Sapphire HD 7970 Vapor-X GHZ Edition Reviewccokeman -
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Visually the Sapphire HD 7970 Vapor-X GHZ Edition looks a lot like the Sapphire HD 7970 6GB Toxic Edition with the use of the same Vapor-X cooling solution. The cooling solution is one of the things that makes this card unique. The shroud is an aggressive industrial design with chrome accents and a pair of 92mm aerofoil fans to push plenty of airflow through the Vapor-X cooling solution. Each of the fans are labeled with the Vapor-X logo. Measuring just over 11 inches long, the HD 7970 Vapor-X is on the large size for a video card. The custom blue PCB uses an eight phase power circuit equipped with Sapphire's own Black Diamond chokes. The back side of the PCB is not equipped with a back plate like the Toxic Edition. The view of the top of the card shows the Sapphire logo that lights up when the card is in operation, while a series of windows peer through the heat sink shroud. The bottom view shows that the card is built to be used in a 16x PCIe slot. The HD 7970 3GB Vapor-X is PCIe 3.0 compliant and can be used in boards that support the PCIe 3.0 and PCIe 2.0 specification. Along the bottom of the shroud are a series of four heat pipes, two each at 6mm and two at 8mm that spread out from the Vapor chamber over the 28nm GCN core.
Connectivity options are slightly different from the majority of HD 7970 cards that I have looked at. This one uses a single Dual Link DVI port much like most, a Single Link DVI port, a full size DisplayPort 1.2 port in lieu of a pair of Mini DP ports, and an HDMI 1.4a port that supports Deep Color, 7.1 High Bitrate Audio, and 3D Stereoscopic. Using DisplayPort 1.2 ports gives the user the option of using an MST hub or daisy chaining DisplayPort-capable monitors together with a single connection. The configuration change means that if you are going to run an Eyefinity setup an additional adapter will need to be purchased. In this case a DisplayPort to DVI active adapter. The I/O bracket has a reduced opening to vent the airflow from the Vapor-X cooling solution delivering most of the thermal load into the chassis. Modern chassis are equipped for the most part to deal with this with larger fans and better flow paths keeping the internal air temperature at almost ambient levels. The back side of the card is open with not much of interest save the PWM fan connection for the dual aerofoil fans.
The HD 7970 3GB Vapor-X supports CrossfireX up to four way on a supporting motherboard. The challenge is to get the cards to fit into dual slot spacing. Using purpose built water blocks that support the Sapphire design would be one way to manage the fit. Along the spine of the card are a pair of Crossfire bridge connections to connect to additional cards. Next to the bridge connections is the EZ OC button that is used to enable AMD's PowerTune Dynamic Boost technology that raises the clock speed on the 28nm core from 1000MHz to 1050MHz. Not as big a boost as we saw on the Toxic Edition but a boost all the same with no work needed on the users part except to push the button. When pushed, this button lights up a noticeable Sapphire Blue to show that the "Boost" profile is enabled. Power connectivity is through an 8-pin and 6-pin power connectors providing 225 watts in addition to the 75W from the 16x PCIe slot. A 500 watt power supply is required for a single card with an 850W or greater power supply required for Crossfire configurations.
The Vapor-X cooling solution is held on with four screws and comes off easily to show the PCB, power circuit, and additional cooling. Sapphire is using an eight phase circuit to supply power to the 28nm core and 3GB of memory on this card. On board are Sapphire's Black Diamond chokes lined up between the capacitors and DirectFet package that is usually covered by a small extruded aluminum heat sink. A CHiL CHL8228 voltage controller is used to enable software voltage control. A brace is used to minimize flexing of the PCB with the large cooling solution.
Sapphire's Vapor-X cooling solution has been employed on many of its enthusiast grade cards over the past five years including the Atomic, Toxic, and Vapor-X lines. On this iteration a large vapor chamber is used to transfer the thermal load from the 28nm core to the vapor chamber and out through a total of four heat pipes to the aluminum fin array. The heat pipes include two 6mm in size, while two are 8mm in size. This solution proved effective on the Toxic Edition and does just as well on this card. The stepped base is used to allow the contact surface of the vapor chamber to directly contact the core without hitting the shim around the core. A large aluminum plate surrounds the vapor chamber and is used to cool the 12 GDDR5 modules on the PCB. A single extruded aluminum heat sink is used over the VRM circuit and is cooled via airflow from the dual fans.
The pair of fans used on the Sapphire HD 7970 3GB Vapor-X are a special aerofoil design with bearings sealed to eliminate dust intrusion; one of the principle architects of fan failure. Manufactured by FirstD, these fans are 90mm x 15mm in size ,PWM controlled, and run on 12vdc using .55amp. When the fan speeds are managed by the profile on the card's BIOS, the fans proved to be near silent in operation. In this configuration they combine with the heat sink to keep the GPU temperatures in the 65 °C range. When overclocking and manually controlling the fan speeds, the fans are audible from outside the chassis but are not overly annoying. The blower style fans used on reference cards are much louder when ramped up.
AMD's GHZ edition 28nm Tahiti core is just an improved process core that features the same GCN architecture and specifications as the standard parts. Transistor count stays at 4.31 billion, the stream processor count stays at 2048, texture units at 128, and ROPs all stay at 32. The same GDDR5 memory solution is employed including the capacity at 3GB running on a 384-bit bus. Where this core differs is in how the Boost feature is employed to increase in base clock speeds on the 28nm core. Clock speeds on this offering include a 1000MHz base clock sith a 1050MHz boost reached by pushing the EZ OC button. The GDDR5 memory on this card is made by Hynix and is rated to run in the 1500MHz range, part number H5GQ2H24AFR-R0C is used, and is barely visible on the modules.
What we have from Sapphire with the HD 7970 3GB Vapor-X Edition is another souped up card that is targeted at the user looking for a little more performance and an excellent proven cooling solution. The key is how will it fare performance wise against a similarly clocked non reference solution? Let's see what the Vapor-X has to offer.