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ASUS HD 7970 3GB Matrix Platinum Edition Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Montreal
After months of waiting, ASUS has finally graced the market with the latest version of their Matrix series. Using the HD 7970 GHz Edition as a starting point, they have thoroughly upgraded everything from components to cooling in order to create the HD 7970 Matrix.

With NVIDIA’s launch of their Kepler architecture, many were convinced the focus would be taken off of AMD’s HD 7000-series graphics cards and for the most part, that’s exactly what happened….until late last month. Instead of sitting on their laurels while GeForce-branded products gobbled up the lion’s share of sales during this holiday season, AMD began a two-pronged attack. New drivers were introduced which significantly increased the performance of nearly all Radeon cards while a far-reaching game promotion also came to fruition. Not only did the 12.11 drivers allow the HD 7970 GHz to retake the “fastest graphics architecture in the world” title but the game promo ensured that buyers of high end Radeons would get access to the latest triple-A titles. Naturally, this situation has played into ASUS’ favor as they go about launching the new HD 7970 Matrix series.


Like many of ASUS’ previous generations, the HD 7970 Matrix will be offered in two flavors: the $480 “standard” version and a higher end Platinum Edition which incorporates every feature one could possibly expect from an enthusiast graphics card and goes for a hefty $499. For the purposes of this review, we will be looking at the more expensive Platinum Edition.

Before we dive into the specifications, there needs to be a reminder about the HD 7970 Matrix’s true market focus. While both versions incorporate sky high clock speeds, their real value lies in overclocking potential rather than straight-up out of box performance. ASUS wants you to take the Matrix to its limit and their warranty fully covers clock speed and voltage increases as long as they remain within the included GPU Tweak utility’s constraints.

Instead of shying away from higher clock speeds like some other board partners have, ASUS has gone all-out with the Matrix Platinum. They use a GHz Edition core which gets pushed to 1.1GHz with Boost enabled while the memory runs at a blistering 6.6Gbps which is the highest frequency we’ve seen from an HD 7970 to date. The non-Platinum Edition meanwhile (not shown above) runs its core at reference GHz Edition speeds while the memory has been overclocked to 6.6Gbps.

With AMD’s graphics cards back in the limelight, this may have been a perfect time for ASUS to launch their Matrix Edition. Its high clock speeds, upgraded cooling solution and (supposedly) willingness to overclock could be a killer combination for anyone looking to upgrade their systems’ capabilities.

 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,857
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A Closer Look at the ASUS HD 7970 Matrix Platinum

A Closer Look at the ASUS HD 7970 Matrix Platinum



As is the norm for Matrix-branded graphics cards, ASUS has loaded this one up with accessories. Topping the list is a Diablo III mousepad that’s been made by SteelSeries. We would have preferred to see a generic one since not everyone wants to use a peripheral with slightly outdated branding but we won’t look this gift horse in the mouth.

Alongside the mousepad is a secondary anodized aluminum VRM heatsink that is meant to be used when using LN2 to overclock the Matrix since the pre-installed one could interfere with most GPU pots. This will be a great addition for extreme overclockers since they won’t have to use off-branded and potentially low performing third party units. ASUS has also included a cable for their VGA Hotwire feature to link the graphics card and a supporting motherboard and an extended Crossfire cable to clear the Matrix’s ultra large heatsink.


The HD 7970 Matrix is a massive card which will never be mistaken for a reference design. At just over 11” long it won’t have an issue fitting into most cases but a triple slot (or as ASUS calls it, a “2.6 slot”) heatsink design could pose an issue for expansion capability in some situations.


ASUS typically installs upgraded heatsinks on their non-reference cards and the Matrix is no difference. It sports the unique DirectCu II cooler which is topped by two quiet-running 100mm fans and a full-length shroud which partially directs airflow away from critical components. These fans can actually be independently controlled with ASUS’ GPU Tweak software and come with the Dust Proof Fan feature which means they use a hub design that ensures dust does not enter the bearing area.


In order to give a visual indicate various stress levels, the Matrix’s shroud also incorporates a unique LED indicator which glows different color based upon GPU load. It ranges from green which indicates an idle state to red for extreme loading. We found that only a few programs like FurMark and 3DMark’s Batch State tests actually brought out the red LEDs while most games pushed it into the purple color. ASUS’ concept here is certainly interesting but this feature will have limited use for anyone that doesn’t have a window on their case.


At the PCB’s far edge, ASUS has installed buttons for Safe Mode, TweatIT and Turbo Fan. Safe mode is an interesting feature since it allows the card to be reset to its original state in case something goes dreadfully wrong with an overclock and Windows won’t boot. The “+” and “-“ TweakIT buttons are used to dynamically increase core voltage on a hardware level while the blazing red Turbo Fan “100” button pushes the 100mm fans to their absolute maximum without the input of software. These will likely be next to impossible to find when the HD 7970 Matrix Platinum is installed within a case but for their value is incalculable for overclockers


Like its DirectCU II TOP series predecessors, the Matrix incorporates an extensive underside heatsink which is meant to help with cooling performance and also provides a great opportunity for system builders to show off their primary gaming component.


A backplate such as this is supposed to dissipate any excess heat and we’re guessing ASUS’ design does just that but this is actually the first graphics card that we couldn’t fit into our test system without some modification. Believe it or not, the Matrix and our ASUS P9X79 WS didn’t play nice together. We found the backplate’s thickness prevented it from squeezing between the board’s memory slots and the primary PCI-E slot. Our problem was quickly taken care of by shaving down the small sections of excess plastic outside of the slots but issues like this will surely pop up in other boards as well. If you have a motherboard with a minimal amount of clearance above the primary PCI-E slot, be prepared for some ham-fisted modifications.


Around the backplate’s periphery there are a number of cut-outs which reveal additional functionality built directly into the PCB. There are three terminals for VGA HotWire which link the Matrix directly to supporting motherboards so changes can be made through the BIOS, providing hardware-level overclocking. Next to one of these terminals lies a quartet of built-in solder points for memory and GPU overvoltage mods along with a handy area that effectively disables the GPU’s over voltage protection for LN2 mode.

Next to the solder points are three ProbeIT nodes which allow for a multimeter probe to be attached, granting on-the-fly access to +12V, +3.3V and PCI-E voltages. ASUS has full confidence in their hardware’s ability to log mission specific component voltages (memory, core, etc.) so hard points for these have not been included.


They do overhand the PCB in a somewhat inelegant way but the two 8-pin PCI-E power connectors are supposed to supply the HD 7970’s core and memory with sufficient power for extreme overclocking feats.

For those of you wondering, ASUS has populated the Matrix’s primary BIOS with their custom overclocked profile and the second BIOS is used for a 6-monitor Eyefinity output setting.


The rear connector plate houses a selection of outputs that can only be called overkill. There are four full-sized DisplayPorts alongside one single link and one dual link DVI connectors. This makes the Matrix natively compatible with 3x2 Eyefinity with 1080P panels or upcoming 4K displays.

However, it is important to remember that screens with a resolution above 1080P can’t be plugged into the “VGA”-labeled DVI output since it is single link only and won’t output an ultra high definition signal. In addition, the BIOS switch into its secondary position may results all of the display outputs becoming active for 6-monitor gaming possibilities but it also downgrades the two DVI outputs to single link status. This means if you have a 1920x1200 resolution or higher monitor, accidentally slipping the BIOS into its non-default position will cause a lack of signal.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
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Under the Heatsink

Under the Heatsink



Removing the DirectCU II heatsink is amazingly easy since it is only held on with a quartet of screws. Once it’s out of the way, we can see the extent to which ASUS has gone to redesign the HD 7970 Matrix. Instead of a standard PCB, a custom, overly wide layout has been used in order to fit all of the upgraded components and expanded PWM area. There is also a large secondary molded aluminum heatsink that covers and distributes the heat from the CPU and memory VRM modules.


The main area of interest for most enthusiasts will be the Matrix’s extensive all-digital Digi+ 20-phase PWM that takes over from the reference card’s 12-phase allotment. Equipped with ASUS’ Super Alloy Power features, this design is supposed to offer increased longevity, cooler operation and additional overclocking headroom. However, there is are a few twists that have been implemented into this card that haven’t been included in past SAP-equipped products. While most of ASUS’ upgraded cards come with capacitors rated for 5,000 hours of continuous operation (an improvement over the reference design’s 2,000 hours), the Matrix uses ultra high end Nichicon GT series units that should run past the 10,000 hour mark. These were previously used on ASUS’ high end RoG-series motherboards and boast an incredible operational temperature range of -70C to +120C.

In addition to the upgraded capacitors, the chokes have received a makeover with sixteen 45A modules in the place of the reference design’s six 60A units. According to ASUS, this change has significantly increased power delivery performance and could help achieve higher overclocks. An expanded power plane has also been instituted which augments power distribution in order to further increase overclocking headroom and lower VDroop when additional voltage is pushed towards the GPU core and memory.


The aluminum heatsink that covers most of the components features several ribbed designs that are intended to increase its surface area and optimize thermal dissipation efficiency. It can be removed but the process is much more involved than one may expect.


With a massive copper base, six independent heatpipes and a towering stack of aluminum fins, the DirectCU II is impressive to say the least. It also weighs a ton. According ASUS, all of this thermal mass is put to good use by providing six times more airflow than the reference design while also remaining up to three times quieter. That’s one heck of an accomplishment but as we’ve already mentioned, it does come with one downside: this is one massive cooler.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,857
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Test System & Benchmark Sequences

Main Test System

Processor: Intel i7 3930K @ 4.5GHz
Memory: Corsair Vengeance 32GB @ 1866MHz
Motherboard: ASUS P9X79 WS
Cooling: Corsair H80
SSD: 2x Corsair Performance Pro 256GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Monitor: Samsung 305T / 3x Acer 235Hz
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate N x64 SP1


Acoustical Test System

Processor: Intel 2600K @ stock
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB 1600MHz
Motherboard: Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3
Cooling: Thermalright TRUE Passive
SSD: Corsair Performance Pro 256GB
Power Supply: Seasonic X-Series Gold 800W


Drivers:
NVIDIA 306.97 WHQL
AMD 12.11 Beta


Application Benchmark Information:
Note: In all instances, in-game sequences were used. The videos of the benchmark sequences have been uploaded below.


Batman: Arkham City

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Battlefield 3

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Crysis 2

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/Bc7_IAKmAsQ?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/Bc7_IAKmAsQ?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Deus Ex Human Revolution

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/GixMX3nK9l8?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/GixMX3nK9l8?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Dirt 3

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Metro 2033

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Shogun 2: Total War

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/oDp29bJPCBQ?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/oDp29bJPCBQ?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Skyrim

<object width="640" height="480"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/HQGfH5sjDEk?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/HQGfH5sjDEk?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="640" height="480" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Wargame: European Escalation

<object width="640" height="480"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/ztXmjZnWdmk?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/ztXmjZnWdmk?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="640" height="480" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Witcher 2 v2.0

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/tyCIuFtlSJU?version=3&hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/tyCIuFtlSJU?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​

*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 3 benchmark runs

All IQ settings were adjusted in-game and all GPU control panels were set to use application settings
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
3DMark 11 (DX11)

3DMark 11 (DX11)


3DMark 11 is the latest in a long line of synthetic benchmarking programs from the Futuremark Corporation. This is their first foray into the DX11 rendering field and the result is a program that incorporates all of the latest techniques into a stunning display of imagery. Tessellation, depth of field, HDR, OpenCL physics and many others are on display here. In the benchmarks below we have included the results (at default settings) for both the Performance and Extreme presets.


Performance Preset



Extreme Preset

 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Batman: Arkham City (DX11)

Batman: Arkham City (DX11)


Batman: Arkham City is a great looking game when all of its detail levels are maxed out but it also takes a fearsome toll on your system. In this benchmark we use a simple walkthrough that displays several in game elements. The built-in benchmark was avoided like the plague simply because the results it generates do not accurately reflect in-game performance.

1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Battlefield 3 (DX11)

Battlefield 3 (DX11)


For this benchmark, we used a sequence from the Rock and Hard Place mission. The results may seem lower than normal and this is due to the fact that after playing through the game multiple times, this one are was found to be the most demanding on the GPU. As with all of the tests, we try to find a worst case scenario in order to ensure a given card can properly play through the whole game instead of just a “typical” section.

1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Crysis 2 (DX11)

Crysis 2 (DX11)


Crysis 2 with the DX11 and Texture Package installed not only looks great but it is a strain on any GPU. For this benchmark, we used a classic runthrough which includes far views, explosions, combat and close-in knifing; basically every hallmark of gameplay.

1920 x 1200



2560 x 1600

 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (DX11)

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (DX11)


Deus Ex: Human Revolution may not be the hardest game for today’s high end gaming rigs to render. While the game mostly takes place indoors, it is the few outdoor areas that put additional strain on graphics cards. So for this test, we use one of the more involved outdoor sections: the Sharif Manufacturing Loading Docks.

1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Dirt 3 (DX11)

Dirt 3 (DX11)


Dirt 3 isn’t all that much different from its predecessor but the developers have added a few more visual touches but boost image quality. In this case, we used the Michigan Rally track since it features some of the hardest to render features of the game: expansive vistas, water, dirt effects, trees and many other items.

1920 x 1200





2560 x 1600



 
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