Zalman Radeon HD 7950-Z VF3000 2GB Video Card Review

We look at our very first Zalman based video card and see if the company has a chance in this competitive market.
@TweakTown
Published Tue, Jun 12 2012 10:39 PM CDT   |   Updated Fri, Sep 18 2020 10:50 PM CDT
Rating: 92%Manufacturer: Zalman

Introduction and Package

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VIEW GALLERY - 30 IMAGES

When I heard that Zalman was entering the video card market I honestly didn't find myself all that surprised. One of the main features that make video cards stand out from each other is the cooling solution companies opt for and with a long standing presence in the cooling market, it shouldn't be hard for Zalman to offer something that can stand out against the competition.

We've been impressed with what Zalman has offered in the past, but what happens when the company moves away from the cooler only business and throws a video card into the mix, a bundle and all that other related stuff?

Well we intend to find out, but there's as always a few things that we've got to do before we get up and running. The first thing we've got to do is check out the package that Zalman is offering us. Once we've done that we'll move onto the video card itself and see what exactly is going on with it.

We'll check out the specification side of things before we move into the testbed and then of course look at the performance of the new video card. One of the main things we'll no doubt be paying attention today is the cooling performance so that's something that we're looking forward to seeing.

First things first, though, let's see what's going on with the package here today.

Package

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Looking at the box there's not a whole heap going on, Zalman really have a very basic design. That's not a bad thing as on a whole the box design looks pretty nice with the giant Z in the middle, but there's not a wealth of information on offer. Of course the one feature that is highlighted quite strongly on the front of the box is the fact that a "Zalman Cooling Solution" is being used. We'd be a bit worried if it wasn't!

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As for the bundle it's really small, so small that we don't even have a manual. We've simply got a driver CD, CrossFire bridge and DVI to VGA connector. We're not surprised by the small bundle, it's similar from most companies these days and we know that the main thing that Zalman want to highlight is the cooler.

So with that said let's take a closer look at the video card itself.

The Card and Specifications

The Card

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Looking at the video card you can see the really awesome cooler design which sees a dual fan setup here on a great looking red shroud. Of course the cooler is the popular VF3000A from Zalman and overall it does look fantastic with its copper heatpipes and huge heatsink.

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What really looks great on the cooler, though, is the memory sinks that you can see in the two pictures above. Most companies coolers have the memory cooled via the same main cooler, but you can see here Zalman opt for little heatsinks placed separately.

This is probably one of the larger things that appeal to us when it comes to buying a video card direct from Zalman. You get to experience the VF3000A cooler and the memory heatsinks without having to pull off your current cooler and then install this all separately. Out of the box you know the main heatsink and memory heatsinks are all mounted perfectly and you just don't need to worry about it at all.

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Taking a quick look at some of the other parts of the card you can see we've got the standard dual 6-pin PCIe power connectors while moving closer you can see we've got two CrossFire connectors.

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In the I/O department you can see we've got a fairly standard HD 7900 series setup which sees a single Dual-Link DVI connector, HDMI port and two Mini DisplayPort connectors to round off the connectivity side of things.

Specifications

Having a look below you can see the specifications of the Zalman HD 7950-Z VF3000 which sees a core clock of 800MHz and the 2GB of GDDR5 carries a clock of 1250MHz or 5000MHz QDR.

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This is of course reference clock speeds and it's a little disappointing to see that Zalman have installed this great looking cooler and left the clocks at the reference ones. It would've been nice to see them push the core to maybe 900MHz and the memory to 5200MHz QDR or something similar, but it wasn't to be this time around.

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.

As always we've got our X79 testbed that we've been using since the launch of the platform late last year. As for the video cards in our graphs today we've got the Zalman HD 7950, along with the Sapphire HD 7950 and Diamond HD 7970.

On the NVIDIA side of things we've got the new GTX 670 and a couple of GTX 680s including a reference one, 4GB one and the overclocked Phantom model we looked at recently from Gainward.

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 you can see we're sitting around that P7000 mark when it comes to our performance preset. As you'd expect, performance really lines up with the reference clocked Sapphire video card.

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 onto Heaven we can see again the performance lines up with the reference HD 7950, just as you'd expect.

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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Looking at H.A.W.X. 2 performance you can see the Zalman HD 7950 performs very well with playable numbers at all resolutions including the higher 2560 x 1600 option.

Benchmarks - Mafia II

Mafia II

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.2kczech.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.mafia2game.com/

Buy It Here

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

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Moving into Mafia II we can again see very strong performance out of the Zalman HD 7950 with good numbers at all resolutions and a solid 69 FPS being seen at 2560 x 1600.

Benchmarks - Lost Planet 2

Lost Planet 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo

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

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

Product Homepage: http://www.lostplanet2game.com/

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

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Looking at Lost Planet 2 performance we can see some great numbers being seen at 1680 x 1050 and 1920 x 1200, when we move to 2560 x 1600, though, we can see the HD 7950 struggles with only the HD 7970 being able to break that 60 FPS mark when it comes to AMD video cards.

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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Like Lost Planet 2 we see some great performance out of the Zalman HD 7950 again at 1680 x 1050 and 1920 x 1200. You can see when we move to 2560 x 1600, though, we fall shy of that 60 FPS number we're looking for to provide a solid gaming experience.

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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We can see some strong performance out of the Zalman HD 7950 here and across the board you can see FPS is very strong. At the highest resolution we've got a solid 59 FPS which is pretty much on that 60 FPS number we want to see.

You should be fine, but a slight detail drop will help push that number a little higher making sure that performance is strong.

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 into Metro 2033 we can see some great performance again out of the Zalman HD 7950 with strong numbers at 1680 x 1050 and 1920 x 1200. It's at 2560 x 1600 where the video card again struggles to bring in those numbers we need to see.

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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Like we've seen in a lot of our more intensive benchmarks we get some great numbers out of the Zalman HD 7950 at 1680 x 1050 and 1920 x 1200. As soon as we move to 2560 x 1600, though, we really see the HD 7950 struggle.

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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Before we get into the AA side of things we quickly look at Far Cry 2 where as you'd expect we've got strong playable numbers across the board. Even at the higher resolution.

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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Starting with Mafia II we can see strong performance at 1920 x 1200. With AA and AF on, though, we can see that 2560 x 1600 becomes a struggle for this model like all the other ones here.

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Aliens vs. Predator is just too intensive and you can see we're unable to get playable FPS at either resolution when we turn AA and AF on.

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People say that Far Cry 2 isn't an intensive game these days, but at 2560 x 1600, we can see that we're able to just break that 30 FPS minimum on this high-end model.

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While we're on the absolute edge for Metro 2033 1920 x 1200 performance, you can see like every other setup here, 2560 x 1600 AA / AF performance is simply too low.

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We can see under Just Cause 2 we're able to sneak in just past that 60 FPS at 1920 x 1200. Of course just sneaking in at that resolution means that 2560 x 1600 at 60 FPS is out of the question.

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 temperature of the core on our Zalman HD 7950-Z VF3000 you can see we've got a good looking 60c coming out of the video card under 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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Noise levels aren't too bad, you can see idle is a little louder. Due to the limited fluctuation in noise levels from idle to load, though, the video card comes off with a low noise level.

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. You can see we've got just over 350 watts at load and just over 150 watts at idle.

Final Thoughts

I'm not shocked to see that Zalman has put together a strong video card that looks great. Considering Zalman's experience when it comes to cooling, you'd expect them to offer us something strong and as far as we're concerned, they've done that today.

If you're going to complain about anything there would have to be two areas - one doesn't bother us and the other is just something that we would've liked to have seen. The bundle is of course on the light side of things. It's so light in fact that we don't actually even have a manual. Really, though, it's not something that bothers us too much.

What I would've liked to have seen out of Zalman, though, is a bit of an overclock out of the box. Zalman has done such a good job with the video card by adding their own cooler to it, it would've been really nice if they took advantage of that a little more by bumping up the clock speeds. It didn't have to be anything major, just a 50 - 100MHz core bump and a 100 - 200MHz QDR memory bump.

It's not a huge deal, but considering we know the overclocking potential of the AMD Radeon HD 7950, combined with the quality of the cooler that Zalman has used, it would've been nice to see them give the video card a bit of a speed bump. Of course, there's nothing stopping you from doing it yourself.

I think one of the biggest problems for Zalman is going to be availability. While they're not new to the market, they're new to the video card market and it's a market that is very crowded and very competitive. It's going to take time for stores to pick up Zalman and start stocking them on their shelves.

Hopefully it's not too long before this happens, though. Having a look today at the Zalman HD 7950-Z VF3000, we can see that the company know what to do. They're also ahead of many video card companies when it comes to cooling solutions because of the background they have in this business.

If Zalman can offer more quality products like the one we have here today, in a timely fashion and a reasonable price, they've got a good chance in this market. We'll be following them over the coming months to see what they bring to the table.

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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

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