AMD Radeon HD 7870 & HD 7850 Review
With today’s release of the HD 7870 and HD 7850, AMD has achieved their goal of having a complete top to bottom desktop graphics card lineup based upon the new GCN architecture. Some of their cards have met with absolute success while others didn’t quite live up to expectations on the pricing front but for the most part, AMD’s HD 7000-series cards provide an excellent combination of performance and efficiency.
These two new entries into the lineup are meant to effectively bridge the gap between the high end and entry level markets. For many the HD 7700 series simply doesn’t provide enough performance in today’s games and the HD 7900 cards are too expensive to fit into most gamers' limited budgets. The comfortable middle ground between these solutions was previously bridged by NVIDIA’s numerous GTX 560 Ti versions alongside AMD’s own HD 6800 series but that all important position is now being taken up by the so-called “Pitcairn” architecture.
Upon first glance AMD’s new mid range product stack looks to be quite simple but there is actually some overlap with cards from the previous generation. The HD 7870’s 20 Compute Units which play host to 1280 Stream Processors put it well above the older HD 6870’s capabilities but more importantly, the 80 texture units put theoretical performance closer to the outgoing HD 6900-series rather than any of the popular Barts-based cards. With an engine clock of 1GHz working in tandem with the GCN architecture's inherent rendering efficiency, AMD is betting their Pitcairn XT will provide a natural upgrade path for anyone still holding onto a HD 5870 or looking to step up from the HD 6870. It does lag a bit behind the Cayman architecture in terms of memory speed but with 2GB of GDDR5 operating at 4.8Gbps, bandwidth almost certainly won’t be a concern. A price of $349 also puts the HD 7870 close to the HD 6970’s initial asking price of $369 so it obviously has some big shoes to fill.
The Pitcairn Pro –or HD 7850- doesn’t have such lofty expectations but with a cost of $249 it lines up with some legendary products from years past. The HD 6870, GTX 460 1GB, GTX 560 Ti and many cards from previous generations were launched at this critical price point and all went on to sales success. With 1024 cores coupled with 64 TMUs and 32 ROPs, the HD 7850 seems to have what it takes to stay competitive. More importantly, this happens to be the first sub-$300 card to boast 2GB of memory operating on a 256-bit wide bus which should make it a great solution for a market that’s accepted 1080P PC monitors as a de facto standard.
AMD certainly has a rosy outlook when it comes to comparing the HD 7800-series with NVIDIA’s incumbent 500-series. According to their predictions the $349 HD 7870 should handily beat the GTX 570 while the HD 7850 has been tasked with the goal of putting the popular GTX 560 Ti to shame. No mention was made of the recently released GTX 560 Ti 448 but we’ll still include it in our performance charts for comparison’s sake.
NVIDIA hasn’t even found it necessary to cut the price of their GeForce lineup since the GTX 570 retails for about $349 without rebates, the GXT 560 Ti sits at $190 and GTX 560 Ti 448 still retains its launch price $289. Rather than causing their competition to react to pressure on the pricing front, AMD is confident that consumers will see the value of their solution over what’s being offered by NVIDIA.
The $249 to $349 bracket is constantly referred to as the graphics market’s “sweet spot” and AMD is quite obviously hell bent on staking their claim to it. Plus, having their whole lineup based on $100 increments should also give them plenty of wiggle room if price cuts are needed sometime down the road.
There are however some wrenches thrown into the works. Not only is the competition going to be fierce but the HD 7800 series won’t be actually available until March 19th (or later according to some board partners). Usually we prefer to see a hard launch since without one, the competition could in theory adjust their prices to compensate for any performance discrepancy even before the new cards are widely available. So AMD may be taking a risk but regardless of the final outcome these new cards could be precisely what everyone has been waiting for.
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