SAPPHIRE Vapor-X Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition Review

SAPPHIRE has a new custom cooled version of the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition known as the Vapor-X HD 7970 GHz Edition. We examine how well SAPPHIRE's Vapor-X cooling technology allows us to overclock this GHz edition video card. We will compare it to a Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition and a 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 one of the SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 7970 GHz edition series offerings, the brand new VAPOR-X HD 7970 GHZ Edition 3GB video card.

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AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition

AMD released its first next generation GPU with the Radeon HD 7970 on December 22nd, 2011, codenamed "Tahiti." This released ruled the market in both performance and price until NVIDIA released the GeForce GTX 680 which had better performance and a lower price. AMD continued its release of the Radeon HD 7950 on January 30th, 2012 and later on with the Radeon HD 7870 and 7850 video cards on March 4th, 2012, codenamed "Pitcairn."

On June 21, 2012, AMD refreshed the Radeon HD 7970 with higher clock speeds and GHz edition branding. The biggest difference between the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition and a reference Radeon HD 7970 is the operating frequency. The reference design of the original 7970 has the GPU running at 925MHz and the memory running at 1375MHz or 5.5GHz GDDR5. The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition has the GPU running at 1000MHz base clock with a 1050MHz Boost Clock, while the memory is set to run at 1500MHz or 6GHz GDDR5. Both video cards still have 128 Texture Units, 32 ROP's, 128 Z/Stencils, and 3GB of GDDR5 memory on a 384-bit bus. The typical board power for each video card is 250 watts.


SAPPHIRE Vapor-X Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition

There are two models you should be aware of that SAPPHIRE offers. There is the 6GB Vapor-X 7970 GHz Edition, and the 3GB Vapor-X 7970 GHz Edition. While both use the same GPU, there are differences between these. The 6GB Vapor-X edition is built for those who need an extreme multi-display and CrossFireX Eyefinity experience. Besides the RAM difference, there is a clock speed difference between the 6GB and 3GB version, as well as different power designs. The 6GB Vapor-X edition employs a 10-phase power design, double sided Black Diamond Chokes and DirectFET technology mounted on a 12 layer PCB. The 3GB Vapor-X edition, however, has an 8-phase power design.

The 6GB Vapor-X edition also has an option for higher clock speeds than the 3GB edition. SAPPHIRE has a technology called "EZ OC." EZ OC is as simple as a hardware button on the video card itself that you physically press. What this does is utilizes the dual-BIOS nature of the Radeon HD 7970 and switches the BIOS to a custom SAPPHIRE BIOS. With that, SAPPHIRE can raise the base clock and PowerTune's Dynamic Boost to higher frequencies. On the 6GB Vapor-X edition will set the base clock at 1050MHz instead of 1000MHz. When PowerTune's Dynamic Boost kicks in, this will put the 6GB model at 1100MHz operating frequency in games. The 3GB model (which we are evaluating today) also has an EZ OC button. However, enabling it will not take you to 1100MHz. Instead, what it does is ensure that the PowerTune Dynamic Clock stays at 1050MHz in all your games.

That means there is a 50MHz difference between the two models when the button is pressed. When the button is not enabled the video cards run at Radeon HD 7970 GHz edition default stock reference clock speeds of 1000/1050. In fact, we found that the 3GB model ran at 1050MHz in all our games regardless of what position the EZ OC button was in. It just didn't affect us at all; we got 1050MHz in games anyway in its default position.

The Vapor-X cooling system is comprised for four heat pipes that carry heat away from the GPU to aluminum fins that are cooled by a pair of 90mm fans with aerofoil blades and dust repelling bearings.

The SAPPHIRE Vapor-X Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition 3GB model comes with a 2 year factory warranty and is at Newegg for $449.99 after a $20 mail in rebate and a coupon for Dirt Showdown.

SAPPHIRE Vapor-X Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition 3GB Photos

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The SAPPHIRE HD 7970 is packaged in a silver box with black accent colors. The front of the box highlights implementation of EZ OC boost (which we found to be non-functional), the features of the video card and the Vapor-X cooling solution. On the back of the box, SAPPHIRE goes into further detail about the various features, specifications and awards won in the past. We observed that the back of the box said the video card had 6GB of RAM, however, the front of the box stated that there was 3GB of RAM. Inside the box, SAPPHIRE included a quick start guide, registration packet, a driver CD, a PCI-e 8-pin power adapter, a PCI-e 6-pin power adapter, a HDMI cable, a CrossFireX bridge and a DVI to VGA adapter.

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The front of the SAPPHIRE HD 7970 features a matte black plastic cover that serves to house the 2 fans and cover the heatsink. The card feels well-built and has some heft to it when picked up. You can see underneath the black cover that the heat sink spans the entire length of the video card. The fan shroud juts out above the confines of the 2nd PCI-e slot space.

While the design of the Vapor-X cooling solution appears to be solid, its one fatal flaw is that the heat generated is not exhausted out of the case, which makes it far more important to have a well-designed case with plenty of airflow. We observed a majority of the air being exhausted out the back of the video card when fans were dialed up to full speed.

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On the I/O panel there are four ports. These include one DP port, two DVI-D connectors, and one HDMI connector. The power connectors are on top of the video card and require one 8-pin and one 6-pin PCI-e connections. The video card’s measurements are 11.25 inches in length, 1.8 inches wide, and 5.25 inches in height.


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