Table of Contents
Did I say flagship when we reviewed the ASUS HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP? Apparently I should have said flagship…for now. The Matrix HD 7970 Platinum Edition is clocked even higher (1100 MHz!) and has even more features that make it the new flagship. The embargo on this beastly hardware lifts today and we’re right here to bring it to you!
Specifications & Features
As mentioned, this card comes with an 1100 MHz clock. To be accurate, it’s actually an 1100 MHz boost clock, with a 1050 MHz base clock. Yes, the Matrix has a “GHz Edition” HD 7970 GPU on board, which features a boost clock. In my approximation that makes no difference and when it’s grinding through benchmarks, 1100 MHz is where it sticks and runs throughout. So the Matrix can be viewed as an 1100 MHz GPU in my book.
Now, there are two versions of the Matrix HD 7970, the Platinum and non-Platinum editions, denoted by the presence or absence of a “P” in the model number, respectively. The non-Platinum model is clocked 50 MHz under the Platinum model, which is more tightly binned. The non-platinum edition should be more widely available due to the binning process.
Both GPUs have their GDDR5 memory clocked at 1650 MHz (6600 MHz in quad-pumped vRAM-speak).
I found this next slide amusing. They’re comparing the Matrix Platinum to the “M brand L. 7970”. I’m sure there is some legal reason they can’t say MSI R7970 Lightning, but…really?
The Matrix is absolutely the top of the line and I don’t think there is anything else ASUS could do to the HD 7970 GPU to improve it further, unless they give you a water block and tell you how to set up a water loop. In fact, they include a heatsink that would be perfect if you’re setting up a loop with a universal GPU block, so they even made that simple.
Last in our introduction is a screenshot of the ASUS-skinned GPU-Z, showing the stock clocks of 1100 MHz on the GPU & 1650 MHz on the RAM.
Packaging & Accessories
Now, I’ve seen big boxes for video cards before. Most of them fit the GPU a little more closely than this one though, and zero GPU boxes I’ve seen have ever been larger than a motherboard box. Not so for the Matrix HD 7970 Platinum. It’s about the same size as an eATX motherboard box, but is even thicker. While that’s due mostly to the very thick GPU, it also has something to do with the fact that there are two boxes, just like a motherboard. How many of you know GPUs that come with enough accessories to justify their own box?
To wit, the second box contains all you could want for your new GPU. There is a Crossfire bridge, driver CD, case badge, setup guide, dual 6-pin PCIe -to- 8-pin PCIe power adapter and DVI-to-VGA adapter. There is even a pretty sweet Diablo III mousepad.
In the ‘these separate this card from everyone else’ category, you have a separate MOSFET heatsink for use when operating under sub-zero cooling with dry ice or liquid nitrogen (or, if you’re MattNo5ss, a cascade). The other item is VGA Hotwire cables, which are a big plus considering the HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP doesn’t come with VGA Hotwire, um, wires, leaving you to fend for yourself. These are even better because there is no soldering required. You just plug them into the card, then plug them into the motherboard. It literally can’t get any easier. Well, unless ASUS shipped Shamino or Andre to your house to plug them in for you. I suppose that would be easier.
The MOSFET heatsink comes complete with thermal padding. They aren’t pictured with it, but there are all the screws you need to secure it into place too.
Here is the first peek at the card we’re examining today. Let’s pull that out and get a better look at it!
Meet the ASUS Matrix HD 7970 Platinum
Mmmmm …Matrix. The last Matrix card I possessed was a 5870 Matrix. It had an upgraded cooler, but that cooler was still a squirrel-cage style blower. My how things have changed. Feast your eyes on the dual-10mm-cooled beast that is the ASUS Matrix HD 7970 Platinum.
Drool-worthy, isn’t it? I mean, this is one good looking video card. Did I mention it’s huge yet? No? Well, it is. Really, really big. They took the reference PCB, extended it and widened it to fit everything on this card – mostly for the power section (which is drool-worthy in itself and we’ll talk about that later).
The cooler itself is giant too and includes the well-known by now Matrix load indicator. I’ve got a pretty solid camera, but my benching station’s location doesn’t lend itself to accurate-color photos. ASUS thankfully supplied a great slide showing the lighting feature.
Moving in a little bit, we see an iROG controller. This controller handles the PLL and vMEM voltages and also handles VGA Hotwire duties. The other controller (which you can see below in photos of the power section) is the DIGI+VRM controller that handles GPU voltage, LLC control and VRM frequency control. I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself here, but that’s right – the Matrix gives you control, via software, of GPU, vMEM & PLL voltages as well as LLC and VRM frequency for the GPU.
On the right is their SAP CAP capacitors. Interestingly, they have moved them away from the GPU for their flagship, after quite a long time of saying their design was superior because their SAP CAPs rested behind the GPU socket. ASUS says that they were moved on this card to accommodate extreme overclockers’ mounting of their GPU pots. I think it also helps prove that, while putting them on the back of the GPU helps separate ASUS cards from others’, it doesn’t necessarily have much of an impact at all on the card’s performance.
Now we get to a couple of features that separate the Matrix from the DirectCU II & DirectCU II TOP (hereinafter DCU & DCT, respectively). We already mentioned the plug-in GPU Hotwire feature, which is shown in the upper left of this photo. What we haven’t told you about are the on-board controls – no wires needed. You have TweakIt, which is onboard, on the fly vGPU adjustment. Turbo fan allows you to instantly take your fans to 100% speed upon merely pressing that button. GPU getting too hot with the fan on auto? Push that button!
Safe mode is a great boon to people who apply their overclocks when the system boots. For every GPU review I’ve written, oh, forever, I always disable setting any software overclock on boot. That’s because I trashed an OS install with a different card doing just that. The overclock went too far and crashed the system. Because it was set to go back to that overclock when the OS booted – and because Windows 7 does some 3D stuff while it’s booting – it continuously crashed and crashed. I eventually got the software uninstalled in safe mode, but by then the install was totally borked and Windows had to be reinstalled. Lesson learned and never repeated. However, if you find you mess up and leave that enabled, Safe mode fixes that!
Indeed, as promised, you have all of those controls right at your fingertips.
Here we have the VGA Hotwire control corner, which gives you several solder points in addition to the easy-as-pie VGA Hotwire plugs. To enable VGA Hotwire, you do have to jump one little solder bridge but I’m pretty sure I could teach my four year old to do that (if I would let him touch my soldering station, which I won’t).
Here’s a detailed explanation of what those solder points do, and it’s awesome. Not only do you get VGA Hotwire control, they make it easy to manually volt-mod the Matrix. You don’t have to hunt around for the proper solder points for variable resistors; they give you easy-access solder points right there. Those are also much (much) larger than the typical solder points for such mods. This card is an extreme overclockers dream!
This little switch was present on the DCT as well. It switches one of the DVI ports from dual-link to single-link and back. If operating in dual-link mode, it will disable one of the DisplayPort outputs. When in single-link mode, all four DisplayPort outputs and both DVI outputs are enabled. See this diagram for reference.
Last in our exterior-tour is the card’s video outputs. Like the DCT before it, the Matrix has four full size DisplayPort and two DVI outputs.
It’s time to take that cooler off and see what resides on this giant PCB.
Under the Hood
Taking the cooler off of this card is a two part process. First you remove the actual GPU cooler and then you remove the back-plate and the heatsink that cools the rest of the card. Contact was good throughout for all components.
The only thing to dislike about this cooling solution is that, as you may have noticed above, some of the RAM isn’t cooled by the VRM/RAM heatsink. This is because of the large heatpipes that come out of the GPU cooler base. No cooler would fit there, so they had to leave these without direct cooling. They still get plenty of airflow from the dual 10 mm fans, but they don’t receive the same treatment as the rest of the RAM.
ASUS claims better cooling over the reference card (duh) and the “M. brand Lightning HD7970”. If there was a question as to what the M. brand L. was before, there certainly isn’t one now. The temperature claims appear accurate from our testing, and quiet will depend on how aggressive you want the fans to be. It’s all completely customizable via GPU Tweak. Our testing confirms 71°C is about right for this cooler, even a few degrees high if you manually speed up the fans.
Here is the cooler itself. There are five massive heatpipes as opposed to the six smaller heatpipes on the DCT. The fan frame is very stout aluminum, which is also mounted through the cooler’s fins, giving even more heat dissipating potential.
In addition to the GPU cooler itself, you’ve got the custom anodized aluminum heatsink that cools every MOSFET and much of the RAM on the Matrix.
Ahh, here we have the big deal – the Matrix HD 7970 Platinum PCB. Just take a minute to wonder at its electronic geek-gasmic beauty. Look at the power section! It’s an overclocker’s dream.
Ok, geek-gasmic may have been a little over the top, but only a little. Here are the onboard controls we spoke about earlier. Just above them you can see the DIGI+ voltage controller.
Now let’s have a look at the power section. Compared to a reference card, it’s night and day. The complexity is matched only by its ability. The components are ASUS’ typical largesse, using their Super Alloy Power (SAP) capacitors, inductors (aka chokes) and MOSFETs. The card has twenty phases total, sixteen for the GPU (in two rows if eight), two for the PLL and two for the memory. Note the PLL phases have moved over on this card, leaving unhindered access for a GPU pot, where the DCT had the potential to require component soldering.
Now you can feast your eyes on this power section. It’s overclockers’ heaven. You just know ASUS’ engineers had a blast bringing this thing to life. Forget the need for external power on this card, it’s completely unnecessary. In fact, if an extreme overclocker kills their Matrix HD 7970’s GPU but the rest of the card lives, I could easily see this thing being cut off and turned into a zombie for use as a stronger GPU power section on other cards.
The Matrix HD 7970 comes with Hynix GDDR5 memory (clocked at 1650 MHz GDDR5) and, of course, HD 7970 GHz Edition GPU.
I mentioned this card was huge, but without any reference, it’s difficult to actually tell just how huge. Here it is next to another already huge card, the HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP. You can see it’s not only longer, but much wider thanks to the extra PCB to house all the overkill built into the Matrix.
One last photo and we’re done. This is literally just a gratuitous GPU photo that has no bearing on anything; I just liked it.
All told, this is one massive, beastly, over-engineered graphics card. I daresay there exists no more powerfully designed card on the market. This is what engineers brag about to their friends.
Our test setup today is an Ivy Bridge-based setup just like all others we use for video card testing. The CPU is run at 4.0 GHz and the RAM at DDR3-1866 with 9-9-9-24 timings.
|MB||ASUS Maximus V Extreme|
|RAM||G.Skill TridentX DDR3-2666|
|GPU||ASUS Matrix HD 7970 Platinum|
|OS||Windows 7 Professoinal x64|
This is one of the first GPUs that has actually extended past the PCB of an ASUS Extreme (eATX) motherboard. I’m fairly certain the only other GPU I’ve got that does is the HD 6990, which itself is longer for obvious reasons. In any case, it’s a good looking GPU.
The cards we’re comparing have been tested at the same settings, but on different motherboards per the Overclockers’ Updated Video Card Testing Procedure. All game settings can be found at that link. Long story short – all games are run at 1080p and all eye candy is turned as high as it can go.
The competition has been reduced this time around to the top performers – the GTX 670, GTX 680 and a close competing HD 7970. That is so we can show overclocked benches in the graph without it being packed too tightly.
|ASUS GTX 670 DirectCU II TOP|
|MSI GTX 680 Lightning|
|ASUS HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP|
The competition is smaller, but fierce for this go-round. It should be a good match-up.
For the Matrix HD 7970, ASUS has outfitted all the voltage and power controls you could want. It sees MSI’s Triple Over Voltage and raises it an LLC and a VRM frequency control. With the Matrix, you get direct control over the GPU, GDDR5 and PLL (VDDCI) voltage. In addition to that, you get additional direct control over the power section in the form of LLC (load line calibration) and the ability to adjust the VRM frequency, both of which are quite rare for graphics cards.
I did come across one quirk that GPU Tweak threw my way. Setting a user defined fan curve didn’t do anything. I’m not sure why but were I to venture a guess, it would have something to do with the totally independent fan controls. I actually take a little bit away from ASUS on that front. Controlling both fans independently is completely pointless. It introduces an extra level of complexity that nobody needs. To manually control the fans, you have to set the fan speed on two different fans. Why? There is no point what so ever other than to be able to say they have something no one else does. It’s a very pointless something and, frankly, should be ditched. The manual fan curve issue has been reported to ASUS and they should be able to fix that without much trouble (they’re working on it as you read this). If you ask me, they should take away the dual fan control and simplify it with one control for both, which I also told them.
Observant readers will notice there is a new ROG button on there. That just pops up a little feature list for your viewing pleasure. It doesn’t seem it really does much other than that.
ASUS has supplied a slide that explains how LLC adjustment helps both extreme and ambient overclockers.
There are a lot of settings in GPU Tweak. Notice you can set hotkeys to set your overclocking profiles. You can even set hotkeys to increase and decrease core clock, which is very handy when benchmarking at the limits. You can also record video with GPU Tweak.
In addition to all of that control, you also get a ton of monitoring capability.
Lastly, ASUS continues to supply their skinned version of GPU-Z with the GPU Tweak Software.
Solid software to support a solid GPU; there’s nothing to complain about here.
Cooler Performance & Power Consumption
Don’t put too much thought into this graph. All GPUs are tested with the stock fan profile and the Matrix chooses to be silent rather than to ramp up its fan speed. I do mean silent too – you can not hear this thing with its default profile. If you run the fans even at 50%, which is still barely audible, you’ll see temperatures drop quite a bit. Remember, because of its higher clock speed, it will run hotter than its little brother, that’s just the nature of the beast. Thankfully the beefed up cooler is here to help compensate.
So remember: Stock. Fan. Profile. Silence > Cooling. This cooler performs better than this graph indicates with the fans still very quiet around the 50% level. That said, if you crank these fans up much past the 65% mark, you will hear them. Like, a lot. They are made to be quiet if you want them and to move some serious air when you want to overclock to the max.
Regarding my comment on fan speed, here is a GPUz log of HWBot Heaven run with the fans at 50%. As you can see, the temperature is reduced 9°C below the heaven run with the fans on “Auto”. It’s still hotter than the DCT due to its higher clocks and the increased voltage it takes to get there, but it’s not near as hot as the graph makes it look.
Power consumption is expected to be higher and indeed it is. If you’re green and want to save power by running your GPUs at stock, you’ll probably want to go with a slower card than this one. The scaling is actually quite good. For a 10% stock GPU clockspeed increase, you get a 7% increase in system power consumption.
Overclocking this card was a lot of fun. The extra voltage controls help to get the most out of your card on ambient cooling (and you can use GPU Hotwire to get even more out of it for sub-zero cooling). We’ll be sticking with what you can get on the stock cooler for this review and the results do not disappoint – at least on the GPU.
1280 MHz 24/7 overclock? Yes please! That’s better than the DirectCU II TOP could muster for 24/7 stability by 20 MHz. The memory didn’t impress me as much as the DirectCU II TOP; mainly because it took increasing the voltage to get to 1750 MHz, when the TOP did that without voltage control available at all. It’s not a bad memory overclock by any stretch, just not better.
Ironically, internal ASUS testing has shown the TOP we reviewed was actually better than most. In general, you can expect more variation between the TOP and the Matrix than we’re seeing here. They pride themselves in sending retail samples out (no binning what-so-ever) and this is just evidence that GPUs vary sample to sample and we received a particularly good TOP.
Now it’s time for a voltage tangent! Just like the DirectCU II TOP, this GHz Edition HD 7970 does not like voltages north of ~1.34 V. Above that, the GPU started granting me voltage-induced artifacts. So just because you can crank voltage to 1.4 V does not mean you want to just do that right away. Every GPU is different and you need to feel out your GPU for its tolerances before going to town on it.
Remember, this is an overclocker’s card through and through, complete with voltages to push it to the max. Just like a CPU, it can be pushed too far for its own good. You wouldn’t crank a Maximus V Extreme’s voltage to 1.9 V on air for your 3770K would you? Same here, but without the immediate fiery death that 1.9 V on a CPU would bring. You almost certainly won’t kill your GPU with 1.4 V, but artifacts due to voltage indicate you definitely want to back off.
Here’s a little spoiler for you: I hereby predict this card will show strong improvements at stock and slightly less strong improvements when overclocked over the HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP. Bet you hadn’t figured that out already!
Seriously though, this card is a flagship HD 7970, but is still an HD 7970. Don’t expect miracles in the performance category over its not-so-little brother. For comparison purposes, you should note is that the DirectCU II TOP overclock for all of these games at 1080P is 1200 MHz / 1750 MHz on the GPU & memory, respectively.
Starting off with the synthetic category, we begin with 3DMarks and HWBot heaven. 3DMark03 brings in an obvious win stock and overclocked. That wasn’t too hard considering its only real competition in this bench was the DCT anyway.
3DMark Vantage has great gains, stock and overclocked. The difference is that the stock Matrix at 1100 MHz is on par with the overclocked MSI GTX 680 Lightning. That’s a solid feat in itself.
3DMark 11 shows gains stock and overclocked, but still isn’t quite enough to beat Kepler in this benchmark. It was very close to doing so though.
HWBot Heaven is a win all around. The stock Matrix HD 7970 beats the overclocked GTX 680 Lightning and that gain just increases when you overclock it.
Overall, this is a solid win for the Matrix HD 7970 all around. Other than 3DMark 11 (for which extreme benchmarkers can compensate by turning Tessellation off), the Matrix is a clear winner in every bench.
The game tests will be even more on the lines of ‘big increase at stock, smaller increase overclocked’. Starting with AvP, we see the Matrix trouncing Kepler and beating its little brother by an impressive margin at stock.
Batman: Arkham City’s scaling is impressive. 10% stock clockspeed increase equals 10% FPS increase over the DCT. Sounds good to me. The stock Matrix beats up on the GTX 680 Lightning and it only goes up from there.
Battlefield 3 is a virtually identical story to Batman: AC. Perfect clockspeed scaling and another solid beat down of the Kepler card.
Civilization V gave us an odd result, with the overclocked Matrix coming on .3 FPS below the stock run. Truthfully, I have no idea why this is. Interestingly, the stock Civilization V result was actually below the DirectCU II result. This I’ve come to think was due to a Windows Update that installed itself (I unfortunately left auto-update on). These cards were so close in this game, I hypothesize that the update hurt scores just enough to cause the discrepancy.
Dirt 3 is another game with another solid win. Overclocked, the Matrix even shows higher gains than previously. All of these cards are over 100 FPS in this game, but it’s still scaling well with more powerful graphics and doesn’t seem to be CPU bound, so it’s still a solid measure of GPU ability.
Metro 2033 continues to make GPUs cry, even the Matrix HD 7970. Strangely, there is a slight decrease in FPS compared to the overclocked DirectCU II TOP. This is repeatable and not due to overclock instability. I thought that might be it, but after reducing clocks, the FPS went down right along with it. Like Civilization V, I think (but it’s not possible to really test) that the Windows update might have caused this. You’ll see more of the same in the Eyefinity testing.
With the rare exception, I think it’s safe to call these three another win for the Matrix HD 7970 over its not-very-little brother and the GTX 680 Lightning to boot.
AMD Eyefinity Testing
Eyefinity was a bit harder for the Matrix, mostly because of an overclock gap closure. The DirectCU II TOP’s overclock for Eyefinity testing was increased to 1260 MHz because of the introduction of additional voltage control late in its review process. So the DCT’s overclock for these is 1260 / 1750, not very far from the Matrix HD 7970’s 24/7 overclock of 1280/1750.
The clockspeed variation mentioned is important to note because the differences when overclocked between the two cards are almost nonexistent. In fact, very strangely, the Matrix actually slightly loses to the DCT when overclocked, which didn’t make any sense until I came up with my Windows Update hypothesis. Everything else in the system was identical – CPU, MB, RAM, and all settings. The only difference at all from then to now is that pack of windows updates that made their way through. The FPS differences were small but consistent. Again, I thought the overclock might somehow be showing instability, but when the overclock was reduced the FPS went right down with it. It’s a head scratcher. The differences are very small (except in Dirt 3), but they’re there.
What is impressive is that both of these overclocked HD 7970s give playable framerates in Eyefinity with all eye candy turned up in all but Metro 2033.
Pushing the Envelope
Now to the fun part! This card was strong and the VDDCI, LLC and VRM frequency adjustments really did help squeeze that extra 5-10 MHz out of these clocks.
Vantage was the biggest let down. It does not get along with these HD 7970 GPUs at really high frequency, and refused to run north of the 24/7 overclock. The others increased, some by as little as 20 MHz (Heaven & ’05), others by more than that and one (3DMark03) by a staggering 60 MHz, reaching 1340 MHz on the core. For air cooling, that’s just crazy and shows the potential of this card if I had a GPU pot to freeze it.
|3DMark Vantage||1280 MHz|
|3DMark 11||1320 MHz|
|HWBot Heaven||1300 MHz|
To wit, rsannino came up with a 3DMark03 world record on a Matrix HD 7970, scoring 214700 marks running a crazy 1750 MHz core clock and 1900 MHz mem clock!
All told, whether you want to push your HD 7970 to the max on air or using extreme methods, the Matrix HD 7970 has all the tools you need to get there built right in.
Final Thoughts & Conclusion
Where to start. Well, let’s get the price out of the way. There are two iterations of the ASUS Matrix HD 7970 coming to market. The ‘regular’ ASUS Matrix HD 7970 is supposed to retail for $479.99 and the Matrix HD 7970 Platinum will go for $489.99.
Which brings us to the value proposition. The Matrix is not your run of the mill HD 7970 and it will cost a fair bit more. This card is not for everybody. If you want to overclock a cheaper HD 7970, ASUS didn’t design this card for you. They over-engineered the crap out of this card and it’s going to have a very justified price premium.
I see three potential customer pools here. The first is those people that just want one of the highest clocked HD 7970s on the market. They don’t want to overclock to get there, they want it guaranteed from day one and by golly they’re going to pay for it. I hesitate recommending it for them and would push them to go cheaper and overclock, because any HD 7970 worth its salt will run 1100 MHz. But if they can’t bring themselves to save some cash to get there, ok, I guess buy a Matrix.
The second is those overclockers and gamers that want to squeeze every MHz out of their card, but even more than that. They want extra software voltage controls (see the expanded GPU Tweak offering above) offered by the Matrix. They want the cool on-board Vcore, Safe Mode & Turbo Fan buttons. They want the load-indicating LED. They want the best of the best for their air (or water) cooled machine and will pay for it. For them, this is on the recommended list.
The last group is also the most obvious – extreme overclockers. This card was tailor made for you and hallelujah, praise be to the engineering gods, you’ve got one hell of a card to try and set some world records with. Grab one of these, your GPU pot, (Hot)wire it up and go to town. Absolutely this card is on the recommended list for you. Without hesitation, I think extreme overclockers should buy one (or two) today.
Without a doubt, for all of those groups the ASUS Matrix HD 7970 is Overclockers Approved.