Editor rating : 8
Editor rating : 8
Editor rating : 8
Editor rating : 8
Editor rating : 7.5
While we still await the arrival of Nvidia’s Kepler GPU, we can occupy ourselves with AMD’s newly launched “Tahiti” chipset, in the form of the HD 7970 and the HD 7950 graphics cards. These are built on the new Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture using the 28nm fabrication process. Due to this, Tahiti-based graphics cards have almost twice the transistor count, as compared to AMD’s previous flagship Cayman graphics cards (HD 6970). They’ve also managed to squeeze in more shader units, though the ROPs remain the same. The memory bandwidth has also been bumped up, thanks to a 384-bit memory bus, same as the GTX 580. Overall, the new chip looks like a worthy upgrade, on paper at least, but how this power translates into the real world is what we’ll find out today.
This brings us to the Asus HD 7950 we’ll be reviewing, which is their flagship HD 7950, based on the DirectCU II custom cooler and is also their TOP edition, which means it’s factory overclocked. The HD7950-DC2T-3GD5 (we’ll just call it the Asus HD 7950, for simplicity sake) is priced similarly to last year's Nvidia GTX 580, so it’s not cheap by any means. Let’s see what Asus has done to sweeten the deal.
Design and Build
Asus bundles the card in their usual packaging with the model name and other features clearly highlighted on the outside. The card is packaged extremely well, with the card cocooned in a strong Styrofoam mould. As part of the bundle, we get a CrossFire cable, two power cables, one miniDP to DVI converter, driver and utility disk and a manual. A word of warning, this card is not for meant for the average joe and by that I mean someone who has any run of the mill chassis, since this is a big card and I’m not exaggerating. Due to the DirectCU II cooler, it takes up expansion slots, so be prepared to move some things around before you install it. Also, if you happen to have a motherboard, where the SATA ports don’t face outwards, then this thing is going to block most of them. Despite being so monstrously big, it’s not very heavy, since it uses as aluminium heatsink.
A striking looking card
The rear ports include two miniDP ports, HDMI 1.4a and a DVI-I port. The card also supports Eyefinity up to 6 displays with the correct cables. The main USP of this card, however is the superior cooling ensemble fitted onto the GPU. DirectCU II uses copper heatpipes that come in contact directly with the GPU core, rather than having an extra piece of metal in between, which slows down the heat transfer. We’ve seen this type of technology being used in CPU heatsinks very often.
Good set of connectors
The heat is then spread across the two blocks of aluminium fins, which is eventually cooled by the two fans. This is a much simpler and cheaper solution, than using a vapor chamber. The metal shell covering the heatsink doesn’t cover the card entirely, so even though there are exhaust vents in the back, little hot air will escape into the cabinet. Asus have done a good job with the design and build of the card; we don’t have any complaints here.
Asus hasn’t messed around with the specifications too much and other than the bump in the core frequency by 100MHz, the rest of it remains the same as AMD’s reference card. The core clock is now 900MHz, while the 3GB DDR5 memory runs at 5000MHz (effective speed). The new series also supports PCIE 3.0 interface and is backwards compatible with PCIE 2.0 as well. Other features include full DX11 support, 4K resolution support via HDMI and DisplayPort 1.2, AMD HD3D ready, etc. The card also supports quad CrossFireX , 7.1 channel audio over HDMI, along with Dolby TrueHD and DTS enhancements. The card also requires just two 6-pin power connectors to run, so it’s a bit more power efficient, compared to their previous generation of cards.
One of the best utilities out there
Asus bundles the GPU Tweak utility, which is by far one of the best in the market. Replacing the Smart Doctor utility, the functions remain pretty much the same, along with some new ones, all packaged in a slick little interface. The program lets you adjust the core and memory speeds for both 2D and 3D modes as well as the voltages. The fan speed can be manually set or you can leave it at auto. Each setting can be saved as a profile, so you can easily switch to it before firing up a game. Along with this, you also get a monitoring window on the side, which lets you track the temperature, voltages, clock speeds and even log this data, which helps you to figure out the limit when overclocking.
We couldn’t compare the scores of the card with the GTX 580 in this review, since we’ve changed a couple of components in the testbench, so it wouldn’t be fair to use the old scores. We’ll be adding more cards to the comparison in future tests as and when we get a hold of them. Also, we couldn’t add Crysis 2 and Battlefield 3, too in this review, due to some last minute benchmark glitches, but don’t worry, those will be added as well as soon as we sort it out.
All the scores are in Frames Per Second (FPS)
We got a good score in our synthetic benchmark of 3D Mark 11 and the same goes for the real world games as well. The Asus card sailed through Dirt 3 posting a very healthy average FPS of 70 at Full HD with all the eye-candy maxed out. The same goes for Metro 2033 as well, which may be a little old, but is still very demanding, especially in DX11 mode. Even here, we saw a stead frame rate of 60+ with everything maxed out. Arkham City performs really well without AA, but as soon as you crank it up to 8x MSAA, the frame rate takes a severe hit. We also noticed a big improvement in scores when moving from 32-bit to 64-bit Windows, across all the games. If you’re going to be investing in a high-end card like this, make sure you have a 64-bit version of Windows and ample RAM, as it makes a big difference.
A good performer but not the most practical card in the market
Throughout the testing, the card ran absolutely silent with no more than a faint whirr of the fans. Even stressing it with FurMark didn’t seem to faze it at all, this time the temperatures remain in check. On idle, we recorded a temperature of just 35C and on load, it went up to 59C, which is really good. One thing to note is that even though we tested the card with the air-con off, it’s still an open testbench, so once you put this in your case, the temperatures would go slightly higher, but not by too much, as long as you have good ventilation. The DirectCU II cooler works really well then and the only time you can hear the fan is if you manually set the speed to above 60 percent.
The Asus HD7950-DC2T-3GD5 retails for about Rs.29,000, which makes it quite an expensive buy, even for enthusiasts. It is however, backed up by solid performance and a cooler that’s works brilliantly well. The latter is kind of a double edged sword, since many will find it very difficult to accommodate, such a large card into their chassis. It’s a different thing, if you own a full-tower case, but this could be a challenge for a mid-tower chassis as well. What’s worse, if you have additional cards, like USB 3.0 expansion card or a sound card, you’ll have a tough time fitting this, since it occupies three slots, not to mention blocks some of the SATA ports as well (depending on the layout). In the end, the Asus HD 7950’s greatest strength could also be its greatest weakness, so if you’re planning on buying this, then you may want to upgrade your chassis, as well, while you’re at it.
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