X79 / Z68 / 990FX CrossFireX HD 6970 x3 Performance Analysis

We throw our three Sapphire HD 6970s into the new X79 platform and see how performance goes.

14 minutes & 59 seconds read time

Introduction and The Package


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At the launch of the Bulldozer platform we grabbed three HD 6970s and put them into our Crosshair V Formula and then proceeded to compare the performance of our new Bulldozer platform against our established Sandy Bridge one. A bit like when we saw the gaming performance in our original Intel Core i7 3960X EE Review, we see that for the most part, gaming performance amongst the three platforms are quite similar.

When we threw three cards into the mix on our two platforms, though, we found that the Z68 performance was superior in many areas, including at the higher resolution which is where you tend to be more GPU limited than CPU limited.

Hearing the thoughts on the new Sandy Bridge-E platform from users has been quite interesting to be honest. A lot of people tend to think that the platform is quite over rated because of the fact that gaming performance hasn't really improved amongst the Sandy Bridge Platform.

The bottom line all along has been that you're not going to see any improvement in video card performance unless you're hitting a CPU limitation. With how intensive games are these days, hitting a CPU limitation becomes harder and harder - even more so when you start to throw ultra-high resolutions into the mix.

Today we'll be looking at the performance of our X79 platform with the three Sapphire HD 6970s on hand. Because there's not a lot more that needs to be said, we can really just get into the testbed side of things and cover that quickly before we get into the performance side then wrap everything up.

So with that all said and done, let's get into the test system setup and see just what exactly is going on here today with CrossFireX performance on the new X79 platform.

Test System Setup

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We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: Intel, ASUS, Sapphire and Corsair.

Today we're looking at three platforms in the form of our 990FX Crosshair V Formula with the AMD FX-8150, Z68 Maximus IV Extreme-Z with the Intel i7 2600k and finally our X79 Rampage IV Extreme with the brand new Intel i7 3960X.

Like our original article, we'll be running all our platforms overclocked and they will all be running at different speeds. The idea behind this is that we've got three flagship platforms and our goal is to show you how each platform will actually perform. We saw some people complain about the fact that it was unfair for the AMD platform because it was clocked 440MHz lower than the 2600k.

The problem is, if we clocked our 2600k and 3960X at the maximum speed we could get out of the FX-8150, it's unfair for the Intel platforms. The other thing is, you're not going to buy a 2600k or 3960X and go, 'well I'm going to clock it 400MHz lower because that's all the AMD platform can do'. The problem is, people will continue to not read these words and will continue to complain. In the end, though, for people who have taken the time to read this, they'll have an understanding of why we've chosen to do what we did.

Anyway, before we get into everything, we've got to cover the clocks. The 2600k is running at 5.2GHz while our FX-8150 is running at 4.76GHz. This brings us to our i7 3960X which actually finds itself sitting almost directly in the middle of the two platforms coming in at an even 5GHz.

At the moment we're finding that the 2600k continues to offer us a higher overclock than the 3960X and it will be interesting to see what happens in the performance side of things. During our original testing we found that at stock the i7 3960X offered superior performance when compared to the 2600k at 5.2GHz; this was in tasks that were so much more CPU intensive. It will be interesting to see what happens in this situation when we've got three video cards running.

Let's get started!

The FPS Numbers Explained

When we benchmark our video cards and look at the graphs, we aim to get to a certain level of FPS which we consider playable. While many may argue that the human eye can't see over 24 FPS or 30 FPS, any true gamer will tell you that as we climb higher in Frames Per Seconds (FPS), the overall gameplay feels smoother. There are three numbers we're looking out for when it comes to our benchmarks.

30 FPS - It's the minimum number we aim for when it comes to games. If you're not dropping below 30 FPS during games, you're going to have a nice and smooth gaming experience. The ideal situation is that even in a heavy fire fight, the minimum stays above 30 FPS making sure that you can continue to aim easily or turn the corner with no dramas.

60 FPS - It's the average we look for when we don't have a minimum coming at us. If we're getting an average of 60 FPS, we should have a minimum of 30 FPS or better and as mentioned above, it means we've got some smooth game play happening.

120 FPS - The new number that we've been hunting down over recent months. If you're the owner of a 120 Hz monitor, to get the most out of it you want to get around the 120 FPS mark. Moving from 60 FPS / 60 Hz to 120 FPS / 120 Hz brings with it a certain fluidity that can't really be explained, but instead has to be experienced. Of course, if you're buying a 120 Hz monitor to take advantage of 3D, an average of 120 FPS in our benchmark means that in 3D you will have an average of 60 FPS, which again means you should expect some smooth gameplay.

3DMark 11

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1

Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com

Product Homepage: http://www.3dmark.com/3dmark11/

Buy It Here

3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world's most popular benchmark. Designed to measure your PC's gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

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We can see in both 3DMark 11 presets the boost in performance as we move through the different setups. Under the Performance preset you can really see a nice boost in performance over the 2600k setup that is actually running 200MHz higher.

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.5

Developer Homepage: http://www.unigine.com

Product Homepage: http://unigine.com/press-releases/091022-heaven_benchmark//

New benchmark grants the power to unleash the DirectX 11 potential in the gift wrapping of impressively towering graphics capabilities. 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 ensured 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 extend and exhibiting the possibilities of enriching 3D gaming.

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Under Heaven we can see that performance is a little stronger on our X79 platform, but there's not a major difference present here. Let's get into some real world benchmarks.

Benchmarks - Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo

Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test

Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com/UK/default.aspx

Product Homepage: http://www.hawxgame.com/

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 is an arcade-style flight action game developed by Ubisoft Romania and published by Ubisoft. The game is the sequel to Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X., released in 2009.

The game begins with Colonel David Crenshaw participating in a routine patrol mission in the Middle East. After halting an insurgent attack, a volley of missiles is fired at the Air Force base that Crenshaw was stationed at, with one of the missiles disabling Crenshaw's aircraft, resulting Crenshaw being in enemy captivity. A joint strike force composed of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and a Ghost Recon squad executes an operation to rescue Crenshaw. In Scotland, Royal Navy Pilot Colin Munro encounters an unidentified passenger aircraft that explodes from an on-board bomb when undergoing training exercise. In Russia, an air force squadron led by Colonel Denisov and Captain Dmitri Sokov engages separatist aircraft but is ordered to retreat from the region after numerous Russian military installations have been attacked.

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Under H.A.W.X. 2 we can see that all platforms across the board give us really strong performance, but the results are really interesting. You can see that even though our i7 3960X is clocked 200MHz slower than the 2600k, the performance is massive here out of the X79 platform.

Benchmarks - Mafia II

Mafia II

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.2kczech.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.mafia2game.com/

Buy It Here

Mafia II is a third-person action-adventure video game, the sequel to Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven. It is developed by 2K Czech, previously known as Illusion Softworks, and is published by 2K Games. The game is set from 1943 to 1951 in Empire Bay (the name is a reference to New York's state nickname "The Empire State"), a fictional city based on San Francisco and New York City, with influences from Chicago and Detroit. The game features a completely open-ended game map of 10 square miles. No restrictions are included from the start of the game. There are around 50 vehicles in the game, as well as licensed music from the era.

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Looking above, we have the exact definition of a GPU limitation as both our Intel setups perform almost identical to each other. The AMD performance here is what's really interesting. It seems to hit a wall really early and while 73 FPS is a good number, if you're using a 120Hz monitor, it's a lot lower than what you'd hope, especially when you're getting 120 FPS on the Intel platforms.

Benchmarks - Lost Planet 2

Lost Planet 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark - Test A Scene 1

Developer Homepage: http://www.capcom.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.lostplanet2game.com/

Lost Planet 2 is a third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition which is also made by Capcom, taking place ten years after the events of the first game, on the same fictional planet. The story takes place back on E.D.N. III 10 years after the events of the first game. The snow has melted to reveal jungles and more tropical areas that have taken the place of more frozen regions. The plot begins with Mercenaries fighting against Jungle Pirates. After destroying a mine, the Mercenaries continue on to evacuate the area, in which a Category-G Akrid appears and attacks them. After being rescued, they find out their evacuation point (Where the Category-G appeared) was a set-up and no pick up team awaited them. The last words imply possible DLC additions to the game, "There's nothing to be gained by wiping out snow pirates... unless you had some kind of grudge."

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We can see under Lost Planet 2, performance on the 3960X is a bit higher at both resolutions, but there's not a huge difference. We again see that while the clock speed on our 3960X is 200MHz slower than the 2600k, the new Intel platform is not only able to offer performance that matches the Z68 one, but actually manages to beat it which gives us a good idea that it's not always just about the raw MHz.

Benchmarks - Aliens vs. Predator

Aliens vs. Predator

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.rebellion.co.uk/

Product Homepage: http://www.sega.com/games/aliens-vs-predator/

Aliens vs. Predator is a science fiction first-person shooter video game, developed by Rebellion Developments, the team behind the 1999 original PC game, and published by Sega for Microsoft Windows, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. The game is based on the Alien vs. Predator franchise, a combination of the characters and creatures of the Alien franchise and the Predator franchise. There are three campaigns in the game, one for each race/faction (the Predators, the Aliens and the Colonial Marines), that, while separate in terms of individual plot and gameplay, form one overarching storyline.

Following the storyline of the campaign modes comes the multiplayer aspect of the game. In this Multiplayer section of the game, players face off in various different gametypes in various different ways.

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Looking at Aliens vs. Predator, we can see across the board that performance between all three setups is pretty much identical. We again see what exactly a GPU limitation looks like.

Benchmarks - Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.4a-games.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.thqnordic.com/

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 Ukraine and released in March 2010 for Microsoft Windows and Xbox 360.[3] In March 2006, 4A Games announced a partnership with Glukhovsky to collaborate on the game.[4] The game was announced at the 2009 Games Convention in Leipzig;[5] a first trailer came along with the announcement.[6] A sequel was announced, currently titled Metro: Last Light.

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Metro 2033 is one of the most intensive games in our line-up and you can see that on our Intel platforms we have a GPU limitation as we hit a wall at around the exact same point. On the other hand, we can see that we hit a wall a lot earlier on the AMD platform; we can see exactly the kind of performance we can get out of the three cards in CrossFireX, so we can ultimately see the CPU limitation that's present on the AMD platform.

Benchmarks - Dirt 3

Dirt 3

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.codemasters.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.dirt3game.com/

DiRT 3 boasts more cars, more locations, more routes and more events than any other game in the series, including over 50 rally cars representing the very best from five decades of the sport. With more than double the track content of 2009's hit, DiRT 3 will see players start at the top as a professional driver, with a top-flight career in competitive off-road racing complimented by the opportunity to express themselves in Gymkhana-style showpiece driving events.

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We can see a bit of extra performance out of the X79 platform here at the lower resolution, but not a lot between both setups at all.

Benchmarks - Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01

Timedemo or Level Used: Ranch Long

Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.farcry2.com/

Buy It Here

The Dunia Engine was built specifically for Far Cry 2 by the award-winning Ubisoft Montreal development team. It delivers the most realistic destructible environments, amazing special effects such as dynamic fire propagation and storm effects, real-time night-and-day cycle, dynamic music system, non-scripted enemy A.I. and so much more.

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Under Far Cry 2 you can see what a CPU limitation looks like with there being a massive performance difference at 2560 x 1600 between both Intel setups and a big difference between the Intel and AMD setup at both resolutions.

We can clearly see that across the board we've got really strong numbers from both platforms, but the Intel numbers are going to look a lot more attractive for people who are going down the 120Hz monitor path.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF

High Quality AA and AF

Our high quality tests let us separate the men from the boys and the ladies from the girls. If the cards weren't struggling before they will start to now.

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Cranking up the detail, we can see that the Intel platforms continue to reign supreme. You can also see that we still manage to see a strong boost in performance against the Z68 one under Far Cry 2, but our other two tests see performance is pretty similar to each other.

Power Consumption Tests

Using our new PROVA Power Analyzer WM-01 or "Power Thingy" as it has become quickly known as to our readers, we are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into AC wall socket).

There are a few important notes to remember though; while our maximum power is taken in 3DMark06 at the same exact point, we have seen in particular tests the power being drawn as much as 10% more. We test at the exact same stage every time; therefore tests should be very consistent and accurate.

The other thing to remember is that our test system is bare minimum - only a SSD hard drive is used with a single CD ROM and minimal cooling fans.

So while the system might draw 400 watts in our test system, placing it into your own PC with a number of other items, the draw is going to be higher.

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The power numbers are really interesting here - you can see that the AMD platform is extremely efficient when you're looking at idle. The issue is at load it sits in between the two setups and the performance is clearly the worst when looking at them, even if we do see some great performance from the platform.

The power draw at load is highest for the X79 platform, but that doesn't come as much of a surprise. The worst thing is probably the idle power usage which sits 110w higher than the AMD setup and 60w higher than the Z68 one, which for the most part offers us very similar performance.

Final Thoughts

To be honest, I do find myself a little surprised with the performance of the new X79 platform here. For the most part I'd thought we'd see both the X79 platform and the Z68 one perform almost identical to each other. You can see that a number of times the X79 platform is able to offer us some exceptional performance increases.

The big problem, though, is that when you really start to break down the numbers we see that the difference between playable setups and setups that aren't is extremely minimal, especially when it comes to comparing the two Intel platforms to each other.

If you look at our Intel setups against the AMD one, you can see at times, if you're a 120Hz monitor user the Intel one is going to give you the best experience and if you're going to be going down the path of three video cards and 120Hz monitors, you're more than likely going to be looking at an Intel setup.

I suppose the problem is, what setup do you buy? The more expensive X79 one? or the better valued Z68 one? Turn off any FPS counter and start to play games on a 2560 x 1600 monitor or a 120Hz 1920 x 1080 monitor and you'll probably struggle to tell which system is the X79 one and which is the Z68 one.

That in itself is probably enough to answer which one to choose. The problem is if you move away from the 3960X and move into a 3930k, the price difference between both systems changes a lot. Then you look at the fact that the new X79 platform is superior in a number of other areas when compared to the Z68 one, especially in those CPU intensive tasks.

The platform also offers more expansion for RAM thanks to a lot of boards offering us eight DIMM slots. You've also got more expansion for Video Cards with a number of X79 boards supporting four video cards without the need to have an NF200 chip.

If you go into the argument of newer more intensive games like Battlefield 3, you'll probably find that games like Metro 2033 continue to be just as intensive if not more so. Along with that the more intensive the game, the more important the VGA setup is over the CPU one.

Looking at just the Intel platforms, the better valued setup is the Z68 one; you can't deny that, especially if you're looking at a machine purely from a gaming point of view. The X79 platform is the faster one, though, and with a i7 3930k, the pricing will look a lot more attractive.

The other thing you have to think about is if you're going to be spending the kind of money that is associated with three high end cards, you're probably going to be also more inclined to go down the path of the X79 platform with 16GB of 2133MHz RAM. Along with that, you have to remember like we've mentioned before, the X79 platform will be superior in stuff like encoding, image manipulation and image rendering. Overall the X79 platform is going to be faster than a Z68 one. In gaming it's going to offer similar to slightly better performance. In those CPU intensive benchmarks, though, we will continue to see the X79 offer huge performance increases over the Z68 one.

The path you will go down will probably be dictated mostly by the amount of money you have. If you're not too worried about that, though, then it's more than likely going to come down what you do with your computer. Focused on just gaming, you'll more than likely end up with the Z68 platform. Wanting something that is going to be overall faster in tasks outside of gaming while also offering fantastic gaming performance, the X79 platform will probably be the one you end up with.

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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