AMD introduced its new “Southern Islands” architecture with the $750 Radeon HD 7970 before Christmas, but powerful though it may be, that kind of price remains too high for most people.
Its next chip in the range, the HD 7950, is thankfully a bit more palatable at $540 and up. That’s around the same price as Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 580, but you get a lot of innovation for your cash. This is the first range of cards to use a 28nm manufacturing process, and AMD has refined its architecture to make it more efficient when handling parallel and complex tasks.
The HD 7950 has the same 4.3 billion transistors as its big brother, but four of the 64-core MIMD clusters have been deactivated, with 1792 of the original 2048 stream processors left standing. The core clock has been reduced from 925MHz to 800MHz, with 3GB of RAM running at a slightly slower 1250MHz.
It’s still an extremely potent card. An average of 61fps in our 1920 x 1080 Very High quality Crysis benchmark is 7fps behind the HD 7970 but 15fps ahead of the older HD 6950. It even managed playable frame rates in the same test run at 2560 x 1600, a 30in LCD resolution, and 5760 x 1080 – three Full HD monitors connected via AMD’s Eyefinity technology.
An average of 30fps in Crysis 2 at Ultra quality and 1920 x 1080 tucks in nicely under the HD 7970’s 36fps; and in Battlefield 3 at 2560 x 1600 and its highest quality settings it scored 46fps, again beaten only by the HD 7970 and Nvidia’s dual-GPU GTX 590.
It’s a definite step forward, then, and the excellent performance and lower price mean we’d recommend this over the even dearer HD 7970 if you want next-gen graphics right now, or if you want to play across high resolutions and multiple screens.
If you’re happy to wait, though, it may pay off. AMD will fill out the rest of its range with cheaper cards, and Nvidia will soon unleash its 28nm “Kepler” cards, too. Like the HD 7970, this excellent but expensive card is as much a glimpse of the future as it is a viable option now.