Asus Matrix HD 7970 Platinum Review

airman - 2012-09-26 18:42:13 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: airman   
Reviewed on: October 15, 2012
Price: $480

Introduction:

As we continue to see a continuous stream of HD 7800 and HD 7900 series video cards hitting the market, it may be difficult to really tell them apart. Between several general models of an HD 7970 there may be little to no difference, or anything that sets it apart from other cards on the shelves. Some people may not desire to have anything super fancy, and these average-line models will suit them just fine. However for those who want the best, most feature-rich and overclockable card, ASUS has released its Matrix HD 7970 Platinum 3GB video card. It's got a feature list a mile long, a very large cooling system, and is supposed to be an excellent overclocker. I am really excited to get to test this video card and I'm anxious to see how it will do and how well its features work. In this review, I will provide a thorough evaluation of the ASUS Matrix HD 7970 Platinum that includes an extensive evaluation of the card, its features, overclockability, packaging, and performance. I will provide a comprehensive list of what all this card can do and how well it does it. Without anything more to be said, let's get started!

 

Closer Look:

To my surprise, when I first opened the plain brown cardboard box that this card came in I thought I had received a motherboard. The box is almost twice the volume of that of other video card models on the market, so I was rightly confused! The front of the box has, in big text, MATRIX HD7970 PLATINUM printed on its center. The logo belonging to its Republic of Gamers (ROG) line of products appears in the top left corner. The bottom left of the front of the box has a Diablo 3 mousepad pictured and a statement underneath it stating that a free mousepad is included — cool. The back of the box contains a table of specifications, such as the card's clock speeds, minimum power requirements, and more. It also lists several of the Matrix HD 7970 Platinum from ASUS, boasting its DIGI+ VRM with 20 phase power circuitry and its VGA hotwire capability — more on that soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The front of the box opens up and reveals the card through a plastic window. The inside of this flap provides more information on its features and technologies. TweakIt allows the user to make overvolting adjustments just by pressing a button. The ASUS logo on the side of the card is lit with multi-colored LEDs that change based on the card's load level. These are pretty cool. The GPU Tweak software allows for the user to make adjustments to the card's VRM voltages and everything else you can think of. The DirectCU II technology appears in the cooling system. The card's 20-phase power delivery is unmatched by any other competitor; seems like it will be a very good tool when it comes to overclocking!

 

 

 

Opening the top of the handle reveals two inner boxes. The larger one contains the video card protected by a thick plastic cover (not pictured), and the narrow one contains the card's accessories, DVD media, free Diablo 3 mousepad, and adapters/cables. A 2x3-pin to 2x4-pin adapter is included, along with the VGA hotwire cables, ROG case badge, a DVI to VGA adapter, and a Crossfire bridge. An interesting notable: also included is what is known as an LN2 heatsink for the MOSFETs and other circuitry. If the cooler is removed to make way for LN2 or other extreme cooling, these MOSFETs and other components are not cooled. So, with extreme overclockers in mind, ASUS included the black component to the right of the driver DVD.

 

 

 

When I thought that the box was big, I hadn't seen the card yet! Once I got the card out of its styrofoam container, I was absolutely shocked by its size! It took me a minute to winch my jaw back up from the floor. This card is huge. ASUS decided to make the PCB bigger to accommodate a much larger power plane. By increasing the size of the GPU's power plane by 56%, voltage drop decreases by a whopping 65% — allowing for much cooler operation and much better overclocking.  I've put the card adjacent to a reference HD 7970 for comparison. The card certainly is good looking — I like the Republic of Gamers theme. In case it wasn't already obvious, this is a triple slot card as can be seen here.

 

 

Now that this card is out of the box, I'm ready to take a closer look at it and see what it looks like up close!

Closer Look:

The triple slot cooler is probably what stands out the most about the ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum edition. The two huge fans let you see inside to the big aluminum cooler held together by copper heatpipes. On the card's back you will see its rear cover, and the ASUS MATRIX logo on the outward-looking face. The inset portion of this face spelling the word MATRIX lights up and changes colors depending on the card's loading condition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The triple-slot bracket is two-thirds filled up with the output connectors and the other third is an exhaust vent. Watch out! This card only has 2X DVI ports and 4X full-size Displayports. If you were expecting to use your cheap HDMI to DVI adapter to run your three DVI monitors, you'll need to get a DP > DVI adapter. Luckily I had one already! The opposite side of the card gives you a look at the heatsink, the shroud, the PCB, power connectors, and a 100% fan button adjacent to three other buttons. The 100% fan button does exactly what it suggests - it forces the card's fans to run at 100% as long as it is activated. As usual, you get two Crossfire connectors, which are next to a tiny switch. I don't know what this switch is for; it is not stated in ASUS's materials that I could find. I would think it's a BIOS switch, but there's already a button for that (more on that soon). Perhaps it is a Dual BIOS, and the Safe Mode button simply resets the clocks/voltages and not switching to an entirely different BIOS.

 

 

 

To highlight some of the card's special features, let's first check out the card's load display. The MATRIX logo is made from clear plastic, and the LED lighting changes its color from green, to blue, to purple, and to red between the card's idle and heavy loadings. Next is the VGA Hotwire headers. VGA Hotwire connects the card to the motherboard and can allow the user to overvolt the the GPU, VRAM, and PLL at the hardware level. Another part of the board has voltage probing points that can be checked with a multimeter or soldered to a display or datalogging device. Another VGA hotwire header appears here for three total (GPU, VRAM, PLL). Finally, underneath the cooler next to the 100% fan button are the other buttons I showed earlier. These buttons allow for the GPU's voltages to be adjusted up and down by simply pressing a button. I wouldn't particularly reach into my case and fiddle with those buttons, but someone on a tech bench station might enjoy them. The safe mode button provides a worry-free overclocking experience. Pushing this button takes you back to stable video BIOS settings.

 

 

 

 

Opening the card will separate it into three main parts: protective back cover, PCB with the "high endurance frame" (the metal black part atop the PCB), and the cooler. I didn't take apart the cooler entirely; out of the tiniest screw bits I have, not one could remove the last, hidden screw that holds the shroud to the cooler. Nevertheless, we move on. Looking at this side, you can see the copper construction of the base and the five 8mm heatpipes leading out to the aluminum fins. The other side of the cooler shows the construction of this side. Supporting this large cooler and shroud is a very robust aluminum casting — this adds a very strong feel to the card as a whole.

 

 

 

Taking a close look at the bare PCB, you get a glimpse of where the size increase took place — extending outward from the top. There are twelve Hynix memory chips surrounding the core; none are present on the other side. On the GPU-side you get a close look at the capacitors, Super Alloy caps, chokes, and MOSFETs. This card really uses only the best components! The surface of the core is bare and contains no printing. Nevertheless, it's still a Tahiti core.

 

 

 

That was sure a lot of writing! It's worth it though, I'm ready to get to testing this card. The next page contains the card's features and specifications, after which the testing and overclocking will begin.

Specifications:

GPU
AMD® Radeon® HD7970 GHz Edition
System Bus
PCI-E 3.0 x 16
Video Memory
3072MB GDDR5
Engine Clock
Boost clock: 1100MHz
Base clock: 1050MHz
Memory Clock
6600MHz (1650MHz GDDR5)
Memory Interface
384-bit
Maximum Digital Resolution
2560x1600
Maximum VGA Resolution
2048x1536
Microsoft DirectX
11
Output IO
1x Single Link DVI
1x Dual Link DVI
1x HDMI via DVI adapter
4x Native Display Port
Adaptor/Cable Bundled
2x 8-pin power cable
1x DVI to HDMI adapter
1x Extended Crossfire bridge
1x VRM heatsink for LN2 overclocking
Minimum Recommended Power Supply
650W
Supplementary Power Connectors
8-pin express supplementary power connector
Dimensions
11.4” x 5” x 2.6” slot

Features:

 

Information provided courtesy of ASUS @ http://usa.asus.com.

Testing:

Testing of the ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum Edition will consist of running it and comparison cards through the OverclockersClub.com suite of games and synthetic benchmarks. This will test the performance against many popular competitors. Comparisons will be made to cards of a range of capabilities to show where each card falls on the performance ladder. The games used are some of today's newest and most popular titles, which should be able to provide an idea of how the cards perform relative to each other.

The system specifications will remain the same throughout the testing. No adjustment will be made to the respective control panels during the testing, with the exception of the 3DMark 11 testing, where PhysX will be disabled in the NVIDIA Control Panel, if applicable. I will first test the cards at stock speeds, and then overclocked to see the effects of an increase in clock speed. The cards will be placed in order from highest to lowest performance in each graph to show where they fall by comparison. The NVIDIA comparison cards will be using the 306.32 drivers with AMD cards using the Catalyst 12.8 drivers and latest CAP profile.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

 

Overclocking:

Overclocking this video card using ASUS' GPU Tweak utility is a lot of fun. You have a wide range of clock speeds you can select, you can adjust all sorts of voltages, and you can burn your voltage, clock, and fan speed settings to the BIOS for a hardware level change. If you worry about something writing a bad BIOS, just boot up with the card in safe mode, select the default settings in GPU Tweak, and burn the original BIOS back in its place. I never had the card crash on me; I knew I was past the card's limit once it began to artifact and tearing appeared. I did notice that as long as the GPU stayed under 70 °C, there wasn't an issue. The artifacting only showed up in the Unigine Heaven benchmark; the video quality was perfect in all other testing.

From what ASUS has said about this card, the user is just about guaranteed to hit 1200MHz on the core or beyond. I've managed to hit the 1.3GHz line — faster than any other comparison video card. The larger PCB, 20-phase power design, and excellent cooling allow this card to really overclock well. I would love to see one of these on dry ice or LN2 and see how fast it can really go!

 

 

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

Testing for the maximum clock speed consists of looping Unigine 3.0 for 30 minutes each to see where the clock speeds fail when pushed. If the clock speed adjustment fails, then the clock speeds and tests are rerun until they pass a full hour of testing.

 

 

  1. Metro 2033
  2. Batman: Arkham City
  3. Battlefield 3
  4. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 3.0
  5. Sid Meier's Civilization V
  6. DiRT 3
  7. Mafia II
  8. 3DMark 11

 

  1. Temperatures
  2. Power Consumption

Testing:

Part first-person shooter, part survival horror, Metro 2033 is based on the novel of the same name, written by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. You play as Artyom in a post-apocalyptic Moscow, where you'll spend most of your time traversing the metro system, with occasional trips to the surface. Despite the dark atmosphere and bleak future for mankind, the visuals are anything but bleak. Powered by the 4A Engine, with support for DirectX 11, NVIDIA PhysX, and NVIDIA 3D Vision, the tunnels are extremely varied – in your travels, you'll come across human outposts, bandit settlements, and even half-eaten corpses. Ensuring you feel all the tension, there is no map and no health meter. Get lost without enough gas mask filters and adrenaline shots and you may soon wind up as one of those half-eaten corpses, chewed up by some horrifying manner of irradiated beast that hides in the shadows just waiting for some hapless soul to wander by.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How about that, we're off to a great start. The ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum Edition wins all four tests.

Testing:

Batman: Arkham City is the sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum released in 2009. This action adventure game based on DC Comics' Batman super hero was developed by Rocksteady Studios and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Batman: Arkham City uses the Unreal 3 engine.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here again, this card comes out on top — except for tying with the GTX 680 in one test.

Testing:

Battlefield 3 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. Battlefield 3 uses the Frostbyte 2 game engine and is the direct successor to Battlefield 2. Released in North America on October 25, 2011, the game supports DirectX 10 and 11.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NVIDIA takes over on the first test, but the ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum Edition takes the gold in the rest.

Testing:

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 3.0 is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on the Unigine engine. This was the first DX 11 benchmark to allow testing of DX 11 features. What sets the Heaven Benchmark apart is the addition of hardware tessellation, available in three modes – Moderate, Normal and Extreme. Although tessellation requires a video card with DirectX 11 support and Windows Vista/7, the Heaven Benchmark also supports DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11 and OpenGL 4.0. Visually, it features beautiful floating islands that contain a tiny village and extremely detailed architecture.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the test where the load indicator lights went bright red on the overclocking testing. Yet another time, we see this video card hammering out the wins.

Testing:

Civilization V is a turn-based strategy game. The premise is to play as one of 18 civilizations and lead the civilization from the "dawn of man" up to the space age. This latest iteration of the Civilization series uses a new game engine and massive changes to the way the AI is used throughout the game. Civilization V is developed by Firaxis Games and is published by 2K games and was released for Windows in September of 2010. Testing will be done using actual game play with FPS measured by Fraps through a series of five turns, 150 turns into the game.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming out on top three out of the four times again, it really is looking like this could be the fastest single-core video card on the market.

Testing:

DiRT 3 is the third iteration of this series. Published and developed by Codemasters, this game uses the EGO 2.0 game engine and was released in the US on PC in May of 2011.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is one of my favorite benchmarks to watch. It was as enjoyable as you'd expect with an HD 7970. The 6GB HD 7970 ties it in the stock 5760x1080 testing, but the ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum Edition wins the other three.

Testing:

Mafia II is a third-person shooter that puts you into the shoes of a poor, Sicilian immigrant, Vito Scarletta. Vito has just returned home from serving overseas in the liberation of fascist Italy, to avoiding his jail sentence, to finding his family in debt. The debt must be repaid by the end of the week, and his childhood friend, Joe Barbaro, conveniently happens to have questionable connections that he assures will help Vito clear the debt by that time. As such, Vito is sucked into a world of quick cash. Released in North America for PC in August of 2010, the game was developed by 2K Czech, published by 2K, and uses the Illusion 1.3 game engine.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the multi-monitor testing, NVIDIA wins the competition with no contest. However at 1920x1080, the overclocked card produced the highest framerates.

Testing:

3DMark 11 is the next installment in Futuremark’s 3DMark series, with Vantage as its predecessor. The name implies that this benchmark is for Microsoft DirectX 11 and with an unintended coincidence, the name matches the year proceeding its release (which was the naming scheme to some prior versions of 3DMark nonetheless). 3DMark 11 is designed solely for DirectX 11, so Windows Vista or 7 are required along with a DirectX 11 graphics card in order to run this test. The Basic Edition has unlimited free tests on performance mode, whereas Vantage is only allowed for a single test run. The advanced edition costs $19.95 and unlocks nearly all of the features of the benchmark, while the professional edition runs $995.00 and is mainly suited for corporate use. The new benchmark contains six tests, four of which are aimed only at graphical testing; one to test for physics handling and one to combine graphics and physics testing together. The open source Bullet Physics library is used for physics simulation and although not as mainstream as Havok or PhysX, it still seems to be a popular choice.

With the new benchmark, comes two new demos that can be watched, both based on the tests. Unlike the tests, however, these contain basic audio. The first demo is titled "Deep Sea" and involves a few vessels exploring what looks to be a sunken U-Boat. The second demo is titled "High Temple" and presents a location similar to South American tribal ruins with statues and the occasional vehicle around. The demos are simple in that they have no story – they are really just a demonstration of what the testing will be like. The vehicles have the logos of the sponsors MSI and Antec on their sides – the sponsorships helping to make the basic edition free. The four graphics tests are slight variants of the demos. I will use the three benchmark test preset levels to test the performance of each card. The presets are used as they are comparable to what can be run with the free version, so that results can be compared across more than just a custom set of test parameters.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This round of testing is won by NVIDIA hands down. However, among other HD 7970s, the ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum Edition isn't far from NVIDIA's results.

Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using Unigine's Heaven Benchmark Version 3.0, with MSI's Afterburner overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using a resolution of 1920x1200 using 8xAA and a five-run sequence to run the test, ensuring that the maximum thermal threshold is reached. The fan speed will be left in the control of the driver package and video card's BIOS for the stock load test, with the fan moved to 100% to see the best possible cooling scenario for the overclocked load test. The idle test will involve a 20-minute cool-down, with the fan speeds left on automatic in the stock speed testing and bumped up to 100% when running overclocked.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The temperatures this card achieves are kind of all over the table, but they are meaningful. Stock idle, the card is completely silent as the fans only run around 1000RPM. Stock load, you can see the cooling advantage this card has over other HD 7970s where their temperatures exceed ASUS' DirectCU II system by almost 20 °C all while being very quiet! Overclocked idle is about the same as stock idle: higher on the graph but that's only because the fans produce hardly any noise. 40 °C idle is perfectly fine for a modern GPU. The overclocked load is where it changes. You would also expect a lower than average temperature here, but this card can handle a lot more voltage than the other cards, if they can even add voltage at all. Even at 69 °C, it's fully loaded at 1.3GHz on the core and breaking the 7GHz barrier on the memory. I can't complain at all.

Testing:

Power consumption of the system will be measured at both idle and loaded states, taking into account the peak voltage of the system with each video card installed. I will use Unigine's Heaven Benchmark version 2.5 to put a load onto the GPU using the settings below. A 15-minute load test will be used to heat up the GPU, with the highest measured temperature recorded as the result. The idle results will be measured after 15 minutes of inactivity on the system. With dual-GPU setups, the two core temperatures will be averaged.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The power consumption numbers definitely scale towards the heavy end of the graphs, but for such a big card that is such a mean overclocker, I can't complain. Plus it's close to the other HD 7970s, even beating out one of them while overclocked.

Conclusion:

ASUS has definitely come through and provided one hell of a video card. As far as history goes, the ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum Edition is the fastest, most overclockable, quietest, and really best bang-for-your-buck out there. It places first in nearly every test, only a handful of defeats from the NVIDIA GTX 680 and maybe once or twice with the 6GB HD 7970. With a launch price set at $480, this video card is only an extra $40-$50 over other HD 7970s. For that extra $40-50, you get so many extra features and you can have the unofficially fastest single-core card on the market. With the exceptions of the few tests where it lost out by a few frames per second, the ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum Edition sweeps the floor and achieves win after win.

As far as overclocking goes, you can't go wrong with the ASUS GPU Tweak software. It's a complete suite for overclocking your video card, from the obvious core and memory clocks, but also the voltages. Typical video cards might allow for the GPU core voltage adjustment, but ASUS takes that to an entirely new level. Not only do you get to change the GPU voltage, but you also get to play with the VDDCI voltage and the memory voltage. No other card can do this right now that I am aware of, and this makes it a special treat to work on. With the benefits of the DirectCU II cooler, the ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum Edition keeps its cool and stays at a happy temperature even at 1.36V on the core! I wouldn't have dreamed of going past 1.3V on air, but the ASUS held up very nicely and performed very well. Something that I've never gotten into (though I wish I could) is LN2 (liquid nitrogen) overclocking. With the build quality of this card matched with its volt-mod capabilities, I have a feeling we will see records broken with this card. I really hope to see that happen!

Overall, I am quite blown away by this card. ASUS didn't stop at enlarging the PCB to fit an unmatched 20-phase power circuitry or adding overvolting buttons directly on the PCB, but it kept going and produced the king of the hill HD 7970. If I had a $500 budget for a video card, I would be very torn between a GTX 680 or this impressive specimen. Either way, I know I would be happy with my choice. The HD series cards have seemed to make a comeback over the past six months since the GTX 680 launch; just look at our latest reviews. I must hand it to ASUS with this video card. It really is a force to be reckoned with!

 

Pros:

 

Cons: