AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition Video Card Review
By Gabriel Torres on March 5, 2012


Introduction

Hardware Secrets Silver Award

The new Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition is targeted to users who want a high-end video card but don’t want to pay an arm and a leg to buy one. Let’s take a look at its performance.

This new video card is based on the latest GPU architecture from AMD, dubbed “Graphics Core Next” or simply “GCN,” and supports the new PCI Express 3.0 connection and the latest DirectX version (11.1). For a detailed explanation of the new features present on this new architecture, please read our Radeon HD 7970 review.

AMD is also releasing a cheaper version of this video card, the Radeon HD 7850, which we will cover in a separate review. The Radeon HD 7850 and Radeon HD 7870 use the codename “Pitcairn,” which is an island in the South Pacific, matching the codename used for this new GPU architecture from AMD, “Southern Islands.”

At USD 350, the Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition replaces the Radeon HD 6970, and competes with the GeForce GTX 570.

In the table below, we compare the main specifications of the video cards included in our review. The prices listed below do not include rebates and are for the models with the clock and memory configurations listed below. Prices were researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review, except for the Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition, which is the price advertised by AMD.

Video Card

Core Clock

Shader Clock

Memory Clock (Effective)

Memory Interface

Memory Transfer Rate

Memory

Shaders

DirectX

Price

Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition

1 GHz

1 GHz

4.8 GHz

256-bit

153.6 GB/s

2 GB GDDR5

1,280

11.1

USD 350

Radeon HD 6970

880 MHz

880 MHz

5.5 GHz

256-bit

176 GB/s

2 GB GDDR5

1,536

11

USD 350-370

GeForce GTX 570

732 MHz

1,464 MHz

3.8 GHz

320-bit

152 GB/s

1.28 GB GDDR5

480

11

USD 320-340

You can compare the specs of these video cards with other video cards by taking a look at our “AMD ATI Chips Comparison Table” and “NVIDIA Chips Comparison Table” tutorials. 

Today, only the LGA2011 Core i7 processors (“Sandy Bridge-E”) have a PCI Express 3.0 controller. Therefore, we tested the video cards using a Core i7-3960X processor on a motherboard based on the Intel X79 chipset. In our Radeon HD 7970 review, we discovered that, at this time, there is no difference between using a PCI Express 2.0 or a PCI Express 3.0 connection. We also discovered that if you are using a high-end video card, the CPU doesn’t affect gaming performance.

Now let’s take a complete look at the AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition reference model.

The AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition

Below we have an overall look at the AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition reference model. It requires two six-pin auxiliary power connectors.

AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition
click to enlarge
Figure 1: AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition

AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition
click to enlarge
Figure 2: AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition

AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition
click to enlarge
Figure 3: Auxiliary power connectors

One of the highlights of this video card is the possibility of connecting up to six video monitors at the same time, which is achieved by using a DisplayPort hub or a DisplayPort monitor that provides daisy-chaining capability. The card provides one DVI-D, one HDMI, and two mini DisplayPort connectors.

AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition
click to enlarge
Figure 4: Video connectors

The AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition (Contíd)

The Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition uses a heatsink with aluminum fins, copper base, two 5 mm heatpipes and one 7 mm heatpipe, cooled by a 74 mm radial fan.

AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition
click to enlarge
Figure 5: Heatsink

AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition
click to enlarge
Figure 6: Heatsink

In Figure 7, you can see the video card with its cooler removed. It uses a voltage regulator with five phases for the GPU. The voltage regulator circuit uses a digital design and is controlled by a CHiL CHL8225G chip, with each phase driven by a Renesas R2J20658BNP (“DrMOS”) chip, which incorporates the three required transistors (“high side,” “low side,” and “driver”) and can switch at higher frequencies and provide higher efficiency. All coils use ferrite cores and all capacitors are solid.

AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition
click to enlarge
Figure 7: AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition

AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition
click to enlarge
Figure 8: Main voltage regulator

The reviewed video card uses eight Hynix H5GQ2H24MFR-T2C GDDR5 chips, each one storing 2 Gbit of data, making the 2 GB of memory available on this video card. Each chip is connected to the GPU through a 32-bit lane, creating the 256-bit datapath that is available. These chips can run up to 5 GHz. On this video card, they are accessed at 4.8 GHz, leaving a small 4% margin for you to increase the memory clock still within specifications. Of course, you can always try to push the memory clock above its specs.

AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition
click to enlarge
Figure 9: Memory chips

Before seeing the performance results, let’s recap the main features of this video card.

Main Specifications

The main specifications for the AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition reference model include:

How We Tested

During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions, the only variable was the video card being tested.

Hardware Configuration

Software Configuration

Driver Versions

Software Used

Error Margin

We adopted a 3% error margin. Thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is a very popular DirectX 9 game that was released in 2010. Though this game uses an old version of DirectX, the number of textures that can be represented on one screen can push most of the top-end graphics cards to their limits. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty uses its own physics engine that is bound to the CPU and thus does not benefit from PhysX.

We tested this game at 1920x1200 and 2560x1600. The quality of the game was set to the “extreme” preset. We then used FRAPS to collect the frame rate of a replay on the “Unit Testing” custom map. We used a battle between very large armies to stress the video cards.

Radeon HD 7870

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty

1920x1200

Difference

Radeon HD 7870

216.4

 

GeForce GTX 570

208.6

4%

Radeon HD 6970

200.8

8%

Radeon HD 7870

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty

2560x1600

Difference

Radeon HD 7870

179.6

 

GeForce GTX 570

174.5

3%

Radeon HD 6970

168.7

6%

Far Cry 2

Released in 2008, Far Cry 2 is based on a game engine called Dunia, which is DirectX 10. We used the benchmarking utility that comes with this game at 1920x1200 and 2560x1600, setting overall quality to “ultra high,” maximizing all image quality settings, adjusting anti-aliasing to “8x,” and running the “Ranch Long” demo three times. The results below are expressed in frames per second and are an arithmetic average of the three results collected.

Radeon HD 7870

FarCry 2

1920x1200

Difference

GeForce GTX 570

94.9

17%

Radeon HD 6970

85.5

5%

Radeon HD 7870

81.3

 

Radeon HD 7870

FarCry 2

2560x1600

Difference

GeForce GTX 570

63.3

10%

Radeon HD 6970

60.0

5%

Radeon HD 7870

57.3

 

Aliens vs. Predator

Aliens vs. Predator is a DirectX 11 game that makes full use of tessellation and advanced shadow rendering. We used the Aliens vs. Predator Benchmark Tool developed by Rebellion. This program reads its configuration from a text file. (Our configuration files can be found here.) We ran this program at 1920x1200 and 2560x1600, with texture set at “very high,” shadows set at “medium,” anisotropic filtering set at “8x,” and anti-aliasing set at “2x.”

Radeon HD 7870

Aliens vs. Predator

1920x1200

Difference

Radeon HD 6970

51.6

5%

Radeon HD 7870

49.2

 

GeForce GTX 570

47.8

3%

Radeon HD 7870

Aliens vs. Predator

2560x1600

Difference

Radeon HD 7870

34.6

 

Radeon HD 6970

31.2

11%

GeForce GTX 570

29.3

18%

DiRT3

DiRT3 is a DirectX 11 game. We measured performance using this game by running a race and then playing it back using FRAPS. We ran this game at 1920x1200 and 2560x1600 with image quality set to “ultra,” with anti-aliasing set at “8xMSAA.”

Radeon HD 7870

DiRT3

1920x1200

Difference

GeForce GTX 570

78.2

1%

Radeon HD 7870

77.7

 

Radeon HD 6970

72.4

7%

Radeon HD 7870

DiRT3

2560x1600

Difference

Radeon HD 7870

56.4

 

GeForce GTX 570

56.3

0%

Radeon HD 6970

51.2

10%

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is another DirectX 11 game. We used the in-game introduction to measure the number of frames per second, using FRAPS. We ran the introduction in two resolutions, 1920x1200 and 2560x1600, maximizing all image quality settings, configuring anti-aliasing as “MLAA Mode” and anisotropic filtering at “16x.”

Radeon HD 7870

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

1920x1200

Difference

Radeon HD 7870

198.7

 

GeForce GTX 570

189.7

5%

Radeon HD 6970

184.6

8%

Radeon HD 7870

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

2560x1600

Difference

Radeon HD 7870

138.6

 

GeForce GTX 570

134.9

3%

Radeon HD 6970

123.8

12%

 

Battlefield 3

Battlefield 3 is the latest installment in the Battlefield franchise released in 2011. It is based on the Frostbite 2 engine, which is DirectX 11. In order to measure performance using this game, we walked our way through the first half of the “Operation Swordbreaker” mission, measuring the number of frames per second using FRAPS. We ran this game at 1920x1200 and 2560x1600, maximizing all image quality settings, configuring anti-aliasing as “4xMSAA” and anisotropic filtering at “16x.”

 Radeon HD 7870

Battlefield 3

1920x1200

Difference

Radeon HD 7870

55.6

 

GeForce GTX 570

54.4

2%

Radeon HD 6970

50.8

9%

Radeon HD 7870

Battlefield 3

2560x1600

Difference

Radeon HD 7870

38.2

 

Radeon HD 6970

37.8

1%

GeForce GTX 570

37.8

1%

3DMark 11 Professional

3DMark 11 Professional measures Shader 5.0 (i.e., DirectX 11) performance. We ran this program at 1920x1200 and 2560x1600, selecting the four graphics tests available and deselecting the other tests available. We used two image quality settings, “performance” and “extreme,” both at their default settings. The results being compared are the “GPU Score” achieved by each video card.

Radeon HD 7870

3DMark 11 - Performance

1920x1200

Difference

Radeon HD 7870

3152

 

GeForce GTX 570

3025

4%

Radeon HD 6970

2865

10%

Radeon HD 7870

3DMark 11 - Performance

2560x1600

Difference

Radeon HD 7870

1851

 

GeForce GTX 570

1803

3%

Radeon HD 6970

1692

9%

Radeon HD 7870

3DMark 11 - Extreme

1920x1200

Difference

Radeon HD 7870

1817

 

GeForce GTX 570

1798

1%

Radeon HD 6970

1697

7%

Radeon HD 7870

3DMark 11 - Extreme

2560x1600

Difference

Radeon HD 7870

1153

 

GeForce GTX 570

1089

6%

Radeon HD 6970

1050

10%

Media Espresso 6.5

Media Espresso is a video conversion program that uses the graphics processing unit of the video card to speed up the conversion process. We converted a 449 MB, 1920x1080i, 18,884 kbps, MPEG2 video file to a smaller 640x360, H.264, .MPG4 file for viewing on a portable device such as an iPhone or iPod Touch. We also ran this test on our two CPUs (Core i7-980X and Core i7-3960X) in order to compare the difference in performance of using a high-end CPU and a high-end GPU to transcode video.

Radeon HD 7870

Media Espresso 6.5

Seconds

Difference

Radeon HD 7870

34

 

GeForce GTX 570

42

19%

Core i7-3960X

46

26%

Radeon HD 6970

48

29%

Conclusions

The Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition has performance comparable to the GeForce GTX 570. In our tests, both video cards achieved the same performance level on all the games we ran, except on FarCry 2, where the GeForce GTX 570 beat the Radeon HD 7870 by between 10% and 17 percent. The only other significant performance difference between the two cards on games was on Aliens vs. Predator at 2560x1600, with the Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition being 18% faster than the GeForce GTX 570. At 1920x1200, however, both video cards achieved the same performance level.

The Radeon HD 7870 is up to 12% faster than its predecessor, the Radeon HD 6970, except for FarCry 2 and on Aliens vs. Predator at 1920x1200, where the older video card was 5% faster. This is good news. If you were thinking about buying a Radeon HD 6970, you can now buy the Radeon HD 7870 for the same price and get extra performance.

When using the video card to run regular programs (in our case, Media Espresso), however, the Radeon HD 7870 was 24% faster than the GeForce GTX 570 and 41% faster than the Radeon HD 6970, proving that the new GCN architecture is really optimized for programs that can use the graphics processor to speed up processing.

Both the Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition and the GeForce GTX 570 are good options on the USD 350 range, but since the GeForce GTX 570 was released a while ago, its price has already dropped below USD 350. It will take a while for the Radeon 7870 to follow.

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/AMD-Radeon-HD-7870-GHz-Edition-Video-Card-Review/1501


© 2004-13, Hardware Secrets, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Total or partial reproduction of the contents of this site, as well as that of the texts available for downloading, be this in the electronic media, in print, or any other form of distribution, is expressly forbidden. Those who do not comply with these copyright laws will be indicted and punished according to the International Copyrights Law.

We do not take responsibility for material damage of any kind caused by the use of information contained in Hardware Secrets.