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AMD HD7870 and HD7850 Graphics Card Review

When AMD launched both Tahiti based HD7950 and HD7970 journalists waxed lyrical when detailing the frame rate prowess. There were no doubts that the hardware really hit the spot, but it was far from a perfect launch. Firstly, the price point for both cards was just too high.

AMD were touting the HD7970 as a high performance replacement for the HD6970 and while it utterly eclipsed the last generation part, the asking price was a jaw dropping 50 percent extra. Furthermore, the HD7950 was around £360 … a little more palatable, but still too expensive for the lion’s share of the enthusiast audience.

AMD currently face another problem, which is mostly out of their hands. It is a rather dull time in the PC gaming sector. Many of the latest games such as Alan Wake, and the Darkness II simply don’t need cutting edge, high end hardware to be enjoyed, even at extreme image quality settings and resolutions.

The industry really does need another Crysis style game to push sales and drive the hardware demand forward. Sure, that legendary title may have faced criticism from a select audience for unnecessary hardware demands, but in reality it sold thousands of high end video cards for both AMD and Nvidia.

Cape Verde hardware was released a few weeks ago, and I still remain unimpressed. AMD have sought out key selling points such as focusing on the ‘1ghz core clock’ speed, however both HD7770 and HD7750 have a castrated shader count when compared to the previous generation. AMD didn’t mention anywhere that they removed 160 stream processors from HD6770 to HD7770 (800 to 640), so the new hardware was always going to be playing catchup regardless of the boosted clock speed.

On a more positive note when two HD7770’s are combined, they go head to head with the GTX580, while costing around £100 less. The only downside is the reliance on Catalyst driver profiles for optimum Crossfire performance.

This leads us to the Pitcairn cards, released today. The HD7850 and HD7870 are without doubt the outstanding cards in the current line up. While we have yet to receive confirmed UK pricing, the last contact with AMD indicated a $350 and $250 price point for the HD7870 and HD7850 respectively. It is hard to know what this will translate to in the UK market as it seems to fluctuate almost daily, but we would expect around £299 for the HD7870 and £230 for the HD7850. At these prices, they are a win.

There are really no performance concerns we can mention. Unlike the Cape Verde hardware, AMD have ensured that both Pitcairn cards have strong processing performance, The HD7850 has 1,024 stream processors and the HD7870 has 1,280 stream processors.

In combination with the high clock speeds this means the HD7870 can generally keep up with the GTX580 at reference clock speeds and when overclocked to 1150mhz it is very closely matched against the more expensive reference clocked HD7950. If AMD manage to achieve a price under £300 then this is going to make a lot of sense for a very wide audience.

The HD7850 looks to offer great value for money. It offers comparable performance to the last generation flagship HD6970 at a lower cost. When overclocked to 1050mhz it is very closely matched against the GTX580, which is a hell of an achievement, considering the indicated price point.

AMD pulled the launch date forward and many of the partners were not ready to sample. Unfortunately we have had to focus solely on reference samples from AMD headquarters which is less than ideal. I really don’t like reviewing hardware that people can’t buy. We can expect custom cooled, quieter, pre-overclocked cards shortly from leading AMD partners such as Sapphire and XFX. We would expect these to be improved over the hardware we reviewed today.

As it stands however, this is the shining moment for AMD in 2012. These cards should both sell very well, if they manage to hit our expected price points in the UK.

Pros:

  • Our favourite range in the new 7x series line up.
  • Bags of overclocking headroom.
  • They look to be hitting the right price this time.
  • Significant improvement on the last generation.

Cons:

  • AMD’s reference cooler isn’t wonderful.

Kitguru says: We wait for custom cooled cards from AMD’s partners in the coming weeks.

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Rating: 9.0.

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