Sapphire HD 7970 6GB Vapor-X GHz Edition Reviewccokeman - September 27, 2012
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Sapphire's Vapor-X cooling solutions have been at the forefront of cooling its top end video cards since the introduction of the HD 3870 Atomic Edition, seen first at OCC back in 2008. The follow up cards over the years have been no less spectacular with the ability to cool both the mid and high range with innovative vapor chamber-based cooling solutions. That being said, the design used on the HD 7970 6GB Vapor-X is equipped with four heat pipes that connect the vapor chamber to the aluminum fin array and uses a pair of 90mm aerofoil fans. These fans are designed with multiple seals that reduce dust intrusion into the motors to allow the fans to run at their rated speeds long term without fear of a dust related fan failure cooking the TahitiXT core during a marathon frag fest.
By using dual fans, the speed of these fans do not need to ramp up to stratospheric levels to achieve the cooling goals of the Vapor-X cooling solution. Testing shows that when the fan speeds are ramped to 100% the reference solution puts up decent thermal performance numbers when compared to the Vapor-X design on this card but comes with a pretty significant noise penalty. The Vapor-X cooler is not silent when ramped up but is significantly quieter. Now where you really see the Vapor-X HD 7970 6GB strut is when you compare the thermal performance numbers at stock speeds where the Vapor-X cooler allows the GPU core to run 12 °C cooler with no noise heard outside of the chassis. An excellent cooling solution is not all this card is about. Coupled with the cooling is a custom, black, 12 layer PCB equipped with Sapphire's Vapor-X Dynamic Power suite. Features include not only the 12 layer PCB but a ten phase power circuit using DirectFET technology, solid capacitors, and Sapphire's own Black Diamond chokes seen on many of its high end products from video cards to motherboards. Basically just about all of the feature set of the HD 7970 Toxic Edition for less cost.
The Vapor-X cooling solution does allow for increased overclocking margins to a point where the core is only going to give up what it can. Voltage tuning helps, but you reach a point where voltage no longer helps drive a core clock speed increase. This particular HD 7970 6GB Vapor-X GHz Edition sample was able to reach in excess of 1200MHz on the core and 1700MHz+ in some tests but would fail at others. The final clock speeds of 1175MHz on the core and 1661MHz are the levels that would pass all of the test suite along with a series of gaming sessions without failing. The core speed increases of just over 17% on the core and just over 11% on the 6GB of GDDR5 memory are enough to drive measurable performance increases.
To reach these levels, Sapphire has its own tweaking utility called TriXX; a simple to use and functional utility that enables the end user to tune the performance of the HD 7970 6GB Vapor-X. If manually tuning the card is not your style you can get in on the simplest overclock out there right now with a feature of the HD 7970 6GB Vapor-X GHz Edition called the EZ OC button. This button enables a boost on the GPU core clock of 50MHz to 1050MHz with a dynamic boost clock of up to 1100MHz. This button tunes the fan profile, voltage, and clock speed to deliver a higher level of performance.
Performance numbers when compared to the 1000MHz clocked reference design show that the addition of 3GB to the frame buffer along with the Power Tune Dynamic Boost has some advantages. Unfortunately clock speed cures this discrepancy in just about all of the tests I ran where a 3GB-equipped card was able to out perform the 6GB-equipped Vapor-X even in an Eyefinity configuration at 5760x1080. That being said the vast majority of users will use this card right out of the box and push the EZ OC button to kick the clock speeds up without any other tuning. In this respect you get a higher level of performance by comparison. In content creation or video editing scenarios where GPU boosted performance can help reduce the length of time the workload runs, additional video memory can prove beneficial.
At $599 the cost upswing of around $150 over a similarly equipped Vapor-X 3GB card is going to be a deal breaker for the average user looking for a Sapphire HD 7970. Unless running a three to six monitor Eyefinity configuration, the benefits in memory capacity is not really worth the up charge. However the gains in power efficiency under load due to the Vapor-X Dynamic Power suite design power circuit allows the end user to gain some of that up charge back over time. As part of Sapphire's Vapor-X Lineup the HD 7970 6GB Vapor-X GHz edition video card can play anything you can throw at it with the eye candy turned up. It offers excellent cooling and noise characteristics to go along with Sapphire's top end build quality.
- VaporX cooling
- Custom PCB and VRM
- Toxic Edition perks for less
- EZ OC
- Up charge for 6GB