Sapphire HD 7950 FleX Dual-X Edition 3GB Review

airman - 2012-06-12 13:24:35 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: airman   
Reviewed on: July 5, 2012
Price: $399.99

Introduction:

Over the past couple of years, flat screen monitors have become very affordable and have driven the number of multi-monitor setups in homes sky high. Because of this, video card manufacturers have been trying to meet the demands of gaming-grade video cards that can also support a large number of monitors on a single card. Sapphire has stepped up and delivered us its FleX edition video cards; these video cards are capable of running five displays. With Eyefinity support so large, three displays are so much more common. Although three monitors can be used on many single video cards, not many of them will support three DVI monitors right out of the box without any need for expensive DisplayPort adapters. This is where the FleX edition video cards from Sapphire are special — they support inexpensive DVI monitors with "no assembly required"!

Sapphire recently launched its latest FleX edition video card to be added to the HD 7900 lineup. The Sapphire HD 7950 FleX Dual-X Edition features all of the great performance from the Tahiti-cored cards from AMD but also has the Dual-X cooling system from Sapphire, and of course, the FleX capability for excellent monitor support. In this review, I will be taking this Sapphire HD 7950 FleX Dual-X Edition through the hoops of OCC-style testing. I will also provide a thorough evaluation of the video card from unboxing to an up-close, inside look of the card itself. Without taking up any more webspace, let's get started!

Closer Look:

The Sapphire HD 7950 FleX Dual-X Edition is packaged in typical Sapphire style with futuristic/military-style graphics on a glossy cardboard sleeve. The front of the box tells us that it is the FleX, Dual-X, and Overclocked edition, also revealing some of its other features that I will share later. The back of the box contains a large list of features offered by the HD 7900 series cards in general and more in relationship to the proprietary nature of Sapphire's FleX and Dual-X cooling technology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside of this decorative sleeve is a plain brown cardboard box that houses the card and its accessories. On the top of the inside of this box is the card itself inside of an anti-static bag. This tray is removed to expose all of the accessories provided in the retail package. These accessories include a DVI to VGA adapter, CrossFire bridge, HDMI cable, two 4-pin to 6-pin power adapters, a 6-foot HDMI cable, an HDMI to DVI adapter, a mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapter, and of course a user's manual and driver media CD. Once out of the box, the Dual-X Edition cooler stands out the most and I will be showing this more closely on the next page.

 

 

 

Now that everything is out of the box, let's keep moving.

Closer Look:

Although the Dual-X cooling system on the Sapphire HD 7950 FleX edition does appear to make the card a little bit longer than a reference HD 7950, it is not longer by much. The Sapphire blue PCB is exposed through the cooler and looks good next to the copper heatpipes on the inside. The design is not plain but it is also not overdone with plastic "bling", as I would say. It offers an aggressive look that I think anyone would be okay with. The other view provides a better look at the blue PCB along with its layout and component location. On the side of the cooler that will be seen from the outside of the case is a simple Sapphire logo and nothing else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having two DVI ports on the card is what makes it a FleX edition. Although many folks have moved to HDMI and DisplayPort monitors, DVI monitors are inexpensive and can still provide excellent display quality. So, a FleX edition card can ease the budget of a multi-monitor setup by allowing the use of two or three DVI monitors without the need to buy expensive adapters. The other side of the card shows us that the cooler has an open-style shroud, meaning that it will technically evacuate heat from the video card into the computer case. Although some may feel this is a bad thing, it allows for cooler temperatures of the video card as well as quieter operation. After all, appropriate case fan placement would no longer render this as an issue to those who may be concerned of the extra heat.

 

 

The Sapphire HD 7950 FleX Dual-X Edition is powered by two 6-pin connectors — a welcome sight for power-conscious folks. The HD 7970 uses at minimum a 6-pin and an 8-pin, but with past reviews I know that an HD 7950 can come close to keeping up with an HD 7970. On the other side of the PCB is the CrossFire bridge locations; there are two present, allowing for triple or quadfire. Just next to the CrossFire bridge locations is a micro switch that allows the user to select two separate BIOS locations. This is particularly helpful during BIOS updates. In case something goes wrong, the other BIOS can be used to recover a corrupted flash attempt.

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Separating the cooler from the card only requires the removal of the four screws at each corner of the GPU core location. Once removed, the GPU core and the rest of the components are exposed, with the exception of those covered by an additional heatspeader attached to the board with the rest of the screws. This metal heatspreader remains in contact with the memory chips, VRMs, and other heat-sensitive or high-heat components that could affect high-end performance of this card. This is the first time I have seen something like this, although this is also the first HD 7900 card I have disassembled!

 

 

Further disassembly is required to separate the metal cooler from the plastic shroud. The heart of the cooler is made of a copper base and copper heatpipes attached to aluminum fins. There are two 8mm heatpipes on the edge of the copper plate and three 6mm heatpipes through the inside of the copper plate. These heatpipes will carry the large majority of heat produced by the GPU that isn't transferred directly to the aluminum fins by the copper plate; the rest of the heat will simply escape to the air around them. Despite the cooler's complexity, it is rather slim in height. After all, it can't be too tall if we expect it to fit inside the shroud! The two fans are attached to the shroud share a single power source — a 4-pin header on the PCB.

 

 

 

I was taken by a little bit of a surprise to find that there is no writing or description on the GPU core as I have been accustomed to for years. The 28nm Southern Islands Tahiti core and accompanying components are slightly protected by a raised metal plate that surrounds them all. Some of these components could be damaged by the cooler during installation, so this is a cheap solution to protect them. The Tahiti core features 112 texture units, 32 ROPs, and 1792 shader cores running at clock speeds of 800Mhz. Hynix memory chips, Part number H5GQ2H24MFR-T2C, as expected, are the ones of choice on this video card and there is 3GB of it. This GDDR5 memory is rated for operation at 1250Mhz but will clock higher.

 

 

Now that we've taken a really close look at the card and its components, it's now time to take a quick look at its specifications and features. After this, we can get into the testing and explore the performance realm of this video card from Sapphire.

Specifications:

 

Output:
1 x Dual-Link DVI
1 x HDMI (with 3D)
2 x Mini-DisplayPort
2 x Single-Link DVI-D
DisplayPort 1.2
GPU:
860MHz Core Clock
28 nm Chip
1792 x Stream Processors
Memory:
3072 MB Size
384-bit GDDR5
5000 MHz Effective
Dimensions:
275(L) x 115(W) x 42(H) mm
Software:
Driver CD
SAPPHIRE TriXX Utility
Accessory:
CrossFire™ Bridge Interconnect Cable
DVI to VGA Adapter
Mini-DP to DP Cable
6 PIN to 4 PIN Power Cable x 2
HDMI to SL-DVI Adapter(Full Retail SKU only)
HDMI 1.4a high speed 1.8 meter cable(Full Retail SKU only)

 

Features:

 

 

All information provided Courtesy of Sapphire @ http://www.sapphiretech.com/presentation/product/?cid=1&gid=3&sgid=1157&pid=1548&psn=&lid=1&leg=0

Testing:

Testing of the Sapphire HD 7950 FleX Dual-X 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 latest press release driver will be used in testing of the Sapphire HD 7970. Other NVIDIA comparison cards will be using the 296.10 drivers; AMD will be using Catalyst 12.4 drivers.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

 

Overclocking:

Overclocking this video card is as simple as booting up the Sapphire TriXX utility and moving some sliders around. I started at a baseline of 1050MHz on the core and 1500MHz on the memory. I took bigger steps on the core, making the jump from 1130MHz to 1150MHz and began to saw artifacting and snow start to show up. Backing down 5MHz at a time, I regained stability at 1135MHz, but I took it down another 4MHz to be conservative. The memory performed great and was rock stable until 1560MHz where it basically hit a wall. A few MHz here separated the memory from running great and complete failure. Compared to other HD 7950s, the clock speeds presented by this one aren't as impressive — although the idea to this card is multimonitor support and not raw overclocking potential right out of the gate.

 

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 and tests are rerun until they pass 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

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 Metro2033, the Sapphire HD 7950 offers noticeably better performance than the GTX 670 in 1920x1080 and almost matches the performance of the GTX 680 in tri-monitor 5760x1080.

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 the overclocked position, the Sapphire HD 7950 trails up to the heels of the GTX 680 in both 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In single monitor resolutions, we see that nVidia runs the crowd in BF3. However as we're accustomed, we see the Sapphire HD 7950 gain momentum towards the GTX 670 and GTX 680 in 5760x1080.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here we see a prime example of how well AMD Tahiti-based cards pull the weight of an intense graphics scenario at high resolutions.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 is where we again see the AMD cards suffer when it comes to performance against nVidia cards. Even in a triple monitor configuration, the Sapphire HD 7950 cannot make up enough ground to catch the GTX 680 or even the GTX 670 like it has in other tests.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here again is a true separation of power. While Mafia II is an older title, it's performance results shows a large disconnect almost right down the middle between nVidia and AMD cards.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interesting results are portrayed here. Usually between overclocking and a large change of resolutions we can observe some high-level shuffling of performance levels between cards. In 3dMark11, we see the cards almost stay locked into place across all of the testing levels.

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

 

 

 

 

Though the idle temperatures provided by the Dual-X cooler of this HD 7950 are by no means impressive, the load temperatures are what shine. For such a low noise level at full speed, the cooling that this card offers is truly superb.

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

 

 

 

 

 

The system required just over 100 watts at idle for stock and overclocked situations, which is nice. Overclocked, the wattage requirement slightly exceeds that of the GTX 680.

Conclusion:

After the rigorous rounds of testing, it is clear to see that although AMD cards may be beaten at lower resolutions, their capabilities quickly catch up and sometimes surpass nVidia's with large performance gains in high resolutions. As the purpose of this FleX edition card implies, it's most likely going to be used to drive more than one monitor. With that being said, it should be a clear decision-maker when selecting a video card. Powering up to five monitors alone may be the biggest selling point of these FleX edition cards, or perhaps the Dual DVI support + HDMI making cheap triple monitor setups easy without the need for expensive Displayport adapters.

Although not as good as other HD 7950s we have played with, the card overclocks well. Additionally, the load temperatures are excellent. The idle temperatures are a bit deceiving when it came to first impressions, but I certainly got a surprise when I saw the nice temperatures even when overclocked to its limit. Although I won't need it (at least in the future), the dual BIOS switch can be a lifesaver for some. Having a failsafe backup in case of an emergency from a bad BIOS flash is a wonderful asset to someone who desires peace of mind. For a card that goes for right at $400, it may be a big price to pay but for those who would be buying the card would be buying it for its multimonitor capabilities and the performance associated in them. I like what Sapphire is doing with the FleX edition cards and I hope we get to see more of them.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: