AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition Video Card Review

We have been documenting AMD's struggle to compete with the NVIDIA Kepler generation since it was introduced. Today AMD attempts to strike back with the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition. This video card features higher operating speeds and introduces AMD's version of GPU Boost. Will the performance justify a price of $499?

Introduction

AMD released its first of the next generation GPU with the Radeon HD 7970 on December 22nd, 2011, codenamed "Tahiti." This released ruled the market in both performance and price until NVIDIA released the GeForce GTX 680 which had better performance and a lower price. AMD continued its release of the Radeon HD 7950 on January 30th, 2012 and later on with the Radeon HD 7870 and 7850 video cards on March 4th, 2012, codenamed "Pitcairn."

Today, AMD is releasing an updated version of the Radeon HD 7970, with a GHz Edition brand name. These video cards will be manufactured alongside the original Radeon HD 7970 and will not be replacing it, nor are they a limited time product. Right now you can find a Radeon HD 7970 for as low as $420 while the lowest price of an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 is $499. The AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition will be readily available in 7 to 10 days for a price of $499. We will be finding out whether the improvements that AMD made are worth the price hike or not.

Specifications

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The biggest difference between the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition and a reference Radeon HD 7970 is the operating frequency. The reference design of the original 7970 has the GPU running at 925MHz and the memory running at 1375MHz or 5.5GHz GDDR5. The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition has the GPU running at 1000MHz base clock with a 1050MHz Boost Clock, while the memory is set to run at 1500MHz or 6GHz GDDR5. Both video cards still have 128 Texture Units, 32 ROP's, 128 Z/Stencils, and 3GB of GDDR5 memory on a 384-bit bus. The typical board power for each video card is 250 Watts.

The Boost Clock is AMD's way of trying to provide extra performance if the operating thermal conditions are right. This will ultimately depend on the video cards TDP (Thermal Design Power) and temperature. We have explained how TDP works and how PowerTune effects it here. If the video card is running at 1000MHz and is reaching the TDP, you will not get the boost frequency of 1050MHz. If you are not close to the boards TDP, the Boost Clock will kick in and increase the cores operating frequency to 1.05GHz. The Video Card can also change to voltage along with the boost clock in order to optimize the performance. However, you will not exceed 1.05GHz, as this is a locked in maximum automatically. It is not as dynamic as NVIDIA's GPU Boost.

Now, enabling AMD's PowerTune technology will allow you to increase the performance of a video card without exceeding the cards TDP. By enabling PowerTune at 20% which is the highest amount the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition can handle, you are guarenteeing that you receive the extra 50MHz on the boost clock. This is not like GPU Boost on NVIDIA's Kepler video cards where the frequency will adjust in real time and provide even higher operating clocks in game. On the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition you are either going to get 1GHz or 1.05GHz flat. The GPU Boost is only present at the stock operating frequencies. As soon as you manually overclock this video card to 1050MHz or higher, you do away with the boost clock and the GPU operates at whatever frequency you set it to.

With the Catalyst 12.7 Driver that AMD provided us for testing the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition, it will enable AMD's VCE or Video Codec Engine. All Radeon HD 7970 video cards have this feature built in to the hardware, however the driver is just now getting around to enabling it. This hardware H.264 feature increases the rate at which videos can be encoded while consuming only a fraction of the power normally required.

With all of these improvements being made on the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition AMD claims that it is "Retaking the Performance Crown" with the "World's fastest and Most Versatile GPU". As far as gaming goes, we will be putting these claims to the test.

AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition Pictures

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The overall appearance of the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition is not any different from its predecessor. The plastic cover feels durable and does not flex much when applying pressure. There is a red stripe through the middle of the video card that leads up to the turbine blower fan.

The Rear I/O panel houses a Dual-Link DVI-I connector, an HDMI connector, and two Mini-DisplayPort connectors. The top of the AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition houses the power connectors, which require a 6-pin PCI-E power adaptor and an 8-pin PCI-E power adaptor. The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition measures 11 inches in Length, 1.5 inches Wide, and 4 inches in Height.