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ASUS Matrix Radeon HD 7970 Platinum Review
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Date: Dec 28, 2012
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications

There is a reason ASUS is so well respected amongst PC enthusiasts. The company has been making some of the best-performing, most feature-rich products in the space for years. Whether it’s a min-ITX motherboard, sleek Ultrabook, or a full-fledged, touch-enabled All-In-One system, ASUS has highly competitive products that are worthy of consideration.

It’s not just about performance and features, though. ASUS has also been a long-time innovator willing to release relatively low-volume products that cater to ultra, hardcore-enthusiasts. Such is the case with the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum edition graphics card we’ll be showing you here today. As its name suggests, the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum is a member of the company’s “Republic of Gamers” series of products, designed for—you guessed it--gamers. The card is powered by an AMD Radeon HD 7970 GPU, but the similarities between plain vanilla 7970s and the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum end there. This card is about as custom as you can get and it has features you won’t find on any run-of-the-mill product.

Take a peek at the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum’s specifications and list of features below and then we’ll dive in and take a look at what may very well be the best Radeon HD 7970-based graphics card in existence.

 

ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum
Specifications & Features


As you can see in the table above, ASUS has two Matrix 7970 cards in there stable. The only difference between the standard edition and the Platinum model we’ll be showing you here are the cards’ base and boost GPU clock speeds, which differ by 50MHz. The remaining features and specifications are the same on either card.


ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum Edition Bundle

Before we put the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum under the microscope, we also should draw some attention to all of the goodies ASUS included with the card. Along with the behemoth itself, ASUS throws is a Diablo III mouse pad, a quick setup guide and user’s manual, a dual-six-pin to eight-pin power adapter, a CrossFire bridge connector, a VGA-to-DVI adapter, and a driver / utility disc which contains a copy of ASUS’ excellent GPU Tweak utility.

In addition to the aforementioned items, ASUS also throws in an aluminum heatsink for the card’s power array, should a user intend to super-cool the card with something like LN2 and a group of wire leads to compliment the card’s VGA Hotwire feature. With VGA Hotwire, when the card is installed into a compatible RoG motherboard, the leads can be used to connect the card to designated headers on the mobo for easy voltage adjustments through the UEFI or from within Windows using ASUS’ Ai Suite II software. That’s one of those features for hardcore tweakers we were talking about in the intro.
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Enter the ASUS Matrix

The ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum is a unique product. It may be based on a popular GPU from AMD, but the card’s design is completely custom, from its PCB to its gargantuan, triple-slot wide cooler. Except for the piece of silicon at the heart of the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum, it’s nothing like reference Radeon HD 7970-based graphics cards.


The ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum just looks hardcore...

Some of the more obvious external features of the card include a triple-slot wide cooler, outfitted with dual 100mm fans and an array of aluminum heatsinks fins, which are linked to a cold plate by copper heat pipes. The design employs ASUS’ “Direct CU” technology, which puts the copper heat pipes in direct contact with the GPU, for more efficient heat transfer. The combination of a large heatsink, Direct CU, and the two large fans offer much better cooling performance than dual-slot reference designs, at the cost of an additional slot. However, the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum’s cooler is also much quieter than reference designs in all real-world situations. We’ll talk a bit more about the cooler a little later in the review.

  

  
The ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum is completely custom

Along the top of the card is another cool feature ASUS calls the Matrix LED Load Indicator. The lettering on the top of the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum’s fans shroud actually lights up in different colors to indicate the load being placed on the card. Green indicates safe mode, while red indicates extreme loading; light blue, dark blue and purple indicate light, medium and heavy loads.

At the front of the card you’ll spy all of the ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum’s display outputs. There are a pair of DVI outputs and quad, full-sized DisplayPorts. We should point out that all of the cards outputs can be used simultaneously for up to a 6-display EyeFinity configuration. As cool as the front of the card looks, there’s a lot more to see at the rear.

At the rear of the ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum there are a number of customizations to point out. First, take note of the four buttons visible in the shot above. Two of those buttons (+ and -) can be used to tweak the ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum’s GPU voltage on the fly; ASUS calls the feature TweakIT instant voltage adjustment. Voltage tweaks can also be performed through software, but if you’re a hardcore overclocker working with an open-air test bench, the ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum make it possible to tweak voltages anytime, regardless of the OS being used. There is also a Safe Mode button, which returns the card to its factory defaults, and a 100% Fan Speed button, which—you guessed it—cranks the card’s fans to their maximum speed.


The back of the card is reinforced to prevent flexing and protect surface mounted components

Adjacent to the buttons is an array of LEDs to indicate the voltage level, and just behind the buttons are the headers for the VGA Hotwire feature mentioned on the previous page. The card requires a pair of 8-pin PCI Express power leads and the card is outfitted with a massive, 20-phase digital power array comprised of hardened Super Alloy Power capacitors, chokes, and MOSFETs. The “DIGI+ VRM with 20-phase Super Alloy Power” as ASUS calls it not only provided cleaner, more stable power than reference designs, but it generates less heat, is more efficient, and should be more reliable in the long run as well.


ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum breakout view

All of the customizations made the ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum allowed ASUS to clock the hard higher than reference designs and ensure good overclocking potential. Like other Radeon HD 7970 cards, the ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum has a 384-bit memory bus with 3GB of GDDR5 memory. The memory on the ASUS card is clocked higher, however, at a speedy 6600MHz (1650MHz actual clock). The ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum’s GPU is also cranked up a few notches. The base GPU clock is 1050MHz, with a boost clock of 1100MHz, making it one of the highest clocked, air-cooled Radeon HD 7970 cards available.
 

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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 7970 GHz Edition
GeForce GTX 680
GeForce GTX 680 OC
Asus Matrix 7970 Platinum Edition

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

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
DirectX April 2011 Redist
AMD Catalyst v12.11B
NVIDIA GeForce Drivers v370.10

Benchmarks Used:

Unigine Heaven v3
3DMark 11
Batman: Arkham City
Hitman: Absolution
Alien vs. Predator
Metro 2033
Sleeping Dogs
F1 2012

Unigine Heaven v3.0 Benchmark
Pseudo-DirectX 11 Gaming


Unigine Heaven v3.0

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.

Its higher base and boost GPU clocks give the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum a marked advantage over the reference Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition in the Unigine Heaven benchmark, and allow it to pull up right alongside the GeForce GTX 680. The factory overclocked GTX 680, however, was still the fastest overall in this particular test.
 

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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 Futuremark's 3DMark 11 benchmark looks much like Unigine Heaven's on the previous page. The ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum is clearly faster than the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition and pulls ahead of the GeForce GTX 680, but it trails the factory overclocked GeForce GTX 680 by a few percentage points, mostly due to the NVIDIA-powered card's strong showing in GT1 and GT4. Note that the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum is actually faster in GT2 and GT3, however.
 

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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.

The Alien vs. Predator DirectX 11 benchmark is all about memory bandwidth when tested at the extreme, high-end settings we like to use. As such, the Radeons put up much better scores than their NVIDIA-powered competition, thanks to the Radeons' wide memory bus, and the higher-clocked ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum takes the top spot.
 

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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.

The Metro 2033 benchmark was very competitive. The NVIDIA-powered cards were able to put up much higher peak framerates, likely due to better optimized drivers for this particular game, but the average FPS among all of the cards were quite close. The factory overclocked GeForce GTX 680 put up the best score at the lower resolution, but the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum came roaring back and took the top spot at the higher resolution.

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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.

The performance trend in Batman: Arkham City roughly mirrors those of Metro 2033 on the previous page. At the lower resolution, the factory overclocked GeForce GTX 680 card was the fastest overall, with the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum nipping at its heals. At the higher resolution, however, it's the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum that comes out on top.
 

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F1 2012 Performance

F1 2012
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance


F1 2012

F1 2012 is Codemaster’s latest Formula One racing simulation and like Dirt series, it sports impressive visuals with DX11 support. “Ultra” settings for shadow effects and post processing elements like depth of field then become available to the gamer and in turn, crank up the workload on the graphics subsystem. The game engine also makes use of multi-core processors for better performance on high-end systems. We tested the game configured with its Ultra graphics options at resolutions of 1920x1200 and 2560x1600 with 4X anti-aliasing enabled.


We saw a performance trend similar to a couple of the other titles we tested with in our F1 2012 benchmarks. Here, the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum once again trailed the factory overclocked GeForce GTX 680 card at the lower resolution, but it came back and just nudged past the GeForce at the higher resolution.

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Sleeping Dogs Performance

Sleeping Dogs
DX11 Gaming Performance


Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs is an open-world game, in which you play the role of Wei Shen, an undercover cop trying to take down the Triads from the inside. In the game, you have to fight your way up in the organization, and take part in various criminal activities without blowing your cover. We tested Sleeping Dogs at two resolutions, with all in-game graphical options set to their maximum values with FXAA enabled.

The AMD Radeon-powered cards put up much better numbers than the GeForces in the Sleeping Dogs benchmark. Of course, the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum's higher GPU and memory clocks helped it to pull ahead of the reference Radeon HD 7970 by a few percentage points at both resolutions.

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Hitman: Absolution Performance

Hitman: Absolution
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance


Hitman: Absolution

Hitman: Absolution follows Agent 47, a cold-blooded assassin, who takes on his most dangerous contract to date. Betrayed by those he once trusted - and now hunted by the police - he suddenly finds himself at the center of a dark conspiracy and must embark on a personal journey through a corrupt and twisted world. We tested the game at multiple resolutions, with all in-game options set to their maximum values, with global illumination and 4X anti-aliasing enabled.


Our results in the Hitman: Absolution benchmark look much like those from Sleeping Dogs on the previous page. This game's global illumination feature is murder on the GeForces, which allows the Radeons to pull way ahead. And once again, thanks to its higher clocks, the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum is clearly faster than the vanilla Radeon HD 7970.

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Overclocking the Matrix Radeon HD 7970

Although the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum is already overclocked from the factory, we spent a little time overclocking it further using ASUS’ GPU Tweak utility to see what kind of headroom it had left in the tank. For these tests, we gave the GPU a bump in voltage to 1.375v, maxed out the power target, and cranked the fan speed all the way up to see just how far we could push the card with its stock cooler. We then increased the GPU and memory clocks until we experienced instability or visual artifacts, or saw performance degradation.


ASUS' GPU Tweak Utility Running On The ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum

Ultimately, we were able to take the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum up from its default max boost frequency of 1.1GHz to just shy of 1.3GHz with perfect stability. Higher clocks were possible with some games, but we couldn’t complete a full round of tests at anything higher than the 1.29GHz you see pictured here. The memory clock was more finicky and was stable with only a modest 16MHz boost.

Overclocking The ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum
Tweakin' With GPU Tweak


While we had the card overclocked, we re-ran a couple of tests and saw some decent performance gains. Performance in Hitman: Absolution increased by about 8.5% while performance in the F1 2012 benchmark improved by roughly 9.6%. Those are some nice performance gains for what amounts to fiddling with a couple of sliders in ASUS’ included utility. With some extreme cooling and more aggressive voltage tweaks, we have no doubt higher clocks would be possible.

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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

The ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum put up some interesting power consumption numbers. At idle, the card consumed considerably more power than a reference Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition. Under load though, despite having higher clocks, LED status indicators, dual fans, and a multitude of additional features, the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum consumed only slightly more power than the reference card. That’s a testament to the efficiency of the ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum’s 20-phase digital VRM and ASUS’ tuning of the card.

The ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum’s temperatures were vastly superior to the reference card. Idle temps are comparable, but while under the load the ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum’s cooler is far better at wicking away heat than the reference cooler, as evidenced by the 10 degree delta separating the cards. We should also point out that the ASUS card’s large cooler and 100mm fans are also quieter than reference models. At idle, it’s difficult to pick out any audible differences over the other noise generated by the test system. Under load though, the reference card definitely produced a louder, higher pitched hum.

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum’s performance was nothing short of impressive. Speaking strictly in terms of frame rates, the ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum was the fastest Radeon HD 7970-based graphics card we have tested to date. An argument could also be made that the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum is the fastest single-GPU powered graphics card we’ve ever tested, but that argument could also be made for some factory overclocked GeForce GTX 680 cards as well--the competition is tight to say the least. The ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum’s cooler also performed very well, the card was relatively quiet, it had good overclocking headroom, and power consumption was in-line with a reference Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition, despite the ASUS card’s higher clocks and additional features.


The ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum

If you’ve read some of our previous high-end graphics card reviews or round-ups, you may know that we’re not necessarily fans of triple-slot graphics cards. We acknowledge that the vast majority of power users run only a single graphics card, however, and as such, probably won’t miss the additional slot that must be sacrificed with the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum over more common two-slot cards. With that said, there are obvious benefits to the oversized cooler. The ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum operated at lower temperatures and was quieter than a reference Radeon HD 7970 too.

Put it all together and you end up with one heck of an impressive piece of PC hardware. Of course, high end hardware always comes at a price. The ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum can be had for about $499, which is roughly $100 - $110 more than the most affordable Radeon HD 7970 cards. That’s a fairly steep premium, but one that can be justified considering the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum’s increased performance, better overclocking headroom, quieter operation, and myriad of additional features. Is the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum for everyone? No. But hardcore enthusiasts looking for an ultra-high performance, tweaker-friendly graphics card would be well served by the ASUS ROG Matrix 7970 Platinum. In fact, it’s our favorite Radeon HD 7970 card and has earned itself and Editor’s Choice award. ASUS’ did a killer job with this one.

  • Great Performance
  • Quiet Operation
  • Good Overclocker
  • Nice Bundle
  • Targets Hardcore Enthusiasts
  • Relatively Expensive
  • Triple-Slot Cooler



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