XFX R7870 & R7850 Black Edition DD Review

Author: Chris Ledenican
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, April 5th, 2012
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/XFX_R7870_BE/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

XFX introduced their Double Dissipation design back in 2011 with the launch of AMD's Southern Islands series of graphics cards, and since then they have integrated into the rest of their product lineup. Today we have two of their latest cards to get the custom treatment, the XFX HD R7870 and R7850 Black Edition Double Dissipation.

Both these graphics cards also sport overclocked frequencies out of the box, utilize high-quality components and support AMD’s rich feature set. All of these are going to help the XFX HD 7800 series graphics cards stand out, but one thing XFX offers that competitors don't is a lifetime warranty. So, not only do you get an amped up graphics card, but it comes backed with one of the best warranties in the industry.

Aftermarket graphics cards are often unique to a manufacturer thanks to custom designs and features but in today’s market, companies are all vying for the same consumers and often it takes more than just a tricked out design to get them to spend their cash. With that in mind, the XFX HD R7800 series of Black Edition cards have be more than just a step up the reference model, they also have to be two steps ahead of all the other aftermarket designs. Read on to find out if these cards can accomplish this.

If the XFX HD R7870 packaging gives you deja vu, there is a good reason for that. All the Southern Islands graphics cards from XFX utilize the same packaging style and visual theme, with the only difference being the details specific to the card in question. This being the case, the XFX HD R7870 and HD R7850 BE are both packaged in a predominantly black box that lists all the key features throughout all four of the surrounding panels. On the front panel, XFX has included a large Black Edition logo, the model number of the graphics card, as well as the exclusive technologies used to improve the thermal performance and efficiency. At the bottom right is a small box that lists the memory interface and PCIe bus type.

Much like the packaging of their high-end graphics cards, XFX has managed to utilize nearly all the available surface area on the panels to highlight the product information. Looking around the box, we can see there is a panel dedicated to the key features which are presented in the form of a list, while another panel includes images and descriptions of the included features such as multi-monitor support, GPU edging, and XFX's 5-star support. The back panel lists some of the same features, but is dedicated to the "X" factor technologies including XPertise, XFormance, XFactor and XPerience.

The bundle included with the HD 7870 and HD 7850 BE graphics cards consists of a drivers disc, manual, installation guide, CrossFireX bridge, Black Edition case badge and a Do Not Disturb door hanger that lists the products info on the reverse side. Noticeably missing from the bundle is any type of video adapter, but as both these cards have a second DVI port, something most manufactures have eliminated, there is no need for one in this case.

Physically both the XFX HD R7870 and HD R7850 BE graphics cards sport the same design. Both have a sleek brushed aluminum outer cover with a black stripe running down the middle, and dual 80mm intake fans. Aesthetically, graphics cards in the Black Edition are some of the best looking cards currently on the market, so it is nice to see XFX is utilizing the design on their full range from mainstream to high-end. Both cards also share the same physical dimensions.

The HD R7870 BE leverages the Pitcairn XT core built on a 28nm node, has a die size of  212mm² and internally has 2.8 billion transistors. The core also packs in 20 compute units, giving it 1280 streaming processors, 32 ROPS and 80 texture units. As a overclocked card, the XFX HD 7870 GPU clock speed is set at 1050MHz, making it 4.8% higher than the reference design. At this speed, the GPU has a pixel fillrate of 33.6Pixel/s, a texture fillrate of 84GTexel/s and compute performance over 2.65TFLOPs. Additionally, the XFX HD 7870 BE runs on a 256-bit memory interface and has a 2GB GDDR5 frame buffer set at 1250MHz (5Gbps effective). This equates to a total memory bandwidth rating of 160GB/s.

The XFX HD R7850 BE is the little brother of the two, but it still packs quite a punch. Like the HD 7870, the HD 7850 is based on the GCN design, but instead of having 20 compute units it features a grand total of 16. This gives the HD 7850 a total of1024, 32 ROPs and 64 texture units. Like its older sibling the XFX HD R7850 BE has overclocked frequencies out of the box. XFX decided to give this card a little more juice though, as the default GPU clock is set at 975MHz, which is an increase of nearly 12% over the reference speed. At 975MHz the XFX R7850 has a pixel fillrate of 31.2Pixel/s, a texture fillrate of 62.4GTexel/s and compute performance over 1.76TFLOPS. Both cards also share the same memory subsystem, as the HD 7850 has a 2GB frame buffer with clocks speeds of 1250MHz (5Gbps effective), giving it a total memory bandwidth rating of 160GB/s.

Breaking the power level down by board, the HD 7870 has a typical board power rating of 175W, while the HD 7850 has a rating of only 130W. However, since both these models are overclocked editions we can assume the power rating is going to be slightly higher than the reference clocks. Still, the power rating for the HD R7870 should remain under 200W at full load while R7850 will still be under 250W. This makes both cards efficient for their performance, at least on paper. One interesting thing to note is the HD R7850 has dual 6-pin power connectors instead of just one. This is due to the 12% overclock is pushing up the power consumption; if XFX stuck with the reference power configuration, the board would only have 150W of power. The additional power connector adds another 75W of power, which gives the power a more comfortable power buffer.

Both the HD R7870 and HD R7850 support "Zero Core Power". What this feature does is drop the board’s power rate down to below 3W during long load times. This helps improves the power efficiency of the cards individually, and also improves the efficiency of a system using dual graphics cards. Traditionally, anyone using multiple GPUs in a single system had to deal with a high power idle state, simply because each card was still actively drawing system power; each graphics card could produce 30+ watts of power even when the system wasn't under load. With "Zero Core Power", the extra graphics cards in a CrossFireX system are disabled, shutting down the fans and capping any voltage from going to the core. Since PowerTune works on a microsecond level, "Zero Core Power" will not interfere with gaming as all the GPUs can become active again in just microseconds.

For Southern Islands graphics cards, the XFX R7850 and R7870 have a unique output configuration. Most cards in the Southern Islands series have eliminated the dual DVI design in favor of just a single DVI link. To prevent this from affecting the ease of setting up Eyefinty, all Southern Islands graphics cards have to come with a HDMI to DVI adapter, thus allowing a single card to still support 3 monitors. However, since XFX has kept the stacked DVI design, their cards have no need for an adapter. Other than the two DVI connectors, the XFX R7870 and HD 7850 also come equipped with a HDMI 1.4a connector and a DisplayPort 1.2 connector.

The two on-board Mini-DP ports use the 1.2 standard, enabling support for up to three monitors per port (via MST Hub) as well as AMD HD3D technology. The middle HDMI 1.4a connector also supports 3GHz speeds with frame packing. Essentially this allows the connection to run the frames faster, thus creating a smoother gaming experience. The HDMI and DP ports can also be teamed together to support HD3D Surround which, which is a feature new to Eyefinity 2.0.

The heatsink featured on the XFX R7870 and R7850 BE are part of the "XFX XPERTISE 1.0" design used in conjunction with the Black Edition series. It's basically a three-part solution that consists of a heatpipe thermal technology, Double Dissipation fans, and an aluminum fin stack To better understand the technologies in use, we are going to breakdown the heatsink so we can get a closer look at it part by part. It should be noted that XFX has taken a strong stand against their heatsinks being disassembled, given how the warranty stickers cover the retention screws and the closed design of the heatsink itself. So, if you plan to disassemble the heatsink, know that it will void your warranty.

Unlike the Black Edition graphics cards based on the high-end Tahiti design which utilize a large vapor chamber design, the cards in this series instead use a thermal solution with multiple heatpipes. In total the thermal solution sports four 6mm copper heatpipes that extend from the base in a U shape. This shape allows them to be routed into the fin stack, and as each pipe has its own unique shape and size, all the pipes enter the stack at different positions. The point of this is to spread the heat evenly throughout the stack, and not allow too much heat to build up in one area.

Additionally, the heatsink design features dual 80m intake fans. By utilizing a dual fan design, both the graphics cards deliver more airflow through the stack than a single fan solution. The dual fans also reduce the lower the board’s acoustics by supplying more air at lower CFM. This allows the fans to spin at lower speeds, thus improving the noise output. Near the base of the heatsink is the 4-pin PWM fan connector which is the sole power source for the fans. Since the connector uses a 4-pin design, it can dynamically switch the RPM level in real-time.

The entire thermal solution falls under the "XFactor" part of the XPertise design, and the Duratec components leverage most of its technologies. The Duratec technology consists of professional grade components including all-solid capacitors, ferrite core chokes, a 2oz copper layout throughout the PCB and dust-free IP-5X fans. These features improve the thermal efficiency of the graphics card, but perhaps more importantly also increase the durability of the graphics card and ensure both the fans and components will last for years.

The rear bracket of the PCB is also part of the XFactor design. The R7970 has a large XFX logo in place of the small vertical vents throughout the bracket. This opens up the bracket and improves the overall ventilation. According to XFX, this simple alteration for the rear bracket can reduce the temperatures by up to 20% by increasing the rate at which the airflow can be exhausted.

 

 

Overclocking:

When it came to overclocking we had a general idea of where these cards should end up, because we have already tested multiple cards in the series. For the most part we were expecting the HD R7870 to scale beyond 1200MHz with some additional voltage and the HD R7850 to max out at 1050MHz, since it doesn't support voltage adjustments. It turns out our predictions were pretty much dead on for both boards.

Taking a look at the HD R7870 first, we were able to increase the GPU clock speeds to 1235MHz with the voltage at 1.3V. The final speed we reached is an increase of 185MHz., or 15% higher than the reference clock. The memory on the other hand was a bit tricky, as it just wasn't stable when we inched it up to 1400MHz. This forced us to scale it down to 1358MHz (5.5MHz effective) before we could run all of our benchmarks. Though we would like the memory go higher, this is still an 8% overclock.

As stated before, the HD R7850 didn't have voltage control options available, but we were still able to hit the maximum allotted frequencies. This card was able to overclock to 1050MHz with no additional voltage, which is an increase of 18.1%. Additionally, XFX's HD 7850 didn't have the same memory issues as the reference HD 7850, so we easily scaled the memory frequency up to 1450MHz (5800MHz effective)

Hardware Configuration:

Drivers:

Benchmarks DX11:

Test Settings:

Usage:

Specifications:

(Note: All models might not be included in this review. The table below is to be used for comparison purposes)
AMD Specifications
Model
XFX R7870 Black Edition OC
AMD Radeon HD 7950 AMD Radeon HD 5870 AMD Radeon HD 6950 AMD Radeon HD 6970
Processing Cores
1280 1792 1600 1408 1536
Core Clock
1050MHz 800MHz 850MHz 800MHz 880MHz
Memory Clock
1250MHz 1250MHz 1200MHz 1250MHz 1375MHz
Memory Interface
256-bit 384-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Memory Type
2GB GDDR5 3GB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5 2GB GDDR5 2GB GDDR5
Fabrication Process
28nm 28nm 40nm 40nm 40nm
NVIDIA Specifications
Model
Nvidia GTX 460 Nvidia GTX 470 Nvidia GTX 480 Nvidia GTX 570 Nvidia GTX 580
Processing Cores
336 448 480 480 512
Core Clock
675MHz 607MHz 700MHz 742MHz 782MHz
Memory Clock
1100MHz 837MHz 924MHz 1250MHz 1002MHz
Memory Interface
256-bit 128-bit 320-bit 320-bit 384-bit
Memory Type
1GB GDDR5 1.25GB GDDR5 1.5GB GDDR5 1.25GB GDDR5 1.5GB GDDR5
Fabrication Process
40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm 40nm

Futuremark's latest 3DMark 2011 is designed for testing DirectX 11 hardware running on Windows 7 and Windows Vista. The benchmark includes six all new benchmark tests that make extensive use of all the new DirectX 11 features including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.

Both the cards performed as expected compared to their reference counterparts. The HD R7850 got the largest boost due to XFX giving that particular core a higher percentage overclock compared to the HD R7870.

Unigine Heaven became very popular very fast, because it was one of the first major DirectX 11 benchmarks. It makes great use of tessellation to create a visually stunning heaven.

Again, both cards were able to outperformed the reference models. In this benchmark the HD R7870 was just under 2% faster than the stock model, while the HD R7850 was 8.5% faster.

Batman: Arkham City is the sequel to the smash hit, Batman: Arkham Asylum. The game was created with the Unreal 3 Engine, and includes areas with extreme tessellation, high res textures and dynamic lighting. Batman, also includes native support for PhysX and is also optimized for Nvidia 3DVision technology.

The Top graph reflects our results at 1920x1080, while the lower graph reflects our results Eyefinity and Surround results at 5760x1080.

At 1080p both of the graphics cards maintained a smooth frame rate above 60FPS. Looking at the results in comparison to the reference cards, the HD R7870 and HD R7850 were 3% and 6% faster.

Both the HD R7850 and HD R7870 struggled to maintain a smooth frame rate at 5760x1080. However, they almost reached 30FPS, so if the settings were set to medium, both cards should be able to run Batman across three displays with ease.

Battlefield 3 is designed to deliver unmatched visual quality by including large scale environments, massive destruction and dynamic shadows. Additionally, BF 3 also includes character animation via ANT technology, which is also being utilized in the EA Sports franchise. All of this is definitely going to push any system its threshold, and is the reason so many gamers around the world are currently asking if their current system is up to the task.

The Top graph reflects our results at 1920x1080, while the lower graph reflects our results Eyefinity and Surround results at 5760x1080.

Battlefield 3 performed significantly better on the HD R7870, but the HD R7850 did manage to run the game smooth enough most of the time. Once again, we are going to be examining just how much of a performance increase the user will get from buying these overclocked SKUs instead of the one with the reference clocks. Starting with the HD R7870, we can see the additional clocks increases the performance by 4%, while the HD R7850 was 7% faster.

At high settings, neither the HD R7870 nor HD R7850 were able to run Battlefield at anything near a smooth frame rate. This shouldn't come as a surprise though, as this game is hard on any graphics card regardless of the resolution with such settings. Even the GTX 680 couldn't achieve a consistent frame rate over 30FPS.

Crysis 2 is a first-person shooter developed by Crytek and is built on the CryEngine 3 engine. While the game was lacking in graphical fidelity upon its release, Crytek has since added feature such as D11 and high quality textures. This improved the in-game visuals substantially, which in turn pushes even high-end hardware to the max.

The Top graph reflects our results at 1920x1080, while the lower graph reflects our results Eyefinity and Surround results at 5760x1080.

The HD 7800 series both offer exceptional gaming power for their respective price ranges and the results in Crysis 3 reflect this perfectly. In this benchmark, the HD 7850 was able to reach the same average frame rate as the GTX 570 while the HD R7870 was neck and neck with the GTX 580. Impressive, considering both the XFX cards have a lower MSRP than the GTX cards they are competing against.

In this benchmark the increased frequencies netted the HD R7870 and HD R7850 a performance increase of 5.4% and 6.25% respectively.

Both the XFX cards continue to struggle at 5760x1080. However, if the settings were reduced to medium we are confident both cards will achieve a frame rate around 30FPS, which would make for a mostly smooth gaming experience.

DiRT 3 is the third installment in the DiRT series and like it's predecessor incorporates DX11 features such as tessellation, accelerated high definition ambient occlusion and Full Floating point high dynamic range lighting. This makes it a perfect game to test the latest DX11 hardware.

The Top graph reflects our results at 1920x1080, while the lower graph reflects our results Eyefinity and Surround results at 5760x1080.

Mid-range really is the new high-end when it comes to gaming at 1080p. At this resolution both the graphics cards were able to achieve a smooth frame rate, even though this is one of the tests that we run on ultra with the anti-aliasing at 8x. Once again, the overclocked frequencies of these models gave them an edge over the reference cards, with the HD R7870 being 4% faster and the HD R7850 clocking in at 12% faster.

At 5760x1080 the HD R7870 nearly reached 30FPS which is barely playable, while the HD R7850 was closer to 20FPS. Both cards are being held back by their memory bandwidth, which is why the increase between the HD 7800 and 7900 series is so dramatic at this resolution.

Metro 2033 puts you right in the middle of post apocalyptic Moscow, battling Mutants, rivals and ratio-active fallout. The game is very graphics intensive and utilizes DX11 technology, making it a good measure of how the latest generation of graphics cards perform under the latest standard.

The Top graph reflects our results at 1920x1080, while the lower graph reflects our results Eyefinity and Surround results at 5760x1080.

Even though Metro 2033 has been on the market for some time, it is still one of the toughest games on hardware in terms of graphics. So, the fact that the HD R7870 and HD R7850 were both able to run the game over 50FPS is impressive. If we look at the stock versions in comparison to XFX's cards, the HD R7870 is 2% faster, while the HD R7870 is 9% faster.

Both cards actually did an impressive job in this benchmark at 5760x1080. There aren't many cards on the market that can run Metro 2033 at nearly 30FPS when playing the game at such a high resolution with all the in-game settings at high as well.

Total War: Shogun 2 is a game that creates a unique gameplay experience by combining both real-time and turn-based strategy. The game is set in 16th-century feudal Japan and gives the player control of a warlord battling various rival factions. Total War: Shogun 2 is the first in the series to feature DX11 technologies to enhance the look of the game, but with massive on-screen battles it can stress even the highest-end graphics cards.

Both cards easily handled this DX11 game at 1080p. The HD R7870 had the higher overall frame rate, but since the HD R7850 averaged over 60FPS both cards showed no signs of slow down during game-play.

The performance during our Eyefinty and Surround testing was a little different than what we experienced during our 1080p testing. As you can see from the graph, neither card could get up to 30FPS so even while both the HD R7870 and HD R7850 showed phenomenal performance at 1080p, they are going to require lower settings to comfortably push pixels up to 5760x1080.

Temperature:

To measure core GPU temperatures, we run three in-game benchmarks and record the idle and load temperature according to the min and max temperature readings recorded by MSI Afterburner. The games we test are Crysis 2, Lost Planet 2 and Metro 2033. We run these benchmarks for 15 minutes each. This way we can give the included thermal solution and GPU time to reach equilibrium.

The only issue we had with the XFX R7870 and R7850 was the overall thermal performance. Let me start by saying the acoustic levels of these card are excellent, but conversely this leads to an issue where the fans are not pushing enough air through the heatsink to optimally cool the core. In the case of these cards, the tradeoff for near silent gaming is having an custom offering that actually runs hotter than the reference models.

Power Consumption:

To measure power usage, a Kill A Watt P4400 power meter was used. Note that the numbers represent the power drain for the entire benchmarking system, not just the video cards themselves. For the 'idle' readings we measured the power drain from the desktop, with no applications running; for the 'load' situation, we took the sustained peak power drain readings after running the system through the same in-game benchmarks we used for the temperature testing. This way we are recording real-world power usage, as opposed to pushing a product to it's thermal threshold.

While the core might not have been cooled as well as it could have been, the performance-per-watt of these two cards is simply exceptional. As you can see from the graph above, both cards are far more efficient than the cards from the previous generation, so you definitetly get a lot of performance for the low power consumption.

When AMD dropped the HD 7800 series on us we were more than impressed with the performance, features and power consumption levels. Both the cards in the series rivalled the previous generation's high-end models, all while having better performance-per-watt and a lower pricing structure (though not by much). Our opinion hasn't changed since the Pitcairn graphics cards were launched, but since then our labs have been filled with HD 7800 series graphics cards and each new model offers new features that push the Pitcairn core to its threshold.

The XFX HD 7870 and HD 7850 are the latest Southern Islands graphics cards we have had the privilege to test and in nearly all respects, they demolished the reference models.

Let’s start with the good aspects of the cards. First off both come with a factory overclock, as the HD XFX HD 7850 and HD 7870 have frequencies that are 11.8% and 4.7% faster than their reference counterparts. From these numbers it is obvious the HD 7850 was pushed well beyond the conservative overclock of the HD 7870, but both yielded a net positive in the overall frame rate. This increases the out-of-the-box performance of both cards for anyone looking to play games at resolutions of up to 1080p. Beyond this level the additional overclocks won’t add too much in the way of performance, but at 1080p we observed an 8% FPS increase for the HD 7850 and a 3 to 4% increase for the HD 7870.

Both cards also offer dramatically better acoustic levels compared to the reference models. With the Double Dissipation design, the HD 7870 and HD 7850 were both nearly inaudible during use, even during out most demanding testing. However, this did bring to the fore an issue with the overall cooling performance. During our testing we never saw the fans speed increase beyond 50%, even under the most demanding load. While this allowed the cards to run extremely quiet, we did have issues with heat; both the cards in our labs ran hotter than the reference design.

We could look at the heatsink as the culprit for the higher core temperatures, but since it has four heatpipes and a massive fin stack then the more logical culprit must be the fans. If the fans reached a higher RPM, or had a higher CFM rating they would have been able to exhaust the heat faster and that would have improved the thermal efficiency enough to drop the temps lower than what we observed in our labs. Don't let this throw you off though, the XFX Black Edition graphics cards are exceptional in every other aspect, we just would have liked them to be slightly more thermally efficient.

Both the HD 7870 and HD 7850 Black Edition graphics cards are exceptional. They offer better performance over the reference models and are extremely quiet to boot. Again, the only issue we had was the thermal efficiency which could have been better, but since neither came close to their thermal threshold we wouldn't treat this as pressing issue.

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