Charted: 5 Years of Radeon Graphics

Having tested GeForce graphics cards stretching back to Fermi it was even more interesting to see how the Radeon line-up has aged in comparison. The performance increases from one generation to the next were quite similar, especially if you ignore the small gain between the 7970 and the 7970 GHz Edition as they were essentially the same product.

The first comparison at 1080p favored the HD 6970 over the HD 5870 by 36%, and at 2560x1600 this margin was blown out to 76%, which is a much larger gap than we recorded in our December 2010 review. Back then the 6970 was an average 24% faster than the 5870 based on our 1920x1200 results across 14 games. At 2560x1600 though, the 5870 is choked by its 1GB frame buffer.

Moving from the HD 6970 to the HD 7970 saw massive performance gains -- 66% at 1080p and 71% at 2560x1600 -- whereas back in December 2011 we found the 7970 to be on average 42% faster than the 6970 at 2560x1600. Looking back at those results, Crysis 2 was the most extreme game available then and the 7970 was 78% faster than the 6970, so it seems the 7970 is holding up against time better than the 6970.

Next we have the 7970 vs 7970 GHz Edition comparison, even if there isn't much to see. Again, the latter has a modest factory overclock but we couldn't decide which card to pick for this write-up so we tested both. As expected, the overclocked 7970 GHz Edition was a slight 8-10% faster depending on the resolution.

Given that the 7970 GHz Edition retained the performance crown for longer than the standard 7970 did, we used it to measure the next-generation performance jump to the R9 290X, which was 32% faster at 1080p and 36% faster at 2560x1600.

Based on today's games and the latest Catalyst drivers, the most impressive generational performance jump over the past five years occurred between the 6970 and the 7970, which is all the more impressive because the 7970 barely used more power. Moving from the 7970 to the R9 290X brings around a 20% increase in power consumption and just 10% from the 7970 GHz Edition to the R9 290X.

For a brief comparison between the Radeon and GeForce cards before we wrap up, the HD 5870 was 25% slower than the GTX 480, the 6970 was 15% slower than the GTX 580, the 7970 was able to match the GTX 680 with the GHz Edition being 8% faster, and while the R9 290X stood evenly with GTX 780 Ti, it was 15% slower than the GTX 980.