Sapphire HD 7970 OC Edition Video Card Review

The Sapphire HD 7970 OC Edition video card has arrived and brings promise of low temperatures with Sapphires Dual-X Cooling System. It also features a Dual BIOS with both a passive and more aggressive profile. Will Sapphires highest end HD 7970 be able to keep up and compete with NVIDIA's flagship GeForce GTX 680?

Introduction

Sapphire Technology is a well-known company based in Hong Kong, China, and is recognized as the single largest supplier of AMD-based video cards. Since ATI began funneling graphics processors to AiBs in 2001, Sapphire has been at the head of the red-team pack. In addition to video cards , Sapphire also offers a series of motherboards, workstation class video cards, multimedia products such as TV tuners and Digital Photo frames, and mini PCs like the EDGE HD2.

On our test bench today is Sapphire's highest end graphics card, the Sapphire HD 7970 Overclocked Edition video card.

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AMD Radeon HD 7970

AMD announced its new Radeon HD 7970, code-named "Tahiti", on December 22nd, 2011. Product availability was made on January 9th, 2012. Tahiti represents a departure from previous architectures for AMD. It calls the new architecture "Graphics Core Next," or GCN. The Radeon HD 6000 series used AMD's VLIW 4 and 5 architectures. GCN features a smaller die at 28nm, compared to the 40nm process used for the previous generation.

Aside from the die shrink, GCN offers a number of features over previous generation GPUs. One particularly noteworthy feature is "ZeroCore Power." This feature disables unused GPUs (or portions of them) during long idle periods to save power and increase efficiency. This can save energy not only in terms of power consumed by the video card, but it can also lead to decreased heat generation, which can save money in terms of cooling costs.

The Radeon HD 7970 GPU itself is comprised of 4.32 billion transistors packed into 2048 stream processors with a clock speed of 925MHz. There are 128 texture units, 128 Z/stencil units, and 32 ROPs. That is a 33% increase in stream processors and texture units compared to the Radeon HD 6970, but the same number of ROP. Even so, optimizations and clock speed increases should result in more efficient rasterization.

The Radeon HD 7970 is designed to be paired with 3GB of GDDR5 memory on a 384-bit bus, running at 1375MHz for a 5.5Gbps data rate and a maximum theoretical bandwidth of 264GB per second. In spite of its increased capacity and its performance improvements, the Radeon HD 7970 shares the same 250W maximum board power rating as the HD 6970.


Sapphire HD 7970 OC Edition

The Sapphire HD 7970 OC Edition is the fastest, highest end video card currently available from Sapphire. This video card is outfitted with Sapphires Dual-X cooling system which includes five pure copper heat pipes extending from the GPU across the heat sink, and dual fans that are designed around quiet operation while moving a fair amount of air. The Sapphire HD 7970 OC Edition is currently available on Newegg priced at $579.99.

The Dual BIOS technology is designed around allowing users to choose a standard profile and a more aggressive profile with more performance. The first BIOS setting has core operating frequency set to 950MHz which is an increase of 25MHz from the reference design, and the memory's operating frequency set to 1425MHz which is an increase of 50MHz. The second BIOS profile has core operating frequency set to 1000MHz on the core which is an increase of 75MHz compared to the reference HD 7970 design, and 1450MHz on the memory which is a 75MHz increase.

The Dual-X cooling system is what we as enthusiasts expect a company to bring to the table on its high end video cards. The Sapphire HD 7970 OC Edition has two fans that have a shiny gloss on them to help fight wind resistance. This allows them to operate at faster speeds without the excess noise. These fans cool the custom heat sink that is elevated above the PCB. The five pure copper heat pipes spread heat evenly across the heatsink. The Dual-X cooling system should result in some impressively low temperatures.

You can read more about the Sapphire HD 7970 OC Edition's specifications here.

Sapphire HD 7970 OC Edition Pictures

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The Sapphire HD 7970 OC Edition video card comes in a mostly black box with an army girl on the front. The front of the box points out some of the unique features of the card such as Dual Bios and Dual-X cooling system. It also shows that the Sapphire TriXX overclocking utility is compatible with this video card. There is nowhere on the box that mentions the factory overclock. The video card came very well packaged inside fitting snug against the box. The anti-static bag also had bubble wrap that keeps the video card safe in transition.

The software bundle was relatively simplistic and contained a quick start guide, a flyer for registering your product, and a Driver CD.

The accessory bundle had several items included with it. There is a CrossFireX Bridge, an 8-pin to dual-Molex connector, a 6-pin to 4-pin Molex connector. Also included was a DVI to VGA Adapter, a Mini-DP to DP connector, and a 1.8 Meter HDMI cable. There was also an HDMI to Single Link DVI Adapter and a MiniDP to Single Link DVI active dongle.

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The Sapphire HD 7970 OC Edition video card has a very simple look to it. The front of the video card has a plastic cover that is fairly sturdy. It did not feel like it was going to break when applying pressure to it. On the bottom of the video card there are five copper heat pipes that come from the top of the GPU and spread to different parts of the heat sink. The two fans also have a shiny gloss on them, which helps eliminate wind resistance and greatly reduces noise while operating.

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On the rear I/O panel is a Dual-Link DVI connector, an HDMI connector, and two mini-Display Port adaptors. On top of the Sapphire HD 7970 OC Edition is the Dual-X Bios switch which allows you to select each BIOS. The top of the video card also houses the two power connectors. To power the Sapphire HD 7970 OC Edition video card an 8-pin and 6-pin PCI-E power connector are required. The measurements of the Sapphire HD 7970 OC Edition video card are 11.25 Inches in Length, 1 and 7/8th Inches Wide, and 4.5 Inches in Height.