise to the GeForce GTX 480 that was launched in March 2010.
We did see the introduction of dual-GPU cards (the Radeon HD 6990 and the GTX 590) over the course of last year, along with an impressive selection of mid-range and budget versions. But the release of a truly next generation GPU seemed unlikely.
AMD, however, proved us wrong. Right before we got ready to count down to the New Year, AMD introduced the Radeon HD 7970. Originally the launch was planned for 9 January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. But AMD decided to move up the release of its flagship graphics card, probably to escape the avalanche of news during the CES.
The AMD Radeon HD 7970 was the first of a new line of Radeon HD 7000 video cards. AMD started this generation by launching its flagship model and released less complex and more affordable versions quickly afterwards. At this moment there are six video cards in the Radeon HD 7000 series, based on three different GPUs.
The so-called Tahiti, Pitcairn and Cape Verde chips that AMD refers to as the Southern Islands family, have two remarkable characteristics. First of all these are the first GPUs to be fabricated on a 28nm process. Secondly, they feature a completely new architecture called Graphics Core Next.
If we make the comparison with how Intel develops its processors, then the Radeon HD 7000 series is a “tick” and a “tock” at the same time! And that is a very exciting development. The Radeon HD 7000 series are also the first video card that are compatible with DirectX 11.1 and PCI-Express 3.0, although the cards will work fine on PCI-Express 2.0 motherboards.
Skeptics will say that the simultaneous introduction of new architecture and a new manufacturing process opens the door to unforeseen problems, especially if you do this with a complex and high-end chip. In other words, AMD had every reason to herald the change of architecture with a mid-range GPU, but chose not to do so.
nVidia repeatedly ran into serious problems by trying to combine a very complex chip with a brand new manufacturing process. However, AMD indicated that it is confident enough and proved the sceptics wrong: the availability of models, including the high-end ones, is definitely okay.