I don't think it would be either a great stretch, nor revealing a particular dark secret, to say that we never really took to the HD6970 here at OC3D. After the absolute magnificence that was the HD4870 and HD5870 AMD really dropped the ball with the HD6970 which was too hot, too loud and just not quick enough to even stay close to the high-end nVidia cards.
So it's with a certain sense of trepidation that we take a look at the HD7970. At least after the HD6970 our expectations are dampened somewhat, so we're hopeful that this will impress us.
VTX3D, the VTX standing for Vertex fact fans, have been around for a couple of years and stick solely to the Radeon line of products. But enough of the preamble, what's new?
To say the technical specifications of the HD7970 are lengthy is somewhat of an understatement. 3GB of GDDR5 is only the beginning. The major new feature is the new 28nm Tahiti XT core which comes with a stunning 2048 stream processors and enough bandwidth and polygon shifting abilities to excite even the most jaded user. The GCN (Graphics Card Next) architecture is a complete redesign of the old AMD GPUs, and should lead to a similar increase in performance that we've seen from things such as Sandy Bridge, where the pure numbers don't tell the full story of the available number crunching capabilities.
The packaging is a lovely golden colour and we have to say it's nice to see Ruby back again. Who doesn't want a spandex-clad dual-wielding busty girl on their package?
Accessories are pretty much what you'd expect the bridge and power convertor, but it's good to see that connectivity is covered with a DisplayPort to DVI and DisplayPort to HDMI adaptor, as well as a HDMI to DVI and DVI to VGA. No matter what screen you have to hand you'll be able to connect it to the VTX3D HD7970.
As for the card itself it's exactly what we'd expect a reference AMD card to look like. Lots of black plastic with some red go-faster stripes and the normal water-mill fan right up the end. Thankfully beneath that plastic shroud all is new with vapour-chambers and a redesigned heatsink. Hopefully the heat and noise issues that plagued the HD6970 have been solved.
Power is handled by 6 and 8pin PCIe connectors, so even as the high-end model this isn't a complete power hog. Indeed 'at the wall' the HD7970 draws around 200W when under load. Impressive.
By dropping their output options and moving them to the adaptors seen above, the vent is now the full width of the card which should help expel the heat easier than the small gap on the HD6970.
As it's the new year we say goodbye to our well-used i7-950 setup and move on to a LGA2011 based system. However this obviously has more cores and much more power so for our first review we're testing at stock on both systems so that we can directly compare the HD7970 to the other cards we've tested, but also see how much of a benefit the very latest hardware can have.
As well as changing our test rig we've also adjusted our graphs. Because the maximum framerate is so high it can make the important bits, minimum and average framerate hard to read. So we've split them out in to two graphs. This should make it all much clearer to read. We definitely want feedback on this. Maximum framerate is nearly pointless so is it something you're interested in? Let us know in our forums.
Our old system :
Catalyst HD7970 Drivers 11.12
Intel Core-i7 950 @ 4GHz
Gigabyte G1 Assassin
6GB Mushkin Redline
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Our new system is built as follows :
Catalyst HD7970 Drivers 11.12
Intel Core i7-3960X @ 4GHz
ASUS Rampage IV Extreme
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
There have been a few people wondering if the giant amounts of GDDR5 on the latest cards is worthwhile. So we thought we'd just show you how much memory is used by each of the games in our tests. As you can see even the monster textures of the Crysis 2 Hi-Res pack don't really fill our HD7970 up.
3D Mark Vantage
On our standard rig the HD7970 puts out very similar numbers to a GTX580, which is a good start. You can see in the P-Score how much of a difference the New bench rig makes to the score. A 7000 point increase just going from an i7-950 to an i7-3960X.
3D Mark 11
Demonstrating how impressing the HD7970 is, it's ahead of the amazing PNY Liquid-Cooled GTX580. Remember that we're testing the VTX3D at stock here.
Alien vs Predator
In the gorgeous Alien vs Predator the HD7970 is the fastest single GPU we've tested, a whopping 10 FPS ahead of an overclocked GTX580. Stunning stuff.
Batman Arkham City
With such a demanding game, especially on the PhysX side, it's not surprising to see the extra CPU power helps the HD7970 gain a couple of frames, although it's so PhysX heavy that the GTX570 manages to just edge ahead.
A similarly demanding title, Battlefield 3 doesn't give the mental scores on the HD7970 that we will see in other games, but it's worth looking at the HD6970 Devil 13 to see how far ahead this Tahiti core is compared to the Cayman HD6970.
Jeepers. Remembering that this is the VTX3D at stock, it's easily the best single-GPU card we've run Crysis 2 on, and even pushes the dual-GPU HD6990 into the shade. Insanely impressive.
Despite the very good engine behind Codemasters Dirt3 the HD7970 is still able to gain 30 frames per second average over the HD6970. It's amazing what some good architectural tweaks can give.
Far Cry 2
What an odd beast Far Cry 2 is. Normally a game that adores the AMD way of doing things the HD7970 is impressive but not jaw-dropping. Still, a Radeon managing to keep up with a GTX580 is something that seemed a lifetime away in November.
If you're the kind of gamer who likes nothing more than packing a violin case and a fedora, then Mafia 2 is the game for you. Even more pertinent the HD7970 is the card for you, making mincemeat out of every card we've tested on other than the prohibitively expensive MARS 2. Yes, even the HD6990 and GTX590 crumble beneath the VTX3D HD7970.
As we're only testing a single GPU we don't expect anything huge from Metro 2033, but still the HD7970 manages to better the GTX580. Obviously as a stock card that's impressive, and the best single GPU in our chart.
Resident Evil 5 - DX9
It's a damning indictment of the poor drivers for the MARS 2 that the HD7970 gets close to MARS 2 in SLI. However that isn't to say that the VTX3D HD7970 isn't impressive in its own right, as it's comfortably the fastest single GPU we've tested Resident Evil 5 on. The extra horsepower of the i7-3960X makes a big difference too.
Resident Evil 5 - DX10
Away from DirectX 9 the situation changes and the HD7970 goes from the third best setup we've tested to the best. Hugely impressive numbers from a single GPU £400 card.
The Witcher 2
Such is the detail level in The Witcher 2 that a single stock HD7970 is just shaded by the ultimate GTX580, but perhaps the most impressive aspect is the high minimum frame-rate ensuring a very smooth gaming experience in a hugely demanding title.
The early drivers for the HD6970 put the Radeon cards in a dominant position in the Unigine Heaven benchmark. Now they've removed whatever tweak that was the card's reverted back to being pretty good but not amazing.
Even adding anti-aliasing keeps things about where that are, with the HD7970 the best of the single-GPU Radeon cards, but nothing to write home about.
We've waiting a whole generation to see a Radeon card that is worthy of purchase. The HD6 series, in single GPU trim, never got anywhere close to the nVidia counterparts. Thankfully with the HD7970 all is back to how it should be.
As we've got a few different takes upon the card the VTX3D was reviewed solely at stock speeds, but even with the "out of the box" setup the card rocked our socks pretty comprehensively more often than not.
The reduction down from 40nm to 28nm has certainly helped with the heat and noise problem that plagued the HD6970 and whilst the cooler isn't as quiet as the one on a GTX580, it's a great improvement upon the HD6970 cooler. The card has to get pretty warm before the fan spins up, but when it does it keeps everything around the 75°C mark.
However it's the raw performance that is the most impressive part. Not only does the VTX3D HD7970 keep up with a GTX580, which surely is the single-GPU to aim for, but it surpasses it pretty handily in some tests. Indeed now and again the HD7970 was the fastest card we'd tested, full stop. Easily capable of keeping up with some of the dual-GPU solutions we've seen.
It's not even related to PhysX. Although Batman and Battlefield were fairly average, Crysis 2 was outstanding and the 3D Mark scores didn't suffer.
Finally if you are looking to go for a full new system then, as we saw throughout testing, a X79 based rig will outperform an X58 one quite handily. So although we're waving goodbye to our stalwart i7-950 we're pleased that it got to see AMD return to the fray with a new GPU that truly gives the paying public a choice again before it was pensioned off. Its also nice to know that as long as your motherboard is PCIE3 GPU compatible ie: as long as the GPU will actually work in the board NOT actually have PCIE3 bandwidth) then you will be absolutely fine. As during all our tests the only bonus was the CPU difference and nothing to do with any PCI Express bandwidth. This may answer why AMD does not seem to have any PCIE3 plans for any of its chip sets over the next 12 months.
No longer is the nVidia option the default one for anyone but rabid fanboys, now you can buy a Radeon again and know that you have the single-GPU card of choice. At around £400 it's GTX580 money, but with better than GTX580 performance. Hats off to AMD. Gold worthy.
Thanks to VTX3D for providing the HD7970 for review. Discuss in our forums.