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AMD Radeon HD 7790: Affordable DX11 Gaming
Date: Mar 22, 2013
Author: Marco Chiappetta
Introduction and Specifications

A few weeks back, the enthusiast community was abuzz after news broke that AMD’s Radeon HD 7000 series would remain “stable throughout 2013” and would be the company’s focus “for quite some time”. The wording of the initial news made it sound like AMD wouldn’t be releasing any new GPUs for the rest of the year and that it would further differentiate its offerings with only new game and software bundles.

AMD convened a conference call to try and quell the rumors and better explain the company’s position at the time, but short of saying there were some new products in the pipeline, not much was said to clarify the situation. Well, here we are, about a month out from the initial breaking of that news, and AMD is ready with a new mainstream graphics card, which features a brand new GPU.

Today AMD is taking the wraps off of the new Radeon HD 7790, a mainstream GPU designed to fill the gap in the company’s current graphics card lineup between the Radeon HD 7770 and HD 7850. The features, specifications, and details of the new Radeon HD 7790 GPU are below, with an array of benchmarks to follow...

The AMD Radeon HD 7790 Reference Card

AMD Radeon HD 7790
Specifications & Features

Above, we have the main features and specifications of the newly updated Radeon HD 7700 series. As you can see, the Radeon HD 7790 features a larger GPU with more stream processors and texture units than the 7750 and 7770 and double the geometry performance per clock, too. Pixel fillrates are similar, and all of the cards feature a 128-bit memory bus, but the Radeon HD 7790’s frame buffer will be clocked significantly higher (6Gbps vs. 4.5Gbps), which results in much more memory bandwidth.

The GPU featured on the Radeon HD 7790 is codenamed “Bonaire XT”. It is comprised of 2.08 billion transistors, has a die size of 160mm2, and is manufactured on TSMC’s 28nm process node. The Bonaire XT GPU is based on the same Graphics Core Next architecture of previously-introduced Radeon HD 7000 series cards and offers full support for DX 11.1.

There are a total of 896 stream processors in the GPU, arranged in 14 compute units with 64 SPs each. Like the Radeon HD 7900 / 7800 series, there are dual geometry and tessellation engines in the Radeon HD 7790 GPU, which doubles the primitive rate of the Radeon HD 7770 and 7750. There are 56 texture units, 16 ROPs in the Bonaire XT, and memory is connected via a 128-bit interface.

Radeon HD 7790 reference clocks call for a 1GHz GPU with 1.5GHz (6.0Gbps effective) memory. At those clocks, the Radeon HD 7790 offers up to 1.79 TFLOPS of compute performance, with texture and pixel fillrates of 56GT/s and 16GP/s, respectively, as well as 96GB/s of memory bandwidth.

In addition to beefing up the geometry and tessellation engines and upping the number of stream processors and texture units in the 7790 versus previous Radeon HD 7700 series cards, AMD also made some enhancements to its PowerTune technology with the Radeon HD 7790.

Whereas previous Radeon HD 7000 series cards with support for Boost offered four dynamic power management states, the Radeon HD 7790 has eight. The additional DPM states help ensure that the GPU is using optimal voltage at a given clock state and ultimately enables higher engine clock speeds. Switching DPM states happens in as quickly as 10ms and is based on GPU activity and current and thermal management limits.
Radeon HD 7790 Cards

We got our hands on a couple of Radeon HD 7790 cards for the purposes of this article, one from Asus and another from Sapphire.

As we mentioned on the previous page, reference Radeon HD 7790 series cards have GPUs clocked at 1GHz with 1GB of frame buffer memory clocked at 1.5GHz, for an effective data rate of 6Gbps. The Asus and Sapphire cards featured here, however, are both factory overclocked and differ from the reference design in a couple of ways.


The Asus Radeon HD 7790 Direct CU II

First up is the Asus Radeon HD 7790 Direct CU II. This card sports a 1075MHz GPU clock with 1GB of GDDR5 memory clocked at 1.6GHz (6.4Gbps data rate). As its name implies, the card sports a Direct CU II cooler, which is Asus’ way of saying that the heatsink’s copper heatpipes make direct contact with the GPU for better cooling performance. In fact, Asus claims 20% better cooling performance over reference models, with quieter cooling, too. Unfortunately, we don’t have a reference card on hand to verify this claim, but as you’ll see later, the Asus Radeon HD 7790 Direct CU II’s cooler clearly performs very well.

As you can see, the Asus Radeon HD 7790 Direct CU II’s cooler features two relatively large cooling fans that sit atop an array of cooling fins that extend way out past the card’s PCB. The PCB is only about 6.75” long, whereas the entire assembly—including the cooler and fan shroud—stretches to about 8.5”.

Outputs on the Asus Radeon HD 7790 Direct CU II consist of a pair of DVI outputs as well as single HDMI and DisplayPort outputs. Bundled with the card is a typical array of accessories and software, which includes a CrossFire bridge, a DVI-to-VGA adapter, and a copy of Asus’ excellent GPU Tweak performance tuning utility. We should point out that GPU Tweak supports over-clocking and over-volting on the Asus Radeon HD 7790 Direct CU II, which should please users who like to tinker. Time wasn’t on our side with this article though, so we don’t have overclocking scores to share just yet.


Sapphire Radeon HD 7790 1GB Dual-X OC

We also have the Sapphire Radeon HD 7790 1GB Dual-X OC on hand. Like the Asus card, Sapphire’s offering has 1GB of frame buffer memory, and it’s factory overclocked as well. In fact, it has the very same 1075MHz and 1.6GHz (6.4Gbps effective) GPU and memory clocks as the Asus card.

Also like Asus’ offering, the Sapphire Radeon HD 7790 1GB Dual-X OC has a custom dual-fan cooler with a relatively large array of heatsink fins, which are linked to a baseplate by a couple of thick copper heat-pipes. The Sapphire card, however, uses a longer PCB than the Asus Radeon HD 7790 Direct CU II, though the last inch and half or so of the board is devoid of any components.

The output configuration on the Sapphire Radeon HD 7790 1GB Dual-X OC is also similar to the Asus card, but Sapphire threw in a couple of additional items. Along with the same CrossFire bridge connector and DVI-to-VGA adapter, the Sapphire card also ships with an HDMI cable and dual-4-pin to single 6-pin PCIe power adapter.

Radeon HD 7790 Cards Are Coming From Asus, Gigabyte, HIS, MSI, PowerColor, Sapphire, XFX and Others

Sapphire and Asus are not the only ones readying custom Radeon HD 7790 cards. In addition to the reference designs slated to arrive soon, Gigabyte, MSI, HIS, PowerColor, XFX and others are working on Radeon HD 7790 cards, as well. The main features and specifications for a bunch of upcoming Radeon HD 7790 cards are listed in the image above.

Test System and Unigine Heaven v4.0

How We Configured Our Test Systems: We tested the graphics cards in this article on an Asus P9X79 Deluxe motherboard powered by a Core i7-3960X six-core processor and 16GB of G.SKILL DDR3-1866 RAM. The first thing we did when configuring the test system was enter the system UEFI and set all values to their "high performance" default settings and disable any integrated peripherals that wouldn't be put to use. The memory's X.M.P. profile was enabled to ensure better-than-stock performance and the hard drive was then formatted and Windows 7 Ultimate x64 was installed. When the installation was complete, we fully updated the OS and installed the latest DirectX redist along with all of the drivers, games, and benchmark tools necessary to complete our tests.

HotHardware's Test System
Intel Core i7 Powered

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7-3960X
(3.3GHz, Six-Core)
Asus P9X79 Deluxe
(Intel X79 Express)

Asus Radeon HD 7790 Direct CU II
Sapphire Radeon HD 7790 OC
Radeon HD 7770
Radeon HD 7850
GeForce GTX 660
GeForce GTX 650 Ti

Western Digital Raptor 150GB
Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
DirectX April 2011 Redist
AMD Catalyst v13.3 Beta 3
NVIDIA GeForce Drivers v314.21

Benchmarks Used:

Unigine Heaven v4
3DMark "Fire Strike"
Batman: Arkham City
Hitman: Absolution
Alien vs. Predator
Metro 2033
Sleeping Dogs
Crysis 3

Unigine Heaven v4.0 Benchmark
Pseudo-DirectX 11 Gaming

Unigine Heaven v4.0

Unigine's Heaven Benchmark v4.0 is built around the Unigine game engine. Unigine is a cross-platform, real-time 3D engine, with support for DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11 and OpenGL. The Heaven benchmark--when run in DX11 mode--also makes comprehensive use of tessellation technology and advanced SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion). It also features volumetric cumulonimbus clouds generated by a physically accurate algorithm and a dynamic sky with light scattering.

Please note that we've underclocked one of the factory-overclocked cards to reference levels to show a more complete picture of performance. The Radeon HD 7790 represented in the graphs on this page, and the others moving forward, is clocked at 1GHz (GPU) / 6Gbps (Memory).

According the Unigine Heaven test, the new Radeon HD 7790 cards perform just as you would expect--they outpace the Radeon HD 7770 but trail the Radeon HD 7850. Compared to NVIDIA's offerings, the Radeon HD 7790 cards finish in front of the GeForce GTX 650 Ti but don't come close to the GeForce GTX 660 here.

3DMark Fire Strike Test

Futuremark 3DMark11
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

Futuremark 3DMark Fire Strike

Fire Strike has two benchmark modes: Standard mode runs in 1920x1080, while Extreme mode targets 2560x1440. GPU target frame buffer utilization for normal mode is 1GB and the benchmark uses tessellation, ambient occlusion, volume illumination, and a medium-quality depth of field filter. The more taxing Extreme mode targets 1.5GB of frame buffer memory and increases detail levels across the board. Extreme mode is explicitly designed for CrossFire / SLI systems. GT 1 focuses on geometry and illumination, with over 100 shadow casting spot lights, 140 non-shadow casting point lights, and 3.9 million vertices calculated for tessellation per frame. Only 80 million pixels are processed per frame. GT2 emphasizes particles and GPU simulations. Tessellation volume is reduced to 2.6 million vertices, but the number of pixels processed per frame rises to 170 million.

The 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark tells essentially the same story as Unigine Heaven from the previous page. The new Radeon HD 7790 cards outpace the Radeon HD 7770, as expected, and pull ahead of the GeForce GTX 650 as well. The Radeon HD 7850 and GeForce GTX 660, however, offered significantly better performance.

Aliens vs. Predator Performance

Aliens vs. Predator
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance

Alien vs. Predator

The Aliens vs. Predator benchmark makes use of the advanced tessellation, screen space ambient occlusion, and high-quality shadow features available with DirectX 11. In addition to enabling all of the aforementioned DirectX 11-related features offered by this benchmark, we also switched on 4X anti-aliasing along with 16X anisotropic filtering to more heavily tax the graphics cards being tested.

We saw more of the same with the Aliens vs. Predator benchmark, but the deltas separating the cards were somewhat different. The Radeon HD 7790 cards were still faster than the Radeon HD 7770 and GeForce GTX 650, and the Radeon HD 7850 and GeForce GTX 660 were still the fastest overall. The higher-end cards, however, finished well out in front of the 7790 cards, due to the 7850 and GTX 660 offering significantly more memory bandwidth.

Metro 2033 Performance

Metro 2033
DirecX11 Gaming Performance

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 is your basic post-apocalyptic first person shooter game with a few rather unconventional twists. Unlike most FPS titles, there is no health meter to measure your level of ailment; rather, you’re left to deal with life, or lack thereof, more akin to the real world with blood spatter on your visor and your heart rate and respiration level as indicators. The game is loosely based on a novel by Russian Author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Metro 2003 boasts some of the best 3D visuals on the PC platform and includes a DX11 rendering mode that makes use of advanced depth of field effects and character model tessellation for increased realism. This title also supports NVIDIA PhysX technology for impressive in-game physics effects. We tested the game at resolutions of 1920x1200 and 2560x1600 with adaptive anti-aliasing and in-game image quality options set to their High Quality mode, with DOF effects disabled.

We're probably starting to sound a bit like a broken record, but what are you gonna do? As expected, the Radeon HD 7790 cards finished right in between the Radeon HD 7770 and Radeon HD 7850, and nudged just past the GeForce GTX 650 Ti in the Metro 2033 benchmark, but the GeForce GTX 660 was a clear leader here.

Batman: Arkham City Performance

Batman: Arkham City
DirectX Gaming Performance

Batman: Arkham City

Batman: Arkham City is a sequel to 2009’s Game of the Year-winning Batman: Arkham Asylum. This recently released sequel, however, lives up to and even surpasses the original in many ways. The story takes place 18 months after the original game. Quincy Sharp, the onetime administrator of Arkham Asylum, has become mayor and convinced Gotham to create "Arkham City" by walling off the worst, most crime-ridden areas of the city and turning the area into a giant open-air prison. The game has DirectX 9 and 11 rendering paths, with support for tessellation, multi-view soft shadows, and ambient occlusion. We tested in DX11 mode at various resolutions with all in-game graphical options set to their maximum values.

The performance trend was ever so slightly different in the Batman: Arkham City benchmark. In this game, the Radeon HD 7790 cards once again finished in between the Radeon HD 7850 and 7770, but they performed essentially on par with the GeForce GTX 650 Ti. In fact, the reference clocked 7790 trailed the 650 Ti. The factory overclocked 7790s, however, caught up with or slightly pulled ahead of the 650 Ti.

Sleeping Dogs Performance

Sleeping Dogs
DX11 Gaming Performance

Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs is an open-world game in which you play the role of Wei Shen, an undercover cop trying to take down the Triads from the inside. In the game, you have to fight your way up in the organization and take part in various criminal activities without blowing your cover. We tested Sleeping Dogs at two resolutions, with all in-game graphical options set to their maximum values with FXAA enabled.

There is a lot to see in these Sleeping Dogs results. First, the performance trend we've witnessed throughout most of this article continued here--the Radeon HD 7790 outpaced the Radeon HD 7770 and GeForce GTX 650, but trailed the higher-end cards when tested at 1920x1200.

With the resolution cranked up to 2560x1600, however, the cards with 1GB frame buffers, i.e. all of the cards except for the GeForce GTX 660, crater. 1GB of frame buffer memory simply isn't enough for cutting edge titles when running at ultra-high resolutions with high-quality in-game image quality settings.

Hitman: Absolution Performance

Hitman: Absolution
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance

Hitman: Absolution

Hitman: Absolution follows Agent 47, a cold-blooded assassin, who takes on his most dangerous contract to date. Betrayed by those he once trusted - and now hunted by the police - he suddenly finds himself at the center of a dark conspiracy and must embark on a personal journey through a corrupt and twisted world. We tested the game at multiple resolutions, with all in-game options set to their maximum values and global illumination and 4X anti-aliasing enabled.

Our results in the Hitman: Absolution benchmark look much like Sleeping Dogs from the previous page. At the lower resolution, the Radeon HD 7790 outperforms the GeForce GTX 650 and Radeon HD 7770, but trails the GeForce GTX 660 and Radeon HD 7850. Up the resolution, however, and the cards with 1GB frame buffers falter.

Crysis 3 Performance

Crysis 3
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance

Crysis 3

Crysis 3, which is powered by Crytek’s proprietary CryENGINE 3 technology is the third installment in this popular franchise. Crysis 3 is the sequel to 2011’s Crysis 2 and follows Prophet as he returns to New York a few years after the events of Crysis 2. Like previous games in the franchise, Crysis 3 has impressive visuals that can tax even the most powerful PC’s when cranked up to their maximum values. We tested this game at various resolutions with all in-game graphics options set to Very High, with 4X MSAA and 16X anisotropic filtering enabled and motion blur set to high.

We saw more of the same in our Crysis 3 tests. The Radeon HD 7790 cards were measurably faster than the Radeon HD 7770, and performance was about on par with or slightly better than the GeForce GTX 650 Ti. However, the Radeon HD 7850 (and especially the GeForce GTX 660) were the clear performance leaders here.

Power Consumption, Noise, Temps
Before bringing this article to a close, we'd like to cover a few final data points--namely, power consumption, temperatures, and noise. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored acoustics and tracked how much power our test system was consuming using a power meter. Our goal was to give you an idea of how much power each configuration used while idling and also while under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the graphics cards alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

The power consumption numbers we recorded are right in line with expectations, based on the performance we've seen thus far. The Radeon HD 7790 cards used somewhat more power than the Radeon HD 7770 but a bit less than the Radeon HD 7850. In this class of cards, the highest performers also happened to consume the most power--no surprises there. 

Temperature data was all over the map. The custom coolers on the Asus and Sapphire Radeon HD 7790 cards clearly do a good job keeping high temperatures at bay, especially considering that the cards ran cooler than the low-performing Radeon HD 7770.

In terms of noise, there's not much to report. The Asus and Sapphire Radeon HD 7790 cards we tested were both very quiet. While idling or with minimal workloads, the cards were inaudible over our CPU and PSU fans. Under load, they were both slightly louder as their fans spun up, but neither could be considered noisy by any measure.

Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The new Radeon HD 7790 cards featured in this article performed right in line with our expectations. Based on its branding alone, it's obvious that the Radeon HD 7790 falls somewhere in between the Radeon HD 7770 and the Radeon HD 7850 in AMD's product stack, and that's exactly how the card performed. The Radeon HD 7790 is generally faster than the Radeon HD 7770, but it can't quite keep pace with the more expensive Radeon HD 7850. Versus NVIDIA's current offerings, the Radeon HD 7790 typically offers higher performance than the GeForce GTX 650 Ti. Take one step up in NVIDIA's stack though, and the higher-priced GeForce GTX 660 offers significantly higher performance overall.

The Radeon HD 7790 Reference Card

The new AMD Radeon HD 7790 is a decent little graphics card. There was a gaping hole in AMD's Radeon HD 7000 series graphics card lineup separating the Radeon HD 7770 and Radeon HD 7850, and the Radeon HD 7790 fills that in very nicely. The Radeon HD 7790's performance is closer to the 7770's performance than it is the 7850's, but it's a nice step up nonetheless.

The factory-overclocked Asus Radeon HD 7790 Direct CU II and Sapphire Radeon HD 7790 Dual-X OC cards we tested are a couple of percentage points faster than standard reference models, but they're only a few bucks more expensive. The latest information we have as of press time is that the Asus card will be priced at $154.99, and the Sapphire card will be at $159.99. Considering both cards have identical clocks, custom coolers, and similar output configurations, saving five bucks on the Asus card is a no-brainer unless the extra accessories included with the Sapphire card (and HDMI cable and power adapter) will be put to use.

Reference Radeon HD 7790 cards should be priced around $149, which includes a copy of BioShock Infinite as part of AMD's Never Settle Reloaded bundle, but we're told that some add-in-board partners are going to be somewhat aggressive with their pricing. Unfortunately, we won't know for sure for a couple of weeks because Radeon HD 7790 cards aren't slated to arrive until April 2.

In light of current graphics card offerings and prices, the Radeon HD 7790 would be a good choice for casual gamers that don't want to skimp on features. However, the graphics card landscape is forever changing and may not look the same by the time the Radeon HD 7790 actually arrives on store shelves. If the rumors hold true, NVIDIA may be shipping a card soon that fills the gap between the GeForce GTX 650 Ti and GTX 660. If that card is priced closer to the former, but performs more like the latter, the Radeon HD 7790's value proposition changes significantly.  We'll all know more soon.

As it stands today, the new AMD Radeon HD 7790 is a clear step up over the Radeon HD 7770, which should serve budget-conscious gamers well. If you can scrounge up the extra coin for a Radeon HD 7850 or GeForce GTX 660 card though, there's a lot of additional performance to be had for a moderate additional investment.

  • Decent Performance
  • Cool and Quiet
  • Affordable
  • Relatively Low Power
  • Much more performance available for slightly more money

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