Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 3GB Video Cards in 3-Way CrossFireX

What type of performance does a $1650 AMD GPU setup give you? Check out as we test three new AMD Radeon HD 7970 GPUs in CrossFireX.

Manufacturer: Sapphire
15 minutes & 23 seconds read time


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Since the launch of the AMD Radeon HD 7970 we've looked at the reference model to see how it performs when the card sits on its own. With that done we then took the time to install a second reference design card into the mix and see how performance with the HD 7970 running in CrossFire.

Today we grab a third card and see what happens when we move to a three way CrossFireX setup. Since we've already looked at the Sapphire card in full detail in our CrossFire review mentioned above, we'll be getting into the performance side of things fairly quickly today.

The first thing we need to do is just take a quick look at our testbed, if you've been following our HD 7970 series of content, though, you shouldn't see anything out of the ordinary. Once we've done that we'll move onto the performance of the setup and see how it compares to other HD 7970s we've looked at.

When we've moved away from two cards and onto three and four card setups we've seen that performance can tend to get hit a fair bit. Quite often we don't see the gains we'd like to see and that ultimately makes three and four card setups quite overpriced and sometimes impractical. Still, the HD 7970 has shown us some wonderful performance so far... fingers crossed it translates over to today's 3-Way CrossFireX setup.

Benchmarks - 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 and Corsair.

Like we mentioned in our introduction, if you've been following our HD 7970 content since launch then our setup here won't hold any surprises. If you're new to the party, though, you can see that we use an X79 setup with an i7 3960X clocked at 4.7GHz.

On the comparison front we've got the HD 6970, HD 6990 and GTX 580. The main cards we'll be comparing the three way CrossFireX is going to be the two HD 7970 setups we've got here with the card running by itself and of course a pair of them running in CrossFire mode.

The main thing we want to know is if we move over to a three card setup from a two card one, is the performance there to make it a setup that holds real value? There's of course only one way to find out so let's get into the benchmarks and see just what kind of performance we're able to get out of the setup we've got here today.

Just before we jump into the performance, though, we want to make sure that CrossFireX is running. As you can see below in the GPU-Z screen shot under the CrossFire tab, it is indeed working via three GPUs.

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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.

Benchmarks - 3DMark 11

3DMark 11

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1

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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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3DMark 11 always gives us a great idea how performance is on these big VGA setups, the problem is that 3DMark 11 is of course only a synthetic benchmark. It tends to be something that AMD and NVIDIA optimize for so while we see some awesome performance out the gate here, we've got our fingers crossed it translates when we get into our real-world games.

Benchmarks - Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.5

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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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Moving into Heaven we can see this tessellation heavy benchmark scales extremely well with the three way setup. Like we just said in 3DMark 11, though, let's hope that it translates well into our gaming benchmarks which start on the next page.

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

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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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You can see under H.A.W.X. 2 we saw an excellent performance jump when moving from one to two cards, throwing a third into the mix gives a nice boost in performance, but not the same kind of percentage as we saw when moving to two cards.

The main reason we're not seeing quite the jump here in performance, though, is because we're already dealing with such large numbers. At the most intensive setting we can see that we do indeed get a nice boost in performance at 2560 x 1600, again though it's not quite that 100% increase that we saw out of the other setup.

Benchmarks - Mafia II

Mafia II

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

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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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Under Mafia II we can see we're hitting this wall at the 130 FPS mark. There's nothing between the two and three card setups and you can see the three card setup sits a little lower due to that wall being hit.

A wall has always been present for AMD cards under Mafia II and the HD 7970 has done better at breaking past it. We can see it seems to still clearly be present, though, just higher than the 120 FPS wall that was present on the HD 6000 series.

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

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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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Moving into something a lot more intensive we can see some monster numbers across the board when it comes to Lost Planet 2. I think the most important thing to look at here, though, is the 2560 x 1600 numbers.

Moving to a two way setup provided a 100% increase over the single card setup. Moving to the three way setup we're looking at here brings a 200% increase over the single card setup.

This is exactly what you want to see when adding a third card into the mix. Normally you hope for performance of around the 150% - 160% mark. To see a real 200% increase, though, is just awesome and exactly what we want to see more of in cases like this.

Benchmarks - Aliens vs. Predator

Aliens vs. Predator

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

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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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Comparing the three way setup to the single card setup we can see just unreal performance gains that again equate to 200% more performance like we saw under Lost Planet 2. These results give us extreme confidence in the way AMD is handing CrossFireX performance these days.

Benchmarks - Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2

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Timedemo or Level Used: Dark Tower

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Just Cause 2 employs the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the engine used in Just Cause. The game is set on the other side of the world from the original Just Cause, on the fictional island of Panau in Southeast Asia. Panau has varied terrain, from desert to alpine to rainforest. Rico Rodriguez returns as the protagonist, aiming to overthrow the evil dictator Pandak "Baby" Panay and confront his former mentor, Tom Sheldon.

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3 FPS! That's the amount of FPS shy that the 2560 x 1600 result is from giving us again from a 200% performance increase over the single card setup.

These are just some awesome results under these super intensive game engines at this intensive resolution. It's very hard to fault the performance of CrossFireX when you're seeing this kind of consistency.

Benchmarks - Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

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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 another intensive game and I really thought we'd see some strong performance gains under it, looking above, though, you can see that the adding of a third card ultimately does nothing more for performance with just a slight boost being seen at 2560 x 1600.

It looks like there's just a bit of a wall being hit at around the 130 FPS mark here, a bit like we saw under Mafia II.

Benchmarks - Dirt 3

Dirt 3

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

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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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Dirt 3 unlike Metro 2033 manages to see a nice boost in performance and at the highest resolution we can see we're only 12 FPS shy of what would be a 200% increase over the single card setup.

We also see some strong performance gains at the resolutions below 2560 x 1600, but not quite the same percentage as we see under the most intensive resolution.

Benchmarks - Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01

Timedemo or Level Used: Ranch Long

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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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Looking at FarCry 2 numbers it is clear there's a bit of a wall around the 150 FPS minimum mark and 300 FPS average. Still, I'm not sure these are numbers you'd really be complaining about. This is going to provide some silky smooth gaming performance.

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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Looking at Mafia we can see that 130 FPS wall is being hit, so a third card does almost nothing when it comes to extra performance.

Moving to Aliens vs. Predator, we see an awesome boost in performance and like a couple of other benchmarks, we can see that this equates to an almost 200% performance increase over the single GPU setup.

FarCry 2 sees some awesome performance as well and with AA and AF on, this continues to be a very intensive test, combined with great optimization we can see our minimum FPS increase translates to just over 200% more performance than the single GPU setup.

Temperature Test

The temperature of the core is pulled from MSI Afterburner with the max reading used after a completed run off 3DMark Vantage and the Performance preset.

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Checking out the heat of the card you can see that the hottest card is running pretty warm. The load temperature isn't too bad. The idle test sits significantly higher than the other setups and that's of course got to do with the fact just how cramped the cards are when moving to a CrossFireX setup.

Sound Test

Pulling out the TES 1350A Sound Level Meter we find ourselves quickly yelling into the top of it to see how loud we can be.

After five minutes of that we get a bit more serious and place the device two CM away from the fan on the card to find the maximum noise level of the card when idle (2D mode) and in load (3D mode).

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Noise levels also jump up a bit due to the more cramped setup present; surprisingly we see that it still comes in a little quieter than the HD 6990, which has always been a very loud video card.

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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Checking out the load numbers we can see that the numbers of course jump up a good chunk. Anyone buying this setup is no doubt going to have a quality power supply that can handle it, though.

What's awesome is the idle power draw. AMD has done such a good job with these GPUs with them drawing almost no power at idle, to the point that this setup sits even lower than single GPU setups like the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 570 and GTX 580.

Final Thoughts

We've seen AMD continue to improve CrossFireX performance generation after generation and looking at the performance we've got here today, it's obvious that they've improved CrossFireX performance again when compared to the HD 6000 series of video cards. Under the most intensive situations, though, we see that performance at times sits 200% higher than a single card setup and you honestly can't get a higher percentage than that outside a little bit of fluctuation.

Of course it's not always rosy and at times we see little to no performance gains. The biggest factor when it comes to this, though, is the huge numbers we're already dealing with. Once we get to such a high level of FPS at some of these lower resolutions tests, it's just not possible to keep going up. Mafia II also seems to hit this wall that is only present on AMD cards and while it's not as bad as it was with the HD 6000 series cards, it's still clearly present.

As times goes on we'll see AMD improve the setup more and more and I think the one thing that is really exciting about the performance we're seeing here today isn't what three HD 7970s can do, but the almost "Sneak Peek" kind of preview into what a HD 7990 + HD 7970 setup could look like. The HD 6990 + HD 6970 CrossFireX setup was my favorite performance configuration from the HD 6000 series and looking at three way performance here today, the HD 7990 + HD 7970 should no doubt be the performance setup to own in this generation.

There's little to complain about here when looking at the performance. Sure, it's not perfect, but it's just the nature of the beast when it comes to these three card setups. What we're seeing, though, is that under the most intensive situations, gains of 200% can be seen over a single GPU setup. This is only a good thing when it comes to testing in the most intensive games.

Throw this all in with the fact that AMD are saying that they still don't have an "official" CrossFire driver yet and it's pretty easy to get excited about what's going on. As we see more and more HD 7000 series cards come into the mix, we're no doubt going to be able to see some awesome combinations of cards here.

The setup here today isn't cheap by any means since each card comes in at $549.99 USD. There's actually some value to be had here as adding a third card into the mix adds the kind of extra performance you'd hope it would. Deep pockets only.

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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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