Sapphire HD 7870 FleX Dual-X 2GB Review

BluePanda - 2012-06-24 06:41:07 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: BluePanda   
Reviewed on: June 25, 2012
Price: $355

Introduction:

Sapphire Technology just keeps coming up with something new. Grown popular for the Vapor-X line, Sapphire has other video card companies grinding away to keep up. Some of you have heard of Sapphire FleX and may have a 6000 series card with its benefits. However, if you are like me, you might be more familiar with the frustrations of having three DVI monitors and an expensive active DisplayPort adapter to get Eyefinity going. Some of you might even be as unlucky as me to realize this after your new monitors have arrived and you’re stuck paying the overnight shipping to fulfill your desperate need to use the new monitors.

Either way you get the point; it's frustrating not being able to just plug into the two DVI ports on the card when there are two sitting there asking to be plugged in to. A little HDMI to DVI adapter is cheap, and aren’t hard to come by even from your local computer hardware store. However, those darn active DisplayPort or mini-DisplayPort adapters, those are another story I won’t get started on. Sapphire FleX saves the waste and finally allows you to utilize both DVI ports at the same time as the HDMI port. No need to overnight an active adapter for your new card – just plug in and play.  If you have a monitor, a cable, and the right adapter to plug it into the card, you can use it.

Enough about the Sapphire FleX features; today we’ll be taking a look at the Sapphire HD 7870 FleX. Not only does it have the FleX features it is also bringing to the table Sapphire's Dual-X cooling as well. The Sapphire HD 7870 also has the Dual BIOS switch that allows a quick change from the stock 1000MHz core clock speed to a pre-overclocked 1050MHz. With 2GB of onboard memory, this card is ready to get its game on. Let’s take a closer look and see how it performs.

 

Closer Look:

The box is a bit larger than the original Sapphire 7870 box, so perhaps there is a little more inside with the new FleX edition; we shall see. The front of the box of course features AMD's Ruby; this time she's back in minimal casual army fatigues. With a gun over her shoulder and a helmet in disguise, she plays to the appeal of the typical male gamer – sorry guys she isn't real. We outlier female enthusiast will just have to wait…but I’m not counting on ever seeing a male model on a video card in my life time.

A big FleX sticker takes up the upper right corner of the box reminding you the power inside. I'm really looking forward to not having to use an active adapter for a change. It also reminds you that Eyefinity doesn't have to stop at three monitors – this card alone supports up to four monitors at resolutions up to 4096x2160 through DisplayPort, 4096x3112 through HDMI, and 2560x1600 through DVI. Turning the box over and you get the backside of Ruby as well. There is also the long list of features and display of awards Sapphire has acquired over the years, including one of our own OCC Awards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sides of the box nicely read "SAPPHIRE HD 7870" so when the box ends up in your closet, you can easily locate it again when the time comes to trade up or sell off. To me this is just a nice addition to keeping my closet clean and organized. For you, I'm guessing you don’t care too much about the box and as soon as you get your card it will likely find its way to the dump; however, there’s a lot of information on the outside of the box including some specifications and features (which can be found on the Specs and Features page) to help you decide on a card while shopping locally rather than on the internet. It even has a "Spec. Requirement" list to see if your rig can even handle this raw power.

 

 

Opening up the box, we find the usual box inside a box. This one is the typical recycled brown cardboard just calling you to open it up. When you do you’ll find a snuggly packed card with a protecting bubble wrap static bag. The usual stop sticker reminds you to plug the video card into your PSU before turning it on (like you needed to be reminded). Beneath the formed cardboard is yet another small box shaped to fit into the bottom of the box. Inside of this is the little goodies we all love unpacking. The Sapphire HD 7870 comes with a HDMI to DVI adapter, two molex to 6 pin adapters, and a DVI to VGA adapter. A six foot HDMI cable is even included in case you haven’t tried out that HDMI port on your monitor – no need to run to the store, as it’s ready to go right out of the box. A driver CD is included with the shiny Sapphire sticker (woo another fridge sticker) and even a Crossfire bridge is tossed in; maybe they are hinting that you need a second one for MOAR FUN!

 

Closer Look:

Now that we're done looking at the box and playing with all the "toys" it comes with, we can take the card out of its bubble house and see what it really looks like. You know it's a true Sapphire when you unveil it to see a wonderful blue PCB and a modern dual fan shroud design. From the top down, and looking at the top, you can see the two fans to push air across the components below. The fans have center stickers showing off the fact that this card is a FleX card – show it off. Flipping the 7870 over you can get a good look at the bright blue PCB. There are four simple, spring loaded, screws that hold the cooler to the GPU core – we'll take this apart a little later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking a full profile look at the card we can get a better idea of what the Sapphire HD 7870 has to share with us today. The front side of the card reads "SAPPHIRE HD 7870" just to remind you and everyone what you have. The shroud comes down a bit to hide most of what may be underneath but makes for a nice appearance. The two 6-pin connectors are here on the side to give it some power in addition to the motherboard power; we'll take a closer look at these ahead. The back side of the card shows off some heatpipes. Two go one direction while the other two go the other direction. It isn't quite as fancy as a Vapor-X setup, but there is something to be said about seeing some copper pipes – I'm looking forward to seeing how it performs temperature wise.

The output end of the card looks a little empty with only four outputs – but you mustn't forget that you can use all four of these at the same time. Unlike most conventional cards, the two DVI ports can be used in conjunction with the HDMI output. Something about this just makes me so excited. There really isn't anything too super visually but there's plenty of cutout for heat to exhaust. The other end of the card gives a look at the fan connectors and some capacitors. If you look close you can see the fins from the heatsink, but the main point of this view is to remind you the power connectors are on the side of the card rather than here at the end – don't forget to give it some juice!

 

 

 

Taking a closer look at the power connections we've got two 6-pin plugs. That means this card can pull at most a total of 75 x 3 watts at full tilt; that's 225 watts altogether. That doesn't mean it will be constantly pulling that amount, but you want to make sure you have the right PSU to back you up here when you turn up the graphics a notch as the TDP is listed at stock speeds as 175 watts under full load. If you are thinking about Crossfire, be ready for the power surge. Okay maybe not really a power surge, but here's to adding one more new item of hardware to your shopping cart. Don't try to be running even one of these on that old 300W thing you've been calling a power supply if you plan on keeping your computer alive for more than a few hours past its first boot.

Overall it's just a good looking card. Up on end it looks like something worthy of going in my rig – I hope it proves itself in performance. The shiny reflection of the heatpipes in the golden PCIe fingers just adds value to the overall appearance and hopefully the numbers will back up the appearance.

 

 

One last blurb before we move on to the results… here are the tear down pictures post-testing. It's always nice to get a true visual as to what is hidden beneath all that aluminum and copper. The GPU is cooled by a very substantial heat sink with a copper base and four relatively beefy heatpipes.  The memory and voltage regulators are cooled by a black aluminum heatspreader aided by the downdraft from the two cooling fans.  The GPU core itself may look small but it really packs a punch within its 2.8 billion 28nm transistors.  This variation of the Southern Islands line of GPUs from AMD sports 1280 stream processors, 80 TMUs, and 32 ROPs.  The 2GB of GDDR5 is connected via a 256-bit bus and is rated for 1250MHz (Elpida W2032BBBG).

 

 

Specifications:

 

Outputs:
1 x Dual-Link DVI
1 x Single-Link DVI
1 x HDMI (with 3D)
1 x Display Port
GPU:
1000/1050 MHz Core Clock
28 nm Chip
1280 Stream Processors
Memory:
1200/1250 MHz Memory Clock
2048 MB Size
256-bit GDDR5
4800/5000 MHz Effective
Dimensions:
260(L) x 113(W) x 35(H) mm
Dual slot
Accessory:
CrossFire Birdge
HDMI to DVI
DVI to VGA
HDMI Cable
2 x Molex to 6pin
Driver CD

 

 

Features:

 

 

All information provided by: http://www.sapphiretech.com/presentation/product/?cid=1&gid=3&sgid=1160&pid=1627&psn=&lid=1&leg=0

Testing:

Testing of the Sapphire HD 7870 FleX Dual-X 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. All NVIDIA comparison cards will be using the 301.42 drivers; AMD will be using Catalyst 12.4 drivers.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocking a Sapphire GPU is almost as simple as Catalyst Control Center (well at least for the most part). I simply used TriXX to raise up the GPU and memory clock speeds using the sliders. The Powertune limit was turned all the way up and the core voltage was bumped up to 1.3 volts to get the most out of this Pitcairn XT core. The limits within TriXX are massively higher than you could ever hope to attempt without extreme cooling (like phase change or LN2) so you can't just max out the core and memory clocks like some other cards. The memory clock was bumped up 25MHz at a time until things became unstable, then backed off 5MHz at a time till it would pass 30 minutes of Unigine Heaven 3.0. The core clocks were raised similarly. After a few rounds of testing the rock-solid clock rates were 1240MHz core (a 24% increase) and 1290MHz memory (a 7.5% increase). The core clock is one of the highest seen here at OCC and the memory is roughly what is expected considering the modules themselves were only rated for 1250MHz.

 

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

Testing for the maximum clock speed consists of looping Unigine 3.0 for 30 minutes each to see where the clock speeds fail when pushed. If the clock speed adjustment fails, then the clock speeds are adjusted and the test is rerun until each card passes the testing.

 

 

  1. Metro 2033
  2. Batman: Arkham City
  3. Battlefield 3
  4. Sid Meier's Civilization V
  5. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 3.0
  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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Metro 2033 I'm imediately impressed with the Sapphire HD 7870 FleX -- it's up competeing nicely with NVIDIA's 580 while beating out an AMD 6970.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Batman: Arkham City, the 7870 follows right behind the GTX 580 at stock and falls behind by just a little more OC'd. 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BF3 shows a little more of a drop off between the GTX 580 and the 7870 when overclocked. It's still competing nicely and riding along in the middle of the pack. 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Heaven the 7870 really kicks some serious butt. It fights neck and neck with the GTX 580 while leaving the GTX 570 and 6970 in the dust. 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Civ V shows a nice neck and neck with the GTX 580 at stock speeds but the 7870 falls a bit low when OC'd. Perhaps it's a difference in runs, but the boost doesn't seem to apply in this particular game. 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DiRT 3 performance has the 7870 right in between the GTX 580 and 6970 yet again. It does well both stock and OC'd. 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Mafia II the 6970 comes up to pass the 7870 at the stock settings but doesn't stay ahead long once overclocked. The 7870 falls more in the middle ground while running Mafia II. 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3DMark 11 is the somewhat catch all for testing. Again we see it following the GTX 580 and passing up the 6970 for the whole nine yards.

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

 

The Sapphire 7870 beats out the 6970 in all the Eyefinity results except for in Unigine, and for that it's equally tied. 

Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using Unigine's Heaven Benchmark Version 3.0, with EVGA's Precision overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using a resolution of 1920x1080 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Temperatures were quite good and the card never made much noise in stock testing; when overclocked with the fan maxed out the card made a noticeable whine.

Testing:

Power consumption of the system will be measured at both idle and loaded states, taking into account the peak wattage of the entire system with each video card installed. I will use Unigine's Heaven Benchmark version 3.0 to put a load onto the GPU using the settings below. A 15-minute load test will be used to simulate maximum load with the highest measured wattage value recorded as the result. The idle results will measured as the lowest wattage value recorded with no activity on the system.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall the power usage was remarkably low for the performance offered by the Sapphire HD 7870 FleX Dual-X. The power usage jumped quite a bit when overclocked, but this was expected due to the increased voltage used to reach the extremely high clocks on the core. The 7870 is one of the lower power pulling cards in its range. It competes nicely by beating out the GTX 580 it competed with the whole way through. This can surely make the difference in your power bill if you run a gaming rig 24/7.

Conclusion:

Overall the card performed pretty well. For me the FleX feature really sells the card; I've been through the pain of buying active adapters and having to wait after just getting new hardware because I can't use with my Eyefinity setup – I mean why have something you can't use? However, performance is just as important if not more important. I liked the Dual BIOS for a quick OC, but I really never understood the point. It's nice to have two if you are like me and like playing with settings as you always have one you can switch back to that you know works for sure; but if I'm guaranteed the 1050MHz OC, why would I run the other BIOS from factory? I don't know; it's a feature that has been around for some time now and I've never really understood it.

I was impressed by the ability to overclock the core like crazy. Going from 1000MHz to 1240MHz was a nice surprise; the memory on the other hand was finicky, but isn't it always? It competed nicely with the GTX 580 and surpassed the 6970 without too much of a struggle. It's essentially the replacement to the 6970 and with the GTX 580 being a somewhat "dead" card to the market this is the "new" thing. The price is a bit high and for a little more coin I think I'd go for GTX 670 over this card any day. The GTX 670 trumps all, for the most part, and for the $45 price difference it's more than worth it. This would truly be a heck of a card if the price were quite a bit lower.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: