Tested: AMD Radeon HD 7970 Video Card Benchmarks

By Norman Chan

AMD's got a new high-end graphics card, and it performs magnificently, even at 2560x1600.

You didn't think we'd go through the end of 2011 without a big high-end video card launch, did you?AMD has just announced the first of its Radeon 7000 series video cards, the Radeon HD 7970. And unlike last year's 6000 series debut, AMD isn't rolling out a mid-range part first or changing up its video card naming scheme--the HD 7970 is decidedly high-end with a suggested retail price of $549 (this is a soft launch, as the card won't actually be available for sale until January 9th 2012). For that price, you not only get the best performing single-GPU video card we've tested, but also the first GPU built with a 28nm process and the first with AMD's Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture. The most exciting benefit of this new chip? Dramatic power consumption reductions that lets the GPU power down to only 3 watts of power use when on an idle blank screen.

We visited AMD earlier in the month to preview the HD 7970 and get briefed on GCN, and are working on a full recap and analysis of its technical and functional improvements. For now, here's what you really care about: the game benchmark numbers.

Notable Radeon HD 7970 Features

  • First GPU built with 28nm process
  • 925MHz core clock, overclockable to 1.1GHz (1.22GHz possible)
  • 3GB DDR5 memory
  • 1.4 the Compute power of a 6970
  • Redesigned cooling system: 6th generation vapor chamber design, wider fans and quieter acoustics
  • AMD PowerTune w/ on-chip TDP monitoring and power scaling
  • AMD ZeroCore technology: <3W power use at blank screen, 15W at static screen
  • Dual BIOS toggle switch, like in the 6990
  • Ports: 1x DL-DVI, 1x HDMI, 2x mDP (HDMI to DVI and mDP to DVI adapters included)
  • Eyefinity 2.0 support with custom resolutions and new bezel compensation settings (driver update for 6000 series cards too).

Speeds and Feeds

SpecRadeon HD 7970Radeon HD 6990Radeon HD 6970Nvidia GTX 580Nvidia GTX 570
Transistors4.31B2x 2.64B2.64B3.0B3.0B
Die SizeTBA389mm^2389mm^2529mm^2529mm^2
Compute Cores/
Stream Processors
20482x 15361536512 (not comparable)480 (not comparable)
Texture Units1282x 96966464
ROPs322x 32324848
Core Clock925MHz830MHz880MHz772MHz732MHz
Memory Clock1375MHz1250MHz1375MHz1002MHz950MHz
GDDR5 VRAM3GB2x 2GB2GB1.5GB1.25GB
Memory Bandwidth384-bit256-bit256-bit384-bit320-bit
Process28nm40nm40nm40nm40nm
MAX TDP250W375W250W244W219W
Idle TDP15W(3W)37W20W47W43W

Benchmarking Performance

PC gamers who are in the market for a $500 video card probably aren't still on Core 2-based systems or playing games on 20" 1680x1050 monitors.

Our video card testing philosophy has always been to run benchmarks on real games (eg. not synthetic benchmarks like 3dMark or Furmark) and on system configurations that are representative of ones you would actually build and use, including the monitor. Someone who is in the market for a $500 video card probably isn't still on Core 2-based system, nor would they likely be playing games on a 20" 1680x1050 monitor.

Last year, our testbed was the $1500 gaming PC we built, based off of an Intel Lynnfield processor. Over a year later, we've updated our testbed to the system that we'd recommend PC gamers build today, running a Sandy Bridge Core i7 2500k processor with 8GB of DDR 3 RAM. We also test games at both 1920x1080 and 2560x1600 resolutions. Monitors with 1080p resolution are becoming more popular (and affordable) than 1200p monitors, and 1600p still represents the apex of single-monitor PC gaming. We may eventually change the latter test to a 27" 2560x1440 monitor that we think more high-end gamers are purchasing these days, once we get our hands on a test unit.

Test Bench Specs

CPU: Intel Core i5 2500k @ 3.3GHz

Motherboard: Intel P67 (B2 stepping)

RAM: 8GB DDR 3

Hard drive: Seagate 7200.12 1TB @7200RPM

Power Supply: 1200W Corsair

Monitor resolutions: 1920x1080, 2560x1600

Games Benchmarked, Settings

Metro 2033 still brings the latest graphics cards to their knees when settings are maxed out.

Crysis: DirectX 10 mode, all settings at Very High, 8x AA.

Far Cry 2: Action and Ranch (med) sequences, DirectX 10 mode, all settings at Ultra, 8x AA.

Metro 2033: DirectX 11 mode, all settings at Very High, 4x MSAA, Tessellation, DOF turned on.

Dirt 3: DirectX 11 mode, all settings at Ultra, 4x MSAA, Finland demo run.

Batman Arkham City: DirectX 11 mode, all settings at Extreme Detail, High tessellation, FXAA.

Just Cause 2: DirectX 11 mode, all settings at Very HIgh, 4x AA, 16x AF, Concrete Jungle demo run.

Lost Planet 2: DirectX 11 mode, all settings at maximum detail, 4x MSAA.

Gaming at 1920x1080 (23-24" Monitors)

GameRadeon HD 7970Radeon HD 6990Radeon HD 6970Nvidia GTX 580Nvidia GTX 570
Crysis49.261.636.944.935.2
Far Cry 2 (Action)83.575.277.874.370.5
Far Cry 2 (Ranch)97.1129.682.9101.690.7
Metro 203331.135.723.826.322.7
Dirt 3137.696.1109.7133.677.6
Batman
Arkham City
3728253449
Just Cause 25958.745.143.637.1
Lost Planet 268.480.342.76555.7

All scores measured in frames-per-second, averaged over three test runs. Highest score in bold.

Gaming at 2560x1600 (30" Monitors)

GameRadeon HD 7970Radeon HD 6990Radeon HD 6970Nvidia GTX 580Nvidia GTX 570
Crysis29.238.521.925.219.6
Far Cry 2 (Action)68.173.358.465.257.2
Far Cry 2 (Ranch)66.1104.956.766.957.1
Metro 203317.92213.614.34.3
Dirt 3103.577.673.888.252.3
Batman
Arkham City
3624203533
Just Cause 246.327.831.130.828.1
Lost Planet 247.95830.743.538.3

All scores measured in frames-per-second, averaged over three test runs. Highest score in bold.

Conclusion (for now)

While the 7970 doesn't top the 6990 in all tests, it matches the dual-GPU card's performance in many games and scales better at 2560x1600. It also soundly trumps Nvidia's currently single-card flagship, the GTX 580, though remember that this is a card that was launched over a year ago. For gamers who leapfrog purchase every other generation of cards--meaning those with the popular Radeon HD 5870 or 5850--the 7970 will be an incredible upgrade.

Stay tuned for our full Southern Islands/Graphics Core Next overview in the coming days, along with more tests on the Radeon HD 7970's power usage and acoustics. AMD has introduced some exciting new GPU architecture features with the 7970's announcement, and we're excited for how these features may be integrated in future (ie. unannounced) mid-range and ultra-high-end video card products--and of course Nvidia's inevitable response.