SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC 3GB
The SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC 3GB GDDR5 graphics card is said to be one of the best AMD Radeon HD 7970 graphics card on the market today, so when we were able to get one in for testing we couldn't say no. The SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC 3GB stands out from the crowd with a factory overclock and a custom GPU cooler that looks awesome. This card doesn't have just one factory overclock though as SAPPHIRE loaded up two BIOS versions on this card and both feature different clock frequencies! The first offers a mild overclock of 950MHz on the core and 1425MHz on the memory and the other is more aggressive at 1000MHz on the core and 1450MHz on the memory. AMD just last week announced the AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition, but cards like the SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC 3GB have already been running at or above the 1GHz mark for many months now.
Just taking a quick glance at the SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC 3GB you should be able to see that this card uses dual-extractor cooling technology or Dual-X for short. This GPU cooler has 5 massive copper heatpipes topped with dual 90mm axial-flow fans to run quiet during normal operating conditions, yet still handle the heat when under full load. The fan shroud is made from plastic, but it is solid feeling when you pick it up and hold the card.
Sapphire currently offers three AMD Radeon HD 7970 cards, so their product stack isn't too confusing to understand. You have a standard clocked card available with the AMD reference design cooler or the Sapphire Dual-X GPU cooler. You then have the top end card that has the Dual-X GPU cooler and it comes with the core and memory clocks factory overclocked.
Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 Video Cards:
- Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 3GB (21197-00-40G) - 925MHz Core Clock
- Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 3GB Dual-X(11196-02-40G) - 925MHz Core Clock
- Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 3GB Dual-X OC Version (11197-01-40G) - 950MHz/1000MHz Core Clock
Turning the Sapphire HD 7970 OC Edition video card over you can see that it doesn't have a back plate or any of the GDDR5 memory chips on the back of the black colored PCB. The serial number sticker is the most important thing that is located on the back of this card. This number is critical if you plan on ever RMA'ing it under the 2-year limited warranty period should anything ever go wrong. The PCB of the card measures ~10.50" in length and stands at ~4.75" in height. It should be noted that the black plastic fan shroud extends past the PCB, so the true length of the card is ~11.25" in length. Sapphire is using PCB model number 109-C38637-00 in case you are curious or want to know what water blocks are compatible.
With the video card flipped upside down you can better see the five copper heatpipes that help keep the 'Tahiti XT' GPU nice and cool. The Dual-X cooling solution is one of the more impressive GPU coolers that we have seen.
The SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 7970 OC has a pair of mini-DisplayPort 1.2
connectors, a full size HDMI 1.4a output for 3D video (Blu-ray 3D)
support, and a dual-link DVI-I when it comes to video outputs. The AMD
Radeon HD 7900 series supports up to six DisplayPort displays by
"daisy chaining" them to two mini-DisplayPort outputs.
The SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 7970 OC 3GB has two CrossFire interconnects and you can link up to four of these cards together for improved performance. Like many other Radeon HD 7970 cards that we have seen in the past, SAPPHIRE is using the BIOS switch and the card has two BIOS versions on it. On the OC edition that we are reviewing here today, the second BIOS is pre-programmed to allow a higher maximum overclock and more aggressive fan profile.
SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 7970 OC 3GB BIOS 1:
The first BIOS is clocked at 950MHz on the core and 1425MHz on the 3GB of GDDR5 memory. GPU-Z reports a texture fillrate of 121.5 GTexel/s with a memory bandwidth of 273.6GB/s.
SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 7970 OC 3GB BIOS 2:
The second BIOS is clocked at 100MHz on the core and 1450MHz on the 3GB of GDDR5 memory. GPU-Z reports a texture fillrate of 128.0 GTexel/s with a memory bandwidth of 278.4GB/s.
The Sapphire Radeon HD 7950 has one 6-pin and one 8-pin PCIe power connector located along the top of the PCB that need to be hooked up. SAPPHIRE says that the Radeon HD 7970 OC requires a 500W or greater power supply with one 75W 6-pin PCIe connector and one 150W 8-pin PCIe connector for proper operation.
Let's take a look at the retail box and bundle then jump into game testing!
Retail Box & Bundle
The retail packaging for Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 OC video card looks pretty nice and has a female military character on the front that will be sure to catch your eye on store shelves. The front of the box clearly lists the key features of this AMD Radeon HD 7970 along with the unique Sapphire features like the fact that this card is overclocked, comes with the TriXX software utility and has dual fans and dual BIOS versions.
On the back of the retail box you have the in-depth details on many of the features for the AMD Radeon 7970, a paragraph by Sapphire telling you this card is the best thing since sliced bread. Notice we have the backside of the woman on the front of the box. Those graphics designers are getting tricky!
Inside the box you'll find the retail bundle that Sapphire includes with the purchase of this card. You'll find a a flier for other Sapphire products, a quick install guide, the driver disc, a CrossFireX bridge interconnect, a DVI-to-VGA adapter, a 4-pin molex to 6-pin PCIe power adapter, a dual 4-pin molex to 8-pin PCIe power adapter, a mini-DisplayPort to DVI adapter, a mini-DisplayPort to HDMI adapter, a HDMI cable and a case badge. Retailers like Newegg are also including three free games with this card (Dirt Showdown, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Nexuiz) in the form of a game coupon while supplies last. These games have a full retail value of $99 and with them it makes this cards bundle one of the best available on the market.
The Test System
Before we look at the numbers, let's take a brief look at the test
system that was used. All testing was done using a fresh install of Windows
7 Ultimate 64-bit and benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no
other software programs running.
Drivers used for testing:
- Catalyst 12.7 Beta - Sapphire Radeon HD 7970
- Catalyst 12.4 WHQL - AMD Radeon HD 6990
- Catalyst 12.2 WHQL - MSI Radeon HD 7970
- GeForce 301.24 - GeForce GTX 680 & GeForce GTX 580
- GeForce 301.34 - GeForce GTX 690 & GeForce GTX 670
Intel X79/LGA2011 Platform
The Intel X79 platform that we used to test the all of the video cards was running the ASUS P9X79 Deluxe motherboard with BIOS 0906 that came out on 12/22/2011. The Corsair Vengeance 16GB 1866MHz quad channel memory kit was set to 1866MHz with 1.5v and 9-10-9-27 1T memory timings. The OCZ Vertex 3 240GB SSD was run with firmware version 2.15.
|The Intel X79 Test Platform|
Intel Core i7-3960X
ASUS P9X79 Deluxe
16GB Corsair 1866MHz
OCZ Vertex 3 240GB
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
Video Cards Tested:
- MSI Radeon HD 7970 Lightning 3GB - 1075MHz Core / 1400MHz Memory
- Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 OC 3GB - 1000MHz Core / 1500MHz Memory
- Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 3GB - 950MHz Core / 1400MHz Memory`
- Sapphire HD 7950 3GB - 950MHz Core / 1425MHz Memory
- AMD Radeon HD 6990 OC 4GB - 880MHz Core / 1375MHz Memory
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 690 4GB - 915MHz Core / 1502MHz Memory
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 2GB - 1006MHz Core / 1502MHz Memory
- EVGA GeForce GTX 680 SC 2GB - 967MHz Core / 1552MHz Memory
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 2GB - 915MHz Core / 1502MHz Memory
Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 OC GPU-Z Information:
Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 OC BIOS 2:
Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham City is a 2011 action-adventure video game developed by Rocksteady Studios. It is the sequel to the 2009 video game Batman: Arkham Asylum, based on the DC Comics superhero Batman. The game was released by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows. The PC and Onlive version was released on November 22, 2011.
Batman: Arkham City uses the Unreal Engine 3 game engine with PhysX. For benchmark testing of Batman: Arkham City we disabled PhysX to keep it fair and ran the game in DirectX 11 mode with 8x MSAA enabled and all the image quality features cranked up. You can see all of the exact settings in the screen captures above.
Battlefield 3 (BF3) is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. The game was released in North America on October 25, 2011 and in Europe on October 28, 2011. It does not support versions of Windows prior to Windows Vista as the game only supports DirectX 10 and 11. It is a direct sequel to 2005's Battlefield 2, and the eleventh installment in the Battlefield franchise. The game sold 5 million copies in its first week of release and the PC download is exclusive to EA's Origin platform, through which PC users also authenticate when connecting to the game.
Battlefield 3 debuts the new Frostbite 2 engine. This updated Frostbite engine can realistically portray the destruction of buildings and scenery to a greater extent than previous versions. Unlike previous iterations, the new version can also support dense urban areas. Battlefield 3 uses a new type of character animation technology called ANT. ANT technology is used in EA Sports games, such as FIFA, but for Battlefield 3 is adapted to create a more realistic soldier, with the ability to transition into cover and turn the head before the body.
This game looks great and we tested with the highest settings possible. This means we used 'ultra' settings and really punished the cards being tested. We ran FRAPS for two minutes on the single player map called 'Rock and a Hard Place' for benchmarking.
Benchmark Results: The SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC 3GB did great in Battlefield 3 and performed slightly slower than the MSI R7970 Lightning 3GB video card that costs $50 more. At 1920x1080 there is a 1.4 FPS difference and that is clearly not worth $50.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the third game in the Deus Ex first-person role-playing video game series, and a prequel to the original game. Announced on May 27, 2007, Human Revolution was developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Square Enix. It was released in August 2011. Human Revolution contains elements of first-person shooters and role-playing games, set in a near-future where corporations have extended their influence past the reach of global governments. The game follows Adam Jensen, the security chief for one of the game's most powerful corporations, Sarif Industries. After a devastating attack on Sarif's headquarters, Adam is forced to undergo radical surgeries that fuse his body with mechanical augmentations, and he is embroiled in the search for those responsible for the attack.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution uses a modified Crystal Dynamics Crystal game engine, which some of you might know as the game engine from the last Tomb Raider game title. The game developers did some rather hefty modifications to this engine though as the graphics are superb in this title.
Dirt 3 (stylized DiRT 3) is a rallying video game and the third in the Dirt series of the Colin McRae Rally series, developed and published by Codemasters. However, the "Colin McRae" tag has been completely removed from this iteration. The game was released in Europe and North America on the 24 May 2011.
Dirt3 uses Ego 2.0 Game Technology Engine (more commonly referred to as Ego Engine or EGO, stylised ego), which is a video game engine developed by Codemasters. Ego is a modified version of the Neon game engine that was used in Colin McRae: Dirt and was developed by Codemasters and Sony Computer Entertainment using Sony Computer Entertainment's PhyreEngine cross-platform graphics engine. The Ego engine was developed to render more detailed damage and physics as well as render large-scale environments.
Aerial warfare has evolved. So have you. As a member of the ultra-secret H.A.W.X. 2 squadron, you are one of the chosen few, one of the truly elite. You will use finely honed reflexes, bleeding-edge technology and ultra-sophisticated aircraft - their existence denied by many governments - to dominate the skies. You will do so by mastering every nuance of the world's finest combat aircraft. You will slip into enemy territory undetected, deliver a crippling blow and escape before he can summon a response. You will use your superior technology to decimate the enemy from afar, then draw him in close for a pulse-pounding dogfight. And you will use your steel nerve to successfully execute night raids, aerial refueling and more. You will do all this with professionalism, skill and consummate lethality. Because you are a member of H.A.W.X. 2 and you are one of the finest military aviators the world has ever known. H.A.W.X. 2 was released on November 16, 2010 for PC gamers.
We ran the benchmark in DX11 mode with the image quality settings cranked up as you can see above.
The H.A.W.X. 2 PC game title runs on what looks like seven threads as you can see from the task manager shot seen above that was taken on the test system running the Intel Core i7-3960X processor.
Benchmark Results: In H.A.W.X. II we see the AMD Radeon HD 7970 cards performing at the bottom of the chart, but notice we are getting nearly 100FPS at 2560x1600! This benchmark is pretty easy to run for enthusiast graphics cards, but we still are able to see some good differences between the AMD and NVIDIA cards.
Just Cause 2
Just Cause 2 is a sandbox style action video
game developed by Swedish developer Avalanche Studios and Eidos Interactive, published by Square Enix. It is the sequel to the 2006 video game, Just Cause.
Just Cause 2 employs a new version of the Avalanche Engine,
Avalanche Engine 2.0, which is an updated version of the engine used in Just Cause. The game will be set on the other side of the world, compared to Just Cause, which is on the fictional tropical island of Panau in Southeast Asia. Rico Rodriguez will return as the protagonist, aiming to overthrow the evil dictator Pandak "Baby" Panay and confront his former boss, Tom Sheldon.
Metro 2033 is an action-oriented video game with a combination of survival horror and first-person shooter elements. The game is based on the novel Metro 2033 by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. It was developed by 4A Games in the Ukraine. The game is played from the perspective of a character named Artyom. The story takes place in post-apocalyptic Moscow, mostly inside the metro station where the player's character was raised (he was born before the war, in an unharmed city), but occasionally the player has to go above ground on certain missions and scavenge for valuables.
This is another extremely demanding game. Image quality settings were raised to Very High quality with 4x AA and 16x AF. We turned off PhysX, but turned on DOF (Depth of Field) for benchmarking.
Benchmark Results: The SAPPHIRE HD 7970 HD does great in Metro 2033 and performs just behind the ASUS GeForce GTX 590
3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world’s most popular benchmark for measuring the 3D graphics performance of gaming PCs. 3DMark 11 uses a native DirectX 11 engine designed to make extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11, including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.
We ran 3DMark11 with both the performance and extreme presets to see how our hardware will run.
3DMark11 Performance Benchmark Results:
Futuremark 3DMark11 with the performance preset showed that the SAPPHIRE HD 7970 scores P8560 with the 950MHz BIOS setting and P8913 with the 1000MHz BIOS setting.
3DMark11 Extreme Benchmark Results:
The extreme setting had similar performance results with card scoring X2887 on low and X3010 on high clock speeds.
Unigine Heaven 3.0
The 'Heaven' benchmark that uses the Unigine easily shows off the full potential of DirectX 11 graphics cards. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. With the interactive mode emerging, experience of exploring the intricate world is within reach. Through its advanced renderer, Unigine is one of the first to set precedence in showcasing the art assets with tessellation, bringing compelling visual finesse, utilizing the technology to the full extent and exhibiting the possibilities of enriching 3D gaming. The distinguishing feature of the benchmark is a hardware tessellation that is a scalable technology aimed for automatic subdivision of polygons into smaller and finer pieces so that developers can gain a more detailed look of their games almost free of charge in terms of performance. Thanks to this procedure, the elaboration of the rendered image finally approaches the boundary of veridical visual perception: the virtual reality transcends conjured by your hand.
For this benchmark we used Heaven DX11 Benchmark Version 3.0, which just came out on March 7th, 2012. We haven't run this benchmark in over a year, so it will be interesting to see how this new generation of video cards handles this benchmark. We wanted to see how the cards would do with mild settings, so we disabled AA and AF and set the Tessellation to moderate. We ran the benchmark at 2560x1600, 1920x1200 and 1280x1024 to see how the cards would perform with a wide variety of settings.
With moderate tessellation enabled and AA and AF disabled the benchmark results were very close.
Many feel that tessellation is one of the most important features of game titles today and in the future, so we set tessellation to extreme and maxed out the anti-aliasing at 8x and the anisotropic filtering at 16x. These are as high as you can set the tessellation and image quality settings in Heaven DX11 Benchmark v3.0, so it will really punish these cards.
With the tessellation set to extreme and AA cranked up we really stress the cards memory bandwidth! We see a 1-2 FPS difference between the two BIOS modes on the SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC.
For testing power consumption, we took our test system and plugged it
into a Kill-A-Watt power meter. For idle numbers, we allowed the system
to idle on the desktop for 15 minutes and took the reading. For load
numbers we measured the peak wattage used by the system while running
the OpenGL benchmark FurMark 1.10.0 at 800x600 resolution. We also ran six game titles at 1920x1080 and averaged the peak results recorded the highest Wattage seen on the meter for the gaming results. The AMD Radeon HD 6990 with Catalyst 12.4 WHQL drivers doesn't play nice with Furmark in full-screen mode, so we will not be including those results.
Power Consumption Results: The Sapphire HD 7970 OC was tested at the 950MHz clock mode and was on par with the MSI R7970 Lighting 4GB card in terms of power use. With the Sapphire HD 7970 OC 3GB card in our test system we idled at 106 Watts and peaked at 415 Watts in Furmark. SAPPHIRE recommends a 500W or larger power supply and that recommendation appears to be correct.
Temperature & Noise Testing
Since video card temperatures and the heat generated by next-generation cards have become an area of concern among enthusiasts and gamers, we want to take a closer look at how the graphics cards do at idle, during gaming and finally under a full load.
We recorded temperatures during several scenarios on each of the cards we tested today and the benchmark results are shown above. The SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC had an idle temperature of 34C and ran at 64C during gaming sessions. These temperatures are slightly higher than the MSI R7970 Lighting, but not bad my any means. We wanted to due testing at 1000MHz as well, but we are having a heat wave in our area right now and are having a hard time controlling the temperature of our test lab with everything running as the outside temperature is 103F or 39C.
SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC Furmark:
We recently upgraded our sound meter to an Extech sound level meter with ±1.5dB accuracy that meets Type 2 standards. This meter ranges from 35dB to 90dB on the low measurement range, which is perfect for us as our test room usually averages around 38dB. We measure the sound level two inches above the corner of the motherboard with 'A' frequency weighting. The microphone wind cover is used to make sure no wind is blowing across the microphone, which would seriously throw off the data.
The Sapphire HD 7970 OC 3GB did great in sound testing and runs very quiet. We do notice some choke whine from this card during use though, which was a little annoying. It doesn't 'buzz' or 'whine' at an idle, but when you fire up a game you can hear the chokes humming over the fans!
Overclocking The 7970 OC - How Far Will It Go?
We have overclocked a ton of AMD Radeon HD 7000 series over the past six months, so let's jump head first into this.
The Sapphire HD 7970 OC Edition is already factory overclocked and comes clocked at 1000MHz on the core and 1450MHz on the memory from the start. The reference AMD Radeon HD 7970 that AMD sent us was clocked at 925MHz core and 1375MHz memory, so this card is already overclocked by 8% on the core and 5.5% on the memory. By using CATALYST Control Center (CCC) you can raise or lower the clock frequencies within the parameters set by AMD. For this card AMD set limits for this particular BIOS to 1500MHz on the core and 1950MHz on the memory.
We know this card can do well over those limits, but we used CCC anyway and found that with the power control settings maxed out at 20 we could hit 1145MHz on the core and 1500MHz on the memory before any artifacts started to show up in our benchmarks. This is a great overclock as it is 220MHz or 24% over the reference card clock speed!
To get the most out of the Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 OC 3GB video card we will be using the latest version of SAPPHIRE's TriXX overclocking utility (v4.3.0).
TriXX allows tuning of the GPU voltage as well as core and memory clocks, whilst continuously displaying temperature. You can see the default voltage on our card is set to 1112mV.
Manual control of fan speed is supported, as well as user created fan profiles and the ability to save up to four different performance settings.
The TriXX utility allows for much higher clock speed adjustment since it has GPU voltage adjustment. We didn't play around with overclocking the memory, but we cranked up the voltage to 1287mV and was able to reach 1310MHz on the core clock speed!
This is the first time that we have been able to break 1300MHz on any AMD Radeon HD 7970 graphics card and we have a good half a dozen of them here that we have been tinkering on. Our highest stable overclock was 1310MHz on the core clock and 1500MHz on the memory. This is an increase of 385MHz or 42% on the core clock! Not a bad overclock that was achieved by using a free overclocking utility and no physical mods or extreme cooling measures!
Let's take a look at some Futuremark 3DMark11 on the performance preset to see how the overclock helped performance.
SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC Edition at 950MHz core and 1425MHz memory:
SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC Edition at 1145MHz core and 1500MHz memory:
SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC Edition at 1310MHz core and 1500MHz memory:
We tried out this overclock with Futuremark 3DMark 11 on the performance preset and saw the score go from P8560 to P10738, which is a 25.4% improvements from the cards factory overclocked settings. The SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC Edition is an amazing overclocker and the Dual-X GPU cooler does an excellent job at keeping the card cool and quiet when overclocked at 1310MHz! Overclocking turns this card into what feels like an entirely different video card, so be sure to try it out!
Final Thoughts & Conclusions
The SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC 3GB Edition video card was designed for gamers and the benchmark results show that this card is perfect for serious gamers and performance enthusiasts. The AMD Radeon HD 7970 GPU (Tahiti XT) has been available for six months now and these DirectX 11 graphics cards are still able to impress us each time we use one. SAPPHIRE was able to take this GPU to the next level by adding the Dual-X custom GPU cooler and placing a healthy factory overclock on this card. Those changes are what make this card so great!
For starters the SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC 3GB video card looks amazing thanks to the black PCB and the black GPU cooler. The copper heat pipes sticking out underneath looks awesome as well, but it is a shame that you can't see that when it is installed in our computer.
When it comes to overclocking we found the SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC to be a blast to overclock. The AMD 'Tahiti' core is built on the 28nm manufacturing process and we have found the new Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture very overclocking friendly. In case you forgot, the AMD Radeon HD 7970 reference design runs at 925MHz on the core clock. Using the SAPPHIRE TriXX overclocking utility we were able to hit 1310MHz on the core clock speed! This is a 42% clock frequency increase on the core clock and the first Tahiti XT graphics card that we have broken the 1300MHz barrier with! How can you complain with a 1.3GHz+ core clock speed that was done without any mods on the GPU cooler that came on the card?
Performance aside, the SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC also fared well when it comes to the accessory bundle. SAPPHIRE included all the cables and adapters that you could possibly need and you get three game titles with the purchase of this card (for a limited time). This is a great bundle as not too many cards come with all numerous accessories and multiple game title these days. The warranty on the SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC is two-years.
The only negative thing that we have to point out about the SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC 3GB graphics card is that during use the card has a 'buzz' or 'whine' coming from the ferrite chokes that is rather loud. We searched around and found various people complaining about this on other forums and even Newegg and Amazon customer reviews, so just a heads up. It appears that SAPPHIRE is RMA'ing cards that have loud chokes though and that is a sign of good customer support and we have to respect that.
If you like what you see with the SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC 3GB Edition you can find them online for $479.99 shipped. This is about $50 more than the cheapest priced AMD Radeon HD 7970, but it comes overclocked, looks great, has a custom GPU cooler and is topped off with an amazing bundle.
Legit Bottom Line: The SAPPHIRE HD 7970 OC 3GB video card gave us a look at the full potential of the AMD Radeon HD 7970 GPU and we liked what we saw!