The rivalry between Nvidia and ATI (now, of course, AMD Radeon) is the stuff of legends. They are constantly out to beat each other’s claim to the crown of the “fastest” GPU, almost faster than they can put these cards out in the market.
It feels just like yesterday that Nvidia was showcasing the “new” fastest GPU to the world, the GTX 680. It was/is a technical marvel not in that it is the fastest GPU, but also managed to keep its power requirements lower than most GPUs out there, most relevantly, lower than the AMD Radeon HD 7970. Just like clockwork, AMD has announced a faster card, or at least, a refresh of their existing top-end card, inappropriately named the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition (also known as HD 7970GE).
According to Anandtech, the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition has core clock which is 75MHz faster than its “younger” sibling along with boasting of a 6GHz DDR5 memory clock (effective) as against the 5.5GHz DDR5 clock on the 7970. It is interesting that the new AMD card (the 7970 GHz edition) is priced lower ($499) than the original launch price of the HD 7970 ($549), we presume in order to compete with the Nvidia GTX 680 (which at $499, is also cheaper than the original HD 7970).
A faster card with a lower price point than their current best offering could be deemed as the reason to unveil the AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition. It’s interesting to note that in terms of PCB design, the cooling plan and even the Tahiti GPU core, the HD 7970 and HD 7970 GHz Edition are absolutely identical. The performance boost is apparently achieved through the Catalyst and BIOS specific features designed for the HD 7970 GHz Edition.
The 7970GE will feature AMD’s new PowerTune Technology with Boost (or PT Boost). The ‘boost’ feature is similar to the GPU turbo feature found in AMD’s Fusion APUs. In effect, with it enabled, the 7970GE can boost the core clock up 50MHz further, taking it to 1050MHz. PT Boost is very similar to Nvidia’s GPU Boost, both using presets of boost bins with an corresponding voltage, which in effect rank up the voltage and core frequency depending on the workload, and power/thermal conditions.
There are some slight differences in implementation of PT Boost and Nvidia’s GPU Boost however. PT Boost racks up only a 50MHz boost at max, unlike the more aggressive boosting of Nvidia. However, this makes AMD guarantee that all HD 7970GE cards can hit the same max core frequency, something Nvidia can’t promise. Also, AMD is using internal counters for Digital Temperature Estimation (DTE), and switches very quickly (every few milliseconds) between boost bins. While this last fact will not make a noticeable difference in performance or power consumption in desktops, once the technology comes to laptops, it could work wonders in keeping the load temperature and consumption low, minimizing leakages. For a more detailed look at PowerTune with Boost, refer to Anandtech’s illuminating article.
But the question is, how does the 7970 GHz Edition rack up against the Nvidia GeForce GTX 680? AMD says that the new card gives a 10% performance boost over the HD 7970, and therefore theoretically is in the region of taking the lead away from Nvidia. The 7970 GHz Edition also just became the first card to sustain a 1 teraflop output for floating-point math throughput. This is an interesting revelation as Nvidia has always held the reputation for being the card for number crunching, but here is AMD setting a world’s first in an Nvidia dominated domain.
There are several interesting after-effects of this move by AMD. Firstly, it has driven the cost of their regular HD 7970 and HD 7950 cards down. The second, and by far a more crucial observation, is the design of the two AMD cards. They are absolutely identical, and overclockers have managed to push the stock HD 7970 to HD 7970 GHz Edition performance levels while maintaining stable voltages. This leads us to believe that AMD on purpose locked down on the power of the 7970, a move that is highly questionable - though of course, Tahiti yield issues might just be the factor.
Whatever said and done though, the GPU wars have been going on since the two companies have existed, leading to the users’ benefit. The need for the two companies to dominate the market doesn’t only necessitate innovation, but also makes sure the prices stay competitive and relatively affordable.
The AMD 7970 GHz Edition reference card should be out in a couple of days, with the OEM manufacturers pushing out their units soon after.