PowerColor LCS HD7970 3GB Review

ccokeman - 2012-02-28 21:10:23 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: March 11, 2012
Price: $799

Introduction:

Liquid cooling a video card is a sure fire way to reduce both the heat and noise concerns with the current crop of high end video cards. Even with new fan designs and fan controller remapping for improved performance, cooling is still a concern when the fan noise is addressed. Slow down the fan and more heat is retained. For those users playing it safe and just installing the video card to start enjoying the new purchase, the noise to heat ratio is just fine. In that case, they won't need a card of the PowerColor LCS variety. For those of us who want more graphics firepower without paying for a higher performing video card, we tend to overclock the snot out of the video cards we have. At this point, that fan profile remapping goes out the window as the clock speeds increase along with the noise penalty for pushing the fan speeds to 100%. In comes PowerColor with the LCS series of cards. This time the company has brought forth the PowerColor LCS HD7970. In the past, I have looked at the HD 6990 LCS, HD 6970 LCS, and the HD 5970 LCS, Each card, when equipped with an EK waterblock, proved to deliver a higher level of performance and a more pleasant gaming experience due to the ability to run cooler and quieter (though that depends on the fans used in your liquid cooling system). That being said, you cannot just slap this card into an existing system without first investing in a full-on liquid cooling system. Priced at $799, the PowerColor LCS HD 7970 does come with an added price premium due to the installation of the EK waterblock and large factory overclock. Let's see if PowerColor's latest LCS rendition is up to the task of outperforming a factory-overclocked, air-cooled 7970. Welcome to the PowerColor LCS HD 7970 3GB video card.

Closer Look:

The packaging for the PowerColor LCS 7970 is a departure from the small box, minimalist graphics approach to its usual packaging. This gives the card some real shelf appeal. On the front panel, the "ice cold" theme is meant to portray the fact that the card will run significantly cooler than an air-cooled card without the noise penalties associated with cooling a high end GPU. The key points are a 10% boost in overclocking on the Tahiti core, a cooler running card that should run lower than 50 ºC with zero noise, four monitors supported in a single large surface display configuration, and the inclusion of the EK manufactured waterblock. The back panel talks about the "Gold Power Kit", which includes a digital PWM with higher than 90% efficiency, DirectFet Low RDSon mosfet design for a lower thermal load, and ferrite core chokes for a 33% increase in power handling capacity. Dual BIOS functionality is used along with an EK waterblock; acetal/nickel plated copper full cover block with a backplate. A 10% boost in gaming performance is shown as an expectation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the colorful outer sleeve is a black cardboard container that holds the LCS HD 7970. Inside is a foam block that is used to transport the HD7970 LCS. The accessory bundle is hidden in a compartment that folds out to reveal the substantial accessories included with this card.

 

 

 

The bundle can make or break a video card, as it adds value to the purchase. PowerColor does not disappoint with this card. Much like previous LCS cards, PowerColor has stepped up and delivered a full size bundle to match the card. Included with the LCS HD 7970 are the manuals and driver diskette, a CrossFire bridge connection, Mini DisplayPort to SL-DVI adapter, HDMI to SL-DVI adapter, Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapter, DVI to VGA adapter, 3/8" and 1/2" barbed adapters, barbed fitting spacers and o-rings, a hex wrench, and clamps for both supported tubing sizes.

 

 

So far PowerColor has put together a pretty impressive package with its flagship HD 7970. Let's take a look at what PowerColor has to offer.

Closer Look:

As one might guess, the HD 7970 is built around AMD's 28nm Southern Islands Tahiti GPU core. The Tahiti core features AMD's all new GCN architecture to go along with the process shrink. The new core features 4.31 billion transistors, 2048 stream processors,128 texture units, 32 ROPs, and 3GB of GDDR5 memory running through an increased 384-it bus. PowerColor's LCS HD 7970 differs from the normal reference version of this card with the inclusion of the EK-FC7970 full cover waterblock. By partnering with EK to use its high end waterblock, PowerColor is able to run the clock speeds up to 1050MHz on the Tahiti core and 1425MHz on the 3GB of GDDR5 memory, making it the fastest factory offering of an HD 7970 to date. The EK-FC7970 waterblock is nickel-plated copper with a black acetal cover featuring the PowerColor logo cut into the top. The back plate used on the card is used to stiffen the PCB to remove any concerns over flex and cracking of the traces or solder joints. The back plate also has the PowerColor and LCS HD 7970 logo embossed. Functional as well as informative, so your peers know you are running a PowerColor graphics card. The HD 7970 is PCIe 3.0 ready, while supporting Eyefinity 2.0 and Stereo 3D technologies. Fitting more than one of these cards into a system should be easy enough with the amount of fittings available, as a single slot solution space is opened up on the PCIe bus for an additional card or device.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The EK-FC7970 has a total of four ports on it to allow multiple tubing and connection configurations. Two of the ports are plugged, but these can be relocated to fit just about any flow path needed. The supplied 3/8" and 1/2" barbed adapters actually fit without having to use the supplied spacers to fit the hex flats between the PCB and 1/4" pipe threaded bung. This means you will not have to resort to other fittings at added cost. PowerColor states that the maximum temperatures for this card will be below 50 ºC and after testing it out, I am inclined to agree.

 

 

On this LCS HD 7970, the connectivity options have remained the same as the reference specification, with a single DL-DVI, a full size HDMI port that supports the HDMI 1.4a specification, and a pair of Mini DisplayPort 1.2 ports. Up to four monitors can be natively supported by the LCS HD 7970, but up to six monitors in an Eyefinity setup can be connected by using an MST Hub or by taking advantage of DisplayPort functionality, daisy chaining DisplayPort-equipped monitors. Eyefinity 2.0 has some improved features with the Southern Islands GCN architecture, allowing independent audio streams to follow the individual video streams. The back end of the card is purely the PCB and installed components. The fan header can be seen on the reference PCB. A Chil CHL82280 voltage controller is used to facilitate software-based voltage tuning. A full cover waterblock is not always full cover, as it will not cover the full size of the PCB. The covered components are the GPU core, the VRM circuit, and the memory modules.

 

 

The PowerColor LCS HD 7970 is much the same as any HD 7970, in that it supports CrossFireX with up to four GPUs in a motherboard that supports this feature. Most motherboards for enthusiasts will support either two or three 16X PCIe slots for use with a pair or more of these cards. A 500 watt power supply is the minimum requirement for using this card, although a higher powered unit offers a power cushion, as well as running it efficiently. A Dual BIOS switch can be toggled between a protected BIOS in position 1 and an unlocked BIOS to be used to flash that latest BIOS mod. Power is supplied by a 6-pin and 8-pin PCIe connection, in addition to what is supplied via the PCIe slot. The maximum board power is a rated 250 watts and the power connections support this rating. AMD's ZeroCore power states are supported on this card.

 

 

The addition of the EK-FC7970 waterblock makes the card look good, in addition to allowing the company to deliver best-in-class clock speeds with over 1GHz on the cores right off the shelf.

Specifications:

Graphics Engine
RADEON HD7970
Video Memory
3GB GDDR5
Engine Clock
1050MHz
Memory Clock
1425MHz (5.7Gbps)
Memory Interface
384-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)
HDMI
On Board
TV Output
 
HDTV Output
 
Maximum Resolution
VGA
2048x1536
DVI
2560x1600
DisplayPort
4096x2160
HDMI
4096x2160
Power Specs + Board Dimensions
Board Dimensions
285x135x29mm
Minimum System Power requirement (W)
500W
Extension Power Connector
One 6-Pin and One 8-Pin PCI Express Power connectors

Features:

 

 


All information courtesy of PowerColor @ http://www.powercolor.com/us/products_features.asp?id=394

Testing:

Testing of the PowerColor LCS HD 7970 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 equal and greater capabilities, to show where they each fall on the performance ladder. The games used are some of today's newest and most popular titles, which should give you 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 Vantage 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 performing in the graphs to show where they fall by comparison. The drivers used are the 11.12 Catalyst drivers for AMD-based cards, with the exception being the new HD 7900 series that have been tested with the latest AMD press release performance driver. The 290.53 drivers for NVIDIA-based cards are used for the testing.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocking the LCS HD 7970 was both fruitful and disappointing for a number of reasons. I was disappointed that I could only get to 1235MHz on the core when the memory speed was ramped up over 1580MHz. That being said, I could increase the GPU core clock to 1270MHz when the memory speed was left at lower levels. The overall combined numbers of 1235MHz on the GPU core and 1730MHz on the GDDR5 memory offered the highest marks on both clock speeds combined. To reach the maximum clock speeds, I used MSI's Afterburner Utility with unofficial overclocking enabled so the clock speeds could be adjusted past the limits in the Catalyst Control Center. Since the PowerColor LCS HD 7970 is liquid-cooled, I cranked the voltage up to 1300mv and let it rip. Any lower and the clock speeds would suffer. The higher voltage and frequency only impacted the load temperatures by 2 ºC, coming in at 44 ºC, validating PowerColor's claim to less than a 50 ºC load temperature. By overclocking, there were significant gains to be had in performance in all the games tested, making it a worthwhile endeavor. The clock speed gain over the class leading 1050MHz was 185MHz, or +18%, on the Tahiti core, and 305MHz, or just over +21%, on the GDDR5 memory. This led to improvements in gaming at 5760x1080 of close to 20%; again, well worth the effort. This card was meant to be overclocked and it does quite well.

 

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

Testing for the maximum clock speed consists of looping Unigine 2.5 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. HAWX 2
  5. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.5
  6. DiRT 3
  7. Mafia II
  8. 3DMark 11
  1. Temperature
  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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Starting off with Metro 2033, it looks like the higher clock speeds on the PowerColor LCS HD 7970 pay dividends in both resolutions, stock and overclocked.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

In the Batman: Arkham City testing, the PowerColor LCS HD 7970 is the fastest card in three of the four tests.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

In Battlefield 3, the PowerColor LCS HD 7970 continues to show how strong the card really is, with the highest stock and overclocked speeds.

Testing:

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.5 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

At stock speeds in the Unigine testing, the PowerColor LCS HD 7970 is the fastest single GPU card and falls only to the dual GPU cards. When overclocked, the LCS pulls ahead of every card save the HD 6990.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

In DiRT 3, the higher clock speeds on the LCS HD 7970 do not really add up to much in the way of added performance over the air-cooled HD 7970.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The LCS HD 7970 continues to deliver the highest performance of any single GPU card out on the market at stock speeds and when overclocked.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

When run at the as-delivered clock speeds, the PowerColor LCS HD 7970 delivers best-in-class performance once again when compared to the non-reference, factory-overclocked HD 7970. PowerColor's offering really shines when you push the card to its limits.

Testing:

Eyefinity & Surround:

This page will show how each card in the testing can run at a resolution of 5760x1080 in either AMD Eyefinity or NVIDIA Surround mode. Higher and lower end cards are being pushed to deliver on this type of display solution for gamers, as well as in office productivity. The reality is that a high end GPU is required for gaming at this resolution with moderate AA and AF settings. I will be using the same settings used in the standard GPU testing to run each card with a single large surface display. For the display, I will be using three ASUS VG236 120Hz 3D-capable monitors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Equipped with AMD's GCN architecture, the PowerColor LCS HD 7970 delivers what are commonly considered playable resolutions of 30+ FPS in all the tests run at 5760x1080, save Unigine's Heaven 2.5 benchmark.

Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using Unigine's Heaven Benchmark Version 2.5, 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

Lower = Better

 

As a liquid-cooled video card, the LCS HD 7970 from PowerColor delivers excellent thermal performance without adding an additional thermal load to the airflow inside the chassis. By discharging the thermal load outside the chassis via a radiator, the temperatures inside the chassis stabilize at a lower level than the XFX Dual Dissipation card. The slightly higher idle numbers are due to the card in a combined CPU/GPU liquid loop. Under load, the payoff for a liquid-cooled video card is clearly evident with load temperatures maxing out at 44 ºC despite a very healthy overclock.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

Lower = Better

 

At higher clock speeds, the PowerColor LCS is going to use more power and this proves out in more than one way. Under load, with maximum voltage, the PowerColor LCS HD 7970 pulls only 8 watts more current than the overclocked and over-volted air-cooled HD 7970.

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:

 

Cons: