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AMD Radeon HD 7970 3GB GHz Edition Review - Taking on the GTX 680

Author: Ryan Shrout
Manufacturer: AMD

Reference Card and GPU Testbed

Did you like the way the Radeon HD 7970 3GB graphics card looked last year when it launched? Good news, because if you are looking for something a bit different to make the "GHz Edition" stand out you are out of luck (sorry).

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The reference model from AMD for the HD 7970 GHz Edition is physically identical to that of the previous card. 

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That's not really bad news though, as we know that the HD 7970 had a great set of features including the output configuration seen here.

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Despite the added clock speed, the new GHz Edition will still only require one 8-pin power connection and one 6-pin.

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On the back, nothing has changed and yes it still supports CrossFireX configurations as deep as four GPUs. 

(Psst, these photos are actually from our ORIGINAL HD 7970 review!)

Testing Configuration

For the Radeon HD 7970 3GB review (and all those going forward) we decided it was high time we replaced the somewhat dated Nehalem-based infrastructure (even though honestly, it was fast enough) with something a bit more current. Obviously that meant going with the new Intel Sandy Bridge-E processor and X79 motherboard. By combining support for 40 PCI Express lanes and 3-4 full size GPU slots, it makes for the perfect GPU base.

From this point on, our reviews will based around the following system:

  • Intel Core i7-3960X CPU
  • ASUS P9X79 Pro motherboard
  • Corsair DDR3-1600 4 x 4GB Vengeance memory
  • 600GB Western Digital VelociRaptor HDD
  • 1200 watt Corsair Professional Series power supply
  • Windows 7 SP1 x64

The ASUS P9X79 Pro

The Intel Core i7-3960X gives us the fastest consumer-level CPU on the market to help eliminate the possibility of any processor-based bottlenecks in our testing (whenever possible). There are still going to be some games that could use more speed (Skyrim comes to mind) but for our purposes this is as good as you get without getting into any kind of overclocked settings. The ASUS P9X79 Pro motherboard has enough space for three dual-slot graphics cards when the time comes for testing 3-Way SLI and CrossFire, and 8 DIMM slots should we want to go up from our current setup of 16GB of Corsair Vengeance memory

I chose to stick with the 600GB VelociRaptor hard drive rather than an SSD as our total installation size with Windows 7 SP1 x64 and 6+ games was already hitting the 115GB range. Finally the 1200 watt power supply from Corsair offers up more than enough juice for three power hungry graphics cards while running quietly enough to not throw off our noise testing drastically.

Speaking of noise, for this article we are re-introducing our sound level testing thanks to the Extech 407738 Sound Level Meter capable of monitoring decibel ratings as low as 20db. This allows me to accurately tell you the noise levels generated by the graphics cards that are tested in-house at PC Perspective.

Along with the new hardware configuration comes a host of new games. For this review, we will be using the following benchmarks and games to evaluate performance:

  • Battlefield 3
  • Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • DiRT 3
  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Metro 2033
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution
  • 3DMark11
  • Unigine Heaven v2.5

This collection of games is both current and takes into account several different genres as well – first person role playing, third person action, racing, first person shooting, etc. 3DMark11 and Unigine Heaven further allow us to see how the cards stack up in a more synthetic environment while the real-world gameplay testing provided by the six games completes the performance picture.

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The new Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition

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The original Radeon HD 7970

Obviously, the new Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition will be compared to the first iteration of this GPU as well as the high-end GeForce GTX 680. Our fourth and final card in the suite of products today will be the GeForce GTX 670 – a product that upon its launch was nearly able to keep up with HD 7970 as well. 

Our testing used NVIDIA drivers 301.42 and AMD drivers 12.7 beta.

The comparisons you should be paying particular attention to:

  • Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition vs HD 7970 Base – How much performance does the new AMD flagship single-GPU card gain from the increase core and memory clock speeds?
     
  • Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition vs GeFroce GTX 680 – The GeForce GTX 680 is the current king of GPU performance but does the new GHz Edition of the HD 7970 really allow AMD to crown it as the "world's fastest GPU"?

Now, with that out of the way, let's get on with the results and see how the new Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition card performs!

June 22, 2012 | 12:40 AM - Posted by Zanthis

That Maingear block.

June 22, 2012 | 01:11 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Yes?

June 22, 2012 | 01:27 AM - Posted by Zanthis

Is pimpin'

June 22, 2012 | 12:47 AM - Posted by Arb1 (not verified)

funny its OC'ed that much but barly beats a 670 and cost how much more?

June 22, 2012 | 01:11 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Which games are you referring to? BF3?

June 22, 2012 | 02:17 AM - Posted by Daniel Meier (not verified)

Don't know about barely, seems to me that it has good amount of extra frames to throw around, compared to the 670. But it doesn't beat the 680 by much, at least in the game department.

June 22, 2012 | 02:38 AM - Posted by Oskars (not verified)

But if you consider that the card is built apon the present architecture and manages to beat (modestly in games, trashes nvidia in computing) it is quite good if not utterly impressive.
Yes, no?

June 22, 2012 | 02:56 AM - Posted by camster35 (not verified)

AMD's making car's ?
typo on the 2'ed line bud.
"graphics cars"

June 22, 2012 | 09:28 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Thanks!

June 22, 2012 | 12:46 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

hehe, nice catch. I thought I had fixed that but must have snuck through. thanks :)

June 22, 2012 | 07:30 AM - Posted by nabokovfan87

keep in mind everyone.... the lightning is clocked higher, cos muuuuuch higher, and as I said on the lightning and 680 review,the 7970 has always been stupidly underclocked. It has always been the better performer oc vs oc and the 680 reviews have been such a wash with things drastically swaying per site.... I'll take my lightning any day of the week, and I'm getting a 2nd one very soon.

June 22, 2012 | 08:52 AM - Posted by Humanitarian

Overclocking can be hit or miss, I wouldn't buy a 7970 card relying on OC's to out perform the 680. I can agree that they may have binned the chips a little too low.. But they would have for a reason, some may never have been good OC'ers.

Although I would buy one if it was cheaper.. That's where AMD have Nvidia beat.

June 22, 2012 | 08:55 AM - Posted by Humanitarian

Only 50mhz of boost? That's ... pretty pointless..

Nice to see AMD not settle for 2nd best, although I don't know how they'll be able to sell a OC edition for $499 when you can already buy OC versions with 1GHZ for 479 (xfx black edition)

June 22, 2012 | 09:10 AM - Posted by Nilbog

Well its nice to see the under dog win, even if it is by a hair.
It would be nice to see a new comparison of the 7970 and 680 Lightning cards.

I also have to say how impressed i am in the raw compute performance, that was a large gap.

I just finished with the [H] review, and the card they tested got lower frame rates at stock.
This makes me think that there will be "Golden Cards" as AMD previously stated.

June 22, 2012 | 09:29 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Maybe, but I don't think there will be. AMD is very firm in their "NVIDIA is doing it wrong" stance in that they think every card should perform the same at stock settings in everyone's scenario.

June 22, 2012 | 02:14 PM - Posted by Nilbog

I was trying to point out the difference in performance between just 2 cards, based on the results here, and the [H]ardOCP results.
The differences seem large compared to how little difference there usually is in GPU reviews
You can also see the gap present with the 680 as well

June 22, 2012 | 12:31 PM - Posted by mAxius

Nice to see amd put out a faster clocked product due to TSMC's 28nm process improvements. yes folks this is a new stepping of the same old chip. kudos to them and not bad for a 6 month old gpu.

June 22, 2012 | 01:17 PM - Posted by Mark (not verified)

SO......this isnt Tahiti 2? Is this just filler to say they got one over on Nvidia?

June 22, 2012 | 05:29 PM - Posted by Arb1 (not verified)

The question of price is a big one but other question or questions, "How hot does it run?" and "how loud is it?" cause being labeled a jet engine space heater is not a good thing.

June 22, 2012 | 06:44 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

GTX 670 is still the best option and a hundred dollars less!

June 22, 2012 | 11:19 PM - Posted by mike@omgeek.net (not verified)

Great review as always Ryan.

June 23, 2012 | 02:26 PM - Posted by collie man (not verified)

Ok, I'm impressed. We all joke about AMD treading water these days but they do seem to be keeping their head above water quite well. I'm normally alot more interested in the low cost parts of the 'puter world, most of the rigs I build are for people on a budget, but this is DEFF worth considering if I get asked to build a power rig sometime soon. Thanks for keeping me "in the know" Mr. Shrout!

June 23, 2012 | 02:26 PM - Posted by collie man (not verified)

Ok, I'm impressed. We all joke about AMD treading water these days but they do seem to be keeping their head above water quite well. I'm normally alot more interested in the low cost parts of the 'puter world, most of the rigs I build are for people on a budget, but this is DEFF worth considering if I get asked to build a power rig sometime soon. Thanks for keeping me "in the know" Mr. Shrout!

June 24, 2012 | 09:37 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

its unfair.. nvidia already release a beta driver for 680 which improves the performance. but on the test setup they use the old one..

June 25, 2012 | 06:47 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Now you sound like an AMD fanboy "wait for the drivers." :)

August 17, 2012 | 05:48 PM - Posted by themistaken (not verified)

how about the gtx 690? it is the best card out there right?

November 26, 2013 | 04:55 AM - Posted by Muhammad Waqas (not verified)

help every one....some one is selling this card in Pakistan city lahore with complete full box.

He asking for 65,500 Pakistani Rupees

request to community that how much it should be if open box not used (in case) ..

Regards
Waqas M.

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