PowerColor Radeon HD 5970 LCS Review

ccokeman - 2010-02-03 20:54:45 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: February 22, 2010
Price: $792


When it comes to gaming prowess, FPS is life, or so they say! At least that's what my kid believes and since I get seriously pawned by him, despite the fact that my rig is the far more superior rig, I'm really not so sure. Maybe skill has something to do with it. Anyway, the fact of the matter is that the faster you can respond, the better chance you have of surviving the fight. That's where the high-end video card comes into the picture. The HD 5970 is currently the fastest single graphics card on the planet with a commanding lead over any of the current multi GPU cards from both ATI and nVidia. Released back in November of 2009, ATI has been basking in the glow of a well executed strategy. Currently ATI and its partners have a product stack that covers just about every price point from $50 to $800 so you can have a DX 11 video card to fit your needs, with another on the way I hear.

PowerColor has gone a step above its PCS+ lineup with the introduction of the LCS HD 5970. What makes this card so special is the fact that it is equipped with a full cover water block to keep not only the 40nm GPU cores cool but also to keep the 2GB of GDDR5 memory and the voltage regulation circuits cool. Keeping these circuits cool has been challenging with numerous tests showing the stock cooling solution cannot keep the voltage circuit cool enough to prevent throttling of the clock speeds under load. This lack of cooling also ultimately limits the overclocking capabilities of a card that was designed from the ground up to be an overclocking beast. The water block PowerColor has chosen to use for this card is none other than the EK FC5970 with nickel plated copper for good looks and corrosion resistance as well as an Acetal cover with the PowerColor and LCS logos etched into it. As a byproduct of the improved cooling, PowerColor has bumped the clock speeds up to 750MHz on the dual Cypress cores and 1050MHz on the 2GB of GDDR5 memory. Let's see if the PowerColor LCS HD 5970 can indeed justify its price tag and deliver some righteous clock speeds when pushed. Do I hear 1000MHz? Betting is closed!

Closer Look:

Gone are the pictures of a warrior, a monster or any number of characters on the front panel of this package. What you see is what you get and in reality the look of the card is just downright good looking! In addition to the shot of the video card you get the PowerColor logo with the LCS (Liquid Cooling System) Moniker up front! This card comes with 2GB of GDDR5 memory and the bundle includes a copy of Dirt 2. The rear of the package goes into detail on the specifications and features of both the board and the EK supplied water cooling solution.








PowerColor has secured this card to withstand the rigors of transit. The inner box is sturdy and well built. The box folds open to show the LCS 5970 in both an anti static bag and bubble wrap with the manual on top. The accessories are in a separate compartment so you don't have adapters bouncing off the PCB with potentially dangerous results.


The accessory bundle included with the PowerColor LCS HD 5970 is pretty substantial. You get everything from the manual and driver disc to the Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapter, DVI to HDMI adapter, CrossfireX bridge connection, 6-pin to 8-pin PCI-E power adapter and of course, the fittings to use when connecting to your water cooling loop. These fittings come in both 3/8 and 1/2 inch sizes to accommodate most loops. Plastic clamps and low depth adapters are included if you need them. As an added bonus you get a license to download Dirt 2, one of the very first if not first DX 11 games that make use of the capabilities of the 5 series GPU from ATI and its partners!


Let's take a look at the LCS HD 5970 and see what makes it so special.

Closer Look:

The look of the PowerColor HD 5970 LCS is definitely a step away from the looks of the fully shrouded Batmobile-look reference shroud and cooling solution. While the reference cooling was designed to disperse a 400 watt thermal load it just did not have the chops to handle it when the voltages and clock speeds were increased. PowerColor has done something that the water cooling crowd has been doing for a while and has partnered up with EK Water Blocks to get rid of the heat load as a problem using the EK FC5970 nickel plated Acetal covered waterblock as the means to this end. Built using TSMC's 40nm process and loaded up with 4.3 Billion transistors, 3200 shader processing cores (1600 per GPU), 64 ROPs and a 512-bit memory bus split into two 256-bit buses accessing the 2GB of GDDR5 memory, the HD 5970 is built for speed. When designing this card ATI built it for the overclocker in mind, at least that's what the press deck leads you to believe. The use of digital programmable Volterra regulators, Japanese ceramic super capacitors and real time power monitoring are tools they used to make the HD 5900 series OC friendly. The front of the card is dominated by the large EK FC5970 that has the PowerColor and LCS logos cut into the acetal. The back of the card retains the stock backplate to offer some additional structural rigidity.












Connectivity options consist of two Dual Link DVI ports and a single DisplayPort. What, no HDMI port you say? You can get your HDMI fix by using the supplied adapters. HDMI 1.3 output is supported with Deep Color, xvYCC wide gamut support, and high bitrate audio as well. You can use this card to power three different monitors with resolutions up to 1920x1200 when using HDMI and up to 2560x1600x3 when using the DVI/DisplayPort options. You can connect the PowerColor LCS HD 5970 to up to three monitors in an Eyefinity multiple monitor setup to really get into your games. The back end of the PCB is pretty bare where the water block does not cover since the block fully covers the power circuits. The two power connections used include a single 6-pin and a single 8-pin PCI-E power connection used to supply the juice this hungry beast needs.


The PowerColor HD 5970 LCS is much like the rest of the 5 series lineup when it comes to a multi GPU strategy. CrossfireX is supported so you can use this card with another of this kind or an air cooled HD 5970 if you like living on the edge. Hooking up another 5970 is not the only way to go thankfully. A while ago I decided to do some testing and coupled an HD 5970 and HD 5870 together for a three GPU CrossfireX setup that delivered some pretty outstanding results. The PCI-E power connections come out of the card along the top spine. Routing them out the back side would make hooking them up almost impossible in many of today's cases as this card is still just as long as the factory reference cards by virtue of using the stock backplate for support.


Hooking up and using this card means either cutting into your existing water cooling loop or building a system from scratch. For me to install the LCS HD 5970 I just had to add a short piece of tubing from the existing CPU waterblock and run it into the FD 5970 block after installing the 1/2inch barbed fittings. These screw directly into the top side of the water block in any of four (two per side) pre-drilled and threaded bungs. The supplied fittings use a captured o-ring to keep it from squeezing out when being tightened up. I then refilled the system with distilled water, bled the system and ran it overnight to check for leaks. I must be living right since there was not a leak in sight.


Installed? Check! Ready for testing? Not quite as we have to install the drivers.


Closer Look:

Before you can start fragging, you have to install the drivers so that you don't sit there utterly disappointed by the graphics performance of this shiny new addition to your system. Thankfully, PowerColor has included a disc to get you started, though the manufacturer's website is a great alternative to get the latest driver package. I will browse through the disc to see what is included.

After you insert the disc and allow the autorun to start the process you end up with a web interface to choose your driver package on the desktop. There are two sets of driver options that look a little confusing but may be just the difference between the card series making the difference. Other than that you have the option of installing Bumpttop, a desktop GUI that offers some fun functions as well as a different look, and a link to Superstar Racing, an MMORG racing game.













When you choose to install the drivers from the disc, just move forward through the process and check the options best suited for your needs. You have two options; you can choose either the Express Install that manages the whole process for you or the Custom Install that allows you to choose what software you will install from a list. Agree to the EULA, let the wizard finish, and do the customary reboot to finish the installation.


One of the big knocks on the 5-series cards is the fact that there were really no games available at launch to showcase the DX 11 technology. Fast forward 3+ months and you have a few games to play. Dirt 2 was just released at the beginning of December and Battle Forge has been out and patched for DX 11. Dirt 2 has been a significant part of the bundle in many 5-series cards to get the end user a game that uses the DX 11 features such as tessellation. With Battle Forge you can play online for free or if you like the game you can sign up and buy the game. Unigine's Heaven Benchmark is the first benchmark used to measure DirectX 11 performance.


Closer Look:

The ATI Catalyst Control Center got a new look with the introduction of the 9.7 drivers and now a new look again with the 10.2 drivers but this in depth look is with latter's interface. We will see how well the GUI is set up and how easy it is to navigate through. Since the Basic view is well, basic, I will look through the Advanced panel. The first page to open with ATI Catalyst Control Center is the Welcome page that has quick hyperlinks to check for driver updates, get in contact with customer care, give feedback, visit the AMD website, or join the [email protected] cause. The next page is the Information Center, which is split into two tabs, one for Graphics Software information and the other for Graphics Hardware information. These two tabs can be very handy for troubleshooting any problems that crop up while using the Sapphire HD 5970.














The Graphics Hardware tab of the Information Center contains information about the video card, including BIOS version and date, chipset, memory, vendor code, and so on. Most people shouldn’t need the Graphics Hardware and Software Information, but it is definitely handy when a problem may occur. The next page is the Desktops & Displays page – this page is for the basic settings of the monitor(s) and desktop. Users can figure out which monitor is which and rotate the outputted image. Clicking the properties or moving along brings us to the Desktop Properties page.


The Desktop Properties page has much more control over the desktop with settings such as desktop area, color quality, refresh rate, and again rotation. The next tab in the Desktop Properties page adjusts the color, contrast, brightness, and gamma output. This can be handy on monitors that need some help putting out the appropriate colors – back when I used a CRT a long time ago it helped keep the colors closer to true when the monitor would get aged and get a gray or yellowish tint.


The Display Options page is very short and is used just for one option – Display Detection Option. The options are automatic or manual detection of displays. The 3D page has several tabs that allow users the ability to define a custom scheme for their games. There are previews for the effects or users can power through all of the settings on the 'All' tab at the end.


The Avivo Video page has five tabs dedicated to performance and quality adjustments for video output. A preview is included of a woman with flowers and fruit. Again, just as with the 3D page, there is an 'All' tab that can adjust all of the settings for the Avivo Video at once.


The last page on the graphics menu is ATI Overdrive. To first use this feature, users must click the lock to ‘unlock’ the program after agreeing to some terms. The software is capable of automatically overclocking the video card through Auto-Tune, but I prefer using the manual settings. Users can test their settings using the Test Custom Clocks button. Fan speed control is relatively new to ATI Overdrive and allows users to define what speed the fan or blower runs at. Underneath and to the right of this are gauges and readouts, some of which are the more important data for this card – temperature, usage activity, fan speed, GPU clock speed, and memory clock speed. The test feature brings up a full screen image that is pretty basic – greenish reddish with an AMD logo in the bottom left.


The new additional menu is the HydraVision menu. The first page is the HydraGrid page, which allows users to define a grid-like component to lock applications to a certain chunk of desktop real estate. Options such as showing the grid when moving a window and showing an icon in the tray are settable at the bottom while adjusting the grid is near the top. The grid can be previewed as the default layout is seen with white bars representing the grids. Users can customize the grid layout to whatever they desire and the keyboard shortcuts are listed out in the image while the red bar means it is the selected grid component to be adjusted.


The next page is the Desktop Manager, which does exactly what the name implies – it manages the desktop. The desktop manager can keep track of application position and size, and allow spanning across multiple displays. The last page is the Multi Desktop. This name is also suggestive to its use – this program allows users to have multiple desktops ranging from two up to nine. Users can rotate between desktops with the scroll wheel, preserve display settings, and enable another tray icon. This can be useful for those who have a ton of desktop icons as a means to separate them out – one could, for instance, even make a desktop for each category of their own choosing even – gaming, work, school, and whatever else.


The PowerColor HD 5970 LCS is installed and configured so let's see just how much of a game changer it is.


Graphics Engine 
Video Memory
Engine Clock
750 MHz
Memory Clock
1050 Mhz (4.2Gbps)
Memory Interface
2 X 256bit (256bit)
DirectX Support
Bus Standard
PCIE 2.1
Video Input
VGA Output
Yes, By DVI to VGA converter
HDTV Output    
TV Output
DVI Output
DVI-I x 2 + mini Display Port x 1
Dual-link DVI Output
HDMI Support
Yes, By DVI to HDMI Adapter
HDCP Support



All information Courtesy of PowerColor @  http://www.powercolor.com/eng/products_features.asp?ProductID=6945


Testing the PowerColor HD 5970 LCS will consist of running the card through the OverclockersClub.com suite of games and synthetic benchmarks to test the performance of the HD 5970 against many popular competitors to gauge its performance. The games used are some of today's popular titles to give you an idea on how the cards perform relative to one another. 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 Vantage testing where PhysX will be disabled in the nVidia control panel. Clock speeds on each card are left at stock speeds. I will test the PowerColor HD 5970 LCS at both stock speeds and then overclocked to see how much additional performance is available when you choose to overclock the card to see if it shows a significant improvement in performance for the effort.


Comparison Video Cards:



Overclocked settings:

Since this card from PowerColor is water cooled, I was expecting big things from the card. The previous video cards I water cooled exhibited huge gains on the core clock speeds so that was the bottom line expectation. The last HD 5970 I tested was an aircooled card so I was limited to a lower voltage as well as the temperatures of the GPU cores. The air cooled card peaked at 69 degrees Celsius under load when overclocked using an 85% fan speed with 1.16 volts to the cores. The difference here is just stunning and of course really depends on your water cooling loop but using a loop that cooled the CPU as well as the card, the load temperatures with 1.275 volts to the cores averaged 35 degrees Celsius, a 34C difference that in the end contributes to the 1010MHz core clock speeds achieved on the PowerColor LCS HD 5970. To reach this level I opened up MSI's Afterburner utility and manually set the clock speeds and voltage to the levels I used on the last 5970 I looked at, which is 890MHz on the two Cypress cores and 1250MHz on the GDDR5 memory. The memory on this card scaled about the same so no more effort was expended there and all of my focus went to the GPU cores. These I bumped up in 20MHz increments until I had lock ups in the stability testing then I backed down and adjusted the voltage. Wash, rinse, repeat until I found what were the final clock speeds I could achieve. All in all, a very healthy overclock.


  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Crysis Warhead
  3. Darkest of Days
  4. Call of Duty World at War
  5. Warhammer 40,000 DOW II
  6. Batman: Arkham Asylum
  7. Resident Evil 5
  8. Left 4 Dead
  9. 3DMark 06 Professional
  10. 3DMark Vantage


Far Cry 2:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built especially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real time effects and damage. This next generation First Person Shooter comes to us from Ubisoft surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this version of the game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km2 of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.













The higher clock speeds on the PowerColor LCS 5970 do not really pay off until 1680x1050. When that massive overclock comes into play you see huge performance gains above 1280x1024.


Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the story line of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the island. Along the way there are EMP blasts and aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the CryEngine 2.















Finally, Crysis at 34 FPS at 2560x1600! The water cooled HD 5970 delivers comparable performance to the air cooled card at stock settings. Overclock it and it becomes a whole new animal, though with a massive case of overclocking cred that allows Crysis Warhead to deliver above 30 FPS at 2560x1600.


What would testing be if you did not show both sides of the fence? In this test, PhysX was set to low, while leaving the remaining settings intact. You have seen time and again where the ATI cards suffer when PhysX is enabled. Mirror's Edge and Cryostasis are two prime examples. Darkest of Days is no different. What happens in this test shows that, although the game can be played by cards from the red team, the video effects and quality are diminished.

Game Settings:












Higher is Better


In this game there is no Crossfire scaling; what you get performance wise is the FPS delivered by a 750MHz GPU clocked HD 5870.


Activision's Call of Duty: World at War goes right back to the bread and butter of the franchise - WWII FPS action. In this rendition, you start off in the South Pacific and move through a series of missions that flip back and forth between the Russian front and the island hopping advance toward the Imperial Japanese homeland. Included is a mission on Peliliu Island, arguably one of the more difficult and costly battles in the Pacific theater. The gameplay in the single player mode is rather short, but the game makes up for this shortcoming in online gameplay. If you thought CoD4 looked nice, this game is amazing with the graphics maxed out playing at a high resolution. This game just may be my reason to move to a 30 inch monitor. I will use Fraps to measure a section of gameplay in the Semper Fi map on Makin Island to compare the performance of these video cards.















The 5 series dual GPU solutions are the top of the class in CoD WAW. The GTX 295 and HD 4870x2 deliver considerably fewer frames per second.


Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II is a Real Time Strategy game that is significantly different than its predecessor, with improved AI and an improved physics engine. You can play either as a single player in campaign mode, or in a multiplayer game where Microsoft's Live ranking system can be used.
















The PowerColor HD 5970 LCS delivers performance almost identical to that of the Sapphire card and blows away the Crossfire 5870s.


Batman: Arkham Asylum is a new game that brings together two bitter foes, The Joker and Batman. The Joker Has taken over Arkham Asylum Gothams home for the Criminally insane. You task is to rein the Joker back in and restore order. This game makes use of PhysX technology to create a rich environment for you to ply your trade.

Game Settings:














The lower clock speeds on the HD 5970s show lower performance than the dual card setup. The PowerColor HD 5970 LCS does pull ahead at the higher resolutions. When compared to the GTX 295 and HD 4870X2, there is no comparison as these cards are significantly slower.


Resident Evil 5 is the sequel to one of the best selling video games of all time. You play the game as Chris Redfield a survivor of the events at Raccoon City who now works for the BSAA. Sent to Africa to find the gen6sis of the latest Bio Organic agents you meet up with another BSAA operative and work together to solve the problem. The game offers incredible 3D effects and a co-op gaming style.

Game Settings:














The PowerColor HD 5970 LCS is faster than the air cooled 5970 but not faster than the dual 5870 setup. Overclocked it easily pushes past the dual 5870s.


Left 4 Dead is a new release from Valve that leaves you as part of a group of survivors in a world where an infection has rapidly turned the populace into a zombie horde. You goal is to make it to a rescue point, all the while fighting what seems like overwhelming odds. Along the way there are safe houses where you can replenish your weapons and health. The movie 'I Am Legend' comes to mind to set the stage for this game. But unlike the movie, there are four characters and not just a lone gun and his faithful companion. The horde is not at all like the typical slow walking, foot shuffling zombie. These zombies are quick and work with the pack mentality. Your job: survival!
















The performance of the PowerColor card in Left 4 Dead was a bit of a mixed bag of results as it did not outperform the air cooled card.


3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest has begun. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

















The PowerColor LCS 5970 performs similarly to the Sapphire HD 5970 OC at stock speeds and delivers performance above all the rest once overclocked. Against the dual HD 5870 CrossfireX setup the scores bare out the fact that the lower clock speeds deliver lower scores. Overclocking however eliminates that gap.


Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. 'Entry' is 1024x768 progressing to 'Extreme' at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.















With its higher clock speeds the PowerColor LCS HD 5970 lays down the law with higher performance numbers across the board than the air cooled Sapphire HD 5970 OC. While those results are nice, the massive overclocking headroom on this card pushes the performance even further with almost 16000 points in the Extreme test. An almost 3,000 point jump.


When it comes to performance, the HD 5970 is the current undisputed King o' the Hill. Add to that a means of cooling this card down to gain additional clock speeds out of it and you can imagine the possibilities. High component temperatures made it hard to reach the clock speeds used on the HD 5870. While the sample I looked at was able to run at 890MHz on the cores and 1260MHz on the 2GB of GDDR5 memory, performance could have scaled higher if temperatures were kept in check. Now with the PowerColor HD5970 LCS temperatures are kept in check and clock speeds on the dual Cypress cores responded well. The base clock speeds on the GPU for this card come in at 750MHz. Not bad but the stock HD 5870 comes in at 850MHz, so there is work to be done to try and get the performance to that of a true dual HD 5870 setup with just a single card. When it came to overclocking the PowerColor LCS 5970 I was able to bump the speeds up from the as delivered 750MHz to 1010MHz, a 260MHz gain in clock speed. The memory clock speeds did not really show more than the air cooled reference version at 1250MHz, but still a 200MHz bump, or close to a 20% increase. Both of these overclocks contributed to a substantial performance increase that in the end was limited by the processor's clock speed of 3.0GHz. This was seen more so at the lower resolutions that at the top of the scale. Regardless, you still get phenomenal performance.

PowerColor chose one of the top producers of water cooling parts for the water block on this card. EK is well known in enthusiast circles for the fact that it listens to the market and puts out what the crowd wants. Not only is the company responsive, but it also delivers high end cooling solutions that work. The block used on this card is nickel plated with an Acetal top with PowerColor's logo. Nickel plating a block is now the "Gold Standard" of finishes. No more oxidized copper for this card. This cooling solution was able to keep the card temperatures in check, with an average temperature of 35 degrees Celsius under load when overvolted and overclocked. Idle temperatures averaged 21.5 degrees Celsius. Of course, the cooling performance will depend wholly on the design of your water cooling loop but with triple rad, D5 pump and CPU block I was surprised at the cooling performance. The accessory bundle included with this card is typical of many of the 5 series cards I have looked at, so that was not a serious point of difference until you get to the fittings included for you to hook up the HD 5970 LCS into your water cooling loop. You get both 3/8 and 1/2 inch fittings that use a captured o-ring to seal the connection point and clamps to hold the tubing on the barb fittings.

Much like all the other 5 series cards, this card is capable of being used for an Eyefinity setup with resolutions up to 7680x1600, for a fully immersive gaming experience. With the HD 5970 LCS you not only get Eyefinity, but also CrossfireX, so you can blow away anything else out there with a pair of these cards; Power Play technology, Avivo video converter, Stream technology, you get the whole feature set. However, there is a price to be paid for this level of performance, both cooling and gaming. That price is almost 800 dollars. A Ferrari is fast and beautiful, but it's gonna cost you, much like this card. However, if you break down the costs, it's really not that much more than buying the card and block separately, and for this price, at least you get a warranty so you don't run the risk of permanently fragging your card. If you read any water cooling forums there are plenty of horror stories! While it's not the cheapest HD 5970 out on the market, the PowerColor HD 5970 LCS is a top end performer that comes equipped with top end cooling that looks good and offers game changing performance, for a price. As the old saying goes, you have to pay to play!