Now we've discovered how surprisingly good the HD7970 is, and that by any measure it's a great card capable of pushing a GTX580 to the limits and sometimes surpassing dual-GPU cards, it's time to really stretch it out.
We've reviewed quite a few cards from PowerColor in the last twelve months including some hardcore liquid-cooled cards and our very recent look at the Zenith of the Cayman XT cards, the Devil 13 HD6970.
Now being such a new piece of hardware this is very much a reference card with a different sticker. So there isn't a huge amount of interesting things to comment upon that isn't just repeating what we've pointed out in the VTX3D review. So because these are all going up at the same time, and to save you all reading the same thing over and over, let's crack on with taking a look at the PowerColor.
Does anyone else look at the design and instantly think of Stargate? It's great to see that PowerColor are including a game in the box, something that far too few companies do. Although we'd like to see something that isn't so ubiquitous that we don't know anybody who hasn't got Dirt3 already, it's always nice to get a freebie.
About the only thing we don't really like is how the graduated text blends a bit too much into the box art. This is a HD7970, the first great card from the red team in well over a year. It needs to stand out more we think.
The PowerColor HD7970 certainly comes well packaged. The code for Dirt 3 resplendent upon some eco-friendly undyed cardboard.
With a reference design card there isn't much new to say. Thankfully although we're starting off with things you're aware of, it does perk up immensely from the next page onwards.
The PowerColor follows the AMD reference with an 8pin and 6pin PCIe combination to provide the necessary power. Given that we now know how incredible the performance of the HD7970 is, it's nice that this is all the power it requires.
Similar to the VTX3D, the PowerColor retains the standard output options of twin DisplayPort, HDMI and a DVI. All fairly standard fare, and we're sure that by the end of the fourth of these HD7970 reviews you'll be able to recite it all along with us.
For those of you who have skipped straight to our Eyefinity review, firstly you're very naughty and have missed some important information in the first review, and secondly you'll notice that as it's 2012 we've upgraded our test rig to a LGA2011 Core i7-3960X. Which gives a decent improvement scores over the i7-950 set up we previously used.
Catalyst HD7970 Drivers 11.12
Intel Core i7-3960X @ 4GHz
ASUS Rampage IV Extreme
3x iiyama Prolite 24"
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
To say that the HD7970 overclocks easily is akin to saying that British weather has a habit of raining. Open the Catalyst Control Centre, slide the GPU Core slider to the stops, apply. It's really that simple. The only thing to note is the bug in GPUz which shows the newly overclocked speed as the default clock, which it isn't.
Considering that this is the bog-standard reference cooler, and AMD aren't known for their excellent coolers, it's good that even when overclocked and under a hefty load the temperature doesn't go above 77°C. You have a little noise to put up with, but certainly better than the reference HD6 series cards.
3D Mark Vantage
If the stock result was impressive, then when overclocked the HD7970 reveals even higher levels of performance and responds very well. 3500 improvement in P-Score is pretty good going, but the fact we see the same increase in the Extreme test is very eye-opening.
3D Mark 11
Once again showing what an enormous step up the Tahiti GPU is over the previous generation, the PowerColor when overclocked is capable of keeping up with the HD6990. Damn impressive.
Alien vs Predator
Demonstrating the raw power of the HD7970, the minimum frame rate is above most average scores, including the GTX580. Now if that doesn't make you put down your breakfast in surprise, nothing will.
Batman Arkham City
The first of our tests that shows Eyefinity results, the PCS shows how demanding Arkham City is. When overclocked on a single screen it's rampagingly good though. But a single card isn't enough for Eyefinity in this particular title.
We see similar results in Battlefield 3, with Eyefinity proving too much for a single card to manage at this level of image quality, but the single card is only beaten out by the considerably pricier MARS 2.
If you want to see the very definition of a change in philosophy and technology causing a massive improvement in performance, then Crysis 2 is the game for you. Not only does our overclock gain a whopping 16 frames per second on average, making the PC HD7970 overclock the fastest non-MARS 2 card on test, but it can play Crysis 2, with the Hi-Res texture pack, in Eyefinity, better than the HD6970 it replaces. Stunning.
Dirt 3 demonstrates how well Codemasters optimised the engine. Proof that just because your game has its roots in the Console world, you don't have to compromise the speed and capabilities of your game. Over 60FPS in Eyefinity with all the eye-candy turned up. We likey.
Far Cry 2
Showing that it's possible to push the thermal and power limits of the card, the overclocked Eyefinity actually performs worse than stock Eyefinity. However either way it's a perfectly playable experience.
Once again the overclock unleashes huge performance gains on the PowerColor HD7970. There is a fair performance hit for Eyefinity, but it's exactly what you'd expect given the tripling of the workload.
If the stock performance of Metro 2033 was impressive then the overclocked one is staggering. The first single GPU solution we've seen that nearly gives us the magical 60FPS mark. Of course it can't manage anything playable in Eyefinity, but we wouldn't expect it to.
Resident Evil 5 - DX9
Big overclock, huge performance. Move along, nothing new here.
Resident Evil 5 - DX10
Even though DirectX 10 should provide a sterner test, the HD7970 simply romps through the Zombie slaying like a shotgun to the head.
The Witcher 2
Hold on to your horses. No this isn't some magical card from fairy land that is capable of rendering The Witcher 2 in Eyefinity goodness. It's an issue with Radeon cards that although you can select an Eyefinity resolution the two side screens are blank. So the framerate remains constant, barring a little overhead for no reason whatsoever. However the overclock gives a nice performance boost.
A 10 FPS improvement just from a simple move of a slider. The joys of easy overclocking.
Even with the extra overheads that 8x Anti-Aliasing places upon the card, we still gain 7 FPS from our overclock.
Considering that we have two extra screens running, all with hefty anti-aliasing and the highest possible settings, it's a genuine surprise to see how little extra VRAM the Eyefinity modes use up. Indeed Far Cry 2 actually uses less of the GDDR5. So for all you people going on about enormous amounts of memory, the mighty Witcher 2 only uses 500MB of the 3GB onboard.
When we were testing the VTX3D at stock we were blown away by the immense performance available with the HD7970. Of course we were chomping at the bit to overclock it, and boy was it worth the wait.
The most important thing is ease of overclocking. It's all very well us going on about the performance enhancement that overclocking brings, but we're aware that not everyone is comfortable with pushing their hardware beyond the recommended limits. Especially if you're a little tight for cash, as most of us are, the last thing you need is to release the magic smoke.
Thankfully the HD7970 is a complete breeze to overclock. No need to fret about temperatures or voltages. Simply load up Catalyst, unlock the overclocking, slide the GPU slider to the end, apply and you're done.
And heavens to betsy it's worth doing. Whilst the stock results are damn impressive, when overclocked it's a total animal. Gobbling up everything we threw at it without a flinch. When the HD7970 is beating out the HD6990 and pretty often smokes the GTX590 too, then what can we do but smile and nod at the enormous leap forwards AMD have made.
Let there be no doubt, this is the fastest single-GPU card available. If you want the hottest thing right now then this is it.
As for Eyefinity, it's not quite there yet. There are some titles that work perfectly well, but a single card isn't quite capable of running everything at the moment.
Of course being a reference design there isn't much to talk about with the PowerColor side of things. It's nice that they have used plan cardboard for the internal packaging, because every bit of the environment we can save is a good thing. It's also nice to have a free copy of Dirt 3. The only thing about that is that anyone who has brought a GPU in the last 12 months has probably got a free one already, so a different game would have been nice.
A stunning card that is only improved by the overclocking. Of course it gets the OC3D Gold Award.
Thanks to PowerColor for supplying the HD7970 for review. Discuss in our forums.