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PowerColor HD 7950 3GB Boost State Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
AMD’s response to the GTX 660 Ti’s launch has been lightning-quick. Less than two days before NVIDIA’s new Kepler-based products hit the market, we received a revamped BIOS for the HD 7950 which added PowerTune Boost to the card’s already impressive list of features. The result is a refreshed SKU which has been named the Boost State Edition by PowerColor (or variations thereof by other board partners) and –at least according to AMD’s PR team- would be no more expensive than other HD 7950s already on the market.

We took these claims with a grain of salt since we heard a similar story with the HD 7970 GHz Edition which was initially supposed to become available at $449 soon after its announcement in June. That didn’t happen as GHz Editions only became available in the last few weeks and many were priced well above $449. Luckily, AMD seems hell-bent on avoiding past mistakes and limited quantities of the HD 7950 Boost Edition started showing up for $349 late last week. We actually bought one, hence why this review is going up now. There was also some concern some cards wouldn’t carry a new labeling scheme but we were happily proven wrong as AMD’s board partners brought clearly labeled Boost Edition cards into the retail channels. Mission accomplished on both of those fronts.

So far it looks like Sapphire, PowerColor and HIS will all have products supporting the Boost feature but the list of board partners that have chosen to either delay or (for the time being) go without a HD 7950 Boost SKU is quite long. In North America alone, Tier One AiBs like XFX, ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI and Diamond have all foregone Boost Edition announcements for the time being. The reasoning behind this is actually quite simple from a business perspective. According to our sources, there’s currently a large supply of standard HD 7950’s already in the channel and the introduction of an official Boost Edition at $349 has devalued the partners’ current inventory. As a result, many companies will either be moving towards heavy discounts of the standard cards before transitioning to a Boost version or may possibly take a wait-and-see approach to properly judge people’s reactions.


AMD’s reaction to the GTX 660 Ti may have thrown portions of their supply chain into abject confusion but the current situation couldn’t be better for anyone looking for a mid-tier graphics card. With a Base clock of 850MHz (50MHz higher than the reference design) and maximum Boost speeds of 925MHz, this new HD 7950 Boost Edition should be slightly better than the outgoing version while hopefully putting a bit more breathing room between the Tahiti and Pitcairn architectures. In order to achieve these higher clocks speeds, AMD raised the core’s voltage from 1.093V to 1.25V which should increase overclocking headroom, power consumption and heat production. Unlike HD 7970 to HD 7970 GHz Edition evolution, memory speeds have stayed at a constant 5Gbps.

The Boost Edition should help AMD better compete on a price / performance level against the GTX 670 which –at $399- is only challenged by the HD 7970 right now. Nonetheless, AMD’s intent for this new Boost Edition is to eventually replace the standard HD 7950 and going forward, any new cards from board partners will incorporate the new BIOS.

Mentioning the HD 7970 brings us to our next point: AMD had to be very careful with this launch because boosting the HD 7950’s performance too much would have cannibalized HD 7970 sales. Granted, the two cards are about 17% apart in most situations but it will be interesting to see how close this new version will bring the two cards together. Expect to see overclocked versions of the HD 7950 Boost Edition hitting the 1.1GHz mark in the coming months.


It looks like PowerColor forgot a sticker in their rush to get this card to retailers

To say we were highly critical of AMD’s strategy is being generous and we held off using the BIOS sent to reviewers last week for a number of reasons. First and foremost, there was no way to independently verify the price at which board partners decided to sell their HD 7950 Boost cards so coming up with a fair and balanced conclusion against a known quantity like the GTX 660 Ti would have been impossible. We also wanted to ensure reception of a product that was bound for the retail channels instead of flashing the BIOS on a reference card that was sent to the press long ago. So unlike others, we resisted the urge to be first out of the gate with a review that didn’t include the necessary context and we waited until the cards became available to purchase. We were also quite vocal about our position and while we stand by our stance, we do apologize for any apparent confusion this caused regarding our thoughts.


Once everything was said and done, we purchased a retail version of PowerColor’s HD 7950 Boost Edition, putting our money where our collective mouths are. As you can see from the picture above, their card is based off of a reference board design but its heatsink assembly comes equipped with a centrally-mounted 70mm intake fan. This replaces the blower-style affair seen on HD 7950s that were first sampled to the press and as far as we’ve been told, the “reference” Boost Edition may never be available on cards sporting AMD’s initial reference heatsink design.

PowerColor’s card comes in at the standard 850MHz / 925MHz Boost Edition core clocks while the memory is also left at a default 5Gbps. Naturally, this leads to a competitive price of $349 which should make it an excellent option for budget conscious first time buyers or anyone looking to upgrade. Or at least that’s what AMD and PowerColor hope….
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
AMD’s Boost Feature Explained

AMD’s Boost Feature Explained



Something you may not have been expecting in the specification chart was the addition of a Boost category. Taking a page out of NVIDIA’s playbook, AMD is now allowing the core to go above and beyond its rated “base clock” if built-in monitoring algorithms detect there is TDP overhead to be spared. This all occurs above standard P-States but the traditional PowerTune limits have also been increased in order to take advantage of dynamic voltage adjustments. As a result, the card should strive to hit the predetermined limit (in this case 50MHz higher than the reference spec) more often without the throttling that sometimes occurred when PowerTune clamped down on power draw.

While this technology is surely a welcome addition, it isn’t quite as dynamic as NVIDIA’s GPU Boost feature, nor does it give the wide dynamic clock range of Kepler-based products. Let’s explain this a bit further. Kepler cards use a hardware-based solution which samples the relative distance to maximum TDP at sub-second intervals. This allows for quick situational changes that ultimately lead to varying clock speeds and maximum performance. Granted, GPU Boost does cause some interesting overclocking adventures and is adversely affected by temperature increases but in our experience, it works very well.


At first glance, AMD’s Boost seems to be quite lethargic and heavy handed in its approach since –according to software available to us- there’s very little clock adjustment granularity. It sets a speed of about 925MHz and for the most, “pulses”” up and down between that point and the stock speed of 850MHz as GPU activity varies. Unfortunately, software doesn’t exist yet that can accurately map the Boost feature’s progression through its various p-states but AMD claims there is more granularity going on behind the scenes.

With that being said, we never saw the HD 7950 Boost Edition taking advantage of lower temperatures like Kepler-based cards typically do. Even increasing the fan speed to 100% resulted in identical clock speeds, proving that AMD either strictly curtails their Boost frequency or the technology still has some maturing to do. Nonetheless, we expect it to progress rapidly and become an integral part of AMD's future strategy.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
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 2600K @ stock
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB 1600MHz
Motherboard: ASUS P8Z68V-PRO Gen3
Cooling: Thermalright TRUE Passive
SSD: Corsair Performance Pro 256GB
Power Supply: Seasonic X-Series Gold 800W


Drivers:
NVIDIA 304.48 Beta
AMD 12.7 Beta

***Note that the GTX 660 Ti used in the following tests is an EVGA Superclocked version that has received a BIOS flash with reference specifications.


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
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
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
13,264
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
13,264
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
13,264
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
13,264
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
13,264
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



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
Location
Montreal
Metro 2033 (DX11)

Metro 2033 (DX11)


For this test we use a walkthrough and combat scene from The Bridge level which starts at the beginning of the level and lasts for about 3 minutes of walking, running and combat. Famerates are measured with FRAPS and Advanced PhysX is turned off.

1920 x 1200



2560 x 1600

 

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