ConclusionAMD’s Pitcairn GPU is in fact a rather pleasant surprise. Of the three GPUs in the Radeon HD 7000 family, it is by some distance the most efficient for its size and energy consumed.
While it has fewer execution units than Cayman (used in the Radeon HD 6900s), the 28nm fabrication process facilitates a more efficient architecture and a higher clock, allowing Pitcairn to take the lead.
The Pitcairn cards, the Radeon HD 7850 and 7870, rank respectively 5% and 10% ahead of the Radeon HD 6950 and 6970, which they therefore advantageously replace.
Priced at €300, the Radeon HD 7870 is even hard on the heels of the Radeon HD 7950, which offers no more than a 6% performance improvement and will therefore become less relevant. The GeForce GTX 580 also suffers by the comparison as it only offers a 3% performance advantage but is priced a good deal higher with much higher energy consumption.
For its part, the Radeon HD 7850 easily outdoes the GeForce GTX 560 Ti and is only 5% down on the GeForce GTX 570. While clearly some distance from the aggressive pricing policy AMD has applied in the past, these two Radeon HD 7800s are definitely well positioned and are very good options for gaming at 1080p. Both cards offer full support of the latest technologies.
For several reasons however, we don’t advise you to head straight to your favourite store to get yourself one of these cards. Firstly because they are unlikely to be available for a week or two. Next because the final pricing and designs are still to be confirmed. Here we based our analysis on the price given by Sapphire. Some Radeon HD 7870s are likely to use the reference design tested here which, while offering relatively good performance, could be quieter given the low energy consumption. Numerous customised models will however rapidly become available and should represent the majority of the market.
In the case of the Radeon HD 7850, the design tested here may well not be on sale in stores as AMD has supplied an alternative reference cooling system based on an axial fan, as they did with the Radeon HD 7950. We would of course have preferred to test this model and we would also like to see AMD abandon this bad habit of producing ‘press edition’ graphics cards which don’t correspond to the designs on sale…
Finally, NVIDIA’s response, in the form of the Kepler generation, shouldn’t be long in coming now, probably no more than a few weeks. Unless you can’t wait, it would therefore be best to give it a few weeks until you have all the information at your disposal before shelling out. You’re also likely to benefit from somewhat more aggressive pricing when the competition kicks in!