PowerColor HD 7950 3GB Boost State Review
AMD’s response to the GTX 660 Ti’s launch has been lightning-quick. Less than two days before NVIDIA’s new Kepler-based products hit the market, we received a revamped BIOS for the HD 7950 which added PowerTune Boost to the card’s already impressive list of features. The result is a refreshed SKU which has been named the Boost State Edition by PowerColor (or variations thereof by other board partners) and –at least according to AMD’s PR team- would be no more expensive than other HD 7950s already on the market.
We took these claims with a grain of salt since we heard a similar story with the HD 7970 GHz Edition which was initially supposed to become available at $449 soon after its announcement in June. That didn’t happen as GHz Editions only became available in the last few weeks and many were priced well above $449. Luckily, AMD seems hell-bent on avoiding past mistakes and limited quantities of the HD 7950 Boost Edition started showing up for $349 late last week. We actually bought one, hence why this review is going up now. There was also some concern some cards wouldn’t carry a new labeling scheme but we were happily proven wrong as AMD’s board partners brought clearly labeled Boost Edition cards into the retail channels. Mission accomplished on both of those fronts.
So far it looks like Sapphire, PowerColor and HIS will all have products supporting the Boost feature but the list of board partners that have chosen to either delay or (for the time being) go without a HD 7950 Boost SKU is quite long. In North America alone, Tier One AiBs like XFX, ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI and Diamond have all foregone Boost Edition announcements for the time being. The reasoning behind this is actually quite simple from a business perspective. According to our sources, there’s currently a large supply of standard HD 7950’s already in the channel and the introduction of an official Boost Edition at $349 has devalued the partners’ current inventory. As a result, many companies will either be moving towards heavy discounts of the standard cards before transitioning to a Boost version or may possibly take a wait-and-see approach to properly judge people’s reactions.
AMD’s reaction to the GTX 660 Ti may have thrown portions of their supply chain into abject confusion but the current situation couldn’t be better for anyone looking for a mid-tier graphics card. With a Base clock of 850MHz (50MHz higher than the reference design) and maximum Boost speeds of 925MHz, this new HD 7950 Boost Edition should be slightly better than the outgoing version while hopefully putting a bit more breathing room between the Tahiti and Pitcairn architectures. In order to achieve these higher clocks speeds, AMD raised the core’s voltage from 1.093V to 1.25V which should increase overclocking headroom, power consumption and heat production. Unlike HD 7970 to HD 7970 GHz Edition evolution, memory speeds have stayed at a constant 5Gbps.
The Boost Edition should help AMD better compete on a price / performance level against the GTX 670 which –at $399- is only challenged by the HD 7970 right now. Nonetheless, AMD’s intent for this new Boost Edition is to eventually replace the standard HD 7950 and going forward, any new cards from board partners will incorporate the new BIOS.
Mentioning the HD 7970 brings us to our next point: AMD had to be very careful with this launch because boosting the HD 7950’s performance too much would have cannibalized HD 7970 sales. Granted, the two cards are about 17% apart in most situations but it will be interesting to see how close this new version will bring the two cards together. Expect to see overclocked versions of the HD 7950 Boost Edition hitting the 1.1GHz mark in the coming months.
It looks like PowerColor forgot a sticker in their rush to get this card to retailers
To say we were highly critical of AMD’s strategy is being generous and we held off using the BIOS sent to reviewers last week for a number of reasons. First and foremost, there was no way to independently verify the price at which board partners decided to sell their HD 7950 Boost cards so coming up with a fair and balanced conclusion against a known quantity like the GTX 660 Ti would have been impossible. We also wanted to ensure reception of a product that was bound for the retail channels instead of flashing the BIOS on a reference card that was sent to the press long ago. So unlike others, we resisted the urge to be first out of the gate with a review that didn’t include the necessary context and we waited until the cards became available to purchase. We were also quite vocal about our position and while we stand by our stance, we do apologize for any apparent confusion this caused regarding our thoughts.
Once everything was said and done, we purchased a retail version of PowerColor’s HD 7950 Boost Edition, putting our money where our collective mouths are. As you can see from the picture above, their card is based off of a reference board design but its heatsink assembly comes equipped with a centrally-mounted 70mm intake fan. This replaces the blower-style affair seen on HD 7950s that were first sampled to the press and as far as we’ve been told, the “reference” Boost Edition may never be available on cards sporting AMD’s initial reference heatsink design.
PowerColor’s card comes in at the standard 850MHz / 925MHz Boost Edition core clocks while the memory is also left at a default 5Gbps. Naturally, this leads to a competitive price of $349 which should make it an excellent option for budget conscious first time buyers or anyone looking to upgrade. Or at least that’s what AMD and PowerColor hope….
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