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Gigabyte HD 7950 WindForce & MSI HD 7950 Twin Frozr III Review

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SKYMTL

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Since the HD 7950 was launched several months ago, we have seen AMD’s top to bottom HD 7000-series take shape and gradually morph into a great looking lineup that offers something for everyone. The most recent introduction was the HD 7870 and HD 7850 pairing which succeeded in hitting all of the high points in two very competitive prices. Unfortunately, the momentum was taken out of AMD’s sails when the GTX 680 launched at a lower than expected price,

The advent of Kepler left some of the board partners out in the cold since their custom HD 7950 cards tended to carry a premium on top of the already hefty $449 reference price. That has changed over the last week since the HD 7950 has received a cut from its somewhat lofty price tag to a more modest $399. Not only does this change make it all that much more affordable but any down-market movement could also put some pressure upon NVIDIA’s inevitable lineup additions.

In light of these changes, we thought it was a good time to look at a few more HD 7950 cards since they are now more affordable than ever. For this review, we’ve chosen the MSI Twin Frozr III version and Gigabyte’s Windforce 3X.


In terms of specifications, neither MSI nor Gigabyte have strayed all that far from the reference specifications with their initial custom HD 7950 offerings. The Twin Frozr III gets a modest bump while the Windforce 3X hits the 900MHz mark but in both cases, memory speeds stick to reference clocks. It seems like both MSI and Gigabyte and hedging their bets until they’re ready to introduce Lightning and Super Overclock versions respectively. As you may have expected, their prices are nearly identical as well at around $439.

At least on paper, neither of these cards really holds the edge over the other but consumers will ultimately have to make a decision between one of them or what their competitors are offering. Both have excellent heatsink designs, three year warranties and some great looking features so it will be interesting to see if either comes to the forefront once the dust settles in this review.

 
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SKYMTL

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MSI's HD 7950 Twin Frozr III OC

MSI's HD 7950 Twin Frozr III OC



The overall look of MSI’s HD 7950 Twin Frozr III OC is no different from any of their other cards that sport this same heatsink design. However, the shroud does overhang the PCB’s edge by about ¼” making MSI’s version slightly longer than a reference card but it is still short enough to fit within any ATX case currently on the market. There are supposedly upgraded components hiding under the heatsinks as is usual for any card boasting MSI’s “Military Class” specification.


As we have said in the past, MSI has put a lot of time and effort into designing their custom heatsinks and the Twin Frozr III edition is no different. It uses a pair of 80mm fans that project above the shroud for better airflow. These blow down onto a central aluminum fin array that’s fed by five large heatpipes which are grouped above a copper contact plate. In addition, the VRM components and GDDR5 memory ICs are cooled by an independent heatsink. A layout like this isn’t uncommon in the GPU cooling industry but as you will see in our temperature testing section, somehow MSI has done it better than most.


I/O connectors aren’t any different from the reference design with a pair of 6-pin power inputs alongside the usual DVI + HDMI + 2X mini DisplayPort ports. A custom backplate with MSI’s logo has been added for good measure but we doubt this will have any great effect upon airflow. Unlike some of AMD’s other board partners, MSI has decided to keep the Dual Bios functionality on this version of the HD 7950.


Other than the slightly upgraded components on the PCB’s upper side, the card’s underside doesn’t really show us anything interesting since it sticks to the reference layout with very little deviation.
 

SKYMTL

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Gigabyte's HD 7950 Windforce 3X OC

Gigabyte HD 7950 Windforce 3X OC



Gigabyte’s HD 7950 OC is an imposing card which is topped by the massive Windforce 3X heatsink but otherwise, it retains the standard PCB layout. Pricing on this isn’t all that bad either since it only carries a $20 premium over the reference version even though its cooler is supposed to lower temperatures by a significant amount.


Speaking of the heatsink, it really is the star of this show. This particular example uses the same design we saw on the HD 7970 version with a trio of 80mm fans and a vapor chamber which covers the core and memory modules. As with all of the custom coolers these days, the main heatsink is aluminum but in order to increase thermal capacity, Gigabyte has added a number of smaller fin arrays that are attached to the vapor chamber via copper heatpipes. The layout is a novel one since it allows for reduced temperatures without taking up too much vertical space.

Since this large and frankly quite complicated heatsink weighs in at about two pounds and puts significant pressure upon the card’s center point, Gigabyte added an aluminum band along the PCB’s edge to eliminate flexing.


Power connectors on the WindForce 3X retain the reference dual six pin configuration but the PCB uses Gigabyte’s blue colour. This is the direction Gigabyte usually goes with their initial cards. It changes AMD’s HD 7950 layout but incorporates slightly different components which helps keep costs under control.


The output connector selection here is basic at best. Even with single dual link DVI and HDMI 1.4 connectors, this card still isn’t natively compatible with multi monitor solutions since Gigabyte hasn’t included the necessary dongles to convert the WindForce 3X’s two mini DP headers into full sized DisplayPort outputs.
 

SKYMTL

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Test System & Setup / 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 2500K @ stock
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB 1600MHz
Motherboard: Gigabyte EX58-UD5
Cooling: Thermalright TRUE Passive
SSD: Corsair Performance Pro 256GB
Power Supply: Seasonic X-Series Gold 800W


Drivers:
NVIDIA 300.99 Beta for GTX 680
AMD 12.2 WHQL
NVIDIA 295.73 WHQL

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

<object width="640" height="480"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/i6ncTGlBoAw?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/i6ncTGlBoAw?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="640" height="480" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


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

<object width="560" height="315"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/g5FaVwmLzUw?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/g5FaVwmLzUw?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="560" height="315" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


Metro 2033

<object width="480" height="360"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/8aZA5f8l-9E?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/8aZA5f8l-9E?version=3&hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="480" height="360" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>​


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
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Joined
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Messages
12,857
Location
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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
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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
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Messages
12,857
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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
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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
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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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