MSI 7970 Power Edition Boost Review

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With many different options available on the market in terms of graphics cards; what do you select one based on?  Is it purely performance?  Based on looks or design?  Or do you pick based purely on the price?  Well as mentioned earlier, there is no shortage to choose from and one brand in particular has been making waves with their design aspect.

MSI or Micro-Star International Co LTD, were formed in 1986 by a group of 5 people in Jhonghe, Taipei.  They are currently one of the biggest names in motherboards, VGA solutions and more recently, well known for their gaming laptop range.  They recently added a new addition to the Big Bang series of motherboards with their range of Z87 MPOWER based models, and more recently than that, they moved the design from that, into their latest line of GPUs.

So with that being said, today I will be taking a look at the MSI 7970 Power Edition, which comes from the Lightning family of graphics cards, which has a huge lineage in terms of performance.  Will this younger brother of one of the best graphics cards on the market live up to its expectations?  Or is it just another 7970 with all noise and no oomph?  Let’s find out, starting with the specifications…

Graphics Engine ATI Radeon HD 7970
Bus Standard PCI Express x16 3.0
Memory Type GDDR5
Memory Size(MB) 3072
Memory Interface 384 bits
Core Clock Speed(MHz) 925
Memory Clock Speed(MHz) 5500
DVI Output 2 (Resolution up to 1920×1200)
Mini DisplayPort 4
HDCP Support Y
HDMI Support Y
Display Output (Max Resolution) 2560×1600 (For mini DisplayPort Only )
RAMDACs 400
DirectX Version Support 11
OpenGL Version Support 4.2
CrossFire Support Y
Card Dimension(mm) 305×135.5x40mm

 

The 7970 Power Edition comes encased in a mainly blue box, with information regarding the model, brand and that it supports up to 6 monitors simultaneously which I think is fantastic.  It also informs you that the card is Windows 8 compatible and the Power Edition also features MSIs Twin Frozr IV cooling system.

Over on the rear, we have a more detailed list of the cards features, specifications and also the Power Editions minimum system requirements, which is gospel when buying and installing new computer hardware.  There is also information on the various aspects of the Power Edition which comes with Norton for example. It also states that it is PCI Express 3.0 ready as well as featuring HDMI, although you will need a DVI>HDMI adapter which is supplied with this card.

Bundled with the MSI 7970 Power Edition, we have V-Check points which are to be used with a digital multi-meter which allows overclockers and even enthusiasts to check the precise voltage readings, a Crossfire bridge, a mini DP adapter, a DVI>HDMI adapter and two 6 pin to 8 pin power connector  adapters as this particular model has two 8pin inputs.  This is handy if your current power supply only has 6 pin connectors on it.

As you can see from the first look at the MSI 7970 Power Edition, it strikes a certain resemblance to their other range, the Lighting series of GPUs.  The particular card has the same cooler which is from the famed Twin Frozr family, namely the Twin Frozr IV.

The cooler features dust removal technology, which basically does what it says on the tin – it keeps the cooler dust free and thus keeping the thermal transfer at optimal efficiency. It does this by spinning the fan at 100% for a few seconds at boot up to dislodge any dust sitting on the fins.

On the back of the card, we have a back plate which is designed to help reduce temperatures and also a GPU reactor, which is the same as on the MSI 7970 Lightning card.  This coupled with the cooler indicates that the PCB is in fact the same on the Power Edition as is with the Lightning card which makes this an impressive card without the need to go into too much detail.

As you can see from the bottom left, there are a dual Crossfire connection which allows you to run in X2, X3 and even X4 CrossFireX mode.  This will give you the ultimate performance in gaming and benchmarking.

On the right hand side, you can see the fan cable which is shown and it would have been nice to be hidden, but you can’t have them all and when installed, it takes a good look to even notice it.

Taking a closer look at the reactor and the huge in-print of the Lightning logo, you could easily mistake this for the top of the range Lightning card.  The reactor is blue in colour and also along with the fans, lights up blue when powered on.

The reactor is an addition PCB which is designed to increase power volume by 5 times and also is designed to reduce power supply noise by 20%.  It’s basically an overclockers feature which allows benchers and even enthusiasts to achieve higher, stable overclocks.

Having a look from the side, you can see the super pipe design which the Twin Frozer IV cooler incorporates into its cooling system.  This encourages the heat to disperse quickly and efficiently aiding in the overall thermal performance.

Here we have one of the defining features of the 7970 Power Edition, the inclusion of V-Check points, which allow users to monitor voltage via a digital multi-meter in real-time.  This is useful for over clockers who demand this information when pushing the card to its limits using extreme cooling methods.

In this shot, we have the power inputs. The Power edition, just like the Lightning, requires two 8pin connectors and in terms of power input, your power supply should be at least 500w.  I only ever recommend using power supplies from a reputable brand such as Enermax, Cooler Master and Corsair etc.  as this will allow you to run your components optimally without the risk of melting or destroying your components in case of a PSU failure.

On the PCB itself, the Power Edition just like the Lightning, comes equipped with a dual BIOS switch.  This allows you to flash one of the BIOS images to one of your choosing, while keeping one of the stock ones in-tact.  This is mainly a feature for the extreme overclockers, which in my opinion, would most likely be the target market audience.

Finally, we have 4 x mini display port connections and 2 x single link DVI ports.  With these you can use them for multi monitor configurations. The maximum resolution on the DVI ports is 1920×1200. They do not support Dual Link which is required for full 2560×1600 resolutions, which is an oversight in my eyes. However, the mini Display Ports do support up to 2560×1600 resolutions.

Test Setup

CPU – Intel i7 4770k
Cooler – Thermalright Silver Arrow SB-E
Motherboard – ASRock Z87 Extreme3
Memory – G.Skill RipjawZ 2x4GB (8GB) 2400MHz CAS10
Graphics – MSI 7970 Power Edition Boost
Storage – Intel 520 240GB Solid State Drive
PSU – Enermax 1200w Platimax

Graphics Card Test Setup

MSI 3GB 7970 Power Edition Stock – 1100/1500MHz  (Driver 13.4)

EVGA 4GB GTX 760 Stock – 1033/1502 Boost (Driver 320.49)

EVGA 4GB GTX 760 OC – 1306/1722MHz Boost (Driver 320.49)

Overclocking the 7970 Power Edition wasn’t exactly a good experience as I wasn’t able to push the card any further than the stock clocks without artifacts occurring.  The Power edition has stock clocks of 925/1375MHz, but this edition which is the boosted edition, has stock clocks of 1100/1500MHz which is a very impressive jump.

Even when I increased the voltage, I still couldn’t get the card stable so in my opinion, the limiting factor is either the BIOS or the software.  You can however try to flash the BIOS with the actual 7970 lightning one but this would void your warranty and I only advise this at your own risk.  In saying that, the limitation could also be hardware but given the only different between this card and the fully fledge lighting is the BIOS, I find it highly unlikely.

Normally I would illustrate the maximum overclock achieved but seeing as I wasn’t able to achieve one; here is a GPU-Z and MSI Afterburner screenshot of the card at stock.

Overall I have to say I am hugely disappointed with lack of an overclock I was able to achieve, mainly due to the card being a fully- fledged Lightning in disguise.  The only difference between the Power Edition and the Lightning is the BIOS.  I would have flashed the BIOS to show you how far the card could go, but it would be unfair and give inaccurate results.  Whether the overclock was down to the limits of the sample or some kind of BIOS limit which stops the Power Edition from flying high in the sky, we will never know, but the 1100/1500MHz at stock is still impressive so without any further wait, let’s get onto the testing part.

To give an accurate power consumption result, the cards were measured the following way

Idle – This was measured while Windows Desktop was open with minimal programmes and no load placed onto the CPU or GPU.  The power was then measured and recorded via a power monitor.

Load – This was measured while the GPU was under full load via Furmarks burn in test.  The power was then measured and recorded via a power monitor.

Power consumption was no surprise as the AMD card is guzzling quite a considerable amount of power compared with the 760.  Baring in mind the Power Edition shares a PCB with one of the best 7970’s on the market for over clockers, one can be forgiving for such poor power consumption, maybe.

To test the thermal performance of graphics cards, the temperatures are taken at idle states and when loaded. For load, we simply run Furmark for 10 minutes to get the card going and give the card plenty of time for its stock fan profile to kick in.  The temperature after 10 minutes of Furmarks burn in test is recorded.

The results here are no surprise as the 7970 Power Edition has one of the best coolers in the business installed (Twin Frozr IV).  The EVGA however has a reference design cooler so the 7970 was expected to pull ahead, which it does considerably.

Noise levels are tested with a decibel meter and the readings of the noise levels are taken when the coolers are in idle and loaded states.  The background noise during testing is very minimal and not enough to disrupt the readings given.

One of the shocks in my opinion, was the acoustic performance at load, the EVGA actually came out lower in terms of decibels than the 7970.  The main reason for this is that the fan profile on the 7970 at stock is a lot more aggressive and when you tie that in with testing methodology and how much lower the temps were overall, the 7970 does come out on top in my opinion in these 2 tests.

Designed to measure your PC’s gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.  Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

Again, the 7970 holds it’s own against the 760 in the performance preset but for some reason, the EVGA card really does shine in the extreme preset, within 60 points at stock and pulling ahead by 200+ points when overclocked.

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The 7970 by 1 point managed to beat the 760 even when overclocked on the normal preset.  This shows how much raw power is under the hood of the 7970 compared to the 760, although the 760 is no slouch and is within touching distance.  You have to consider this though; if i was to achieve an overclock on the 7970 Power edition, it would have most likely beat the 760 in all of the tests and this sample really limits the performance gains just as the EVGA 760 shows.

Heaven Benchmark with its current version 4.0 is a GPU-intensive benchmark that hammers graphics cards to the limits. This powerful tool can be effectively used to determine the stability of a GPU under extremely stressful conditions, as well as check the cooling system’s potential under maximum heat output. It provides completely unbiased results and generates true in-game rendering workloads across all platforms, such as Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.

This benchmark does seem optimised for NVIDIA cards, but its nice to see the 7970 still competing, sort of.

Company of Heroes 2 is a real-time strategy game developed by Relic Entertainment and published by Sega for the Microsoft Windows platform.  It is the sequel to the critically acclaimed 2006 game Company of Heroes.

This is where the 7970 really shines, in a heavily GPU intensive game, the 760 is behind, even when overclocked and this shows in the results.

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Whether this game is optimised for AMD or NVIDIA, the EVGA GTX 760 comes out on top, very very easily and one would suspect this game scales better with NVIDIA.  Still well above 60fps so is more than playable at max settings on both cards.

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Surprised that one of the top titles from the AMD Never Settle Promo Bundle is above the NVIDIA card?  I’m not but the EVGA 760 isn’t far behind and it shows it has a considerable amount of grunt under the hood also.

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Mid range performance from the 7970 here as I would have expected more, but at max settings, the 7970 shows why its the true boss at Tomb Raider.  Seems to be a slight pattern occuring in terms of medium to max settings where 7970 does better at the higher end of the spectrum.

To obtain how much performance you are getting for your money, I have devised a simple integral calculation which helps work out value for money you are getting in relative to FPS.  To calculate this, the 3 results taken (the FPS that is) are added up which gives a total FPS.  This is then divided against the value of the graphics card which gives us our price to performance ratio.

In terms of value for money, there’s no question that the 760 has a much better pound to performance ratio than the 7970 but in Company of Heroes 2, the gap doesn’t seem that big and in a very GPU Intesive game like that, performance means more in my opinion.  Not to mention the EVGA 760 on test has an extra 1GB of VRAM so the vote goes to NVIDIA on particular occasion.

So now that I have had the MSI 7970 Power Edition on my test bench for a while, played numerous games, and ran numerous benchmarks; how does it actually perform?

In terms of Aesthetics, I really do love the colour scheme MSI have chosen for the Power Edition/Lightning models.  Sharing the same livery as the current MPower motherboards, the yellow and black theme with blue LEDs works perfectly in my opinion might seem a little biased but aesthetics is down to personal preference, right?  The LEDs are subtle; the GPU reactor glows nicely, although it can be troublesome as it adds extra depth to the card and if you want to put another device in the slot above it, you need to check clearance first as it slightly covers the slot on my ASRock Z87 Extreme 3.  Other than that the design is brilliant.

Touching on the overclocking potential of the MSI 7970 Power Edition, it will vary from card to card but although I didn’t manage an overclock above the stock settings, it still performed very well and you can’t fault the card for its grunt.  Any extra grunt from overclocking can make the difference from being above 60 FPS and being below 60 FPS, so it can make a considerable difference to the quality of your game play.  However, with this particular card, it just wasn’t meant to be.

Performance wise overall, it does keep ahead of the GTX760 nicely and although this is a top of the range AMD card with top of the range cooling aided with MSIs Twin Frozr IV cooler, it does a great job in showing its superiority.  Coupled with the extra VRAM and the ability to adjust the voltage, andif you have a decent overclocker (which I didn’t) on your hands, the performance will only go up which makes the 7970 Power Edition one of the top choices in terms of the 7970s already on the market.  If you look at the specifics, some games are heavily optimised for AMD and other for NVIDIA, but it’s nice to see the 7970 at its stock settings doing so well against a 760 with just over 1300MHz boost on the core.  With that being said, it might be more expensive in terms of value, but this card is all about performance and you certainly get it.

Price wise, coming in at £349.99, performance is quite relative to the price.  Not only are you getting one of the best GPU coolers available on the market, but also a card from a prestigious lineage.  Although the GTX760 is beaten in terms of performance, we have to consider the value for money testing, in which the GTX760 was better.  In saying that, people paying the extra do get a few extras, this includes 1GB more VRAM, voltage check points for those overclockers out there that want to monitor voltages via DMM (digital multi-meters) and also not forgetting the blue LEDs which add a certain sense of bling to what is already a great looking card.

Overall, the MSI 7970 Power Edition Boost is a fantastic card, capable of powering the latest games on good settings with ease and with the 8 series just around the corner; it will be interesting to see what AMD have to offer.  For £349.99, you could do a lot worse but you have to take into consideration the extra detail that is loaded onto this card, from the V-Check points to the dual BIOS, this card has plenty to offer and if performance is your game and you don’t want to drop £799 on a TITAN, the 7970 Power Edition Boost will be right up your street.

Thanks to AMD and MSI for the sample and we look forward to seeing more in the future.

 

  • Performance
  • Design
  • Value

Summary

The MSI 7970 Power Edition Boost has a very good cooler strapped to it, so you can expect a cool experience, even when playing the most intensive games on the market. If your looking for a card that just works, looks amazing and performs very highly on max settings, the MSI 3GB 7970 Power Edition Boost is a card you should at least consider if your in the market for a new GPU.

4.1

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