Sapphire HD 7970 Dual-X Benchmark and Review Milos Milosevic October 22, 2013 Benchmarks AMD’s Radeon 79xx series is getting close to its end . The best generation of GPUs that AMD has ever made is going to be set aside for something “newer”. How truly new the R9 generation is something worth mentioning, especially if you consider that the Radeon R9 280X and Radeon 7970 GHZ Edition are pretty much the same. People at AMD are not even trying to hide the fact , since they have enabled the R9 280X to work in Crossfire with the 7970 (which speaks enough for itself). As many of you might know the Radeon HD 7970 was AMD’s flagship card in its previous generation of GPUs. Sapphire as an exclusive AMD partner had and still does provide various models of the 79xx series, one of which is the Sapphire 7970 Dual-X. This card is clocked at 925 MHz for the GPU and 1350 MHz for the memory. These clocks are the base clocks of the 7970 at launch 2 years ago. Such low clock rates for a card with so much headroom for overclocking is one of the biggest mistakes AMD has ever made. All 7970’s are more than capable of running at 1GHz or even higher. After Nvidia released the GTX680 which surpassed the 7970 by a small margin, AMD had to increase reference GPU clocks for its flagship. At the end all of that AMD looked clumsy and although they did have a fastest single GPU (but not for long) many reviewers ridiculed AMD’s move. AMD defended their prior position with a bad yield, where increasing the GPU clock speeds might have got them more malfunctioning chips than they were ready to handle. Whatever the truth was 7970 models that are running at 925 MHz reference clocks still exist on the market and are still worth considering. Why? Stick with this review and you will find out. Sapphire 7970 Dual-X Specifications Display Support 3 x Maximum Display Monitor(s) support Output 1 x HDMI (with 3D) 1 x DisplayPort 1 x Single-Link DVI-D 1 x Dual-Link DVI-I GPU 925 MHz Core Clock 28 nm Chip 2048 x Stream Processors Video Memory 3072 MB Size 384 -bit GDDR5 5500 MHz Effective Dimension 280(L)x120(W)x40(H) mm Size. 2.5 x slot Software Driver CD SAPPHIRE TriXX Utility Accessory CrossFire™ Bridge Interconnect Cable 8 PIN to 4 PIN Power Cable DVI to VGA Adapter 6 PIN to 4 PIN Power Cable HDMI 1.4a high speed 1.8 meter cable(Full Retail SKU only) Unboxing The Sapphire 7970 Dual-X comes packed in the Standard Sapphire female soldier army style box. The cover around the card is made out of plastic, not to impressive if you ask us (then again we hardly ever get impressed). The card looks more or less decent, but if there is something that we liked about it its those massive copper based heat pipes which assured us that the cooling solution is very well made. The Sapphire Dual-X 7970 uses the reference AMD PCB, they didn’t take the trouble of adding a custom one. However for a card at this price range you shouldn’t really expect a custom PCB. As mentioned in the specs, the card supports 1 x HDMI (with 3D), 1 x DisplayPort. 1 x Single-Link DVI-D and 1 x Dual-Link DVI-I. With these options the card can support a maximum of 3 displays. When the whole world is struggling economically all manufacturers are doing their best to reduce costs for their products in order to have their components competitively priced. This usually means that they are removing accessories that usually come with the product and leave only the essentials. With Sapphire however that is not the case, everything you will need for this card comes with the package. A HDMI cable, DVI to VGA adapter, a Crossfire bridge as well as 2 molex adapters- 1x 8pin to 4 pin and 1x 6pin to 4 pin. Oh yeah, buying this card will grant you the Gold membership at the Sapphire club which will give you the ability to get certain games or software for free. Also buying a 7970 gives you the Gold Rewards Program from AMD, which makes you eligible to get game codes for some of the triple-A titles that AMD has in its Never Settle Bundle. Very, very, nice! Benchmark System Specs CPU i7 4770K Motherboard Asus Gryphon Z87 RAM 2x 8GB@ 2133 Mhz Kingston HyperX Beast : KHX21C11T3K2/16X HDD/SSD 2 x Intel 520 Series 240 GB GPU GTX770 4GB, 7970 Dual X Monitor Shimian QH270-IPSMS 2560x1440p 27″ PSU Thermaltake ToughPower XT 775W OS Windows 7 Drivers AMD Catalyst 13.10 V2 Beta, Nvidia ForceWare 331.40 Overclocking As we said in the beginning this card has the original reference clocks of the 7970 : 925 for GPU and 1375 MHz for the memory. We won’t start again on how AMD made a blunder with these clock speeds but as we have already seen the Tahiti XT chip in action we know that its overclocking capabilities exceed by far the reference. The only question was : How far can it go? After some playing around with the card we found stable clock and voltages – 1150 MHz for the GPU and 1600 MHz for the memory. This is around a 20% increase for GPU and Memory clocks. We believe we didn’t get the best 7970 sample in the world (frankly just an average one) since this chip can go above 1200 MHz in most cases, but we believe that this is a nice demonstration of what you can get by overclocking a 7970, and we find it very satisfying. The card was quiet during the whole time of testing where fan speeds never exceeded 50% in full load and the card’s temperature were around 63 degrees Celsius, which we find optimal. Nice job Sapphire! We directly compared the Sapphire 7970 Dual-X with our previously reviewed Gigabyte GTX770 4GB 3X Windforce . The GTX770 was first tested at its default clocks which used Turbo Boost 2.0 technology to autooverclock the GTX 770 to 1240 MHz. This was on stock considering the speed for the GPU memory was running at 3509MHZ (7018 MHz effectively). However after manually overclocking the card we managed to get 1280MHz with boost for the GPU and 7484 MHz for the memory (remember this when you look at the performance charts). Although these cards are not in the same price range, the GTX 770 was announced as a “Radeon 7970 GHZ Edition Killer”, therefore we knew that the GTX 770 will perform alittle better. This card is nothing more than a heavily overclocked GTX680. The GTX 680 and Radeon 7970 (GHz Edition or not) were always more or less on par when it comes to performance, so comparing these two cards at their maximum clock rates was something that had to be done. Don’t forget an ordinary GTX 770 2Gb version costs around $100 more than then a Radeon 7970, while the Gigabyte GTX770 3xWindforce that we used is around $150 more, making it 50% higher priced than the 7970. At the end of the day, we knew it would be a tight race , but we didn’t know how tight. 3DMark 11 One of the standard synthetic benchmarks we use is Futuremark’s 3DMark 11. Its one of the most popular amongst benchmarkers for testing the performance of both your processor and graphic cards. As you can see from the charts on default clocks the 7970 trails in every test in 3DMark 11. However, after overclocking it, the benefits are more than obvious. The card is on par with the GTX770 overclocked to its maximum, trailing in some tests but also prevailing in others. 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme 3DMark Firestrike is one of those benchmarks that are just a little to much, futuristic but still good to bench with. In 3D MARK Fire Strike Extreme the overclocked 7970 Dual-X flourished when it came to performance leaving behind the GTX770 in every category. Differences are not that obvious in some cases, but we have to declare the 7970 as a clear winner in this benchmark. Unigine Valley 1.0 It’s one of our favorite benchmarks (very short but sweet). This one throws everthing possible in terms of intensity on your system, you can see that in the min and max fps for these beastly cards. Unigine Valley 2560 x 1440, Ultra Unigine Valley 2560 x 1440, Ultra Score Unigine Valley 1920 x 1080, Ultra Unigine Valley 1920 x 1080 Ultra Score In Unigine Valley at default clocks as you might expect the Sapphire Dual-X 7970 didn’t perform very well, well at least not better than the GTX770. However after the overclock the benefits are visible. The overclocked GTX770 and overclocked 7970 are almost the same in terms of performance, but the GTX770 does win by a hair in this test when it comes to fps as well as in the overall score in both resolutions. Unigine Heaven 4.0 Unigine Heaven is one of the oldest GPU benchmarks that support DX11, and it has been commonly accepted as a great tool for testing your GPU stability when overclocking. It is amazing how this benchmarks looks after all this time. Unigine Heaven 2560 x 1440 Extreme Unigine Heaven 2560 x 1440 Extreme Score Unigine Heaven 1920 x 1080 Extreme Unigine Heaven 1920 x 1080 Extreme Score The situation from the Unigine Valley benchmarks has been replicated in Unigine Heaven. The GTX 770 does prevail as you can see but the differences only get noticeable at the overall score. Although loosing by a very close margin in the overall score at 2560 x 1440, this difference is being increased in the 1920 x 1080p resoultion to ~7%. This is not the first time that we see the AMD Radeon 7970 perform better in higher resolutions compared to other cards , but loses that ratio as we go to smaller resolutions. Crysis 3 Crysis has always been one of those games that people bought just to see whether they can actually run it. This goes for Crysis 3 as well, since the system requirements to play this game at maxed out settings at a 2560 x 1080p resolution is just insane. 2 GTX Titans, working perfectly in SLI at least. Since you know how demanding it is ruining the 7970 at maximum settings would be useless since the game would be totally unplayable, so certain sacrifices had to be made in terms of graphical settings in order to get playable frame rates. Crysis 3, 2560 x 1440, SMAA low (1x), Texture Resolution-Medium Crysis 3, 1920 x 1080, SMAA low (1x), Texture Resolution-Medium At both of the resolutions as you can see, the overclocked 7970 and GTX770 go head to head where differences are in a margin of error. However the GTX770 did perform a little better when it comes to min fps, but when it comes to the overall impression, we are quite certain that you wouldn’t be able to distinguish one card from the another. It was that close as you can see in the charts for your self. Metro: Last Light Metro Last Light is a sequel to Metro 2033, a horror survival game that takes place in post apocalyptic Russia, where humans are forced to live underground in order to protect themselves from radiation as well as from the mutants. However the mutants and radiation are not the only enemies humans have, the most deadliest and most dangerous enemy to humans – are themselves… Metro is also one of those games that system requirements are far from normal. This game brings many of the current high end GPUs to their knees and that was the case with the 7970 as well. Metro: Last Light, 2560 x 1440, Dx11, Very High AF 16x Metro Last Light 1920 x 1080 Dx11 Very High AF 16x From our experience Metro 2033 always worked better with AMD cards, however Metro: Last Light was sponsored by Nvidia. We really don’t know what was going on, but at launch AMD cards performed terribly, after all the benching on most tech sites has passed , the developer for this 4A Game title released their patch that has fixed all the issues. The benchmark that you see here is rare one that has been done after the patch was out. As we already said the Metro franchise works better with AMD cards with the charts clearly proving it, the difference isn’t that big but its noticeable. Of course at stock speeds the 7970 is trailing but not by much, but the overclocked Sapphire 7970 Dual-X is clearly at the top. Tomb Raider Tomb Raider’s new iteration featuring Lara Croft in her young age, has seen a massive hit in terms of sales but it has been a hit on PC hardware as well. With AMD’s new TressFX technology, Lara’s hair did look far better than most video games, making the game look fresh and alive while playing it. However since we were testing a Nvidia card we knew that we will encounter certain difficulties with this new feature so we decided to leave it out of the benchmark. Tomb Raider, 2560 x 1440, Ultra, no TressFX Tomb Raider, 1920 X 1080, Ultra, no TressFX Tomb Raider is one of AMD’s Never Settle Bundle games that you can get buying a 7970 card. Since this game is a part of AMD’s Gaming Evolved program one would think that AMD cards would perform better, one would be right but only with TressFX enabled. With TressFX disabled Nvidia is very competitive, at 2560 x 1440 the performance of these 2 cards running at their highest clocks is pretty much identical. However at 1920 x 1080 AMD again looses that performance ratio by a bit, the differences are again ridiculous we feel this is something worth mentioning. Sleeping Dogs If you like Hong Kong Kung Fu movies and you like GTA than this is absolutely a game for you. Square Enix has created a beautiful open world game with lots of features and remarkable graphics quality especially for the PC platform. For those GTA addicts with a PC who don’t know what to do with themselves till GTA 5 gets released for their favorite platform, we recommend they check this game out. Sleeping Dogs is one more title that requires strong pieces of hardware to run properly. This game is really demanding if you want to play it at maxed out settings and many of the synthetic benchmarks that we ran never made the card rise in temps as this game did. Sleeping Dogs, 2560 x 1440, Extreme Sleeping Dogs, 1920 x 1080, Extreme Although an AMD Gaming Evolved game, Nvidia’s GTX770 did not trail in performance as it did in Tomb Raider, in fact it did quite well. Nvidia is better in max fps however, in average fps its a tie more or less, which can only be explained because AMD had less dips in terms of fps. Bioshock Infinite Bioshock Infinite is one of the best games of 2013. What did the people at Irrational Games manage to achieve with the aging Unreal Engine 3 is mind blowing, not to mention the gameplay and the complexity of the games story as well. Bioshock Infinite will be remembered as one of the best games that have ever been made. Although the game was made in UE3 it appeared to be a demanding piece of software as well. Bioshock Infinite, 2560 x 1440 ,Ultra Settings Bioshock Infinite 1920×1080, Ultra Settings Bioshock Infinite is one more game from AMD’s Gaming Evolved program and as you can see AMD did pretty well, especially when it comes to min fps as well as max fps. This is the only game from AMD’s Never Settle Bundle where the AMD 7970 actually did perform better than its Nvidia counterpart by a noticeable margin but only when it comes to max and min, while the 770 did quite well when it comes to overall performance in all resolutions. The conclusion made for the Sleeping Dogs benchmark about one card having stable performance but still loosing in the min and max fps department, can easily be used here as a conclusion aswell. Dirt 3 For all of those who like driving simulators , Dirt 3 is one of those games that brings a challenge to your skills. Advanced particle effects and physics make this games visuals great, but not that demanding in terms of today’s hardware. Dirt 3 2560 x 1440 Ultra Settings Dirt 3 1920 x 1080 Ultra Settings In Dirt 3 the overclocked 7970 and overclocked GTX770 give pretty much the same performance. Although Dirt 3 is a very beautiful game with a great number of advanced features these 2 cards chew it like gum. As in all previous benchmarks, scalability after overclocking the card is excellent and the benefits are more than visible. But the real question is do you really need to overclock a 7970 to play this game? Our answer is: No. F1 2013 This game was made by Codemasters (The Dirt3 creators) and is expected to provide high graphical fidelity, as well as advanced particle physics. F1 2013 2560 x 1440 Ultra Settings F1 2013 1920 x 1080 Ultra Settings The game where Nvidia is a clear winner in all of the resolutions. The GTX770 does perform better in both of the categories but again the number of frames is a confusion (over 100fps on both cards) as we doubt that you will ever be able to tell the difference in-game, unless you stare at Fraps all the time. Battlefield 4 Bf4 Beta 2560×1440 Ultra Preset Bf4 Beta 1920×1080 Ultra Preset You can take a more detailed view on the 7970 in our BF4 Mantle Benchmark. Conclusion As we saw the 7970 especially overclocked performed quite well sometimes even beating a much more expensive GTX770 4GB . These 2 cards have been battling throughout the review leaving no clear and decisive winner. The Sapphire Dual-X 7970 costs around $100-$150 less and provides pretty much the same performance . The Sapphire Dual-X 7970 is an absolute bang for the buck since it costs less than $300 and can be overclocked pretty high. But this is not the real question we are facing as the R9 280X has just hit the shelves. Why would you buy a Sapphire Dual-X 7970 when a rebranded 7970 renamed the R9 280X is already on sale? Or why would you buy any 7970 for that matter? Since the release of the R9 280X there has been significant price drops for the 7970 cards and you can buy one for a ridiculously low price tag. You can be sure that the sellers will want to empty their shelves in order to make room for the upcoming R9 and R7 series cards so it is expected that you will be able to find these cards on sale with an even lower price than they are at the moment. For people who want to save keep an eye on price drops that are already taking place and grab a fantastic card for a more than reasonable amount. As for the Sapphire Dual-X 7970, this card gets our recommendation since it “behaved” very well in terms of performance, overclocking aswell as the bareable noise levels because of its high quality cooling. See Pricing If you have any questions about the benchmark please ask in the comment section below and I will be glad to answer.