AMD Radeon HD 7870 2GB and HD 7850 2GB Pitcairn Review
Conclusions and Final Thoughts
The performance of the new Pitcairn GPU needs to be broken up into two parts and we'll start with the Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition. Priced at $349 when it hits the market the current competition for it includes the GTX 570 (about $10 less) and maybe even the GTX 580 ($100+ more!) depending on the game and resolution. When we compare the HD 7870 to the HD 6970, the new card outperforms it in all our of tests but two (Batman: Arkham City and Metro 2033). Since the Cayman cards are actually really hard to find now, and should be even harder to find when the HD 7800 cards finally hit the market, this isn't really a big issue for AMD.
The GTX 570 presents an interesting challenge and it more or less matches the HD 7870. In our six games, the HD 7870 falls behind in two, ties in two and wins in two; hard to get much more even than that. The GTX 580 definitely performs better but the gaps are pretty small in titles like Battlefied 3, Skyrim and DiRT 3. For the price, the Radeon HD 7870 is pretty impressive.
Following that discussion with the HD 7850 card we need to compare it to both the GTX 570 and the GTX 560 Ti. As you would expect based on our comments above, the HD 7850 can't really keep up with the GTX 570 except for a couple of select cases (Skyrim, Metro 2033). Consider that the GTX 570 is about $90 more than the HD 7850, we aren't overly concerned. If we pit it against the GTX 560 Ti, the HD 7850 runs away with the performance advantage while only demanding a $20 premium.
Power and Efficiency
While we were hoping the HD 7870 was going to really run past the GTX 570 and that the HD 7850 might be able to get close, those goals were not really achieved. However, if you look at the power consumption and efficiency, the new Pitcairn GPUs just decimate the GeForce options. While the HD 7870 and the GTX 570 perform very closely, the AMD card actually uses 84 watts LESS power under load. That is considerable and represents about 50% of the total power consumption of the HD 7870 on its own.
The same is seen for the HD 7850 - compared to the GTX 560 Ti that it completely dominates in the performance metrics, the AMD option uses 56 fewer watts!
Once NVIDIA is able to move to its Kepler architecture on the same 28nm process, we'll see if these kinds of advantages can hold up; today AMD has the clear edge in power consumption, heat and noise.
There aren't really a huge amount of new features for the SI architecture - Eyefinity is still the only single-GPU option for running multiple display gaming configurations and in fact these new GPUs may actually offer enough performance to push a 5760x1080 configuration on a single card. NVIDIA's GTX 500-series still requires you to have an SLI configuration to get Surround to function and then you dive into the world of multi-GPU issues that we have noted in previous reviews.
The availability of Eyefinity + HD3D is interesting but isn't really an HD 7000 exclusive; the 12.1 drivers offer this on Radeon 6000 series cards as well. DDMA (discrete digital multi-point audio) could really change the way users interact with different audio/video sources on their PCs but we are going to have to wait until we see implementations of it before making a conclusion there.
Texture filtering has been improved, the new Steady Video 2.0 will be available soon and we have already discussed PowerTune and ZeroCore technologies and what advantages they offer.
I am a bit disappointed that AMD took away the ability to run more than two cards in CrossFire on the 7800 series (as compared to up to four on the HD 7900 series), but I don't think that will affect many of our readers.
Pricing and Availability
Let's quickly recap the pricing of the new HD 7800-series cards and their competitors:
- AMD Radeon HD 7870 2GB - $349
- AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB - $379
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 570 1.25GB - $339
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB - $469
For my dollar, the HD 7870 is the best card in that collection. Yes, it doesn't offer as much performance as the GTX 580 though with a bit of overclocking it can do just that, all while saving $120 in your checking account. The GTX 570 does offer similar performance though the larger frame buffer on the HD 7870 (2GB vs 1.25GB) and the lower power consumption and temperatures make it a better overall solution.
- AMD Radeon HD 7850 2GB - $249
- AMD Radeon HD 6950 2GB - $269
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 570 1.25GB - $339
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB - $229
Here again, I would pick the HD 7850 as the best card in the group. It does fall behind the GTX 570 pretty handily though it costs about $90 less. The GTX 560 Ti doesn't really hold up on the performance side of things while only offering buyers a $20 discount.
If there is a problem with today's review, it is that the cards aren't going to be in the market for two weeks - AMD expects market availability on March 19th. Why the review today then? Obviously AMD wants to be able to show off and discuss Pitcairn while the CeBit and GDC shows get under way this week and they realize they won't likely be able to contain leaks at both. In my view, AMD also wants to be sure that media had time to completely digest their 7000-series lineup before we head out to meet with NVIDIA to learn about Kepler - even though we would be under NDA it would surely affect our mindset knowing what is coming.
After asking all the other staff at PC Perspective, my opinion of this being a "paper launch" was over ruled - everyone else believed that two weeks wasn't far enough to raise crap about. So, there you have it.
Where the Radeon HD 7900 cards were impressive from a pure performance stand point and the Radeon HD 7700 cards brought new features and performance per watt to the sub $200 market, the HD 7800 cards are really the ones we think warrant the most attention from gamers. For $250, the Radeon HD 7850 offers a significantly better gaming experience than the GTX 560 Ti from NVIDIA while offering enough overclocking headroom to reach towards the GTX 570. The Radeon HD 7870 is able to handle the GTX 570 in a decent fashion though it doens't stand apart from its direct competitor like the 7850 does.
All NVIDIA would have to do to shake things up is lower prices on the GTX 570 and 560 Ti forcing us to reevaluate the value points for each card, but today, AMD's Radeon HD 7800 cards are clearly the best options in their price range.
Gold Award: AMD Radeon HD 7870 2GB
Editor's Choice: AMD Radeon HD 7850 2GB