Review Index:

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

Author: Josh Walrath
Manufacturer: MSI

HAWK Continued...


The big addition to Hawk is that of the GPU Reactor.  This piece of equipment is simply a separate PCB that is attached directly behind the GPU.  It is comprised of a series of tantalum capacitors which help to “condition” the power being delivered to the GPU.  Theoretically it should allow for higher overclocks as there is a more consistent and even flow of power to the GPU.  On air cooling this part makes very little difference, and could account for a handful of MHz faster performance.  Where it really shines is when higher end cooling solutions (think water and LN2) are utilized.  The GPU Reactor should give several tens of MHz better overclocks than when used without.  Other than that, it glows a somewhat pretty blue in a windowed case.  The problem with this is when the card is used in CrossFire solutions.  I tried this out, and unfortunately I had clearance issues with a standalone soundcard I had installed in the machine.  I was unable to move the soundcard around in my case, so I was left with either sticking with one card or removing the GPU Reactor.

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The bundle is pretty strong for the price that this product is offered at.  Note the mini-DP to DP adapter, which is not a common add-in for most board vendors.

The next addition is that of the dual BIOS switch.  This can either be set to normal, which has all of the overvoltage and PowerTune safeguards in place.  The other setting totally unlocks the BIOS and PowerTune settings.  This really should only be used with heavy duty water cooling and LN2.  It is of limited use on air cooling, and the GPU will overheat long before these unlocked settings would actually be useful.

Most of the latest MSI designs feature the digital PWM controller, which is faster and more efficient than the older generation of analog controllers.  This card embraces the Military Class III components, so it is a bit more resistant to physical and electrical shocks than the reference designs.  It should also last longer due to better heat tolerance of the different types of capacitors used on this board.  These components include the CopperMOS (MOSFET), Hi-C cap (tantalum), Golden SSC (choke), and the Dark Solid Cap (polymer based).

The board is also more robust when it comes to power phases.  MSI integrates 8 phases for the GPU, 2 phases for the memory, and a single phase for the VDDCI (PCI-E connection/controller).  The setup also routes the power from the two PCI-E connections to the GPU and memory directly, which apparently is slightly more stable than the power coming from the actual slot on the motherboard.

The board uses two 80 mm fans over a large array of aluminum fins.  These fins are connected to a bottom copper plate as well as five heatpipes (two of which are 8 mm units- aka Superpipes).  These fans are of the “Propeller Blade” variety that is found on the higher end Lightning series as well as the Twin Frozr III/IV units.  MSI integrates the anti-dust mechanism into this product, which reverses the fans’ direction so they suck dust out of the cooling fins of the card.  After 30 seconds the fans spin in the normal direction to blow air over the fins.  This may or may not actually work as advertised, but it is certainly as good an idea as any on how to remove dust effectively from the heatsink.

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The R7870 HAWK is a sharp looking card with the black and blue color motif.

Finally we have the triple/triple, or the 3x3 OC Kits as MSI labels it.  There are first of all three voltage checkpoints for those who are using LN2 and are constantly monitoring voltages.  The second is the triple overvoltage where a user, using the Afterburner software, can increase the voltage on the GPU, memory, and VDDCI.  Thirdly there is the triple temperature monitor, which is also accessed by the Afterburner software.  With these three overclocking tools, users should be able to finely tweak this board to its maximum potential on air, water, and LN2.


Initial Impressions


The MSI box is always nicely produced and the packaging is above average.  The board does not move, and is surrounded by a generous amount of foam and the anti-static bag.  The box itself lists off all of the features of the board and presents the card to the user through a transparent window in the box.  Between the outer transparent layer, the plastic covering inside the box, and finally the anti-static sleeve… it is very hard to actually see the card while it is still in the box.

The card itself is fairly large.  It reaches nearly 11” in length and is a pretty hefty unit.  The heatsink is larger and has more fins than the competing XFX Double D Black Edition 7870.  The board itself is very rigid due to the extra bracing that MSI includes in the design.  This unit should not warp to any significant degree when installed in a computer.  The dual-form-in-one heatsink covers many of the power components on one side of the card, and on the other a backplate adds to the rigidity of the board as well as protecting the rear components.

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We are missing a DVI port, but that is something that can be fixed by throwing more money at active DP to DVI adapters.

Build quality is above average.  Nothing was falling off the card, the solder looks even throughout the board and the components.  The housing is made of metal and not plastic.  The color scheme is pleasing to the eye, and the GPU Reactor on the back does provide a bit of flair for those with windowed cases.

The only real issue I had with this card was the output collection.  It features only a single dual-link DVI port.  Other competing products have two DVI ports, one of which is again a dual-link unit.  These cards can natively support up to 6 monitors, so one would expect there to be at least two DVI and two DisplayPort connections.  I realize that this is somewhat nit-picking, but that is what I get paid to do.  If a user wants to run these in Eyefinity, then they must either have monitors with native DisplayPort connectivity, or they need to purchase two active DisplayPort to DVI adapters (approximately $25 each).

My expectation was that this card would be as cool and as silent as previous versions were.  This did not exactly hold true.  I will discuss this further in the overclocking/power/temperature page.

Overall my impressions of the card are positive.  MSI does a nice job with their designs overall, and the packaging and bundle met expectations.  A nice extra that I appreciated was that of the mini-DP to full size DP adapter.  Most other manufacturers do not include such adapters.

July 20, 2012 | 12:28 AM - Posted by Dream76 (not verified)

Great review Josh!

July 21, 2012 | 12:24 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Haha@gaming with AMD CPU's.

July 21, 2012 | 10:54 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)


Great review, by the way

February 2, 2013 | 10:11 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 | 05:47 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 | 04:41 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 | 10:12 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 | 09:57 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

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

July 25, 2012 | 07:53 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

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

July 30, 2012 | 11:27 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 | 10:37 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

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

December 21, 2012 | 01:43 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

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

December 21, 2012 | 01:43 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

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

September 9, 2012 | 12:59 PM - 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 | 10:38 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

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

November 22, 2012 | 08:28 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 | 01:08 PM - 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 | 11:58 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 | 10:40 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 | 07:56 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 27, 2013 | 01:30 AM - 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 | 10:24 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

7870 cf beat 7970/680

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