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HIS HD 7970 IceQ X² GHz Edition GPU Review

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I bet some of you are scratching your heads with a case of deja vu… and you wouldn’t be mistaken. We have another HIS HD 7970 to review today, but instead of the HD 7970 X Turbo, we will be looking at the HD 7970 IceQ X2 Turbo GHz Edition version of that same card. This one sports the same “X2” cooler as the X Turbo, but the PCB is much different in that it sports less power phases than its big brother. Let’s see if these changes make for a big difference between the cards.

Specifications and Features

Listed below are the major specifications from the HIS website.  As you can see with this HD 7970, we have a base clock of 1000 MHz (hence the GHz edition moniker), which boosts to 1050 MHz. The ram on the card comes in at a blazing 1500 MHz (6000 MHz GDDR5 effective), resting on a 384 bit bus. While these are not the highest clocks we have seen out of a HD 7970, it’s still the GHz edition with turbo involved, and much higher than reference clock speeds. There are 32 ROPs and 2048 Shader units that make up the back end. All of these features sit on AMD’s GCN architecture used in the HD 7xxx series GPUs. The card also uses a PCIe 3.0 bus (backwards compatible of course).

HIS HD 7970 IceQ X2 GHz Specifications
Model Name HIS HD 7970 IceQ X2 3GB GDDR5 PCI-E DVI/HDMI/2xMini DP
Chipset Radeon HD 7970 PCIe Series
ASIC RadeonTM HD 7970 GPU
Manu. Process (Micron) 28 nm
Memory Size (MB) 3072
Memory Type GDDR5
Engine CLK (MHz) 1000 MHz (Boost clock 1050 MHz)
Memory CLK (Gbps) 6 Gbps
Memory Interface (bit) 384 bit
Power Supply Requirement 500 Watt or greater power supply
Max. Resolution 4096×2160 per display (DisplayPort 1.2)
2560×1600 per display (Dual-link DVI)
2048×1536 per display (VGA)
Bus Interface PCI Express 3.0 x16
Mini Display Port Yes
HDMI Yes
DVI Dual-link DVI-I
VGA No

Listed below are a list of high-level features this card has (image from HIS website).

One of the differences between this HD 7970 IceQ X2 GHz edition and the reference models, outside of the X2 cooler (we will see this a bit later), is the addition of another power phase. This should help get both additional and cleaner power to the GPU core for potentially higher overclocks. Not only are the power bits on the PCB more substantial with that addition, HIS has also added a second 8-pin power connector for an 8+8 configuration, instead of the 8+6 reference design. This power connector design will allow more power to get to the card from the start. This card, and the 7970 X Turbo reviewed earlier, are part of HIS’s “iPower”, line of cards that delivers more and stable power to the cards versus reference to allow for higher overclocking.

Also included on this card is a dual BIOS switch. This switch allows you to select a functional BIOS just in case one does not work for whatever reason. I would have liked to have seen this feature on the HD 7970 X, but for some reason it wasn’t there.

HIS HD 7970 IceQ X² GHz Edition AMD HD 7970 Ref. Board
Power Output 8+8 6+8
PWM Phase 6+1+1=8 5+1+1=7

 

The table below shows the higher default and boost clocks that are setup for this card versus the reference model.

HIS HD 7970 IceQ X2 HD 7970 (Reference)
Boost Clock 1050 MHz N/A
Core Clock 1000 MHz 925 MHz
Memory Clock 6000 MHz 5500 MHz

Next up is the X2 cooler. We discussed this with a bit more detail in the HIS HD 7970 X review, so I will keep it high level for this one. Basically, you have a much better than reference heatsink. There are two specially designed (for quiet operation and long life, 50k hours) 89 mm fans blowing down in to a dense fin array. The heatsink has two 8 mm wide heatpipes, and three 6 mm wide heatpipes to dissipate the load for optimal cooling. Just like its big brother, the VRAM and MOSFETs are also cooled. This cooler keeps things pretty quiet and cool at 50% or less fan speed. It really moves some air, although it’s a lot louder at full tilt. Listed below is more information from the HIS website:

Cooler
With IceQ X², the card is up to 17°C cooler than the reference cooler.
Quieter
IceQ X² is one of the quietest coolers, making the card 15dB quieter than the reference cooler. The card is below 28dB when watching movies, surfing Facebook, working. The card remains quiet whether you are gaming, online socializing, entertaining or working.

One of the last major items I would like to mention is the metal rib that supports the PCB. A lot of people worry that a sagging PCB can damage a card. Lately, vendors have been placing a metal spine or rib on the plane opposite the PCIe connector for additional support.

Photo Op – Meet the HIS HD 7970 IceQ X2 GHz Edition

Retail Packaging

First up in our breakdown is the retail packaging. If you have looked at any HIS review (hopefully here at Overclockers!), you will recognize the white, light blue to purple, and snow/ice graphics. On the front we can see the usual suspects, which include the type of card, and some marketing jazz about the cooler being effective and quiet. On the rear we see more features including the Eyefinity 6 ability, as well as the X2 cooler. The sides simply show system requirements, other features like PCIe3, and the included accessories. It will catch your eye on store shelves, that is for sure.

HIS HD7970 IceQ x2 - Retail Packaging

HIS HD7970 IceQ X2 Turbo- Retail Packaging

Rear

Rear

Side angle

Side Angle

Other side angle

Other Side Angle

Opening up the box you are greeted with another familiar site in their “box in a box” style packing. That black box with the HIS label and URL just stares you in the face. Flipping up the lid reveals some foam padding that rests on top of the card, and a small warning card that reads something like, ‘do not plug square peg in to round hole’. Lifting up that thin padding gives us our first glimpse of the card. She looks astoundingly similar to its big brother, ehh? We’ll show some of the differences later in the review of course. But, just as the X Turbo is packaged, this one also uses the form fitted foam to protect the card. The last picture is the partition that separates the included accessories for the card.

HIS's typical box in a box

HIS’s Typical Box in a Box

Open sesame

Open Sesame

Our first glimpse of the card

Our First Glimpse of the Card

There accessories hiding beneath that partition

There are Accessories Hiding Beneath that Partition

Below is a picture of the accessories that came with this unit. You can see the iTurbo disk (driver disk also in the sleeve), CrossfireX bridge, and a DVI to VGA connector.

Accessories - Driver and iTurbo disk, DVI to VGA, and Crossfire bridge

Accessories – Driver and iTurbo Disk, DVI to VGA, and Crossfire Bridge

A Closer Look

Starting below, you get to see your first full look at the card. As we mentioned earlier, it has the X2, dual slot cooler on it like the X Turbo does. The only difference in this heatsink is that the IceQ X2 Turbo is missing the “X” nomenclature below the IceQ X2 writing towards the top left. Otherwise, its exactly the same and of course comes off quite easily with the same four screws. Also missing is the Turbo sticker representing the higher clocks versus the non turbo version.

Flipping the card over, there isn’t too much to see outside of perhaps the dual crossfire connectors at the top for supporting up to a four-way CrossfireX configuration, and the metal rib or spine to help prevent the PCB from warping.  On the IceQ X2 Turbo, you will not find the fancy power and fan speed LED’s found on the X Turbo version…bells and whistles move aside!

Moving on over to the output area, we can see two Mini Display Ports, one HDMI, and one dual link DVI-I. With this setup one can run a total of four monitors off a single card. You have plenty of options available and if you happen to be stuck on a monitor with only a VGA input, HIS has you covered with an included DVI to VGA adapter in its accessory stack.

The last picture in this set shows the two required 8 pin PCIe power connectors versus the 6+8 pin on reference models. The point there is to give the card more power (within the PCIeSIG specs anyway).

HIS HD7970 IceQ X2 - Front

HIS HD7970 IceQ X2 GHz Edition – Front

Rear

Rear

Outputs (2 mini Display Ports, 1 HDMI, and one DVI-d)

Outputs (2 mini Display Ports, 1 HDMI, and One Dual Link DVI-I)

Two 8 pin PCIe connectors required

Two 8 pin PCIe Connectors Required

Before we get in too much detail, here are some extra shots of this card, along with its bigger brother, 7970 X Turbo which was recently reviewed.

Moving on, let’s see how she looks with all heatsinks removed and see what’s doing under the hood. In the first picture, you can see the three 6 mm and two 8 mm heatpipes meandering their way from the large copper base of the heatsink and through the fin array. Also pictured is the plate that is used to cool all the goodies on the PCB like the GPU’s ram and MOSFETs. Like the 7970 X Turbo, it also partially covers one of the memory ICs…and again, I wish this was covered regardless if it matters. The thermal paste application on this card was liberal for sure, but not out of hand. In the last picture, you can see that the plate made good contact with the ram and MOSFET on the card considering, at least with the ram, the the thermal pads are a bit shredded and left on the memory ICs.

 

Heatsink removed

Heatsink Removed

Alternate view

Alternate View

and... contact. The heatsink for the ram and power bits

and… Contact. The Heatsink for the Ram and Power Bits

Ok, let’s take the rest of the heatsinks off and see whats really doing underneath the hood. One of the first things you may notice is that there are thermal pads still left on most of the memory ICs. I did this on purpose as these simply want to shred, and not come off nice for a reapplication like I have seen other materials do. Sadly, I will not have a picture of the ICs since it took off the ink on them. However, rest assured they are the same as on the HD 7970 X Turbo (Hynix H5GQ2H24AFR-R0C and are specified to run at 1500 MHz/6000 MHz GDDR5).

Next up is simply a picture of the dual BIOS switch. If you ever get saucy and want to flash your BIOS (why ‘normal’ users do this is beyond me I must admit) or it borks for whatever reason, you have the ability to switch over to a functional BIOS and reflash the original. I do like this feature though, regardless if you are flashing BIOS or not.

Finally, the last two pictures are showing where the card gets all its power from. As you can see from here, and above in the Specifications and Features section, we have a 6+1+1 setup versus a 5+1+1 setup on a reference HD 7970. This allows more and cleaner power to get to the GPU and lowers the temps of these power goodies according to HIS. Controlling all the power is again the CHiL CHL 8228 chip found on reference models.

Heatsinks removed

Heatsinks Removed

Bios switch

BIOS Switch

Power delivery

Power Delivery

Power delivery alternate

Power Delivery (Alt)

Performance and Overclocking

Test System

Benchmarking Method/Settings

  • All Synthetic benchmarks were at their default settings
  • Unigine Heaven (HWbot) was run with the “extreme” setting
  • Alien vs. Predator – 1920×1080 with highest settings offered (4x AA, textures set to highest)
  • Batman: Arkham City – 1920×1080, 8xMSAA, MVSS and HBAO, Tessellation HIGH, Detail Level: Extreme
  • Battlefield 3 – 1920×1080 at Ultra settings (4xAA/HBAO by default)
  • Dirt 3  – 1920×1080 with 8x MSAA and all settings enabled and at Ultra where possible
  • Metro 2033 – 1920×1080, DX11, Very High, 4x MSAA/ 16x AF, PhysX OFF, DOF enabled, Scene: Frontline
  • Civilization V – 1920×1080, 8x MSAA, Vysnc OFF, High Detail Strategic View: Enabled, Other Settings: High, using full render frames value ( / 60)
  • More detail is in our article: Overclockers’ Updated Video Card Testing Procedure

GPU-Z

Below is what GPU-Z has to say about the card. Wouldn’t you know it, they match the specifications listed! Just as with the HD 7970 X Turbo, GPU-Z lists the boost clock as the default clock, which is fine by me as it runs that constantly anyway.

GPUz 6.6

GPU-Z 6.6

Overclocking Software

We have been through many HIS cards since iTurbo was released, so I won’t go into much detail here. You can see like other software, it has your typical information type screen, overclocking adjustments, as well as fan control settings. iTurbo is a comprehensive utility to overclock your HIS branded card, as well as many others. As I mentioned before, I just wish the ‘maximized’ screen would be a bit smaller, otherwise it’s a great, fully functional utility.

iTurbo - Information screen

iTurbo – Information screen

Overclocking screen

Overclocking screen

Synthetic Benchmarks

Ladies and gentlemen… on to the benchmarks! Per usual I will be starting with our legacy benchmark in 3DMark 03. We see solid performance here with the IceQ X2 Turbo coming in below the X and the Matrix as expected (lower stock clock speeds). When overclocked to similar speeds as both cards, the X2 is right up there with them. We won’t mention the 680’s deplorable performance in 3DMark 03.

Stepping on over to 3DMark Vantage, we see a similar results here between the X2 and X Turbo. The Matrix version does lag behind a bit because of the drivers used (12.8 versus the new performance driver, 12.11). Please note this moving forward.

3DMark 03 and 3DMark Vantage

Moving on to benchmarks a bit more modern, we will start with 3DMark11. Here you see the clock speed difference taking a more significant bite out of the results, to the tune of almost a 12% difference between like cards and drivers, with the X2 posting a 9,714 score. Push the clocks up, and the performance is the same between them since the overclocked speeds were the same.

Last on this graph is Unigine Heaven (Hwbot). Here again you see what effect the lower factory clock speeds have on this benchmark with the X2 coming in nearly 16% slower than the X Turbo… but again, ramp the clock speeds back up and performance of this card actually beats out its bigger brother. Odd I know at the same clock speeds, but this test was repeatable as well.

3DMark 11 and Unigine Heaven (Hwbot)

3DMark 11 and Unigine Heaven (Hwbot)

Game Benchmarks

Ahhh, the games. The ‘real world’ results people are looking for! First up in this graph will be Alien vs Predator. Posting a result of 78 FPS out of the box, this falls just a couple of FPS behind the X Turbo (do I need to say because of the clock speed differences again?).

In Batman: Arkham City, the card throws down 99 FPS at our settings, falling a bit behind the higher clocked X and matching the Matrix (again, due to drivers) while leaving the GTX680 in its dust.

Moving on to my favorite, Battlefield 3, we see a 111 FPS result. This falls just behind the higher clocked X Turbo, but brutally beating on the Matrix because of drivers. AMD really nailed it with these 12.11 performance drivers in this game.

Alien vs. Predator, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Battlefield 3

Alien vs. Predator, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Battlefield 3

In our last graph, we will start with Civilization V. There really isn’t much difference here across the suite of cards used, and the IceQ X2 GHz came in at 78.6 FPS.

Next up is one of my favorite racing games in Dirt 3. In this case, the IceQ X2 GHz hit 125.7 FPS, which falls slightly behind the higher clocked X Turbo and easily besting the GTX680.

Last up for games is the GPU killer, Metro 2033. This level of card is about the only single GPU that can play this game with playable frame rates. That said, this card managed 37.5 FPS and broke 42 FPS when overclocked.

Civilization V, Dirt 3, Metro 2033

Civilization V, Dirt 3, Metro 2033

Cooling and Power Consumption

Below you see the power this card used on my system. At idle we sat at 91 W. Note this isn’t the ‘long’ idle where the GCN architecture goes down to 3 W, but great results none the less. But idle means little to most, so in 3DMark 11 the loads at stock speeds hit 301 W, while overclocked it hit 308 W (at the wall). Unigine Heaven (Hwbot) peaked at 328 W at stock and 369 W while overclocked. I may sound like a broken record, but I cant get over how little power the average system needs these days, especially considering performance it yields with that low amount of power consumption. It simply amazes me.

Power Consumption

Power Consumption

The X2 cooler does a pretty good job of keeping things cool and quiet with the dual 89 mm fans at 50% speed, or less and frankly. That’s really all that is needed. Using the auto profile and normalizing temperatures to a warm 25 °C, idle came in at 30 °C. 3DMark 11 loads hit 63 °C and Unigine Heaven hit 66 °C under load. Overclocking raised load temps to 66 °C and 70 °C respectively.  These temperatures for an auto setting and overclocking are solid. If you crank the fan, she does get a bit noisy. Cranking the fan all the way up would only be needed for benchmarking, and at that point noise isn’t a factor anyway.

Temperatures

Temperatures

Pushing the Limits

This section will be a bit disappointing for some as I wasn’t able to get much more out of the card beyond what I used for overclocking above. So in that light,  I’m just going to include my personal best run of 3dMark 11, which allowed me to run 1263/1800 at 1.34v/1.55v respectively. The other benchmarks I usually show (Vantage and Heaven) just didn’t want to budge past the 1250/1700(1750), and there isn’t a point in showing what the CPU can do on its own in a GPU review.

One thing I wanted to mention here is there was some coil whine with this sample.

3DMark 11 - 14,209

3DMark 11 – 14,209

Conclusion

So now that we have seen what the HIS HD 7970 IceQ X2 GHz has to offer, it’s my job to wrap this article up with a nice little bow for the holidays. To start, HIS has strapped on its X2 cooler to a powerful card in the ‘new’ HD 7970 (with boost and GHz ‘base’ clocks). Under normal (gaming) use, this cooler does its job well and with fairly quiet operation. If you want to benchmark, the cooling system has plenty of headroom to keep the card cool, so we are good there. HIS has also slightly beefed up the PCB on this HD 7970 in an effort to support cleaner and more power delivery, hopefully leading to potentially higher overclocks. As we can see from our testing, this card almost clocked as high as its MUCH more expensive big brother, the HIS HD 7970 X Turbo with a an even more modified PCB and power bits, so that was a solid result there. As always with overclocking, your mileage may vary.

I mentioned price above and as great as their HD 7970 X Turbo is, the price just cut that card down at the knees. So where does this card fall? We will all be pleased to see it is at an extremely palatable price… at least I think it is. At Newegg.com they have a lower clocked HIS HD 7970 IceQ X2 at $399.99 (+ $20 MIR). I have to believe this card (GHz Edition) will come in slightly above that. I would imagine $420 or so is where this would land, which leaves it towards the low mid-range of similar cards. You’ll find that to be a competitive price in the market. With that, this card is Overclockers.com Approved!

Joe Shields (Earthdog)

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