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A quick word about our guinea pigs
We had an unusually short time window to review the Radeon HD 7790, and AMD didn't reveal the 7790's pricing until Tuesday evening. We did our best to estimate the card's positioning and obtain a comparable GeForce GTX 650 Ti from Nvidia's graphics card partners, but we were unable to get one in time.

The card you'll see tested alongside the 7790 over the next few pages is a Zotac AMP! Edition offering, which has 2GB of onboard memory and somewhat higher clock speeds than most other GTX 650 Ti variants. It currently retails for $181 at Newegg, or about $20 more than what Sapphire expects to charge for its Radeon HD 7790 at launch.

Now, there's nothing particularly wrong with comparing these two cards. They're both genuine retail offerings, and the performance comparison should be enlightening. That said, we'd ask that you please keep the price difference in mind as you peruse our benchmarks. GTX 650 Ti variants priced around the $160 mark are likely to be a little slower than our sample. Also, please stay tuned. Very soon, we'll have another article with more benchmarks that include another version of the GTX 650 Ti.

We were, however, able to get a new model of the Radeon HD 7770 GHz Edition in time for the review: Diamond's version of the card, which is a good representative of vanilla offerings available out there. It runs at the reference 1000MHz core and 4500MT/s memory speeds, and it has a stubby dual-slot cooler with a large, quiet fan. This seems to be a stubbier version of the model selling at Newegg for $135.99 (before a $20 mail-in rebate) right now.

Our testing methods
As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Tests were run at least three times, and we reported the median results. Our test systems were configured like so:

Processor Intel Core i7-3770K
Motherboard Gigabyte Z77X-UD3H
North bridge Intel Z77 Express
South bridge
Memory size 4GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type AMD Memory
DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz
Memory timings 9-9-9-28
Chipset drivers INF update 9.3.0.1021
Rapid Storage Technology 11.6
Audio Integrated Via audio
with 6.0.01.10800 drivers
Hard drive Crucial m4 256GB
Power supply Corsair HX750W 750W
OS Windows 8 Professional x64 Edition

 

  Driver revision GPU base
clock
(MHz)
Memory
clock
(MHz)
Memory
size
(MB)
Diamond Radeon HD 7770 Catalyst 12.101.2.1000 beta 1000 4500 1GB
Sapphire Radeon HD 7790 Catalyst 12.101.2.1000 beta 1075 6000 1GB
XFX Radeon HD 7850 1GB Core Edition Catalyst 12.101.2.1000 beta 860 1200 1GB
MSI GeForce GTX 560 Twin Frozr II GeForce 314.21 beta 880 1050 1GB
Zotac GeForce GTX 650 Ti AMP! GeForce 314.21 beta 1033 1550 2GB

Thanks to AMD, Corsair, and Crucial for helping to outfit our test rig. Asus, Diamond, MSI, Sapphire, XFX, and Zotac have our gratitude, as well, for supplying the various graphics cards we tested.

Image quality settings for the graphics cards were left at the control panel defaults, except on the Radeon cards, where surface format optimizations were disabled and the tessellation mode was set to "use application settings." Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

We used the following test applications:

Some further notes on our methods:

  • We used the Fraps utility to record frame rates while playing a 90-second sequence from the game. Although capturing frame rates while playing isn't precisely repeatable, we tried to make each run as similar as possible to all of the others. We tested each Fraps sequence five times per video card in order to counteract any variability. We've included frame-by-frame results from Fraps for each game, and in those plots, you're seeing the results from a single, representative pass through the test sequence.

  • We measured total system power consumption at the wall socket using a P3 Kill A Watt digital power meter. The monitor was plugged into a separate outlet, so its power draw was not part of our measurement. The cards were plugged into a motherboard on an open test bench.

    The idle measurements were taken at the Windows desktop with the Aero theme enabled. The cards were tested under load running Skyrim at its High quality preset.

  • We measured noise levels on our test system, sitting on an open test bench, using a TES-52 digital sound level meter. The meter was held approximately 8" from the test system at a height even with the top of the video card.

    You can think of these noise level measurements much like our system power consumption tests, because the entire systems' noise levels were measured. Of course, noise levels will vary greatly in the real world along with the acoustic properties of the PC enclosure used, whether the enclosure provides adequate cooling to avoid a card's highest fan speeds, placement of the enclosure in the room, and a whole range of other variables. These results should give a reasonably good picture of comparative fan noise, though.

  • We used GPU-Z to log GPU temperatures during our load testing.

The tests and methods we employ are generally publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.