Review Index:

AMD Radeon HD 7870 2GB and HD 7850 2GB Pitcairn Review

Author: Ryan Shrout
Manufacturer: AMD

GPU Testbed - Sandy Bridge-E, X79, New Games

For the Radeon HD 7970 3GB review (and all those going forward) we decided it was high time we replaced the somewhat dated Nehalem-based infrastructure (even though honestly, it was fast enough) with something a bit more current.  Obviously that meant going with the new Intel Sandy Bridge-E processor and X79 motherboard - by combining support for 40 PCI Express lanes and 3-4 full size GPU slots it makes for the perfect GPU base.

From this point on, our reviews will based around the following system:

  • Intel Core i7-3960X CPU
  • ASUS P9X79 Pro motherboard
  • Corsair DDR3-1600 4 x 4GB Vengeance memory
  • 600GB Western Digital VelociRaptor HDD
  • 1200 watt Corsair Professional Series power supply
  • Windows 7 SP1 x64

The ASUS P9X79 Pro

The Intel Core i7-3960X gives us the fastest consumer-level CPU on the market to help eliminate the possibility of any processor-based bottlenecks in our testing (whenever possible).  There are still going to be some games that could use more speed (Skyrim comes to mind) but for our purposes this is as good as you get without getting into any kind of overclocked settings.  The ASUS P9X79 Pro motherboard has enough space for three dual-slot graphics cards when the time comes for testing 3-Way SLI and CrossFire and 8 DIMM slots should we want to go up from our current setup of 16GB of Corsair Vengeance memory.  

I chose to stick with the 600GB VelociRaptor hard drive rather than an SSD as our total installation size with Windows 7 SP1 x64 and 6+ games was already hitting the 115GB range.  Finally the 1200 watt power supply from Corsair offers up more than enough juice for three power hungry graphics cards while running quietly enough to not throw off our noise testing drastically.

Speaking of noise, for this article we are re-introducing our sound level testing thanks to the Extech 407738 Sound Level Meter capable of monitor decibel ratings as low as 20db.  This allows me to accurately tell you the noise levels generated by the graphics cards that make in-house at PC Perspective.

Along with the new hardware configuration comes a host of new games.  For this review we will be using the following benchmarks and games for performance evaluation:

  • Battlefield 3
  • Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • DiRT 3
  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Metro 2033
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution
  • 3DMark11
  • Unigine Heaven v2.5

This collection of games is both current and takes into account several different genres as well - first person role playing, third person action, racing, first person shooting, etc.  3DMark11 and Unigine Heaven give us a way to see how the cards stack up in a more synthetic environment while the real-world gameplay testing provided by the six games completes the performance picture.

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Radeon HD 7870 2GB

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Radeon HD 7850 2GB

For this review we are going to be creating some interesting comparison based around Pitcairn.  With an estimated retail price of $349, the HD 7870 2GB card will be going against Radeon HD 6970 2GB, the GeForce GTX 570 1.25GB and even the GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB card.  We are skewing the comparisons UP simply because we were impressed with the performance offered by these cards.  

While the Radeon HD 6970 is getting hard to find, we wanted to include it to see performance improvements from the Cayman architecture to the new Southern Islands designs.  The GTX 570 card is the most appropriately priced competition from NVIDIA though the GTX 580 is actually in a battle in some cases as well.  

When we look at the Radeon HD 7850, priced at $249, we are throwing it against the Radeon HD 6950 2GB card, the GTX 570 1.25GB as well as the GTX 560 Ti 1GB option.  

The GTX 560 Ti is probably the closet competitor to the HD 7850 in pricing though as we'll see in our testing, the GTX 570 is being threatened as well at about an $80 premium.  

Let's jump into the benchmarks!!

March 5, 2012 | 12:22 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I think I found my new upgrade...

March 5, 2012 | 12:47 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I think you will not be alone.

March 25, 2012 | 09:38 AM - Posted by Leandro (not verified)

Definitely, you won't be alone. I was about to build my rig with a GTX 560 Ti to ass another one later. But now, I'll wait for 7870 wich is very close to GTX 570 but whit much lower power consumption, making it possible to Crossfire on my TX750 PSU.

March 25, 2012 | 09:38 AM - Posted by Leandro (not verified)

Definitely, you won't be alone. I was about to build my rig with a GTX 560 Ti to ass another one later. But now, I'll wait for 7870 wich is very close to GTX 570 but whit much lower power consumption, making it possible to Crossfire on my TX750 PSU.

March 5, 2012 | 12:41 AM - Posted by Dreadteir

Thanks for that last page Ryan, I enjoyed seeing the spread of the 7000 series cards and it will really make me think when I do my birthday upgrade. So far it's either the 7950 or the 7870.

Tough choice.

March 5, 2012 | 12:47 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Yeah, I thought seeing the data in that way was kind of interesting, even as someone who has tested each of them.

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March 5, 2012 | 01:28 AM - Posted by Buyers

I liked the last page's comparison as well. Shows the spread of the 7K family.

I was hoping for a little more out of the 7870 i think. Appears to be about on par with the gtx570 which can be had for $315 after rebate. I can wait for Kepler to drop and competition to bring the 7K series prices down before i make a decision on upgrading.

March 5, 2012 | 01:20 AM - Posted by Confused (not verified)

Confused as to why nearly everyone including pcper didn't show relative benchmarks again 7970 and 7950.

March 5, 2012 | 01:30 AM - Posted by Buyers

Did you skip the last page? Entire 7K series comparison.

March 5, 2012 | 01:53 AM - Posted by Confused (not verified)

Yeah I did actually.

Thanks for pointing that out, shame on me for thinking pcper would drop the ball like other sites have.


March 5, 2012 | 11:54 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

What he said. Thanks for reading!

March 5, 2012 | 04:34 AM - Posted by Nilbog

I'm a little pissed now, based on the price/performance aspect. I just bought a 6970 this month!

Those benchmarks made the 560 Ti look like trash...

I like the new office, and the bins of graphics cards.

March 5, 2012 | 09:39 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

But the big question is... how much did you pay for said 6970? While the 7870 is faster overall, it still isn't available and it will be at least $359 once it hits (and depending on demand, might reach a little higher). If you got a 6970 for $330 or less, then I would say it is still a good buy.

March 5, 2012 | 05:28 PM - Posted by Nilbog

I just got this 6970 Lightning, for around 359$. Its is now "Deactivated" on Newegg...
No second card for me it seems....

I'm not too upset since my card came overclocked, and i can clock it higher. It is still a great card.
Though I kinda wish AMD stopped selling these cards so close to release, or dropped the price more.
I got it less than 3 weeks ago, i kinda feel like a jackass now...

March 5, 2012 | 09:53 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Well... that's still an awesome card. Not a terrible price either for what you end up getting. That thing is a beast...

March 6, 2012 | 02:20 PM - Posted by Nilbog

I'm not disappointed with the card, the custom cooler keeps it cool a 60C on full load @ 940MHz. So some more OCing headroom exists. It is a beast.

I still wish AMD stopped selling cards that are under-powered compared to the new versions at stock clocks. (6970 vs 7970 vs 7870) Or at least some hint that these cards are going to be replaced in a big way, not just a incremental update like i7 1st gen vs i7 2nd gen. Where the advantages come from the process change not an entire new architecture. I'm just being bitter, don't mind me.

March 9, 2012 | 03:05 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

Or if you got a 6950 2gb for $250 and unlocked it to 6970 even better deal :)

May 27, 2012 | 05:29 PM - Posted by Don (not verified)

How about a 6950 for $200 and unlock it to a 6970? New Egg has one for only 2 bills this weekend.

March 5, 2012 | 04:46 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

This generation AMD are first to release the cards but will suffer in the end coz the prices are inflated. Especially, the release of kepler will highlight the point. this gen goes to nvidia and there are no 2 ways abt it. consider the fact that the 7850 is abt 10% faster than gtx 560 ti, a card launched over 14 months b4. Thats not impressive. The price perfrmance thing will be the biggest downer for AMD when kepler comes out. AMD really needs to reduce the prices. and they will wen kepler is released, but those who buy the cards now will be weeping. SO i say better wait for kepler. I am also holding off my nxt rig for kepler and ivy bridge. But those upgrading should wait till april or whenever kepler is released.

March 5, 2012 | 04:09 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

I disagree with pretty much everything you just wrote.
1. Why would AMD suffer in the end because of their current prices? They can adjust the prices down when needed...
2. In regards to comparing cards that just launched etc - Nvidias recent card the GTX 560ti 448core is slower than the 6970 that came out over a year ago also.
3.Price/performance will be a big downer when keplar is released? How do you know? Keplar release date is not even announced and no real reviews are available. How do you know all this?

I'm sorry, but you are speculating way too much.

March 5, 2012 | 05:41 AM - Posted by Irishgamer01

I'm not sure 7000 series are giving enough bang for the buck...or Euro to upgrade. AS it stands people are not doing a lot of upgrading.

I am a big ebay fan and no used cards have poped up lately, in any great number. (Still looking for that third 580, at the right price.)

7970/50 Likely to be toppled by Kepler. We just have to hope nvidia don't put a premium on AMD's premium price.

7870/50 are being compared to existing nvidia cards so we know this will change, so that's why I feel they don't give that performance jump that buyers now will needed.

March 5, 2012 | 06:30 AM - Posted by rrr (not verified)

Prices of 7xxx are high, because 6xxx cards are still in stock, and AMD does not want to cannibalize their sales - ie. clear stock. It's common strategy.

March 5, 2012 | 04:12 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

Also remember what Ryan said in the review. AMD is matching Nvidias performance and pricing all while consuming SIGNIFICANTLY LESS power (IE money in your bank) and putting out less heat. Also remember, you are getting more than 2 monitors with only 1 card if you want.
I like NVidia and i am not an AMD fan boy by any means, but my loyalty lies with the almighty dollar and right now AMD is winning.

March 5, 2012 | 08:39 AM - Posted by elel (not verified)

Be careful when copying marketing graphics. The marketshare slide on the first page doesn't say "of DirectX 11 graphics cards", it says "of Enthusiast* DirectX 11 graphics cards". Where does the asterisk lead?

March 5, 2012 | 10:07 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Interesting thought, I'll look.

March 5, 2012 | 10:08 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

By "enthusiast class" they are referring to GPUs with a launch price of $199 or greater.

March 5, 2012 | 11:19 AM - Posted by elel (not verified)


March 5, 2012 | 11:23 AM - Posted by jedibeeftrix (not verified)

"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."

Been running 5760x1200 from a single 2GB 5870 for the last two years.

March 5, 2012 | 11:55 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Right, but that is Eyefinity technology that is NOT found on NVIDIA GPUs yet.

March 5, 2012 | 01:55 PM - Posted by pdjblum


The value and importance of minimums is not lost on you as it is on so many so called enthusiast sites. Thanks for that. On Anand, for instance, can't even tell what metric he is using, and can't be bothered to read so an amateurish review. But he uses acrap for his main box, so he is far from the enthusiast he claims to be.

March 5, 2012 | 02:27 PM - Posted by Adam (not verified)

Great cards, but I got a AMD 6870 and don;t see much need to upgrade. I'll probably wait for the next generation in 2013.Great Review as always Ryan. Now we just need Nvidia to come out with theirs so there will be price drops.

March 5, 2012 | 03:20 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout


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March 5, 2012 | 04:20 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

Ryan, any expectations from crossfire yet?

March 5, 2012 | 06:33 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I would assume very similar scaling to the HD 7900 cards, though I am still waiting on the second 7870 and 7850 to arrive.

March 9, 2012 | 03:10 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

Awesome, looking forward to an update on this review with crossfire :)

March 5, 2012 | 09:49 PM - Posted by Angryfuture (not verified)

Say goodbye to 4870x2...for me anyway.

I assume there will be a sweet discussion in this weeks podcast?

March 5, 2012 | 11:39 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

You would be correct. And yikes, that 4870 X2 is probably a hater this winter!

March 14, 2012 | 10:20 AM - Posted by Mark Allen (not verified)

Thanks for the info, ive got 200 quid burning a hole in my pocket and was torn between a Nvidia 480 as there on offer or a 6950 but i think i'll wait a few weeks and see what uk price we get on the 7850.

Oh and on your podcasts please try and keep doing the funny little audio clips when it starts before the music of one of you lot saying something weird... It always makes me smile :)

March 24, 2012 | 02:59 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I don't see much difference yet, beside power consumption, between a stock 7850 and a stock 6950, and both are having the same price. Even, I can get a 6950 overclocked for it.

May 31, 2012 | 10:34 PM - Posted by IceBoX (not verified)

Something Wrong! on Battlefield 3 GTX 570 Detail Grafics FPSAvg:
1680x1050 56 Avg / 33 Min / 92 Max
1920x1080 48 Avg / 29 Min / 81 Max

Correct or Not? Ryan Edit?

Thanks! Nice Review!

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