XFX & Sapphire HD 7950 3GB Review
Reviewed by: ccokeman
Reviewed on: January 30, 2012
Price: XFX $499, Sapphire $479
The 7 series cards from AMD were officially launched right before CES, with plenty of fanfare and early performance numbers on paper a couple weeks earlier. This time around, AMD chose not to repeat the paper launch and instead, has decided to go with a hard launch today to introduce the second card in the HD 7900 series product stack, the HD 7950. Equipped with all of the features of AMD's Southern Islands (Tahiti) Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture which include Zero Core Power, PCIe 3.0, DX 11, AMD Powerplay technology, and a shrink to AMDs 28 nm process, the HD 7950 looks to impress and follow on the performance delivered by the HD 7970. Right out of the gate, we have a pair of cards that come factory overclocked and with improved cooling to help deliver both a cooler-running GPU and one that is much quieter than the traditional squirrel cage fan design used on the AMD's reference design cards. Both Sapphire and XFX have sent out their factory overclocked cards that come with clock speeds of 900 MHz on the 28 nm Tahiti core, alongside a memory speed of 1250 MHz on the Sapphire HD 7950 Overclocked Edition and 1375 MHz on the XFX HD 7950 Black Edition Double Dissipation. Previously, we saw how the HD 7970 3GB delivered world-class performance as the fastest single GPU video card on the market. Can AMD and their partners follow up by avoiding the sophomore slump and delivering that second punch to truly define the performance of their latest architecture? Let's see how the latest from both Sapphire and XFX perform, and compare them to past generations.
The packaging for each of these cards is as unique as the company that sends them to market. XFX has loaded the packaging with the full 'what really matters' approach to selling the card, with a list of the technologies supported and attributes on the front, back, and sides. Highlights for the Black Edition Double Dissipation HD 7950 include Double Dissipation cooling, 3 GB of onboard memory, Ghost Thermal technology, and on the back, AMD's GCN Architecture, Power Tune Technology, and XFX X-factors that include Duratec capacitors and ferrite core chokes, HydroCell technology for cooling, GPU Edging, and 4K monitor support. Sapphire's packaging, on the other hand, is not as graphically intense, but gets the message across nonetheless. On their box, Sapphire has an iteration of Ruby all decked out for some war...games? The Radeon HD 7950's features are listed along the bottom of the front panel, while to the right, are images that list the amount of onboard GDDR5 memory, indicate that this is a factory overclocked version, and that Sapphires Trixx utility is included. The back panel goes into detail on AMD's GCN architecture, Eyefinity 2.0, and more.
Inside the outer sleeves are the boxes that hold each of the HD 7950s and associated hardware bundles. Sapphire's box is not illustrated and is a bit spartan compared to the XFX's packaging, which is black in color and displays XFX's logo and slogan. I think these small cost savings allow Sapphire to put together a more robust accessory bundle – more on that below. The bundle and card are held oppositely in each package – the bundle is on top in the XFX packaging and on the bottom in the Sapphire package.
The accessory bundle included each card is adequate to get the card installed and running, so that putting it in on a Saturday night for an all-night session does not end up being a one-sided affair, with you having difficulty finding that one last power connection to the card. Sapphire includes a pretty substantial bundle which include a 6-foot HDMI cable, DVI to D-sub adapter, two 4 pin molex to 6 pin PCIe power connections, a Crossfire Bridge connector, HDMI to DVI and mini DP to DP adapters, and last but not least, the documentation. XFX has a much slimmer bundle on the hardware side, with a HDMI to DVI adapter, Black Edition badge, and a Crossfire bridge connection.
Having looked at the XFX HD 7970 Black Edition already, expectations are high for this card from XFX – Sapphire's build looks equally appealing at this point and comes with a better bundle. It will be interesting to see which of these cards deliver the best performance, based on the difference in memory clock speeds. If overclocking potential is what we've seen on the HD 7970 series cards, then the second offering from AMD's 7 series lineup may look to keep itself in a dominant position for a while.
When I looked at the Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 3GB offering I was disappointed to see that it was a reference-based card. As AMDs largest partner, they usually pull something out of their hat in terms of custom cooling or in-house built boards and improved component selection. While the reference card was a let down in that sense, the first offering out of the gate on the second card in the 7 series product stack is a custom build. A first look shows a large dual fan cooling solution on top of a Sapphire built PCB. The 5 heat pipe cooler looks similar to that of the Double Dissipation cooling solution used on the XFX HD 7950. The back side of the PCB is for the most part featureless. The Sapphire HD 7950 OC measures slightly longer than the reference card due to the fan shroud that overhangs the end of the PCB. From the side, the large copper heat pipes are visible as they run from the copper base plate to the fin array. Clock speeds for this card are 900Mhz on the 28nm core and 1250MHz on the GDDR5 memory.
Display connectivity has been reduced to improve the acoustics and improve airflow through the mounting bracket. The 7 series remove one of the DVI ports to make way for these improvements. Even so there are plenty of options to connect up to six displays through this card via the pair of Diplayport 1.2 ports that can be used with a MST hub or daisy chaining a trio of Diaplay port monitors together off of each port. By using the card in this way, a six screen Eyefinity setup can be utilized. Eyefinity 2.0 brings new functionality and individual streaming of HD audio along with each separate video stream. A full-size HDMI port that supports the 1.4a standard is used as well. The rear of this card is open, allowing for unobstructed airflow out from under the heat sink fan shroud.
CrossfireX continues to be supported in configurations of up to four HD 7950s as long as the motherboard used supports it. Dual-bridge connections are used to connect to each card in the configuration. The power connections used are a pair of 6-pin PCIe connectors to deliver an additional 150 watts to the card. 500 watts is the recommended power supply size. The power connections on the PCB show that an 8-pin power connection is a thought for this video card series. A dual BIOS switch is included on the HD 7950 from Sapphire to allow for flashing a custom BIOS, recovering from a bad flash, or if one is lucky enough AMD hopefully left open the same doors they did on the HD 6950 allowing a flash to a HD 7970.
Pulling the card apart shows that Sapphire has taken a slightly different approach to cooling the HD 7950. The large shroud covers up a large five heat pipe-based cooling solution that does not incorporate a built or integrated heat sink/aluminum plate to cool the memory and stiffen the board. On this card from Sapphire they are separate parts. The heat sink has five large heat pipes that are soldered to the fin array to promote a better thermal transfer rate. The 10mm thick dual fans are made by FirstD.
The Sapphire HD 7950 is built using AMD's 28nm Southern Islands Tahiti core that features 112 texture units, 32 ROPs, 1792 shader cores, 3GB of GDDR5 memory running through a 384-bit bus. The GDDR5 memory used on the Sapphire HD 7950 is from Hynix as it seems all of AMD's high-end cards have been equipped over the past few launches. Part number H5GQ2H24MFR-T2C is used and is rated for operation at a clock speed of 1250MHz. Sapphire has bumped the core clock on this card up to 900MHz and runs with a memory clock speed of 1250MHz.
Sapphire has a good looking card that includes a bump in clock speed over the reference baseline clock speed on the core and ups the ante with a custom PCB and dual-fan cooling solution. Having seen what Sapphire has to offer, let's look at the XFX HD 7950 Black Edition before testing them both out.
Much like the XFX HD 7970 Black Edition Double Dissipation, the HD 7950 BEDD uses a pair of axial fans to drive airflow through the heat sink to cool both the GPU core, memory, and PCB using XFX's Ghost Technology. The shroud is open at the top and bottom of the card to promote airflow through the Hydrocell Vapor Chamber heat sink. The top end of the card has a bright red anodized strip that highlights the name of the card and the technologies employed by XFX. The back side of the black PCB is devoid of any memory modules and the power circuit is highlighted in gold. Built on the 28nm process the HD 7950 features 1792 cores and 3GB of GDDR5 memory running through a 384-bit bus. XFX improves the build quality over the reference cards with its Duratec or C-Factor features that include solid capacitors, Ferrite core chokes, 2oz copper PCB and IP-5X dust-free fans.
The connectivity options for the HD 7950 include a single DL DVI, two Mini DisplayPort 1.2 connections, and an HDMI port that supports the HDMI 1.4a standard. DisplayPort 1.2 supports the use of an MST hub or daisy-chaining Displayport monitors into an Eyefinity configuration of up to six monitors. With Eyefinity 2.0, there is also added functionality of independent audio streams for each video stream, so that the audio streams follow the video to each specific monitor. The back end of the card does not have any real features save the end of the shroud. By reducing the amount of DVI connections on the 7900 series the airflow through the bracket is increased allowing for enhanced cooling.
Crossfire is supported by the HD 7950 Black Edition Double Dissipation from XFX in configurations of up to four cards. One thing missing from the HD 7950 BEDD is the dual BIOS switch seen on the HD 7950 and the Sapphire HD 7950 OC. Dual 6-pin power connections are required for this card, providing an additional 150 watts to the card in addition to the 75w from the PCIe slot. XFX recommends a 650 watt power supply to supply enough juice to run this card.
XFX uses a large Hydrocell Vapor-chamber based cooling solution to remove the thermal load from the 28nm core and 3GB of GDDR5 memory. XFX uses a PCB with 2oz copper layers to help dissipate heat through the card as well as through the heat sink. A pair of PWM-controlled 90mm fans are used to provide the airflow over the card. The airflow discharges both out of the top and bottom of the shroud and out of the mounting bracket. The majority of the thermal load is discharged back into the chassis with this kind of design. This design is said to be worth a 13 Celsius reduction in operating temperatures.
The HD 7950 is based off of AMD's Southern islands 28nm GCN architecture. Changes from the HD 7970 are minimal with a reduction in the shader cores to 1792, a drop in the texture units to 112, and changes to the clock speeds. Raster units are unchanged at 32 while the memory for the cards can be either 1.5GB or 3GB as on the XFX HD 7950 Black Edition Double Dissipation. Clock speeds on the core come in at 900MHz on the 28nm core and 1375Mhz on the 3GB of GDDR5 memory. The 28nm core is surrounded by a shim to protect the core from damage. The 3GB of GDDR5 memory is from Hynix and is part number H5GQ2H24MFR-T2C rated for operation at 1250Mhz. XFX uses GPU Edging to bin the GPU cores to find the highest clocking cores to ensure the Black Edition is a product with a difference besides the custom cooling and higher base clock speeds.
Like the HD 7970 BEDD the the HD 7950 Black Edition offers an upside right out of the box with higher clock speeds on the core and memory. Custom Hydrocell Vapor Chamber cooling and Duratec construction all offer long term value.
XFX HD 7950 Black Edition Double Dissipation
Processor & Bus
Chipset version: ATI Radeon HD 7950
GPU Clock: 900 MHz
Memory Bus: 384-bit
Memory Clock: 5.5 GHz
Memory Size: 3 GB
Memory Type: DDR5
AMD Eyefinity Technology: Y
AMD HD3D Technology: Y
AMD - CrossFire ready: Y
Max Supported Resolution (ANALOG): 2048 x 1536
Max Supported Resolution (DIGITAL): 2560 x 1600
Output - DL-DVI-I: 1
Output - HDMI: 1
Output - mini DP: 2
Dual link Support: Y
Display Port ready: 1.2
Card Dimension (cm): 27.5 x 11.12 x 3.81
Card Dimension (inch): 10.8 x 4.4 x 1.5
Card Profile: Dual
Package Dimensions (cm): 16 x 32.1 x 9.8
Package Dimensions (inch): 12.6 x 6.3 x 3.9
Package Weight (Kg): 1.47 est.
Package Weight (lb): 3.24 est.
Thermal Solution: HD7970 MBA Ghost Dual fan fansink
Thermal Type: Dual slot
Promotional Bundles: PSU Cross Marketing Insert
Quick Installation Guide: 1
XFX Serial Number Door Hanger: 1
XFX BE badge: 1
Installation CD with Multi-Language User Guide: 1
Cross Fire Bridge: 1
Driver CD Installation Guide: 1
External Power - 6-Pins: 2
Minimum Power Supply Requirement: 500 watt
XFX Recommended Power Supply: XFX 650W PSU
- GPU Edging: Black Edition Selection Process
- Double Dissipation
- Ghost Thermal Technology
- HydroCell Thermal Solution
- Duratec: Solid Capacitors
- Duratec: Ferrite Core
- Duratec: 2oz Copper PCB
- Duratec: IP-5X Dust Free Fan
- Duratec: XFX Bracket
- PCI Express 3.0 x16 bus interface
- DirectX® 11-capable graphics
- 9th generation programmable hardware tessellation units
- Shader Model 5.0
- DirectCompute 11
- Accelerated multi-threading
- HDR texture compression
- Order-independent transparency
- OpenGL 4.2 support
- Image quality enhancement technology
- Up to 24x multi-sample and super-sample anti-aliasing modes
- Adaptive anti-aliasing
- Morphological Anti-Aliasing (MLAA)
- DirectX® 10/11 Super-Sample Anti-Aliasing (SSAA)
- 16x angle independent anisotropic texture filtering
- 128-bit floating point HDR rendering
- AMD Eyefinity multi-display technology1
- Up to 6 displays supported with DisplayPort 1.2 Multi-Stream Transport
- Independent resolutions, refresh rates, color controls, and video overlays
- Display grouping
- Combine multiple displays to behave like a single large display
- AMD App Acceleration2
- OpenCL 1.2 Support
- Microsoft C++ AMP
- DirectCompute 11
- Double Precision Floating Point
- AMD HD Media Accelerator
- Universal Video Decoder (UVD)
- MPEG-2 (SD & HD)
- MVC (Blu-ray 3D)
- MPEG-4 Part 2 (DivX/Xvid)
- Adobe Flash
- DXVA 1.0 & 2.0 support
- Enhanced Video Quality features
- Advanced post-processing and scaling
- Automatic deinterlacing
- Mosquito noise reduction
- Edge enhancement
- 3:2 pulldown detection
- Advanced video color correction
- Brighter whites processing (Blue Stretch)
- Independent video gamma control
- Flesh tone correction
- Color vibrance control
- Dynamic contrast
- Dynamic video range control
- AMD HD3D technology
- Stereoscopic 3D display/glasses support
- Blu-ray 3D support
- Stereoscopic 3D gaming
- 3rd party Stereoscopic 3D middleware software support
- AMD CrossFire™ multi-GPU technology
- Dual, triple or quad-GPU scaling
- Cutting-edge integrated display support
- DisplayPort 1.2
- Max resolution: 4096x2160 per display
- Multi-Stream Transport
- 21.6 Gbps bandwidth
- High bit-rate audio
- Quad HD/4k video support
- 3GHz HDMI 1.4a with Stereoscopic 3D Frame Packing Format,
- Deep Color, xvYCC wide gamut support, and high bit-rate audio
- Max resolution: 4096x3112
- 1080p60 Stereoscopic 3D
- Quad HD/4k video support
- Dual-link DVI with HDCP Max resolution: 2560x1600
- VGA Max resolution: 2048x1536
- Integrated HD audio controller
- Output protected high bit rate 7.1 channel surround sound over HDMI with no additional cables required
- Supports AC-3, AAC, Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio formats
- AMD PowerPlay™ power management technology
- Automatic power management with low power idle states
- AMD PowerTune technology
- Intelligent TDP management technology
- Dynamic clock speed/performance enhancement for games
All ihnformation courtesy of XFX @ http://xfxforce.com/en-us/Products/Graphics-Cards/ATI/AMD-Radeon-HD-7000-Series/AMD-Radeon-HD-7970.aspx
1 x Dual-Link DVI
1 x HDMI 1.4a
2 x Mini-DisplayPort
900 MHz Core Clock
28 nm Chip
1792 x Stream Processors
3072 MB Size
384 -bit GDDR5
5000 MHz Effective
275(L)x115(W)x36(H) mm Size.
SAPPHIRE TriXX Utility
CrossFire™ Bridge Interconnect Cable
6-pin to 4-pin Power Cable
Mini Display Port to HDMI dongle
Mini DP to SL-DVI Passive dongle
6-pin to 4-pin Power Cable
HDMI to SL-DVI Adapter
HDMI 1.4a high speed 1.8 meter cable (Full Retail SKU only)
Mini Display Port to SL-DVI Active dongle
- Dual-Link DVI: Equipped with the most popular Dual Link DVI (Digital Visual Interface), this card is able to display ultra high resolutions of up to 2560 x 1600 at 60Hz.
- HDMI 1.4a: HDMI 1.4a builds on previous generations of HDMI connectivity with support for Deep Color, 7.1 High Bitrate Audio, and 3D Stereoscopic support, ensuring the highest quality Blu-ray and video experience possible from your PC.
- Mini-DisplayPort: Enjoy the benefits of the latest generation display interface, DisplayPort. With the ultra high HD resolution of 2560 x 1600 the graphics card ensures that you are able to support the latest generation of LCD monitors.
- DisplayPort 1.2: Doubling the effective bandwidth of previous DisplayPort implementations, DisplayPort 1.2 now includes support for Multi-Stream, allowing you to drive up to four separate monitors from a single DisplayPort 1.2 connector (requires DP1.2 monitors or Multi-Stream compatible hub), Stereoscopic 3D monitor support and adds support for high quality, lossless, 7.1 channel audio formats.
- Advanced GDDR5 Memory Technology: GDDR5 memory provides twice the bandwidth per pin of GDDR3 memory, delivering more speed and higher bandwidth.
- AMD HD3D Technology: Enjoy the most immersive experience possible with full support for High Definition Stereoscopic 3D, a technique that presents 2D images (movies, games, photos) in a format that creates the illusion of three-dimensional depth when using compatible 3D displays / glasses / software.
- 28 nm GCN (Graphic Core Next) Architecture: The new and 28nm GCN Architecture with more efficient process technology puts more transistors in less space, enabling a dramatic increase in Processing Power. Crank the settings, devastate your enemies and bear witness to absurdly high frame rates with AMD Radeon HD7000 series graphics card-DirectX 11 has never looked this good. Maximum setting and crazy performance shouldn’t be a compromise. The AMD Radeon HD7900 Series with the new 28 nm GCN Architecture assures that it’s not.
- PCI Express 3.0: PCI-Express 3.0 delivers double the bandwidth per lane of PCIe Gen 2 for faster GPU (GPU communication-up to 16GB/sec in each direction), maximizing the performance from your GPU when paired with the latest platforms.
- AMD Eyefinity 2.0: The next generation of AMD Eyefinity technology is here, featuring all-new support for stereo 3D, universal bezel compensation and brand new display configurations. Face it: the best just got better: The enhancements for AMD Radeon HD7000 series include: Stereo 3D-multi-display stereoscopic 3D support via DisplayPort 16K X 16K maximum display group resolution-output up to 268 megapixels per GPU. *To support 3 displays, one of the monitors has to support DisplayPort **When running Microsoft Windows XP, Eyefinity technlogy supports a maximum of 2 displays.
- Efficient AMD CrossFire Technology: Triple or quadruple gaming power with AMD CrossFireX Multi-GPU technology. Increase your gaming performance up to 2x with AMD CrossFire technology, 2.75x for TriFire configurations, or with QuadFire configurations. With AMD ZeroCore Power Technology, the graphics card in slave modes will be switched off in idle to maximize the power saving.
- Discrete Digital Multi-Point Audio: The AMD Redeon HD 7900 Series is the first GPU that can simultaneously output multiple and discrete audio streams via HDMI and DisplayPort Output.
- Microsoft DirectX® 11: Get intense gaming performance and unrivalled image quality with stunning 3D visual effects, realistic lighting and lifelike imagery with SAPPHIRE graphics cards supporting DirectX®11. New features in DirectX®11 such as Hardware Tesselation, HDR Texture Compression, Multi-threading support and DirectCompute bring lifelike gaming and an experience never possible on a PC before.
- Shader Model 5.0: Supports the latest Shader Model 5.0 feature set including VTF (Vertex Texture Fetch) which is a key feature used extensively in many of the games that ship today. Without support for this feature the game will fall back to a lesser shader path resulting in the loss of cool, lifelike effects made possible by Shader Model 5.0
- OpenGL 4.2: OpenGL 4.2 improves the GPU efficiency by improving the shader process operation and capturing GPU tessellated geometry. The process of modifying an arbitrary subset of compress texture is also simplified. The memory management in handling shaders is more efficient as well.
- Best Microsoft DirectX11 Support: The tessellation performance on AMD Radeon HD7000 is up to 2X faster than the previous generation, and DirectCompute performance is also faster to accelerate advanced post-processing, filtering, and anti-aliasing techniques. Direct X11 games has never looked this good.
- AMD Catalyst Control Center™: The AMD Catalyst Control Center™ software application gives you complete control over the performance and visual quality of your SAPPHIRE AMD Radeon™ based graphics card allowing for the best experience on your PC.
- Dolby® TrueHD and DTSHD Master Audio™ Support: Support for copy protected, high bandwidth, 7.1 channel surround sound over HDMI. Get a fully immersive, high definition audio experience with the latest Blu-ray movies. (Requires a DVI to HDMI dongle on some models, an HD capable monitor and a Blu-ray drive)
- AMD PowerTune™ Technology: AMD PowerTune is a breakthrough technology that sets an entirely new direction for maximum performance at TDP. It allows the GPU to be designed with higher engine clock speeds which can be applied on the broad set of applications that have thermal headroom.
- TriXX Utility: TriXX helps users to get the optimum performance from compatible SAPPHIRE graphics cards in any application by allowing them to monitor, tune and save different settings of key parameters for the card.
- Windows® 7 support: WHQL (Windows Hardware Quality Labs) Certified drivers and logos are available for all SAPPHIRE HD2000, HD3000, HD4000 and HD5000 series cards ensuring compatibility and reliability with Microsoft Windows 7.
- AMD App Acceleration: AMD App Acceleration is a set of technologies designed to improve video quality and enhance application performance. Full enablement of some features requires support for OpenCL, DirectCompute or DirectX Video Acceleration (DXVA).
- AMD PowerPlay with ZeroCore Power Technology: AMD PowerPlay is a power management technology in response to the GPU loading, AMD PowerPlay automatically manages the power consumption. AMD RADEON HD7000 Series with AMD ZeroCore Power Technology, the power consumption can be as low as less than 3 Watt when idle, making the best use of power.
- Accelerated Internet Applications Rendering: The new AMD Radeon HD 7000 Series accelerates the rendering performance with the latest web browsers (IE10, Firefox 6) and programming interfaces (Direct2D, HTML5, WebGL, Flash 11 / Molehill).
- AMD HD Media Accelerator: AMD HD Media Accelerator has been designed to help optimize and dramatically improve video playback on your computer by taking advantage of hardware video acceleration from your AMD Radeon GPU. With full 3D stereoscopic decode you can enjoy it all in 3D. AMD HD Media Accelerator speeds up the decode of one 1080p and one 1080i HD video streams simultaneously by hardware, and the new hardware encodes/transcoder processes your media content faster than ever!
- Cutting-edge Quad HD display support (4K Support): The display resolution on AMD Radeon HD7000 series is quadrupled to the resolution of 4KX2K from the outputs of DisplayPort 1.2 and HDMI 1.4a. The display resolution support of HDMI 1.4a reaches the incredible 4096X3112 while the DisplayPort 1.2 is able to transmit the resolution of 4096X2160 per display.
All information courtesy of Sapphire Technology @ http://www.sapphiretech.com/presentation/product/?cid=1&gid=3&sgid=1157&pid=1461&psn=&lid=1&leg=0
Testing of the XFX Black Edition Radeon HD 7950 and Sapphire HD 7950 will consist of running them 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 equal and greater capabilities, to show where they each fall on the performance ladder. The games used are some of today's newest and most popular titles, which should give you 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 Vantage 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 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 7900 series that have been tested with the latest AMD press release performance driver driver. The 290.53 drivers for NVIDIA-based cards are used for the testing.
- Processors: Core i7 2600K @ 4.4 GHz 100 x 44
- CPU Cooling: Corsair Hydro Series H100
- Motherboard: Gigabyte Z68AP-D3
- Memory: Mushkin 991996 Redline PC3-17000 9-11-10-28 8 GB
- Video Cards: XFX Black Edition HD 7950 Double Dissipation, Sapphire HD 7950 OC
- Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
- Hard Drive: 1 x Seagate 1TB SATA
- Optical Drive: Lite-On Blu-Ray
- Case: Corsair Graphite Series 600T
- OS: Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
Comparison Video Cards:
- XFX HD 7970 Black Edition
- XFX HD 6970
- ASUS HD 6950
- ASUS GTX 580 Direct CU II
- ASUS GTX 570 DIrect CU II
- Sapphire HD 6990
- ASUS GTX 590
- XFX HD 7950 Black Edition 3 GB Core 1156MHz Memory 1623MHz
- Sapphire HD 7950 OC 3GB Core 1150MHz Memory 1614MHz
When it came to overclocking the HD 7950, the two cards delivered almost identical results. The current needed to reach a given clock speed seemed to be almost identical between both the Sapphire and XFX card, showing that overclocking is going to be similar across the board. Expectations aside, the results showed even scaling between the two HD 7950s was excellent. To reach the maximum overclocks on both cards, I had to bump the core voltage up as well as the fan speeds to stay completely stable. 1256mv was used to reach the 1150MHz to 1156MHz on the core speed for both cards and just over 1610MHz on the memory for both cards. At these speeds, the performance in games improved not by just one or two FPS, but by enough to make the games infinitely more playable. The core increase on the XFX and Sapphire cards was just at or over 250MHz, or easily plus 20%. The memory clocks scaled as well, with the two cards dumping another 20+% worth of scaling. These increases delivered measurable gains across the board in the gaming tests. The fans and cooling systems used on the Black Edition Double Dissipation from XFX and the OC model from Sapphire both feature a dual-fan, custom cooling solution. The fan noise is lower than the reference cards, but is still audible on the XFX Double Dissipation and less so on the Sapphire HD 7950 when spooled up to 100%. Any way you slice it, the second round of AMD's 28nm video cards featuring the Tahiti core and GCN architecture are overclocking beasts.
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 fails when pushed. If the clock speed adjustment fails, then the clock speeds and tests are rerun until they pass a full hour of testing.
- Gaming Tests:
- Metro 2033
- Batman: Arkham City
- Battlefield 3
- HAWX 2
- Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.5
- Dirt 3
- Mafia II
- 3DMark 11
- 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.
- DirectX 11
- 16x AF
- Global settings = High
- PhysX = On
Higher = Better
In the Metro 2033 testing, the higher clock speed of the XFX HD 7950 allows a higher level of performance against the Sapphire HD 7950. When overclocked, both cards perform similarly and well above the previous generation.
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.
- DirectX 11
- 4x MSAA
- 16x AF
- Global settings = Very High
- PhysX = off
Higher = Better
In the Batman: Arkham City testing, the XFX Black Edition and Sapphire HD 7950s deliver significant performance against the previous generation from AMD and the current gen cards from NVIDIA.
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.
- 4x AA in CP
- 16x AF in CP
- Game settings = High
Higher = Better
The HD 7950 is proving to offer a high level of performance for the cost of a new video card that comes in about $100 lower than the HD 7970. The higher default clock speeds on the XFX HD 7950 Black Edition deliver more frames per second than the Sapphire HD 7950 card in the default configuration. When overclocked, both cards delivered similar FPS due to the almost identical overclocks.
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.
- 4x AA
- 16x AF
- Shaders = High
- Tesselation = Normal
- Measurement = FPS
Higher = Better
The Sapphire and XFX HD 7950s deliver FPS almost on par with the HD 7970 when overclocked. The differential between the last generation and the current Southern Islands Tahiti core are significant.
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.
- 4x AA
- 16x AF in CP
- Ultra Settings
Higher = Better
The HD 7950s from XFX and Sapphire are in lockstep in this game, delivering almost identical performance that is slightly slower than the HD 7970.
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.
- 4x AA
- 16x AF
- In-game settings = High
- Ambient Occlusion = On
Higher = Better
Again the HD 7950 from XFX and Sapphire deliver performance based on their clock speeds in the baseline testing and similar performance when overclocked due to the almost identical overclocks.
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.
- Default test settings
- Entry test: 1024 x 600
- Performance test: 1280 x 720
- Extreme test: 1920 x 1080
Higher = Better
AMD's latest architecture delivers excellent single-GPU performance, as shown in the 3DMark11 results. Each of the HD 7950s delivers better results than the GTX 580 at the Extreme preset.
Eyefinity & Surround:
This page will show how each card in the testing can run at a resolution of 5760x1080 in either AMD Eyefinity or NVIDIA Surround mode. Higher and lower end cards are being pushed to deliver on this type of display solution for gamers, as well as in office productivity. The reality is that a high end GPU is required for gaming at this resolution with moderate AA and AF settings. I will be using the same settings used in the standard GPU testing to run each card with a single large surface display. For the display, I will be using three ASUS VG236 120Hz 3D-capable monitors.
Higher = Better
AMD's GCN architecture continues to show scaling in resolutions up to 5760 x 1080. In each of the game tests, the HD 7950s from XFX and Sapphire allow FPS levels of better than 30 FPS in Eyefinity mode.
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.
- Monitoring with MSI Afterburner
- Unigine Heaven 2.5 1920x1200 8x AA
- 5-run sequence
- 20 minute idle duration
- Temperature measured in degrees Celsius
Lower = Better
Equipped with the Double Dissipation cooling system, the XFX HD 7950 Black Edition delivered excellent cooling performance at stock speeds, The Sapphire HD 7950 delivered even better cooling with its large dual-fan heat sink by 13 ºC — a significant point of difference that translates at overclocked speeds as well with the Sapphire cooling solution being a full 6 ºC better under load. Cranking the voltage up on both cards shows that the additional voltage is having an impact as both dump a large portion of the thermal load into the chassis to be recycled as the now warmer cooling air in the chassis.
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.
- Unigine 2.5 Heaven Benchmark
- 1920x1200 Resolution
- 8x AA
- 15-minute load test
- 15-minute idle test
- Measurement is in watts
Lower = Better
The XFX HD 7950 offers the lowest power consumption at stock speeds under idle and the second lowest under the stock load testing. Sapphire's card delivers the lowest consumption under load with its lower clock speeds that need less current to run. Under load, 7950s took more current to run the overclocked speeds, driving up the consumption results into the 370 watt range.
I have to say that AMD and its partners truly have delivered a product that is the perfect follow-up to the fastest single GPU on the market with the HD 7950. Both the Sapphire and XFX factory overclocked cards delivered excellent performance that was even better than the last generation's top single GPU card, the HD 6970, in all cases. That alone is a reason to look at the HD 7950 as a possible upgrade path. Between $470 and $499, this level of performance still comes with a price tag that will most likely stick until NVIDIA's next gen parts start rolling out the door, allowing AMD and its partners to sell as many as they can produce for premium pricing. Gaming performance followed just behind the levels delivered by the HD 7970 and easily outperformed the best last-generation parts from AMD as well as NVIDIA's top single GPU card, the GTX 580. All of this was with a non-release driver so in the near future we can hope for a full release driver to really show what the architecture is capable of. Eyefinity gaming was more of the same with the HD 7950 from XFX and Sapphire as they both delivered frame rates over 30FPS, which is commonly quoted as being playable in games.
Each game though has a level of performance that really is playable. BF3 and Dirt 3 were easily playable using High settings on BF3 and Ultra settings on Dirt 3 at 5760 x 1080 in an Eyefinity configuration. The performance delivered by the Sapphire and XFX cards, while impressive, only improves with overclocking. Both of these card just scaled like it was going out of style. 1200MHz on the core was a reality when the resolution was kept at a maximum of 1920 x 1080 but dropped closer to 1150MHz to gain stability in Eyefinity resolutions that really put a higher load on the GPU. Memory clock speeds were above 1600MHz(6400QDR) on both the XFX Black Edition and Sapphire OC Edition cards, increasing the memory bandwidth for additional performance across the board in all of the games tested. These card really offer a sweet spot for performance. When overclocking, temperatures are increased due to the increased clock speed and the additional voltage needs of the GPU. XFX and Sapphire have offered these custom cooled cards to deliver exceptional cooling performance that they do deliver, at stock speeds. AMD Zero Core technology allowed the XFX HD 7950 Black Edition to drop down to a system low of 91 watts when AMD's Zero core power technology was active. Sapphire did not reach that level but still only consumed 105w when in an idle state. The power load readings at stock speeds show the HD 7950s from XFX and Sapphire deliver significantly lower power consumption than the Northern Island's parts from AMD's partners and NVIDIA's current top single GPU SKU's, the GTX 580 and GTX 570. Overvolting the HD 7950 does drive power consumption up exponentially, but even so, the power penalty is still lower than the GTX 580 when the clocks and voltage are cranked up. When you look at the noise generated by by the reference cards from AMD, that alone is the single largest deficiency in the product lineup. Both the XFX Black Edition Double Dissipation and Sapphire HD 7950 Overclock Edition cards come with non-reference cooling to alleviate that concern and deliver cooling performance with better acoustics on all counts. Based on the improvement over a reference card delivered by the XFX Black Edition HD 7970 of 10+ degrees Celsius over the reference card at stock speeds means the HD 7950 from XFX and Sapphire are going to deliver those kinds of results and then some. I did find in my testing that the five heat pipe design from Sapphire was more efficient across the board in both acoustic and thermal performance than the XFX solution. Not to say that they don't both work but one has to be better than the other and in this case the massive heat pipes were more efficient than the Vapor Chamber. Sapphires solution, however, only uses a plate for the memory instead of a complete integrated assembly leading most likely to the lower clock speed on the memory in the overclocked testing.
With all of that being said, the HD 7950 offers tremendous performance potential if you chose to overclock it. At stock speeds it offers predictable performance that is well ahead of previous generation parts and in just about every game ahead of NVIDIA's current high end parts. As an upgrade, the current pricing puts it in line with the GTX 580 which it of course beats hands down. Add in Eyefinity capabilities with a single card and the HD 7950 is a card that is a perfect upgrade path for those looking for top end performance but have a hard time shelling out $600 for the top line product. Even just less than $500 the HD 7950 is not a value proposition. Performance at stock and overclocked speeds make the XFX Black Edition Double Dissipation and Sapphire Overclocked Edition HD 7950 video card as potent upgrades to enjoy the latest games. Good looks, Custom cooling and PCB, Awesome performance, and more are good enough reasons to move to the HD 7900 series from Sapphire or XFX.
- Great overclocking
- High performance
- Eyefinity gaming
- New architecture
- Zero Core power
- Noise improvement
- Cooling Performance
- Power Consumption