AMD Radeon HD 7870 & HD 7850 Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: March 3, 2012
Product Name: Radeon HD 7870 & HD 7850
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HD 7870 GHz Edition Conclusion

As evidenced throughout this review, there is are plenty of choices between the $200 and $350 price points yet AMD has successfully navigated around the pitfalls that normally arise when parachuting a card into such a competitive market. Their HD 7870 when up against some longstanding heavyweights and it usually came out on top.

The 28nm manufacturing process is paying dividends for AMD by keeping power consumption abnormally low –we’re talking HD 6850 levels here- while clock speeds are tickling the 1GHz mark. This has allowed the HD 7870 to not only compete with some of the previous generation’s enthusiast level products but it has also granted a fair amount of overclocking headroom. Our sample almost hit the 1.2GHz mark, granting performance that was equal to that of a HD 7950 and we’re guessing that with a bit more juice higher levels would have been easily achievable.

Overclocking headroom and lower power consumption may look great on paper but the HD 7870 doesn’t come cheap. A price of $349 puts it firmly into the upper midrange which could have caused some serious problems considering this is the current domain of NVIDIA’s GTX 570 and AMD’s now EOL’d HD 6970 2GB. Instead of falling flat, the HD 7870 2GB rose to the occasion by handily beating the HD 6950 and in most cases pulling well ahead of the aforementioned HD 6970. Granted, the price / performance goal posts haven’t been moved all that much against fellow AMD cards but unlike the HD 7770, we’re seeing some meaningful steps in the right direction.

The HD 7870 is particularly successful since it offers most of the HD 7950’s performance at a fraction of its cost, provided resolutions stay at 1920 x 1200 or less. This does however cause some tension within AMD’s own lineup. With such a minimal performance difference at today’s most popular resolutions and a large $100 price difference between the two, AMD may have effectively castrated the HD 7950’s chance of market success. That’s great news for anyone looking to drop $350 on a graphics card but early adopters who bought a HD 7950 can’t be feeling all that happy right now.

When compared against NVIDIA cards, the HD 7870 is able to achieve some impressive results but once again we’re not seeing all that much progression from one generation to the next. It may narrowly beat a GTX 570 but let’s not forget that card was launched at an identical $349 price more than a year ago. However, the HD 7870’s 15% average improvement at high resolutions is particularly important since this speaks to a level of high image quality performance that will be necessary for upcoming games. More importantly, performance comes dangerously close to equaling the GTX 580 and if it wasn’t for NVIDIA’s latest drivers being released a few weeks ago, these numbers would have been even closer.

If you are in the market for a sub-$400 GPU or are looking to step up from a HD 5800-series product, the HD 7870 2GB is the card you'll want to pick up. It has all the makings of a success story: great performance, a relatively affordable price, low power consumption, quiet operation and plenty of overclocking headroom. With that being said, AMD may become a victim of their own success since they’ve almost made it impossible to recommend the $450 HD 7950 3GB unless there's an absolute need for the extra memory bandwidth it brings to the table.


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