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 9, 2012 | 12:44 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

You know what the crying shame here is you can get a xbox 360 bundle and a small tv for the price.

I can get up and gaming on that price before I even get a decent gaming pc built around that card.

Still, if I give it a year my beer budget might get a taste of that bottle of wine.

January 9, 2012 | 02:49 AM - Posted by Jesse (not verified)

I get this feeling too, but when I think about it logically the price of PC gaming isnt as bad as it first looks.
1: A current console is undoubtably on its way out within the next year.
2: Although current editions of consoles are stable, my Xbox has long since rrod and I wouldn't like to sink more money into this aging console even at the price.
3: Steam. All my console playing friends are envious of the steam deals I get for older AAA titles.
4: My computer is used for much much more than gaming.

Just a couple of excuses to favour PC gaming.

January 9, 2012 | 04:57 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

consoles are way outdated, cant be upgraded, lack controls, graphics cant be pumped up. Heck graphics tech in PCs were HD since 2002.

January 9, 2012 | 05:11 AM - Posted by Havor (not verified)

Yeah consoles have there pro's, but i wane see any console beet my experience doing for example WoW, F1 or BF3, on 3 screens at 5760x1200 ^_^

I played BF3 on a PS3, man that just sucks in comparison on the PC with mouse and 3 screens!!!

Dose not mean i don't play with my PS3, Xbox or Wii anymore, its just, games like guitar hero is made for the console and Battlefield is for the PC.

November 26, 2012 | 09:15 AM - Posted by Reticulum (not verified)

I use raser deathstalker keyboard and black mumba 2012 edition mouse and for some games it works and others i like to use for PC, my xbox wireless controller. Sorted ;-)

November 26, 2012 | 09:16 AM - Posted by Reticulum (not verified)

I use raser deathstalker ultimate keyboard and black mumba 2012 edition mouse and for some games it works and others i like to use for PC, my xbox wireless controller. Sorted ;-)

January 9, 2012 | 02:23 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

A good gaming PC experience is not more expensive than a lesser console experience -- often cheaper.

Sony's PS3 at launch, which cost $499 to purchase... cost Sony just over $800 to make.


Think about how much you're getting gouged in license fees to pay all that back plus research, development, and marketing. Xbox is actually worse -- not buying Xbox Live for four years will pay for a videocard. In other words, upgrading your PC to a console-like gaming experience (decent internals + a ~$250 videocard every 4 years) can be paid for in Xbox Live fees alone.

And then you add in $10/game license fees, accessories that are deliberately made uncompatible, owning multiple platforms because you're *paying* Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo to NOT provide you every game on the market by nature of being proprietary and non-binary-compatible with each other... etc. (And believe me, there's plenty in the et cetra category)

You getting gouged, son.

November 15, 2012 | 12:34 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

not sure if anyone replied to you but when the PS3 launched it cost 700 dollars.

January 9, 2012 | 05:10 PM - Posted by Kwod (not verified)

I'm at 60hrs using a 6850, 1080p maxed.....and a 3.5yr old e8400, so learn before you make a goose of yourself.

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January 9, 2012 | 11:23 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Sure PC are much more. And why would you buy an XBOX when you can buy a board game for $20? Because an XBOX can do more right? XBOX can't watch and burn blu-rays, store 3TB of data, create HD videos, Photoshop, program mobile apps, work from home, multi-task on the web, share files around your entire house, boot from multiple OSs, double as a recording studio, (Not to mention I can hack and mod an XBOX with my PC).A high end gaming PC will be an awesome gaming device for 2-3 years and good HOME PC for 5 years. An XBOX will only be a mediocre gaming console for 2-3. There's no comparison. And that's why I build PCs.

January 9, 2012 | 01:35 AM - Posted by dreamer77dd

Does AMD need to do firmware to make this card look better?
Dirt seem to do so well?
Is that a surprise or normal to others?

January 12, 2012 | 03:39 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Yes, I do think they will fix this with drivers in the future. The question is HOW QUICKLY.

January 9, 2012 | 03:06 AM - Posted by rongoree

I believe that you may have posted the 2560x1600 Crossfire Bar Chart image instead of the 2560x1600 Non-Crossfire Bar Chart on the Metro 2033 page.

January 9, 2012 | 11:43 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Fixed, thanks!!

January 9, 2012 | 05:53 AM - Posted by Danny J (not verified)

Your temps are higher than it should be. I think you messed up somewhere.

Is that the Delta, what is the ambient temps?
Every other review shows temp much lower than what you have.

January 9, 2012 | 05:57 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Amateur review. Guru3d, Hardwareheaven among others had no issues with Crossfire in any of the games you did. sad to see a reviewer who cannot set up his system blame it on drivers. 7970 is amazing and fastest card in the world, improve your review skills for the future

January 9, 2012 | 08:33 AM - Posted by Irishgamer01

Bitchy comment. If PCPER is getting problems then it stands to reason other people will too. When doing a review all you can do is report what YOU find and not what someone elses finds. Otherwise you might as well copy and paste from AMD's web site

Anyway, all I can afford to do at the moment is look.
Ah well. We still have NVIDIA stuff to wait for.
We are all waiting till May aren't we?????

January 9, 2012 | 09:06 AM - Posted by nabokovfan87

Other review sites may have had access to prerelease drivers, different system configurations along with many other variables. The card doesn't always just pop in and work 100% of the time.

It is a brand new CPU, brand new mobo, brand new GPU, and you expect it to be flawless? Heh, you must be new at this.

If you honestly have such a high opinion of Guru3D and Hardwareheaven then by all means go chill out over there and praise them. It isn't worth the brainwaves to come over here and put someone down.

You could have, however, said "hey ryan, these guys didn't have issues, maybe you would want to contact them?"

January 9, 2012 | 11:46 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I guess I was an amateur when I found this problem when no other reviewer did?

And then NVIDIA reproduced and is fixing it?

Please, I realize we aren't perfect, but I have been doing this for 12 years and know a little something about troubleshooting. If I tried all the things I could to fix it here and I COULD NOT DO IT, then consumers are going to be fucked.

January 9, 2012 | 12:19 PM - Posted by John T (not verified)

Ryan don't listen to the trolls. I respect and believe your reviews above just about anyone else. You, Anand, and the Twit crew are who I trust.

This guy is just being a troll and looking for some attention.

January 16, 2012 | 04:18 PM - Posted by Wolvenmoon (not verified)

Score one for Ryan, zip for the dorkentroll. :D

January 9, 2012 | 08:50 AM - Posted by soldierguy

Looks real nice. Thanks for the review.

January 9, 2012 | 09:14 AM - Posted by nabokovfan87

Nice job Ryan. I'm glad you held off on "awarding" anything for this card. While the motif and metal work is nice, it is by no means a monster overclock and something I am sure all reference cards will be able to achieve with nothing more then the AMD driver and a good set of fans in the case.

I think the main issue with the cooler is just plain inefficiency. The air is pressed into a metal box and the heat isn't taken away from the core nearly fast enough. I think a large copper plate on the back as well as some heatpipes from say a FROZR III cooler will do the trick nicely. Don't know if the tiny vent on the top of the slot is enough to allow the air to vent, but I know with the GB and MSI non reference designs the intake has a slot on the HDD side to allow for the HDD fans to pass air over them as well. Would have liked to have seen that from XFX.

In terms of my quest to get a 7970 and pricing issues and what not, I think the important thing to consider here is AMD/ATI took a major whooping with the 58xx/69xx cards. The 460 and 560 as well as others had nearly flawless SLI performance scaling and the prices to match. Let's all not be fooled here, the prices are this high because they can be, people want new cards and they don't care the price. It is tax season, and Nvidia can only sit and watch until they more then likely spank the hell out of AMD/ATI.

I am a fan of ATI/AMDs stuff and I am saying that, keep in mind. I don't think we will see the full potential of this architecture until next time around, and I am more then willing to bet that by this time next year or the year after (whenever it happens) AMD will be in a much nicer spot then waiting for Nvidia to make a move to pass them up.

January 9, 2012 | 12:48 PM - Posted by Formula409x (not verified)

In any regards, The issue shown with the Skyrim low frame rates seems to be a non issue as many review sites are indeed getting well over the frame rates reported here.

January 9, 2012 | 02:22 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

For amd cards, to have vsync off u need to put iPresentInterval=0 in documents/mygames/skyrim skyrim.ini under display. Not in skyrimpref.ini like nvidia.

Blame Bethesda and their crap codes. Skyboost mod gives 10% +
boost cause they didn't optimize their codes.

January 12, 2012 | 03:42 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I will try out that Skrim refresh tweak but my understand was that you still couldn't go above the 60 Hz limit.

January 12, 2012 | 11:42 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I got an amd card and getting above 70 fps inside buildings.

Don't know why amd's line had to be in skyrim.ini but was happy when got it running.

January 9, 2012 | 02:51 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

wow, this review is depressing compared to all the others, i also think it was your setup than the drivers...

ps you review seems to be the odd one out (me against the world baby) or me one or two others lol

January 9, 2012 | 04:26 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Good job Ryan, you find another one early weakness of HD 7970. Most of other review is more focused on racing performance rather than the real condition of HD 7970. It must be realized that the review is part of improvements that AMD needed to succeed. The reader should understand that good and bad experiences of the author will be experienced by all users of the HD 7970.

January 9, 2012 | 07:20 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Ryan - any plan for crossfire + eyefinity test w/ SLI'd 580's in surround for a comparison?

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.

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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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