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PowerColor LCS HD7970 3GB Review

ccokeman    -   March 11, 2012
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Conclusion:

As with past iterations of PowerColor's LCS series, the LCS HD 7970 delivers excellent performance on top of the expected cooling properties you would expect from a video card equipped with a high end full cover waterblock. For a card of this stature to be on your radar, a full-on water cooling system is going to be required or already a part of your performance gaming computer build. From a cost perspective, the PowerColor LCS HD 7970 comes in at about $200 more than the retail pricing of several of the factory overclocked cards on the market. These cards are clocked slightly lower out of the box and are still air-cooled. Add the cost of the EK-FC7970 waterblock ($150), fittings ($10), and not having to perform the waterblock installation (voiding the warranty on your air-cooled card), having a warranty and the $200 premium is really a bargain. The installation process is fairly simple and involves adding the card in and routing the tubing to the card, making the connections, and then leak testing before powering up the system. The EK-FC7970 has ports on both sides of the block so that the tubing can be connected in a myriad of ways to fit the chassis and liquid loop configuration.

PowerColor's LCS HD 7970 has the highest base clock speeds out the door right now and this shows in the performance numbers. When overclocked, the performance margins increase in percentages close to the overclocking percentage increases. The highest stable clock speeds I have run on an air-cooled HD 7970 have been 1177MHz on the core and 1625MHz on the GDDR5 memory. On the LCS HD 7970, thanks to the ability of the EK waterblock to absorb the thermal load, I was able to reach 1235MHz on the core and 1730MHz on the memory, using a maximum voltage of 1300mv. These speeds are game-stable, not just benchmark-stable. Core speeds on the 28nm core of up to 1270MHz were possible, but the memory clock speeds had to be significantly reduced to accomplish this. Even then, 1270MHz was bench-stable only. It's always a game of compromises. The thermal performance and noise characteristics of the LCS HD 7970 were excellent. At stock speeds, the temperature delivered under load was just 42 ºC. When overclocked and under load, the maximum temperature was 44 ºC. PowerColor states that the card should not see temperatures above 50 ºC and my testing found this to be the case. This has to be put into perspective though. If your liquid loop cannot support the additional thermal load imposed by the addition of a video card to the loop, the temperatures will be higher than 50 ºC. My simple loop with a 3x120 radiator connected to the CPU and video card supported this additional load just fine and should be an ideal starting point for a CPU/GPU loop, unless going with dedicated liquid loops for the CPU and GPU. Using a water-cooled card means the noise signature from the reference or custom air-cooled is nonexistent. A 0db noise profile is just great and the EK FC7970-equipped LCS HD 7970 delivers silence to my ears. It's a welcome change from the loud fans I am accustomed to during testing.

Gaming performance was excellent from 1680x1050 to 5760x1080, where the high clocks speeds allowed the LCS HD 7970 to deliver playable frame rates in all the games tested. Eyefinity tri-monitor configurations are coming into their own with cards that can be used to deliver the graphics horsepower needed to run the resolution. As a single card that has significant graphics horsepower thanks to AMD's 28nm GCN core, the PowerColor LCS HD 7970 delvers excellence on all counts from cooling to gaming performance, and just all around good looks. If you have to go with a water-cooled system, it makes sense to take a look at the LCS HD 7970 from PowerColor. Low temperatures, high performance, and a warranty — it's got it all.

 

Pros:

  • EK waterblock equipped
  • Cool running
  • Overclocking headroom
  • Looks
  • Installation
  • Performance
  • New architecture
  • Eyefinity performance
  • Accessories
  • Competitive pricing

 

Cons:

  • A full water-cooled system needed


 

Editors' Choice



  1. Introduction & Closer Look
  2. Closer Look: The Video Card
  3. Specifications & Features
  4. Testing: Setup & Overclocking
  5. Testing: Metro 2033
  6. Testing: Batman Arkham City
  7. Testing: Battlefield 3
  8. Testing: Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.5
  9. Testing: DiRT 3
  10. Testing: Mafia II
  11. Testing: 3DMark 11
  12. Testing: Eyefinity & Surround
  13. Testing: Temperatures
  14. Testing: Power Consumption
  15. Conclusion
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