The HD 7970 vs. the GTX 680 – revisited 3 years later

The GTX 680 versus the HD 7970 was a classic confrontation that began in 2012 that we are now repeating 3 years later.  Codenamed Tahiti, the then new AMD flagship Radeon HD 7970 was announced on December 22, 2011, and it launched the next month at $550 with disappointing drivers which only placed it originally about 20% faster than the Nvidia Fermi flagship, the GTX 580.  However, the primary competitor to the HD 7970 became Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 680 which launched at $499 in March, 2012 as Kepler architecture, with a strong emphasis on performance per watt and efficiency.680v7970

The GTX 680 is a 2GB vRAM-equipped mid-sized GPU on a 256-bit wide bus compared with the larger and more expensive to produce HD 7970 which is equipped with 3GB of GDDR5 memory on a 384-bit bus. Although the HD 7970 has higher bandwidth and better specs on paper, the GTX 680 was originally judged faster overall than the HD 7970, mostly due to better DX11 optimized drivers.  This is what we had to say in our conclusion of the GTX 680’s launch review on AlienBabelTech in April, 2012:

No matter how you add it up, the GTX 680 is generally faster overall than the HD 7970.  Both overclock superbly so neither card has much of an advantage over the other with headroom on stock clocks and with the stock fan profile.  As the resolution increases, the performance advantage of the GTX 680 diminishes a bit over the HD 7970 and the gap narrows.  AMD would have to significantly increase the clocks of the HD 7970 to catch the GTX 680.

Here is our performance chart from this 2012 evaluation:Untitled-one1


Just as we predicted shortly just before the HD 7970 launched, it turned out to be a short-lived SKU at 925MHz/1325MHz which was subsequently replaced by the AMD-overclocked HD 7970 GE (Gigahertz Edition – 1000MHz/1500MHz), and then respun the following generation into the nearly identical R9 280X with the same GE core speeds.  In fact, our reference PowerColor HD 7970 and our VisionTek R9 280X will CrossFire with each other and will perform almost identically when set to the same clocks.  Although the brand new R9 380X has nearly identical performance to the 280X/7970-GE, it is based on the similar but slightly more efficient Tonga architecture, not on Tahiti.

Our game benchmark suite has also changed from 2012.  We have also added minimum frame rates in addition to averages, and we are now testing at resolutions up to 4K, with a strong emphasis on the very latest games.  We want to see how these two formerly flagship GPUs stand now in relation to each other by playing the latest games with updated drivers at demanding settings that we usually bench at.

Over the past 2 years, Nvidia has reworked their Kepler architecture into the even more efficient Maxwell, and the 4GB vRAM-equipped GTX 970 has replaced the 2GB GTX 680 as a faster and more power-efficient GPU by Nvidia in their line-up.  We want to test how well our original HD 7970 performs after also being degraded from AMD’s flagship, and after being replaced by the 290X, the 390X, and then by the Fury X in turn.  We want to see how it can perform now against our same reference GTX 680 about 3 years after their respective launches.

It will be interesting to see which GPU was actually more “future proof”, and if the 2GB of vRAM that the GTX 680 is equipped with has any current disadvantage to the 3GB of vRAM the HD 7970 is equipped with.  There has been a major console platform update in the meantime, and many new PC games require more vRAM  than previously.  So let’s compare today’s performance of the HD 7970 versus the GTX 680 after we look over our test configuration on the next page.

12 thoughts on “The HD 7970 vs. the GTX 680 – revisited 3 years later

  1. I wonder how the 7970 will turn out when you run it on more directx 12 games.
    Seeing as even the GCN 1.0 is pretty optimized for it. Even a 7990 or crossfire 7970’s would get a nice fps boost vs the current nvidia ones when you apply the async shading i guess.

    1. my HD7970 ran doom 2016 with all max settings including AA on max at 1080p with shadows quality on medium with always above 75fps The weird part was when the performance difference between AA and no AA was so minimal but shadow quality on max took a heavy hit on FPS. Still an impressive card today which is able to run any game on max at decent fps at 1080p with no AA.

  2. compared 1080p 7970 vs 680 results, to summerise in games the 7970 is a decently more powerful card
    all inclusive 7970=1.11844x faster
    excluding any results where both cards are <30fps 7970=1.0339% faster
    (meaning in badly made games all cards suffer equally)
    excluding results where a either card <30fps 7970=1.133% faster 9meaning a 680 is more likely to be
    1.576-less than 30fps
    0.662-1 less than 30fps
    1.180-less than 30fps
    3.297-1 less than 30fps
    1.010-less than 30fps
    1.007-less than 30fps
    0.239-less than 30fps
    1.413-less than 30fps

  3. my his 7970 has default memory speed @1375MHz, why 1250MHz in the test? By the way, it runs well @1GHz Core/1,5GHz VRAM speed, which makes it equal to 280x and it is reference design 7970

  4. Really dude?. The reference 7970 runs at 925Mhz core and 1375Mhz memory, which are very low frecuencies. We all know that later that year the 7970 GE (1050Mhz boost core and 1500Mhz memory) launched and took back the lead for AMD. If you test the 7970 GE vs both 680 and 770, the outcome will be quite sad for Ngreedia…

        1. If he took time to read over the benchmarks before shouting his AMD brainwashed garbage. They did run the benchmarks at 1100mhz/1400 on the 7970 too. These benchmarks are all that’s left from when AMD was actually competitive with graphics cards.

Leave a Reply