AMD Radeon HD 7870 and 7850 Video Card Review

AMD is introducing the performance mainstream Radeon HD 7870 and Radeon HD 7850 today. We'll look at performance compared to the competition and talk about pricing and explore value. If you are in the market for a video card between $249 and $349 these video cards will likely need to be on your short list.


AMD's "Pitcairn" is finally here, the Pitcairn GPUs, also known as the Radeon HD 7800 series, are probably the most anticipated series from AMD this generation. These more affordable mainstream GPUs are what gamers everywhere have been waiting to hear about. The Radeon HD 7970 and Radeon HD 7950 sit high on the throne in performance, and price. The Radeon HD 7970 and Radeon HD 7950 encompass the price range above $399. The more affordable price range between $199-$399 will be taken by the Radeon HD 7800 series, and we can finally show you what AMD has produced, and how it performs.

Keep in mind that while AMD is introducing the video cards today, actual retail availability won't be until March 19th. The reason for this, AMD states, has to do with timing of industry events like CeBIT and GDC that are happening this coming week, as well as events and product launches. AMD states that it felt this earlier date to introduce seemed the best choice worldwide. I can't say I completely agree with that.

In the new Radeon HD 7800 series AMD is launching two video cards, the Radeon HD 7870 and Radeon HD 7850. The Radeon HD 7870 has a set MSRP of $349 and the Radeon HD 7850 has a set MSRP of $249. The $249 price point is often considered a sweet spot for graphics cards, and therefore the Radeon HD 7850 will be the video card you will want to look at with that pricing. For $100 more the Radeon HD 7870 needs to offer enough of a performance improvement to justify that price. At $349 the Radeon HD 7870 meets the Radeon HD 6970 in current pricing. We will see if it can match it in performance as well.

Radeon HD 7800 Series

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The Radeon HD 7870 and Radeon HD 7850 are based on the same architecture found in the Radeon HD 7900 series. The GPUs are manufactured on a 28nm process technology and utilize AMD's Graphics Core Next Architecture. DX11.1 is supported along with AMD's PowerTune and ZeroCore technologies. AMD Eyefinity 2.0 is also supported and the ASIC can run up to six displays. Both GPUs utilize a full 32 ROPs, and share the same memory subsystem as we will see below. AMD sees the Radeon HD 7870 as being a good upgrade path from users of Radeon HD 5800 series, which was the high-end video card two generations ago.


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There are a few new image quality features coming through software updates to all Radeon HD 7000 series owners. These updates are not hardware specific, they will come through driver updates.

The first one is MLAA version 2.0. MLAA is AMD's shader based antialiasing method which can dramatically improve image quality in a game by reducing aliasing on everything in the scene. AMD has allowed us to force this feature on in the driver control panel in the past. With MLAA version 2.0 AMD has improved performance. Performance is one area where MLAA has been weak on when applied through the driver control panel, it significantly reduced performance in games. Another area AMD has improved upon is MLAA image quality itself. We haven't yet had a chance to test performance and image quality of MLAA 1.0 versus MLAA 2.0, but we look forward to looking at this in the future. In order to get MLAA 2.0 support you will need Catalyst 12.3 Beta, which is not out yet. It will also be in Catalyst 12.4 WHQL.

Another area that AMD has worked on in driver software support is SSAA. AMD has had in its drivers the ability to turn on Adaptive Supersampling. In Catalyst 12.2 AMD added the ability to enable this feature in any DX9 or DX10/11 game by forcing it on in the driver control panel. Coming in Catalyst 12.3 Beta and Catalyst 12.4 will be an automatic LOD adjustment that will keep textures sharp and not experiencing the texture blurring effect when applying this technique.

We look forward to looking at both these features, and it is commendable that AMD is still working to better improve image quality in games. MLAA, SSAA, all of these features are ways to reduce aliasing in positive ways.

Radeon HD 7870 and Radeon HD 7850

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The Radeon HD 7870 has a MSRP of $349. You will find 1280 stream processors on board clocked at 1GHz. This is another of AMD's "GHz Edition" video cards indicating the reference clock speed is 1000MHz flat out. There are 80 texture units and 32 ROPs. There is 2GB on board of GDDR5 on a 256-bit memory bus. Total board power is 175W.

The Radeon HD 7850 has a MSRP of $249. You will find 1024 stream processors clocked at 860MHz. There is 64 texture units and 32 ROPs. You will also find 2GB of GDDR5 on a 256-bit memory bus with this video card as well. Typical board power is 130W.

AMD has kept the memory subsystem identical between the Radeon HD 7850 and Radeon HD 7870. There is 2GB of VRAM on each video card on a 256-bit bus with the same memory clock speed. Therefore the memory bandwidth is the same at 153.6GB/sec. We think it was smart to place 2GB of RAM on both of these video cards, and no less. It makes logical sense that these two video cards would be 2GB, and then the next two video cards up, the 7950 and 7970 would have 3GB. 2GB of RAM will ensure that these video cards have the room to flex their muscle in any current game, as well with the video cards in CrossFireX. Consider the previous generation Radeon HD 6870 and 6850 had 1GB of VRAM. The GeForce GTX 570 has 1.2GB and the GTX 560 Ti has 1GB.

Radeon HD 7870 and Radeon HD 7850 Pictures

Radeon HD 7870

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The Radeon HD 7870 requires two 6-pin external power connectors. CrossFireX is supported. The shroud fits over the video card and ducts air outside the case. Of course, add-in-board partners will develop custom video cards with custom coolers, so we look forward to testing those.

Radeon HD 7850

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The Radeon HD 7850 will come in varying shapes and sizes, depending on what board Add-In-Board partners wish to do. AMD put our reference review sample together in the same format as the Radeon HD 7870, but we in fact may see shorter and smaller Radeon HD 7850 cards out there. Custom video cards from add-in-board partners will also be different. We expect to see a varying degree of custom cooling solutions and boards that are actually shorter than the one we have right now. The Radeon HD 7850 only requires one external power connector, and also supports CrossFireX. Both video cards support Eyefinity from one video card.