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AMD HD7970 Graphics Card Review

The battle for graphics card dominance in the high end sector rarely slows down. The AMD HD7970 is the first major release for AMD in a very long time and it has succeeded in ousting the nVidia GTX580 from the top position in the single GPU marketplace.

There is no doubt that the AMD HD7970 is setting a new performance benchmark … a score of over 8,000 points in 3DMark 11 for instance has been the firm stomping ground of the dual GPU GTX590 and HD6990 this year. When AMD release the upcoming ultra high end dual GPU HD7990 (no, this name is not confirmed) we would imagine the performance will be in a completely new performance zone.

AMD have managed to incorporate new power saving technologies which will appeal to the ‘green’ audience and the latest 6th generation vapor cooler is a significant improvement when compared against the last generation. The use of a large fan blade design helps to reduce noise emissions while maintaining high airflow to keep the thermal dynamics in check. It still won’t cause a concern for companies such as Sapphire or XFX, who release superior third party coolers a few months after launch, but it is satisfying to document that AMD are trying to improve their reference solutions.

80c under load is a positive result for a reference cooler, but we would expect a dual fan, custom heatpipe configuration to drop temperatures by a further 10c under load, to around 70c. This won’t happen for some time however, as many AMD partners will be releasing cards based around this reference cooler in the coming weeks.

Pricing in the United Kingdom is one of the most important buying decisions. According to AMD, the cost of the HD7970 will be $549 and therefore around the £450 (inc vat) zone in the United Kingdom. So, even though AMD are marketing this as the replacement for the HD6970, the price differences are huge – after all, HD6970’s are aimed at the sub £300 price point. Looking at the bigger picture, we can see that many of the GTX580 cards are retailing for as little at £360 inc vat. Some of the overclocked GTX580’s are under £400 inc vat, which is extremely impressive. Even the flagship Asus GTX580 Matrix Platinum has recently seen a price drop to £420 inc vat. So while the HD7970 is faster than the GTX580, it does sport a £30-£90 price premium.

What other high performance choices are there?

Nvidia’s dual GPU GTX590 is faster than the HD7970, however UK costs seems to be so varied that it is difficult to nail down a solid price. Overclockers in the UK are one of the few companies to have stock right now, selling three versions of the GTX590 – all for £800 inc vat. No, that isn’t a typo, £800 inc vat! Dabs are selling the Gigabyte GTX590 for £600 inc vat, but none are currently in stock, with ’10 due soon’. Availability of this card has been a problem now for some time.

AMD’s flagship, dual GPU HD6990 is still the fastest solution of them all, however it suffers from severe channel shortage today, much like the GTX590. Stock is difficult to track, with Amazon listing the VTX3D HD6990 at £520 inc vat, although they sold out of the last handful of cards a few days before this review was published. If HD6990 availability was better and generally priced under £550 inc vat, then it might prove the biggest sales problem for the new card.

The HD7970 gives AMD the opportunity to close 2011 on a very positive note, and it bodes well for the rest of the 7000 series which will be released early next year.

Pros:

  • New performance leader in the single GPU sector.
  • latest vapor cooler is a solid advancement for AMD.
  • power drain is excellent.

Cons:

  • Single fan.
  • around £450, it is expensive.
  • our sample experienced some unusual horizontal sync lock issues with some monitors/televisions.

Kitguru says: A new performance leader for AMD and a strong end to the year.

Rating: 9.0.

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  • ChrisJ

    Finally! I’ve been looking forward to AMD giving nvidia a bloody nose!

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  • Roger

    wow thats a hell of a fast piece of hardware. nice job from AMD

  • David

    Well after bulldozer they needed to do something, this is it.

    but its not a direct replacement for 6970, its a completely new price category, more than GTX580. 6970 was much cheaper.

  • Eran B

    hey, I wonder how nvidia will respond to this, thats an insanely powerful card. Only concern for me is the price. Ive seen the 6990 on sale for £499.

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  • Frank

    Very nice, but im more interested in the 7950, and the pricing. this is just too expensive IMO.

  • Brian Ha

    Good performance, and nice to see them improving the cooler a little. the HD6990 cooler is insanely loud. I am surprised that it doesn’t cost around £399 inc vat as AMD have always been competitive on pricing. t his seems over the odds IMO.

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  • mbryans

    AMD Radeon HD 7970 a little disappointing. I hope the HD 7970 uses ultra-fast memory such as Rambus XDR2 and able to achieve perfect HQV score of 120. The use of PCI Express 3.0 by the HD 7970 also does not provide significant improvement.