PowerColor PCS+ HD 7870 Myst Edition Review

ccokeman - 2012-12-11 18:09:13 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: January 3, 2013
Price: $239

PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition Introduction:

It's been about a year since AMD and its partners delivered the HD 7XXX series based on AMD's Southern Islands Graphics Core Next architecture. We saw Tahiti, Pitcairn, and Cape Verde-based GPUs filling out AMD's product stack to attack each price/performance point. Aggressive pricing cuts throughout the year added value to each of the offerings when compared to their NVIDIA-based competition. What we have here today is a card that comes with a unique twist to it from PowerColor: the PCS+ HD 7870 Myst Edition. A card that is equipped with PowerColor's PCS+ (Professional Cooling System) cooling system that runs up to 15% cooler and quieter, PowerColor's Gold Power Kit digital VRM that improves stability while increasing overclocking margins, and is Windows 8 UEFI ready for improved boot times.

Where you get a bit of unique beyond what you see in the cooling and construction of PowerColor's PCS+ HD 7870 Myst Edition is the use of the Tahiti LE core, a cut down version of AMD's flagship 28nm, 4.3 billion transistor GPU core. It's equipped with 1536 stream processors, 32 ROPs, 96 texture units and a 256-bit memory bus to handle the 2GB of onboard memory. Clock speeds come in at 925MHz (975MHz Boost) on the Tahiti LE core and 1500MHz on the 2GB of GDDR5 memory. On paper this should provide a performance upswing over the "Pitcairn" based HD 7800 series. PowerColor is one of a handful of companies delivering cards with this core. Priced at $259 or right between the $209 price point on the Pitcairn-based HD 7870 and the $289 HD 7950, the PowerColor PCS+ HD 7870 Myst Edition is poised to fill a gap and compete head on with the GTX 660Ti, both on price and performance.

 

PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition Closer Look:

The front panel of the package is visually interesting in that it catches the eye with a lot of bold coloring and an interesting design. On the front panel the highlights show this card is equipped with PowerColor's PCS+ cooling solution, is Windows 8 UEFI ready, has 2GB of GDDR5 memory, features a boost state, and is the Myst Edition offering. The back panel goes into detail on the heat pipe Direct Contact PCS+ Cooling solution and how it is constructed, and PowerColor's GoldPower kit digital VRM that features a digital PWM controller, lower RDSon DrMos, and ferrite core chokes. Down the left side are the basic specifications of the HD 7870.

 

 

Inside the outer skin is a plain cardboard box that holds the PCS+ HD 7870 Myst Edition securely during transit. The accessory bundle is in the top section of the package while the video card is in a buble wrap, antistatic bag.

 

 

The accessory bundle that comes with the PowerColor PCS+ HD 7870 Myst Edition is slim by any definition. You get the manual, driver disk, and a Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter. When purchased the current deal includes the game Far Cry 3 as an added bonus.

 

All things point to a card that should have some performance upside with a low ball price. Let's dig into the make up of PowerColor's hybrid beast for the mid range.

PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition Closer Look:

PowerColor have chosen to use an all black PCB for the PCS+ HD 7870 Myst Edition. The front view shows a full cover metal shroud with a 92mm fan to provide the cooling air for the PCS+ cooling solution. The back side is covered in small surface mount components. The top view gives a glimpse of PowerColor's cooling design for this card that uses three heat pipes in direct contact with the 28nm GCN core, one 8mm in an "S" configuration and two 6mm in a "U" shaped configuration. The bottom of the card, much like just about every discrete video card currently, is equipped with a 16x PCIe interface that is PCIe 3.0 ready as well as backwards compliant to PCIe 2.0.

This card is built upon the Tahiti LE core with 1536 stream processors, 32 ROPs, 96 texture units and uses 2GB of GDDR5 memory passing through a 256-bit memory bus. At first glimpse the PCS+ equipped HD 7870 Myst Edition is fairly unassuming yet is built with a target in mind. Measuring 266.65mm x 111.2mm x 38mm, the Myst Edition HD 7870 is going to be similar in size to the HD 7950. This makes the card a two slot solution that should easily fit in just about every mid-tower and up chassis comfortably.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Display connectivity consists of a single DL-DVI port, a single HDMI 1.4 port that supports up to 7.1 high definition audio, and a pair of Mini DisplayPort 1.2 ports that can be used to deliver surround gaming via three monitors. The back end of the PCS + HD 7870 from PowerColor is almost closed in with some space for airflow to escape the shroud. Of note are a pair of vibration isolators that ensure the card does not suffer from any vibration-related noise from the shroud and fan.

 

 

A single Crossfire bridge connection provides support for a two card CrossfireX configuration with other Tahiti-based (read HD 7900 series) cards yet does not support use with Pitcairn-based GPUs such as the aptly named HD 7870. Power is supplied to the card by way of a pair of 6-pin PCIe power connections to provide up to 225 watts to the card when the 75W PCIe slot contribution is added in. A 500 watt power supply is recommended for use with this card to prevent any power supply concerns.

 

 

PowerColor's PCS+ cooling solution is held onto the PCB by just four screws around the GPU socket. Removing the shroud heat sink assembly shows off the heat sink and how well the heat pipe direct contact surface contacts the GPU core. Design-wise the card follows the traditional layout with the GPU core in the center of the PCB surrounded by a total of eight versus twelve memory modules seen on HD 79XX series cards. PowerColor is using what it calls Gold Power Kit for the power control solution that includes a digital PWM IC to enhance power efficiency up to 90%. DrMos low RDSon inductors can handle up to 160 amps again driving peak efficiency up to 91% and, lastly, ferrite core chokes that can handle up to 33% more current with less noise. You have to hate the squealers when you put a load on the GPU. The back end view of the card illustrates the rubber vibration isolators.

 

 

 

PowerColor's PCS+ cooling solution uses a 92mm PWM controlled fan placed centrally over the heat sink assembly. The PCS+ design uses a total of three heat pipes (one 8mm and two 6mm) in a heat pipe direct contact configuration to maximize the transfer of the thermal load from the GPU to the aluminum fin array. This design results in a 10% improvement in cooling efficiency over other designs. Further cooling enhancements come in the heat pipe configuration where the 8mm and one of the 6mm pipes are in an S shape reaching both sides of the fin array while the third pipe (6mm) is run in a U shape.

 

 

PowerColor uses a 92mm fan PWM controlled fan to handle the airflow through the PCS+ cooling solution. The hub is adorned with a sticker with the PowerColor logo. This fan is made by by Power Logic part number PLA09215D12H, runs on 12v, uses .55A, and runs at up to 3500RPM with a noise level of 39.5dBA.

 

 

The strange twist with this card is the use of AMD's Tahiti LE 28nm GCN core. It uses the same 4.3 billion transistor design as the HD 7970 and HD 7950 but has been trimmed down to deliver results in a specific performance envelope. With this design you have 1536 streaming processors, 96 texture units, 32 raster units and the ability to handle 2GB of GDDR5 through a 256-bit bus. This gives you a bit more graphics firepower than a Pitcairn-based HD 7870. The memory used on this card is from Elpida instead of the Hynix normally seen on AMD cards in the HD 79XX series. Elpida part number EDW2032BBBG-60-F is rated to run at 1500MHz using 1.6v.

 

 

The change in GPU aside, PowerColor's Tahiti LE-based PCS+ HD 7870 Myst Edition card looks to hit the right price and potential performance points when compared to NVIDIA's latest 6 series offerings.

PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition Specifications:

Graphics Engine
RADEON HD7870
Video Memory
2GB GDDR5
Engine Clock
925MHz (up to 975MHz with boost)
Memory Clock
1500Mhz (6.0Gbps)
Memory Interface
256-bit
DirectX® Support
11.1
Bus Standard
PCIE 3.0
Standard Display Connectors
DL-DVI-I/ 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
266.65mmx111.2mmx38mm
Minimum System Power requirement (W)
500W
Extension Power Connector
2x 6-Pin  PCI Express Power connectors

PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition Features:

 

 


All information courtesy of PowerColor @ http://www.powercolor.com/us/products_features.asp?id=430#Specification

PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition Testing:

Testing of the PowerColor PCS+ HD 7870 Myst 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 310.70 drivers with AMD cards using the Catalyst 12.11 drivers and latest CAP profile.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

 

Overclocking:

PowerColor's HD 7870 showed some serious overclocking prowess with a significant boost in core clock speed with a smaller boost in the overall memory clock speed. By using MSI's Afterburner utility I was able to boost the clock speed on the core by 255MHz over the baseline non-boosted clock speed of 925MHz. That in itself is a 27%+ boost in clock speed without the ability to tweak the voltage outside of adjusting the power limit. The memory overclocking was a bit subdued with a 112MHz bump over the factory 1500MHz or just over 7%. In each and every benchmark the clock speed increases offered up significant FPS or scoring improvements that add performance for your dollar. To ensure stability I did increase the fan speed to 100% to keep the GPU as cool as it could be under load. With just the single fan and smallish heat sink the temperatures were higher than I was expecting but still low enough to stabilize the overclocks.

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

Testing for the maximum clock speed consisted of looping Unigine 3.0 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 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

PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Metro the AMD-based cards seem to deliver higher FPS than the NVIDIA-based cards. When overclocked the PCS+ HD 7870 maintains a 4FPS margin over the GTX 660Ti.

PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At stock speeds the PCS+ HD 7870 is a bit slower than the GTX 660 non Ti yet when overclocked it is faster by 4 FPS.

PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At 1920x1080 the PCS+ HD 7870 delivers performance within 4FPS of the GTX 660Ti at stock speeds and within two when overclocked. Moving to 5760x1080 the PowerColor HD 7870 is right on par with the GTX 660Ti.

PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At stock speeds the top three cards are within a 3FPS range. Overclocking changes the order of the cards and increases the differential performance with the HD 7870 and HD 7950 delivering the highest performance.

PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this game the PowerColor PCS+ HD 7870 is easily faster than the NVIDIA comparison cards both stock and overclocked.

PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this AMD supported title the PCS+ HD 7870 delivers an FPS performance of at least 10FPS better than the NVIDIA-based GTX 660Ti and non Ti cards.

PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition 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 this NVIDIA supported game the GTX 660Ti is faster than the HD 7870 from PowerColor in every test.

PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this test the PCS+ HD7870 sits above the GTX 660 and below the HD 7950 and GTX 660Ti in each test.

PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition 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 delivered by the PCS+ HD 7870 Myst Edition are acceptable in the grand scheme of things with temperatures never going over 70 °C. However as a non-stock solution it looks as though it is a bit on the small side when looking at the idle and load temperatures that are the highest in this comparison field of cards, at idle and under a load. Spooling up the fan to 100% helps bring the maximum temperature down to 61 °C when the card is overclocked but there is a noise penalty to pay. The fan used spins up to 3500RPM at a fan speed of 100% and can be heard clearly over other components in the case. When PWM controlled it rarely if ever reaches that threshold. It may be this reason that PowerColor locked down the ability to access voltage controls outside the PowerTune limits of +20%.

PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Power consumption on the PCS+ HD 7870 is closer to the HD 7950 than the GTX series cards both at stock speeds and when overclocked.

PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition Conclusion:

Looking deeper into the PowerColor PCS+ HD 7870 Myst Edition is an interesting exercise once you realize that it is put together using AMD's Tahiti core for its base rather than the Pitcairn core used on the HD 78XX cards that precede it in AMD's product stack. As a way to improve performance in the HD 7800 series without having to bin Pitcairn parts for guaranteed higher clock speeds it is a win. However it may provide some heartburn on the back end when customers have to distinguish between Tahiti LE and Pitcairn parts if and when deciding to run a Crossfire setup as the two are incompatible. Naming the Tahiti LE parts as a something in the HD 79XX range may have been a better idea.

PowerColor has put together this card and priced it aggressively enough to put it right in between the GTX 660, HD 7950, and GTX 660Ti with the hope that it out performs the higher priced GTX 660Ti. Something it does in several of the game tests. Performance wise PowerColor's HD 7870 Myst Edition delivers excellent gaming performance in all of the tests at a resolution of 1920x1080 finishing ahead of the GTX 660 in all but one test. Two of the highlighted features include the Gold Power Kit power system and the PCS+ cooling solution. The cooling tests show that the PCS+ HD 7870 provided decent temperatures even with the smallish heat pipe direct contact cooling solution. A total of three heat pipes are employed to transfer the load to the aluminum fin array delivering maximum temperatures of 70 °C stock and 61 °C overclocked. Not bad when you look at it.

By keeping temperatures close to 60 °C along with the digital VRM control overclocking was fairly robust with a 27%+ boost in GPU core clock speed to 1180MHz. Memory overclocking with the use of Elpida GDDR5 delivered a 7%+ increase in clock speed to 1618MHz. Well within the expectations of AMD's Tahiti core. Results include improved gaming performance across the board.

Priced at $239 with rebate the PowerColor PCS+ HD 7870 is a unique step to take to reach a performance/price point. The card offers performance above that of the GTX 660 and at times the GTX 660Ti for this price. A little noisy when manually controlling the fan speed it still offers great gaming and overclocking for your dollar. Add in the free Far Cry 3 game being used to sweeten the pot and the value adds up.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: