AMD Radeon HD 7870 2GB Reference Video Cards in CrossFire

We pair the brand new AMD Radeon HD 7870 up with a second video card and see how CrossFire performance is on the new model.

Manufacturer: AMD
13 minutes & 54 seconds read time


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Already really impressed with what the new HD 7800 series can offer, it's time to throw a second HD 7870 into the mix and see what kind of performance this $700 CrossFire setup brings to that table. If previous HD 7000 series cards are anything to go by, though, we should get some great performance with impressive scaling.

If you haven't looked at our individual reviews of the new HD 7800 series cards I highly recommend you head on over and check out our thoughts on the new $249 HD 7850 and more expensive $349 HD 7870.

Because we're dealing with reference cards today, and we've already looked at the model there's not a lot we have to do before we get into the testbed side of things. If you want to take a closer look at the cards we're using today then again I recommend you head on over to the standalone reviews we did.

The only thing we need to do is fire up GPU-Z and make sure that everything looks correct. Looking below you can see our cards are clocked at the default clock speeds which put the card at 1000MHz on the core and 4800MHz QDR on the 2GB of GDDR5 memory.

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The other piece of information we want to make sure is correct comes in the form of making sure CrossFire is running. Having a look at the bottom you can see that it's indeed enabled and in the form of 2 GPUs. There's really not much more that has to be said so let's just look at our testbed and the cards we'll be using today in our comparisons before we get into the performance side of things to see what this CrossFire setup can do.

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.

Looking above you can see our testbed with no surprises. Before we get into the performance side of things we want to check out what's going on with the cards we'll be including in our graphs today.

On the single card front we've of course got the HD 7870 which is going to give us an idea of the performance increase we get when throwing a second card into the mix. Along with that we've also got the HD 7950 and HD 7970 from AMD. On the NVIDIA side of things we've got the GTX 570 and GTX 580.

Along with those setups we've also included the HD 7950 and HD 7970 in CrossFire to give us an idea of how far behind the HD 7870 CrossFire sits when compared to its big brother, the HD 7900 series.

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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It's no surprise that straight away we see those massive 3DMark 11 performance gains when moving to the CrossFire setup. We've got some fantastic numbers being seen here for the $700 setup and hopefully this will translate into our game testing later today.

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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Heaven doesn't hold any surprises either with some strong gains again being seen out the gate. We can see that the HD 7950 CF setup offers a decent chunk more performance here, but we'll see how that translates into our game testing from 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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Moving onto H.A.W.X. 2 we can see some massive performance across the board with the highest resolution seeing almost a 100% gain. The only reason we don't see the same percentage gains at the lower resolution is just because the numbers are already so high. Either way, playing H.A.W.X. 2 absolutely maxed out with this setup isn't going to be an issue.

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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Looking at Mafia II numbers we can see we're bouncing off that 130ish FPS wall that's present for AMD cards. At the highest resolution we've got an impressive 113 FPS, though, which sits just 11 FPS behind the HD 7950 CF setup with both offering extremely playable numbers.

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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You can see that when moving to CrossFire we see we're able to move away from scraping that 60 FPS in to having no issue gaming at any resolution with 2560 x 1600 offering us an awesome 90 FPS average.

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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Just like Lost Planet 2 we can see the single card doesn't give us playable numbers at 2560 x 1600 and only scrapes past that 60 FPS average with a 66 FPS average. Throw a second card into the mix, we see gains of 100% and just awesome numbers at every resolution including a nice 80 FPS at 2560 x 1600.

Benchmarks - Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2

Version and / or Patch Used:

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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Moving into Just Cause 2 we follow the trend of these massive performance gains equating to 100% and just playable numbers across the board with a huge 109 FPS at the highest resolution. In single card for you could see that the HD 7870 was falling just shy of 60 FPS coming in at 56 FPS.

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 continues the trend of massive performance gains that helps push out playable FPS at all resolutions. As always, though, the best gains are seen at the highest resolution.

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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Just like we've come to expect, Dirt 3 sees some massive performance gains that also enjoy a move to extremely playable FPS at every resolution. There's little to complain about when it comes to this setup.

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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FarCry 2 offers big gains and you can just see huge numbers across the board. No real surprises, though, as we already had very playable numbers out of the single card setup.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF

High Quality AA and AF

While we test all our games with maximum in-game settings, turning on Anti-Aliasing (AA) and Antistrophic Filtering (AF) helps take the intensity of our testing to another level.

Here we see video cards go from playable FPS to an unplayable FPS and the real power houses continue to help break that 60 FPS mark we always aim for to provide a smooth gaming experience.

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On a single card setup you can see that under something a bit less intensive like FarCry 2 and Mafia II we could get the FPS we wanted on a single HD 7870. Moving to something more intensive like Aliens vs. Predator saw the single card setup fall over.

Throw the second card into the mix, get 100% gains, and as you can see above we've got an awesome 87 FPS average.

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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On the temperature side of things we can see that compared to the single card setup, the hottest card runs only a degree higher at both idle and load which is impressive.

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 jump up just slightly, but nothing major at all. You can see that noise numbers actually line up with the much less powerful HD 7750 CrossFire setup.

Power Consumption Test

Using our 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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Power draw at idle continues to be strong with just 200 watts being drawn. Looking at load we do see a strong jump in power draw coming in at just over 500 watts.

Considering the amount of power coming out of the setup, though, this is still a very impressive number thanks to the 28nm GPU technology.

Final Thoughts

This is a really nice setup and for around $700 total you're getting some amazing power. We didn't talk about it heaps during our graphs, but comparing the setup to the more expensive HD 7900 setups in CrossFire, the results are quite interesting. While for the most part we can see the $900 HD 7950 CrossFire setup comes in about 20% faster than the HD 7870 CF setup, when you start to look at the numbers, you can see there's little difference between then when it comes to our games being playable.

Metro 2033 is one of the most intensive engines on the market and you can see at the highest resolution we got a 79 FPS average out of the HD 7870 CF setup and a 99 FPS average out of the HD 7950 CF setup. On a 2560 x 1600, 60Hz monitor, Metro 2033 is going to feel near identical on both machines making the extra $200 investment hardly worth it for some.

If you want to max out in game settings at 2560 x 1600, I'd suggest the HD 7870 CF setup over the HD 7950 CF setup due to the overall better value. With that said, though, moving to the HD 7950 CF and HD 7970 CF setups is still extremely worth it as we start to move into AA and AF territory or Eyefinity resolutions. If you're only gaming at 1920 x 1080 or 1920 x 1200, though, the HD 7870 CF setup is going to handle games at native resolution extremely well along with the ability to turn on AA and AF.

While expensive, the HD 7870 CF setup sits in a good position between that $500 and $1000 mark. If you want to run absolutely maxed out details at 1920 x 1080 / 1920 x 1200 including AA and AF it's a truly awesome setup that represents the best value for that kind of gaming experience. If you also want uninterrupted 2560 x 1600 performance with game details maxed out and depending on the game itself having AA and AF as an option, it's also another really good choice.

At just $150 more than a single HD 7970, there's some truly amazing value to be had here. If your board supports CrossFire and you're already look at the $500 / $600 market for video cards, it would be really worth considering the HD 7870 CrossFire setup.

The bottom line is that CrossFire doesn't have the same ill effects as it did years ago when we saw it launch. Combined with the fact that AMD are offering us regular driver updates that fix issues, it's just a great setup to have.

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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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