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AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition Review
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Date: Jun 22, 2012
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications

It was exactly 6 months ago to the minute that AMD officially took the wraps off its Tahiti GPU and the original Radeon HD 7970. The Radeon HD 7970 was the first graphics card to feature AMD’s “Graphics Core Next”, or GCN, architecture and when it hit the scene, the Radeon HD 7970 proved to be the fastest single-GPU based graphics card available.

Since that time though, NVIDIA went ahead and released their Kepler-based GK104 GPU and the GeForce GTX 600 series of graphics cards. Although GK104 was comprised of fewer transistors and used less power, it ended up outpacing the Radeon HD 7970 more often than not, and propelled NVIDIA back into a leadership position at the high-end of the graphics card market.

As you can imagine, that didn’t sit well with AMD. So, for Tahiti’s half-birthday, they went ahead and refreshed the Radeon HD 7970, by tweaking a few key aspects of the card and adding some new features. The end result is the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition, an update to the original with a faster GPU, higher-clocked memory, and a new PowerTune with Boost feature that dynamically adjusts the GPU frequency and voltage when headroom is available.

AMD says the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition is the “World’s fastest and most versatile GPU”. Are they correct? Let’s fire the thing up and find out...


The AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition 3GB Graphics Card
AMD Radeon HD 7970
Specifications & Features

Processing Units
Stream Processors 2048
Compute Performance (SPDP/DPFP) 4.3 TFLOPS / 1.08 TFLOPS
Texture Units 128
Z/Stencil 128
ROP Units 32
Clock Speeds
Engine Clock 1000 MHz
Boost Clock 1050 MHz
Memory Clock (Data Rate) 6.0Gbps / 6 GHz (effective)
Memory
Memory Type GDDR5
Total Video Memory 3072MB
Memory Interface 384-bit
Total Memory Bandwidth 288 GB/s
Texture Filtering Rate (Bilinear) 134.4 GT/sec [33.6 GP/sec]
Physical & Thermal
Fabrication Process 28 nm
Transistor Count 2.8 Billion
Connectors 1 x Dual-Link DVI, 2 x mini-DP, 1 x HDMI
Form Factor Dual Slot
Power Connectors 1 x 6-pin, 1 x 8-pin
Recommended Power Supply 500 watts
Thermal Design Power (TDP) ~250 watts
AMD ZeroCore Power <2 watts

The main features and specifications of the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition are outlined in the chart above. We’ll go more in-depth on the coming pages, but for now, the information above should give you all an idea as to where the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition fits in AMD’s current graphics card line-up. Hint: It's the fastest single-GPU powered card from AMD to date.


Tahiti is turning .5 years old today!

Before we dig into the specifics of the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition, however, we’d like to direct you attention to a few recent articles that will help lay the foundation for what we’ll be showing you on the pages ahead. Since the Tahiti GPU at the heart of the card is identical to one use on AMD’s previously-released, high-end Radeon HD 7900 series products, we’ve covered many of its key features at length already. As such, we won’t be diving in to them again here.

In our coverage of the original Radeon HD 7970 launch, we detail all of the key features of AMD’s Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture and discuss features like PowerTune and AMD ZeroCore Power technology, GCN Tessellation, Partially Resident Textures (PRT), and Discrete Digital Multi-Point audio, among others. In our Radeon HD 7950 coverage, we’ve got CrossFireX scores with the 7900-series and in the Radeon HD 7770 and 7750 launch piece, we detail AMD’s latest mainstream DX11 offerings and discuss how GCN was scaled down to cater to different market segments.

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The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition

The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition card we tested is virtually identical to the original 7970, save for its newer firmware. Retail-ready cards, however, will be customized by AMD's board parters and will not look anything like the card we tested. Since we know how much you all like sexy hardware though, here are some recycled pics and a description of what the reference card we tested looks like..


The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition: GPU Clock=1000MHz/1050MHz, Memory Data Rate=6.0 Gbps

As you can see in the images above, the card is roughly the same size as a Radeon HD 6970 at 10.5”. There is a single, barrel type fan at the rear of the card, which pumps air through a heatsink with a vapor chamber, after which it is ultimately expelled through vents in the case bracket. That’s how previous Radeon HD 6900 series cards were configured as well, but with the 7970 and 7970 GHZ Edition, AMD has moved to a new fan design with larger, wider blades. The fan has been optimized for lower RPMs for better acoustics, but pushes more air. AMD also removed the stacked DVI connector to increase the size of the exhaust vent and reduce turbulence. The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition is also outfitted with a multi-step vapor chamber with three distinct levels. One level makes contact with the GPU, another the memory, and the last touches the VREGs.




The Radeon HD 7900 Series Cooling Solution

The fan shroud design has been tweaked as well. Unlike Radeon HD 6900 series cards which had a mostly squared, flat design, that was sealed at the rear, the Radeon HD 7970 has a curved shroud with additional vents. AMD also removed the stiffening plate from the back to maximize the amount of air-space between cards installed in adjacent PEG slots.

AMD also uses a second-generation phase-change thermal interface material on the GPU, all of which culminates in somewhat reduced temperatures over older Radeons, but with much better performance.




The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition's Power & CrossFire Connectors

Other physical attributes of the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition include the familiar pair of CrossFire edge connectors, and the two-position BIOS switch that debuted on Radeon HD 6900 series cards. That tiny switch is used to toggle between two BIOS chips on the card—the first BIOS can be altered / updated, while the second will return the card to its factory settings, or vice versa. That’s something that might come in handy with the modding crowd.

Also on the top, at the far end of the card are its power connectors. The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition requires two supplemental power feeds, one PCIe 8-pin feed and one 6-pin feed. Finally, the output configuration on reference Radeon HD 7970 series cards consists of one dual-link DVI output, two mini-DisplayPort outputs and a single HDMI output. Four of these outputs can be used at any given time to power displays in a multi-monitor Eyefinity configuration, but with upcoming DisplayPort hubs due to arrive in a few months, up to six displays can be connected at once.

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New Features: Powertune w/ Boost

The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition gets is mojo from two main things, faster base GPU and memory clocks and the addition of a new feature—AMD PowerTune Technology with Boost.

As we’ve mentioned in the past, AMD PowerTune utilizes a control processor integrated into the Radeon HD 7900 series to monitor GPU activity in real-time at the micro-second level and dynamically adjusts clock speeds to enforce a hard TDP ceiling. PowerTune offers direct control over the GPU’s power draw and no longer needs to constrain default clock speeds to accommodate “power virus” type applications. That all remains true with PowerTune Technology with Boost, but there are a few new wrinkles added to the fold.

PowerTune Technology with Boost can now dynamically adjust frequencies and voltages and the power estimation algorithms have been tweaked to improve accuracy, which will allow the card to hit higher frequencies, more often. There is no new hardware incorporated on the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition, however. AMD has implemented these new features through updated firmware and software, and by more aggressively binning the GPUs as yields have improved at the foundry.

By default, the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition has a base clock speed of 1000MHz, but with Boost that clock speed can be increased another 5% up to 1050MHz, power and temps permitting. PowerTune Technology with Boost essentially enables additional P-states over and above AMD’s original PowerTune implementation and adjusts frequencies and voltages according to the workload.

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Test System and Unigine Heaven v3

How We Configured Our Test Systems: We tested the graphics cards in this article on an Asus P9X79 Deluxe motherboard powered by a Core i7-3960X six-core processor and 16GB of G.SKILL DDR3-1866 RAM. The first thing we did when configuring the test system was enter the system UEFI and set all values to their "optimized" or "high performance" default settings and disabled any integrated peripherals that wouldn't be put to use. The memory's X.M.P. profile was enabled to ensure better-than-stock performance and the hard drive was then formatted and Windows 7 Ultimate x64 was installed. When the installation was complete we fully updated the OS and installed the latest DirectX redist, along with the drivers, games, and benchmark tools necessary to complete our tests.

HotHardware's Test System
Intel Core i7 Powered

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7-3960X
(3.3GHz, Six-Core)
Asus P9X79 Deluxe
(Intel X79 Express)

Radeon HD 7950
Radeon HD 7970
GeForce GTX 590
GeForce GTX 680
GeForce GTX 670

16GB GSKILL DDR3-1866
Western Digital Raptor 150GB
Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
DirectX April 2011 Redist
ATI Catalyst v12.7B
NVIDIA GeForce Drivers v304.48

Benchmarks Used:

Unigine Heaven v3
3DMark 11
Batman: Arkham City
Just Cause 2
Alien vs. Predator
Metro 2033
Lost Planet 2
Dirt: Showdown

Unigine Heaven v3.0 Benchmark
Pseudo-DirectX 11 Gaming


Unigine Heaven

Unigine's Heaven Benchmark v3.0 is built around the Unigine game engine. Unigine is a cross-platform, real-time 3D engine, with support for DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11 and OpenGL. The Heaven benchmark--when run in DX11 mode--also makes comprehensive use of tessellation technology and advanced SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion) It also features volumetric cumulonimbus clouds generated by a physically accurate algorithm and a dynamic sky with light scattering.



As you can see in the graph above, the NVIDIA-based cards offered higher framerates in this benchmark across the board, and hence higher overall scores. The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition manages to squeak past the GeForce GTX 670, but the stock and factory-overclocked GeForce GTX 680s take the top two spots here.
 

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3DMark 11 Performance

Futuremark 3DMark11
Synthetic DirectX Gaming


Futuremark 3DMark11

The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark11, is specifically bound to Windows Vista and WIndows 7-based systems due to its DirectX 11 requirement, which isn't available on previous versions of Windows. 3DMark11 isn't simply a port of 3DMark Vantage to DirectX 11, though. With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated four new graphics tests, a physics tests, and a new combined test. We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark11's Extreme preset option, which uses a resolution of 1920x1080 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.

The performance trend in 3DMark11 looks very similar to that of Unigine Heaven. The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition offers measurably better performance than the stock 7970 and it outpaces the GeForce GTX 670. But once again, the GeForce GTX 680 cards put up the best scores overall.
 

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Lost Planet 2, Just Cause 2 Performance

Lost Planet 2
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance


Lost Planet 2

A follow-up to Capcom’s Lost Planet : Extreme Condition, Lost Planet 2 is a third person shooter that takes place again on E.D.N. III ten years after the story line of the first title. We ran the game’s DX11 mode which makes heavy use of DX11 Tessellation and Displacement mapping and soft shadows. There are also areas of the game that make use of DX11 DirectCompute for things like wave simulation in areas with water. This is one game engine that looks significantly different in DX11 mode when you compare certain environmental elements and character rendering in its DX9 mode versus DX11. We used the Test B option built into the benchmark tool with all graphics options set to their High Quality values.

Lost Planet 2 is almost a clean sweep for NVIDIA. The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition performs about 10% better than a stock Radeon HD 7970, but it still trails even the GeForce GTX 670 at the 1920x1200. With the resolution cranked up to 256x1600 though, the 7970GHz Edition beats the GTX 670 by a small margin. The GeForce GTX 680s, however, continue to rule the roost.
 

Just Cause 2
DX10.1 Gaming Performance


Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 was released in March '10, from developers Avalanche Studios and Eidos Interactive. The game makes use of the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the similarly named original. It is set on the fictional island of Panau in southeast Asia, and you play the role of Rico Rodriquez. We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article using one of the built-in demo runs called Concrete Jungle. The test results shown here were run at various resolutions and settings. This game also supports a few CUDA-enabled features, but they were left disabled to keep the playing field level, since AMD's cards can't use them.

The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition was able to pull ahead of the GeForce GTX 680 at both resolutions and managed to outpace the factory-overclocked GTX 680 as well when running at 1920x1200. Not a clear win, but at least the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition is able to pull ahead of the GeForce GTX 680 here, whereas the stock 7970 could not.
 

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Metro 2033 Performance

Metro 2033
DirecX11 Gaming Performance


Metro 2033

Metro 2033 is your basic post-apocalyptic first person shooter game with a few rather unconventional twists. Unlike most FPS titles, there is no health meter to measure your level of ailment, but rather you’re left to deal with life, or lack thereof, more akin to the real world with blood spatter on your visor and your heart rate and respiration level as indicators. The game is loosely based on a novel by Russian Author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Metro 2003 boasts some of the best 3D visuals on the PC platform and includes a DX11 rendering mode that makes use of advanced depth of field effects and character model tessellation for increased realism. This title also supports NVIDIA PhysX technology for impressive in-game physics effects. We tested the game at resolutions of 1920x1200 and 2560x1600 with adaptive anti-aliasing and in-game image quality options set to their High Quality mode, with DOF effects disabled.

Metro 2033 was a bit of a mixed bag for the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition. At 1920x1200, the NVIDIA-powered cards takes the top three spots. With the resolution increased to 2560x1600, however, the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition and factory-overclocked GeForce GTX 680 tie for the top spot. Minimum framerates are similar for all of the cards though; the much higher maximum framerate of the GeForce cards gives them the edge here.
 

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Batman: Arkham City Performance

Batman: Arkham City
DirectX Gaming Performance


Batman: Arkham City

Batman: Arkham City is a sequel to 2009’s Game of the Year winning Batman: Arkham Asylum. This recently released sequel, however, lives up to and even surpasses the original in many ways. The story takes place 18 months after the original game. Quincy Sharp, the onetime administrator of Arkham Asylum, has become mayor and convinced Gotham to create "Arkham City" by walling off the worst, most crime-ridden areas of the city and turning the area into a giant open-air prison. The game has DirectX 9 and 11 rendering paths, with support for tessellation, multi-view soft shadows, and ambient occlusion. We tested in DX11 mode with all in-game graphical options set to their maximum values, at various resolutions.

We've got another close one in the Batman: Arkham City benchmark. The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition just barely trails the stock GeForce GTX 680 here, when tested at 1920x1200. With the resolution increased to 2560x1600 though, the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition nudges past the stock GeForce GTX 680 and trailed only the factory-overclocked GTX 680 card.
 

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Dirt: Showdown Performance

Dirt: Showdown
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance


Dirt: Showdown

Dirt Showdown is the latest in a string of great racing games from Codemasters. Like is predecessor, 2011's Dirt 3, this game sports impressive visuals with DX11 support. “Ultra” settings for shadow effects, global illumination, tessellation, and post processing elements, like depth of field, are available in the game, and in turn, crank up the workload on the graphics subsystem. The game engine also makes use of multi-core processors for higher performance on top-end systems. We tested the game configured with its Ultra graphics options with 4X anti-aliasing enabled at resolutions of 1920x1200 and 2560x1600.

 

Dirt: Showdown is all about the AMD-powered cards. In this game, even the Radeon HD 7950 is faster than the factory overclocked GeForce GTX 680, when testing the game with all of its options cranked up to their max values. The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition's minimum FPS is better than the GeForce GTX 680's average.
 

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Alien vs. Predator Performance

Alien vs. Predator
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance


Alien vs. Predator

The Alien vs. Predator benchmark makes use of the advanced Tessellation, screen space ambient occlusion and high-quality shadow features, available with DirectX 11. In addition to enabling all of the aforementioned DirectX 11 related features offered by this benchmark, we also switched on 4X anti-aliasing along with 16X anisotropic filtering to more heavily tax the graphics cards being tested.

When looking at these graphs, please note that LOWER frame-times (the top graph) equate to better performance.

In out Alien vs. Predator benchmarks, the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition has another strong showing, besting everything NVIDIA has to offer across the board.
 

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GPGPU Performance

Next up, we have a couple of GPGPU benchmarks with SiSoft SANDRA 2012 SP4 and Computemark. We tested all of the cards represented here with SANDRA's GP (GPU/CPU/APU) Processing benchmark, using the OpenCL GP Processor option and have the aggregate and native double-shader scores for you reported below.

SiSoft SANDRA 2012 SP4
GPGPU Performance

The Radeon HD 7900 series cards simply dominated all of the GeForces in this SANDRA GPGPU benchmark. According to this benchmark, the Radeon's offer 2x - 4x the performance of NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 600 series offerings.

Computemark
Compute Shader Benchmark

The cards were much more tightly grouped in the Computemark test. The Radeon HD 7970 cards still take top honors, but in this test the Radeon HD 7950 trails the GeForce GTX 690 cards, while the GeForce GTX 670 brings up the rear.
 

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Overclocking the Radeon HD 7970 GHz

With more aggressively binned GPUs and intelligent voltage and frequency scaling now incorporated into the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition, we were curious to see how much frequency headroom the card had left in the tank for overclocking. So, for our next set of performance metrics, we spent some time tweaking the GPU and memory frequencies on the new Radeon HD 7950 GHz Edition using the Overdrive utility built into AMD's Catalyst drivers.

Overclocking the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition
Putting The Pedal to the Metal

We experimented with a couple of different settings on our card. First we simply cranked the PowerTune limit to the maximum +20 value to see if the card would maintain its boost clock for longer periods and offer better performance without actually overclocking. And secondly, we actually tweaked the GPU and Memory clocks until the card exhibited signs of instability.

With the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition's PowerTune limit increased, it didn't offer much additional performance. AvP reported a mild .2 FPS increase, but Metro 2033 showed no change. Overclocking the card, however, resulted in significant gains. We were able to push our particular Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition to an 1195MHz GPU clock with 1550MHz (6.2Gbps effective) memory. We were actually able to push the card over the 1.2GHz mark, but unfortunately started to see some funky visual artifacts, even though the card didn't crash. At its overclocked speeds, the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition showed some nice gains and ended up posting the best scores of the bunch.
 

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Power Consumption, Noise, Temps

Before bringing this article to a close, we'd like to cover a few final data points--namely power consumption, temperatures and noise. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored acoustics and tracked how much power our test system was consuming using a power meter. Our goal was to give you an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and also while under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the graphics cards alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

AMD claimed that the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition would offer significantly better performance than the original 7970, while operating in the same power envelope. While idling, the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition consumed the same amount of power as the standard 7970--so far so good--but under load the cards behaved very differently. The Radeon HD 7970-based system pulled 385 watts from the outlet. But with the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition installed it pulled 428 watts, an increase of 43 watts. The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition does have the same power connector configuration as the original 7970, so technically its operating in the same range, but wtih higher clocks for the GPU and memory, the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition simply uses more power than its little brother.


Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition Fan Speed & Temperature - Idle
 

Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition Fan Speed & Temperature - Load

Like the original 7970, the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition proved to be somewhat quiet in real world use cases. While idling, the card is all but silent, as its fan runs at only 20% and temps remain in the mid-40'C range. Under load, we never saw the fan spin up past the 48%, which was definitely audible, but but not very loud in comparison to other high-end graphics cards. Under load, temps peaked in the low-80'C range. Should you manually spin the fans up to higher speeds, the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition can get loud like previous-gen Radeons, but in real-world use that never happened on its own. In our experience, the Radeon HD 7970 is somewhat quieter than Radeon HD 6900 series cards, but not quite as quiet as GeForce GTX 600 series products.
 
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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition put up some of the best numbers we've seen to date. Its combination of higher base GPU and memory frequencies, in addition to its new PowerTune technology with Boost which pushes clocks even further, result in performance that's roughly 10% - 15% better than the original Radeon HD 7970, depending on the application and workload. In comparison to the GeForce GTX 680, the new Radeon HD 7970 GHz also competes well. We ran two synthetic benchmarks, six actual game benchmarks, and two GPGPU tests. In the synthetic tests, the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition trailed the GeForce GTX 680, it traded victories in the games tests, however, and smoked the GeForce in the GPGPU tests. Needless to say, its tough to say one card is truly faster than the other.  If we changed up our mix of benchmarks, things could go either way, depending on the applications / games that are chosen. 


The AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition Reference Card

AMD set out to release the fastest single-GPU powered graphics card (again) with the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition. Did they succeed? Well, that all depends on your perspective. According to our mix of tests, The Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition and GeForce GTX 680 are fairly evenly matched. WIth certain workloads, an argument can certainly be made that the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition is the fastest single-GPU based graphics card available. But that's not universally true, so we're going to declare this round a dead heat. We wish we could declare a clear winner, but we've got to call it like we see it.

Pricing doesn't help settle the argument either. The MSRP of the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition is $499, which makes it about 10% more expensive than the average Radeon HD 7970, but somewhat more affordable than the average GeForce GTX 680. We would have liked to see AMD put some more aggressive price pressure on NVIDIA with this release, but looking back at the performance and current pricing at retail, $499 is a fair position for the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition.

  • Excellent Performance
  • Competitive Pricing
  • Eyefinity Support
  • PowerTune w/ Boost

  • Not Clearly Faster than GTX 680
  • Louder and Uses More Power Than GTX 680



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