MSI R7870 Hawk Review

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Well, it’s been a couple of months since AMD has released their new lineup of  7 series GPU’s. Top to bottom is now out essentially, so its time for their partners to start churning out their own versions of these cards to see if they can put something out even better than what AMD has brought to the table. Among others, MSI has stepped to the plate and done so with their R7870 HAWK. Let’s see what changes were made and how they improved the card.

Specifications and Features

Below you will see some of the specifications for the MSI HD7870 HAWK. As you can see it comes in with the core overclocked to 1100 MHz with the ram at 1200 MHz. Here is the GPUz 6.2 screenshot. By now, as there have been two other reviews, you should be aware of the 7870’s 1280 shaders, 2 GB GDDR5 RAM on a 256 bit bus, GCN architecture, etc but I just said it again anyway!

GPUz 6.2

GPUz

Moving on to some of the major features, MSI has not surprisingly used its ‘Military Class III’ components as well as its ‘Unlocked Digital Power’  stamp which aids in overclocking by ‘unlocking all protections for extreme overclocking’.

 

 

 

 

 

Unlocked Digital Power

– Unlocked BIOS: One click to unlock all protections for extreme overclocking
– Digital PWM Controller: More stable and precise voltage by digital signal
– Enhanced Power Design: 2X Power output for maximum OC potential

GPU Reactor
– An add-on device on the back of R7870 HAWK (Behind GPU) for the overclocking stability
– Provide 88% higher power capacity and eliminate power noise (ripple)

Xtreme Thermal
– Dust Removal technology on Twin Frozr IV keeps dust out for the best thermal condition
– Dual Form-in-one Heatsinks provide better heat dissipation and strengthen the structure

Military Class III Components
– Meet MIL-STD-810G standard to ensure the best stability and quality.
– Adopt CopperMOS, Hi-c CAP, Golden SSC, and Dark Solid CAP

GPU Reactor Create the Ultimate Power Core

The MSI R7870 Hawk implements the innovative “GPU Reactor” power panel which, when installed on the back of the GPU, increases 5 times current volume, reduces power supply noise by 20%, and improves overall overclocking stability. MSI GPU Reactor is easy to install and has built in safety features that make it easy even for ordinary users to install and remove.

(above from the MSI website and news release)

Photo Op

Let’s take a look at the retail packaging in which MSI puts their cards. Gracing the front panel, you can see a picture of the USA’s stealth F-117 NightHawk. This is fitting as MSI named their card “hawk” as well. The front cover also shows high level features such as the 2048 MB of GDDR5, DX11, and 2x mini DisplayPort among other items. Flipping the box over you will see other features as well as more detailed specifications.

Opening up the front flap shows a lot more details about what sets this card apart from the rest such as the Digital Unlocked Power, Military Class III components, as well as having the ability to change three voltages (Core, Memory, Aux/PLL) and having voltage read points for each value. Basically this card has the tools to be pushed to the limits on ambient and then some with extreme cooling. The bottom face of the package has a window showing the card and also goes over the features of the Twin Frozr IV cooler.

MSI R7870 HAWK Retail packaging - Front

MSI R7870 HAWK Retail packaging - Front

MSI R7870 HAWK Retail packaging - Rear

MSI R7870 HAWK Retail packaging - Rear

MSI R7870 HAWK Retail packaging - Lid top

MSI R7870 HAWK Retail packaging - Lid top

MSI R7870 HAWK Retail packaging - Lid bottom

MSI R7870 HAWK Retail packaging - Lid bottom

Inside the packaging is a typical box in box setup with the card in form fitting foam preventing any shipping damage. The driver disc and included accessories are in the black box or below the card.

Internal packaging

Internal packaging

Internal packaging 2

Internal packaging 2

Taking a look at the accessories, you can see it comes with the usual suspects in a driver disc, DVI to VGA adapter as well as a mini display port to display port connector. MSI has also included a certificate of stability. The good thing they added here were the voltage read point plugs. As you will see later on, its not a typical ‘pad’ like most are used to seeing on a video card. This makes taking voltage readings much easier, and can ‘set it and forget it’ instead of keeping hands on to get readings.

Accessories

Accessories

Taking a look at the card, one thing you will notice is different than its “Lightning” counterpart even though it uses the same Twin Frozr IV cooler, is the blue ‘racing stripe’ as opposed to yellow. Personally, I’m partial to this blue vs the yellow, but in the scheme of things that is a personal preference. The Twin Frozr IV cooler also sports two (2) 80 mm fans with dust removal technology. Basically what that means is the fans spin the opposite direction for about 30 seconds on start up to help get any dust out of the heatsink.

Flipping the card over you can see a backplate (which also doubles as structural support) covering the rear of the PCB and a large blue orb. MSI calls this the GPU Reactor. It serves to filter the power coming in to the card outputting a much more clean power signal (reduces, “power supply noise by 20%”) which aids in overclocking as well as supplying “5x more current volume”. I’m not sure what effect this unit will have with ambient clocking but I can imagine it would be really worth it for the extreme crowd.

Moving down to the output area, the card is graced with the typical outputs of DVI-D, HDMI, and two (2) mini DisplayPorts. Plenty of options for single monitor or multi-monitor functionality. In the last picture, you can see the power plug requirements of two (2) 6 pin PCIe adapters.

Front

Front

Rear

Rear

Outputs (1 DVI-d, 2 Mini-Displayports, 1 HDMI)

Outputs (1 DVI-D, 2 Mini-Displayports, 1 HDMI)

Power plugs, 2 - 6 pin PCIe

Power plugs, 2 - 6 pin PCIe

Breaking the card down and removing the heatsink you can see a couple of the components that set the MSI R7870 Hawk apart from other 7870’s. The first is the Golden SSC chips (Solid State Capacitor), as well as the memory/VRM cooling unit in the first picture. Moving over to the heatsink underbelly, you can see a total of five (5) heatpipes snaking their way throughout the fin array, with the outer two heatpipes being a bit larger than the rest.

Taking off the RAM/VRM heatsink exposes the entire board for you to see. Looking a bit closer at the board you can see the Hynix H5GQ2H24MFR-T2C memory found in all AMD cards I have reviewed lately in the 7 series. If you recall this is rated at 1250 MHz at 1.5 V and usually overclocks to the moon (the worst result was 1402 MHz).

Heatsink removed

Heatsink removed (memory/vrm heatsink still attached)

Heatsink

Heatsink

Card exposed with ram/vrm heatsink now removed

Card exposed with ram/vrm heatsink now removed

Memory - Hynix H5GQ2H24MFR-T2C

Memory - Hynix H5GQ2H24MFR-T2C

Looking at the first picture below you can see the three voltage read points for the core, memory, and VDDCI. Just plug in the included connectors and you are good to go.  Just above and to the right of the SSC’s is the power management chip, a Chil 8225G for software controllable voltages. And last to the right of the Crossfire connector is a bios switch that when moved to the alternate position, essentially removes any OCP protection from the card and allows you to push it until your heart is content without protection circuitry getting in the way. Note this should only be used with extreme cooling methods, hence the name, LN2, when you enable it shows “LN2” in MSI Afterburner.

Voltage read points (Core, Memory, and PLL)

Voltage read points (Core, Memory, and PLL)

Dual BIOS - Switch over for LN2 runs (disables OCP)

Dual BIOS - Switch over for LN2 runs (disables OCP)

The last set of pictures simply shows breaking down of the GPU Reactor. The first one shows the blue glowing cover removed exposing the GPU Reactor’s PCB, and the second one shows it removed or where it physically plugs in to the card. It’s a very simple process…even a caveman can do it.  It only goes in one way.

GPU Reactor - Cover off, board still plugged in

GPU Reactor - Cover off, still plugged in

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GPU Reactor - Cover off, unplugged from the main PCB

 

Performance and Overclocking

Test System

  • Intel i7-2600K CPU (Overclockers.com Approved!)
  • Asrock Z77 Fatal1ty Pro
  • G.Skill RipjawsX 2 x 4 GB 2133 MHz CL7 @ 1.65 V
  • OCZ Vertex 3 SSD (Overclockers.com Approved!)
  • Seasonic X560
  • MSI HD 7870 HAWK (Stock – 1100/1200 and 1300/1400 overclocked)
  • Windows 7 64 bit Operating System
  • Catalyst 12.3 (8.961.0)

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

Overclocking Software

Most of us that overclock have at least heard of MSI Afterburner. If not, it is a great program from MSI to help overclock your video card, add voltage to it, and fan control as well as graphed monitoring of a slew of items on the card like temperature, voltage, memory use, GPU use, etc. Of course, you don’t have to have an MSI card in order for this to work, but it does ensure the best support as far as clocks speeds and voltage control. As many of us are familiar with this software, we know that 2.1 beta XX has been gracing us with its presence for the last few months. Well wait no more for version 2.2, it is here. Version 2.2 adds more voltage controller chips among other additions so one can overclock and change the voltage on a broader range of cards.

MSI Afterburner v2.2

MSI Afterburner v2.2

Synthetic Benchmarks

After reviewing two 7870’s before, the results with this card, since its clocks are in the ballpark, should be strikingly similar at stock speeds and essentially, they are. The difference with this card is that when we went for overclocked results, we were able to get much higher 24/7 clocks. So keep an eye out there.

Looking at 3DMark 03 though, for reason even having higher clocks was still scoring right around a previous card. This could be due to drivers as I know it was absolutely stable.

3DMark 06 results we know we can throw these away as they are wholly CPU bound. As expected its right in the pack with the rest of the higher end cards listed.

3DMark 03

3DMark 03

3DMark 06

3DMark 06

Moving on to something a bit more modern, in 3DMark Vantage, you can see the beefy 24/7 overclock pulling ahead of its peers and even beating a stock 7950! 3DMark 11 shows some peculiar results here that I am blaming on the driver at the time for the 7950 and this bench. The 7870 beats out the 7950 in my testing. Again, I believe this has to do with drivers. This card is fast, but not that fast to beat out a 7950 at stock for stock or with both highly overclocked. Still though a tremendous showing here beating out all other cards in the roundup minus the highly overclocked 7950 of course.

Last in this grouping is Unigine Heaven (Hwbot version). Here again the 7870 beats out the 7950 at stock speeds (again driver issue I’m imagining). Once overclocked though, the pecking order falls back in to place with both the 7950, and the other 7870 listed here falling behind the MSI R7870 HAWK with its monster 24/7 overclock.

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage

3DMark 11

3DMark 11

Unigine Heaven (Hwbot)

Unigine Heaven (Hwbot)

Game Benchmarks

You essentially have the same story here with the games. In most benchmarks below due to the much higher 24/7 overclocks achieved, the MSI R7870 HAWK simply pulls away slightly from its peers and comes closer to the 7950.

Alien Vs. Predator (Default)

Alien Vs. Predator (Default)

Alien Vs. Predator (Highest)

Alien Vs. Predator (Highest)

Stalker: Call of Pripyat

Stalker: Call of Pripyat

The song remains the same with Dirt 2 and HAWX2 though the differences are not as pronounced in both of these older titles.

Dirt 2

Dirt 2

HawX 2

Below is a list of NEW games that we at Overclockers.com will be using/adding to our video card benchmarking. These games are a lot more modern than some used above which we will be retiring, and thus the we hope you all feel are a bit more relevant to today’s gaming landscape. Until we get the old cards benchmarked under the new Ivy Bridge based test systems and have something to compare it to, I will present the information to you in a table instead of a graph. But first are the settings/benchmarks used:

  • Metro 2033 – 1920×1080,  4xAA / 16xAF, DX11, Quality: Very High, PhysX Off, DOF (Depth of Field) On, Scene: Frontline
  • Batman: Arkham City – 1920×1080, 8xMSAA, DX11: MVSS and HBAO, Tessellation: HIGH, Detail Level: Extreme, PhysX: OFF
  • Dirt 3 – 1920×1080, 8xMSAA, Settings: Everything Enabled and Maxed (High or Ultra depending on setting)
  • Battlefield 3 – 1920×1080 and using the “Ultra” setting, with all the defaults that applies when set. Manual run through of a specific scene (Operation Semper Fidelis when you pick up the pistol until the game takes over motion)
  • Civilization V – 1920×1080, 8xMSAA, High Detail Strategic View: Enabled, Vsync: Off, Other Settings: High. We are using the “LateGameView” bench (DX11)
Game Min Max Average
Metro 2033 6.7 49.5 27.3
Batman: Arkham City 38 101 81
Dirt 3 x 87.3 53.8
Battlefield 3 44 83 58.7
Civilization V x x 72.8

Cooling and Power Consumption

For the ‘HAWK’ version of MSI’s 7870 line, they have chosen to put their Twin Frozr IV cooler on which consists of two fans blowing down on a nickle plated copper heatsink with a total of 5 heatpipes spanning the length of the fin array. This setup also has their “dust removal technology’ in which the two 80 mm fans spin in reverse for 30 seconds upon start up, thus blowing away dust from the heatsink. MSI makes claims of “15 °C cooler” over the reference model, while being “5.7 dB quieter”. We do not have a reference model to compare it against but I can tell you this cooler does a great job at keep the card in an acceptable temperature range even with heavy overclocking.

With the default fan profile, in a 21 °C ambient room I was idling at 30 °C (30% fan) with the fan essentially being inaudible over three (3) 1k RPM Yate Loon High’s. During the benchmarking at stock speeds and voltages , the card peaked at 62 °C (Core)/48 °C (memory)/56 °C (VRM) with around 55% fan speed. Once you start getting over 60% on the fan, they do begin to make themselves known. But realistically, you wont need more than that for gaming while overclocked. At 100% fan and fully overclocked, I managed to peak at 61 °C/45 °C/53 °C on the VRM at 1.25 V in 3dMark 11.

As far as power consumption, again being the same system just with a different card and higher overclock, we are not going to see much difference here between the other cards. With the system fully overclocked at 5.3 GHz (4c/8t) 1.52 V on the CPU, and 1380/1528 MHz @ 1.299 V on the GPU, the system peaked at 344 W in 3DMark 11 combined test. In the Graphics Test 4, it peaked around 315 W. Does anyone else remember just a couple of years ago when single cards were approaching the 300W TDP ballpark on their own? My how times have changed.

Pushing the Limits

Man I love this part… I pushed this thing as far as it would go with ambient temperatures and I was not disappointed in the results. This card easily overclocked well past the previous 7870’s I had. It is possible that any changes they have made to the power delivery, and the addition of the GPU Reactor helped this thing push past what the previous two cards ran with…but I would imagine it would really earn its keep with extreme cooling considering the voltages used and sheer amount of power/current needed when under extreme cooling. I will find out about that soon and add those results in the comments thread.

That out of the way, I was able to bench some of these at 1380 (core)/1528 (memory) which is quite a bit above any of the other 7870’s I had a chance to review. MSI has an overclocking stud on its hands with this sample! I cannot wait to get this thing prepped for cold and REALLY push on it… its begging for it.

3DMark03 - 151,113 3DMarks

3DMark03 - 151,113 3DMarks

3DMark Vantage - 33,260

3DMark Vantage - 33,260

3DMark 11 - 9,643

3DMark 11 - 9,643

Unigine Heaven (Hwbot) - 2,316

Unigine Heaven (Hwbot) - 2,316

Conclusion

Let’s put some wrapping and a nice little bow on top of this review shall we? I really have to admit there isn’t much to complain about with this card at all. If you forced me to say something bad about it I would have to say the Twin Frozr IV fans get whiny after about 60%. However, I only expect people to be benching with the card at 100% fan speed.

The other potential negative is with the GPU Reactor used in CrossFireX, you will need 3 slot spacing as it is just a little bit (a cm or so?) past the PCIe connector on my test bench. You may be able to fit two of these next to each other in a dual slot configuration, but you would really be putting some stress on the slot/PCB if you tried that as it would sit bent with slight pressure on it. So just know that even though its a 2-slot card, CrossFireX would be better served in a 3-slot spacing.

Let’s talk positives. Better cooling than reference in both performance and noise level? Check. Better power delivery than reference 7870’s? Check. Features such as the ‘3+3 OC  kits’, Military Class III components, Digital Unlocked Power, as well as the GPU Reactor are all things to aid this card in performing better than its peers and overclocking further in the end.

The MSRP for the 7870 is $349. Currently we do not have an MSRP for the MSI R7870 HAWK. You can expect it to come in a little higher than that and be available to purchase very shortly however. So long as it is in the ballpark of that number (which we expect it to be) and fits in well with the market, I believe this card is really a good deal for those looking to overclock heavily, benchmark, or just need a great all around performer. This card is Overclockers Approved!

~Joe Shields (Earthdog)

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Discussion
  1. What an Awesome thing, had i seen this review before, i would have bought it instead of the one i ended up with.
    I think its definitely the better card.
    Good review, thanks :)
    EarthDog
    Thanks!
    I cant believe the lack of chatter on this card.. people jumped on the 680 though...

    Yeah king of the single GPU cards and all that... Gems like this tend to get overlooked amongst it all.
    mstersmith
    I am jumping all over this like a fat kid on a cupcake!

    i just spat half eaten cupcake all over my screen reading that.....
    Gem yes, but available? Barely.
    Guess i may get one of them for my next quality PC-V354 chassis. Paired with a ??? board and a AX1200i. Hopefully one of the most reliable PCs ever made. I wont OC, a 7870 is giving me enough of performance for any 1080P games and other stuff. If i need more power i can still build a CF setup. Although i dont like AMD cards a lot because of theyr inferior drivers, there is simply no true gem in the Nvidia house such as that one. Because my demand is not raw performance, its "raw quality".
    The PCB design surely looks very clean and proper, and made with great quality parts. For a price of currently 340 $ in my country (which is lesser than i had to pay for my 7870 DCII, 2 months ago) it seems to be a great deal.
    http://www.overclockers.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/cardnaked2.png
    Unfortunately MSIs "military class" brand is not failproof and still not a granted "long lasting", which can be seen on the Newegg "military class" board: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813130623 Im not sure if it even would deserve the name, other almost no name boards had lesser negative feedbacks.
    However, according to the review regarding the "military class" GPU, that one could finally be a great piece.
    I got my card today for my second system. Since my old system died another time, i changed to another board and decided to sell the old 6950 so i can use the Hawk 7870 on my HTPC (and backup gamer PC), since its a way better card. I dont care its power, i got it for quality reasons. I will not underclock however because thats pointless. It will downclock and undervolt itself at low load and may achieve a very high life expectation when the temps are very cool.
    Now when i look at that massive and really sturdy card, with a metal backplate attached it surely feels impressive. It even got a card cover which is made with metal instead of plastic which is certainly a good sign of quality. At the back the already well known GPU reactor, that is not important to me but i wont remove since its main purpose is to provide more clean power so its even useful when used for HTPC purpose. Dont even need to remove the cooler in order to be able to gaze at the golden choke. I guess there surely is many outstanding pieces inside which is a good sign for high endurability and stability.
    Finally the test of time will show me the truth but i rarely had a card dying on me (if so, the card was defective right out of the box, which is a manufacturing failure). The MB or PSU is more prone to failures. Its still a good feeling when a card might be made of great quality, which is pretty certain. However, i suggest to use some sort of GPU holder when the card is horizontally mounted, because it might "only" be a mid range GPU but its a pretty heavy card which does just barely fit inside 2 slots and only when the reactor is removed. ;)