AMD Radeon HD 7970 review

The first Southern Island graphics card is here, and it's expensive

AMD Radeon HD 7970
Speedy graphics, crazy pricing

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We've accounted for the architecture and performance of the AMD Radeon HD 7970, but there is one thing we haven't covered, the price.

And that's key to the graphics card battle and in the case of the HD 7970 may well be the thing that truly buries it.

At approximately £450 it's quite frankly a ridiculously priced card.

AMD radeon hd 7970

It may well be the fastest single-GPU card around at the moment, but there is still little justification for the price.

Apart from the fact that a chip with 4.3 billion transistors, running on a new production process, is going to be rather expensive to manufacture that is.

There's also the question of whether you really need the levels of graphical performance the HD 7970 offers. There are very few of us out there running a monitor capable of the eye-watering resolutions of 2560x1600 so realistically a 1920x1080 resolution is going to be more likely.

And at that resolution the excellent £365 Nvidia GTX 580 is all the card you're going to need.

Even if we were going to give AMD the benefit of the doubt, and trust that it wont mess around with pricing across the Atlantic, taking the US price of $549 and the current exchange rate, plus VAT you're still looking at around £430.

That's still too much for a new graphics card these days.

How much is the forthcoming dual-GPU version going to cost? £700?

It's a shame, as if the card had come out at the same sort of price as AMD originally tagged the HD 6970 with it would have had a far better reception.

There are some good points about the HD 7970 the pricing cannot diminish however and that's because they will be rolled out across the Tahiti line.

That's the impressive ZeroCore Power tech.

Being able to shut the GPU down almost completely when idle is a great feat of engineering, made doubly so when you bring in CrossFire setups.

When in CrossFire mode all the GPUs will be in use when you're gaming, but when you drop down to 2D desktop mode all GPUs, bar the main card attached to the display, will shut down, fan and all.

That's impressive and means when you're using your monster rig in general computing tasks you're not going to require your own private Sellafield to power it.

The overclocking potential of the HD 7970 is likewise impressive.

We don't know the limits you can push this card to however as the software topped out before the hardware did.

AMD radeon hd 7970

Still we managed a huge overclock which makes us question why it wasn't rated as the first 1GHz GPU out of the box.

That though was answered by AMD's Director of Product Management for Discrete Graphics, Zvika Greenstein, at a recent tech insight event for the Graphics Core Next products.

"One of the things the enthusiast likes to do with our cards is overclock it, they pay a premium for that," says Greenstein. "We can position the HD 7970 as the fastest graphics card in the market at the reference clocks so we thought that we might as well leave it to the end users."

In essence, AMD didn't need to push the silicon, it's going to rely on the actual board manufacturers to do that themselves.

And they'll in turn charge end-user a premium for it.

We also had a few driver problems with the card too. We couldn't get any reasonable performance numbers out of the HD 7970 in our new Sandy Bridge E machine, with the benchmarks falling way behind the GTX 580.

It was only when we switched to our second AMD FX-8150 powered setup (the first blew up on the second benchmark) that we started to see proper performance numbers.

So in the end it's a tough ask for us to recommend going out and picking up the AMD Radeon HD 7970.

Especially when we know the Nvidia riposte is only a few scant months away. And according to Nvidia insiders it's quietly confident about its chances of the top Kepler card besting AMD's Tahiti XT-powered HD 7970.

Again then it's a wait and see game.

If Nvidia's card is even more expensive than the HD 7970 then this card may start to look like good value.

More likely the second tier Tahiti-powered Radeon will be the card that we really want to recommend.

Especially if it comes with the good parts of the Tahiti core, namely the ZeroCore Power tech and the heavenly overclocking headroom, all at a reasonable price.

We liked

The overclocking potential of the AMD Radeon HD 7970 is incredible.

Topping 1,100MHz is a huge overclock and makes it almost comparable to the previous generation of dual-GPU cards.

With or without an overclock though it is most definitely the fastest single–GPU graphics card around.

We disliked

Unfortunately the performance boost the HD 7970 offers isn't enough to really justify the vast price tag AMD has lumbered the new card with.

At this price it surely isn't going to sell in any volume.

The shadow of driver problems still loom over any new AMD graphics release too.

Final word

It may well be the fastest single-GPU card around, but the price is absolutely prohibitive. At £350 it would have been a hit, as it is we have no choice but to look elsewhere for a GPU recommendation.