If you’re not the type to spend upwards of $400 to $500 on a graphics card, but still want a good amount of graphics punch for games; you are faced with some tough decisions as to what video card to purchase. Luckily, AMD has made available a more wallet-friendly 7800 series of GPUs code named “Pitcairn”. Positioned in the middle of the beastly 7900 series and the lower-end 7700 series GPUs, the 7800 cards should strike a good balance between price and performance.
Today we will be exploring a new offering from PowerColor – the 2 GB GDDR5 PCS+ HD7850 (Professional Cooling System).
Features and Specifications
Manufactured by Tul Corporation under the PowerColor name, the PCS+ HD7850 offers a few unique features worth mentioning. The PCS+ (Professional Cooling System) feature promises to deliver 15% better cooling performance and 15% quieter operation. The box makes mention of a 92 mm dual fan design, but in reality there is only one fan attached to the video card.
The “Gold Power Kit” feature claims a 15% increase in overclocking and stability. This is in reference to the factory overclock applied to this video card. The reference HD7850 specifications call for a engine clock of 860 MHz and a memory clock of 1200 MHz. PowerColor has bumped these values to 1000 MHz and 1225 MHz as a factory applied overclock. The Gold Power Kit also incorporates a 5+1+1 multi-phase power design, 90% peak efficiency through the use of DrMos multi-chip power stage modules, and 90% power efficiency by way of a digital PWM solution.
The Heat Pipe assembly is comprised of two “S” shaped pipes which attach to the aluminum cooling fins on both ends. The Heat Pipes use a “Direct Touch” technology, meaning they make direct contact with the GPU core as they pass through the cooler’s base plate.
|Graphics Engine||RADEON HD7850|
|Video Memory||2GB GDDR5|
|Engine Clock||1000 MHz|
|Memory Clock||1225 MHz x 4 (4.9 Gbps)|
|Bus Standard||PCIE 3.0|
|Standard Display Connectors||DL-DVI-I/ SL-DVI-D / HDMI / MINI DPx2|
|ATI Stream Technology||Yes|
|ATI Eyefinity Technology||Yes|
|VGA Output||Via Adapter|
|DVI Output||DL-DVI-I/ SL-DVI-D|
|Display Port||On Board (mini DP) x2|
|Power Specs & Board Dimensions|
|Board Dimensions||230x117x38 mm|
|Minimum System Power Requirement||500 Watt|
|Extension Power Connector||One 6-Pin PCI Express Power connector|
One of the most impressive features of all the 7000 series AMD GPUs is the new GCN (Graphics Core Next) architecture. A couple of the things GCN brings to the table include the new 28 nm process technology and Partially Resident Textures, which hope to minimize the impact that increased textures used in some games have on performance. There are a host of other improvements GCN promises; far more than I have the space here to list. For a detailed explanation of GCN and everything it offers, please visit the AMD Information Page.
The Company Line
“The PowerColor PCS+ HD7850 clocks at 1000 MHz core speed and 1225 MHz memory speed, featured with factory overclocked setting, delivering incredibly rich and stunning HD performance with the support for vivid DirectX® 11.1 gaming.
The PowerColor PCS+ HD7850 armed with Gold Power Kit design, with DrMos, Digital PWM and Multi Phases design, enhancing the stability at overclocked mode. What’s more, the advanced edition has equipped with professional cooling system, with 92mm ultra big cooling fan and SS-Shape heat pipes direct touch technology, allowing 15% quieter and 15% cooler performance than reference board and delivering an extraordinary heat dissipate effect.
The latest PCS+ HD7850 packed with industry-leading technology; by utilizing AMD Eyefinity 2.0 technology and AMD HD3D Technology, the PCS+ HD7850 supports multi-display stereoscopic 3Dcontent, allowing an immersive “wrap around” gaming experience. Also, it supports AMD PowerTune technology and AMD ZeroCore technology, enabling the intelligent power monitoring to enable higher clock speeds and better performance when needed, delivering the most efficient way for gaming like never before.”
Packaging and Accessories
The PowerColor PCS+ HD7850 box is colorful to say the least. A race car with flames shooting from its rear tires graces the front of the box, in obvious reference to the factory overclocked feature. The box sides are tagged with logos, branding, and the power and system requirements. The rear of the box lists a few of the features along with brief descriptions of the “Gold Power Kit” and the “Professional Cooling System”.
Once inside the box, you are presented with the video card wrapped in an anti-static bag. Under the video card is where the users manual and driver CD is located. The remaining accessories are also packaged here and include a flexible Crossfire bridge, DVI to VGA adapter, and mini display port to display port adapter cable.
A black and silver color theme is used for the PCS+ HD7850 with an ever so subtle hint of green applied to the right side of the emblem. On the back of the card are all the pertinent bar code stickers and all the circuitry one would ever want to look at. PowerColor also includes plastic sleeves to cover the Crossfire and PCI-e connection points; a nice touch.
The PCS+ HD7850 uses a single 6-pin connector for power, which is a welcome sight for those of you who are sticklers about cable management. At the back of the video card you will find plenty of display options at your disposal. There are two mini display ports, a dual link DVI-I, a single link DVI-D, and finally, a HDMI connection. All of the connection points are protected with a plastic cover allowing the user to keep any unused connections dust free. The list of features on the PowerColor web site says this video card supports up to six displays, while the box cover says it supports up to four. I’m going with the box on this one!
Looking closer at the “Professional Cooling System” requires removing four spring loaded screws at the back of the video card. After removing the heatsink assembly, I noticed a perfect application of the thermal interface material. It was nice to see this; often, I see this way overdone. I’m not a huge fan of GPU coolers that blow the hot air into the case, but the effects of this can be minimized with proper air flow through the chassis. As mentioned earlier, two “S” shaped heat pipes make direct contact with the GPU core, which should bolster the effectiveness of the cooler. Unfortunately, there is no heatsink covering the memory modules, but the 92 mm cooling fan should provide adequate air flow to keep things cool enough.
Under the “PCS” lies the gold – the “Pitcairn” GPU core and the 2 GB Hynix memory. The PCS+ HD7850 utilizes Hynix H5GQ2H24MFR-T2C GDDR5 memory, which has a voltage range of 1.35 V to 1.5 V and is rated at 1250 MHz. With a memory speed rating of 1250 MHz, I can see why the card was able to be factory overclocked from the reference design card’s memory speed of 1200 MHz. Even at the overclocked value of 1225 MHz this card is set at, it’s still a tad underclocked; this should leave some headroom for additional overclocking.
Performance and Overclocking
- EVGA P67 FTW
- Intel i7 2600K (Stock Speed)
- G.Skill RipjawsX 2X4 GB @ 1866 MHz 9-10-9-28
- OCZ ModX Stream 600 W
- PowerColor PCS+ HD7850
- Windows 7 x64 SP1
- Catalyst 12.4 Driver
- All synthetic benchmarks (FutureMark and Heaven) were run at their default settings.
- Aliens vs. Predator was run at its default setting, and again using the highest settings available (4xAA, textures set to “3″).
- Hawx 2 DX 10 version was run at 1920×1080 with 8xAA, every setting at its highest.
- Dirt 2 was run at 1920×1080 8xAA/16xAF, every setting at its highest.
- Stalker: COP was run at 1920×1080 ultra settings, 4xAA with tessellation enabled, using the Sunshafts bench results only.
- Hwbot Unigine Heaven was run using the “extreme” setting.
- Benchmark results are graphed as percentages relative to the stock PowerColor HD7850 PCS+. What this means is the PowerColor HD7850 PCS+ is always 100%, with all other cards in the comparison calculated on a percentage of that. The raw benchmark scores are listed below the percentage for reference.
Unfortunately, PowerColor does not offer software to tune their graphics cards, thus leaving the user to seek other methods. Because of the lack of included software, overclocking was performed using Catalyst Control Center’s AMD Overdrive feature. I was able to set the GPU core speed to the maximum available option of 1050 MHz without issue. I’m sure the core clock could be raised higher using a third party utility that allows for higher core clock settings, along with voltage manipulation. Unfortunately, the AMD Overdrive utility does not allow voltage adjustments and is very conservative as far as the memory and core speed adjustments it allows. I did try using MSI Afterburner, but it would not work with this video card. Afterburner resulted in system hangs and freezes every time I tried to alter any settings. AMD Overdrive allows for setting the memory speed up to 1450 MHz, but I settled at 1350 MHz because I saw little to no benchmark score increases past 1350 MHz memory speed.
As we go through the testing phase of this review, keep in mind all of the comparison video cards are higher up the food chain than the PCS+ HD7850 we are reviewing today. My mindset was to overclock the PCS+ HD7850 and achieve results pretty close to what the non-overclocked HD7870 cards in the graphs received; and perhaps beat out the HD6970 IceQ in a few. For the most part this held true, but there were a few disappointments along the way, as you will see. The HD7850 series cards have 1024 shader processors in 16 compute unit segments (CUs) compared to the HD7870 and its 1280 shader processors in 20 CUs. Other than the 256 reduction in shader processors, the HD7850 and HD7870 are pretty much identical in their reference design.
The 3DMark03 results went as expected, besting the GTX 580 and the 6970 cards. The overclocked results fell right in line with what I was thinking and scored pretty much on par with the HD7870s. One oddity was that the overclocked result actually beat out the AMD7950, much like the strange result Earthdog had while reviewing the Saphire HD7870 GHz.
Looking at the 3DMark06 scores, they showed very little difference between all the cards tested with the PCS+ HD7850 hanging right in there. Because all of the video cards in the test results chart are run at stock CPU speeds (2600K), we can tell the limitation this puts on the scores, thus the reason there is not much difference between them.
The 3DMark Vantage score was disappointment number one. The PCS+ HD7850 was edged out by the 6970 IceQ and pretty much obliterated by all the other comparison cards. This could be due to the driver version I used (12.4) as they vary as time goes by; we all know the latest is not always the best! The actual score the PCS+ HD7850 received was not all that bad, but it did fall a bit short of expectations.
3DMark11 had a similar outcome as Vantage with the PCS+ HD7850 trailing the pack, however not as bad as the Vantage test. What is most troubling to me is that 3DMark Vantage and 3DMark11 are much more modern benchmarks that test many features found in today’s games. Could it be the reduced shader processors are rearing their head; I’m sure that is part of the equation.
Rounding out the synthetic benchmarks is the HWBot Unigine Heaven testing. Not a bad showing for the PCS+ HD7850, but even overclocked it could not keep pace with the HD7870 cards in the comparison.
Starting off the game benchmarks we’ll have a look at the Aliens vs. Predator results. The PCS+ HD7850 held tight to the 6970 IceQ and was not too far behind the HD7870s score. As expected, the rest of the cards in the comparison were well ahead.
The Stalker COP (Sunshafts) results showed the PCS+ HD7850 beating the 6970 IceQ by a good margin, but falling well behind the other contestants.
Next up we have the Dirt 2 benchmark, which shows the PCS+ HD7850 performing quite admirably. The PCS+ HD7850 easily outperformed the 6970 IceQ by a substantial margin and scored right on the heels of the rest of the competition.
The most perplexing of the game benchmarks was Hawx 2. This benchmark and the PCS+ HD7850 just do not get along. As you can see by the results, at best the PCS+ HD7850 scored half of the closest competitor and as little as a third of the higher end cards. In an effort to find the problem, I tried a multitude of display options within the benchmark and several different driver versions, all to no avail. A Google search revealed many discussions on how Hawx 2 is heavily geared towards Nvidia GPUs, but this still does not explain the discrepancy in scores obtained by the other AMD video cards used in the comparison. Something is amiss here, but for now, it is what it is!
CPU and GPU Combined Overclocking
The components I used for this review were used for several months as my main system. During that time I settled on a 24/7 overclock of 4.5 GHz because it was a good compromise between performance, a cool running system, and hopefully, the longevity of the components. While the system was able to reach 5.0 GHz as documented in a log at the EVGA Forums, I settled on 4.5 GHz for day to day use.
I thought for change of pace I would show the FutureMark scores at an overclock level more in tune with a day to day level than at an extreme level. Doing this should give you a good idea of daily performance levels used most often.
As you look at the screen shots below, then compare them to the graphs above, you will see quite a performance gain across the board. As long as the socket 1155 motherboard you have features overclocking options, most i7 2600K processors can get to 4.5 GHz pretty easily, so these results can be obtained by just about everyone.
So, with the CPU overclocked to 4.5 GHz and the PCS+ HD7850 set to 1050/1350 (GPU Core/Memory Speed), here are the results.
Cooling and Temperatures
The latest AMD graphics cards with the GCN Architecture feature the “ZeroCore” technology, which greatly reduces power consumption while in an idle state. The idle temperatures never got over 25 °C and would typically range from 23 °C to 25 °C at any given time. On the flip side, during the benchmarking phase, the PCS+ HD7850 never got over 60 °C during any of the tests, even in its overclocked state. Overall, I’d say the direct contact heat pipe design of the cooler worked very well. Using the fan speed adjustment opportunities AMD Overdrive provides, you can find a happy medium between noise and appropriate cooling. Keep in mind the temperatures I documented were in an open air benching environment. Once the card is installed in a case, you will probably see slightly higher temperatures than I am reporting here, depending on the air flow your chassis provides.
At the time of this review, the PCS+ HD7850 has not hit online vendors, but we can assume the MSRP will be slightly higher than the AX7850 version’s $249.99 price tag. I’d venture to say a price of around $280.00 is where the PCS+ HD7850 will fall in line. Although this particular card positions itself in the lower-mid range Pitcairn core offerings, with a little overclocking it will perform pretty close to the higher-mid range level. If, like many, you are looking for a good “bang for the buck”, this card might just fit that bill. The PCS+ HD7850 offers all the latest AMD GCN features, has a more than adequate cooling solution, and will undoubtedly meet the gaming needs of most users out there. As long as the price is in line with similar units on the market when it becomes available, then I have no problem giving it the “Overclockers Approved” stamp!
Dino DeCesari (Lvcoyote)