Good card at the right price
Aug 17, 2012 (Updated Aug 17, 2012)
Review by aloofyouth
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Fast, not too hot, acceptable noise level
Cons:May not fit into budget cases
The Bottom Line: Good, solid card, and cheaper than non-reference designs
AMD releases reference cards with most new GPU (graphics processor unit) launches, and the 7970 has a ton of them ranging from the ASUS to Visiontek to Sapphire. They are all the same, except with different warranties and stickers and accessories, so this review is for reference cards in general though I'll comment about ASUS accessories.
Recommend this product?
I have had no problems with driver incompatibilities and such in the 2+ months in which I've owned this card, during which time I've played various games like Deus Ex HR, Fallout New Vegas, Dragon Age: Origins, Team Fortress 2, etc. at 5760x1080 which definitely puts this card through a workout.
As a general note about drivers: I've owned both Nvidia and AMD cards for years, and while AMD drivers used to be dodgy, imho there is no longer any truth to the claim that AMD has worse drivers, with the exception of multi-GPU support, and even that has changed such that AMD multi-GPU scaling is MUCH better now (on par or better than Nvidia's) and doesn't have as many incompatibilities. Nvidia has had its own incompatibility problems with multi-GPUs, like a broken Civ V profile and such, so I don't recommend that anybody go multi-GPU unless they really need to (e.g., they are running triple 30" monitors).
Speed for Non-Gaming
Very few programs will stress a video card in non-gaming. Flash videos, blu-ray, etc. are all easily dealt with with this card. I don't have any programs other than Flash and VLC that use the graphics card but I have not had hitches with either of them. I also use Adobe Lightroom and have felt that performance was snappy, but frankly the real load is on my CPU, SSD, and RAM, not the video card. I wish I had Photoshop and could comment on how good this card is for that, but I don't have that program. Perhaps someone can chime in on the Comments section to this review if they do have this card and Photoshop.
Speed for Gaming
Wow. Even at stock clock of 925MHz on core, this card is screaming fast, faster than even the GTX 670 at higher resolutions.
To unlock all of the power, you will have to do two things: 1) use the latest drivers. The 12.7beta in particular has added a nice speed bonus as the software drivers are slightly more efficient. 2) Overclock.
I don't want to turn this into an overclocking "how to" review, but the basics are: this card has unlocked core and memory clocks, unlocked core and memory voltage, and TWO BIOSes which you can toggle back and forth in case you want to use a custom BIOS and it doesn't work out. Just switch to the good BIOS and copy it over the bad one, and try again.
It is almost physically impossible to destroy a card with only overclocking, so feel free to use ASUS's SmartDoctor software or even the slider bars on the AMD driver panel ("enable Overdrive"). As a rule of thumb, for speeds under 1.1 GHz, you can get almost a 1:1 correlation between voltage and core clock (e.g., a core voltage of 1.1 volt will give you almost 1.1GHz clockspeed; I run mine at 1.049v at 1 GHz just as a safety cushion), and you can let memory alone since this card has more than enough memory bandwidth even at stock. Above 1.1 GHz and you will need to feed more and more voltage and that's where you run into problems, as overvolting means more power draw, means more heat, means lower product lifetime and fan noise. So I would stay under 1.2 volts and just clock it to whatever you can get.
At 11 inches long this card may not fit into all cases; make sure you look up your case specs first before trying to install it. Or use a ruler. On the plus side, the power cables hook up to the side of the card, not to the end of the card, which is good because even my roomy case would have a problem if power cords added another 1.5-2 inches to the overall length.
This card is not TOO power hungry at stock clocks (180 watts peak), but be careful when overclocking/overvolting. Overclocking it by 10% will add 10% more wattage, but overvolting it by 10% will add 121% more wattage (power varies as the square of voltage).
If you have a bad power supply unit (PSU), upgrade it prior to using it with a high-end card like this one, and buy a reputable brand because bad brands will exaggerate their specs by using peak numbers rather than continuous (24/7) numbers. Aside from verifying that the PSU wattage is CONTINUOUS wattage and not PEAK, look closely at the PSU's 12-volt rail spec, which is what separates the mediocre from the good. Depending on how much power the rest of your system needs, you will need another 15 amps on top of that if you plan to run at stock (at 190 watts peak, that's 180/12 = 15 amps on the 12v rail). If you want to overclock or overvolt, budget accordingly. E.g., with a 20% overclock at stock voltage, you are looking at peak draws of 20% higher, so budget 1.2 * 15 = 18 amps on the 12v rail.
A typical Intel mid-range CPU may draw 95 watts at stock, which is another 95/12 = 8 amps. AMD CPUs may draw a few more amps because they are made on a slightly less efficient process.
The rest of the system usually doesn't draw that much more power, just a few more amps.
As an example, I use this card with a 450W Gold-rated PSU with 36 amps on the 12-volt rail. My CPU eats 77/12 = 6.4 amps, add in another 5 amps for all my drives, USB devices, case fans, RAM, etc. and I still have 36 - 6.4 - 5 = 24.6 amps on the 12v rail available, which is way more than enough for this card.
Heat and noise
The reference radial fan cooler is good at sucking air from your case and ejecting it out the back, but it's louder than axial fans that suck air from your case and... well... eject SOME of the hot air but also blow some back into the case.
People put up with axial fans anyway if they have cases with good cooling, as the case fans will do the dirty work of ejecting air out of the case. And axial fans typically do a somewhat better job of bring temperatures down quickly if you have a good case.
One area where reference coolers are much better, though, is with multi-card setups where axial fans interfere with each other by blowing hot air at each other. For such "Crossfire" combinations, it's usually better to have both cards sucking air and ejecting it out the back. And if you water-cool, you will want a reference design for max compatibility, too.
In any case, I do not think this card's cooler is that bad. I own multiple cards including the 7970 Sapphire Dual-X (dual axial fans) so I have some idea of what is loud and what's not. This card's fan can go up to about 45% before it sounds bad and will keep temperatures under 80C at stock speeds. The Dual-X can get up to about 60% fanspeed before it sounds bad, and will drop temperatures ~7C cooler. Now, different fans have different max speeds but the point is that at equal sound levels, the reference cooler is ~7C degrees behind the Dual-X which costs much more than this card (as of today, $450 vs. $370 using street prices for Sapphire Dual-X and 7970 reference cards). So unless you are planning to do major overclocking, this fan's fan is fine.
ASUS's bundle is bog standard (x-fire cable, adapters) but the free active mini-DP to DVI adapter is nice for those who want to hook up three monitors of 1920x1200 or lower, together, for triple-wide gaming. I used it to hook up three 1080p panels together with no hitches; the standard driver software has options for this and even allows presets so you can switch back and forth between pre-determined profiles. For instance, I have an extended desktop profile for productivity (e.g., watching Hulu on one screen, web browser in another, Excel spreadsheet in a third), an Eyefinity triplewide profile for gaming, and a single-monitor-centered setting when I want to save power and know I will be using just one screen (e.g., watching a movie).
ASUS's overclocking software is PC Smart Doctor and does fine. You can also use third-party oc software if you know what you're doing. This is a reference card so the guts of the card are all the same no matter whose sticker is on the outside.
Amount Paid (US$): 439
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