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Sapphire Vapor-X HD 7970 GHz review

Turns out AMD's HD 7970 GHz Edition was a shrinking violet

Our Verdict

For

  • Good cooler
  • Auto-OC works well
  • Some more headroom for manual OC

Against

  • Expensive
  • Trixxs software could be more user friendly

Did you buy shares in Apple in the 90s, which you've been holding onto? Did you manage to patent the spork, or invent a social media node that allows people to present their aspirational lifestyles in 140 characters or less?

We presume you've ticked off at least one of those, because this is the sharp end of the consumer GPU market, where prices are steep enough to make grown men weep.

Sapphire's version of the HD 7970 aims to push AMD's Graphics Core Next hardware to its very limits by boosting the core and memory clocks, and managing the excess heat with its top-of-the-line air cooling. It's not unreasonably pricier than the vanilla model, but does this Sapphire monster push the HD 7970 GHz Edition hard enough?

Like EVGA's Signature 2, its close competitor using Nvidia tech, the Vapor-X makes good on AMD's advancements in efficiency. The card powers itself up and down according to its workload, so boosting its clock values at full strain doesn't keep the fan whirring away or give you any heat-management nightmares.

Under load, the core clock boosts up by 200MHz, and when it's not in use, the factory values kick back in. When your machine's in standby the Vapor-X will power down to a negligible power usage and fan speed.

When considering efficiency, it looks like a dead, er, heat between EVGA and Sapphire's candidates for luxury GPU supremacy.

In gaming performance, Sapphire uses the GHz Edition's performance advantage over the GTX 680 to stretch its legs even further. We squeezed eight games through each card, each more unfeasibly demanding than a hungry toddler, and the Vapor-X was the clear winner.

It doesn't dominate across the board - there are moments at resolutions above 1080p in which EVGA's card prevails - but factoring in the effect drivers can have on each game, the Vapor-X's results offer about as much reassurance as possible that your - gulp - £400 is being well spent. It can even play Metro 2033 at max details at a vaguely playable 36fps at 1080p.

Realistically, the EVGA Signature 2's results were generally so close that you'd never notice a performance difference with the naked eye, but here in GPU fantasy land that isn't really the point. If you buy either card, you're likely to spend just as much time benchmarking and overclocking it as you do marvelling at its prowess.

Benchmarks

DirectX 11 gaming performance
Shogun 2: FPS: Higher is better
HD 7970 GHZ VAPOR-X: 86
GTX 680 SUPERCLOCKED: 85

DirectX 11 gaming performance
Batman: AC: FPS: Higher is better
HD 7970 GHZ VAPOR-X: 66
GTX 680 SUPERCLOCKED: 66

DirectX 11 gaming performance
DiRT Showdown: FPS: Higher is better
HD 7970 GHZ VAPOR-X: 40
GTX 680 SUPERCLOCKED: 25

Overclocking

If you have the cojones to push the card even further than Sapphire considers safe, its Vapor-X cooler will allow a modicum of further tampering. In fact the air coolers on both cards are exemplary in their low volume and high heat dispersal.

Sapphire's Trixxx software isn't as user-friendly as EVGA's Precision suite, but both allow tinkering with clock settings and boost ratios.

All told, this is a blinder of a card. It's not hugely relevant to most of us, but for just a little extra cash than AMD's fantastic reference GHz Edition, it pushes the HD 7970 architecture hard enough to impress enthusiasts. Fingers crossed for a price drop in the near future.

Tech Specs

Product TypeGraphic Card
Chipset ManufacturerAMD
Chipset ModelHD 7970
HDMIYes
Chipset LineRadeon
Chipset SeriesHD 7000
DisplayPortYes
Maximum Resolution4096 x 2160
Brand NameSapphire
Standard Memory3 GB
Host InterfacePCI Express 3.0 x16
Bus Width384 bit
Multi-GPU TechnologyCrossFireX
Analog SignalYes
Digital SignalYes
Dual Link DVI SupportedYes
DVIYes
Number of DisplayPort Outputs1
Number of DVI Outputs2
Number of HDMI Inputs1
Height135 mm
Cooler TypeFan Cooler
Memory TechnologyGDDR5 SDRAM
Form FactorPlug-in Card
Length285 mm
ManufacturerSapphire, Inc
Memory Speed6000 MHz
Product NameRadeon HD 7970 Graphic Card
Manufacturer Part Number11197-12-40G
Manufacturer Website Addresshttp://www.sapphiretech.com/en/
Marketing Information

SAPPHIRE HD 7970 3GB Vapor-X Edition has the latest GDDR5 memory clocked at 6000MHz effective, and runs with a core clock speed of 1000 MHz which with PowerTune Dynamic Boost rises to 1050 MHz on the engine. It has a slightly less sophisticated 8-phase power design and the versatile output configuration of Dual-link DVI-I, DVI-D, HDMI and DisplayPort.

The Vapor-X cooler is based on a new vapor chamber designed especially for this series. Heat is carried away by four heatpipes (2 x 8mm plus 2 x 6mm), and finally dispersed by two 90mm fan with aerofoil blades and dust repelling bearings. The Vapor-X cooler easily handles the heat generated from the HD 7970 GHz Editions even under extreme load conditions.

Package Contents
  • Radeon HD 7970 Graphic Card
  • CrossFire Bridge Interconnect Cable
  • 8-pin to 4-pin Power Cable
  • DVI to VGA Adapter
  • 6-pin to 4-pin Power Cable
  • HDMI 1.4a High Speed 1.8 Meter Cable
  • Driver CD
Limited Warranty2 Year
Thickness45 mm
API SupportedDirectX 11.0, OpenGL 4.2, DirectCompute, OpenCL