Sapphire HD7870 GHz Edition 2GB OC Review

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If you are not in the market for the monster 7950/7970 (Tahiti) series or the lower end 7750/7770 series (Cape Verde), AMD has a market segment to share with you in their mid-classed Pitcarin, which is comprised of the 7870 and 7850. Today we get a chance to look at a card from Sapphire, the HD7870 GHz Edition.

Specifications and Features

The Sapphire 7870 GHz Edition is currently the top card in the Pitcarin line as mentioned above. The goal of this market segment is to get superior gaming performance at a reasonable price when compared with Tahiti. Below are the specifications (Courtesy of Sapphire website).

Output 1 x Dual-Link DVI
1 x HDMI (with 3D)
2 x Mini-DisplayPort
DisplayPort 1.2
GPU 1000 MHz Core Clock
28 nm Chip
1280 x Stream Processors
Memory 2048 MB Size
256 -bit GDDR5
4800 MHz Effective
Dimension 260(L)x113(W)x35(H) mm Size.
Software Driver CD
Accessory CrossFire™ Bridge Interconnect Cable
DVI to VGA Adapter
Mini-DP to DP Cable
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)

 

Below are some features specific to the card such as the ‘GHz Edition’  and ‘Dual-X’ and AMD’s new architecture. The icons and details are from the Sapphire website. You can click on that link to see more the features for the card. Outside of these specifications, you can check out more details of the Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture in another 7870 review published earlier.

GHz EditionThe 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-XFamous 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.
28 nm GCN (Graphic Core Next) ArchitectureThe new and 28nm GCN Architecture with more efficient process technology puts more transistors in less space, enabling a dramatic increase in Processing Power. Crank the settings, devastate your enemies and bear witness to absurdly high frame rates with AMD Radeon HD7000 series graphics card-DirectX 11 has never looked this good. Maximum setting and crazy performance shouldn’t be a compromise. The AMD Radeon HD7900 Series with the new 28 nm GCN Architecture assures that it’s not.
PCI Express 3.0PCI-Express 3.0 delivers double the bandwidth per lane of PCIe Gen 2 for faster GPU (GPU communication-up to 16GB/sec in each direction), maximizing the performance from your GPU when paired with the latest platforms.
AMD PowerPlay with ZeroCore Power TechnologyAMD 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

Starting with the retail packaging, Sapphire has a, well, ‘hot’ military theme on the front with a voluptuous female in revealing camo sporting a large rifle. Outside of the enticing imagery, Sapphire shows some high level features such as the 2 GB of vRAM, the fact that it is an ‘OC Edition’, has the new HDMI version, as well as a few specifics about this card like the dual fans, and GHz Edition. Flipping it over shows the user a few more details about the card.

Inside the retail packaging, is a cardboard box which holds the card and any accessories. With the help of another piece of cardboard the GPU sits securely in this packaging for shipment.

Sapphire HD 7870 Ghz Edition Retail Packaging

Sapphire HD 7870 Ghz Edition Retail Packaging

Retail Packaging (Rear)

Retail Packaging (Rear)

Inside box

Inside box

Below the card tray is another cardboard box with the included accessories. You can see Sapphire gives you a typical set of accessories in DVI to VGA adapter, and HDMI to DVI adapter, 2xMolex to 6-pin PCIe connectors, CrossFireX ribbon (dual slot length), a 1.8 m HDMI cable, as well as your driver disc and a Sapphire sticker for your case or benching station.

Accessories

Accessories

Taking a look at the actual card you can see Sapphire has chosen to put a dual fan heatpipe solution to keep this beast cool. Overall the cooler does a good job in both keeping it cool and quiet. There are no fancy stickers on the shroud covering the heatsink which is OK by me. This cooling solution does however dump the majority of the heat in your case. Flipping it over you can see the heatsink is held on by 12 screws (10 visible here).

The last picture in this grouping is showing the two PCIe 6-pin connectors required to power this card.

Sapphire HD 7870 Ghz Edition

Sapphire HD 7870 Ghz Edition

Card Rear

Card Rear

2 6 pin PCIe power connections

2 6 pin PCIe power connections

Moving on to the output section, one sees the DVI-D, HDMI, and two mini DisplayPorts available for connecting to you monitor(s). This card also has the AMD-named feature, ‘Quad HD’  with the ability to support resolutions up to 4096X2160 from the outputs of DisplayPort 1.2 and HDMI.

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

Card Outputs

Taking the Sapphire 7870 GHz Edition apart, you can see they did a solid job on the thermal paste application which is rare. You can also see the small heatsink covering the ram helping keep those Hynix chips cool. When we look closer at the base of the heatsink you can see its 4 large (appears to be 8mm) copper heatpipes spanning throughout the fin structure touching a copper base on the GPU. The finish on the base was not remotely close to a mirror finish and just appeared ‘brushed’ with a lot of grooves in it.

I mentioned the Hynix memory and in the last picture you can see the model, Hynix H5GQ2H24MFR – T2C. Which translates to 1250 MHz @ 1.5 V for default…which is exactly where this card sets them at.

PCB, Note the sink covering the ram, 4 large heatpipes on copper base

PCB, Note the sink covering the ram, 4 large heatpipes on copper base

4 large copper pipe heatsink base with aluminum fin array

4 large copper pipe heatsink base with aluminum fin array

Memory - Hynix

Memory - Hynix

Performance and Overclocking

Test System

  • Intel i7-2600K CPU (Overclockers.com Approved!)
  • Gigabyte G1.Sniper2 (Overclockers.com Approved!)
  • G.Skill RipjawsX 2 x 4 GB 2133 MHz CL7 @ 1.65 V
  • OCZ 240 GB Vertex 3 SSD (Overclockers.com Approved!)
  • Seasonic X560
  • Sapphire HD 7870 GHz Edition (Stock and 1125/1300 overclocked)
  • Windows 7 64 bit Operating System
  • Catalyst 12.3 (8.950.0), from included disk

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

Synthetic Benchmarks

Getting in to the synthetic benchmark side of things and starting off with 3DMark 03, surprisingly the 7870 at stock speeds, beat the 7950 I reviewed a couple weeks back.  I tested, tested, and retested and still came up with the same results. I wonder if the driver used in that review versus this one had anything to do with it as they are different. Regardless, what you are seeing here is the Sapphire 7870 GHz Edition wiping its competitors out across the board in this benchmark, including the mighty GTX 580 by nearly 13%.

When taking a look at 3DMark 06, at stock CPU speeds, one can see that we are really CPU limited here, but even so the 7870 continues to beat out this conglomerate of cards.

3DMark 03

3DMark 03

3DMark 06

3DMark 06

Moving on to more modern benchmarks which utilize current features in a lot of today’s games, we will start with 3DMark Vantage. The tune changes a bit in this set of testing with the 7950 pulling ahead of the group as expected, with the 7870 lagging just a bit behind the GTX 580 by less than a percentage point. I would call that a tie as that is within the margin of error. Using our 24/7 overclock, things do not change much outside of the GTX 580 pulling slightly ahead due to its larger 24/7 overclock.

3DMark 11 is quickly becoming one of my favorite benchmarks as it gives, in my opinion, a good representation of modern games and the features it uses such as heavy use of tessellation. While this bench is also CPU dependent, one can clearly see the differences between the GPUs with a good CPU behind it even at stock speeds. Here again we see peculiar results with the 7870 beating out the 7950 while at stock speeds by almost a percentage point, again, within the margin of error. We see it beating the GTX 580 by around 3% in this benchmark. Pushing the clocks here on the GPU’s the 7950 and GTX 580 push ahead as they both clocked a lot further compared with the 24/7 clocks I used.

Last in this grouping is Unigine Heaven (HWBot version). At stock speeds, again the 7870 tickles the 7950’s scores in Heaven at stock speeds but pulls away when overclocked. When comparing it with the GTX 580, its neck and neck here as well.

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage

3DMark 11

3DMark 11

Unigine Heaven (Hwbot version)

Unigine Heaven (Hwbot version)

 

Game Benchmarks

Moving on to the gaming benchmarks, we will start with Aliens vs Predator. Here we are finding things falling in to place as you would expect with the AMD family of cards. The 7950 coming out on top by a nearly 10% in stock form. The GTX 580 also takes a substantial lead in stock form as well. Stepping up to the highest quality settings AvP has to offer, surprisingly the gap tightens just a bit between the 7870 and GTX580 while the 7950 extends its lead by a couple percentage points.

Stalker: Call of Pripyat benchmark things fall in to its expected pecking order with the 7950 on top, and the GTX 580/7870 trailing with the GTX 580 on top of the 7870.

Aliens vs. Predator (Default)

Aliens vs. Predator (Default)

Aliens vs. Predator (Highest Quality)

Aliens vs. Predator (Highest Quality)

Stalker: Call of Pripyat

Stalker: Call of Pripyat

Moving on to an ‘oldie but goodie’ arcade style Air combat game, Hawx 2, we again see this now consistent oddity of the 7870 matching or slightly beating the 7950. It does so in Hawx 2 by a couple of percentage points, but still gets beat by the GTX580 here.

Our last game we will cover is Dirt 2. Looking at these results things fall back in to place, more or less. The 7950 for some reason, takes a commanding lead across all cards in the graph. That doesn’t mean the 7870 is a slouch though by any stretch of the imagination coming it a 103 FPS at stock speeds.

HAWX2

HAWX2

Dirt 2

Dirt 2

Between all the benchmarks we use, it’s clear to see that the 7870 is great card to game with at 1920×1200 as it will handle anything you throw at it and usually with copious amounts of AA. I even had this card run BF3 at 2560×1440 using Ultra settings, no AA, 16xAF, medium post processing, and SSAO with easily playable frame rates. So it has plenty of horsepower behind it and uses less power than its predecessor and competitor (by performance) the GTX 580.

Temperatures/Cooling and Power Consumption

One of the differences between reference cards and aftermarket are the cooling solutions used. As mentioned above, this card from Sapphire uses a 4 copper heatpipe, dual fan (what appears to be 100mm) setup dubbed Dual-X. Using stock clocks, voltages, and fan profile, in a 19 °C room, at idle she hovered around 25 °C. Upon load it hit a relatively chilly 56 °C. At the overclocked speeds, temps only went up to 26 °C and 58 °C respectively. After pushing the limits (details below) running at 1.299 V and 1322/1450 clocks and 100% fan it idled around 25 °C (gotta love their idle clocking!) and loaded to 64 °C.

As far as power consumption, with the system fully overclocked at 5.2 GHz (4c/8t) 1.5 V on the CPU, and 1322/1450 @ 1.299 V on the GPU, the system peaked at 324 W in 3DMark 11 combined test. In the Graphics Test 4, it peaked around 304W. Amazing compared to the GTX 580 I reviewed which when fully overclocked managed to pull 470 W at the wall.

Pushing the Limits

It’s so nice to have a card in hand worthwhile of the ‘Pushing the Limits’ section again after reviewing some cards with limited overclocking headroom. I’ll start by saying the overclocked speeds I tested for the review, 1125/1300 were with a 0.04 V jump, so they were pretty conservative clocks especially considering the following. At max volts (1.299 V), I was able to clock this card to 1322 MHz core and 1450 MHz memory (Afterburner limited). If I added the ‘unofficial overclocking’ parameters to unlock higher clocks, Afterburner stopped reading core/memory speeds so I was unable to change them. The following benchmarks all ran at these clocks. So with a 5.2 GHz 2600k and those clocks, this is what she scored:

3DMark 06 - 36,384

3DMark 06 - 36,384

3DMark Vantage - 32,575

3DMark Vantage - 32,575

3DMark 11 - 9,281

Unigine Heaven - 2,259

Unigine Heaven - 2,259

This card needs cold and some ‘moar’ volts!

Conclusion

I’m just going to cut to the chase for this conclusion. I have been sitting here thinking of any negatives this card may have and about the only thing I could come up with is that the cooler dumps its heat inside the case. Truly not a big deal.

What AMD and Sapphire have done here is create, in my opinion, one of the better bang for your buck cards available on the market at this moment. You have GTX 580 performance (give or take depending on benchmarks) in a package that uses nearly 100 W less power, has a quiet and effective aftermarket cooling solution, and overclocks to the moon if you give her some voltage. Pricing for this specific card comes in at $359.99 + SH at newegg.com which is still cheaper than the GTX 580 and $70 less than its bigger brother the 7950. I believe with both the 7850 and 7870 that AMD found a nice spot in the market while we wait and see what the other camp has to offer. This card is Overclockers.com Approved!

~Earthdog

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Discussion
  1. Nice review thanks.
    I like the 78## series cards, they perform very well indeed for there money, they can hold there own near the top for much less money and there all you will need for a while unless your running multi monitor set ups.
    My Problem with AMD's range is at the level just one stap down from the 78## series.
    Thats where i'm looking to upgrade, when the 7770 can't out do my overclocked ancient 5770 i see absolutely no incentive to upgrade via AMD.
    The gap from the 7770 to the 7850 is vast both in performance and price, and the 7850 is overkill for what i want.
    AMD seem to have forgotten about the likes of me.
    Great review as always. :)
    @Frakk
    Lets hope they make a 1 GB 7850 to fill in the gap. If they leave the price and performance range empty between 7850 & 7770, it would be a big mistake.
    I doubt a 1GB 7850
    But there will be a 7790. The question is will they just up the memory bus width from 128 Bit to 265 Bit or will they also add a couple of hundred Stream Processors?
    The later would add a 30% performance increase, the former would not make much difference as the GPU its self with only 640 Stream Processors is pretty weak.
    I hope prices keep falling for the next month when D3 comes out.
    Then waiting for swiftech to come out with an air block to fit around mcw60 for 7870.
    $260ish for 7870, then 30-50ish for water cooling. Under $300 for water cooled 7870.
    Then again it seems the 7950 is getting much better boost in performance through OCing then 7870.....so water cooling 7870 might be a waste. Either way I have a while to wait for prices to fall that much. Until then I will just keep watching benchmarks to see what is best bang for buck with water cooling cost included.