Sapphire HD 7970 Vapor-X GHZ Edition Review

ccokeman - 2012-03-05 19:59:10 in Video Cards, CPU's
Category: Video Cards, CPU's
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: August 23, 2012
Price: $469


The HD 7970 has proven to be a capable video card that can deliver excellent frame rates at high end settings. Just a couple moths ago AMD and its partners upped the ante with the introduction of the GHz edition cards that featured increased clock speeds along with a special "Boost" clock speed that offered a further increase. The first "GHz" Edition card I looked at from Sapphire was the Toxic Edition that delivered a massive boost clock of 1200MHz on the 28nm core and 1600MHz on the memory at the push of a button. The Sapphire HD 7970 6GB Toxic with its 6GB of onboard memory and clock speed overhead delivered excellent gaming results. Included as part of the package was Sapphire's excellent Vapor-X cooling solution first seen on the HD 3870 Atomic version seen here on OCC back in 2008. Since that time Sapphire has used the cooling solution as a point of difference allowing its signature video cards to deliver excellent thermals and increased overclocking margins.

The Toxic Edition is a custom card that carries a steeper price tag than the reference cards but has the unique feature set, looks, and performance to command that price tag. A small step down the performance ladder is the new HD 7970 Vapor-X GHz Edition that comes in both 3GB and 6GB models. Using the latest version of its Vapor-X cooling solution, the Vapor-X edition is delivered with a stock clock speed of 1000MHz on the core and 1500MHz on the 3GB of memory on the card I will be testing. When you push the Dual BIOS button on the card you can experience a boost in clock speed via PowerTune Dynamic Boost up to 1050MHz on the core. Pressing it as a means to boost performance is even easier than pushing the Staples easy button. Packed full of all that Sapphire has to offer in terms of improved build quality, the Sapphire HD 7970 3GB Vapor-X uses Black Diamond chokes, DirectFet technology, and an eight phase power design all on a custom PCB. Selling at a more aggressive price point than the 6GB version at $469, the HD 7970 Vapor-X offers price and performance in one shot. That's a $10 premium over Sapphire's non-GHz OC Edition card.

Let's see if the Sapphire HD 7970 3GB Vapor-X is a strong followup to the Toxic Edition.

Closer Look:

Featuring a new look, the HD 7970 Vapor-X packaging shows Ruby in arctic gear on the white, silver, and black themed artwork. The arctic theme conveys the cold imagery well. The front of the package has highlights for all of the technologies and features associated with this card from the Vapor-X cooling, EZ OC button, Dual BIOS, DisplayPort, Crossfire, and Eyefinity. The fact that this card is a GHz edition is boldly placed under the card name. The back side shows a montage of all the awards Sapphire has accumulated over the years as well as a lengthy list of the features of the HD 7970 including its 28nm Graphics Core Next architecture, 3GB of system memory, Crossfire and Eyefinity support, PCIe 3.0 support, and AMD HD3D technology.









Internally the packaging is what I have come to expect from Sapphire in terms of packaging. A plain cardboard box contains the card in a formed cardboard tray with the accessory bundle in a box underneath. The accessory bundle will get you most of the way there when hooking up the card. Inside is a registration manual, quick start guide, driver disk, a single Crossfire Bridge connection, DL DVI to VGA adapter, six foot High Speed HDMI cable, Dual 4-pin Molex to 6-pin PCIe connector, and a single 4-pin Molex to 6-pin PCIe cable to power the HD 7970 Vapor-X. One thing missing is a full size Displayport to DVI adaptor to take advantage of the Eyefinity capabilities of the card. Other than that one faux pas the bundle is sufficient to get the card installed and running,




Sapphire's Vapor-X cooling solution works using a simple concept in a high tech package. The basic premise is that a medium (pure water) is used to transfer the heat load away from the core through vaporization where it is cooled and condenses back to a liquid state. At this point the liquid returns to the heat source through capillary action in the wicking medium to follow the process again. What allows the water to vaporize at lower temperatures is that the vapor chamber works in a very low pressure state allowing the water to vaporize earlier. Below is a graphic that illustrates the process.


Fully equipped the Sapphire HD 7970 Vapor-X is ready to see if it will deliver excellent performance for the price point.

Closer Look:

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.




1 x HDMI (with 3D)
1 x DisplayPort
DisplayPort 1.2
Dual-Link DVI-I
Single-Link DVI-I
1000/1050(Boost) MHz Core Clock
28 nm Chip
2048 x Stream Processors
3072 MB Size
384 -bit GDDR5
6000 MHz Effective
285(L)x135(W)x45(H) mm Size.
2.5 x slot
Driver CD
CrossFire™ Bridge Interconnect Cable
8 PIN to 4 PIN Power Cable
DVI to VGA Adapter
6 PIN to 4 PIN Power Cable
HDMI 1.4a high speed 1.8 meter cable(Full Retail SKU only)





All information provided Courtesy of Sapphire @


Testing of the Sapphire HD 7970 3GB GHz Vapor-X Edition will consist of running it and comparison cards through the 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 NVIDIA comparison cards will be using the 301.42 drivers with AMD cards using the Catalyst 12.4 drivers and latest CAP profile.


Testing Setup:


Comparison Video Cards:




Overclocking the HD 7970 3GB Vapor-X Edition can be accomplished in several different ways. First is the EZ OC button that allows the user to get an instant 50MHz boost in GPU core clock speed. Pushing the button is really as simple as it can get and is a safe bet for those reluctant to push any harder on the card. On the other hand you can manually tweak the card using one of a few utilities, but Sapphire's TriXX utility is the choice for this card. TriXX has all the tools to maximize the overclock on the HD 7970 3GB Vapor-X and proved to be the most stable of the tools I tried.

The base voltage for this card was 1200mv on the core, higher than I normally see but then again this card has the cooling to pull it off without an issue. After posing an overclock of 1235MHz on the core and 1735MHz on the memory when I tested the Toxic Edition, I had high hopes this card would fall into that range with the same cooling solution but a less robust power circuit. In all I was not terribly disappointed with the core clock as it still reached 1193MHz or 193MHz over the baseline 1000MHz core clock for an almost 20% boost in clock speed. The memory on this card was a bit stubborn with an increase of 105MHz to 1605MHz. Still higher than most of the HD 79XX cards I have tested.

To reach these clock speeds I increased the clock speed to 100% to allow the best possible cooling of the VRM circuits, core, and memory. Adjusting the voltage any higher than 1212mv would cause a driver crash or hard lock during testing and is where I left the voltage while tweaking to find the highest core and memory speeds. At 1193/1605MHz I have the third best core clock speed of any HD 79XX card I have tested with only the water cooled Powercolor HD 7970 LCS and HD 7970 6GB Toxic pulling off a bigger clock speed. Temperature testing on this card with the voltage increase and higher fan speed showed a 5 °C drop over the baseline result at 60 °C showing that the Vapor-X cooler is easily able to deliver excellent cooling to go along with the gaming performance.


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


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.














Compared to the 1000MHz clocked Black Edition HD 7970, there is no real significant performance advantage at stock speeds.


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.
















The HD 7970 3GB Vapor-X shows a slight advantage over the Black Edition 7970 at stock speeds. When overclocked the cards are similar in performance


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.

















In all four resolutions the Vapor-X equipped 7970 has a small advantage in performance over the factory overclocked Black Edition.


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.
















At 1920x1080 the HD 7970 Vapor-X delivers comparable performance to the Black Edition card. It falls short of the GTX 680 at 1920x1080 yet out performs the GTX 680 at 5760x1080.


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.

















In Civilization V the Vapor-X HD 7970 delivers performance close to or better than that of the GTX 680.


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.



















As far as single GPU AMD cards are concerned, the Vapor-X is the fastest single GPU AMD based card in this game.


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.
















At 1920x1080, Sapphire's HD 7970 3GB Vapor-X delivers performance that is spot on with the GTX 680 yet at 5760x1080 it falls off to a level comparable to the HD 7970 Black Edition.


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.













In 3DMark 11, the HD 7970 Vapor-X increases the performance in relation to the 7970 comparison card as the resolution increases at stock speeds. Overclocking both cards delivers almost identical results.


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.













When compared to the Black Edition Dissipation cooling system, the Vapor-X design delivers much better results at stock speed and using the default fan profile. Pushing the fans speeds to their limits while the card is overclocked, the XFX solution was several degrees cooler. Surprising due to the large surface area on the Sapphire cooler. The higher clock speeds and applied voltage on the Sapphire HD 7970 3GB Vapor-X impact this number so the real comparison comes down to the stock results.


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.














At stock speeds the HD 7970 3GB Vapor-X is fairly frugal by comparison to the Black Edition card. When the clock speeds and applied voltage are increased the temperatures will spike upwards.


The central feature that sets this card apart from the crowd is the use of Sapphire's Vapor-X cooling solution that time and again impresses generation after generation. This large vapor chamber equipped heat sink is capable of keeping the HD 7970 3GB Vapor-X well under the 70 °C mark both stock and overclocked. The dust repelling, sealed 90mm aerofoil blade fans push enough airflow to keep the thermals from rising too high while minimizing noise. The dust repelling design of the fans will ensure a long lifespan on them to eliminate the slow death caused by dust intrusion. Left to manage the fan speeds on its own the card delivers silent cooling. When ramped up to 100% the fans are audible outside the chassis. This is not a problem unique to Sapphire as boosting the fan speeds runs them at the upper limits of their range increasing noise. In comparison to a blower style fan used on a reference cooling solution the Vapor-X design is miles ahead in both noise and cooling performance.

Running the GPU cooler is going to increase the overclocking margins slightly and that shows with the 1193MHz core clock and 1605MHz clock speed on the memory. Both being solid increases over the baseline 1000/1500MHz clocks that delivered solid gaming performance increases. While just about every board partner has their own overclocking utility that functions well, Sapphire's TriXX utility has the ability to maximize the clock speeds of the custom in-house build. You get all the clock speed, voltage, and fan speed adjustments to deliver all the card will yield.

Using basically the same design as the HD 7970 6GB Toxic from Sapphire, the Vapor-X has a slightly less robust eight phase power circuit that seemingly does not impact the overclocking potential of the card by much. Equipped with Sapphire's own Black Diamond Chokes and DirectFet technology, the squeals under load that serve as an audible indicator of low end chokes were not evident when cranking up the clock speeds. The core will give up as much as it can but a solid 193MHz bump on the core is pretty hefty for a 28nm air cooled Tahiti core. If manually tweaking the parameters of the card is an option left unexplored, Sapphire has you covered with the inclusion of the EZ OC button that allows a quick 50MHz boost over the stock 1000MHz core clock speed. Sweet, simple, and easy to use.

On this card Sapphire changed the video output connections from what has been a standard single DL DVI, HDMI 1.4a, and a pair of mini DiplayPort connections. For most users it will seem inconsequential but for those that run Eyefinity surround setups it will mean an additional purchase of an active DisplayPort to DVI adapter to use the HD 7970 Vapor-X in that capacity. The bundle of accessories that Sapphire includes is just about everything you need to get up and running, including the TriXX utility. When it comes to technology support, the HD 7970 3GB Vapor-X supports the whole AMD ecosystem including CrossfireX, AMD HD3D, and AMD App Acceleration, and, as a GHz edition card, PowerTune Dynamic Boost.

With the Sapphire HD 7970 3GB Vapor-X you get a good looking card that delivers excellent gaming and cooling performance at a competitively priced $469. This price point is still competitive with custom cooled non-GHz edition cards offering some added value. As a follow up to the Toxic Edition, Sapphire has delivered another sterling example of what makes its custom designs ones that cannot be overlooked when upgrade time comes around. Its got the performance to back up the look and legacy.