ASUS 7970 Matrix Platinum
There is always a finite amount of joy to be had from finding our offices filled with the latest all-singing, all-dancing piece of hardware. We adore getting to play with new toys (and we all do otherwise you wouldn't be reading this, we wouldn't be writing this, and the local publican would have run out of beer) but there comes a time when you have to take a step backwards and see if what you have in your hands really is the finest garment ever woven or if you're standing like a slightly embarrassed Emperor looking for a top hat to hide his family jewels. With the ASUS HD7970 Matrix Platinum it's fair to say that you'll never trust a tailor again.
The sheer amount of time between the initial release of the Tahiti XT powered cards and the release of the Matrix is partly to blame. When the HD7970 first appeared it was deep into the business end of four hundred notes, and to get the amount of features available on the Matrix for less than a reference model would have been reason to let loose the balloons and take the weekend off. Unfortunately two things are against us doing that today.
Firstly it's not January any more and the Radeon cards have had a severe price cut, leaving the £400 Matrix considerably more expensive than the competition. Secondly, for unfathomable reasons, the card just isn't that fast. We don't mean we don't understand why this card isn't so fast. After all we're all well aware of how much of an effect the silicon lottery can have and not all chips are created equal. It's perfectly possible that the GPU at the heart of this particular Matrix is just not very good. We know that. What we fail to understand is how a card designed for people on the leading edge of overclocking, people who demand the absolute very best and have a cylinder of LN2 to prove their point, that ASUS haven't taken the decision to cherry pick the GPUs.
What is the point of having amazing voltage tweaking options if the GPU tops out at a meagre 1200MHz? It's not even as if the performance of the card is helped by the greatly increased power phases or enormous cooler. The reference PowerColor card we tested had a lower clock and generally matched the Matrix in performance terms, and the Gigabyte Windforce was cooler, overclocked further, and performed better. It's like the logo on the side which changes colour according to the GPU loading. Why produce something capable of the main colours people build systems in, and then use it to demonstrate something people don't care about? If the card is capable of changing them, why not give us control of that colour to match our system. For £400 we want it to blend in to our colour choice, not stand out against it.
Thankfully for ASUS the news isn't all bad, although all of the positives are due to the wonderful underlying Tahiti XT core, rather than anything in particular that the Matrix has to offer. The HD7970 is still a brilliant card, and still a fantastic option for anyone who wants to game at high detail settings and high resolution. But the Matrix itself is disappointing. The cooler is a triple-slot but doesn't give any obvious benefits when compared to any dual-slot solutions. The voltage options and power phases are best in class, but they don't help us reach new heights. It's had all the bells and whistles thrown at it without any consideration placed on ensuring that the GPU at the heart of the card is carefully selected to make the best use of those bells and whistles.
Because the underlying GPU is still excellent, it has to win our Bronze award. Just get a standard model though, as all these frippery is meaningless until ASUS cherry pick the GPUs.