AMD Radeon HD 7970 3GB Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: December 21, 2011
Product Name: Radeon HD 7970 3GB
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There has been over a year of rumors leading up to this day but after countless false leads and misplaced rumors, AMD is finally set to launch the first salvo of their Southern Islands architecture. Unlike nearly every series since the days of R600, this isn’t simply another refreshed core layout with a few bits added on for additional functionality. Rather, what we are looking at today is the culmination of lessons learned over the last few generations of DX10 and DX11 parts all looped together within a 4.3 billion transistor die. Think this architecture as AMD’s version of Fermi but without the rampant power consumption; it has been designed from the ground up for class leading performance in compute and DX11 environments.

As we saw with Cypress, AMD had some issues achieving optimal results in current generation applications from an architecture that had largely been around since 2006. Cayman changed things around a bit by moving away from VLIW5 and instituting a more efficient VLIW4 core instruction set while including some additional features meant to speed up DX11 rendering. Southern Islands meanwhile kicks the VLIW architecture to the curb once and for all and goes down a path less travelled with a new ground up core redesign called Graphics Core Next. We’ll talk more about the changes in upcoming sections but for the sake of briefness; let’s just say that the differences are significant.

The Tahiti core...all 4.3 billion transistors

The initial cards being launched will carry the Tahiti XT and Tahiti Pro codenames and will be equipped the fullest implementation of the new core design. However, they only represent the tip of AMD’s Southern Islands iceberg since we’re expecting a full top to bottom refreshed lineup before too long.

Naturally, the powers that be wanted to introduce gamers to their flagship single GPU product first which is why today marks the official unveiling of AMD’s HD 7970 3GB. This graphics card sports the 28nm Tahiti XT core and is supposed to set new standards in both gaming and compute performance while maintaining almost the same power consumption as an HD 6970. Sounds impossible doesn’t it? Wait until you see some of the results we were able to squeeze out of this thing. The HD 7970 also includes some never before seen features like PCI-E 3.0 and DirectX 11.1 for those who want a bit of future proofing in their purchases.

With all of that out of the way, it’s time for a bit of transparency. AMD was originally set to launch the HD 7970 alongside its little (yet still very capable) Tahiti Pro sibling in early January but right before we started gearing up for Christmas, things changed. The launch was pulled forward to today and instead of having product in the channel when this review goes live, we’re looking at yet another paper launch from the folks over at AMD. The official date of availability remains January 9th but whether or not there will actually be sufficient cards on shelves remains the million dollar question. In terms of pricing, a number of $549 was thrown out there but we’ll see what retailers end up doing with a flagship card that may be in short supply for the foreseeable future.

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