All of the holidays, New Years, and CES cause a chaos this time a year. Last year we had the Sandy Bridge launch in the mix. This year AMD's new GPU series launch is packed in as well. Around the holidays we saw a few reviews using AMD's reference design. Sampling was very limited; today all of the manufactures can finally release all of their reviews. Today we are covering Sapphires first card of many, the HD 7970. This card uses the reference design and cooler and should be a great way to judge the series’ performance without any overclocking or aftermarket cooling. AMD advertises the HD 7970 as the world’s fastest single GPU, let’s find out!
Product Name: Sapphire HD 7970
Review Sample provided by: Sapphire
Review by: Wes
Pictures by: Wes
AMD Next Gen
News on the new Radeon 7970 has been rolling in hot and heavy, but what does the new gen actually mean? The foremost that catches my attention is the 7000 series once again scales down the GPU from 40nm to 28nm. Code named Tahiti, the shrink in size was something we were expecting to see in the next generation of GPUs. Smaller die size usually lead to impacts in a couple of key area: more cores in a given space or less energy used. We are also seeing the jump to the PCI-e 3.0 specification – though being able to use this additional bandwidth requires having a mainboard that supports it.
The frame buffer is being opened up from 2gb to 3gb with a 384 bit interface (from 256 bit) for a whopping 264GBps of bandwidth. We can expect various vendors to play with this a little bit and have overclocks from the reference design, but it is nice to see this pipe opening even more. Another introduction is the ZeroCore Power technology that takes the 7970 down to 15w when not actively being used and as low as 3w with a blank screen.
We are seeing a slight bump in the core clock, 925MHz vs. 880MHz, but we can expect many of the vendors to play with the reference design on this to differentiate a bit more from a reference 6970. The core clock seems to be an area where the vendors try to stand apart from each other, whether with a slight factory overclock, or at least supplying software to allow for easier overclocking.
1 x Dual-Link DVI
925 MHz Core Clock
3072 MB Size
275(L)x115(W)x36(H) mm Size.
CrossFire™ Bridge Interconnect Cable
The HD 7970's packaging is a little different than we have seen on past Sapphire cards but at the same time it still has a sapphire feel. The image on the front isn't your standard Ruby, this time they went with a rendering of a girl in camo. The front isn’t overloaded with information but you do have the model name and a few of required logos along the bottom for HDMI, PCI E, etc. There is also a sticker added on to the front pointing out the bundled HDMI cable. On the back we see the back point of view of the same rendering from the front of the packaging. There is a list of key features on the back with descriptions. As usual Sapphire includes a list of what is in the box and a pack of logos from different awards Sapphire has won in the past. Still no LanOC logo but rumor has it this will be updated soon for the New Year.
Inside the HD 7970 is wrapped up in a static bag that is also made of bubble wrap for extra protection. The card is sitting in a recycled paper formed tray. Under that tray there is a box with all of the HD 7970's accessories. Speaking of accessories Sapphire has bundled a whole collection of adapters including both power and video adapters.
The HD 7970 is similar to the HD 6970 in both the cooler design and size. All along the side you have a red strip with the Radeon logo formed into it.
AMD upgraded the GPU fan with thicker fins, the difference is slight but you can see by looking close.
Unlike the GTX 580 AMD stuck with an 8 pin connection and a 6 pin for power over the dual 8 pin that is becoming common.
The PCI slot has a little higher flow ventalation than past models. For connections you only have a single DLI, one HDMI, and two Display Port connections. In the future you will be able to run up to four monitors per Display Port, but currently just one with a DP monitor or using the adapters provided.
I was a little disapointed to see no backplate this time. The HD 6970 had a backplate, making the card stronger to prevernt sagging later on.
Dual Crossfire connections mean up to four way crossfire
Our Test Rig
Our Testing Procedures
All of our in game performance testing was run at 1920x1080, you can see the exact settings below. Here are the details for each of our tests.
Battlefield Bad Company 2 (1920x1080 – high settings, first scene starting after the cut scene, recorded using fraps)
Dirt 2 (1920x1080 – 4x MSAA – high settings, in-game benchmark)
Dirt 3 (192x1080 - 4xMSAA - high settings, in-game benchmark)
Metro 2033 DX11 (built-in benchmark, 1920 x 1080; DirectX: DirectX 11; Quality: Very High; Antialiasing: MSAA 4X; Texture filtering: AF 4X; Advanced PhysX: Enabled; Tessellation: Enabled; DOF: Disabled)
Metro 2033 DX10 (built-in benchmark, 1920 x 1080; DirectX: DirectX 10; Quality: Very High; Antialiasing: MSAA 4X; Texture filtering: AF 4X; Advanced PhysX: Enabled; Tessellation: Enabled; DOF: Disabled)
Total War: Shogun 2 Direct X11 Benchmark High setting
Synthetic Benchmarks For video cards our synthetic benchmarks are limited to 3DMark Vantage and 3DMark Vantage 2011. 3DMark Vantage is run with PPU turned off with results from both the performance and high settings. In 3DMark Vantage 2011 we run both performance and extreme benchmarks
FurMark We use Furmark to push the video card to the limit and test its cooling performance. Keep in mind that FurMark pushes cards well beyond what they would ever do in game. Our tests are done using the built in 1080p benchmark.
Cooling and Noise
In the past we have judged cooling performance and noise from in game performance to give a fair representation of what to expect during normal usage. Starting with this card we are going to change it up a little bit and include performance numbers from FurMark to show you what the absolute worst case scenario would be. Our graphs will include the FPS and Burn-In Score using the built in 1080p benchmark, but we will be focusing on the Temperature.
As you can see the Sapphire HD 7970 maxed out at 69 degree’s a very impressive number considering it is a reference cooler. Of course in order for AMD to improve on the stock cooling they upgraded the fan, something that is noticeable in the noise levels. Speaking on the noise levels, there are two sides with the new HD 7970. At an idle load the fan literally stops spinning making the card dead silent. But when spooling up the new fan design puts out a distinctive sound. Testing on our test bench may show this problem more than in a proper case though.
For our synthetic benchmarks we went with four different 3DMark tests, two each from 3DMark Vantage and 3DMark 11. The results from each program were consistent but in Vantage we saw the single 7970 outperforming two HD 6870’s in Crossfire but in 3DMark 11 it did not. Either way the only way we were able to beat the HD 7970 was pairing up two powerful cards in SLI or Crossfire, it is without a doubt a better performing single card than anything else we have tested.
In Game Performance
In game performance for the HD 7970 was mind blowing. Total War: Shogun 2 results using their DirectX 11 benchmark using Extreme settings at 1080p show a nice 67.55 FPS, giving perfectly smooth gameplay at the games highest settings. The only game with sub 60 FPS results was our extreme Metro 2033 testing, something that nothing short or two or more GPU’s can do.
Overall and FV
New GPU platforms are always exciting and there is nothing more exciting than a flagship card launch. With the 6800 series launching before the 6900 series it wasn’t nearly as exciting. AMD has without a doubt taken the title back from Nvidia for the world’s fastest single GPU. If you’re looking for looking for top end power there really isn’t any other option. Of course you’re going to end up paying for that performance, as of right now this card is retailing for 549.99. To some that will take more than a few pay checks. Of course if you can’t settle for anything but the highest settings for your PC gaming you will need the best performance; right now that is the Sapphire HD 7970.