AMD’s Radeon 7000 Series, When Über Video Cards Go To War…

The battle for video card dominance continues, AMD is the latest player to show their hand. Mere days before Christmas AMD announced the 7000 series video cards demonstrating a fully redesigned architecture. AMD’s new design has been branded GCN – Graphics Core Next – and signifies a change in design philosophy.

The first card to use the brand new silicon pixel pushers will be the Radeon HD 7970, the new king of Über video cards. Quickly establishing itself as the fastest single card solution on the market AMD is pushing hard to build a lead over it’s opposition, NVIDIA and Intel.

Boundaries are being pushed in order to shift the 7000 series from idea to reality. The first graphics processors produced using the 28nm chip process, the first to use PCI Express 3.0, the first to use Direct X 11.1 3D library along with the new ZeroCore power saving technology, Multi-Point Audio and Partially Resident Textures. AMD has gone back to the drawing boards for this one and it looks to have paid off.

Since the announcement and reviews of the 7970 AMD has slowly released details of the entire range of 7000 series video cards. Four members of the 7000 series have so far been announced, including the 7970 priced at $549 USD, considered the jewel in the crown. Following the release of the 7970 – January 9, the day before CES – will be the 7950, a slightly cut down and cheaper version of the 7970. The 7770 will be released in February and will be the first value representative of the 7000 family, with prices at the more affordable $149 USD. The last card to appear – March 2012 – will also be the fastest card, the 7990. The 7990 will be a dual GPU card with 6GB of GDDR5 Ram. At $849 USD it will have a price tag to match it’s Über specifications.

A brand new design naturally calls for a brand new set of technologies and code-names, in this case the new 7000 series video cards are part of the Southern Island family of chips. The first chip of the blocks will be the Tahiti XT used by the 7970 video cards. The 7950 uses a slightly modified Tahiti XT chip named the Tahiti Pro. Two Tahiti XT chips will be used to produce the 7990 Über video card. The value segment of the 7000 series will be based on the Cape Verde XT chips. Over the first half of 2012 these basic chips will be modified and spread across a growing range of 7000 series cards, with AMD eventually replacing it’s entire range of video cards with the new 7000 chips.

The new chips are produced by Taiwanese chip giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company – TSMC – on their brand new 28nm – nanometer – production process. AMD have been so impressed by TSMC’s work in getting the 28nm technology that they have actually dropped their own chip production company Global Foundries for the next generation APU – Application Processor Unit, AMD’s CPU’s with integrated graphics chips -.

AMD’s new GCN graphics chip design is a tour de force of leading edge technology. The latest industry standards are being introduced for the first time. PCI Express 3.0, the new graphics card interface – socket – allows a video card to transfer 32GB a second, double the current standard PCI Express standard. This should allow much more data to be shuttled to and from the video card, allowing for higher frame rates and higher resolution textures. Initially PCI Express 3.0 only improves performance by a few percentage points but it will be essential as time goes by and the old PCI Express standard is phased out. Direct X 11.1 is being prepared by Microsoft and will make it’s first appearance in Windows 8. The new software library will offer improved 2D and 3D performance, integrated stereoscopic 3D output for use with 3D glasses.

ZeroCore is a new power saving technology introduced as part of the 7000 family. This technology allows the video card to completely power down parts of the video card that are not in use. The previous generation video card used 24 watt’s of power when idle, ZeroCore allows the 7970 to use only 3 watts of power at idle, a huge improvement. This will also allow the video card to turn the dust buster fan right down to nearly zero while watching movies or when working with applications, tasks that don’t require 3D functionality at all.

As part of the GCN redesign AMD has optimized how it deals with the graphics texture data, specifically the tessellators that apply textures to the 3D model. Every surface displayed in a 3D image requires a texture to be applied to it’s surface. The optimizations include a new way of caching textures, Partially Resident Textures – PRT – allows software to tell the video card which part of a texture to hold in memory, avoiding repeated importing of the same texture. All of the internal improvements should allow for a four fold improvement to this process, helping to avoid stuttering and texture tearing – when textures appear incorrectly on the display.

Multi-point audio allows the new 7000 video cards to assign audio channels to each display connected to a system. When a video is dragged across multiple displays the audio for that video will be sent to the relevant display.

The 7970 is a true Über video card that will require an Über computer setup to get the most out of it. At 27cm – 10.6 – the card will not fit in just any computer case. To power the card you will need a 700watt power supply or better, to feed the card power 8-pin and 6-pin power sockets are included. The card itself operates at 925MHz and includes 3GB of GDDR 5 memory. All of the changes add up to a performance improvement of between 20 and 30%, a substantial improvement for a brand new generation of video card.

The new Über Performance king, the big brother of the family is the 7990. With 6GB of super high speed RAM spread across two 7970 GPU’s this is a true monster. Combining two 7970′s onto the one card is the ultimate formula for an Über pixel pusher. Expected to be released in March the 7990 is expected to take the crown for the fastest video card in the world.

AMD is unwilling to be caught standing still, with the current generation of AMD and NVIDIA video cards being so close performance wise AMD has grabbed the opportunity to shift gears and move ahead. The 7000 video cards represent a major leap forward in video card technologies, with enough firsts to keep and Olympic team happy these are true next generation technology. The entire family will be on display at Januaries CES show, expect to see some extreme gaming setup’s showing off the latest games running on AMD’s new technology. As always the ongoing battle to be the king of video cards has only one winner, we the consumer.

Source: AMD 7970 Product Page

AMD 7970 Specifications:

  • Up to 925MHz Engine Clock

  • 3GB GDDR5 Memory

  • 1375MHz Memory Clock (5.5Gbps GDDR5)

  • 264GB/s memory bandwidth (maximum)

  • 3.79 TFLOPs Single Precision compute power

  • 947 GFLOPs Double Precision compute power

  • Transistor Count 4.31B

  • Manufacturing Process TSMC 28nm

GCN Architecture

  • 32 compute units (2048 Stream Processors)
  • 128 Texture Units
  • 128 Z/Stencil ROP Units
  • 32 Color ROP Units
  • Dual Geometry Engines
  • Dual Asynchronous Compute Engines (ACE)
  • PCI Express 3.0 x16 bus interface