Graphics Cards Guide
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AMD Radeon HD 7000 - Heading to the Southern Islands
AMD Radeon HD 7000 - Departure from the Northern Islands
On 9th January this year, AMD officially launched its next generation family of graphics cards, the Radeon HD 7900 series. The successor and flagship offering from this series is the Radeon HD 7970. This graphics card has been touted as the successor and heir to the Radeon HD 6970 who hails from the 'Northern Islands' Radeon HD 6900 series.
The Radeon HD 7000 series of GPUs mark a departure from the architecture of the Northern Island family. AMD has introduced their next generation GPU architecture, Graphics Core Next (GCN). Its latest generation of graphics cards, based on 28nm GPUs built with GCN architecture, will hail from the Southern Island series.
The two major chip manufacturers, AMD and NVIDIA are consistently revising their GPU architectures; hence, the introduction of a new one can be considered a momentous event and AMD is first off the blocks this time round to unveil GCN.
What is GCN?
From the diagram above, we can picture a GPU, built with AMD's GCN architecture, to be made up of basic building blocks called GCN Compute Units.
Each GCN Compute Unit (CU) can be described as a processor with a scalar and four vector units (each of which has 16 processing element) that are built on a non-VLIW (Very Long Instruction Word) instruction-set architecture. According to AMD, the GCN CU is able to execute instructions with dependencies efficiently as its own hardware scheduler is able to assign instructions according to the various available computation units within the CU to avoid dependency bottlenecks. This allows the GPU as a whole to handle more instruction-sets per clock cycle.
In contrast, the Northern Island GPUs have its basic building blocks (VLIW4) based on VLIW instruction-set architecture. In return, these GPUs were not able to process instructions that have dependencies efficiently. This results in the graphics processors using up more clock cycles until the dependency issues were resolved. The VLIW architecture was suited for 3D processing; however, it could not handle the scalar processing requirements of generic computing applications efficiently.
AMD's departure from the Northern Island architecture can be seen as its efforts to introduce GPUs that strike a balance between 3D graphics and general purpose computing. AMD's GCN architecture is expected to handle a wider spectrum of compute workloads as AMD expands its GPU repertoire to target both graphics and professional computing requirements. Another important feature of the GCN architecture is its support for PCIe 3.0 x16 bus interface, making the AMD Radeon HD 7900 graphics cards one of the first PC components launched that is compliant with this new standard.
Meet the Radeon HD 7900 Series
In keeping with tradition, the AMD Radeon HD 7900 series was launched with two SKUs - the Radeon HD 7970 and Radeon HD 7950. These two entities share the same Tahiti GPU core; however, the latter features less active GCN compute units that number 28. The more premium Radeon HD 7970 GPU sports a full complement of 32 active GCN compute units as supported by the Tahiti core.
Considering each GCN CU has quad 16-processing element vector units, that brings a total of 64 stream processors per GCU block. This means the number of stream processors on the GPU of Radeon HD 7970 is 2,048 while Radeon HD 7950's GPU features 1,792 of such stream processors. To accompany them, the number of texture mapping units (TMU) have been pegged to 128 for the Radeon HD 7970, while the the lesser equipped Radeon HD 7950 sports 112 TMUs. Compared with the Radeon HD 6970 and 6950 respectively, the new Tahiti core based Radeon HD 7900 series are looking favorably better - from a specs perspective.
In the end, these changes between the two Radeon HD 7900 SKUs aren't drastic and are the usual level of differentiation applied for getting out a slightly different SKU (or in other words, maximizing the produced GPU cores that probably can't meet the requirements to pass off as the 7970). For a casual observer looking over the reference card, the AMD Radeon HD 7950 looks almost the same as its elder brother. More on that on the following pages, but here's how the new AMD Radeon HD 7900 series stack up against its closest competitors.
AMD Radeon HD 7970
|AMD Radeon HD 7950||AMD Radeon HD 6970||ATI Radeon HD 6870||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 570|
|Core Code||Tahiti XT||Tahiti Pro||Cayman XT||Barts XT||GF110||GF110|
|Transistor Count||4300 million||4300 million||2640 million||1700 million||3000 million||3000 million|
|Stream Processors||2048 Stream processing units||1792 Stream processing units||1536 Stream processing units||1120 Stream processing units||512 Stream processing units||480 Stream Processors|
|Stream Processor Clock||925MHz||880MHz||880MHz||900MHz||1544MHz||1464MHz|
|Texture Mapping Units (TMU) or Texture Filtering (TF) units||128||112||96||56||64||60|
|Raster Operator units (ROP)||32||32||32||32||48||40|
|Memory Clock||5500MHz GDDR5||5000MHz GDDR5||5500MHz GDDR5||4200MHz GDDR5||4000MHz GDDR5||3800MHz GDDR5|
|DDR Memory Bus||384-bit||384-bit||256-bit||256-bit||384-bit||320-bit|
|PCI Express Interface||PCIe ver 3.0 x16||PCIe ver 3.0 x16||PCIe ver 2.0 x16||PCIe ver 2.0 x16||PCIe ver 2.0 x16||PCIe ver 2.0 x16|
|Molex Power Connectors||1 x 6-pin, 1 x 8-pin||1 x 6-pin, 1 x 6-pin||1 x 6-pin, 1 x 8-pin||2 x 6-pin||1 x 6-pin, 1 x 8-pin||2 x 6-pin|
|Multi GPU Technology||CrossFireX||CrossFireX||CrossFireX||CrossFireX||SLI||SLI|
|DVI Output Support||1 x Dual-Link||1 x Dual-Link||2 x Dual-Link||1 x Dual-Link, 1 x Single-Link||2 x Dual-Link||2 x Dual-Link|
|HDMI||1||1||1||1||1 (mini-HDMI)||1 (mini-HDMI)|
|DisplayPort||2 (version 1.2 HBR2)||2 (version 1.2 HBR2)||2 (version 1.2)||2 (version 1.2)||None||None|
|HDCP Output Support||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Street Price||Launch Price: US$549||~US$449||~US$349||~US$238||~US$509||~US$349|
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