Review Index:

AMD Radeon HD 7970 3GB Graphics Card Review - Tahiti at 28nm

Author: Ryan Shrout
Manufacturer: AMD

Power Management, Eyefinity and Video Codec Engine

PowerTune technology was introduced by AMD with the 6000 series of cards in order to address the issue of "problem applications" that cause the usage and thermals of a graphics card to get out skew with reality.  Programs like Furmark and OCCT SC8 that were built basically as stress tests for graphics cards and GPUs had a bad habit of frying components when pushed to their limits.  AMD and NVIDIA both saw this as a negative for the industry - it caused them to be more tentative with their clock speeds on GPUs in order to save thermal headroom for those rogue programs.  

PowerTune is a solution that monitors and calculates the power signature of a piece of software to keep it from exceeding the maximum threshold set by the GPU vendor.

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In a sense, this allowed both GPU companies to set higher default clock speeds for running games at on current generation GPUs without the worry of a user running Furmark, frying their card, and asking for a refund.  AMD's PowerTune is a hardware-based solution that keeps things in check and adjusts the clock speeds as necessary to keep things in bounds.  

The initial worry from users and the media was that this would mean variable performance on a card to card basis - but this fear never came to be. 

A new technology AMD is introducing with the Radeon HD 7970 is ZeroCore Power that puts the GPU in a nearly completely powered off state when your display goes to sleep.

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During a long idle state, which is defined as when your screen is put to sleep in the Windows power settings, the GPU will enter a new power state that borrows technology from AMD's mobility line of graphics chips.  When in this mode the GPU actually consumes less than a watt of power while the entire 7970 card uses less than 3 watts!  The fan turns off (it doesn't just slow down) and you have basically a silent running, yet powered on and ready for you to just move the mouse, PC.  

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Maybe even more interestingly, this technology allows the non-primary GPUs running in a CrossFireX configuration to completely power down when you are in Windows mode.  If you are running a set of three HD 7970s then while doing basic web browsing the second and third GPUs will be running at a sub-watt level and won't be contributing to the noise levels of your system either.  This will even apply to multi-GPU cards when they are released later in the year.

This is the kind of innovation we want to see to push the further adoption of multi-GPU gaming rigs!

Eyefinity Improvements

AMD's Eyefinity was the first to bring multi-display gaming to the masses and it continues to be the leading detriment to gamer's wallets everywhere.  With the Southern Islands architecture the team at AMD is bringing a few new changes to the ecosystem.

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Even though we saw it released with the 11.12 and 12.1 driver this month, the added ability to run both Eyefinity and AMD HD3D gaming at the same time is welcome addition to the Radeon HD 7970.  Yes NVIDIA has had this option for a while with 3D Vision Surround but only the AMD offerings will be able to do it from a single graphics cards - NVIDIA still requires an SLI setup.  

And, as we'll see later in the benchmark portion of our review, with the performance the HD 7970 provides, running Eyefinity and even HD3D is a viable option for those of you with the funds.

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Another really awesome update is the inclusion of discrete digital multi-point audio.  DDM Audio allows for a lot of cool functionality, one of which is the ability to output independent audio streams to each display that is connected via HDMI or DisplayPort.  As indicated in the above slide, this allows for conferencing where the audio actually comes from the display associated with that sound.  Of course, the complication here is that video conference software like ooVoo will be required to specifically target this functionality.  

Side note - AMD and ooVoo tried to demonstrate this at the technology day in Austin, TX and while it was functional, it obviously needed some more tweaking.  Be sure you try a demo of any software out before shelling out the money for it. 

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My absolute favorite capability of DDMA is that you can now have a central computer act as your entertainment hub while getting different audio streams to different parts of your house.  If you have ever wanted to share a computer with another user (one watching Netflix while you surf the web) then you already know how important this could be. 

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With the Radeon HD 7970 it is now possible to both play a game and (either you or another person) to watch video with support for audio, at the same time!  Who says ADHD is an outdated trait?

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Another much-requested feature is the ability to set custom resolutions in the control panel as well as moving the taskbar and default desktop locations to the center monitor.  AMD is going to be addressing both of these Eyefinity quirks with the 12.2 driver release due in February!

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The oft-discussed, never-released MST Hub, that allows for splitting of a DisplayPort 1.2 connection into three DP ports, will finally be available in the Summer of 2012 according to AMD.  These devices won't be cheap though - expect to pay ~$150 each for the ability to run 6 monitors off of your standard 6000 or 7000-series graphics cards. 

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Finally, AMD's HD 7970 graphics card will be the first to support the new HDMI 3 GHz standard that allows for higher resolutions across the connection that has become the video standard.  3 GHz HDMI will allow for true 60 Hz per eye on a 1080p resolution 3D configuration as well as running 4K displays off of a single input (as opposed to the two they require today).  While this is a great feature, no displays that I know of in the consumer market yet support the 3 GHz standard, but at least you will have the option with a Radeon HD 7000-series card for the future.  

Video Codec Engine

Another new addition to the Southern Islands GPU is support for the AMD Video Codec Engine that changes the way video encoding is done on the GPU.  At its core the VCE offers an H.264 fixed function encoder that is both power efficient and faster than real-time working on 1080p 60 Hz content.  This technology can be seen as an answer to Intel's QuickSync technology.

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There are two modes this technology can run in - full and hybrid.  The "full mode" runs completely on the fixed hardware and is the most power efficient HD encoding process on the AMD platform.  

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In the "hybrid mode" the VCE takes advantage of the compute power of the GPU and improves performance with the scalable pipeline that SI provides. 

We didn't have any applications that implemented this technology available quite yet but we are curious to see how the image quality of each implementation compares and how it stacks up to the QuickSync technology offered on Sandy Bridge. 

December 22, 2011 | 12:15 AM - Posted by wargames12

If it's faster that the 580, it kind of makes sense that it costs a bit more. It's pretty disappointing to see the prices of current gen cards stay so high for so long though. Hopefully when we see Nvidia's new card we'll see some price drops all around on the current generation.

December 22, 2011 | 12:40 AM - Posted by Mr_Tea (not verified)

My thoughts exactly. I was hoping to see AMD drive the performance/dollar up with this release. At this rate single GPUs will be launching at $1000 in 2 years :(

December 22, 2011 | 12:47 AM - Posted by wargames12

I want to blame the rich guys who will actually pay the extra 2-300 dollars for the extra 10-20 percent performance, but I can't. I would do the same if I had the extra cash haha.

December 26, 2011 | 10:49 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

That is pretty funny! You obviously don't remember how much the 8800GTX and Ultra cost when they were launched. I paid $950.00 for my first 8800GTX. With the price drop just go Crossfire it keeps getting better and better, as well as cheaper.

January 3, 2014 | 11:21 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Ha, turns out you were right.

December 22, 2011 | 12:57 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I'm glad that point came across well in my review. I love the performance out of this, but I guess I just expected/wanted AMD to undercut NVIDIA to put pressure on them and start the price wars again.

There is still a chance that NVIDIA cuts the GTX 580 down to $425 or something - they have a lot of room with the GTX 570 priced at $340. If they do that, then AMD will have to drop the 7970 price.

December 22, 2011 | 12:51 AM - Posted by Buyers

Good solid review. I think i was hoping for a little more of a performance increase over the 580. I look forward to seeing eyefinity benchmarks with this card with crossfire setup.

Couple of edits:
Page 3, talking about DDMA:Multi-tasking under image of triple screen gaming with soccer on background tv:"With the Radeon HD 7970 it is not possible to both play a game and..." should that be now, given the way the rest of the sentence and paragraph read?

Metro 2033 @ 1920x1080 line graph X-axis labels are the default Series1/2/3/4 instead of the gpu name labels.

December 22, 2011 | 12:56 AM - Posted by Tim Verry

Yes, it is now possible.

December 22, 2011 | 12:58 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Yeah, thanks for that type - kind of a big difference. :)

And also, yes, we are looking forward to doing both Eyefinity and CrossFire testing very soon!

Let me know if there are particular titles you want to see tested!

December 23, 2011 | 06:01 PM - Posted by Nacelle (not verified)

I'm sure it goes without saying BF3 in Eyefinity is what everyone wants. Not much else brings two 6970's to a crawl.

December 22, 2011 | 12:57 AM - Posted by Slash3 (not verified)

Would it be possible to disable vsync on Skyrim and re-run your tests? There are several methods which successfully disable it, including editing the .cfg file (iPresentInterval=0) or using a utility like Radpro to force vsync disable on the process. As it stands, that particular game's set of benchmarks is totally useless. Nice card, though.

December 22, 2011 | 01:00 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Based on my research and testing, I wasn't able to find a way to do disable Vsync with AMD cards without modding the game, which seems less than ideal.

If you have a link to a solution though directly, I'll gladly try it!

December 22, 2011 | 01:10 AM - Posted by Kennneth (not verified)

Who are you going to believe?

December 22, 2011 | 01:13 AM - Posted by Mr_Tea (not verified)

I saw a slide that showed this card doing separate audio out to each display and intelligently switching if a video was moved to another display. Any truth to that? Testing? That would be pretty awesome. Thanks.

December 22, 2011 | 01:19 AM - Posted by Mr_Tea (not verified)

Whoops, must have skipped that page.

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December 22, 2011 | 01:25 AM - Posted by RashyNuke (not verified)

Ryan what is with porn music...Oh found my 7970 wetspot.

December 22, 2011 | 01:31 AM - Posted by jstnomega (not verified)

given the current state of the art re Vid games, isn't it all still a matter of pushing pixels? if that's the case, then clearly something aint right here - look at the 40nm vs 28nm Pixel Fillrate figures in Ryan's video - barely any gain at all

December 22, 2011 | 01:46 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Pixel fill rate is not really the defining factor right now. It is not how many pixels you can push its what you calculate on those pixels in real-time. Shading power! Oh, and geometry is picking up again in importance.

December 22, 2011 | 02:25 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Great review, its nice to see someone actually moving the technology along, and innovating. Seamlessly it seems, this time.

December 22, 2011 | 10:26 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Agreed. More than than a year with the GTX 6970 and GTX 580 is enough for me.

December 22, 2011 | 03:05 AM - Posted by bjv2370

good review

December 22, 2011 | 04:52 AM - Posted by Irishgamer01

This card is way over priced.
I for one will be sticking to my current setups. For now.
The sweet spot for this level of card is 399.
While performance is better its not enough for me.
I want to see Nvidia's offering. If they hold their current pricing structure, match or better performance, then AMD will be punished big time.

Will give me a certain amount of pleasure, as I hate price milking, just because they can.

December 22, 2011 | 10:27 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Yes, what NVIDIA has to say about GPUs in the next few months will be very important here. Curious to see if Kepler will hold up to its promises.

December 22, 2011 | 06:36 AM - Posted by Metwinge (not verified)

I shall be placing my 2 5870's for one of these as im very impressed by these benchmark scores especially in BF3 as thats the game im playing atm. I have 2 1080p monitors sitting under our tree so i can see these cards taking a bashing with the few high end games i play

Thanks for the excellent review Ryan

December 22, 2011 | 10:27 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout


And have fun with Eyefinity!

December 22, 2011 | 08:37 AM - Posted by Kevin (not verified)

Great review, but I cant see spending upwards of $600 for it =/

December 22, 2011 | 08:44 AM - Posted by Apostrophe (not verified)

It is a lovely video card - shame the price is a bit high. I do hope Nvidia responds with something equally impressive. 2012 is going to be interesting.

By the way, have you guys considered adding Star Wars: The Old Republic to your battery of tests? It's the biggest MMO to launch in years and I would expect that a large portion of your readers will be interested.

December 22, 2011 | 10:28 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

We did consider it, but didn't have to validate before this article. We still might, depending on how GPU-bound the game is, if it all.

December 22, 2011 | 08:56 AM - Posted by nabokovfan87

Extremely glad the GCN architecture Isn't as terrible as bulldozer ended up. I went to the skyrim page first and was waiting for a huge dissapointment, but yeah.

I am intrigued to see how my box will handle the new card. I have an MSI 4850 512mb and am upgrading to the next card made by the 48xx series team. Sort of amazing to think of the differences in performance is going to be 5-10x better when comparing raw specifications alone.

If anyone is interested I will be doing some benchmarks and testing things out, if PCPER wants to use those for a writeup or discuss it, I would be more then happy to provide it and listen to your thoughts.


ALSO: There are a lot of people waiting to upgrade, waiting for the "new stuff" from either to decide on what to do, that is why the pricing is so high right away. Like I said above and I am sure many others will be grabbing the 4950, it is more about upgrading then it is price. These cards last 3-4 years, and the price initially is worth it for the upgrade possibilities and expanded feature set then what is currently available in terms of power usage, temperature, performance, and so on.

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