Review Index:

XFX Radeon HD 7970 3GB Black Edition and CrossFire Results

Author: Ryan Shrout
Manufacturer: XFX

New GPU Testbed - Sandy Bridge-E, X79, New Games

For the Radeon HD 7970 3GB review 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

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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 monitor decibel ratings as low as 20db.  This allows me to accurately tell you the noise levels generated by the graphics cards that make in-house at PC Perspective.

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

  • 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 give us a way 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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Our GPU comparisons for this review are pretty easy to predict.  We will be looking at the XFX Radeon HD 7970 3GB Black Edition that comes overclocked out of the box, the reference Radeon HD 7970, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 and the AMD Radeon HD 6970 cards.  

  • XFX Radeon HD 7970 3GB Black Edition - $599
  • AMD Radeon HD 7970 3GB - $549
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB - $499
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB - $349

The comparisons you should be paying particular attention to:

  • XFX HD 7970 vs Reference HD 7970 - How much difference does the clock speed increase make in our game testing?  Enough to warrant the price gap?
  • XFX HD 7970 vs HD 6970 - How much more does the 7970 look now in the retail packaging?
  • XFX HD 7970 vs GTX 580 - Again, more of the same - does the GTX 580 look more like it needs a price drop or is price point of these HD 7970 retail cards too high to force NVIDIA to make a move?

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We are also going to show you dual-GPU CrossFire testing so be sure you keep an eye out on the GPU scaling from one 7970 to a pair.  Hopefully AMD will impress us with stabile scaling on the modern titles we use in our testbed.  

Now, with that out of the way, let's get on with the results and see how the brand new XFX Radeon HD 7970 3GB card performs!

January 12, 2012 | 03:43 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Yup, once CES is done and settled we have a lot more things to try out, including Eyefinity.

January 9, 2012 | 07:52 PM - Posted by BlindZenDriver (not verified)

I think making such a big deal about the Crossfire issues is wrong and smells a bit like trying to desperately to find a issue to complain about.

AMD(ATI) has shown more than once that issues discovered are fixed and usually pretty quick plus they are right about how only a few will actually see this issue - even those that will go for crossfire will have to wait till the cards are delivered.

Also I find it funny to on the one hand see a complaint about that the crossfire issue will hit users and then on the other hand complain about prices and how it will mean few buyers. So which is it - huge amount of people going 7970 crossfire or only a few buying just a single card?

I think it would have been more interesting if the review had looked more into why the XFX card is not so silent. I suspect that it releasing the hot air inside the case let to more noise from case cooling. Also interesting would be to see more comparison of overclocking between the XFX and the reference design - it seems to me one does not really get much for the extra $50.

January 12, 2012 | 03:45 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I think noting and pointing out these errors is important for people that might want to invest a LOT of money in the product and it also sends the message to the vendor that reviewers and media are actually PAYING ATTENTION and holding them to certain standards.

I think we showed you the advantages of the overclocked model pretty reasonably and you can decide if you think the $50 cost is really a value or not.

January 10, 2012 | 11:53 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Ryan- having same problem as you, awful crossfire scaling on a LGA1155 idk if it's cpu bound or not as i have an i5 2500k. Hopefully a driver will fix this for me ^_^

January 11, 2012 | 02:47 PM - Posted by Swoosh (not verified)

Time favors us PC gamers, since this new Big Bad Rad 7970 just got out, AMD is waiting for nVidia's "Kepler" 600 series video cards and when they get it out, AMD will hit nVidia where it hurts the most, by lowering the 7900 series video card prices to the point where nVidia could not keep up with the sales PLUS, the upcoming 7990 dual GPU video and
the 7950 model.

Since nVidia's hypocrisy and bad publicity towards AMD, by lowering the 7900 series Rad price its AMD's way of saying to nVidia "What now?.. you cried two times already first in our our 5900 series release, then on our 6900 series release, now with our 7900 series are you gonna cry even more and complain ITS UNFAIR like you always do using your sponsored bloggers and tech sites to promote your video card products".

January 12, 2012 | 12:20 PM - Posted by Amy Thompson (not verified)

This is a great card. I was a little hesitant to fire sale my 2 MSI 6970 Lightnings (which are amazing) and buying a single 7970, but it was unwarranted. The performance, once easily overclocked (by ATI/AMD's stock overdrive), is on par with my previous setup on games that supported crossfire. The games that didn't support it, well this card just blows my previous setup out of the water in that scenario.

Another point that ALMOST made me sit on my hands for a while and wait was going from top of the line custom cards (msi lightnings)to launch day OEM cards. I've only purchased cards with after market coolers for the past 3 generations but I just couldn't wait to try out the 7970. I'm happy to say that while gaming, I don't notice a difference in fan noise. If anything, it runs cooler than my previous setup (obviously crossfire had a lot to do with it) and it may be actually quieter. While the Lightnings had an excellent HSF along with all sorts of other custom parts, the 7970's 28nm process just really nullifies the need for a monster HSF setup.

Plenty of great reviews out there on the interwebz, go read those. Just wanted to 5 star this because of the fool with the 3 star review spreading FUD.

January 15, 2012 | 02:09 PM - Posted by anthony.watters

I see the 'mini display ports' on the back of the card. Does this mean that the HD 7970's will be able to or have out of the box support for a Mac Pro running Lion? If not, any word as to when (or if ) Macs will be supported ? And if supported, any idea as to what price will be?

January 16, 2012 | 06:43 PM - Posted by amythompson172

The hd7970 is the fastest single gpu solution out there. It performs like a champ and is much more quiet runs much cooler than the hd6990 while offering close to beating the hd6990.Buy this card you will not be disappointed. Plus XFX offers this card at $100 less than most if not all its competitors. Don't let the 1 star and 2 star reviews here discourage you. Just read them and see the b.s they contain.

January 19, 2012 | 01:09 AM - Posted by Adam (not verified)

Truth be told you only need one of those 7970 cards up to one 30 inch monitor. its a waste to use 2 unless you got 3 24 or 30 inch monitors. i love the fact that the 7970 has got 3GB of RAm which will be great for huge texures in furute games and giant game worlds like GTA V

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