updated 12:30 am EST, Thu December 22, 2011
AMD Radeon HD 7970 retakes speed lead
AMD on Thursday retook the top spot for single-card graphics speed through the Radeon HD 7970. The video card is the first anywhere to use a 28 nanometer chipmaking process and uses this to pack 2,048 cores, or a third more than the Radeon HD 6970 it's replacing. Performance comes also through a newly widened 384-bit memory bus, PCI Express 3.0, and a full 3GB of GDDR5 memory, again a record for a single-chip card.
A handful of new rendering features come with the speed upgrade. It now supports Direct3D 11.1 in Windows systems, which allows for native stereoscopic 3D without it being directly built in, multi-display 3D (HD3D Eyefinity), as well as better juggling of multiple apps competing for the card's resources. Fast HDMI lets it send video out at the higher speeds needed for 4K resolution displays, such as extremely high-end TVs and pro monitors.
The core clock runs at a high 925MHz and is mated with 1.38GHz (5.5GHz effective) memory and a boost from 96 to 128 texture units, letting it work more effectively per clock. AMD still promises relatively efficient power use on the card: the use of under 300W of power at peak is considered economical for its class, and it can go down to as little as 3W if in an extended idle mode. A larger fan diameter and better airflow should help keep the card quieter.
AMD is soft-launching the Radeon HD 7970 and won't have it in stores until January 9, the day before CES begins, at a steep $550 price. It's already expected to hold the performance lead for the near term, beating both the 6970 and NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 580. Both third-party board designers and full PC builders are likely to use the card in high-end gaming and even pro workstation PCs.
One such candidate is a future Mac Pro given Apple's own code references.