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PowerColor PCS+ Radeon HD 7870 GHz OC Edition 2GB Video Card Review

We check out the brand new PCS+ HD 7870 from PowerColor and see what it's all about.

@TweakTown
Published Tue, Mar 13 2012 3:01 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:01 PM CST
Rating: 95%Manufacturer: PowerColor

Introduction and Package

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VIEW GALLERY - 27 IMAGES

We've already found ourselves really impressed with what AMD has done with the new Radeon HD 7800 series even in reference form. You can see what we thought of them in our standalone HD 7850 review, standalone HD 7870 review and HD 7870 CrossFire article.

Today, though, we get to move away from the reference card design and see what's going on with our first retail HD 7870 in the form of the PowerColor PCS+ HD 7870 GHz OC Edition 2GB. We haven't seen much from PowerColor in the form of the PCS+ series, but it's always one that has taken my eye.

What's making these new cooling solutions so much more attractive as well is the fact that the new 28nm GPU on the HD 7000 series runs so cool that the latest coolers are seeing some awesome performance on the new models. We've got our fingers crossed that the PCS+ cooler that PowerColor has opted for today follows the trend of strong cooling.

Before we look at the performance of the cooler and the card we've got to first check out the package to see just what PowerColor is offering us. Once we've done that we'll take a closer look at the card itself before getting into the specifications to see just what kind of overclock we've got here today.

From there we'll move on to having a quick look at our testbed, cover the cards we'll be using in our graphs today and then finally get into the performance side of things before we wrap everything up.

Package

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The bundle with the PowerColor PCS+ HD 7870 GHz OC Edition isn't that big, but the inclusion of a MiniDP to DP connector instead of the MiniDP to DVI is something that I really like.

We're seeing a lot of companies skip on the MiniDP to DP connector and if you've got yourself a DisplayPort monitor, you could quickly find yourself quite disappointed when opening your new card to discover that you can't use the DP connection until you get an adapter.

The Card and Specifications

The Card

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Looking at the card the first thing that stands out is the massive fan that sits in the middle of the card. This is a large 92mm fan which sits on top of an aluminum heatsink. Also looking carefully we can see the heatpipes that come out the top of the card which are sitting just behind the fins of the fan.

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Looking around the card we've got a typical HD 7870 setup, which means on top we've got two 6-pin PCI Express power connectors while closer to the front we've got a single CrossFire connector allowing us to run two of these cards together.

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Finally we finish off with the I/O side of things and here we can see something a little different. While we've got all the normal culprits in the form of two MiniDP connectors, HDMI port and Dual-Link DVI connector, we can also see a second DVI connector in the form of a Single-Link connector. The inclusion of this connector is no doubt the main reason PowerColor opted to not include any MiniDP to DVI connector in the bundle.

Specifications

Moving onto the specifications of the card the HD 7870 we're dealing with today from PowerColor comes overclocked out of the box and below you can see what the core and memory clocks come in at.

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The 1100MHz core clock equates to an extra 100MHz on the core while the 4900MHz QDR clock on the 2GB of GDDR5 also equates to a 100MHz QDR speed increase. We'll check out today what this means for performance when compared to the reference clocked model.

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 as usual see our testbed and here you're not going to see anything out of the ordinary when it comes to our X79 machine. With that said let's quickly look at the cards we'll be including in our graphs today.

The most important model we'll be comparing the PowerColor PCS+ HD 7870 GHz OC Edition card against is the reference clocked card that comes in 100MHz lower on the core and 100MHz QDR lower on the memory.

Along with that, though, we've got a heap of other cards here today including the HD 6950, HD 7770, HD 7850, HD 7950 and HD 7970 to round out the AMD side of things. On the NVIDIA front we've got the GTX 560 Ti, GTX 570 and finally the GTX 580.

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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Starting off with 3DMark 11 we can see a nice boost in performance that pushes our default score from P6788 to P7274. We can also see a nice little boost in the X preset which equates to around a 10% increase in performance.

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 Unigine Heaven we're seeing an increase in performance of around the 7% - 9% mark thanks to the overclock on offer from PowerColor here. We're already impressed with what the HD 7870 offers and you can see that PowerColor is helping boost that performance a little bit more.

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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Moving into our first game we can see a nice boost in performance with just some strong numbers across the board. Let's see how we go as we move into some more intensive games.

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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We continue to see nice gains as we move over to Mafia II and the most appreciated gains come at 2560 x 1600 as we get some more breathing room as we move away from that 60 FPS average.

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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While the overclock doesn't help at the highest resolution we can see at 1920 x 1200 where the HD 7870 reference card just scrapped in above that 60 FPS average. Looking at the overclocked PowerColor offering we can see our average jumps up to 67 FPS helping give our card just that bit more breathing room that's always appreciated.

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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In our original testing of the HD 7870 we found that while the model struggled at the highest 2560 x 1600 resolution, the card did well at 1920 x 1200, often sneaking across that 60 FPS mark we aim for.

Thanks to the overclock on offer from PowerColor we can see that we're able to get a couple of extra FPS at that resolution making sure our gaming performance is silky smooth.

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 follows the trends of a little performance boost across the board and you can see while we still just fall shy of that 60 FPS mark at the higher 2560 x 1600 resolution, the overclock from PowerColor does help us get 2 FPS within that magic number we aim for.

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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Moving to Metro 2033 we follow the trend of these extra FPS being seen and again those couple of extra FPS under these intensive games at 1920 x 1200 are really appreciated as we move a little further away from that 60 FPS number.

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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Dirt 3 across the board sees some nice FPS gains again and at the highest resolution we manage to close the gap to that 60 FPS mark at 2560 x 1600. Unfortunately we're still a little bit too far from it.

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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Far Cry 2 sees the same performance boost across the board, unfortunately we've got such strong FPS already under Far Cry 2 that there's no difference when it comes to playability.

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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While we've got a performance boost across all our games here we can see the HD 7870 continues to struggle under Aliens vs. Predator. Mafia II and FarCry 2 performance on the other hand is strong as we see our performance move further away and further away from that 60 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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Looking at the PowerColor HD 7870 we can see the card runs extremely low at idle while under load it runs a little warmer than the reference card.

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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While running a little warmer at load, you can see that the card is super silent when it comes to idle and load noise levels, no doubt making the card extremely attractive for those people who are noise consensus.

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 doesn't hold any surprises. It sits a little higher due to the overclock, but nothing that you'd be worried about with the number still sitting comfortably under 400 watts.

Final Thoughts

Already a fan of what the HD 7800 series was offering us I'm not too shocked to find myself impressed with the PowerColor offering here today as it adds everything we love about video cards - a new cooler that runs nice and quiet along with a nice overclock that helps boost our performance.

What's nice about the performance increase is that the reference HD 7870 offers us good performance around that 1920 x 1200 performance scraping past that 60 FPS average we always aim for. Thanks to the overclock, though, we see that at that 1920 x 1200 resolution we get some more breathing room from the model that helps make sure we get silky smooth gaming performance.

While we haven't got any exact word on pricing we know that there's going to be a slight premium on the PowerColor PCS+ model on top of the reference designed MSRP that comes in at $349. If past models are anything to go by, though, it won't be anything too major and considering the noise levels of the card and the overall performance, it's going to be well worth it.

If you're interested in gaming at 1920 x 1200 or 1920 x 1080 and below, the HD 7870 is just a fantastic model. If you want something quieter, though, while also a bit faster, then the PowerColor PCS+ version we've got here today really stands out.

Like most cards we see from PowerColor, the PCS+ HD 7870 GHz OC Edition 2GB card here today is going to be a great option for people who are looking for a video card at that mid $300 mark. We wouldn't hesitate recommending this to anyone who wanted to spend that kind of money.

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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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