Talk about back with a bang.
Having been relatively disappointed with the performance of the HD6 series, the HD7970 was a stunner. AMD aimed squarely at the GTX580 and definitely achieved their aims.
Of course, as with all premium products, there is a heavy price-tag to pay for that performance. So far more of us have been waiting for the release of the HD7950 to see if it's a repeat of the excellent 4850 (very close to its bigger brother), or more akin to the 6950 (only really useful in Crossfire).
Wonder no longer as we are here with the first of three HD7950 reviews today.
First up we have the reference model, here brought to us via the fine folks at HIS Digital.
As is often the case with the slightly reduced siblings in the graphics world, the main changes are in clock speed and the amount of Stream Processors. As always though, one of those problems can be overclocked away.
Otherwise it's the same excellent 28nm Tahiti Core we found on the HD7970.
|Memory Bus||384 bit|
|Memory Speed||1250 MHz|
|PCI Bus||PCI Express 3.0|
2x Mini DisplayPort
So let's have a look shall we.
As is always the case with HIS packaging it's both compact and eye-grabbing. The internal box is packed with high-density foam to protect your card from the rigours of its trip to your door.
Although the colour scheme and general design of the reference cooler is very similar to the HD7970, the centrally mounted fan has always made more sense to us that the end one, and usually leads to quieter operation.
Unlike the 8 and 6 arrangement of its bigger brother, the HD7950 only requires two 6pin PCIe power inputs.
Round the business end we have two mini DisplayPorts and the more standard DVI and HDMI outputs. Although the price of adaptors has come down greatly in recent times we'd still prefer a single DisplayPort and twin HDMI.
Although the blue PCB looks a little odd against the black and red, the HD7950 certainly is a good looking card for a reference design. Next to the Crossfire fingers we have the BIOS switch which allows you to run the full on overclocked BIOS, or of course if you fancy trying out something more exotic you have the safety of a spare.
As with all of our GPU reviews from 2012 onwards we're using the X79 LGA2011 rig.
HIS Digital HD7950
Catalyst HD7970 Drivers 11.12
Intel Core i7-3960X @ 4GHz
ASUS Rampage IV Extreme
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Just like its brother the HD7950 is a monster overclocker, easily capable of maxing the slider in Catalyst Control Center. It's not only the Core that can take a good overclock either, the Memory can be pushed way beyond stock.
Demonstrating that beliefs about the correct place to put a fan doesn't make us designers, the reference HD7950 is cooler than the HD7970 under load, but pretty toasty when idle.
3D Mark Vantage
At stock the card is exactly where we'd hoped it to be, which is close enough to the HD7970 to make the 7950 a viable option, but it's the overclocked performance that really shines, even overtaking the stock HD7970 and a GTX580. Impressive start.
3D Mark 11
Being such a shader intensive benchmark it's not a great surprise to see the HIS a little further behind at stock, but once again the 256 Stream Processor deficit is overcome by a beefy overclocked performance. Let's hope this translates into actual gaming.
Alien vs Predator
The performance remains impressive in Alien vs predator. The HD7950 easily beats out a stock HD6970 and the overclock allows it to pass the reference HD7970. Indeed if you cast your eyes down the graph you can see that in AvP the OC HD7950 beats out the GTX590.
Batman Arkham City
Clearly the HD7950 can munch through Arkham City. At stock it's not much behind the stock HD7970 which is good going, and the overclock gains us nearly 10 extra frames per second average.
So far, so stunning. When we think about the pretty big performance drop off that existed between the HD6970 and HD6950, the latest generation of Radeons are very close indeed. Even in the hefty Battlefield 3 the stock performance is good and the overclocked performance is exceptional.
Our first unimpressive result. Although Dirt 3 still provides a perfectly playable experience, we were hoping for a little more out of the HD7950 than we got.
Far Cry 2
Whilst we await the latest instalment in the life of Ubisofts Island hopping adventure, Far Cry 2 is still capable of giving the cards a run for their money. Just like our previous benchmarks the stock card is very good and the overclock turns everything up to eleven, even running an overclocked HD7970 close.
From warfare on the plains to warfare in the city, Mafia 2 looks and plays beautifully on the HIS. It's clear that with some overclocking you can unleash the beast that lays beneath that unassuming cooler.
Different game, same amazing results. It certainly outperforms the HD6970 handsomely, and even runs its big brother close.
Resident Evil 5 DX9
If you prefer your killing to be of Zombies then you could do much worse than a HIS HD7950 in your machine. Such is the excellence of the PC port that anything provides smooth gaming, but the HIS really hits its stride here, pushing some incredible numbers.
Resident Evil 5 DX10
Moving from the DirectX 9 rendering API to the DirectX 10 one doesn't change the results. Either option with the HD7950 will have you shotgunning with ease.
Unigine Heaven always provides a stern test and it's no different here. Stock is fairly middling, but the overclock really lets the card get up a head of metaphorical steam.
With full anti-aliasing the demands upon the card are about as high as it gets, and finally the extra stream processors on the HD7970 make a noticeable difference. However, as usual, an overclock can gain back much that is lost.
The Witcher 2
We end as always with Geralt of Rivia and the finest looking game on the planet. Such are the demands here that we need all of our overclock to just keep up with the stock HD7970, but that's still not a bad result.
We don't mind admitting that we were very unsure of what we'd see from the slightly smaller version of the HD7970.
On the one hand we had the knowledge of how different the HD6950 was to it's larger brother, but on the other hand we knew how immense the performance of the HD7970 was. It was just a matter of which side the coin would fall.
To say that we were left stunned by the performance of the HD7950 is almost an understatement. It's brilliant.
To get this version the big tweaks we can see are a reduction in the Stream Processor count by 256, and a lower stock clock speed. Sure enough at stock the card is very good, but around the kind of levels that one would expect from the cheaper model.
It's when you overclock it, a very simple task indeed, that the true power of the HD7950 is unleashed. By the simple task of moving a slider you can easily obtain equal, and sometimes better, performance than its pricier stablemate.
Indeed the only price you pay for this is slightly higher idle temperatures. When under load the cooler is perfectly capable of keeping the temperatures below 80°C, at the slight cost of some noise pollution. But when you're getting this kind of performance some extraneous noise is to be expected and we'd be very miserable indeed to mark it down just for that.
Our over-riding impression is that the HD7950 hasn't actually been cut down enough in performance terms. Why spend the extra on the premium model when this, with a 5 second overclock, can match it and save you enough money for a couple of games. How much are you saving? Prices aren't confirmed yet but we're hearing about the same as a vanilla GTX580. It might be worth snatching them up before AMD notice how good they are.
We love it. We know you'll love it. Just know that to truly make it shine it's best overclocked. That isn't to say that the stock card isn't great, it is, it just can be so much more.
Radeon is once again a brand you can be proud to have in your PC. Wonderful. Of course it's Gold.
Thanks to HIS Digital for providing the HD7950 for review. Discuss in our forums.