PowerColor Devil HD 7870 Review

ccokeman - 2013-07-16 15:48:35 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: July 18, 2013
Price: $259

PowerColor Devil HD 7870 Introduction:

The devil is back in town. Not content to rest on its laurels, PowerColor today is launching the Devil HD 7870 that takes all the things that made its class leading Devil 13 HD 7990 to the limits, in terms of cooling and performance, down to the mainstream market. The HD 7870 is one of the best bang for the buck cards in the product stack, so this really is an opportunity for PowerColor to extend the legs, per se, of the Pitcairn-based HD 7870 GPUs a little further with what looks like a really sweet looking card.

Packed full of solid engineering, you get PowerColor's Platinum Power Kit that uses a 7+1+1 phase Digital PWM, Super Capacitors, and an ultra efficient three fan, quad heat pipe-equipped cooling solution to handle the 1100MHz clock speed on the core and 1250MHz on the 2GB of GDDR5 memory. Slapping a larger heat sink with two or more fans is a way to cooling stardom in some cases but not all, however PowerColor does tout the Devil HD 7870's cooling solution as being able to deliver temperatures 25% cooler and noise levels 18% quieter than reference design cards.

Cooler, quieter, big clocks, and a custom PCB and VRM are all traits you want with your video card to allow it to last as long as possible between refresh cycles, maximizing your investment. Priced at $259, the Devil HD 7870 is on the high side of the pricing scale. Let's see if it can deliver performance to go with the rest of the package.

PowerColor Devil HD 7870 Closer Look:

Sweet simple, black, and elegant packaging is what you get with the Devil HD 7870. As you can see the black is offset with the red seal inside the window in the front panel with red streaks around the periphery of the box. The sides feature the "Devil" logo while the back panel takes a deeper dive into what makes the Devil HD 7870 tick, including an exploded view of the card's cooling solution. Right on top are one of the value added items included with this card, a gaming style mouse pad with a surface that feels much like that on my Razer eXactMat. Underneath the gaming pad are the few hardware accessories included and the card itself packed deeply in the foam core for protection during transit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The accessory bundle included with the Devil HD 7870 is pretty slim with the driver disc, gaming pad with the Devil logo front and center, a DVI to VGA adapter, and a Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapter. Most modern gaming systems are going to have the required dual 6-pin PEG connectors on their power supply so missing these is not really a big deal for most of us. The gaming pad is a nice addition and feels stout enough to handle some long term usage.

 

 

Just the specifications alone make this an appealing card that should handle the latest games by way of its factory overclocked and cooled nature. Did PowerColor put together a solid part? Let's find out!

PowerColor Devil HD 7870 Closer Look:

PowerColor's Devil HD 7870 is built upon AMD's Southern Islands GCN 28nm architecture, code named Pitcairn. Looking at the Devil HD 7870, it's clear that PowerColor is looking to capture the feeling of the Devil 13 HD 7990 with a triple fan, dual slot cooling solution equipped with a pair of 80mm and a single 90mm fan to cool down the custom built hardware. The red and black theme continues to be incredibly popular with gaming-centric hardware from each manufacturer and looks good from any angle. The back side of the PCB features covers that both strengthens the PCB to prevent stress fractures of the PCB trace layout as well as adding additional cooling for the PCB. Over the 7+1+1 phase VRM circuit are a series of holes to provide additional cooling capacity to this region of the PCB. The top side of the Devil HD 7870 has the card name emblazoned on the red accents so you can show off the card through a case window. The bottom of the card has a 16x PCIe 3.0 interface for use in boards that support the PCIe 3.0 standard with backwards compatibility to earlier standards. Measuring 11.25 x 5.31 x 1.77 inches, the Devil HD 7870 is no small card by any means but should comfortably fit most current chassis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Display connectivity is pretty much standard fare for the HD 7XXX series from AMD and its partners using a DL- DVI, SL-DVI, HDMI 1.4a, and a pair of mini DisplayPort connectors that support resolutions up to 4K, as well as Eyefinity screen setups using up to six displays using a combination of available connectivity and the use of an MST hub. A small vent is over the HDMI/MiniDP connectivity to vent some of the thermal load generated by the Pitcairn core. PowerColor includes covers for each of the display connectivity options to prevent dust intrusion into the connection points. The back end of the card is vented to allow more of the thermal load out of the aluminum fan shroud that covers the four heat pipe-equipped cooling solution.

 

 

PowerColor's Devil HD 7870 supports CrossfireX configurations with up to two cards based on the use of a single Crossfire bridge connection and would be an easy way to improve graphics performance. Once AMD delivers its newest frame pacing driver at the end of the month we should see some teeth back in Crossfire configurations. Power for the Devil HD 7870 is supplied by a pair of 6-pin PEG connections. AMD and PowerColor recommend a power supply of at least 500 watts when using this card and most likely a 600+ watt PSU when a pair are used in a Crossfire configuration.

 

 

Digging further into the Devil HD 7870 allows us to get to the hardware level on the board. The aluminum shroud comes off easily enough with six screws while the large heat sink is held in place with four screws accessed through holes in the rear back plate. Once all the hardware is off the PCB you can see the additional cooling for the 7+1+1 VRM circuits at the front of the PCB. Eight GDDR5 memory ICs that make up the 2GB frame buffer surround the GPU socket in a traditional pattern.

 

 

Looking closer at the VRM circuit we have a 7+1+1 phase assembly that uses PowerColor's "Platinum Power Kit" that uses a digital controller and Super Capacitors for improved reliability. The front section of the voltage circuit is covered with large aluminum heat sinks that are cooled by way of the airflow through the primary heat sink. PowerColor is using a CHIL Products CHL8228C eight phase digital voltage regulator to manage the power needs for the Devil HD 7870

 

 

Cooling down a GPU can seem like a monumental task for the installed heat sink package. PowerColor is using a three high efficiency fan design mounted to an aluminum heat sink to manage the thermal load on the Devil HD 7870. Covering up the entire PCB, the aluminum fins have plenty of surface area. Running through the aluminum fins are a quartet of 6mm heat pipes that carry the Devil's heat load from a copper contact plate up to the aluminum fins. The contact surface is smooth and appears to be flat to take advantage of mounting on the core. Apistek fans are used to provide the airflow through the heat sink to keep the Devil HD 7870 from making an untimely early trip to hell. Used on board are a pair of 80mm fans and a single 90mm fan.

 

 

 

Last in line we get to the heart of the card, per se, the 28nm, 2.8 billion transistor Graphics Core Next Southern Islands Pitcairn core. This core is filled with 20 compute units filled with 1280 streaming multiprocessors, 80 texture units, and 32 ROPs. You can guess by the fact that the Devil HD 7870 is a custom cooled and built factory overclocked card that the clock speeds are going to see a boost from the baseline cards. The core clock speed has been boosted to 1100MHz with the 2GB of GDDR5 memory seeing a boost to 1250MHz (5GHz effective) to get the best gaming performance reliably right out of the box. Elpida GDDR5, part number W2032BBBG-60-F, in a 2GB package runs through a 256-bit bus on the Devil HD 7870. This part is rated for use at 6.0Gbps using 1.5v.

 

 

For all intents and purposes PowerColor has put together a great package with a custom PCB and cooling solution equipped with a solid 7+1+1 phase digital voltage controller. Let's see just how well it performs and overclocks.

PowerColor Devil HD 7870 Specifications:

Graphics Engine
RADEON HD 7870
Video Memory
2GB GDDR5
Engine Clock
1100Mhz
Memory Clock
1250Mhz x4 (5.0Gbps)
Memory Interface
256-bit
DirectX® Support
11.1
Bus Standard
PCIE 3.0
Standard Display Connectors
DL-DVI-I/ SL-DVI- D/HDMI/2x mini DisplayPort
Feature Support
OpenGL
Support
CrossFireX™ Technology
Support
ATI Stream Technology
Support
ATI Eyefinity Technology
Support
ATI Hypermemory Technology
 
Display Support
VGA Output
Yes, By DVI to VGA converter
DVI Output
Dual Link DVI-I x1
DisplayPort
On Board (Mini DP) x2
HDMI
On Board
TV Output
 
HDCP Support 
Support
Maximum Resolution
VGA
2048x1536
DVI
2560x1600
DisplayPort
4096x2160
HDMI
4096x2160
Power Specs + Board Dimensions
Board Dimensions
285mmx1135mmx45mm
Minimum System Power requirement (W)
500W
Extension Power Connector
2x 6-Pin  PCI Express Power connectors

 

 

PowerColor Devil HD 7870 Features:

 

 

 

All information courtesy of Powercolor @ http://www.powercolor.com/global/products_features.asp?id=476#Specification

PowerColor Devil HD 7870 Testing:

Testing of the PowerColor Devil HD 7870 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 adjustments will be made to the respective control panels during the testing to approximate the performance the end user can expect with a stock driver installation. 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 320.18 drivers while AMD-based cards will be using the Catalyst 13.5 beta 2 drivers and latest CAP profile. The results generated in my testing reached by utilizing the latest FCAT tools to illustrate the true picture of the gaming experience. To do so will require a second PC setup to capture the data stream generated by the compared video cards.

 

Testing Setup:

FCAT Capture Setup:

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

 

Overclocking:

Pitcairn-based video cards have been known to clock pretty well. As part of PowerColor's Devil series the expectation is there that this card should meet that expectation. That it does with a clock speed of 1301MHz on the core and 1370MHz on the GDDR5 memory. Those numbers represent an 18+% boost to the Devil HD 7870 core clock speed and a roughly 10% boost in the memory clock speeds. Reaching the maximum clock speeds required a voltage boost to 1300mv and boosting the AMD Power Limits to +20 while simultaneously setting the fan speed to maximum, giving the core and memory the coolest possible operating environment. Using a couple different utilities to overclock the Devil HD 7870, I found that PowerColor's own Powerup Tuner utility (Version 2.2.D0528) was a bit limited in the voltages it could apply. Ultimately this limited the overclock on the Devil HD 7870 so I had to look elsewhere to find the voltage the card needed. That being said I could use other utilities that allowed a higher core voltage to reach the final results. Outside of that one small software issue that should be an easy fix I found the utility flexible enough to use for everyday overclocking.

The core clock of 1301MHz is pretty stout but I felt the memory should allow a little more headroom but anything over 1375MHz would just crash the screen to gray lines or a black screen. You knew when the core reached its limits thanks to a healthy dose of BSOD. No failed driver message, just a hard lock then a BSOD. Once stable though, the card would run for hours all while staying relatively cool by comparison. All in all I have to say that boosting the clock speed with PowerColor's own Powerup Tuner utility or one of your choosing is a way to boost graphics performance. It has headroom and cooling to spare. Comparing the clock speeds to GPUs I have tested, the Devil HD 7870 has delivered the highest overall core clock speed while also delivering the lowest memory clock speed I have seen to date in my comparison data.

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

Testing for the maximum clock speed consisted of looping Unigine Heaven 4.0 for 30 minutes each to see where the clock speeds failed when pushed. If the clock speed adjustment failed, then the clock speeds and tests were rerun until they passed a full hour of testing.

 

 

  1. Metro: Last Light
  2. Crysis 3
  3. Far Cry 3
  4. Battlefield 3
  5. Batman: Arkham City
  6. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0
  7. 3DMark

 

  1. Temperatures
  2. Power Consumption

PowerColor Devil HD 7870 Testing:

Part first-person shooter, part survival horror, Metro: Last Light is the followup to the extremely popular game Metro 2033. Developed by 4A games and published by Deepsilver, this game uses the 4A game engine. In this game set a year after the missile strike on the Dark Ones you continue on as Artyom as he digs deeper into the bowels of the Metro.

 

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At 1920x1080 and 5760x1080, the Devil HD 7870 struggles in this game with moderately high settings. Using settings less demanding will deliver playable FPS levels at 1920x1080.

 

FCAT Results:

In the percentile charts you can see how much slower the card is than even the HD 7870 Myst Edition that uses the Tahiti LE core. The frame time charts illustrate the choppier the game play associated with the moderately high settings I use.

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

PowerColor Devil HD 7870 Testing:

This third installment of the Crysis franchise, developed by Crytek and distributed by Electronic Arts, uses the CryEngine 3 game engine, and requires a DirectX 11 ready video card and operating system due to its demanding graphics engine.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comparing the performance of the Devil HD 7870 to the HD 7870 Myst shows that it delivers about eight lower FPS. Bump the resolution up and it steps up to an equal playing ground, it seems, matching the 23FPS of the Myst Edition as well as out performing the GTX 660Ti and GTX 670.

 

FCAT Results:

The 1920x1080 percentile chart shows how close the Devil HD 7870 is to the Myst Edition during the game play sequence. The frame times show similar spikes and nothing really out of the ordinary. After three runs the GTX 660Ti continued to deliver the same results at 5760x1080. The FPS charts at the bottom represent a 60 second run through the game.

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

PowerColor Devil HD 7870 Testing:

Far Cry 3 is the latest iteration in the Far Cry series. Released in the US in early December 2012 the it uses the Dunia 2 game engine and is published and developed by Ubisoft. This Action Adventure First Person Shooter offers both single player and multi-player modes.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mirroring the performance of the Myst Edition HD 7870, the Devil HD 7870 delivers 3FPS less than the GTX 660Ti in both resolutions. At 1920x1080 the game is quite playable while at 5760x1080 you do get some choppiness at 17FPS.

 

FCAT Results:

. You can see in the percentile charts how closely the two custom HD 7870 cards are performance wise. Again the frame times are very tight and are usually less than 5ms from highest to lowest.

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

PowerColor Devil HD 7870 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 Frostbite 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In BF3, we see the same type of performance trends and margins between the Myst and Devil Edition HD 7870s as we have seen throughout the games so far. In either resolution the game felt quite playable although a bit laggy at 5760x1080.

 

FCAT Results:

In the percentile charts there is nothing out of the ordinary with the performance curves. As far as frame times go the the spikes between the highest and lowest are consistent with a few outliers with times in the 15 to 22ms range.

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

PowerColor Devil HD 7870 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Batman: Arkham City the Devil HD 7870 enjoys a 10% performance margin over the GTX 660Ti in both resolutions but falls slightly behind the HD 7870 Myst Edition.

 

FCAT Results:

In both the percentile charts the two HD 7870s mirror each other throughout the benchmark run. Tight frame times will lead to smoother game animation and for the most part the comparison cards are all running in the same frametime envelope.

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

PowerColor Devil HD 7870 Testing:

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you compare the Devil HD 7870 with the closest cards, the HD 7870 Myst and GTX 660Ti, they all deliver FPS performance in a very small envelope in both resolutions. Minimizing settings will bring up the average FPS scores.

 

FCAT Results:

Frame times are relatively tight for all the comparison cards, save the GTX 760 that wanders up high for much of the first part of the test. Each card has the same drops during the benchmark during transitions. At 5760x1080 there is a second drop just past the 80% mark.

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

PowerColor Devil HD 7870 Testing:

3DMark: The just released version of Futuremark's popular 3DMark suite is designed to let a wider range of the user base the ability to make a comparative analysis of the gaming prowess of their systems from entry level PCs to notebooks and Extreme Gaming PCs.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this test the Devil HD 7870 is going to be the slowest card in the comparison in just about every test.

PowerColor Devil HD 7870 Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using Unigine's Heaven Benchmark Version 4.0, 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 delivered by the Devil HD 7870 are pretty impressive for the cooling solution employed on this card. At stock and overclocked idle speeds the Devil HD 7870 was the coolest card in the comparison. Under load the card was one of four cards less than 70 °C at stock speeds and reached 63 °C under load when overvolted and overclocked. Warmer than you would think from this card but running the maximum allowable voltage does have that effect on cards when under load.

One thing I noticed was that the time it took to reach minimum temperature from maximum temperature was less than a minute, showing just how efficient the cooling solution on the Devil HD 7870 is. The one thing that was a concern was that when I ramped up the fan speed I would get an incessant rattle from the shroud until I held it in place. After my tear down I found the culprit; a few loose screws holding the shroud in place. Overall an easy fix.

PowerColor Devil HD 7870 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 4.0 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At idle the power consumed by the Devil HD 7870 is not going to put you into dire straights with the power company. As a newer card with a more stable and efficient 7+1+1 phase power circuit, the Devil HD 7870 is going to provide the stable voltage you need for overclocking.

PowerColor Devil HD 7870 Conclusion:

PowerColor delivers a great package with the Devil HD 7870 and continues to bring interesting cards based on AMD GPUs to the gaming community, as seen with the Devil 13 HD 7990 and HD 7970 LCS+. What you get for your $259 is a custom built card with a 7+1+1 phase digital power delivery system built with high end components for improved reliability long term, as well as reduced power consumption. You get a great looking, dual slot, three fan cooling solution that is both quiet and easily cools the Pitcairn core without breaking a sweat. Topped off with clock speeds (1100MHz core and 1250MHz memory) that deliver playable performance when you crank up the eye candy a bit at 1080 resolutions. PowerColor's cooling solution on the Devil HD 7870 allowed this card to deliver the lowest idle temperatures of any card I have tested so far with load temperatures that compare well with other custom solutions. All thanks to its quad heat pipe/dual fin array, three fan-equipped cooling solution.

When you add up the custom PCB, cooling, and "Platinum Power Kit" digital power delivery, the expectation is that you are going to see some nice overclocking headroom. That the Devil HD 7870 delivered with a 201MHz boost up to 1301MHz on the 28nm GCN core and a 120MHz boost to 1370MHz on the GDDR5 memory. Both pretty respectable numbers for the hardware.

That being said the Devil is the first card in this round of comparisons to hit a 1300+MHz core clock stably. For an almost 19% boost in clock speed, the effort is worth the time commitment to grab that extra free performance. To help you out in that endeavor, PowerColor has its own overclocking utility called Powerup Tuner that is fully functional and features a Devil series skin to add some continuity to the branding. For the most part this utility does everything you will need it to with one exception for me; the maximum voltage that could be applied was in the 1.285v range while other utilities would allow 1.30v. Not a major faux pas as I have seen much worse. It does give the user that is afraid of kicking up the voltage to high some sense of security.

My one challenge with the card was how the shroud rattled when I maximized the fan speed during my overclocking testing where it would vibrate as the fan speed increased. After the initial annoyance and tear down I found a couple loose screws that hold the shroud to the heat sink. It took all of 30 seconds to fix and get back to cooling.

Priced at $259, the Devil HD 7870 is at the higher end of the price scale for Pitcairn-based video cards, however you do have some nice upsides including the cards construction, add in value with the gaming pad, and a free copy of DiRT Showdown via coupon. Add in the fact that AMD is supposed to have its frame pacing driver out near the end of the month and Crossfire may once again become a really viable option by putting two of these cards together in a dual card CrossfireX configuration for some 3-6 screen Eyefinity goodness.

Overall I like the package PowerColor has put together and represents a card that is well worth a look as you move to purchase a new video card to enjoy the latest games. It's not a low end or high end performer by any means, but one that fits just right in its performance niche for the mainstream gamer.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: