The HAWK Returns
The $300 to $400 range of video cards has become quite crowded as of late. If we can remember way back to March when AMD introduced their HD 7800 series of cards, and later that month we saw NVIDIA release their GTX 680 card. Even though NVIDIA held the price/performance crown, AMD continued to offer their products at what many considered to be grossly overpriced considering the competition. Part of this was justified because NVIDIA simply could not meet demand of their latest card, and they were often unavailable for purchase at MSRPs. Eventually AMD started cutting back prices, but this led to another issue. The HD 7950 was approaching the price of the HD 7870 GHz Edition. The difference in prices between these products was around $20, but the 7950 was around 20% faster than the 7870. This made the HD 7870 (and the slightly higher priced overclocked models) a very unattractive option for users.
It seems as though AMD and their partners have finally rectified this situation, and just in time. With NVIDIA finally being able to adequately provide stock for both the GTX 680 and GTX 670, the prices on the upper-midrange cards has taken a nice drop to where we feel they should be. We are now starting to see some very interesting products based on the HD 7850 and HD 7870 cards, one of which we are looking at today.
The MSI R7870 HAWK
The R7870 Hawk utilizes the AMD HD 7870 GPU. This chip has a reference speed of 1 GHz, but with the Hawk it is increased to a full 1100 MHz. The GPU has the entire 20 compute units enabled featuring 1280 stream processors. It has the 256 bit memory bus running 2GB of GDDR-5 memory at 1200 MHz, which gives a total bandwidth of 160 GB/sec. I am somewhat disappointed that MSI did not give the memory speed a boost, but at least the user can enable that for themselves through the Afterburner software.
Will it Strike Again?
It can now be claimed that we are arguably in our 4th generation of Lightning products from MSI. It can also be claimed that the 3rd generation of products really put that brand on the mainstream map. The R6970 and N580GTX (and XE version) set new standards for enthusiast grade graphics cards. Outstanding construction, unique pcb design, high quality (and quantity) of components, and a good eye for overall price have all been hallmarks of these cards. These were honestly some of my favorite video cards of all time. Call me biased, but I think when looking through other reviews those writers felt much the same. MSI certainly hit a couple of homeruns with their three Lightning offerings of 2011.
Time does not stand still. Resting on laurels is always the surest way to lose out to more aggressive competitors. It is now 2012 and AMD has already launched the latest generation of HD 7000 chips, with the top end being the HD 7970. This particular product was launched in late December, but cards were not available until January 9th of 2012. We are now at the end of March where we see a decent volume of products on the shelves, as well as some of the first of the non-reference designs hitting the streets. Currently Asus has its DirectCU II based 7970, but now we finally get to see the Lightning treatment.
MSI has not sat upon their laurels it seems. They are taking an aggressive approach to the new Lightning series of cards, and they implement quite a few unique features that have not been seen on any other product before. Now the question is did they pull it off? Throwing more features at something does not necessarily equal success. The increase in complexity of a design combined with other unknowns with the new features could make it a failure. Just look at the R5870 Lightning for proof. That particular card tread new ground, but did so in a way that did not adequately differentiate itself from reference HD 5870 designs. So what is new and how does it run? Let us dig in!