Sapphire HD 7870 Flex Edition GPU Review

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Sapphire has a full lineup of AMD cards out on the Tahiti XT/Pro (79xx series), Pitcairn (78xx series) and Cape Verde (77xx series) line at this point. All that you will see from board partners now are tweaked versions made for overclocking or including special features that were not there on the reference models. Sapphire has done just that with its 7870 Flex GHz Edition, which allows one to connect three DVI monitors out of the box (without using active Displayport) making things easier for those using Eyefinity. Let’s take a look at the card in more detail.

Specifications and Features

Below are some high-level specifications, system requirements, and features sourced from the Sapphire website.  As you can see this is just like Sapphire’s “GHz Edition” card regarding clockspeeds coming in at 1000 MHz core and 1200 MHz for the 2GB DDR5 memory. Again the main feature on this card is the Flex moniker allowing you to utilize three DVI based monitors without the use of an active Displayport input or the expensive converter.

Output 1 x Dual-Link DVI
1 x HDMI (with 3D)
1 x DisplayPort
1 x Single-Link DVI-D
DisplayPort 1.2
GPU 1000/1050 MHz Core Clock
28 nm Chip
1280 x Stream Processors
Memory 2048 MB Size
256 -bit GDDR5
4800/5000 MHz Effective
Dimension 260(L)x113(W)x35(H) mm Size.
Software Driver CD
SAPPHIRE TriXX Utility
Accessory CrossFire™ Bridge Interconnect Cable
DVI to VGA Adapter
6 PIN to 4 PIN Power Cable x 2
HDMI to SL-DVI Adapter(Full Retail SKU only)
HDMI 1.4a high speed 1.8 meter cable(Full Retail SKU only)

System Requirements
  • PCI Express® based PC is required with one X16 lane graphics slot available on the motherboard.
  • 4X75 Watt 6-pin PCI Express power connector is required for CrossFireX™ system.
  • 2X75 Watt 6-pin PCI Express power connector is required.

 

Sapphire FleX Technology

 

3 DVI Eyefinity Out of the Box

Targeting maximum flexibility with minimum outlay, Sapphire FleX Technology simplifies AMD’s multi-monitor Eyefinity solution by allowing 3 X DVI monitors to be connected to the board ‘out of the box’ WITHOUT the requirement for expensive DisplayPort monitors or Active Adapters.

 

GHz Edition

The gigahertz barrier has been broken. Armed with a stunning 1GHz GPU based on the revolutionary GCN Architecture, the AMD Radeon™ HD 7000 GHz Edition (Selected model) is quite simply engineered to annihilate.

 

Dual-X

Famous for our exclusive cooling solutions like the award winning Vapor Chamber Cooling technology – Vapor-X, SAPPHIRE’s reputation for innovative excellence continues to grow with the introduction of our new dual-extractor technology – Dual-X. Dual-X is a highly efficient multi-heatpipe cooler with dual fans that provide quiet and very cool operation during normal operating conditions, and superb cooling performance even under extreme load.

AMD PowerPlay with ZeroCore Power Technology

AMD PowerPlay is a power management technology in response to the GPU loading, AMD PowerPlay automatically manages the power consumption. AMD RADEON HD7000 Series with AMD ZeroCore Power Technology, the power consumption can be as low as less than 3 Watt when idle, making the best use of power.

Photo Op

As usual, the first thing we look at in my reviews is the retail packaging. Some may recognize this packaging from my previous Sapphire 7870 GHz Edition review, and you would be right outside of the addition of the FLEX naming and features. It still has the ‘voluptuous military female sporting a large rifle’ as well as some features listed, including additional information about the FLEX abilities of the card. Moving on to the back shows numerous awards from websites as well as more features of the card.

Inside the retail packaging you see the card sits an anti-static bag in a relatively form fitting cardboard cutout with a supplemental piece to keep the card secure. While this isn’t the perfectly molded foam we have seen others use, I do not have a worry about it sitting in this packaging as it does fit snug with no worries of moving around. The last thing pictured here are the included accessories. The accessory stack sits below the card in its own space. Included with the HD 7870 Flex edition are a Crossfire bridge, DVI to VGA adapter, two(2) 6 pin PCIe connectors, HDMI to SL-DVI adapter, and a 6′ HDMI cable (last two included only in full retail SKU). The important part here is the HDMI to SL-DVI adapter to get the ‘Flex’ working with three DVI monitors out of the box.

Sapphire 7870 Flex Edition Retail Packaging - Front

Sapphire 7870 Flex Edition Retail Packaging – Front

Rear

Rear

Box in a box

Box in a box

Accessories

Accessories

Next up are pictures of the card itself. Again not much has changed from the GHz edition outside of the output panel, and the stickers used on the Dual X cooling solution. You still have the blue PCB with the ‘spine’ on it to help support the card and prevent PCB sagging. Additionally, the Dual X cooler sports two aerofoil fans and four graduated (the two on the outside are larger than the two pipes on the inside) copper heatpipes throughout the heatsink fin array.

Taking a look at the output area of the card, you will note the addition of another DVI port (DVI-i) above the DVI-d port making this the Flex edition. Also gone are the two mini Display ports, which have been replaced with one full size Displayport and a HDMI port. All four ports can be used at the same time for a quad monitor setup. The last feature I want to point out here is the use of a bios switch just in case you decide to get saucy by flashing the bios, and fail. You can flip this switch to the alternate position to get a picture back, and re-flash the one you borked. A nice safety net on most AMD cards since the 6xxx series.

Sapphire 7870 Flex Edition - Front

Sapphire 7870 Flex Edition – Front

Rear

Rear

Outputs - 1 DVI-d, 1 DVI-SL, 1 HDM1 (1.4a), 1 Displayport

Outputs – 1 DVI-d, 1 DVI-SL, 1 HDM1 (1.4a), 1 Displayport

Bios switch - Just in case you decide to flash and bork your first bios, there is a second

Bios switch – Just in case you decide to flash and bork your first bios, there is a second

After taking off the card’s heatsink, you can see a very liberal application of TIM. Not as clean as I have seen others, but certainly not the worst. Also in that picture you can see the heatsink that covers the ram and power delivery area. In the next picture you can see it makes pretty good contact as well. There isn’t terribly much to see as far as the naked card, as it’s a reference design board.

One thing that is worth noting in these pictures are the use of Elpida ram instead of the Hynix based IC’s. The Elpida ram is rated at 1250 MHz just as the Hynix ram is. However, browsing other reviews across the web, it seems like these IC’s do not like to overclock quite as much as the Hynix based ram, but there is still pretty good headroom.

Heatsink removed

Heatsink removed

Contact!

Houston, we have contact

Bare card - Front

Bare card – Front

Rear

Rear

 

Performance and Overclocking

Test System

  • Intel i7 3770K CPU @ 4 GHz (Overclockers.com Approved!)
  • EVGA Z77 FTW (Overclockers.com Approved!)
  • G.Skill RipjawsX 2 x 4 GB 2133 MHz CL7 @ 1.65 V
  • 60GB OCZ Vertex 2 SSD (Overclockers.com Approved!)
  • Seasonic 1000 W
  • Sapphire 7870 GHz Edition Flex Edition(Stock – 900/1250 and 1151/1428 overclocked @ 1.2v)
  • Windows 7 64 bit Operating System
  • AMD Catalyst 12.6 Drivers

Benchmarking Method/Settings

  • All Synthetic benchmarks were at their default settings
  • Unigine Heaven (HWbot) was run with the “extreme” setting
  • Alien vs. Predator – 1920×1080 with highest settings offered (4x AA, textures set to highest)
  • Batman: Arkham City – 1920×1080, 8xMSAA, MVSS and HBAO, Tessellation HIGH, Detail Level: Extreme
  • Battlefield 3 – 1920×1080 at Ultra settings (4xAA/HBAO by default)
  • Dirt 3  – 1920×1080 with 8x MSAA and all settings enabled and at Ultra where possible
  • Metro 2033 – 1920×1080, DX11, Very High, 4x MSAA/ 16x AF, PhysX OFF, DOF enabled, Scene: Frontline
  • Civilization V – 1920×1080, 8x MSAA, Vysnc OFF, High Detail Strategic View: Enabled, Other Settings: High, using full render frames value ( / 60)
  • More detail is in our article: Overclockers’ Updated Video Card Testing Procedure

Overclocking Software

Sapphire jumped into the ‘overclocking software’ game with its Sapphire Trixx application. This is a full featured application controlling both the core, memory, and fan speeds as well as showing the user critical system details on the main page. About the only thing this software doesn’t do, that I would like to see, is showing you a history of things in a graph such as temperature, GPU use, power used, among other things. My only wish is to make the interface a bit smaller as it does take up a bit more more real estate than some other applications. Otherwise, the software certainly does what it is supposed to do.

Sapphire Trixx

Sapphire Trixx

Sapphire Trixx - Overclocking adjustments

Sapphire Trixx – Overclocking adjustments

 

Synthetic Benchmarks

Moving on to what most of you came here for; how the card performs. First we’ll take a look at the synthetic benchmarks, the first being 3DMark 03. While an older benchmark, this one still responds well to GPU power. The results here are a bit surprising when comparing it to its little brother, the 7850 in that their results are essentially the same with the 7870 scoring 114,666. Scanning across all the cards in the graph you can see they are all remarkably close outside of the 7950 that was overclocking pretty heavily beating everything out.

Sliding over to 3DMark Vantage, a much more modern benchmark, things fall in line where one would expect. The 7870 put up a solid showing coming in at 24,742 at stock speeds, well ahead of the 7850.

3DMark 03 and 3DMark Vantage

3DMark 03 and 3DMark Vantage

3DMark 11 results also fall right in line with expectations. The 7870 Flex put up a score of 6,415 in this benchmark, again besting its little brother.

Checking out out the Unigine Heaven (Hwbot) results, we see the the Sapphire card put up a score of 1,357.6. Nothing out of the ordinary here.

 

3DMark 11 and Unigine Heaven (Hwbot)

3DMark 11 and Unigine Heaven (Hwbot)

Overall you have a solid showing here in benchmarks with the Sapphire 7870 GHz Edition Flex landing where it should against the other cards in the graph. This card, though it is a mid-range card in the 7xxx series of cards from AMD, performs like the high-end cards of the last generation. One shouldn’t have any problem playing most games at their highest settings using a resolution of  1920×1080/1200. Lets see if that holds true below.

Game Benchmarks

The first game we will look at in this review is Alien vs. Predator. With the settings maxed out the Sapphire 7870 Flex struts its stuff putting up a solid 45.3 FPS average in this game.

Next up is Batman: Arkham City. This game looks beautiful when using the settings we chose, and frame rates came in at a very solid 59 at its out of the box clock speeds. In this game, the 7870 comes pretty close to the GTX670 too.

The last game in this graph is a lot of people’s favorite modern FPS, Battlefield 3. As most know this game in many sections can bring a GPU to its knees. The 7870 performed quite admirably in our testing area, posting a score of 52.6 FPS average.

Alien vs. Predator, Batman: Arkham City, Battlefield 3

Alien vs. Predator, Batman: Arkham City, Battlefield 3

For an oldie but a goody in Civilization V, we see the same thing we did in the 3DMark 03 results with the 7850 posting slightly better frame rates here. The 7870 came in at 52.2 FPS. Still the results are a bit odd, and I did retest… perhaps its a driver issue. Regardless, those FPS are still plenty playable in this game.

Next is the arcade-style racing game, Dirt 3. This is a DX11 game which uses tessellation, and also looks beautiful with the maxed out settings we use. The Flex managed to stick a 73.9 FPS average in this game landing it right where one would expect.

Last is the GPU crusher, Metro 2033. This game brings ALL cards to their knees. As you can see, this card pulled 24.8 FPS out of its hat here. This is below the 30FPS threshold a lot deem playable, but changing some settings will boost that right back up as needed. In any camp though, you need to step up to a high-end card to break that magical number.

Civilization V, Dirt 3, Metro 2033

Civilization V, Dirt 3, Metro 2033

 

Cooling and Power Consumption

Power consumption on the cards from this generation have been coming down for the last generation or two. With the 7870 we see this trend as well. At idle you see the test system using just over 100W at stock speeds (around 90W taking in to account PSU efficiency). The peak power consumption again came in 3DMArk 11 coming in at an anemic 261W at the wall. An amazing number for the power of these modern cards. Not pictured is the overclocking results, but I can tell you I peaked with the ‘pushing the limits’ clocks at just under 400W in the same testing.

Power Consumption

Power Consumption

The temperatures below were noted with the stock fan curve. In my testing, with a normalized ambient, I was idling at 30 °C and full load in Heaven was 63 °C. The fan ramped up to around 43% for that reading and was essentially silent at that speed. When using the fan at 100% for pushing the limits, the card never broke 59 °C, even with the added voltage and clocks. There is plenty of room for overclocking temperature-wise with this cooler.

Temperatures

Temperatures

 

Pushing the Limits

As usual I cranked on the CPU (4.8 GHz) and pushed the clocks on the GPU and did some benchmarking. The clock speeds I was able to get to pass all of these tests were 1204/1347 @ 1.3v. The 1204 MHz on the core is a bit less than some other 7870’s we’ve tested, but still nothing to shake a stick at. On the memory however, I wasn’t able to get much past 1327 MHz without some sort of artifacting. You may notice this is a lot lower than the overclocked section above. No matter what I would do, to get the core up, I had to lower the memory to get these core clocks. This is the lowest memory overclock I have seen on any 7 series AMD card. I could just have a dud or this could be a result of the Elpida-based memory as opposed to the Hynix I have seen used on the other cards.

3DMark Vantage - 28,142

3DMark Vantage – 28,142

3DMark 11 - 7,258

3DMark 11 – 7,258

Unigine Heaven - 1,555.3

Unigine Heaven – 1,555.3

Conclusion

Wrapping things up, Sapphire has brought to the people a card in the 7870 Flex that gives you more flexibility in your monitor configuration. You are able to connect three monitors up to the card without using an active Displayport monitor (using DVI) by using the included adapter and the addition of a second DVI connector on the card.  Sapphire has also strapped on its Dual-X vapor chamber-based cooling solution helping keep the components nice and cool while also running pretty quiet.

Taking a look online and current pricing. Sapphire’s 7870 Flex comes in at $329.99 (newegg.com). The pricing on this card comes in a little above the median of other 7870 cards. You do get a factory overclock, an aftermarket cooler, and the “Flex” ability of the card with that pricing. I would have liked to have seen this card priced a bit lower, perhaps at $309.99, but even at this price, it still should be a consideration, especially if you would like a multi-monitor setup, and your monitors are DVI-based. If you do not need the “Flex” feature, you can find this same card for $299.99 at Newegg. So just make sure you need this feature before paying the premium for it.

Overall you have a solid performing card, that overclocks fairly well. It uses a quiet cooling solution in the Dual-X that can push up to four monitors on a single card. Overall a good offering from Sapphire that fills a niche need well. Just make sure you need to use the Flex feature before paying the premium for it.

 

Joe Shields – (Earthdog)

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Discussion
  1. Nice review again ED.
    It seems like a perfectly reasonable card, that BIOS switch i one thing i do like, i don't have that on mine, i did have it on my last card which was a Sapphire and i do miss it even if it wasn't much use to me on that particular card.
    I also like there TRIXX utility, its clear, simple and it just works.
    Seems a shame about the Memory overclocking, it has me thinking what IC's i have on my card.
    Bobnova
    I wonder what the flex part is. Does the PCB flex a lot or something? :D

    hmmmm yeah, interesting you should say something like that, The PCB on my card certainly is, shall we say flexible, so flexible in fact that when it was brand new the PCB was being pushed (bent) down by the Memory IC's from under there cooler contact plate, so much so that it was only making contact with the IC's on there inner edge.
    Now its had a couple of weeks to settle in it seems to have corrected its self, the (bend) in the PCB is now almost gone and the cooler is in full contact with the top of the IC's.
    FLEX is linked to its output capabilitys which is usualy more flexible than usual. FLEX series usualy are able to attach several monitors (3 or even more) without the need of any additional adapters, as far as my knowledge is concerned. Sapphire isnt usualy using the strongest GPU but its usualy a upper midrange GPU used for. It is powerful enough to tackle some solid multi screen setups and for a good budget (while that stuff usualy tends to be expensive). Just to clear something up.
    My old 6950 was FLEX series too. It had the ability to attach several monitors out of the box without any adapters or whatever. It had native multi screen support and it had more MINI DP ports than other cards of same type, however, the cooling was decreased a little because some space had to be taken from the cooling slots.