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AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition 3GB Video Card Review

AMD try to steal the lime light back from NVIDIA with the new Radeon HD 7970 GHz edition. We see if they can do it!

Manufacturer: AMD
17 minute read time

Introduction, Card and Specifications

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NVIDIA's GEFORCE GTX 680 really beat AMD at its own game. That game? The war on price! Typically you expect the highest end NVIDIA video card to not only come in a bit faster than the AMD offering, but you also expect it to cost more. The issue for AMD was that the GTX 680 was not only faster, but it was also cheaper.

The aggressive pricing of the GTX 680 really messed with AMD, it was clearly not something AMD expected and it forced them to reshuffle the pricing of their video cards. The issue wasn't just a matter of dropping the price on the HD 7970. A price drop on just that model would throw the value of all the models below it out of whack. Because of that they had to adjust the price of the HD 7850 through to HD 7970.

The aggressive price drop on the HD 7970 which now brings the card in at a minimum of around $40 less is a good thing for AMD. The problem is, though, they want something faster and this is where the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition comes in. The "GHz Edition" naming scheme is something that we've been seeing from AMD for a while. Today we find out if it's what the HD 7970 needs.

Being a reference based card means that there's not going to be a whole lot to talk about before we get into the performance side of things. We'll quickly look over the card before we move into the specification side of things to see just what the HD 7970 GHz Edition offer us. Once we've done that we'll cover our testbed and the cards we'll be using in out graphs today before we finally get into the performance of the new model.


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Having a look at the card you don't see anything that you haven't seen before. The model looks like just another reference HD 7970. You can see we don't even have the "GHz Edition" labeling on this sample. I think probably one of the coolest things, though, that we're seeing here is the fact that AMD has been able to increase the clock speeds on the card and still been able to keep with the reference cooler. We'll have to see if this has come at the cost of extra noise on the card or possibly extra heat. We'll find out this and more soon.

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Moving around the card we follow the same trend as we've seen from the non-GHz Edition of the HD 7970. We've got two power connectors in the form of a single 8-pin PCIe power connector and single 6-pin PCIe power connector. Closer to the front we've got two CrossFire connectors that give us the ability to run up to four of these cards and next to that you can see we've got our BIOS switch, which is something we see partners make more use of.

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Finally we finish off with the I/O side of things and you can see we've got a Dual-Link DVI connector on the far right followed by a HDMI port. Next to that you can see we've also got two Mini-DisplayPort connectors to round off the connectivity side of things. The top half of the card is taken up with a vent that lets the fan push the hot air straight out the back of your case verse having it be pushed inside and around your case.


The main thing we want to look at today is the clocks and how they compares against the original non-GHz Edition of the HD 7970 which carried a core clock of 925MHz while the 3GB of GDDR5 carried a clock speed of 1375MHz or 5500MHz QDR. Looking at our GPUz screenshot below you can see what the GHz Edition comes in at.

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I think the biggest surprise is that the card doesn't actually carry a core clock of 1000MHz, instead it's boosted 125MHz over the previous HD 7970 to come in at a strong 1050MHz. Not only that, though, we've seen AMD give a strong boost to the 3GB of GDDR5 that comes in at 1500MHz or a massive 6000MHz QDR.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup

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We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: Intel, ASUS and Corsair.

On the testbed side of things we've got our X79 setup that we've been using for a while with no changes. Before we get into the performance side of things, though, let's quickly cover the video cards that we'll be using in our graphs here today.

AMD's Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition really needs to be compared against a number of cards. There are three really important ones. The first is the reference clocked HD 7970 which comes in the form of the Diamond HD 7970 3GB. Alongside that the other two big cards that the card needs to be compared against are the GTX 670 and GTX 680 which both come in the form of reference NVIDIA cards.

Along with those cards we've got the Sapphire HD 7950 for comparison sake and two more GTX 680s in the form of the pre-overclocked Gainward Phantom version and the 4GB Palit JetStream card to help us round out the lineup.

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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Starting out with 3DMark 11 we can see a really nice boost over the reference HD 7970. Compared to the GTX 680 you can see we're a little behind at the Performance preset, but when it comes to the more intensive X preset, we're ahead of the reference clocked 2GB card, while the 4GB version from Palit manages to sneak ahead.

Benchmarks - Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.5

Developer Homepage:

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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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Heaven sees a nice boost in performance over the older HD 7970, but we're still behind the GTX 670 in this case. Tessellation is something that we see NVIDIA continue to be ahead in. AMD continue to close the gap every generation, but NVIDIA still manage to come out ahead in most tessellation heavy benchmarks.

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:

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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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While we see very strong FPS out of H.A.W.X. 2 we can see that the added clocks while giving a boost leave the card again behind the GTX 670 in this instance. With the numbers we're seeing, though, this is clearly not as important.

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 sees some great performance gains and you can see at 1920 x 1200 and 1680 x 1050 we've got strong performance, but numbers that sit around the GTX 670 / GTX 680 depending on the resolution. Moving to 2560 x 1600, though, we can see that the HD 7970 GHz Edition falls short only to the pre-overclocked GTX 680 2GB from Gainward.

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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Looking at the Lost Planet 2 numbers we've got some nice gains present here over the original HD 7970 with a really nice boost at 2560 x 1600 which sees our numbers move from 63 FPS to 68 FPS giving us a bit more breathing room for a smooth gaming experience.

Tessellation plays a big factor in Lost Planet 2 and we can see because of that we're again falling behind the GTX 670 in this instance.

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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A lot like Lost Planet 2 we see an important increase at 2560 x 1600, although, this one is slightly more important as we move from below 60 FPS to over it. Compared to our NVIDIA line up, we see that the HD 7970 GHz Edition performs extremely well as this is a game we've seen AMD do well in compared to NVIDIA.

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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Again we continue to see strong performance gains over the original HD 7970 at all resolutions. Compared to the NVIDIA offerings you can see the added MHz helps push the performance past the GTX 680, especially as we climb the resolution table with the biggest lead being seen at 2560 x 1600.

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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Another important result is seen under Metro 2033 as we again see the added MHz on the GHz Edition card pushes our 2560 x 1600 average over 60 FPS with a score of 62 FPS. The only other card to hit 60 FPS is the pre-overclocked GTX 680 Phantom from Gainward while everything else falls below that number.

Benchmarks - Dirt 3

Dirt 3

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage:

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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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Dirt 3 performance gains are extremely strong here and you can see we're ahead of everything else when it comes to 2560 x 1600. Below that we can see that the HD 7970 GHz Edition card bounces between the GTX 680 and GTX 670 depending on the resolution.

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 as always are very strong on these high-end cards. You can of course see the gains over the original HD 7970, though, and at the highest resolution you can see the GHz Edition again manages to take out top spot.

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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Cranking up the AA and AF detail under Mafia II we can see some excellent numbers with the HD 7970 GHz edition at 1920 x 1200 lining up with the GTX 680 4GB. As we move to 2560 x 1600 we do fall just under that 60 FPS we aim for, but it's equal first with the pre-overclocked GTX 680 from Gainward in this instance.

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Again we see the AMD offerings perform very strong under Aliens vs. Predator with the HD 7970s being the only cards to be able to break that 60 FPS mark at 1920 x 1200. The GHz Edition of course sees a nice boost at both resolutions, but unfortunately it's not enough to bring our numbers up to a playable level at 2560 x 1600 in this instance.

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Far Cry 2 with AA and AF on sees some good numbers at both resolutions and again we see at the highest resolution the HD 7970 GHz Edition is able to come out ahead of all our other cards here.

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Metro 2033 again sees strong numbers from our AMD HD 7970 GHz edition and you can see it takes the lead at both resolutions. While our numbers aren't playable at 2560 x 1600, you can see our 1920 x 1200 numbers are really impressive.

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Just Cause sees good performance gains again, but we're sitting between the GTX 670 and GTX 680 at 1920 x 1200 with some playable FPS. When we move to 2560 x 1600 we can see that while we again see some strong gains over the original HD 7970, we're below that 60 FPS mark. Again, though, when we move to the higher resolution we see performance of the HD 7970 GHz Edition be stronger and in this case you can see where we sat behind the GTX 680 at 1920 x 1200, we're actually ahead of it at 2560 x 1600.

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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The original HD 7970 saw load temps come in at 66c while the new GHz Edition comes in at 74c. This is a bit of a jump, but considering the performance gains we're seeing and the fact that the number overall isn't that high, it's not something we're worried about.

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 on the GHz Edition of the HD 7970 are pretty similar; you can see the reference cooled Diamond card come in at 59.3dB / 62.9dB while this card comes in at 60.8dB / 63.5dB.

So while we've got a couple of extra degrees present on the new GHz Edition card, we can see that we have no real change in 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 has actually jumped up quite a bit here as we see idle more from 131 watt to 195 watt and load go from 389 watt to 448 watt. Overall the numbers are again very impressive, but you can clearly see the new GHz Edition model is drawing more power with a decent jump in the idle number.

Final Thoughts

AMD's Radeon HD 7970 in itself is a good video card and the GHz Edition is slightly better thanks to that boost in performance. I think what's more exciting about the GHz Edition from AMD, though, is going to be what partners do with it. With a 125MHz overclock on the core, AMD have clearly been holding some cherry picked GPUs to the side to make room for this model.

We wonder just how cherry picked they are and what will companies like Sapphire, MSI and HIS to name just a few be able to do with these cherry picked GPUs. This brings with it another problem, though. Availability could be an issue for this model as it is reliant on chips that are capable of higher speeds. We can't deny that the GTX 680 continues to have stock issues as we see many brands are sold out. Unlike a few weeks ago, though, not all brands are sold out and you're actually able to buy one now.

When it comes to overall performance as well we're a little all over the place. Deciding if this card is right to you when compared to the NVIDIA offerings is ultimately going to depend on the resolution you play at because no matter what game you play or what engine that game is using, it's clear that AMD does better at 2560 x 1600 when compared to NVIDIA.

As you move down the resolution table you see the balance in speed shift with the NVIDIA offerings take the lead. If you're gaming at 2560 x 1600 or 2560 x 1440 we'd find it easier to recommend the HD 7970 GHz Edition over the GTX 680. At the lower resolutions, though, you'd probably lean towards the NVIDIA offering.

If this is what AMD needed to shift the lime light back over to them I'm not too sure and I guess the only way we will truly know is as time goes on. We wish we were testing the dual GPU offering from AMD today, though, instead of what is essentially a pre-overclocked HD 7970.

Keep an eye out for our overclock article in the coming days as we see just what this video card is capable of, though. AMD are already looking stronger than NVIDIA when it comes to typical air cooled overclocking on its top end video card. We'll see if the GHz Edition of the HD 7970 is able to cement that even further.

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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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