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Roundup of 7970s - comparison and buying discussion

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
Intro
I've created this thread for a discussion of which 7970 to discuss which 7970 is the best one to purchase considering this product's late stage in the lifecycle. I'm a little frustrated at this point because there's a lack of a "good" 7970 out there. Many of these custom cards offer custom PCBs which are advertised to be superior to the reference model (or have superior components) and typically feature a custom cooler, usually an axial fan version (as opposed to the blower style on the reference models).

Apart from the reference, which all major vendors offer a host of their own variants of the 7970 to "stand out" from the crowd. I'm leery about the reference cards for a variety of reasons. Read the below link. It looks like this late in the lifecycle, something like this could be widespread.

http://hardforum.com/showthread.php?t=1601246

If you have evidence of something like this happening this generation, please post it below. Let's look at the manufacturers (and please keep this civil, I want objective facts, but this not to turn into a manufacturer bashing thread):

XFX
XFX, as the above link indicates seems to have been for the past few generations downgrading by stealth their reference PCBs and this may be going on with several manufacturers.

They also offer a unique line call the Double Dissipation (DD) which was one of the first non-reference cooling solutions for the 7970. If I am not mistaken, the DD appears to be a reference board. This revision was notorious for it's hot VRMs, which often got hotter than the core itself. A thermal imaging scan indicates that the VRMs on the DD could get about 20 degrees higher than the core temperature - up to nearly 110 degrees.



Here is the reference version for comparison:



The DD also appears to be suffering from a very high RMA rate. Given XFX's history with reference cards, it makes me nervous to buy from them. The last time I bought an XFX card, it was when they made Nvidia cards - and I do remember that they had good support, double warranty, and back then rivaled BFG and EVGA in terms of overall quality. It seems though that things may have turned for a worse ever since and quite a few people I know have had issues.

Sapphire
Sapphire offers a range of 7970s, including several 6gb variants. They call their cooling solution the Dual-X. The top version is the Sapphire TOXIC, which retails at nearly double the price of some of the normal 7970s. They also have lesser versions known as the Vapor-X. The cooler does cool very well, although the fan profile is a bit on the aggressive side, so it's noisy. Not a big problem IMO, you can always create a custom fan profile you want to trade decibels for degrees.

This version comes with a backplate and a custom PCB.

However, a far bigger concern is that the PCB is warping due to the weight of the cooler. Several Newegg reviews have complained that the PCB has the tendency to warp due to the weight of the cooler.

See here for an example of a warped Sapphire 7970:
http://i.imgur.com/f15pg.jpg

Looking at the top though, there's no support for this PCB, so warping is definitely possible. Not all the models have a backplate, although the ones with a backplate will (hopefully) be less prone to warping.


Otherwise they seem to be good cards and overclock well, especially given the cooling.

HIS
I have very limited experience with HIS graphics cards of this generation, so I cannot comment on how good/bad they are. Someone told me that they are less stable though than the MSI cards? I have no objective evidence to back this up though.

HIS does have a reputation though for it's IceQ series of coolers, which in the past have been considered among the best coolers in the market.

The coolers, based on reviews seem to be cool, but they are a bit loud (no problem - could create a separate fan profile). I have not read about any complaints about warping on this model, and HIS does claim to have a special metal rib specifically to prevent that on it's website.

Review though say that these are good cards and overclocks well (past 1200 MHz).

If you have more info, please post below in this thread.


Club 3D
I have to admit, I know very little about this manufacturer as they do not sell in North America. They sell mainly in the EU and Africa. They seem to name their GPUs after playing cards though, like "7970 Royal Ace". They call these cards their "Poker Series" and their cooler the "Cool Stream". The 7970 version seems to be, based on reviews, comparable to some of the top 2 slot coolers.

Post below if you have any info on these cards.


Gigabyte
Gigabyte offers both the reference series along with their own custom coolers, the Windforce. There are 2 versions, a triple fan version dual slot version and a triple slot version which seems to use a series of smaller fans, the SOC series. These appear to be paired with a custom PCB.

Many of these cards however seem to be voltage locked and this will limit their overclocking potential. I've also been told that the Windforce cooling solution is not up to par with the solutions offered by competing manufacturers.

Power Color
Power Color currently offers what they call the PCS+ - Professional Cooling Solution. The top tier board is the Vortex II and it appears to be one of the faster boards out there.

These Vortex II boards appear to be custom PCBs with upgraded components and come with a backplate. The voltage regulator onboard is very good, with a IR3553M installed. The cooler trades blows with MSI's Twin Frozr IV, but is a few decibels louder at load. Power Color advertises it's PCB as the "Platinum Power Kit" due to the enhancements made.

On the downside, the PCS+ does not offer any VRM or VRAM cooling of any kind. This unit seems to have also suffered a bad batch with a lot of DOAs, hence the low Newegg reviews.
http://www.overclock.net/t/1350301/powercolor-ax7970-vortex-ii-1100-clock-speed-the-most-overlooked-cheap-7970/0_100

Otherwise, they seem like decent cards. Core is kept low, and assuming the VRM temps don't rise, you should get a decent OC from them. Memory OC - I'd be hesitant about doing too much as they do not have VRAM cooling.

Asus
Asus offers 2 custom versions, the Direct CU II and the Matrix. The Matrix unfortunately, is no longer in production. Note that these are triple slot coolers, so running multi-GPU setups could be tricky.

The cooling on the Matrix is especially impressive due to the power phases available. The cooling in particular is very good.


Once again, let's take the reference



Matrix Platinum



Very impressive performance - assuming that this is the real numbers; this is one of those "too good to be true" type situations where I am skeptical - either that or the fan profile on this card is very aggresive, which the noise indicators in the review indicate otherwise. The OC on these cards, when they work is said to be very good with most clearing 1200 MHz and quite a few crossing 1300 MHz stable. PCB parts onboard are considered top notch too.


Direct CU II



The VRMs seem to be running hotter than I'd like - it seems having more VRM phases does make a difference.


However, this series has a ton of issues. The Dual Link DVI on the Matrix Platinum is known to malfunction. More seriously, there is a very high defect rate on these cards. There have also been reports that the 7970 Direct CU II has been voltage locked and that the Asus GPU Tweak has been giving issues. The ROG forums on Asus have many issues (higher than normal) for the 7970 Matrix.

The cooler has been defective in many units:
http://www.xtremesystems.org/forums/showthread.php?284358-ASUS-Matrix-HD7970-Platinum-Ltd-Edition-%281100mhz%29-take-2
http://www.xtremesystems.org/forums/showthread.php?285479-Asus-HD-7970-Matrix-Platinum........Artifacting


Also see:
http://www.behardware.com/news/12153/asus-hd-7950-directcu-ii-fault-report.html

It would also appear prudent to avoid the Direct CU II 7950s assuming this issue has not be fixed.


If the Matrix Platinum was still in production, I'd consider getting it, although I'd be prepared for an RMA or two.


MSI
MSI is offering 2 versions, the Lightning version and the Boost Edition.


The MSI Lightning has perhaps the best 2 slot cooler around, the Twin Frozr IV.



There is a backplate and bracer to prevent warping, and the cooling is very well designed, although they tend to use more thermal paste than I would like. Of course, this being a Lightning, the parts onboard are outstanding. Unique to MSI, they have something called a GPU Reactor, which is advertised to clean up the power delivery to the GPU.

MSI advertises it's components as "Military Class III" and are considered among the best custom PCBs around. The only thing really missing from this gen compared to the last are NEC Proadlizer chips, which were present in the n580GTX Lightning, as they are no longer available.
Quote:
Of interest is the lack of the previously featured “Proadlizer” chips. These apparently were EOL’d and are no longer available



Issues are that the card does not have a Dual Link DVI (ugh for us that own Korean 2560x1440 monitors), that the OC is not much better on air/H2O (card was optimized for LN2 and dominates the HWBots IIRC), and biggest of all, the Lightning is no longer in production. Regarding the OC though, it seems very inconsistent - well, like all OCing. Some reviews and people claim to have gotten over 1300 MHz stable. Others have gotten pretty average overclocks. I want to emphasize though like all OCs, YMMV.




On an interesting note, testing here at OCN indicates that the MSI Twin Frozr IV may be superior to the Direct CU II when the fans are operated at the same noise level. See here:
http://www.overclock.net/t/1286218/twin-frozr-4-vs-directcu-ii



However, unlike it's Lightning counterpart, the Boost Edition, with a Twin Frozr III does not seem to be encouraging so far.
http://www.overclock.net/t/1384845/msi-r7970-tf-3gd5-oc-be-reviews/0_100

Does not seem to have a Dual Link DVI, runs a hot, and poor OC potential. The TF3 also runs over 10 degrees hotter than the TF4, assuming a similar OC.



Diamond and Visiontek
Diamond and Visiontek appear to make mainly reference boards. I don't know whether they have stealth downgraded them though.


VTX 3D
They sell reference boards, mainly to the European market, and parts of North Africa. I do not believe that they offer a non-reference PCB, but they have partnered up with Arctic Cooling to offer some of AC's custom cooling solutions on their cards.

I do not have any other information about this card maker, but I am reluctant to to recommend these guys. Arctic Cooling has good core performance, but I have known that some of their coolers do not have VRM cooling.


Discussion
If there's a manufacturer that I've omitted, let me know and I'll add it here. Please also indicate if you feel that I have made any factual errors.

Given that many of the custom PCB versions are EOL, which 7970 do you think is the best one?

I want to emphasize though to anybody reading this that overclocking is never assured no matter what brand you buy. You could buy a golden chip from any maker listed here or yours could be a lemon that needs a lot of voltage to get even a modest overclock.

There are several factors. Many manufacturers these days advertise that their PCBs are "superior" to reference PCBs, with better components, and in particular, improving power delivery. The question is, which ones really are that much better so to speak.

Also, note that this thread has been mainly discussing the technical differences between cards. It's also a good idea to consider whether or not you trust the manufacturer to honor their warranty and support obligations.


What to buy?
That's the real question here. If the MSI 7970 Lightning was still in production and had a dual link DVI, that's what I would buy. But there have been issues getting this card to work with a Display Port adapter apparently.

If the Asus 7970 Matrix Platinum were still around, I'd also consider that, although it could take a few RMAs to get a good unit.

But they are not, which makes this open to discussion. Right now I'm leaning towards HIS - good cooler, OC's reasonably well, and has a bracer to prevent warping, although no backplate.
Edited by CrazyElf - 5/12/13 at 3:13pm
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post #2 of 19
cool post bro. i just got the PCS card so i will report back on how it works when i break it in this weekend thumb.gif
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post #3 of 19
Interesting timing on the thread. I received my stock/reference Diamond 7970 ( 399$ on diamond mm.com in stock), my third MSI Lightning (2nd GHz edition unit I've recieved as a return/open box item, at least according to the box) and all arrived today. So far, they both are 1200 MHz, and I got them both for a paltry $400 ($399 as stated & $413) and they are joining my Lightning 7970 under water (1250/1800). I've been hard pressed to find a second lightning wb anywhere. For reference my powercolor 7990 is under RMA treatment.

I'll provide feedback on my card experiences as it is unearthed.

post #4 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by TripleTurbo View Post

Interesting timing on the thread. I received my stock/reference Diamond 7970 ( 399$ on diamond mm.com in stock), my third MSI Lightning (2nd GHz edition unit I've recieved as a return/open box item, at least according to the box) and all arrived today. So far, they both are 1200 MHz, and I got them both for a paltry $400 ($399 as stated & $413) and they are joining my Lightning 7970 under water (1250/1800). I've been hard pressed to find a second lightning wb anywhere. For reference my powercolor 7990 is under RMA treatment.

I'll provide feedback on my card experiences as it is unearthed.

how did you buy 2 7970s for $400? Also that's alot of GCN you have there man. 5 chips total?
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post #5 of 19
I thought he meant 400 ea. When buying direct from Diamond there are not any discounts afaik and I wonder if it had the NS bundle? But who cares, he got a reference card, uber rare.
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post #6 of 19
Yeah, $400 in effect.

Diamond 7970 399$

Reference boards in stock @ 399.

I own a print/screen print enterprise and use as much profit as reinvestment (tax write-offs) both to keep our graphic design machines well equipped, and to entertain my favorite hobby. Hence the multiple GCN chips thumb.gif
post #7 of 19
Diamond and Visiontek
Diamond and Visiontek appear to make mainly reference boards. I don't know whether they have stealth downgraded them though.


You need to make this section bigger. These are the superior cards lol.

Go check the HOF, the top 7970s are diamonds!

http://www.3dmark.com/hall-of-fame-2/fire+strike+3dmark+score+performance+preset/version+1.1/3+gpu
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post #8 of 19
If you are on europe you can buy only vtx3d if you want reference cards.
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post #9 of 19
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by tsm106 View Post

Diamond and Visiontek
Diamond and Visiontek appear to make mainly reference boards. I don't know whether they have stealth downgraded them though.


You need to make this section bigger. These are the superior cards lol.

Go check the HOF, the top 7970s are diamonds!

http://www.3dmark.com/hall-of-fame-2/fire+strike+3dmark+score+performance+preset/version+1.1/3+gpu

This thread is by no means complete. I have to admit, my experiences with Diamond and Visiontek are pretty limited. That said, not all reference cards seem to be equal.

I have to admit, I have so little experience with Diamond and Visiontek that I cannot testify to how good or bad they are.
Quote:
Originally Posted by sugarhell View Post

If you are on europe you can buy only vtx3d if you want reference cards.

Ok will add a section on VTX 3D.
Edited by CrazyElf - 5/11/13 at 7:38pm
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post #10 of 19
Direct CU 2 here. Got it in an RMA. VRMs are at 59-60C IDLE mad.gif
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