Sapphire HD 7970 Dual X Review

BluePanda - 2012-05-01 22:16:46 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: BluePanda   
Reviewed on: June 12, 2012
Price: $479.99

Introduction:

Sapphire has been on the map as an AMD producing card company for years. I personally remember saving away funds to buy a Sapphire card not too long before I had my 4870X2 for so long.  Sapphire has always seemed to provide the right price for the same performance of the series. The design of the card is something rather important to me besides the performance alone; Sapphire has always been a bit more aesthetically pleasing with the options it has recently presented. I tend to avoid the typical anime girl on the card or red and black AMD theme if at all possible. Sapphire of course has its share of those cards, but also seem to provide some nice plain cards like the one we will be looking at today.  

Today we will be looking at the Sapphire HD 7970 OC edition with the new dual-extractor, Dual-X technology. With a highly efficient multi-pipe cooler design incorporating two fans to move the air, it can be both quiet at idle and very cool under heavy load. The HD 7970 has 32 compute units and 2048 stream processors. Rather than the usual 925MHz clock speed, the OC edition is shipped out with a raised speed of 950MHz and a bump on the memory speed to 1425MHz. The integrated Dual BIOS switch also allows you to choose the higher performance settings, 1GHz/1450MHz, with a simple switch increasing the fan profile and raising the limits for a maximum overclock. This card was truly designed for overclocking.

Closer Look:

The Sapphire HD 7970 OC edition comes packed much like its sister Sapphire HD 7970 card. The box is near identical with only the addition of a couple logos to show off its Dual BIOS, dual fans, and compatibility with TriXX. Otherwise, it is a quite familiar box with Ruby on the front dressed for combat, while showing off her upper region for the seemingly male dominated field.

Information highlighting the 28nm manufacturing process technology, ability for Eyefinity, AMD APP, DisplayPort connections, PCIe 3.0 and the Dual BIOS features with onboard GDDR5 memory is a bit overwhelming at first; but in reality, these are the key features Sapphire has been bringing to the table for a while that have made the cards what they are. The back of the box goes on to list more features, which can be found on page three, and list a stack of 2,500 reviews awards Sapphire has obtained in the last ten years, including the OCC Gold logo. The other angles of the box show off the Sapphire logo and provide you with an overall idea of the entire box. It's sealed simply with a Sapphire sticker, both for authenticity, as well as to prevent you from spending all your time getting the box open. A quick cut of the sticker and I've got it open.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside is your typical brown cardboard box; not much else to say about that. It's recycled and it holds the product you have been dying to see. Flipping it open the Sapphire HD 7970 is wrapped in a static guard bag and securely packaged in a formed cardboard tray. Shaking the box doesn't let you know there is anything in there as the card is held well in place. 

 

 

Taking out the cardboard tray with the card, the goodies are revealed beneath. Unlike many cards on the market you won’t be without the right adapter to use your card when it shows up. There seems to be every imaginable combination to get you off to the right start. An active mini-DisplayPort to DVI, mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort, DVI to VGA, and HDMI to SL-DVI are all included in the box. So if you've got the monitor cable, you can use the card out of the box without any issues. It even makes setting up Eyefinity that much easier.

The box also includes a driver CD, in case you don’t have access to the Internet to download the latest and greatest, a quick install guide, a Sapphire ad, and a nifty little sticker to add to your beverage fridge collection. An 8-pin to 4-pin power cable is included to make cable routing easier on you, as well as a CrossfireX bridge interconnect cable if you need it. Sapphire has all your bases covered in this little box; it's not just a card you are getting, but everything you need to use it. 

 

Closer Look:

The Sapphire HD 7970 OC edition comes in with a bit of length to accommodate the addition of the Dual-X, two fan setup at 280mm (just over 11"). The nifty shroud used for the dual fan setup is quite different from the usual reference cooler for the card. The standard cooler passes heat out the back of the case, which tends to keep low case temps at the expense of being a bit louder than other coolers. The setup we have here dumps heat into the case and out the back, but takes down the noise level quite a bit while maintaining good temperatures.

The back of the card is a bit different from what you have likely seen. Since there is no VRAM sitting on the backside of the PCB there's no need for a back plate to help the memory stay cool. There isn't even an X-bracket on the back of the core that you normally might find on other cards. It's just a simple, pretty PCB. You can see a bit of one of the heat pipes from the back here – but the other side really provides its true beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The CrossfireX connectors are just like any other high-end card, with two sets of fingers you can run up to quad CrossfireX with these cards. To the left of the fingers is the switch to flip between the Dual BIOS mentioned earlier to allow you to get that guaranteed bonus overclock (as well as give it more if you so desire).

An 8-pin as well as a 6-pin are the only requirements to fire this card up, just like many cards today. Nothing too special about the way that works out, plug it in and you should be good to go (provided you and your PSU can handle this). Remember just because it uses these two plugs doesn't mean it sucks more power all the time – at idle AMD has gotten this card to draw very little power compared to cards from the past.

 

 

The back end of the card shows off the usual outputs of a card like this. Like previously mentioned you can see the DVI, HDMI, and two mini-DisplayPort plugs to connect a variety of monitors without adapters. The included adapters also allow for a variety of monitor configurations without having to buy any additional adapters. The grill on the top vents some of the heat out of the case, but due to the cooler design the majority of the heat seems to dump into the case.

Taking off the shroud and heatsink assembly to get a better look at what we are dealing with, we see the VRMs and RAM are cooled passively with black heatsinks. The flow through the GPU heatsink cools the heatsinks below. The cooling on the GPU seems very robust with five heat pipes moving out to the various fin assemblies. Overall it's a pretty simple design and should work fairly well without atrocious levels of noise.

 

 

From the next view you can get a better look at the memory and VRM cooling. There isn't a whole lot to talk about here if you have ever seen any other 7970 with the heatsink removed. It's a bunch of capacitors, resistors, and other components to make the card tick. It looks rather naked, but you can see remnants of thermal compound on the GPU itself. A lot of people like to replace this with "better" paste for slightly better temperatures, but just remember this will void your warranty if you decide to do so.

This last shot shows again a close up of the cooler. You can see just how beefy it is with the five heat pipes soldered to the cooling fins. If any heatsink can keep this card cool, without the use of water, I'm sure this is one of the better ones. It is something I at least noticed being quite a bit quieter in use, as well as something you'll note in the temperature results for load.

 

Specifications:

 

Output:
1 x Dual-Link DVI
1 x HDMI (with 3D)
2 x Mini-Display Port
GPU:
950/1000MHz Core Clock
28 nm Chip
2048 x Stream Processors
Memory:
3072 MB Size
384-bit GDDR5
5700/5800 MHz Effective
Dimensions:
280(L) x 115(W) x 45(H) mm
2.5 slot
Software:
Driver CD
SAPPHIRE TriXX Utility
Accessory:
CrossFire Bridge Interconnect Cable
8 PIN to 4 PIN Power Cable
DVI to VGA Adapter
Mini-DP to DP Cable
6 PIN to 4 PIN Power Cable
HDMI to SL-DVI Adapter (full retail SKU only)
Mini Display Port to SL-DVI Active dongle

 

Features:

 

 

All information provided by: http://www.sapphiretech.com/presentation/product/?cid=1&gid=3&sgid=1157&pid=1463&psn=&lid=1&leg=0

 

 

 

Testing:

Testing of the Sapphire HD 7970 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 Rig:

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

 

Overclocking:

 

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Starting off with Metro 2033, the Sapphire 7970 OC competes quite nicely with the XFX 7970 when overclocked as expected. With matching clock speeds these two should be neck in neck the whole way through. It's nice to see AMD on top with this test as well, pushing a little competition for NVIDIA. 

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

In the Batman: Arkham City testing, the Sapphire HD 7970 OC continues to hang with the XFX card as it just barely stays an FPS or two ahead.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

In Battlefield 3, the NVIDIA cards take the lead of the pack while the Sapphire and XFX 7970s follow closely behind.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

In the Unigine testing, the Sapphire HD 7970 OC again is neck and neck with the XFX 7970. It shows some strength in overclocking when competing with the GTX 680 and crazy overclocked Sapphire 7950 OC. 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately variation in gameplay for this method of benching Civilization V lets a larger gap come between the Sapphire 7970 OC and the XFX 7970 BE. These cards technically should be neck and neck here again, but the changes in what exactly happens move to move in game shows a difference here. 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The Sapphire HD 7970 OC again settles in the middle with the XFX 7970 and even tries to compete with the GTX 680. It doesn't quite have the game to, but shows itself well. 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The 3DMark 11 scores were right in line with the other high-end 7-series cards from AMD.  The Sapphire card seems to be slightly behind in most of the testing than the XFX 7970 with its slightly lower stock speeds and falls just behind the XFX card when overclocked as well.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

Lower = Better

 

 

Having the bonus features of dual heat pipes and dual fans really allow the Sapphire HD 7970 OC to cool well and stay very quiet. The idle and load temps are found to be a tiny bit higher than some of the other leading cards on the market with comparison to performance but at the same time this cooler is whisper-quiet when running in automatic mode. Cranking up the fan when overclocking results in some of the lowest temperatures I've seen!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

Lower = Better

 

The power consumption of the Sapphire HD 7970 Dual X sits just slightly above the XFX 7970 at idle in stock trim but matches it blow-for-blow under load and when overclocked.  This isn't all that surprising since both cards, with the exception of the cooler, are essentially identical and were running at similar clock speeds.

Conclusion:

Overall the Sapphire HD 7970 OC edition held up as expected. It sat neck and neck with the XFX 7970 BE about all the way through with the exception of Civilization V, which I feel can easily be due to variation in gameplay. The Dual X cooler is really the bonus to this particular card; it is the real feature that sets it apart from not only other 7970s but also other high-end cards. Under full load it shows off its true colors as one of the best cooled cards on the market while remaining quiet (in a relative manner). With the fans at full it can dissipate quite a bit of heat away from the card to keep it cool and ready for more. It might dump a little more heat to the case at idle and run slightly "hotter" at idle, but it is much better than a constant vacuum cleaner noise coming from your case.

With an overall nice appearance and lack of “lady parts” so to say on the card and a clean cut finish this card will surely appeal to anyone looking for a high performance GPU to crank up the “pretty” level in games. It is also one of the cheapest 7970 cards on the market, and when looking at the cards that are a few bucks cheaper, the Sapphire 7970 OC wins out with an upgrade from the stock cooler. It really is the win-win card -- it clocks as well as its competitors but cools better for a better price. It's hard to say why not to go with this card if you're looking for a 7970. Overall I'm satisfied with the card. 

 

Pros:

 

Cons: