So far the latest generation of Radeon cards has been a little bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand we have the obvious power of the HD7970 which is as fast as anything available right now, although with a range-topping price-tag to match. Just below that the HD7950. At stock it was fairly impressive but when overclocked it really shone, matching the HD7970 stock more often than not. Below that we found the HD7770 which was actually a step too far down the performance ladder.
Today we're looking at the middle to high-end card, the Radeon HD7870. Rather than end up repeating swathes of what we've said before about reference cards being okay but it's worth waiting to see what the aftermarket models are like, we're leaping straight in with the daddy of all aftermarket cards, the PowerColor PCS+ variant.
With a hefty overclock out of the box, a hardcore cooler, and the technical backup we've come to expect from PowerColor, this should allow the HD7870 to shine as brightly as it can.
As the default clock of the card is 1GHz it's nice to see that PowerColor have pushed the card pretty hard with their overclock. So often we see factory overclocked models that only bring an extra handful of MHz to the table that to find one with a 10% overclock is nice.
|Graphics Engine||RADEON HD7870|
|Video Memory||2GB GDDR5|
|Memory Clock||1225MHz x 4 (4.9 Gbps)|
|Bus Standard||PCIE 3.0|
|Standard Display Connecors||DL-DVI-I/ SL-DVI-D / HDMI / MINI DPx2|
|ATI Stream Technology||Support|
|ATI Eyefinity Technology||Support|
|ATI Hypermemory Technology||N/A|
|VGA Output||Via Adapter|
|DVI Output||DL-DVI-I/ SL-DVI-D|
|DisplayPort||On Board(mini DP) x2|
|Minimum System Power (W)||500W|
|Extention Power Connector||Two 6-Pin PCI Express Power Connectors|
Of course we all want to see what it looks like, so let's crack on.
The packaging is certainly eye-catching. We're no petrolheads here but we'd wager that's the prototype GT by Citroën resplendent on the box in full-on Burnout mode. Okay maybe we know a little about cars too. As always with PowerColor the box is a combination of flashy logos and clear information.
The box contains the usual selection of accessories. The card itself is 240mm long, about the same length as a GTX570 and has some subtle touches. The chrome HD7870 logo makes a big difference to the sticker type, and a nice change from the red stripes that seem to dominate current cards.
As well as the big 90mm fan in the centre of the card it has some big heatpipes to help keep everything cool. In keeping with the move to more energy efficient cards even this PCS+ model only requires two 6pin PCIe power inputs.
Round the business end we have two mini DisplayPorts, an HDMI and two DVI-Ds for all your connectivity needs. As the HD7870 supports four displays it's nice to have so many options.
As there are only a limited amount of LGA2011 systems around, today we're reviewing on our LGA1155 setup. Given how little, to a certain degree, CPUs factor into the equation with mid-range cards this shouldn't have an enormous effect. The multi-core programs might lose a little, but it should be only a frame or two.
PowerColor HD7870 PCS+
Catalyst 12.3 Drivers
ASUS P8 Z77V Pro
Intel Core i5-2500K @ 4.6 GHz
Kingston Genesis 2133MHz
Cougar CM1000 PSU
Corsair F80 SSD
Thermalright Silver Arrow
Windows 7 x64
With the PCS+ we have a huge overclock straight out of the box, with a whopping 1100MHz on the core. Rather than overvolt we're looking at just how much we can get out of it with the default settings. Surprisingly, considering this is the highest PowerColor model in the HD7870 range, we got 135MHz extra on the GPU Core and 55MHz on the GDDR5.
At first glance it might appear that the PCS+ gets a little bit warm under heavy loading, but the most surprising thing is the silence. It is, as near as makes no difference, silent. The open test setup has the card about 2 1/2 feet away (80cm ish) from me and it was just about inaudible. The Silver Arrow was louder than the card under load.
3D Mark Vantage
Looking at the P Scores it's worth remembering that I have a lot less CPU power available to me than Tom with his mental 3960X, so the result will suffer a little in such a CPU dominant score. Indeed looking at those one would assume we're dealing with a card along similar lines to the GTX560Ti. However as the quality stretches into the Extreme preset we can see that the HD7870 PCS+ is only 1000 points behind the HD7950 which is right where we'd expect it to be given the pricing.
3D Mark 11
On to 3D Mark 11 which is far better at relying upon the GPU to take the strain we see the PCS+ really makes the most of its overclock, passing the stock HD7950 with ease. As it's pushed so hard by PowerColor already our overclock doesn't give us a huge boost, but any free performance is nice.
In Alien vs Predator, at least when compared to the HD7950, it's a fair few frames behind, but heading towards twice the performance of the HD7770. Judging by the meagre 1fps increase from our overclock we expect the 2500K is more important than we'd originally thought in this test.
Batman Arkham City
We know that Batman Arkham City can be a finicky thing at times but the HD7870 PCS+ certainly does well getting much nearer to the HD7950 than it did in AvP. Indeed it's getting near to the GTX580, which is impressive enough for anyone.
One of the most disappointing single-player games of recent times, which isn't helped by the average optimisation the port suffers from, Battlefield 3 actually performs surprisingly well on the PowerColor HD7870 PCS+. The minimum frame rate keeps things playable especially with our overclock. But even at stock you'll have a good experience.
Crysis is a bit of a strange one today. The positives are that the frame rate is pretty good, but the surprise is how stable the result is. The lowest FPS wasn't much below the average. It was a smooth experience playing it, even if the result doesn't appear that way in the graph.
The results we've been seeing in Dirt 3 have been up and down more than a whores drawers. Whilst both the stock and overclocked results give us a perfectly smooth and playable experience, it's not quite in the 100+ range we'd have expected. However it's a long way ahead of the HD7770 (and for that matter the MARS 2) so the important bit is that it's smooth and playable at all times.
Far Cry 2
We've often remarked about how well the Radeon cards handle Far Cry 2, and nowhere is there a better example than here. GTX680 on a i7-3960X is edged by a HD7870 PCS+ on a 2500K.
Although the absolute performance of the HD7870 PCS+ doesn't quite match up to some of the big scores we've seen from other cards, we still see more than enough oomph out of the PCS+ to run Mafia 2 with everything cranked up to 11.
Keeping up the excellent single card performance we saw from the Tahiti cores on the HD7970 and HD7950, the Pitcairn on the HD7870, especially with the PowerColor PCS+ tweaks, manages to just outperform the GTX680.
Considering that the Unigine Heaven benchmark makes full use of every last drop of performance it can get its hands on, the results with our middling system and the PowerColor HD7870 PCS+ are surprisingly good when compared to the much higher specification system behind the other tests in the graph. The stock and overclock results bracket the stock HD7950, which is good going.
We take a bit of a performance hit by ramping the image quality settings up to 8x AA, but still the PCS+ HD7870 holds on well, giving exactly the same result as we saw from the more expensive stock HD7950.
The Witcher 2
The brutality of The Witcher 2, soon to get an enhanced edition, is well documented and here is no exception. Although the average frame rate is roughly in the ballpark of where we'd expect a single GPU to be, the minimum frame-rate really suffers with everything turned on and leads to a jerky performance. Of course even turning off the Ubersampling or lowering the motion blur will cause your frame-rate to double. We just always test with everything as high as possible because one day a card will appear that demolishes it.
There is a heck of a lot to like about the HD7870 PCS+ from PowerColor.
Let's start with the things they have no control over. The HD7870 follows on from the HD7950 in that it's quite surprisingly close to the next model up in the range. For a long while at the top end of the range manufacturers have left ever larger performance gaps to try and justify their exorbitant pricing, whilst the low end of the market saw so many cards released that it was nearly impossible to find any real differences in either performance or pricing, such was the overlap. Now with the current range of Radeons we see that each card neatly follows the rest. An overclocked HD7870 is about the same as a stock HD7950 which, when overclocked, is about the same as a HD7970. Anything that stops people overspending in these hard times is a good thing in our book.
As for the PowerColor side of the equation we have a lot to like. Firstly we know only too well how many of you don't want to faff about with overclocking your card and will always look for one that comes out of the box with a blazing speed attached to it. The PCS+ variant of the HD7870 certainly does with its 1100MHz GPU core speed and 1225MHz GDDR5.
Although it's easy to overclock the card still further, it's just a shame the overclock doesn't really give us quite the extra performance we usually see. This is largely because the card is already heavily overclocked and we were resisting the temptation to overvolt it because most people who like to overclock in a hardcore style prefer to do so with the reference models rather than one which is already tuned.
The cooler deserves special praise. Not only is it very aesthetically pleasing, being a nice simple blend of silver and black, free from the shouty stickers or go faster stripes that plague some other cards, but the silence is staggering. It's unbelievably quiet. Not quiet compared to other graphics cards. Just quiet compared to, well, anything. The two 140mm low-RPM fans on the Silver Arrow CPU cooler were louder than the PowerColor PCS+ HD7870, even when it was under heavy loading. If you place as much value upon your ears as you do upon the eye candy, then you're in for a treat.
Pricing is exactly where you'd expect. There is about £100 between a factory overclocked HD7970 and the HD7950, and a further £80 between that and this card, which we expect to retail around the £275 mark. You're getting a lot of card for the money with the factory overclock, low temperatures, and the sheer silence are certainly worth a premium over a reference card.
The combination of those factors means the PowerColor HD7870 PCS+ is worthy of our Gold Award.
Thanks to PowerColor for providing the HD7870 PCS+ for review. Discuss in our forums.