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AMD Radeon HD 7870 2GB Reference Video Card Review

We look at the big brother to the new AMD Radeon HD 7800 series, the HD 7870, and see if it can impress like the smaller HD 7850.
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Published Sun, Mar 4 2012 11:02 PM CST   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:30 PM CDT
Rating: 96%Manufacturer: AMD

Introduction

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Already really impressed with what the AMD HD 7850 2GB is able to offer us, it's time to see what its big brother, the brand new Radeon HD 7870, is able to bring to the table with its higher $349 price tag. If what we've already seen from the new series is anything to go by, though, we're expecting some good things out of the higher end model.

We've mentioned a lot about our thoughts on the HD 7700 series as a whole along with the general thought process on each model and like we've said every time, while AMD has the HD 6800 series at a similar price point, the HD 7700 series continues to lose its shine as it sits slower.

The HD 7800 series and HD 7900 series on the other hand don't have any competition within their own camp giving us a price point from AMD that isn't offered at the moment. So far we've seen the HD 7850 hits that $249 price tag perfectly. Now we want to find out if the extra $100 associated with the HD 7870 is worth the jump up.

Before we look at performance, though, the first thing we need to do is take a closer look at the card itself. Once we've done that we'll take a closer look at the specifications of the card and see how it differs compared to its little brother, move into our testbed, check out the other cards we'll be including in our graphs today and then of course get into the performance side of things.

The Card and Specifications

The Card

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Looking at the card there's nothing that we haven't seen before when it comes to the overall fan design. The only stand out here is the sticker on the card that labels it as a "GHz Edition" which is kind of a giveaway to the core clock today. Before we take a closer look at the specifications of the card, though, let's just quickly move around it.

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On the power side of things you can see our PCIe power connectors are doubled compared to the HD 7850 with two 6-pin PCIe connectors included here. Closer to the front you can see we've got the same single CrossFire connector that's seen on the HD 7850.

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On the connectivity front we've got the same setup that we've seen on the HD 7700 series and up. That means a Dual-Link DVI connector on the right followed with a HDMI port and two MiniDP connectors.

Specifications

Like the other HD 7000 series the HD 7870 is based on the same 28nm GPU technology. On the Stream processor front we've got 1280 here compared to 1024 on the HD 7850. Texture Units are also increased from 64 to 80 here while ROPs stays the same at 32.

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As the "GHz Edition" labeling on the card tells us the core comes in clocked at the same 1000MHz number that we've seen on the HD 7770 with some companies offering us as high as 1150MHz out of the box. As for the 2GB of GDDR5, that sits on the same 256-bit memory bus and carries the same clock as the HD 7850 which is 4800MHz QDR.

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.

We've got an absolute slew of cards here to look at alongside the new HD 7870. Of course we've got the HD 7850 here today to see what kind of performance increase an extra $100 US gets us along with the HD 7770, HD 7950 and HD 7970.

We've also got some HD 6000 representation in the form of the HD 6870 and HD 6950 while on the NVIDIA side of things we've got the GTX 560 Ti, GTX 570 and GTX 580 which help round out the line up here today.

We've got a bunch of cards and it will be interesting to see where performance sits on the new HD 7870. The HD x800 series in general has always represented quite strong value and the HD 7850 has helped keep that reputation going. Now we need to find out if the HD 7870 can continue the trend.

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

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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Straight away we see some fantastic performance out of the HD 7870 which puts it ahead of so many other cards including the GTX 580 when it comes to the Performance Preset. Moving to the higher resolution Xtreme preset we see it fall a bit further back and fall behind the GTX 580, but overall this is an extremely strong showing out the gate.

Benchmarks - Unigine Heaven Benchmark

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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Moving into the tessellation heavy Heaven benchmark we can see how much AMD has improved in this area which sees strong gains over the previous generation HD 6950. Looking at the model against the current high end NVIDIA offerings we can see that it sits fairly well between the GTX 570 and GTX 580.

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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It looks like the latest Catalyst driver has seen some improvements under H.A.W.X. 2 with the HD 7870 in this case managing to sneak some extra FPS over the HD 7950. We'll be retesting the HD 7950 later this week with the new Catalyst 12.2 driver due out which should hopefully see those gains carry across to the higher end models.

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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Moving into Mafia II we see some strong performance out of the card and where the HD 7850 fell over at 2560 x 1600, we can see that its big brother the HD 7870 manages to pull out a very playable 66 FPS which puts it ahead of the GTX 580 in this case. So far it's a strong showing for the new model - let's see if it continues.

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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Looking at Lost Planet 2 we see that the HD 7850 struggled to get that 60 FPS number we want at any resolution although we got quite close at 1920 x 1200 and 1680 x 1050. The HD 7870 on the other hand with its extra grunt helps push us to an average over 60 FPS at 1680 x 1050 and 1920 x 1200.

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 that the HD 7870 helps boost those 1680 x 1050 numbers while the boost at 1920 x 1200 pushes us again over that 60 FPS mark, an area the HD 7850 wasn't able to hit.

Benchmarks - Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0.2

Timedemo or Level Used: Dark Tower

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

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

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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Both HD 7800 series card offered us good performance at 1680 x 1050 and 1920 x 1200. While we see a really nice boost in performance at 2560 x 1600 we still fall just a little shy of that 60 FPS mark with the 56 FPS number we've got here. Just a small detail drop, though, would increase that number to the level we want. Considering the $349 price point, this is pretty impressive.

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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Like we've seen out of a couple of benchmarks we can see that while the HD 7850 just fell shy of that 60 FPS mark at 1920 x 1200, its big brother the HD 7870 doesn't have any problem. Overall we can see that performance sits pretty close to the GTX 580 with just one FPS separating the cards at the lower resolutions.

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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Checking out Dirt 3 performance we continue to see this trend where the HD 7850 falls a little shy of that 60 FPS mark at 1920 x 1200 while the HD 7870 manages to jump past it with ease.

Moving to 2560 x 1600 also sees some nice gains, but with a 48 FPS average, we're still a bit too far away from where we'd want to be for a smooth gaming experience.

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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FarCry 2 sees improvements on the numbers we've got, but as usual we've already got very playable numbers across the board. Compared to the NVIDIA offerings again, though, we can see even in something older the HD 7870 manages to offer some nice performance gains over the GTX 580.

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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We get some nice gains across the board when we turn AA and AF on, but Aliens vs. Predator continues to be a struggle for so many cards. Mafia II on the other hand sees a 10 FPS boost which takes us from a 55 FPS average on the HD 7850 to 65 FPS on the HD 7870. FarCry 2 continues to offer us playable numbers with just a bit more breathing room being offered 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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On the temperature side of things we can see that idle temperature between the two HD 7800's is fairly even with the load temperature also looking good with only an extra 5c being seen on the higher end model.

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 look strong; saying that we do see that idle noise is a little louder. Idle and load, though, shows only a decibel in change which is always impressive.

Power Consumption Test

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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Power draw sees a bump of an even 100 watts at load and around 50 watts at idle. Like the other HD 7000 series cards, though, the load numbers continue to be impressive with the HD 7870 drawing just over 350 watts here.

Final Thoughts

The Radeon HD 7870 just really helps AMD complete that $250+ line up as we go from the $249 HD 7850 all the way up to the $549 HD 7970. Throw in pre-overclocked models from partners and cards with different coolers and you manage to hit most price points between that range.

AMD really have hit the mark with the HD 7800 series and the HD 7900 series. With the HD 6900's really not being available on the market anymore, they've had a chance just to swoop in, hit a price point that had disappeared from AMD and offer us some great performance.

All in the mean time we continue to wait for NVIDIA to start filling out its 600 series that should start to trickle in from the end of this month. The issue for NVIDIA, though, is as soon as we start talking about the high-end NVIDIA offerings, AMD are going to pounce with its dual GPU HD 7990 that is set to hit in April. The HD 7700 is also going to find its place in time. Once AMD clean out the $150 priced HD 6800 series cards, the HD 7700 will be able to step in and fill that price point helping AMD have a full top to bottom HD 7000 series range on the market.

Looking a bit closer at the HD 7870, though, it's a nice offering over the HD 7850. The $249 HD 7850 is a great card for people who are gaming at 1680 x 1050 and we can see it has no issue dealing with that resolution. If you're moving over to a 1920 x 1080 or 1920 x 1200 screen, though, the HD 7850 tends to fall behind that 60 FPS average we aim for. Spend a little more, in this case an extra $100, and the HD 7870 fills that gap, offering us great performance under 1920 x 1200 in some of the most intensive game engines on the market.

Of course if you want to move to a higher resolution, start to move in to high FPS AA and AF or get closer to that 120 FPS mark for 120Hz monitor users, then you start to dive into the HD 7900 series.

Now we hope to see the HD 7800 series share the same CrossFire and overclocking success as its big brother, the HD 7900 series. If what AMD has said is anything to go by, then we should be able to get a strong overclock out of these new models. They're both areas we'll be getting into later on.

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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.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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