MSI Radeon HD 7870 HAWK 2GB Overclocked Video Card Review

MSI expand the popular HAWK series with the introduction of the popular AMD Radeon HD 7870 to the performance based series of video cards.

Manufacturer: MSI
16 minutes & 22 seconds read time

Introduction and Package

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I always feel like I start with this lately, but the MSI HAWK series is one of my favorite video card series on the market. It's not that every series is one of my favorites, but the three main performance series from MSI (Lightning, Power Edition and HAWK) are all standout options and do tower above those from other companies.

The HAWK series is the main stream version of the Lightning series essentially. Most the time the model is as tricked out as the Lightning series, but is instead focused at the more mainstream GPU models instead of the top single GPU offerings like the NVIDIA GEFORCE GTX 680 or AMD Radeon HD 7970.

Today, though, the HAWK video card we are looking at it based on the popular AMD Radeon HD 7870 GPU, which has become a really good part for AMD. More so because its competition is very must limited at the moment. For how much longer? We're not sure, but it's safe to probably assume that by the time Computex comes around in June, we'll be seeing something from NVIDIA.

As always there are a few things we've got to do before we get into the performance side of things. The first thing we're going to do is check out the package and bundle that MSI has put together. From there we'll move onto the video card to see what's going on and check out the specifications.

Being part of the HAWK series and the focus being largely on the overclocking side of things we will be overclocking the video card today with the help of MSI Afterburner to see just what kind of performance we're able to get. Once we've done that we'll quickly cover the testbed and get then get straight into the performance side of things.


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Looking at the box we've got a fair bit going on with a design that opens up and gives us a look at the video card along with some of the main features. The big thing for the HAWK based card is the Unlocked Digital Power which brings with it an Unlocked BIOS, Enhanced Power Design and a digital PWM controller which all come together to help increase the overclocking ability.

The other big feature is the 3x3 OC Kits which brings the V-Check points which we'll look at on the next page. Triple Overvoltage which lets us adjust the voltage to not just the core, but also the AUX and memory. Finally you've got the Military Class III setup which brings with it higher quality components across the board.

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Moving onto the package we've got a fairly decent bundle going on. We've got the normal line up of paperwork including the Military Class III certificate and driver CD. Also included are two dual Molex to 6-pin PCIe power connectors, a DVI to VGA connector and a MiniDP to DP connector - this is something we continue to see companies ignore. Finally we finish off with our three vCheck cables which are used to check the voltage.

The Card and Specifications

The Card

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Moving onto the video card you can see that while we've got a new color scheme in the black and blue, which looks fantastic, we must note, the overall TwinFrozr fan design isn't too much of a surprise. You can see we've got a dual fan setup with a massive heatsink and coming out the bottom with a number of heatpipes.

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Taking a quick look around the video card you can see our normal power connector setup which finds two 6-pin PCIe connectors at the back while closer to the front we've got the CrossFire connector. Also here we've got a switch that lets us swap between which BIOS we use with the default one being for air coolers and the second one being for people who will be overclocking via LN2.

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Finally we finish with the I/O side of things and you can see we've got a pretty standard setup here with a Dual Link DVI connector starting us off on the right. Next to that we've got a HDMI port and finally we finish up with two MiniDP connectors. In case you missed it, MSI have included a MiniDP to DP connector in the bundle so if you're going to be using a DisplayPort monitor, you can get up and running straight away without the need to purchase the adapter separately.


Being a HAWK based video card of course means that we're dealing with an overclock out of the box and as you can see below our core comes in at 1100MHz which is up from the default 1000MHz.

As for the 2GB of GDDR5 you can see that the 4800MHz QDR clock lines up with just the reference model. It would've been nice to see MSI bump this up, even to just a round sounding 5000MHz QDR. Like other HAWK based video cards, they're all about overclocking so that's exactly what we're going to do today.

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Looking above you can see we got some awesome numbers out of the card with our core coming in at a massive 1400MHz and our memory coming in at 6000MHz QDR. Brilliant!

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 see our testbed and in typical fashion there are no changes here as we continue to use our X79 testbed which we've been using for a while now.

Before we get into the performance side of things let's just quickly cover the video cards that we'll be using in our graphs today.

Of course we've got the overclocked HD 7870 HAWK video card from MSI. Along with that we've also got the HD 7770, HD 7850, HD 7870, HD 7950 and HD 7970 to round of the AMD side of things.

On the NVIDIA front we've got the GTX 560 Ti, GTX 570 and GTX 580 as NVIDIA continue to not offer us a GTX 600 series based video card that hits at this price point at this stage.

Let's get started!

The FPS Numbers Explained

When we benchmark our video cards and look at the graphs, we aim to get to a certain level of FPS which we consider playable. While many may argue that the human eye can't see over 24 FPS or 30 FPS, any true gamer will tell you that as we climb higher in Frames Per Seconds (FPS), the overall gameplay feels smoother. There are three numbers we're looking out for when it comes to our benchmarks.

30 FPS - It's the minimum number we aim for when it comes to games. If you're not dropping below 30 FPS during games, you're going to have a nice and smooth gaming experience. The ideal situation is that even in a heavy fire fight, the minimum stays above 30 FPS making sure that you can continue to aim easily or turn the corner with no dramas.

60 FPS - It's the average we look for when we don't have a minimum coming at us. If we're getting an average of 60 FPS, we should have a minimum of 30 FPS or better and as mentioned above, it means we've got some smooth game play happening.

120 FPS - The new number that we've been hunting down over recent months. If you're the owner of a 120 Hz monitor, to get the most out of it you want to get around the 120 FPS mark. Moving from 60 FPS / 60 Hz to 120 FPS / 120 Hz brings with it a certain fluidity that can't really be explained, but instead has to be experienced. Of course, if you're buying a 120 Hz monitor to take advantage of 3D, an average of 120 FPS in our benchmark means that in 3D you will have an average of 60 FPS, which again means you should expect some smooth gameplay.

Benchmarks - 3DMark 11

3DMark 11

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1

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3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world's most popular benchmark. Designed to measure your PC's gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

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It comes as no surprise that straight out the gate we're getting some awesome performance out of the HD 7870 HAWK. You can see our Performance score is ahead of everything else here - a huge number for a video card that comes in at this price point.

Benchmarks - Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.5

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New benchmark grants the power to unleash the DirectX 11 potential in the gift wrapping of impressively towering graphics capabilities. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. With the interactive mode emerging experience of exploring the intricate world is ensured within reach. Through its advanced renderer, Unigine is one of the first to set precedence in showcasing the art assets with tessellation, bringing compelling visual finesse, utilizing the technology to the full extend and exhibiting the possibilities of enriching 3D gaming.

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Moving into Heaven we again see huge gains over a reference clocked HD 7870 and we're ahead of the HD 7950 at both resolutions which is really impressive.

Benchmarks - Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo

Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test

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Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 is an arcade-style flight action game developed by Ubisoft Romania and published by Ubisoft. The game is the sequel to Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X., released in 2009.

The game begins with Colonel David Crenshaw participating in a routine patrol mission in the Middle East. After halting an insurgent attack, a volley of missiles is fired at the Air Force base that Crenshaw was stationed at, with one of the missiles disabling Crenshaw's aircraft, resulting Crenshaw being in enemy captivity. A joint strike force composed of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and a Ghost Recon squad executes an operation to rescue Crenshaw. In Scotland, Royal Navy Pilot Colin Munro encounters an unidentified passenger aircraft that explodes from an on-board bomb when undergoing training exercise. In Russia, an air force squadron led by Colonel Denisov and Captain Dmitri Sokov engages separatist aircraft but is ordered to retreat from the region after numerous Russian military installations have been attacked.

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Moving onto H.A.W.X. 2 we can see the gains continue to be strong and in this instance we're ahead of almost everything here.

We only fall a little behind at 2560 x 1600 against the GTX 580. It's worth remembering, though, that this benchmark has always favored NVIDIA GEFORCE video cards over AMD ones so the performance is quite exceptional here for the HD 7870 HAWK.

Benchmarks - Mafia II

Mafia II

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

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Mafia II is a third-person action-adventure video game, the sequel to Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven. It is developed by 2K Czech, previously known as Illusion Softworks, and is published by 2K Games. The game is set from 1943 to 1951 in Empire Bay (the name is a reference to New York's state nickname "The Empire State"), a fictional city based on San Francisco and New York City, with influences from Chicago and Detroit. The game features a completely open-ended game map of 10 square miles. No restrictions are included from the start of the game. There are around 50 vehicles in the game, as well as licensed music from the era.

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Mafia II performance across the board is really strong and you can see we're outperforming everything here including the much more expensive HD 7970, the flagship Radeon product from AMD.

Benchmarks - Lost Planet 2

Lost Planet 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark - Test A Scene 1

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Lost Planet 2 is a third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition which is also made by Capcom, taking place ten years after the events of the first game, on the same fictional planet. The story takes place back on E.D.N. III 10 years after the events of the first game. The snow has melted to reveal jungles and more tropical areas that have taken the place of more frozen regions. The plot begins with Mercenaries fighting against Jungle Pirates. After destroying a mine, the Mercenaries continue on to evacuate the area, in which a Category-G Akrid appears and attacks them. After being rescued, they find out their evacuation point (Where the Category-G appeared) was a set-up and no pick up team awaited them. The last words imply possible DLC additions to the game, "There's nothing to be gained by wiping out snow pirates... unless you had some kind of grudge."

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Getting into the ever intensive Lost Planet 2 we continue to see those strong gains, but we're a little behind the HD 7970 in this case. More importantly we fall just below that 60 FPS number we aim for at the highest resolution.

Benchmarks - Aliens vs. Predator

Aliens vs. Predator

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

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Aliens vs. Predator is a science fiction first-person shooter video game, developed by Rebellion Developments, the team behind the 1999 original PC game, and published by Sega for Microsoft Windows, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. The game is based on the Alien vs. Predator franchise, a combination of the characters and creatures of the Alien franchise and the Predator franchise. There are three campaigns in the game, one for each race/faction (the Predators, the Aliens and the Colonial Marines), that, while separate in terms of individual plot and gameplay, form one overarching storyline.

Following the storyline of the campaign modes comes the multiplayer aspect of the game. In this Multiplayer section of the game, players face off in various different gametypes in various different ways.

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Again we've got very strong performance with the model outperforming the HD 7950 with no issue. Like Lost Planet 2, though, we can see we're trailing the HD 7970 here and we again just fall shy of that 60 FPS average that we want to hit at the highest resolution.

Benchmarks - Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2

Version and / or Patch Used:

Timedemo or Level Used: Dark Tower

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Just Cause 2 employs the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the engine used in Just Cause. The game is set on the other side of the world from the original Just Cause, on the fictional island of Panau in Southeast Asia. Panau has varied terrain, from desert to alpine to rainforest. Rico Rodriguez returns as the protagonist, aiming to overthrow the evil dictator Pandak "Baby" Panay and confront his former mentor, Tom Sheldon.

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The strong performance continues to be seen and in this case we've got excellent FPS across the board. We also again see in this case we're ahead of the HD 7970; we'll talk a little more about this when we wrap everything up.

Benchmarks - Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

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

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Metro 2033 as we'd expect also sees some strong performance gains and at 1920 x 1200 and 1680 x 1050 we can see that we're right on top of the HD 7970. When we move to 2560 x 1600, though, we can see the video card falls behind and again drops below that 60 FPS average we want.

Benchmarks - Dirt 3

Dirt 3

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

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DiRT 3 boasts more cars, more locations, more routes and more events than any other game in the series, including over 50 rally cars representing the very best from five decades of the sport. With more than double the track content of 2009's hit, DiRT 3 will see players start at the top as a professional driver, with a top-flight career in competitive off-road racing complimented by the opportunity to express themselves in Gymkhana-style showpiece driving events.

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Under Dirt 3 we can see that performance on the overclocked HAWK is almost directly in line with the more expensive HD 7970. More importantly we've got playable FPS across the board, though.

Benchmarks - Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01

Timedemo or Level Used: Ranch Long

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The Dunia Engine was built specifically for Far Cry 2 by the award-winning Ubisoft Montreal development team. It delivers the most realistic destructible environments, amazing special effects such as dynamic fire propagation and storm effects, real-time night-and-day cycle, dynamic music system, non-scripted enemy A.I. and so much more.

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Far Cry 2 numbers are just huge across the board with some strong gains and of course very playable FPS at all resolutions which comes as no surprise to us.

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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Even with AA and AF on we continue to see those strong performance gains. While we've got some very playable numbers under Mafia II and Far Cry 2, you can see we're a little shy of that 60 FPS number we want under Aliens vs. Predator, which is one of the most intensive engines around.

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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Considering the clock speeds we're running the video card at the temperature is very reasonable at both idle and load.

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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Of course these temps are coming at the cost of noise. The HAWK does indeed jump towards the top of the pack when we're benching at these speeds and it is the price you pay for this kind of performance. If you want to clock less aggressively or leave the video card at stock, the audio levels are much lower.

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 levels don't hold any surprises sitting in the higher 400 watt realm. Considering the voltage increase across the board, the overall numbers continue to be very strong with most new and decent branded power supplies having no issue dealing with it.

Final Thoughts

Not only is the MSI HD 7870 HAWK an awesome AMD Radeon HD 7870 part, but it's an absolutely awesome video card period. Like other video cards that are part of the HAWK, Lightning and Power Edition series, they not only perform great, but they're just awesome fun to use because of the wicked overclocking ability due to all of those high quality parts and workmanship added by MSI.

Something we noticed when it came to benchmarking was that when benching at 2560 x 1600, the HD 7870 HAWK either had no issue out performing the reference clocked HD 7970 or sat behind it by a little. The main reason for this would be that while the clocks we reached are indeed massive, we're being a little limited by that 256-bit memory bus verse the 384-bit bus that's present on the more expensive Radeon HD 7970.

Quite often we would see the overclocked HAWK outperform the HD 7970 at 1680 x 1050 and 1920 x 1200, but when we moved up to that super intensive 2560 x 1600 resolution, the performance fell behind. It was most common in the super intensive engines (Metro 2033, Lost Planet 2 and Aliens vs. Predator).

It's not a major issue at all for us, but it's something that stood out for us while we were testing. For AMD, the HD 7970 continues to be the only video card that can really offer us consistent playable FPS at 2560 x 1600 out of the box.

While we still don't have the price on this video card yet as it hasn't quite hit the market, one thing we would say is if you're not going to be overclocking, buy the standard MSI HD 7870 TwinFrozr model we looked at the other week, because while we don't know the price of the HAWK, we know that it will cost more than the standard TwinFrozr model. The HAWK series is all about overclocking (just like the Lightning) and to get the most of the video card, you will want to fire up MSI Afterburner and unleash the beast to its fullest potential. If you just want to have some fun benchmarking or want some massive clocks across the board, then this is exactly the kind of video card you want.

In typical MSI fashion the quality of the video card is very excellent and the TwinFrozr cooler always does a good job. The black and blue theme looks great and would really suit the black and blue theme that's present on MSI motherboards.

MSI's Radeon HD 7870 HAWK is just a feature packed video card that's a blast to use thanks to the really impressive overclocking capabilities. If you want to have some serious fun benchmarking on a bit of a budget or just want a video card that can perform like the more expensive Radeon HD 7970 at times, buy this video card.

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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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