PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire Review

ccokeman - 2013-03-19 19:32:13 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: May 26, 2013
Price: $458

PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire Introduction:

Earlier this year I took a look at PowerColor's entry into the Tahiti LE market with the PowerColor PCS+ HD 7870 Myst Edition. It was able to fill a price and performance point for AMD delivering great performance in that niche when compared to NVIDIA's GTX 660Ti. Priced at $239, it offered up a significant value at the time. Equipped with a cut down 28nm Tahiti core labeled Tahiti LE, it comes equipped with 1536 stream processors, 32 ROPs, 96 texture units, and 2GB of GDDR5 memory running through a 256-bit memory bus. Clock speeds for the HD 7870 Myst Edition are 925MHz with a boost state of 975MHz while the memory clock speed stays at a static 1500MHz. The use of the Tahiti LE core allows the Myst Edition to deliver a higher level of gaming performance than the Pitcairn-based HD 7870 we currently know so well.

Spicing this offering up feature-wise as I noted in the single card review is the use of PowerColor's PCS+ (Professional Cooling System) cooling system that runs up to 15% cooler and quieter than a reference design, PowerColor's Gold Power Kit digital VRM that improves stability while increasing overclocking margins, and is Windows 8 UEFI ready. As we saw in the review, the performance delivered against the GTX 660Ti from NVIDIA scaled up and down depending on the game engine and how well it was optimized for one architecture or the other.

With the addition of another PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition, it's time to see just how well this card scales when a second card is added to a gaming system and again how well it fares against a pair of GTX 660Tis in SLI. Testing a pair in Crossfire is especially interesting now that AMD has stated it now has a driver capable of reducing the impact of a massive frame latency hit when running Crossfire configurations. As a $240 card, adding a second Powercolor HD 7870 Myst Edition into your system is a way to improve performance for not a lot of additional cash outlay. Let's hope that AMD has fixed its drivers and see where the data takes us as far as performance metrics and actual game play.

PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire Closer Look:

The premise of this article is pure and simple; its purpose is to see how well this mid range offering from PowerColor, the HD 7870 Myst Edition, performs in a Crossfire configuration and then comparing the results against those of a pair of GTX 660Ti cards to see which combination of cards delivers the best gaming performance. A simple concept that should prove out whether or not one configuration is better than the other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you want to take a deeper look at the cards used in this comparison you can find them here and here. Let's get to it and find out which combo is going to deliver not only the highest FPS but the best "feel" in game.

PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire 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 Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire Features:

 

 


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

PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire Testing:

Testing of the PowerColor PCS+ HD 7870 Myst Edition in a Crossfire configuration 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 320.00 drivers while AMD-based cards will be using the Catalyst 13.5 beta drivers and latest CAP profile. The results in the first section of the review are generated by FRAPS and as popular as this utility is it can give a false representation of what you see on the screen. To show this discrepancy I will also include a page of results using the latest FCAT tools to further 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:

Overclocking a pair of the HD 7870 Myst Edition cards was not as fruitful as when running a single card. To reach 1090MHz on the core I had to increase the voltage to 1300mv to remove any artifacting in game. Any lower on the voltage or higher on the clock speed would start showing artifacts. This is around 50MHz less than the results I saw when working with the single card I looked at back in January. The pair would exhibit this behavior even with the GDDR5 memory running at stock speeds. Even if the clock speed on the core did not scale as well as I had hoped, the 1090MHz clock speed is a roughly 12% increase in clock speed. The GDDR5 memory let go of a 133MHz increase in clock speed or roughly a 9% boost for you time and trouble.

Cooling was not a concern when it came to overclocking as the PCS+ cooling solution on the card kept the temperatures in the 77-82 °C range. Boosting the clock speed does offer improved performance as you will see in the game testing to come. PowerColor's own Powerup Tuner can be used as well as other free utilities when you want to overclock. While each is similar in form and function it is best to find what works best for you.

 

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 2033
  2. Crysis 3
  3. Batman: Arkham City
  4. Battlefield 3
  5. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0
  6. Borderlands 2
  7. DiRT 3
  8. Far Cry 3
  9. 3DMark

 

  1. Temperatures
  2. Power Consumption

PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire 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 this demanding game the HD 7870 Myst Edition delivers higher average performance that is backed up in the FCAT testing results.

PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On top at the 1920x1080 resolution the reduced memory bandwidth on the GTX 660Ti proves to be a deal breaker in terms of getting playable performance at 5760x1080. The CrossfireX combo from PowerColor did not get there either but showed much higher results.

PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In BF3 we see the Myst Edition delivering excellent FPS numbers. Using our FCAT testing as shown later in this review we find that overall the GTX 660Ti gives a better gaming experience.

PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traditionally, AMD offerings do well by comparison in this game. The performance delivered by the HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire setup is higher than that of the GTX 660Ti combo in SLI.

PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition cards in CrossfireX are deceptively smooth to play, delivering results above that of the GTX 660Ti combo.

PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire Testing:

Developed by Gearbox Software and built using the Unreal Engine, Borderlands 2 was released by 2K games on September 18, 2012 in the US. This action role-playing first-person shooter game is the sequel to Borderlands and happens five years after the events of the first game in the series.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Borderlands 2, the CrossfireX Powercolor HD 7870 Myst Edition combo does a good job of playing through this game without issue.

PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comparing the HD 7870 Myst Edition in CrossfireX to the NVIDIA SLI GTX 660Ti combo seems to show that the Myst Edition is the higher performer at 5760x1080 in Far Cry 3. At 1920x1080 the GTX 660Ti combo delivers higher FPS numbers. A pretty picture is painted but not realized in this game by the AMD cards. Driver concerns plague this game on the AMD side with dust swirls that look like little boxes along the ground to a gaming experience that makes you feel as if you are stopping and starting throughout the entire run through.

PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At stock speeds the GTX 660Ti combo is the higher performing combo. When overclocked it evens the playing field. The narrower memory bus on the NVIDIA cards contribute to the lower scores once you reach 5760x1080.

PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire 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 3DMark, the PCS+ HD 7870 Myst Edition cards deliver a higher level of performance in this synthetic benchmark across all six tests.

PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire Testing:

Here lately frame time testing along with measuring true FPS output to the display with tools such as NVIDIA's FCAT (Frame Capture Analysis Tools) suite have really gained a lot of traction to identify some of the problems associated with running a multiple GPU solution. Ultimately showing who has done their homework in regards to delivering the smoothest game play for the end user. The resolution used is 1920x1080 with comparable run times. Let's start off here with the first game in our test suite.

 

Metro 2033:

Looking at the percentile chart we see that both card combinations deliver similar performance in this game from top to bottom and even at the 99th percentile. The frame time data shows both combinations have some latency spikes throughout the game but more heavily biased towards the HD 7870 Myst Edition due to AMD's drivers. Hopefully the frame smoothing drivers AMD is promising make it out sooner than later. Comparing the observed versus captured FPS data you can see a significant amount of dropped frames in this game. With all of the runt and dropped frames taken out of the equation what you will see is a pair of cards that deliver FPS performance within 5FPS of each other with a little less stuttering from the green camp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crysis 3:

In Crysis 3 the GTX 660Ti is giving a smoother game play and higher average FPS. The percentile charts shows the HD 7870 Myst Edition in Crossfire falls off sooner as the FPS spikes are pulled out of the equation. The frame time chart shows that the HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire combination has more latency spikes over 30ms contributing to jittery game play. Again we see that runt and drop frames plauge this combination. The FPS chart shows 60 seconds of each run by combinations and how the impact of runt and drop frames influence game play.

 

 

 

Battlefield 3:

Looking at the percentile chart the game play of the HD 7870 Myst Edition in Crossfire take a big performance hit as the FPS spikes are removed from the results. Frame time latency spikes almost across the entire run but for the most part stay under 20ms so you have to work to see any stuttering. In this game we see a tremendous amount of runt and drop frames for the HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire combination. FPS results overall when runts and drops are removed have the GTX 660Ti delivering an overall higher level of game performance.

 

 

 

Batman Arkham City:

What you want to see here in the percentile charts is a line that runs almost straight across without a large drop off in FPS as the time window expands. Throughout the run the GTX 660Ti combination delivers a higher FPS level without the large latency spikes seen by the Crossfire HD 7870 Myst Edition. Looking at the run charts you can see the significance of the dropped and runt frames on the final FPS numbers.

 

 

 

DiRT 3:

Here we see a large drop off in performance initially with the FPS almost leveling out on the HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire setup. Frame latency is significantly worse than we see with the NVIDIA combination but the FPS is runnning high enough and the oscillations so small that the stutter is imperceptible. The HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire setup shows a ton of runt and dropped frames in this game delivering many more FPS through the card than are actually displayed long enough to be noticed.

 

 

 

Let's take a look at the rest of the test suite and see if we see the same challenges.

PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire Testing:

Borderlands 2:

Ultimately Borderlands 2 is playable at high settings with a variety of hardware. The HD 7870 Myst Edition in Crossfire fell off FPS-wise sooner than the NVIDIA cards did shown in the percentile chart. Frame timing again wildly varies but is usually less than 10ms from highest to lowest with a few outliers that drive FPS averages. We still see a bunch of dropped frames and runt frames when running in Crossfire but not in SLI with the GTX 660Ti.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heaven 4.0

In Unigine's Heaven benchmark the HD 7870 Myst Edition from PowerColor ends up with a lower FPS average especially when you remove the frames not shown on the screen but counted. Frame times are high almost entirely throughout the benchmark in the 40 to 50ms range. When you take another look at the percentile chart, your average FPS is going to be somewhere near the 50% mark showing, on average, the Crossfire combo is worth some added FPS. The run charts show an inordinate amount of runts that act to lower the overall FPS numbers.

 

 

 

Far Cry 3:

As much as I try to like playing this game with an AMD multi-GPU combination, the game play is just a series of jerks as you walk or run around the game. Game FPS performance drops like a stone over the length of the run as seen in the percentile chart with a lot of latency spikes over 30ms in the frame time charts. Again we see a large amount of runt and dropped frames when you compare the runs side by side.

 

 

 

Looking at the overall results you can see the effect of frames that are not seen by the end user or person in front of the screen. In several of the games the impact is not as large as in others for the PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition. In Borderlands 2, Crysis 3, and Metro 2033, the loss of FPS is minimal for the Myst Edition cards yet though the rest of the suite you get results that drop the performance down by as much as 45%.

 

Overall the FCAT testing is an eye opener that explains some of the in-game jerkiness.

PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire 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 PowerColor PCS+ HD 7870 Myst Edition are not that bad overall when you look at what's under the hood. However the GTX 660Ti combo is cooler overall. This margin in the thermals can be explained by looking at the power consumption results where the HD 7870 Myst Edition is much less efficient than the GTX 660Ti combo, leading to higher overall average temperatures. Spinning the fans up to 100% does have the adverse effect of raising the noise signature of the pair of Myst Edition cards. Outside the chassis the noise is not bad but is audible.

PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire 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 results are very close if not identical, but where the HD 7870 Myst Edition falls down is when the power consumed comes into play where it is over 20% less efficient under load than the GTX 660Ti. When overclocked that margin rises to just over 30% less efficient for the performance generated.

PowerColor Radeon HD 7870 Myst Edition Crossfire Conclusion:

After looking at this card in a single GPU configuration back in January, it is interesting to see how and if this card has improved much in that time frame. Tucked into the product stack between the HD 7870 (Pitcairn) and HD 7950 (Tahiti), it seems that this card was built in limited quantities to fill this performance gap occupied by the GTX 660Ti. When you look at the hardware you get a Tahiti LE core that is less efficient than the Pitcairn core causing the power consumption and thermals to be higher than they should be on this GPU. The three heat pipe, direct contact design does cool the core decently enough with temperatures trending a bit higher than I saw with the single card but still acceptable at 81 °C stock and 76 °C overclocked (fan at 100%). Overclocking was not as good as on the single GPU I tested but still came in with respectable numbers that deliver higher FPS results or increased image quality settings.

Visually the PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition is a good looking card using a black PCB equipped with PowerColor's own "Gold Power Kit" VRM components on board. The Myst Edition card uses a custom designed PCS+ direct contact heat pipe cooling system that is visible underneath the shroud. This gives the card some added visual appeal when looking at it through the side window when installed in the chassis.

When you look at the performance generated by a pair of PowerColor's HD 7870 Myst Edition cards, it's hard not to be impressed when you look at the FRAPS-based testing. Especially when you look at the performance at 5760x1080 where the narrower memory bus on the GTX 660Ti limits the bandwidth hampering performance. The FCAT testing paints a different picture of the Crossfire performance of the HD 7870 Myst Edition. Let me say up front it's not a hardware problem but a software problem that AMD hopes to have resolved as early as in June with its own frame metering driver. The hardware is capable enough but the software side has let the Crossfire experience down on the HD 7870 Myst Edition. In terms of game play the worst feel in game was by far in the Far Cry 3 testing where the game was just chugging along with visual anomalies that are present even when run in single card mode. It's got to be purely driver related at this point with the FCAT data backing it up.

Pricing has improved on the PowerColor HD 7870 Myst Edition from the last time I looked at it and is now down another $10 to $229 each after rebates. Or to put it in other terms right about the same price as an HD 7970 GHz Edition card. At this point Crossfire performance is still not up to par although you see excellent scaling when measuring with FRAPS. I remember my first Crossfire setup with a pair of 1900XTs; I had driver issues then and as of now I am still waiting for the magic bullet that fixes the Crossfire woes.

As a single card the HD 7870 Myst edition is a great GPU that fits the price and performance points it is intended to fill. It offers better cooling and VRM components when compared to reference cards and just plain looks better overall. Even though Crossfire as a technology has its problems there is no doubt that many games are still playable at frame rates above what you see from a single card. In that respect if you have one of these Tahiti LE-based cards and want to improve gaming performance in games that are Crossfire optimized then spending another $229 will get you to the next level.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: