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Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 Dual-X 3GB OC Video Card Review

We check out the brand new Sapphire HD 7970 Dual-X 3GB OC card and show you what it's all about.

@TweakTown
Published Wed, Mar 7 2012 9:26 PM CST   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:01 PM CST
Rating: 97%Manufacturer: Sapphire

Introduction and Package

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VIEW GALLERY - 28 IMAGES

We're getting to that point where's it's been long enough after the launch of a new high-end video card model that we start to see companies mixing it up a bit and while XFX came out the gate early with the custom cooled Black Edition Double Dissipation model, we haven't seen anyone else do anything. Well, that's till today!

Today we're looking at the brand new Sapphire HD 7970 Dual-X 3GB OC which at the time of writing hasn't even shown up on the Sapphire website yet. That gives you an idea of just how new the model is and just how quickly we're able to get ahold of it thanks to being based out of Taiwan now.

Before we get down and dirty with the performance of the new card there's a few things we need to get out the way. The first thing we need to do is check out the package and see what kind of bundle Sapphire is giving us.

Once we've looked at the bundle we'll move onto the card itself and check out the new Dual-X cooling setup that Sapphire has going on before we take a closer look at the specifications of the card and cover the Dual BIOS option in a little more detail.

Once we've done all that it's time to get into the testbed, quickly cover the cards we'll have in our review today and of course get into the performance side of things. First things first, though, we need to see just what's going on with the brand new Sapphire HD 7970 Dual-X 3GB OC bundle.

Package

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In typical Sapphire fashion we've got a really nice bundle going on. We've got the normal line up of paperwork and driver CD. Along with that we've got a CrossFire bridge, Molex to 6-pin PCIe power connector, Dual Molex to 8-pin PCIe power connector and DVI to VGA cable.

Along with all that we've also got a HDMI and three other connectors including Mini DP to DP, Mini DP to DVI and a HDMI to DVI one. All in all Sapphire has put together a really nice bundle here with a bunch of cables that should get you up and running straight away.

The Card and Specifications

The Card

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We've started to see this shroud design from Sapphire for a little while now and it looks fantastic. The aggressive lines and oversize nature of it with its massive fans make for a great looking cooler. Along with all that you can see the copper heatpipes coming out the bottom of the card and the massive aluminum heatsink sitting behind the fans.

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On the power side of things we've got two connectors in the form of a single 6-pin PCIe and single 8-pin PCIe connector. Closer to the front we've also got two CrossFire connectors and next to that a Dual BIOS switch, which we'll be making use of today. We'll talk about that more in just a moment when we move over to the specification side of things.

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As for the I/O side of things that is just very HD 7970. We've got a Dual-Link DVI connector, HDMI port and two Mini DisplayPort connectors on the far left. It's worth remembering as well that if you're on a DisplayPort monitor, we did find a Mini DP to DP connector in the bundle.

Specifications

Pulling the card out of the box and sliding it into our testbed we fired up GPUz to check the clock speeds. Out of the box the card carries a core clock of 950MHz up from the default 925MHz while the 3GB of GDDR5 memory carries a 5700MHz QDR memory clock up from the default 5500MHz QDR.

Sapphire actually makes use of the BIOS switch on offer today, though, and by flicking over to the second BIOS on the card when the machine is off you're able to get an even higher overclock.

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As you can see above with the BIOS switch in the second spot our core is pushed up to an even 1000MHz while the 3GB of GDDR5 gets bumped again coming in at 5800MHz 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.

On the testbed side of things you can see above our typical X79 testbed we've been using for a while now. On the comparison front we'll check out how our overclocked Sapphire offering goes against the reference clocked HD 7970 and HD 7950.

Along with that we've also included the HD 6990, GTX 580 and GTX 570 for good measure. Quickly before we get into the benchmarks, though, it's worth noting that we'll be testing the card today in BIOS Position 2. As mentioned on the last page that means we're going to be running with a 1GHz core clock and 5.8GHz QDR memory clock - the highest clock speeds which this card offers as tuned by Sapphire.

This is indicated in all our graphs, but we just wanted to make sure we were clear what mode the card was going to be running in today before we get into our benchmarks today.

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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Out the gate there's no real surprise as we see the overclock help give us a nice boost on overall performance. We're more interested in how it translates in some of our games here today, though.

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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AMD are doing a great job improving tessellation performance each generation and we continue to see that here with the HD 7970. Thanks to the overclock, though, we see that HD 7970 performance is even stronger again and really does leave the GTX 500 series card a decent chunk behind.

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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Getting into our first game you can see H.A.W.X. 2 numbers are a little weird. At the lower end of the resolution table you can see we lose a few FPS. Of course this isn't anything new when it comes to H.A.W.X. 2 and overclocked cards, but it's a bit annoying.

On the bright side at the most intensive resolution we see a nice little 10% boost in performance. At least the lower resolutions are still giving us huge FPS so a slight loss doesn't bother us too much. We just hope it isn't a trend.

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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Mafia II numbers were already pretty good and you can see the overclock on offer here helps just improve them giving us even more headroom.

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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Getting into something quite intensive like Lost Planet 2 you can see our reference card manages to just scrape paste that 60 FPS average we always aim for. Thanks to the 1GHz clock on the Sapphire offering, though, we see we're running at a nice 66 FPS here and that just helps give us a little more breathing room in our gaming experience.

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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Aliens vs. Predator unlike Lost Planet 2 saw the HD 6970 at stock fall just below the 60 FPS mark we're aiming for with it coming in at 57 FPS in this case. You can see, though, thanks to the overclock on offer, we're able to get a 6 FPS increase or just over 10% and that helps push us to an average of 63 FPS, which is what we love to see.

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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Just Cause 2 numbers on the HD 7970 were good and you can see thanks to the overclock we get a bit more breathing room again. This is going to be handy in the event you want to start to throw some AA or AF into the mix at the higher resolution.

Benchmarks - Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

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

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

Metro 2033 is an action-oriented video game with a combination of survival horror and first-person shooter elements. The game is based on the novel Metro 2033 by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. It was developed by 4A Games in Ukraine and released in March 2010 for Microsoft Windows and Xbox 360.[3] In March 2006, 4A Games announced a partnership with Glukhovsky to collaborate on the game.[4] The game was announced at the 2009 Games Convention in Leipzig;[5] a first trailer came along with the announcement.[6] A sequel was announced, currently titled Metro: Last Light.

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Metro 2033 paints a picture near identical to Aliens vs. Predator with an average FPS of just under 60 on the reference clocked HD 7970. Thanks to a 10% increase in performance again, though, on the Sapphire overclocked offering we see that average FPS jump to 60 and that's exactly what we love to see for a smooth gaming experience.

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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2560 x 1600 sees the HD 7970 score an even 60 FPS, with just over a 10% increase in performance we see our Sapphire offering give us an impressive 67 FPS which helps give us a bit more breathing room making sure that we don't ever drop below that 30 FPS minimum we always aim for.

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 numbers were already pretty good and you can see that the overclock here just helps extend the lead further on the Sapphire offering.

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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Mafia II and FarCry 2 numbers are of course strong as we'd expect. What's really nice, though, is the Aliens vs. Predator numbers which again sees our overclock help push us from what we would label us unplayable to playable thanks to breaking that 60 FPS mark that we always aim for.

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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Seriously Sapphire?!?! The third coolest running card here coming in below cards like the HD 7850. Sapphire cooling is just unreal these days.

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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Again... down the bottom of the pack. The coolers Sapphire is offering us these days are amazing.

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 sits in a fairly standard position with no real shocks coming out of the model. Looking above we can see we're coming in at just over 400 watts in load and under 200 watts when idle.

Final Thoughts

Sapphire have always excelled when it comes to the cooling technology behind their video cards and the latest generation of HD 7000 series card continues to show us just how strong they do in this area. Thanks to the move to the 28nm GPU combined with the awesome cooling options from Sapphire, you ultimately end up with these really cool running high-end cards. What's really amazing, though, is probably the noise level they come in at. You just don't expect cards that offer this amount of power to run at these temperatures or at these noise levels.

I don't quite fully get the whole one speed for one BIOS and one speed for the other. I know we've got the Dual BIOS switch on offer and we may as well make use of it, but if you don't pay much attention you might not switch over before installing the card and ultimately end up with the card running at the lower out of the box clocks.

I'd just love to see a sticker on the cooler or something around the Dual BIOS switch area that said for maximum out of the box performance switch over to BIOS two or something along those lines, just to make things really clear. It would just ultimately help make sure people got the maximum performance out of the box and if the card couldn't run those speeds 24 / 7 then we're sure Sapphire wouldn't offer them period.

When you start to move up to the power of cards like the HD 7900 series you just feel as if it's a given you have to sacrifice some noise to get that kind of power. What we're seeing from Sapphire, though, is that it's not a sacrifice you have to make. You can enjoy power that equates to 10% more of a reference HD 7970 and have a card that runs so quiet that it's not even funny.

Before we finished up with the card, though, I thought I'd just quickly fire up MSI Afterburner and check out how overclocking went on the card and see what kind of 3DMark 11 score we could pull in. If you remember, when we looked at the Sapphire HD 7950 in CrossFire Overclocked we didn't achieve as high a clock as Sapphire opted for a fan profile that ran quieter and at lower speeds verse other HD 7950s which ran with more aggressive fan profiles.

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You can imagine our surprise then when we ended up having our card run at 1250MHz on the core and 6000MHz QDR on the memory resulting in a score of over P10,000 in 3DMark 11. To be honest, though, that's not even the most shocking part from the results. The fact that the GPU still ran at only 64c is what was really surprising. It's a huge testament to the quality of the cooler Sapphire is offering.

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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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