Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 3GB Video Cards in CrossFire

We got a new Sapphire HD 7970 video card into the labs and start to test CrossFire performance of the brand new HD 7970 GPU from AMD.

Manufacturer: Sapphire
16 minutes & 27 seconds read time

Introduction and The Package

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We're slowly working our way through our HD 7970s which we have on hand. We started off by checking out the reference card from AMD to find out the kind of performance was on offer from the new AMD model. We then checked out the first card that stepped away from the reference cooler; the XFX HD 7970 3GB Black Edition Double Dissipation.

After that we moved onto the HIS HD 7970 3GB and took the time to overclock it to see just what kind of potential was on offer from the brand new model. Today the Sapphire HD 7970 3GB showed up and it was time to see what happens when we finally put together a pair of these new cards and see what kind of performance we're able to get out of the new models when in CrossFire.

As always, before we get into the performance side of things, we've got to take a closer look at the box and the package before we take a closer look at the card itself. Once we've done that we'll quickly cover the specifications and make sure CrossFire is working before we get into the testbed side of things and of course check out the performance.

The Package

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Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 3GB Video Cards in CrossFire 04

Checking out the box there's nothing too out of the ordinary going on. We've got the brand and model on the front along with some of the main features highlighted including the 3GB of GDDR5 running on a 384-bit bus. Turning over expands on some of the features a bit more and gives us a bit of an idea what's going on with the package.

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Checking out the package we've got the typical paperwork including a key to become a Sapphire Select Club Gold Member. Also above you can see a CrossFire Bridge, DVI to VGA connector and full length HDMI cable. Thinking the package was a little light I double checked with Sapphire to see what came in the package. Unfortunately the card had done the rounds and the last place that had it didn't put everything back in. Along with what you can see above we've also got a MiniDP to Single Link DVI Active Adapter, HDMI to DVI Adapter and a MiniDP to DP connector.

It's worth noting that Sapphire is the first company to include a MiniDP to DP connector, as we've been saying all along, if you're going to make use of a DisplayPort cable, it will come in extremely handy and prevent the need of having to purchase one separately.

The Card & Specifications

The Card

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Moving away from the bundle and onto the video card you're going to notice the familiar look that's present thanks to the use of that reference cooler again. The only difference is of course the sticker that's installed which in this case has Sapphire HD 7970 written on it. The reference design is exactly what we want to use today since we want to run two of these cards in CrossFire.

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Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 3GB Video Cards in CrossFire 08

Taking a quick look around the card you can see our two PCIe power connectors at the back in the form of a single 8-Pin and single 6-Pin. Closer to the front we've got our two CrossFire connectors which we'll be making use of today along with the BIOS switch we've seen on all the HD 7970s we've looked at so far.

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Finishing off with the IO side of things finds two MiniDP ports, HDMI and a Dual Link DVI connector. The top half is of course a vent that helps let the hot air escape. While this overall fan design with this design tends to be a little louder, when moving to a multi GPU setup, the fact that it pushes the hot air straight out the back of the case, verse just pushing it around the case, tends to result in better cooling numbers.


Firing up GPU-Z it comes as no surprise that the default clocks of the card are in line with the reference model and that means that the core comes in at 925MHz while the 3GB of GDDR5 memory carries a clock of 5500MHz QDR.

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The main thing we want to look at above is to make sure that CrossFire is up and running and as you can see down the bottom under the CrossFire section, it's of course enabled via two GPUs, which is exactly what we want to see. Of course the only real way to make sure everything is working is to get into the benchmark side of things, before we do that let's just quickly look over our testbed.

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 the other HD 7970 reviews we've done over the past few weeks we have our X79 / 3960X rig setup.

On the card front we've got the GTX 570 and GTX 580 from MSI and on the AMD side of things we've got the HD 6970, HD 6990 and of course the HD 7970 which is what we'll mainly be comparing our CrossFire setup against today as we want to find out just what kind of performance increase adding a second card does for us.

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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Straight away we can see the performance of the CrossFire HD 7970 setup as it shoots to the front of the pack. Compared to a single HD 6990 we can see that performance sits about 40% higher and compared to the single HD 7970 we're around that 90% mark that we love to see when throwing a second card into the mix.

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 the Tessellation intensive Heaven Benchmark we again see some awesome performance out of the CrossFire setup that equates to gains of almost 100%. You can see the dual GPU HD 7970 setup absolutely crushes the HD 6990.

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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Firing up H.A.W.X. 2 we can see some massive performance out of the setup, but not quite double the performance that we saw under Heaven when looking at 1680 x 1050 and 1920 x 1200.

Of course when we jump up to the much more intensive 2560 x 1600 resolution we see a performance increase that equates to exactly double the performance.

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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In our other HD 7970 reviews we had mentioned that the 119 FPS wall that AMD have been hitting since launch of Mafia II didn't exist anymore. Checking out the CrossFire results it looks like we've still got a wall, but its closer to the 140 FPS mark. Because of this we don't see massive gains at the lower resolutions; moving to 2560 x 1600, though, we do see a strong boost in performance, just not quite the 90% - 100% increase we've seen in a couple of other benchmarks.

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 over to something super intensive like Lost Planet 2 we can just see some massive performance gains across the board with the CrossFire setup not having an issue dealing with the intensity of this game.

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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Moving into Aliens vs. Predator we continue to see the massive boost in performance which equates to gains of around 100% across the board at all resolutions.

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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Checking out Just Cause 2 we continue to see those massive gains across the board, moving to 2560 x 1600 we can see the increase is actually just over 100% which is no doubt because of a slight bit of fluctuation in our benchmark.

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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Moving into the really intensive Metro 2033 we can see that the CrossFire HD 7970 setup just has no issues dealing with a game like this. We've got such strong FPS that you can see if you're on a 120 Hz screen you're going to have no problem with silky smooth FPS at 1920 x 1080. On the percentage front we can see some strong gains at 1920 x 1200 and 1680 x 1050, not quite the 100% gains we've seen in some of the other benchmarks.

Moving to 2560 x 1600, though, we can see a massive jump in performance moving from 55 FPS to 101 FPS which sits around that 90% mark.

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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Looking across the board we continue to see that awesome performance at all resolution with strong gains being seen at each. This is great news for people on massive monitors or people who want to make sure that they've got the perfect FPS to make use of that 120Hz monitor they've bought.

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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Strong FPS across the board and it seems we hit a bit of a wall at the 151 FPS minimum. What's cool is that compared to the HD 6970 at 2560 x 1600, the minimum is 3x that when running in CrossFire.

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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Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 3GB Video Cards in CrossFire 31
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A single HD 7970 already handled our AA benchmarks fairly well, throwing a second card into the mix, though, and it shows the power of a CrossFire HD 7970 setup, as it just eats through the benchmarks here.

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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Looking at the temperature of the hottest card it's surprising to see that it's not as bad as I thought it would be. Idle heat does sit a little higher, but overall we can see that the setup runs a single degree cooler then the HD 6990.

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 move up a little bit, but they continue to be at a very bearable level coming in lower than a single card heavily overclocked and a good chunk lower than the HD 6990.

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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Moving into the power draw we can see this setup of course jumps to the front of the pack, it's nothing to serious and a good 800 watt power supply isn't going to have a single issue dealing with it.

Final Thoughts

Before we move into analyzing the CrossFire performance let's first just go over the Sapphire HD 7970 3GB itself. Being a reference card there's not a lot to be surprised about. We've of course got the reference cooler and reference clocks- this isn't a bad thing as we know how strong the performance of the new HD 7970 3GB is when running by itself.

On the bundle front the Sapphire package is probably one of the stronger one thanks to the extra cables included, especially the MiniDP to DP one which as we've mentioned so many times will come in extremely handy if you're using a DisplayPort monitor. On the pricing front the $559.99 US tag isn't a surprise and pretty much lines up with what AMD said the card would come in at during launch time. On the stock front we're seeing supply come in and out quite quickly, you just need to keep an eye out and you shouldn't run into to many problems when it comes getting one.

Moving onto the CrossFire performance of the cards - wow! We heard that the launch driver that came with our HD 7970s wasn't a CrossFire optimized version, but looking at the benchmark results, we'd be more inclined to think that the driver probably isn't the most optimized one when we move to three and four card setups. Looking at the performance of the two card setup here today we can see that it's amazing with gains of 100% not being uncommon at all, especially when we move up to 2560 x 1600.

For anyone on a single monitor, be it a 30" 2560 x 1600 or 24" 1920 x 1080 120Hz, there doesn't seem to be much reason to move past two HD 7970s. The only reason you'd probably want to go higher is if you wanted to move past all the maxed in game detail and push AA right up. If that's going to be worth paying another $559 US for, you'll probably only know that as dropping over $1,500 US on a VGA setup is a large investment. Still, in the coming weeks, we'll see just how performance looks when we move to three and four card setups and see just how the scaling is on that front.

The only thing we'd liked to have seen from Sapphire is a card that moved away from the reference cooler at launch. They tend to be one of the quicker companies when it comes to non-reference coolers, but we haven't really seen much about them. The good news is, I've heard a little bit and hopefully we won't be far away from a Sapphire HD 7970 that not only carries with it a new cooler, but also a nice out of the box overclock. The one thing I hope we really see from Sapphire is the introduction of an ATOMIC model again, which was completely skipped during the whole HD 6000 series. Hopefully we won't see that happen this time around with the HD 7000 series, especially since it's a true next-generation video card.

The Sapphire HD 7970 3GB is another reference card that's going to perform just as you'd expect. The biggest issue with the Sapphire HD 7970 3GB here today is that it will probably make you want to jump down the expensive CrossFire path. This is a great thing for your games, but probably not the best news for your wallet as the setup would come in at just over $1100 US.

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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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