Sapphire HD 7870 Review

tacohunter52 - 2012-03-01 12:44:16 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: tacohunter52   
Reviewed on: May 1, 2012
Price: 359.99


This year AMD blew us away with its HD 7900 series GPUs, each equipped with a 28nm Tahiti core. One month later AMD released the not as impressive Cape Verde core. This can be found in the HD 7700 series, which was targeted at the lower end of the GPU scale. Two months after the release of the 79xx series, AMD added the Pitcairn core to be paired up with the rest of the Northern Island GPUs. The Pitcairn core, as you probably know by now, can be found in the HD 7800 series cards. Like its older siblings the Pitcairn core uses AMD's GCN (Graphics Core Next) architecture. So what can you expect with the GCN architecture? Up to 20 compute units, or 1280 Stream processors, up to 153.6GB/s of memory bandwidth, 32 render back-ends, dual geometry engines, and a 9th generation tesselator. This means you can expect a 28nm process, PCI-E Gen 3 support, as well as both AMD PowerTune and AMD ZeroCore Power technology. The HD 7800 series will also be capable of AMD Eyefinity 2.0 and AMD App Acceleration. AMD hopes that this will make the 7870 and 7850 powerful enough to make you want to upgrade from your 5870 and 5850, respectively.

The 7XXX series of AMD GPUs have been somewhat overshadowed by NVIDIA's release of the GTX 680. However, do to limited availability of NVIDIA's new product the 7 series may still be a very viable option for some. Today we will be looking at the Sapphire HD 7870 GHz Edition. This card features a factory overclock as well as a dual fan cooling solution. How will it stack up to the competition? Let's find out!


Closer Look

The Sapphire card used packaging similar to other 7 series cards from the Sapphire brand. Sapphire chose to use a black and green, military-style color scheme. As always the Sapphire packaging features the lady mascot. However, this time around she is wielding a hefty assault rifle, as opposed to a sword. The card's packaging features the card's name, as well as the manufacturer on the front of the packaging. The box also features a few of the card's key specifications. For example, the card features 2GB of GDDR5 memory! Flipping the packaging over reveals a much more detailed set of specifications and features!








The sides of the Sapphire box feature the Sapphire logo, as well as some extra specifications of the card. Each side is black, which blends into the color scheme of the rest of the packaging.



Sapphire uses a cardboard inner packaging. Sapphire's inner packaging is made of a brown biodegradable box. Opening it up reveals the Sapphire HD 7870 nice and secure in an anti-static bag. Located underneath the card is the included accessories.


Closer Look:

The Sapphire HD 7870 uses a dual fan cooling solution. As far as color scheme goes the Sapphire card uses a completely black color scheme, and the card's heatpipes are visible towards the bottom. Flipping the card over reveals a nice empty chunk of blue PCB.

















The card draws its power from two 6-pin connectors, which are located on the top and towards the back of the card. I usually like to see these connectors protruding out of the back of the card, simply because this makes wire management much easier. The card is also equipped with a single Crossfire connector, in case you want to Crossfire it with another HD 7870!



As far as connectivity the user will be able to utilize, there are only single DVI and HDMI ports. You will also be equipped with two DisplayPort connectors; All four of which can be used simultaneously for Eyefinity configurations.


Removing the card's cooler is as simple as removing the screws from the rear end of the card. Once the cooler is removed you can see that the card's memory modules, as well as a few other vital components, come into contact with a black heatspreader. The cooler itself is a fairly large chunk of finned aluminum. Four heatspreaders are spread throughout the aluminum fins to help disperse the heat created by the card.



With the card's cooler completely removed we can see the Pitcairn core located in the center. This chip was created on a 28nm process and is equipped with 1280 Stream processors. The core is factory overclocked to 1050MHz. The card is also equipped with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, which utilizes a 256-bit bus. These memory modules can be found located around the card's core, beneath the black heatspreader.



1 x Dual-Link DVI
1 x HDMI 1.4a
2 x Mini-DisplayPort
DisplayPort 1.2
1050 MHz Core Clock
28 nm Chip
1280 x Stream Processors
2048 MB Size
256-bit GDDR5
215(L)x115(W)x36(H) mm Size.
Driver CD
CrossFire™ Bridge Interconnect Cable
6-pin to 4-pin Power Cable
Mini Displayport to Displayport Dongle
HDMI to SL-DVI Adapter
HDMI 1.4a high speed 1.8 meter cable (Full Retail SKU only)



Information on this page courtesy of Sapphire @


Testing of Sapphire HD 7870 will consist of running it and the comparison cards through the suite of games and synthetic benchmarks. This will test the performance of the video card against many popular competitors. Comparisons will be made to cards of equal and greater capabilities to show where they each fall on the performance ladder using games that are some of today's newest and most popular titles, which will provide an idea of how the cards perform relative to each other.

The system specifications 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 Vantage testing, where PhysX will be disabled in the NVIDIA control panel, if applicable. The card will first be tested at stock speeds and then overclocked to see the following effects. The cards will be placed in order from highest to lowest performing in the graphs to show where they fall by comparison. The drivers used are the 11.12 Catalyst drivers for AMD-based cards, with the exception being the new HD 7700 series that have been tested with the latest AMD press release performance driver. The 290.53 drivers for NVIDIA-based cards are used for the testing.


Comparison Video Cards:



Overclocking this card was fairly easy. With a stock clock of already 50MHz over the 1GHz mark, I wasn't expecting the card to have much headroom for overclocking in the first place. However, I was able to achieve an overclock of over 200MHz for the core clock. This resulted in a final clock speed of 1257MHz. As for the memory I was able to bring it up to 1331MHz, not too bad for a video card!



Maximum Clock Speeds:

Testing for the maximum clock speed consists of looping Unigine 2.5 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 2.5
  5. Dirt 3
  6. Mafia II
  7. 3DMark 11
  1. Temperature
  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.














The Sapphire HD 7870 managed to perform right in between the GTX 570 and the GTX 580. In our Eyefinity/Surround benchmark the 7870 came in with the lowest framerates, but that's understandable considering the competition.


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.
















Once again we see the Sapphire HD 7870 come in with performance that puts it between the GTX 570 and the GTX 580. Overclocking the card gave us a nice little performance boost, even in Eyefinity mode!


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.
















The Sapphire HD 7870 continued to perform right where it should, just under the GTX 580. Once again we were able to get a decent little performance increase by overclocking the card!


Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.5 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.















Again the Sapphire HD 7870 performs fairly close to the GTX 580, and again it comes in with the lowest framerates in the Eyefinity testing. Not to worry though, because the ccard still performed very well!


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.

















Once again we saw the Sapphire HD 7870 come in just a few frames under the GTX 580, which is fairly impressive. Overclocking gave a nice little performance increase, which is always very welcome!


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.















The Sapphire HD 7870 was again able to perform extremely well in our Mafia II benchmark.


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.










As with the rest of the benchmarks, the Sapphire HD 7870 performed right in between the GTX 580 and the GTX 570. Once again, overclocking the card gave us a nice little performance boost!


Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using Unigine's Heaven Benchmark Version 2.5, 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.














The Sapphire HD 7870 wasn't the coolest running card in the charts, but it did run cooler than most of its competition!


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.














Just as with its temperatures, the Sapphire HD 7870 kept its power consumption nice and low. Which is always nice, especially for those concerned with their power bills.


I was very impressed with how close to the 7950 the HD 7870 performs, however, the price difference between the two cards is so small that the performance we saw makes perfect sense. Sapphire's 7870 that we looked at today will run you about $360, and for that price it offers great performance. The card performed, for the most part, just under the GTX 580, which is priced considerably higher. Not only that, but with the 28nm architecture the Sapphire HD 7870 runs extremely cool. The card also draws a very small amount of power as well, which is perfect for the energy efficient gamer!

The Sapphire HD 7870 offered extremely playable performance in every single one of our game benchmarks at the 1920x1080 resolution. That being said, if you are planning to use three 24" or bigger monitors in Eyefinity mode, you may want to consider picking up a more powerful card. While the Sapphire HD 7870 is perfectly capable of powering an Eyefinity setup, it did struggle with the games and settings we threw at it. As far as overclocking goes though, the card exceeded my expectations. Since the stock clock of the GPU already exceeded the 1GHz mark I really wasn't expecting a whole lot of headroom, however, I was easily able to get another 200MHz out of it! That extra 200MHz offered up a nice little performance increase, which I'm sure would be welcomed by anyone.

When the HD 7870 was released AMD stated that it was the perfect card to upgrade to if you are currently using a 5XXX series GPU. I have to say that I agree with that statement. If you are currently using a 5XXX generation card, and are actually looking to upgrade your current setup, the Sapphire HD 7870 would make a great choice. It performs extremely well, and at $360 it's not going to do a whole lot of damage to your wallet!