PowerColor HD7950 PCS+ Review

Oh, what a glorious day it is here in Tahiti…no, you didn’t just jump in to my vacation blog. We are here today to review the PowerColor HD 7950 PCS+. If this card is anything like its big brother, the HD 7970, this card should be another monster. Let’s see how it compares against that and other high-end GPUs.

Specifications and Features

Listed in the table below are the high level features of the card. Some details such as the actual TDP of the card are not listed as that information from PowerColor was not available at the time we published. Another esteemed reviewer and editor, Hokiealumnus, has kindly shown more details the Tahiti architecture. You can get that information from his review of the HD 7970. Some of the major differences one may notice off the top is the number of shaders coming in at 1792 for the 7950 and 2048 in the 7970. The core clocks and memory speeds also come in notably lower at 880 MHz and 1275 MHz on the PowerColor PCS+version versus 925 MHz core and 1375 MHz memory on the 7970.

PowerColor HD7950 PCS+ Specifications
Graphics Engine RADEON HD7950
Video Memory 3GB GDDR5
Engine Clock 880 MHz (reference 800 MHz)
Memory Clock 1250 MHz (5.0Gbps, reference)
Memory Interface 384bit
Shaders 1792 (9th Generation Unified architecture)
ROP’s 32
DirectX® Support 11.1 (SM5.0)
Bus Standard PCIE 3.0
Standard Display Connecors DL-DVI-I/ HDMI/2x mini DisplayPort
Feature Support
OpenGL Support
CrossFireX™ Technology Support
ATI Stream Technology Support
ATI Eyefinity Technology Support
Display Support
VGA Output Yes, By DVI to VGA converter
DVI Output Dual Link DVI-I x1
DisplayPort 2 On Board(Mini DP)
HDMI On Board
HDCP Support Support
Maximum Resolution
VGA 2048×1536
DVI 2560×1600
DisplayPort 4096×2160
HDMI 4096×3112
Power Specs + Board Dimensions
Board Dimensions
Minimum System Power requirement (W) ?
Extention Power Connector One 6-Pin and One 8-Pin PCI Express Power connectors

 

GPUz - Stock

GPUz - Stock

Photo Op

Below you will see the first pictures of the retail packaging. No voluptuous animated women sporting weaponry, just a fast looking concept car on this one. It also shows the major features such as its superior cooling solution and power delivery area which should deliver better overclocking abilities. The back of the package shows more features such as the digital PWM (6+2+1 configuration) and ferrite chokes.

Also pictured in this set are the accessories that come with it. A CrossFireX bridge, DVI to VGA adapter, HDMI to Mini DisplayPort, as well as some quick installation instructions and a driver disk (not pictured).

Retail Packaging - Front

Retail Packaging - Front

Retail Packaging - Rear

Retail Packaging - Rear

Accessories

Accessories

Here she is in all her aftermarket glory…the Powercolor HD 7950 PCS+. You can see below it is using a multiple heatpipe design along with two 92 mm fans to move air across the larger heatsink. On the output side of the card you can see its four panel capabilities in two mini DisplayPort, HDMI, and DVI outputs.  There are dual CrossFireX connectors on top of the card to connect up to four of these bad boys for ultra high resolution gaming or benchmarking.

GPU - Front

GPU - Front

GPU - Rear

GPU - Rear

GPU - Outputs

GPU - Outputs

Now we arrive to the part where we take the clothes off and see what’s underneath. As you can see below, you are greeted with a nice shiny core along with used to be, in past days, an integrated heat sink (IHS). This version however sits slightly below the core and does not make contact with it. Notice how, on this sample at least, there are no markings on the core… I’m wondering if this is an early sample? Also hiding in this picture is the BIOS switch located next to the CrossFireX connectors.

Also pictured are the Hynix H5GQ2H24MFR-T2C memory IC’s. A quick trip to Google shows those chips to be rated at DDR5 5000 (1250 MHz) at 1.5 V. This is actually the stock speed on the memory so I’m not terribly confident we can push on these too far without knowing the voltage given to them, or the ability to add it.

The next picture shows the power delivery area and its 6+2+1 configuration. I do not have any documentation, but we can safely say that the 6 is for the core itself while the 2 is for the memory area. I am not certain what the +1 is for however. What this will yield, according to PowerColor, is more overclocking potential and stability.

Last you can see the base of the heatsink cleaned all cleaned up. Which, to my surprise, was a good TIM application. Still I removed it and used MX-2 upon putting it back together. The heatsink is using a total of three 8 mm copper (with a nickel? coating) heatpipes that snake through the heatsink. The finish on the base is simply brushed copper. No fancy reflection pictures are possible here folks, but the heat transfer is still pretty effective in keeping the temperatures manageable.

 

Naked 7950

Naked 7950

Close up of the core as well as Hynix memory IC's.

Close up of the core as well as Hynix memory IC's

Power Delivery area / 6 and 8 pin PCIe connectors

Power Delivery area / 6 and 8 pin PCIe connectors

Underside of heatsink

Underside of heatsink

Performance and Overclocking

Test System

Benchmarking Method/Settings

  • All Synthetic benchmarks were at their default settings
  • Alien vs. Predator was run at its default setting (textures high, no AA), and the highest it offered (4x AA, textures set to highest)
  • Hawx 2 was run at a resolution of 1920×1080 with 8x AA and every setting at its highest (DX10)
  • Dirt 2 was run at a resolution of 1920×1080 with 8x AA/16x AF and all settings at their highest
  • Stalker:COP was run at a resolution of 1920×1080 using Ultra settings, 4x AA with tessellation enabled using the Sunshafts portion of the benchmark only
  • Unigine Heaven (HWbot) was run with the “extreme” setting
  • BF3 was run at 1920×1080, Ultra, 4xAA/16xAF, HBAO (highest in game settings)

Powercolor 7950 PCS+ on Evga X79 FTW

Powercolor 7950 PCS+ on Evga X79 FTW

Okay, enough tomfoolery, let’s check out the benchmarks.

Synthetic Benchmarks

Starting off with 3DMark03, the 7950 seems to fit in right where one would expect. It beats out the top dog in the Nvidia camp, the GTX 580, and falls short of its big brother, the 7970.  It also makes quick work of AMD’s former top single GPU card, the 6970 besting it by over 10%. With the the 24/7 overclock I have (1100/1335) it matches and surpasses the 7970 at its stock speed.

In 3DMark06, there isn’t really much to show here because of the way 06 calculates its final score. 06 relies heavily on CPU speed, and the number of cores and threads to produce a higher score. Because of that, the differences in the scores do not remotely reflect the typical performance differences between high end cards unless the CPU is highly overclocked (which we run the 2600k at stock for these tests). Regardless, the 7950 still lands where it should here putting up a 24.5k stock score and 25.3k overclocked score.

3DMark 03

3DMark 03

3DMark 06

3DMark 06

Moving on to Vantage and 3DMark 11, you can see some close scores here as well. That said, it still does fall right in the order you would expect putting up an impressive 27k stock and 29k overclocked.

In 3DMark11, results are again close across the board with the 7950 posting up 6.8k score at stock speeds and 8.2k overclocked. Of course, you add some CPU horsepower to this equation and these scores go up dramatically as you will see below in the ‘pushing the limits’ section.

3Dmark Vantage

3Dmark Vantage

3DMark 11

3DMark 11

Game Benchmarks

For those that do not benchmark, here is where the rubber meets the road, the gaming benchmarks. We’ll go over these one by one again…

In Alien vs Predator, both high and default settings, again things fall nicely in to place with the 7970 dominating the landscape and the 7950 coming in second place with, surprisingly, the 6970 and GTX 580 hot in its heels. At the highest settings for this game at 1920×1080 its clear its playable for all the cards in this lineup.

Stalker is a great bench which shows off DX11 and some tessellation. In this bench, AMD’s new offerings seem to be showing off here as both the PowerColor 7950 and the AMD 7970 put a hurting on the 6970 and beat out the 580 by nearly 10%. In doing so, Tahiti put up the highest numbers we have seen on single GPU cards with frame rates of 78.1 and 88.1 in this benchmark. The 7950, when overclocked, also managed to beat out the dual GPU 6990. Impressive.

In the Hwbot Unigine Heaven benchmark, things tighten back up for one reason or another (drivers?) but again the pecking order is intact. The 7950 hits an initial score of 1551.xxx and overclocked scores 1881.xxx. Again the overclocked score bests a stock 7970.

Dirt 2 is another game I enjoyed playing and utilizes DX11 features including tessellation. In this benchmark, our reoccurring theme of the cards falling nicely in order for the gaming benchmarks continue on here with the 7950 putting up 97.1 FPS stock and 106.7 when overclocked. Plenty of horsepower to chew through this game with the settings cranked.

Finally a benchmark that  breaks the mold. In Hawx2, you can see with the FPS achieved by all the cards in the graph are well above 150 FPS so nearly any half decent card would be able to play these games. With that said, both the 7970 and 7950 fall short of the mighty GTX 580 in this benchmark. Though again, the PowerColor 7950 puts up plenty of FPS coming in at 161 stock and 176 overclocked.

Last, but certainly not least, is arguably one of the best FPS available now, Battlefield 3. If there is any benchmark in this test that uses more of the DX11 features its this game and the Frostbite2 engine. In this benchmark you can see things fall back into place. The 7950 puts up 53/63.9 (min/avg) falling squarely between the 7970 and 580. Though note here that the 7950 at stock beats out the GTX 580 overclocked. With that in mind the overclocked frame rates 61/76.1 (min/avg) put the 580 even further in the rear view mirror when compared to the GTX 580.

Alien vs. Predator (Default)

Alien vs. Predator (Default)

Alien vs Predator (High Quality)

Alien vs Predator (High Quality)

Stalker COP: Sunshafts

Stalker COP: Sunshafts

Hwbot Unigine Heaven (Extreme)

Hwbot Unigine Heaven (Extreme)

Dirt 2

Dirt 2

Hawx 2

Hawx 2

Battlefield 3

Battlefield 3

Temperatures/Cooling

Finally, board partners have come out with their own cooling solutions. I know, at least personally, that not many people seem to like the reference cooling impeller that is used. According to our 7970 reviews (HIS HD 7970, AMD HD 7970), the fan is a bit bigger and not quite as loud as the impeller type reference cooling. To that end, PowerColor has put a nice solution on top of their 7950. It has two large 92 mm fans blowing down through the three, 8 mm copper heatpipes/base which turns out to be a pretty effective solution. Temperatures when running stock in a 19 °C ambient room using 3DMark11 and the automatic fan profile, topped out at 52 °C and idled around 27 °C. Surprisingly that is a lot higher than other cards on idle, but right where I expected it to be on load. When using the overclocked settings (1100/1355 @ 1.16 V) we jumped up a bit to 28 °C idle, and 54 °C load throughout the same testing. I cranked the fans to 100% which makes them blow a decent amount of air. This resulted in a load temperature at the overclocked settings of 48 °C. Not a huge drop. When running the max clocks I achieved (1229/1355 @ 1.255 V) with 100% fan she managed to top out at 57 °C.

Overall, the heatsink PowerColor used is quite effective for a dual slot solution. When playing  a game (BF3) using the auto profile, I barely heard the fans spin up. So it runs quietly, and cools effectively.

Pushing the Limits

Ahh, finally, let’s take the gloves off and throw down. Below you will see what this card, pushed to its limits with a 5 GHz 2600k behind it. The clock speeds I settled on for this were 1229/1355 MHz (5420 MHz DDR5) @ 1.255 V. Some benchmarks would run a bit higher, and there is some headroom left in the card.

Hitting 1229 MHz on the core prior to the release of Tahiti was reserved to extreme cooling methods. Now, stock air brings these cards up there. This is quite amazing to me. I can only wonder what it will do cold and more volts sent to it…

3Dmark 03 - 148,242

3Dmark 03 - 148,242

3DMark 05 - 45,144

3DMark 05 - 45,144

3DMark 06 - 35,509

3DMark 06 - 35,509

3Dmark Vantage - 36,988

3Dmark Vantage - 36,988

3DMark 11 - 9,725

3DMark 11 - 9,725

Conclusion

PowerColor has come out with its 7950 PCS+ with aftermarket cooling on it and an overclock… essentially what a lot of us were waiting for (what about the 7970???). The cooling solution is quiet and effective and  should allow for a bit more headroom in overclocking if temperatures are a limiting factor. The performance of this card is second only to its big brother, the 7970, and besting the former king of the hill, the GTX 580, in nearly all tests not limited by the CPU clock speeds. As time goes on and new drivers release for it, performance can only go up. When we get in to overclocking the card, that is where these really shine. Hitting a 220 MHz overclock with a 0.05 V increase has to be one of the largest I have seen with the cards I have been exposed to. Maxing out a massive 359 MHz over its stock clocks (and 449 MHz over the reference clocks) on AIR cooling show just some of the benefits of a die shrink.

MSRP has been rumored to be around $400-$450. If the card comes out at $400, then this is easily the better value versus the $400+ GTX 580′s. Even at $450+ the card is still an incredible alternative to the pricey and rarely in stock 7970′s and the similarly priced GTX 580′s.

EDITOR’S NOTE: After publishing, newegg.com has updated their stock to include this card. $499.99 for this model, which puts its pricing right in with all the other aftermarket solutions and $50 above the reference versions.

Readers, I’m not going to beat around the bush with this one. The Powercolor HD 7950 PCS+ is overwhelmingly approved. Go get it.

~ Earthdog

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11 Comments:

Woomack's Avatar
Nice review

I was really waiting for cheaper version of 7970 and now I don't know what to think. It's still too expensive and after looking at some benchmarks ( especially older ) I can compare it to my GTX470 after higher oc ... wait this card is 2 yo ... cpu limit it seems.
I live in Poland and here we have retail prices about 2000zł for 7950 and 2300zł for 7970. 1zł = ~3.3$ now so ~600$ for 7950 and ~700$ for 7970 including our 23% tax. I doubt that anyone will even look at 7950 here. What happend with ~300$ cards that weren't much slower than top versions
Krazy931's Avatar
ya was dissapointed at the price point with it as well but great review even tho the tests show this card slightly behind the 7970 i dont think itd be worth the drop if 7970 isnt much more then this card i assume after the excitement drops and nvidia starts releasing there cards we will see price adjustments worth to jump on these cards
SupaMonkey's Avatar
Does anyone know anything about crossfire performance. Have they improved this over the 6000's?
JonSimonzi's Avatar
Great review.

I do have a question about your opinion on the value of a 7950 though EarthDog. Just like you originally said in your article, I was expecting the 7950's to land at $400, up to $450 for the non reference ones. Not start at $460, and go up to $500 for non reference ones. Sure the card is a top performer, and can overclock like a beast, but I feel for $90 more dollars, a 7970 is a better buy.
EarthDog's Avatar
We were told, after publishing, the proper msrp for this card is 469. I would assume the reference ones are less. The pricing you are seeing now is new card inflation. Also, my expectation was up to $450 for the reference cards really. Wait until non reference 7970's hit newegg at $550+... note this Gigabyte non reference 7970 is $610, still keeping the $100+ between aftermarket solutions.

We did not get the chance to run it in crossfire as we only have one card. I would imagine the performance/scaling in CrossfireX to be similar if not a bit better over the 6 series.

There are other reviews which show 7970 scaling. It should not be any different with the 7950.
Overclockers.com's Avatar
I was an editor mistake, but I cannot be deleted or things will break. Blame Earthdog. No, seriously...blame Earthdog.
Woomack's Avatar
there is lot of 7950 reviews listed @ http://www.techpowerup.com/ also with 2/3/4 cards in CF
manu2b's Avatar
Hey ED, didn't you try any 7970 BIOS flash?

EDIT: And, of course, nice review, as usual! But no need to say
Janus67's Avatar
The card looks to be a solid performer, although it mostly looks to trade blows with the GTX580 (depending on the game/review/settings/resolution) - for better or worse. Had the card launched at $400 it would give people a serious thought of not buying a 580, but at this moment there isn't much reason to upgrade (unless it is to a 7970) for someone who already owns a 580 (or two, in my case). I will be interested to see if the performance increases along with new drivers.

To note - 10% increase over a 580 isn't too shabby, but a 580 is also over a year old at this point.


With all that said - Nice review Joe, I can't wait to see what it can do when it is frozen solid
Janus67's Avatar
That's a pretty good review there as well, although I wish they had compared against 580s in SLI, from what I can tell they are all just against a single 580.
diaz's Avatar
Nice review! Looking like a nice option.. Still going to wait for kepler details before I make a decision..
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