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MSI R7870 HAWK Review and CrossFire Performance: AMD HD 7870 on Steroids

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Manufacturer: MSI

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.

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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.

Continue reading our review of the MSI R7870 HAWK Graphics card!!

The Hawk branding was introduced with the original R5770 Hawk, based of course on the AMD HD 5770 graphics chip.  This was a very fun and affordable card at the time, and a very inexpensive way to get into DirectX 11 gaming.  It had enough performance to run older games at 1080P resolutions, and lower resolutions with DX10 and DX11 games.  The card was a success for MSI, as it was only around $15 more expensive than a standard HD 5770.  The extra build quality, speed, and cooling prowess helped it to become a fan favorite in the sub-$200 price range.

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Lifting the box cover we see all the advantages that one receives by purchasing this card.

Something a bit distressing to me happened with the later generations of these cards.  The Hawk branding soon went from being a $175 card to being well above $200.  The budget enthusiasts that flocked to this card were a bit put off by the next generation R6870 Hawk and N560GTX Ti Hawk and their much higher price tag.  I was not sure where this trend would go, but we seem to have found out with the new R7870 Hawk.

The new Hawk was initially offered at $379, a far cry from the $175 of its progenitor.  As mentioned above, AMD cut the prices down on their entire 7000 series of cards.  The new price for this card is now sitting at a much more palatable $319 US.  Competition is good, no?  Now that the GTX 670 and 680 cards are much more available, AMD had to adjust their entire price structure for this latest generation of 28 nm graphics parts.

AMD was very excited about the HD 7800 series of parts, as they seemed to have come out of the oven in very fine form.  These cards were able to match and exceed the previous generation’s top cards in overall performance.  The HD 7850 was faster than the HD 6970, and the HD 7850 at 1 GHz was faster overall than the GTX 580 from NVIDIA.  This performance was achieved by a GPU with a 256 bit memory bus and a conservatively sized die.  What perhaps excited AMD the most was that a competing product from NVIDIA was nowhere to be seen.  Rumor has it that NVIDIA will be releasing a competitively priced product in August, 2012.  Essentially AMD has had a 5+ month lead in this rather important price category.  And it showed.  Initial prices of $379 for the HD 7870 did not sit well with consumers, but they did sell at a decent rate for the company and their partners.

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With multiple layers of transparent material, it gets hard to see the card.  The box is very well protected, per usual for MSI.

This week AMD did cut prices, as mentioned above.  This has made the HD 7850 and HD 7870 much more accessible for users, and this is a good thing considering their performance.  These cards have pretty manageable heat production and power consumption.  Now that they will not put as big a dent in a consumer’s wallet, I am sure that adoption of these cards will again pick up sooner rather than later.

MSI decided to give this part the Hawk treatment.  Essentially it means improved cooling and acoustics, better build and power delivery, and a healthy overclock to take this card well above reference speeds and performance.  What was once the diminutive sub-150 watt R5770 has now grown into a nearly 11” long board that requires two six pin PCI-E power connections.  MSI has also put in a few extra wrinkles that should keep this board relevant to extreme overclockers and enthusiasts.

July 19, 2012 | 09:28 PM - Posted by Dream76 (not verified)

Great review Josh!

July 20, 2012 | 09:24 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Haha@gaming with AMD CPU's.

July 21, 2012 | 07:54 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

...Fool.

Great review, by the way

February 2, 2013 | 07:11 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I agree, what a waste. I find it easier to scale the results down, than trying to imagine what the difference would be if it were an Intel based system.

October 5, 2013 | 02:47 PM - Posted by Henk (not verified)

You sure about that statement...? Have you looked at th next gen games coming out? They all use 6-8 core CPUs... You better buy one before they reach $500...

July 21, 2012 | 01:41 AM - Posted by to_the_moon (not verified)

Thanks for the great review. Maybe my next Corssfire System :-)

BTW >>@anonymous "Haha@gaming with AMD CPU's."<<

...stupid people writing stupid things!...

July 23, 2012 | 07:12 AM - Posted by Ss3trnks2

I see that the Lightning Edition GTX680 is out now. Is it possible to get a review of that? If so, could some of the benchmarks it's compared to be the MSI 7970 Lightning Edition that's Stock O.C'd to 1070MHZ AND a 7970 GHZ Edition (any manufacturer will do). That way we could see how a stock overclocked 680 fairs against this 7970 GHZ card and a normal 7970 o.c'd over a GHZ? What's your thoughts?

But not to deter, great review, glad to see that AMD is really bringing the heat against nvidia.

July 26, 2012 | 06:57 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

I'll see what Ryan has planned for that card!

July 25, 2012 | 04:53 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I would be great to game with this esspecially Crossfire with an AMD APU

July 30, 2012 | 08:27 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

A current APU really wouldn't push this in CrossFire all that well.  While the current A8-3870K overclocked is decent at its max 3.5 GHz speed, it still will not outmuscle the latest Intel Ivy Bridge quad core products.  Kaveri might be a very different beast though, but it still only looks to be 2 module/4 core with GPU attached.  Perhaps next summer we will finally see an APU with some serious muscle?

February 25, 2013 | 07:37 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

APU and serious muscle is an oxymoron. AMD makes discrete graphics too, remember?

December 20, 2012 | 10:43 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

6600 series MAX for the apu dual graphics ....

December 20, 2012 | 10:43 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

6600 series MAX for the apu dual graphics ....

September 9, 2012 | 09:59 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

hopefully a six core piledriver apu with no gpu, or use the internal gpu for fpu calculations? that would DESTROY intel.

February 25, 2013 | 07:38 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Yea because just last ye... er, back in 2005, AMD was the better CPU.

November 22, 2012 | 05:28 AM - Posted by Vargis14 (not verified)

It is a great review....but why were the cards not benched while OCed. Also my were the cards tested on a AMD platform and not at least a OCed 4.5ghz 2500k/2600k/3570k/3770k ?????? It just does not make sense to do a crossfire review with a CPU that clearly bottlenecks the video cards at lower resolutions. You can clearly see this in every benchmark where the scaling stinks at resolutions below 2560/1600 since at that resolution it really starts to load the GPUs more then the cpu since the frame rates are finally low enough that the CPU is not bottlenecking the Graphics cards.
You clearly need to upgrade your video card benchmarking Platform to a intel z77 overclocked 3570k or 3770k.
My Oced 4.7ghz 2600k with SLI Evga superclocked GTX560TI's @ 1015mhz cores and 2400 memory score better then these totally AWESOME HAWK 7870 cards. Its just a shame you are using such a lame cpu that its slowing them down on benchmarks and not showing the full potential of the video cards. I am pretty sure At least with a INTEL benchmarking platform you would see that the 7870 hawks are faster then a plain jane 7950.

November 26, 2012 | 10:08 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Ah yes. Another Intel "NOTHING ELSE COMPARES" fan boy. First and utmost, I am not an AMD fan boy. I would say I'm more of an Intel Hate boy! Due to the way they treat their customers, the way they carry out business which has been more than morally questionable over the past decade, and the fact with a 10nm process decrease, "new/improved" architecture, they only yield a 5% performance increase over sandy bridge (power improvements of course, but that's a given of a smaller process)? Clearly capable of a lot more; but they release it, to just milk their loyal customers. Argument could be the same if not worse than AMD's Bulldozer. BUT, AMD doesn't have anywhere near the R&D budget of Intel, nor was that their focus. They knew they couldn't beat Intel with IPC so they leaned towards the higher core count and Multi-Tasking/Threading capability... Oh, not to mention the anti-trust suits with Intel.

Anyway, Getting off track here.

My question to people such as yourself, is that so what if the CPU is "bottle-necking" a xFire GPU setup at low resolutions? Guess what? You are getting well in excess of 60fps, even 100fps in some cases (60Hz is usually the highest NATIVE refresh rate of modern PC monitors) regardless.. so what does any higher performance achieve? Absolutely nothing, other than a lighter wallet. Also... do you play at low resolutions? Any gamer worth their weight in water would game at no less than 1080p. Why would you Crossfire for low resolutions? That's like boosting your grandma's daily commute so she can drive to the shops once a week in a 500HP Corolla...

Even the argument of future proofing has it's flaws. As by the time the performance difference will make a noticeable/significant difference, your PC will still be out of date by then and you could buy something with 50-100% better performance at half the price. I have purchased absolute high end PCs before (in the early and mid 00's when there was an argument it was 'needed'). Waste... Of... Money.

I get absolutely fantastic video converting performance (comparable to sandy i7's/Ivy i5's), more than sufficient gaming performance and great multi-tasking/everyday performance. All this for $180 (FX-8320). A motherboard with 16/16x xFire, all the trimmings for $30 less than the same branded but Intel equivalent.

Not to mention I have never had an AMD CPU die on me. My Athlon 64 Clawhammer lasted 9 years (still working today) and 6 of those years was pretty much running 24/7 overclocked. I have had 3 Intels die on me (one even within the warranty period). Excluding stories from friends. I haven't even built 70 PC's yet. Worse I've heard first hand of AMD is I had a friends FX-4300 run at the wrong voltage (too high) so he had to set it manually until they fix it with a BIOS update.

Don't get me wrong. If I absolutely needed the performance/IPC capabilities of an i7 (for work etc) I would buy one. However, I doubt many people would truly be in that position. Buying an overpowered processor is often caused by ego or pretentiousness. I understand that, just don't label it as something else.

December 23, 2012 | 08:58 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I can understand your point of view, and even some of your frustration. But this man is correct. It isnt fair to Amd OR the readers of his review to skew the results of these benchmarks by not using a setup that completely takes cpu overhead out of the picture. Say whT you want about intel as a business, or as a producer of technology... they have better performing products. In the interest of letting users know exactly what levels of performance these cards are capable of, it is irresponsible to present a picture of performance based on an outdated setup. This is not to take anything away from this excellent and thorough review. But as the poster noted, these results are CLEARLY bottlenecked at resokutions lower than 2560, as evidenced by the general similarities of the frane rates at differing levels of resolution on different video cards. Are you trying to say that all cards tested, even though from different generations and product families ALL have similar performance?

February 25, 2013 | 07:40 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Good Intel CPU's eliminate bottlenecks when testing GPU's.
AMD CPU's are a bottleneck. FACT.

February 26, 2013 | 04:56 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

7870 hawk CF bottlenecked by a X6 1100T... so sad!

AMD fanboys, please, accept the fact that an i7 or even an i5 could push those FPS a lot higher than this, at any resolution.

March 26, 2013 | 10:30 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

best review i've read on 7870 xfire! Thanks for the informative review, helped me make a decision!

May 13, 2013 | 07:24 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

7870 cf beat 7970/680

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