In December we saw AMD release their new lineup of video cards, first with the 7900 series. This was their high end high performance and sadly high priced lineup. The price point was higher than many expected and generally higher than most reviews thought it should be. In February AMD brought round two of the new card lineup to us with the 7700 series. These cards are meant for budget minded gamers and again on release many thought the pricing was a bit high to the performance offered. So how will AMD fair with round 3?
For the third round AMD is aiming squarely at the performance gaming market with the release of the 7800 series. For this review we were supplied by Sapphire with a 7850 based card, specifically their overclocked division. The 7850 is targeted right at the nVidia GTX 560 ti with a price point that should show up around $250.
Four our testing we put this card into a 2500K based and 3820 based system for testing. We started with our normal round of games, this time working with Skyrim, Reckoning, Supreme Commander II, Dirt 3, Batman Arkham City and Civilization V. All of our testing was done at 1080 resolutions with the in game settings put to the highest offered.
The overall game play experience was pretty much the same for the 6950 and 560 Ti we used for testing. However this is something we have come to expect, the leap from one generation to the next in the mainstream seldom makes a noticeable bump. So next we move to benchmarking to see if there is a difference.
As we began benchmarking the 7850 began to shine as it repeatedly showed on average an almost 20% boost in performance. In fact the performance numbers were so good we pulled another card into the mix, the GTX 570. Priced higher than the expected price of the 7850 this was nice to see, the card was running right with and often besting the 570. We turn to synthetic benchmarks such as 3dMark 11 and Heaven and again saw this card pushing the 570 hard.
Now in fairness the card to sent to us by Sapphire is an overclocked card, the normal clock speed of the 7850 is 860 MHz and this card is out of box running at 920 MHz. This extra boost pushed the performance up over stock for sure but that does not change the fact that this card is running head to head with a more expensive card. However it is not just that the 7850 is less expensive.
When you first look at this card and release the graphic power it brings to the table your first reaction is, WOW this is small. As you can see from this comparison with a 6950 the 7850 is a very small card.
It is however not just the size of the card that is small, so is the power consumption. The total system power of the test system using the 7850 was almost a full 75 watts lower than a 560ti and around 50 watts lower than a 6950, over 100 watts lower than the 570. That’s some pretty impressive load reduction over cards that are about the same speed or slower.
When we move to noise level things get even better. The Sapphire 7850 OC uses a custom dual fan cooling solution. The result is a very quiet card. During gaming on headphones, if you were not on the headphones you could noticeably heard the 560ti, 6950 and 570 all kick up to higher fans speeds. Despite even longer gaming session I never have heard the 7850 kick up the fans audibly.
The combination of a lower power package and an excellent cooling system has resulted in a card that just does not seem to ramp up much when it heats up. The reason is that cooling solution tied with that lower power usage translates into less heat. At no time, in our Level 10 GT case could we push the 7850 over 55C while gaming. All three of the other cards pushed to near or over 70C in the same case.
Sapphire has once again stepped up to the plate with the 7850 OC. The build quality and the great custom cooling solution are something we have come to expect from Sapphire over the years. The card comes with a solid set of connection options including HDMIO, DVI, Displayport, VGA adapter, HMDI to DVI adapter and mini Displayport to full size Display Port. The card makes use of a single PICe 6 pin connector for power.
While this card is overclocked out of the gate it still has a lot of headroom. I was able to hit the limits imposed in the drivers for both the GPU and Memory for the card with no issues. The card still ran perfect and the temps never crested 60C when gaming. Even better, even with the overclock the card still using less power than the 560ti, 6950 or 570 at stock speeds. At these speeds it was beginning to push at 580 stock benchmarks.
While this card performs well it has a few obstacles to overcome. First this card is put into one of the hardest segments of the GPU sales to be in, the mainstream. The reason this segment is so hard is that it is full of cards that despite being older, all still deliver amazing gaming experiences.
Additionally since the card is not yet on the shelves we are still not 100% sure on the pricing. The claims out of AMD are we should see this near the $250 price point but that seems a bit steep. Especially when you realize the next card down on the AMD chart is at $150 to $160. That is a large gap in the pricing structure and we hope to see that gap close over the next few months.
Having looked at the 7700 series and now the 7800 series, I can tell you the card I like the best is the 7850. The $250 price point is a bit steep but not outrageous when you take all factors into account. The card will easily give any gamer on a 1080 display enough horsepower for an amazing gaming experience in any game they want to play. Sapphire has taken the base design and one upped it with an excellent cooling solution that will let you push the potential even farther on this card making it an even bigger value for it’s performance.
In the press deck AMD gave us during our briefing for this release we told serious gaming began with the 7850. Normally I ignore marketing hype but in this case they are correct, this is a great place with the current cards on the market for serious gaming to begin. However I would go one step further, if you gaming rig is going to be a single 1080 monitor then this is were it ends as well. Anything past this will not push the gaming experience enough to surpass this card with the current market. This single card is the real sweet spot for gamers right now.
Sapphire HD 7850 OC Review Aired 17 March 2012