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PowerColor PCS+ Radeon HD 7970 3GB VORTEX II Overclocked Video Card Review

We check out the brand new PCS+ HD 7970 3GB VORTEX II video card from PowerColor and overclock it to see how it goes.

@TweakTown
Published Wed, Apr 25 2012 8:48 AM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:01 PM CST
Rating: 96%Manufacturer: PowerColor

Introduction and Package

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VIEW GALLERY - 31 IMAGES

While we've got a massive amount of Intel Z77 motherboards surrounding us at the moment, we've still got a mountain of latest and greatest video cards that we need to look at. Over the coming weeks you'll no doubt see a large array of both motherboards and video cards along with the odd kit of RAM here as more and more companies bring Z77 specific memory to the table.

The latest video card to sneak into the pile between a bunch of motherboards comes from PowerColor and is part of the popular PCS+ series. While the series has been around for a while, we haven't had much of a chance to look at it many times, so we're looking forward to seeing what's on offer from this variant that is paired with one of our favorite GPU models at the moment; the AMD Radeon HD 7970.

With recent price drops to make the HD 7000 series more aggressive against the latest NVIDIA offering (GeForce GTX 680), we're looking forward to seeing what the latest PowerColor video card is capable of doing. Of course there are a few things we need to do before we get into the performance side of things.

The first thing we want to do is take a look at the package and see what's going on in terms of bundle when it comes to the PCS+ HD 7970. Once that's done we'll take a closer look at the video card before we look at the specifications.

Because we've not only looked at a few HD 7970s already, but also because this is a modified higher end version, we'll be taking the time to overclock the video card today to see what we can really get out of it. We'll then quickly head in to our testbed before we get into the performance side of things at our overclocked speeds.

Package

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We've got a fairly feature packed box that opens up and gives us a wealth of information while also giving us a peak at the video card. We've got loads of percentages plastered over the box telling us that the PCS+ offering is better at doing this, that and everything else in between.

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As for the bundle we've got a usual manual regarding the VORTEX II fan, a quick install guide, driver CD, CrossFire bridge, DVI to VGA connector, 6-pin to 8-pin PCIe power connectors along with a mini DP to DP and MiniDP to DVI connector to round off the bundle. A healthy bundle indeed.

The Card and Specifications

The Card

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Checking out the video card for the first time we've got a pretty mean looking setup in the VORTEX II cooler which consists of two fans, a massive heatsink and a number of heatpipes. Along with all this another stand out would be the black PCB which always looks great.

PowerColor claims that the cooler produces 13% more airflow, 15% less noise and drops the temperature by 12% compared to the reference model.

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PowerColor PCS+ Radeon HD 7970 3GB VORTEX II Overclocked Video Card Review 10 | TweakTown.com

Having a look around the video card we can see at the back PowerColor has opted for a dual 8-pin PCIe power connector setup instead of the standard 6-pin + 8-pin setup that we see on most other HD 7970s. Close to the front of the video card we can see two CrossFire connectors and then next to that we've got a dual BIOS switch.

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Moving over to the I/O side of things we can see a fairly standard setup here which gives us two Dual-Link DVI connectors along with a HDMI port and two MiniDP connectors to round off the connectivity side of things.

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PowerColor PCS+ Radeon HD 7970 3GB VORTEX II Overclocked Video Card Review 13 | TweakTown.com

Before moving onto the specification side of things the way the fans work on the VORTEX II based video card is that they can be slightly raised to help increase airflow further. Looking above you can see them flat in the first picture and in the second one you can see them raised slightly.

This video card also implements what PowerColor call a "Platinum Power Kit" which says to provide 20% better stability than other Radeon HD 7970 video cards. This is achieved by using better "super capacitors", a digital PWM and other power features.

Specifications

This being a PCS+ video card means that PowerColor has of course taken the time to overclock the HD 7970 straight out of the box. On the core front PowerColor has moved from the default 925MHz to a massive 1100MHz. As for the 3GB of GDDR5 that's been boosted from the stock 5500MHz QDR to 5700MHz QDR.

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These are some really impressive overclocks, but we wanted to see how much more we could get out of the video card. As you can see above we pushed the core up to a strong 1200MHz while the 3GB of GDDR5 was pushed to a really strong 6200MHz QDR. This is a really strong overclock and should bring with it some very strong gains when compared to the reference clocked video card in our testbed today.

Overclocking Note - Our tested overclock speed is the maximum we could achieve with all of our tests 100% stable. You may be able to hit higher clock speeds, but we are after a completely stable gaming environment and not just stable under some games / tests.

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.

While the new Ivy Bridge platform is the latest from Intel, the Sandy Bridge-E X79 continues to be the highest end offering and for that reason, we'll continue to use it as our main testbed.

On that note we don't see any changes happening on the testbed front, so let's just look at the other video cards we'll be including in our graphs today.

Along with our overclocked PowerColor offering we've got the reference clocked HD 7950 and the reference clocked HD 7970 which is the main video card we'll be comparing the PowerColor video card to against today. Along with that we've also included the HIS video card which we overclocked to over 1100MHz on the core.

To round out the AMD side of things we've also got the HD 6990 here for good measure. On the NVIDIA front we've got the older GeForce GTX 580 and the new GTX 680 both at reference speeds. We've also included our overclocked GTX 680, though, at 1199MHz on the core and 6808MHz QDR on its 2GB of GDDR5 memory.

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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As you'd expect straight away we see the awesome gains being shown on the PowerColor offering when clocked at 1200MHz on the core.

We're right on the tail of the dual GPU HD 6990 and you can see performance against even the strongly overclocked GTX 680 is very close with the Xtreme preset showing barely any difference between the two video cards.

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 Heaven we again see those massive gains again at both resolutions and you can see we're again pretty much lined up with the older dual GPU HD 6990 here.

Compared to the GTX 680 we're in line with the reference model, but a bit behind the overclocked offering thanks to tessellation heavy benchmarks always favoring NVIDIA, due to better optimization with this graphics technology.

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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While H.A.W.X. 2 already sees some very impressive FPS, you can see the overclock helps boost performance even further at all resolutions.

While the GTX 680 manages to come out ahead at the lower resolutions, when it comes down to the highest resolution, we see that only 9 FPS separate the two video cards, which in this instance, equates to only a 5% difference in speed.

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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As we get into Mafia II the trend continues with the massive performance gains as you'd expect. At the highest resolution we also see that the overclocked PowerColor HD 7970 is dead even with the GTX 680 when overclocked. We continue to see AMD do very strong when it comes to gaming at the highest resolution.

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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Lost Planet 2 continues the trends of some really awesome performance gains and the extra overclock really gives us a lot of breathing room at 2560 x 1600, a resolution where the reference clocked video card was able to just scrap past the 60 FPS mark we aim for that provides a solid gaming experience.

Even against the GTX 680, we see that we're ahead of the reference clocked video card at the highest resolution and a bit behind the overclocked card. Considering the heavy use of tessellation under Lost Planet 2, this is a very impressive result for the AMD / PowerColor offering that continues to do extremely well at 2560 x 1600.

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 performance we see again those strong performance gains. In this case the overclock helps push our FPS over that 60 FPS mark at the highest 2560 x 1600 resolution.

Across the board we can see we're ahead of the GTX 680 overclocked due to this being one benchmark NVIDIA isn't doing that strong in with their latest GPU offering.

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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Looking at Just Cause 2 performance you can see that we get those nice performance bumps at all resolutions again.

We also continue to see that the PowerColor HD 7970 PCS+ performs exceptionally well against even the overclocked GTX 680 when it comes to gaming at 2560 x 1600.

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 performance is really strong and like we've seen a couple of times now, the massive overclock on offer from the PowerColor PCS+ HD 7970 helps boost our average over that 60 FPS mark, a number that wasn't being reached on the reference video card.

We also continue to see extremely strong performance against the GTX 680 with the best gains for AMD being seen at the highest resolution where the overclocked PowerColor offering can outperform even the overclocked GTX 680.

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 III performance across the board is really strong and we can again see that the overclock really helps us move away from that 60 FPS average that the reference clocked video card manages to just achieve.

As for against the GTX 680, we can again see at the highest resolution we manage to outperform the reference GTX 680 while the overclocked video card manages to get a decent jump on the HD 7970 in this case.

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 doesn't hold any surprises with strong performance across all our setups here. Of course when it comes to the overclocked PowerColor HD 7970 PCS+ we see some more gains, but with some massive numbers already present, we're not too worried about the extra FPS that are on offer here.

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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Looking at AA and AF performance we can again see a nice boost in performance under all our games.

While the gains aren't so much needed under Mafia II and Far Cry II, the extra FPS under Aliens vs. Predator is appreciated as we move a little further away from that 60 FPS mark helping us achieve a bit more breathing room to provide a really good gaming experience.

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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With the voltages up you can see that the PowerColor PCS+ HD 7970 does indeed warm up.

You can see its load temperatures are similar to the HD 7970 Lightning from MSI which offered very similar clock speeds.

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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Looking at the noise levels we've got another highly overclocked HD 7970 video card that climbs to the top of the charts. The added voltage that is being put through these modified HD 7970s makes the fans work extra hard and added noise is the cost of this great extra performance.

Fortunately if you're happy with the stock 1100MHz OC that PowerColor is offering you don't have to worry about these noise levels.

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 is up on the PowerColor PCS+ HD 7970 as you'd expect coming in at 550 watts.

If you're buying a video card like this, though, you should own or at least be buying a decent power supply at the same time. We'd recommend anything in the 700 watt+ range just to make sure there's plenty of breathing room for a stable gaming PC.

Final Thoughts

PowerColor has put together a really awesome high-end AMMD Radeon HD 7970 video card here that stands out in a pack of already modified HD 7970's on the market. The VORTEX II cooler does a fantastic job of helping us achieve a really strong overclock and while that does come at the cost of some added noise and warmth, it's a small price to pay considering the impressive amount of performance you're getting.

Combing the performance of the VORTEX II cooler with the overall looks as well, you've just got a really awesome video card that manages to perform well in all the important categories. If you're after a serious HD 7970 this is another really good option that should hit the market soon.

We say "soon", because it's not quite yet available. We should see it in the coming weeks as stores start to get stock, though. So, if you can't find it just yet, it might be worth the wait to pick it up.

Moving away from the video card, we dive into the package and it's good to see that this is an area that PowerColor hasn't chosen to neglect. While we get all the usual bits and pieces, the inclusion of two MiniDP connectors in the bundle is excellent. They continue to be something that companies are choosing to ignore. When you move to a more modified version like the PCS+ here, though, it's nice to see that PowerColor has gone to the effort to make the bundle a little bulkier and not just focus completely on the video card itself.

We're starting to see some really awesome HD 7970s with the heavily modified HD 7970 Lightning from MSI and the PowerColor version we've got here today. No doubt over the coming weeks we'll see even more come into our labs.

We're getting to the point where we're past companies just slapping a slightly upgraded cooler on the reference PCB. We're seeing some move to a dual 8-pin PCIe power setup and some heavily modified coolers that are helping us achieve some awesome overclocks.

Outside of all this, though, one of the more impressive features of the PowerColor PCS+ HD 7970 VORTEX II is the out of the box overclock. 1100MHz up from the default 925MHz is awesome and you can see the kind of performance you'd be able to get out of that today based on our HIS video card, which was clocked at just over 1100MHz.

If you can't be bothered going down the path of overclocking or just don't know how to, it's great to know that out of the box, this is one of the fastest HD 7970s on offer. For a lot of people that is a feature that becomes really enticing as you're able to get some really strong performance without lifting a finger. While still not on the shelves, if you're looking for a really fast out of the box HD 7970 or something that will hit that 1200MHz OC core mark, the PowerColor PCS+ HD 7970 3GB VORTEX II is brilliant.

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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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