MSI R7870 Twin Frozr 2GD5/OC GPU Review

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AMD has already released their high and low end lineup of 28 nm GPUs. Today we will be looking at the MSI  R7870 Twin Frozr 2GD5/OC which is geared towards anyone who is serious about gaming, but doesn’t want to shell out $400 + for a graphics card. This card and its lesser sibling, the HD 7850 round out the AMD’s mid-range segment of 28 nm GPUs.

AMD 7000 Series Lineup

AMD 7000 Series Lineup

7800 Series Specification and Features

We will be taking a brief look at the Pitcairn core and features of the 7800 series (slides courtesy of AMD) as a whole before delving into the MSI  R7870.

Pitcairn Core

Pitcairn Core

7800 Series Features

 

7800 Series Power Consumption

7800 Series Power Consumption (AMD)

The 7800 series of cards is based off of the Pitcairn Core, which is based off of the Graphics Core Next architecture like its older, bigger, stronger brother the Tahiti Core. This means it features 28 nm process, PCI-E Gen3, power management, AMD PowerTune technology, and AMD ZeroCore technology. Pitcairn core is a ground up design, not just a 7970 (our review) with disabled shaders, ROPS and lower memory bandwidth. This makes a card that is tailor to the mid range crowd for optimal performance at a reasonable price point. Also something that is not new to the 7800 Series, but a welcome feature of AMD’s 7000 series cards, is that it only idles around 3 Watts!

7800 Tessellation Chart

7800 Tessellation Chart (AMD)

As can be seen from the above graph AMD predicts far superior tessellation performance over the past generation. This should translate into good performance in current and future DX11 games over previous generations of cards.

7870 and 7850 Specifications

7870 and 7850 Specifications (AMD)

Both the 7870 and 7850 use the Pitcairn core, but the 7850 has 256 stream processors disabled and 16 less texture units. Along with the lower clock speed compared to the 7870 GHz Edition, this causes the lower compute performance, texture fillrate, and pixel fillrate. Both cards have the same amount of memory and bandwidth. Overall very impressive numbers from this series on paper.

MSI  R7870 Twin Frozr/OC Specifications

Specifications

  • 1280 Stream Processors
  • 1050 MHz Core Clock
  • 2 GB GDDR5
  • 1200 MHz (4800 MHz actual)
  • 256 bit Memory Interface
  • PCI Express 16x 3.0
  • One DVI output
  • One HDMI output
  • Two mini DisplayPort outputs

Photo OP

Package Frontside

Package Frontside

Package Front Flap

Package Front Flap

Package Rear

Package Rear

7870 in Packaging

7870 in Packaging

MSI has put together a very clean, informative and secure package for its R7870. The packaging contains all the information almost anyone would need to know about the card prior to its purchase. Underneath the cardboard exterior lies the R7870 safely wrapped inside of an anti-static bag, securely fitted in foam. So the chances of this card getting damaged in shipping is going to be low.

Card Accessories

Card Accessories

R7870 Front

R7870 Front

R7870 Rear

R7870 Rear

R7870 Backplate

R7870 Backplate

The R7870 ships with a number of accessories, including a mini DisplayPort adapter, CrossFireX bridge, two molex to PCIE 6 pin adapter, a driver/ MSI Afterburner disk, and two types of user guides. The R7870 also features the Twin Frozr III cooler which according to MSI delivers 20% more airflow, 15 °C lower temperatures, and 9 dB quieter operation over reference design coolers. Unfortunately there is no backplate to help protect the backside of the R7870, but once it is installed inside your case this should not be an issue. The R7870 features a custom I/O plate with an MSI logo in it instead of the normal slots, it is also home to the cards DVI-D, HDMI, and two mini DisplayPort connections.

Twin Frozr III

Twin Frozr III

Twin Frozr III Sideview

Twin Frozr III Side View

7870 with Memory and Mosfet Heatsink

7870 with Memory and Mosfet Heatsink

Memory and Mosfet Heatsink  contact

Memory and Mosfet Heatsink contact

Stock TIM Application

Stock TIM Application

The Twin Frozr III features five heatpipes that help to carry heat away from the GPU core, this should enable it to overclock better than cards with less well endowed heatsinks. A big plus side that the Twin Frozr III has over other non reference coolers, such as the Direct CUII from Asus, is that is remains a two slot card. This is a big factor for any small form factor overclockers out there that want to go with a dual card setup but can’t afford to give up three slots per GPU. The R7870 also has a memory and mosfet heatsink, as can be seen in the photo above it made very good contact with the components which would help in heat transfer. It also deserves mention how MSI has done a good job with the stock TIM application. There is a slight bit more than some people would use, but this application is far superior to previous ones where too much was used which actually hurts heat transfer!

Say Hello to the Pitcairn Core

Say Hello to the Pitcairn Core

Hynix Memory

Hynix Memory

Above are pictures of the Pitcairn GPU core and Hynix memory chips, both of which are able to overclock nicely as will be seen in the next section.

Performance and Overclocking

Test System

  • Intel i7-2600k (Overclockers.com Approved!)
  • Asus Maximus IV Gene-Z/Gen 3
  • G.Skill RipjawX 2×2 GB @ 1600 MHz 9-9-9-24-1t
  • Corsair TX750V2
  • Windows 7 64 bit with SP1
  • MSI R7870 @ stock and 1230/1325 (core/memory)
  • (overclocking was done via Catalyst Control Center, setting card power to +20% and fan speeds to 80%.)
  • Catalyst 12.3

Overclocking

The overclocking was done via Catalyst Control Center, with fans set to 80% and board power raised +20%. The speeds the tests were run at were not the max the card can run. The overclocked speeds were chosen because all of the benchmarks were able to make it through all 3 runs of the benchmarks back to back without failing or artifacting. Another reason that Catalyst Control Center was used for overclocking is because not all users are going to want to download a second program to overclock their GPU, but by overclocking via Catalyst Control Center the result obtained should be easily obtainable by anyone else. As for other methods, it should be noted that voltage control isn’t available for this card through MSI Afterburner v2.1.0 but there is core and memory voltage adjustment via the 2.2 beta version. So for anyone looking to get the max out of this card it will probably be necessary to download MSI Afterburner.

Benchmarking Method/Settings

  • All synthetic benchmarks were run at their default settings.
  • Alien vs. Predator was run at its default setting, and the highest it offered (4xAA, textures set to “3″).
  • Hawx 2 was run at 1920×1080 with 8xAA, every setting at its highest. (DX 10 version)
  • Dirt 2 was run at 1920×1080 8xAA/16xAF all settings to their highest.
  • Stalker:COP was run at 1920×1080 Ultra settings, 4xAA with tessellation enabled using the Sunshafts portion of the bench only.
  • Unigine Heaven (Hwbot) was run with the “extreme” setting.
  • Benchmark results are graphed as percentages relative to the stock MSI R7870. Meaning the MSI R7870 is always 100% and other cards are calculated as a percentage based on that.
  • The actual benchmark scores are below the percentages.

Benchmarks

Synthetic Benchmarks

Now onto the  most important part on the review, the benchmarks. All the cards the R7870 is being compared to come with factory overclocks. We will start by taking a look at 3DMark 03 and 3DMark 06.

R7870 3DMark 03

R7870 3DMark 03

R7870 3DMark 06

R7870 3DMark 06

In these benchmarks you can definitely see how good of a performer the R7870 beats all of the other cards in 3DMark 03, including the 7950 and GTX 580. In 3DMark 06, the R7870 beats all the cards except the GTX 580, but is close coming in 1% behind. Once overclocked it easily pulls out the win. The stellar stock performance is in large part due to its stock speed of 1050 MHz, which helps to to make up for its reduced shader count compared to the Power Color 7950 PCS+. Now we will look at 3DMark Vantage, 3DMark 11 and HWBot Heaven benchmarks to see if the performance trend continues.

R7870 3DMark Vantage

R7870 3DMark Vantage

R7870 3DMark 11

R7870 3DMark 11

R7870 HwBot Heaven

R7870 HwBot Heaven

In these newer benchmarks, you can see the R7870 falls in behind most of the (higher priced) competition, although it still manages to easily beat out the 6970 and 7770. In 3DMark Vantage, the R7870 once overclocked is able to pull ahead once more with a 2% lead over the 7950. In 3DMark 11, the R7870 is able to pull ahead of the GTX 580, but is still behind the 7950. In the HWbot Heaven benchmark, the R7870 easily beats out AMD’s previous generation 6970 and is within 1 point of the GTX 580, which is well within the margin of error. Once overclocked, it beats the GTX 580 by 13%, but still falls short of  7950.

By looking at these synthetic benchmarks the R7870 is looking to be a very good card. Easily beating the previous generation 6970 and in most cases the former King-of-the-Hill the GTX 580, in older benchmarks this card is able to beat out the 7950. Once you overclock this card it beats the GTX 580 every time and is close to the 7950 in all benchmarks. Now we will look at some game benchmarks that will better demonstrate this cards real world performance.

Gaming Benchmarks

Below are the results for the gaming benchmarks, details on how they were run can be found in the “Benchmarking Method/Settings” section. We will start off by taking a look at Aliens vs. Predator.

Aliens vs. Predators (default settings)

Aliens vs. Predators (default settings)

Aliens vs. Predators (max settings)

Aliens vs. Predators (max settings)

Here you can see that the R7870 puts up very playable frame rates, but once the AA is turned up in the maximum settings run you can see this card fall behind even the 6970. Although once again, after overclocking this card it is able to beat out the GTX 580 and the 6970 while still remaining below the  7950 by a fair amount. We will now take a look at the DIRT 2 and Stalker: Call of Pripyat benchmark results.

R7870 Stalker: Call of Pripyat

R7870 Stalker: Call of Pripyat

R7870 DIRT 2

R7870 DIRT 2

Even at stocks speed the R7870 is able to beat the 6970 by a significant margin, getting more than 60+ FPS in Stalker: Call of Pripyat. Although, it does fall short of the 7950 and GTX 580 even when overclocked, but for most gamer this should not be an issue with 60+ FPS. In DIRT 2, we once again see the R7870 beat the 6970, although it does not come close to the  FPS of the 7950 and GTX 580. It is worth noting that DIRT 2 seems to favor Nvidia cards, which may help account for this change from our previous record of close results between the R7870 and the GTX 580. We will now take a look at our final gaming benchmark HAWX 2.

R7870 HAWX 2

R7870 HAWX 2

In HAWX 2, you can once again see the benefit of the higher clock speed on the R7870 helping to to beat the 7950. When overclocked the R7870 gets an impressive 188 FPS! While still below the 210 FPS of the GTX 580, 188 FPS is still very very playable.

The gaming benchmarks show this card is definitely a solid performer, beating the previous generation 6970 in almost every benchmark and being neck and neck with the GTX 580. While it does come it below the 7950, there should be no surprise there since the 7950 is a higher tier card.

Conclusion

Overall, I think this card is a real winner! Beating out the 6970, consistently matching the GTX 580, and even knocking on the door of the 7950 on occasion. The R7870 comes with over a GHz core clock speed and still has a nice amount of overclocking headroom. All the overclocking done on this card did not use anything except raising the board power limit by 20%, anyone who is willing raise voltages and increase fan speed above 80% should be able to reach higher core and memory speeds. With a price of   $369.99 @ newegg.com the R7870 is still $20 cheaper than the least expensive GTX 580, which is makes it easy for me to give the R7870 an Overclockers.com Approved! For anyone looking to a GPU that will play today’s games with ease while not breaking the bank, the R7870 should be on your list of cards to consider.

bmwbaxter

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Discussion
  1. Just a special note from MSI...
    MSI Afterburner will finally get out of the beta stage for version 2.2 very shortly ('few days'). The reason why MSI kept putting out beta after beta was because there have been a 'slew of new GPU releases from late last year in to this year'
    So hang tight. :) :thup:
    I'm torn between MSI's variant + the HIS Ice Q version.
    According to another review I read ( think it was Anandtech) the HIS Ice Q had the lowest load temps by far. But I see many satisfied MSI customers on a few sites.
    Wonder how well this card will run D3 in eyefinity. The 7950 is out of my price range.
    I have two 1280x1024 and one 1920x1080 I would like to span d3 across.
    pinky33
    Wonder how well this card will run D3 in eyefinity. The 7950 is out of my price range.
    I have two 1280x1024 and one 1920x1080 I would like to span d3 across.

    I do not believe you would be able to span across 3 displays with different resolutions in game. it will work fine for desktop, but AFAIK for gaming in eyefinity you need 3 monitors of the same resolution. although if it is possible, I am sure this card would be able to run it since the 1280x1024 of your two secondary monitors isn't very demanding. it would also depend on what detail level you want to run at.
    bmwbaxter
    I do not believe you would be able to span across 3 displays with different resolutions in game. it will work fine for desktop, but AFAIK for gaming in eyefinity you need 3 monitors of the same resolution. although if it is possible, I am sure this card would be able to run it since the 1280x1024 of your two secondary monitors isn't very demanding. it would also depend on what detail level you want to run at.

    Thanks for the info, but I am pretty sure all 7xxx series use eyefinity 2.0 which allows eyefinity with different resolution monitors. Unfortunately I have yet to find any in depth reviews of people doing this with any of the 7xxx cards. I am really interested to see how games run with odd size monitors. ie: % of pixals in relation to fps.
    Since the height of all my monitors are physically the same it would look/work well for eyefinity.
    When overclocked the R7870 gets an impressive 188 FPS! While still below the 210 FPS of the GTX 580, 188 FPS is still very very playable

    Sounds like a anti-joke...
    (yes necromancer is fun).