Okay lets get this out of the way before we get started. Yes, I work for Sapphire and they make AMD based video cards. Yes my final build is using a Sapphire video card. Yes I know the someone will cry that I am not able to be fair in my evaluation of graphics cards, however my advice is get over it. Over the years I have been accused of being a fan boy for both sides. I have always striven to give our audience the best information I have at hand and will not stop now. So now that we have that full disclosure out of the way can we get on with a discussion?
Choosing a graphics card today is tough and the reason why is both nVidia and AMD have given us some GREAT cards to choose from. Okay let me rephrase that, both have given us great chips. Neither company actually makes the cards, that is up to the various partners. If you read or listen to our past shows you know that I have always recommended that if you want an AMD card choose Sapphire and if you want an nVidia card then EVGA is your first choice. The opinion was formed years ago after dealing with many video cards from many venders and it has not changed today. We have a lot of options for our video needs and I am going to try to help you narrow those choices down.
For the purposes of our build we are setting our sights at game play with the resolution of 1080 and details levels in the high to ultra range. With this in mind we can quickly narrow down our choices and walk through them from the lowest cost to the most expensive.
The lowest cost card I would look at is the HD 7790, a relatively new card on the market. Priced at around $150 this card can do a solid job of gaming at 1080 and with most games set on high. A few of the more intense games might require the detail level to be lowered but they are the exception. A little further up the food chain we have the GTX 650Ti Boost. This card offers a nice step up in performance from the 7790 with only a mild cost increase but if you want a little extra umph, it is worth a look.
Next we come HD 7850, our 2012 Golden Mic Winner. If you thought it was an attractive buy when we named it for our award, now it is practically a steal. At under $200 is offers a great gaming experience for the money and many games will run at 1080 with the detail set to ultra, about an even mix will need to back off to high. For an ITX build the card is small, the Sapphire model we award cools amazing and is super silent. A perfect fit for an ITX build. Up the run around the $200 mark is the GTX 660, again, as in the last rung this card gives a bump in performance over the 7850 but that bump comes with a price. From a size point of view the GTX 660 is a little larger physically, but still easily fits in our ITX build.
With the next card up things begin to spread out a bit, priced at around $220 the HD 7870 gives a nice bump over the GTX 660 in performance. Only a tiny bit longer than the HD 7850 this card is a great size for the ITX build and packs a lot of gaming horsepower, chugging through most games at ultra detail and a few needing to step back to high.
The final rung we hit is the top of the cards we will talk about. The reason for this is simple, at the 7870 we have pretty much made every game we play smooth and with great detail, anything after this is gravy.
For our first entry at the top of our ITX build list is the GTX 660ti. This card packs a lot of horsepower into an package costing around $280. It can run any game we threw at it at ultra levels and does so with seeming ease. The top dog card for this build is the HD 7950, tipping the price scale at around $290. The 7950 is physically bigger than it’s actually a little longer than the 660ti however it still fits well in our ITX build. The 7950 brings more horsepower than the 660ti as well as a large memory buffer, 3GB instead of 2GB along with more memory bandwidth. Now at 1080 this is not a big deal as 2GB is plenty and both cards haven enough horse power to push the pixels around with ease. The advantage of the 7950 comes in when you push a ton of HD mods on a game like Skyrim or decide to go for a 1440 display or bigger instead of the 1080.
In this look we have covered a range of $150 and looked at 7 video cards. This is what meant when I said choosing a card was tough. All 7 cards mentioned will give a great gaming experience and each step up gives a little more detail to your games and horsepower for the future. The choice you make is based on balancing your budget against the gaming experience you desire.
The good news is that ANY of the cards mentioned here will give you a great experience, but there can be only one as the saying goes. Based on the cost, performance and our stated goal of 1080, the HD 7870 is the best bang for our buck in this build. It will give you amazing game play as well as being reasonably priced.
Be sure to join us on the March 27th at Rend Lake College, Doug and I will be there to talk to everyone, give some stuff away as well as show off the ITX rig we have been talking about the last few weeks. Come on by and see it in action first hand.
We would like to thank the folks at EVGA and SAPPHIRE for providing the card samples we used in our testing. All discussion of card pricing was based on EVGA and SAPPHIRE cards on Newegg at the date of this article.
Show segments from show airing the weekend of April 20th, 2013
In December we saw AMD release their new lineup of video cards, first with the 7900 series. This was their high end high performance and sadly high priced lineup. The price point was higher than many expected and generally higher than most reviews thought it should be. In February AMD brought round two of the new card lineup to us with the 7700 series. These cards are meant for budget minded gamers and again on release many thought the pricing was a bit high to the performance offered. So how will AMD fair with round 3?
For the third round AMD is aiming squarely at the performance gaming market with the release of the 7800 series. For this review we were supplied by Sapphire with a 7850 based card, specifically their overclocked division. The 7850 is targeted right at the nVidia GTX 560 ti with a price point that should show up around $250.
Four our testing we put this card into a 2500K based and 3820 based system for testing. We started with our normal round of games, this time working with Skyrim, Reckoning, Supreme Commander II, Dirt 3, Batman Arkham City and Civilization V. All of our testing was done at 1080 resolutions with the in game settings put to the highest offered.
The overall game play experience was pretty much the same for the 6950 and 560 Ti we used for testing. However this is something we have come to expect, the leap from one generation to the next in the mainstream seldom makes a noticeable bump. So next we move to benchmarking to see if there is a difference.
As we began benchmarking the 7850 began to shine as it repeatedly showed on average an almost 20% boost in performance. In fact the performance numbers were so good we pulled another card into the mix, the GTX 570. Priced higher than the expected price of the 7850 this was nice to see, the card was running right with and often besting the 570. We turn to synthetic benchmarks such as 3dMark 11 and Heaven and again saw this card pushing the 570 hard.
Now in fairness the card to sent to us by Sapphire is an overclocked card, the normal clock speed of the 7850 is 860 MHz and this card is out of box running at 920 MHz. This extra boost pushed the performance up over stock for sure but that does not change the fact that this card is running head to head with a more expensive card. However it is not just that the 7850 is less expensive.
When you first look at this card and release the graphic power it brings to the table your first reaction is, WOW this is small. As you can see from this comparison with a 6950 the 7850 is a very small card.
It is however not just the size of the card that is small, so is the power consumption. The total system power of the test system using the 7850 was almost a full 75 watts lower than a 560ti and around 50 watts lower than a 6950, over 100 watts lower than the 570. That’s some pretty impressive load reduction over cards that are about the same speed or slower.
When we move to noise level things get even better. The Sapphire 7850 OC uses a custom dual fan cooling solution. The result is a very quiet card. During gaming on headphones, if you were not on the headphones you could noticeably heard the 560ti, 6950 and 570 all kick up to higher fans speeds. Despite even longer gaming session I never have heard the 7850 kick up the fans audibly.
The combination of a lower power package and an excellent cooling system has resulted in a card that just does not seem to ramp up much when it heats up. The reason is that cooling solution tied with that lower power usage translates into less heat. At no time, in our Level 10 GT case could we push the 7850 over 55C while gaming. All three of the other cards pushed to near or over 70C in the same case.
Sapphire has once again stepped up to the plate with the 7850 OC. The build quality and the great custom cooling solution are something we have come to expect from Sapphire over the years. The card comes with a solid set of connection options including HDMIO, DVI, Displayport, VGA adapter, HMDI to DVI adapter and mini Displayport to full size Display Port. The card makes use of a single PICe 6 pin connector for power.
While this card is overclocked out of the gate it still has a lot of headroom. I was able to hit the limits imposed in the drivers for both the GPU and Memory for the card with no issues. The card still ran perfect and the temps never crested 60C when gaming. Even better, even with the overclock the card still using less power than the 560ti, 6950 or 570 at stock speeds. At these speeds it was beginning to push at 580 stock benchmarks.
While this card performs well it has a few obstacles to overcome. First this card is put into one of the hardest segments of the GPU sales to be in, the mainstream. The reason this segment is so hard is that it is full of cards that despite being older, all still deliver amazing gaming experiences.
Additionally since the card is not yet on the shelves we are still not 100% sure on the pricing. The claims out of AMD are we should see this near the $250 price point but that seems a bit steep. Especially when you realize the next card down on the AMD chart is at $150 to $160. That is a large gap in the pricing structure and we hope to see that gap close over the next few months.
Having looked at the 7700 series and now the 7800 series, I can tell you the card I like the best is the 7850. The $250 price point is a bit steep but not outrageous when you take all factors into account. The card will easily give any gamer on a 1080 display enough horsepower for an amazing gaming experience in any game they want to play. Sapphire has taken the base design and one upped it with an excellent cooling solution that will let you push the potential even farther on this card making it an even bigger value for it’s performance.
In the press deck AMD gave us during our briefing for this release we told serious gaming began with the 7850. Normally I ignore marketing hype but in this case they are correct, this is a great place with the current cards on the market for serious gaming to begin. However I would go one step further, if you gaming rig is going to be a single 1080 monitor then this is were it ends as well. Anything past this will not push the gaming experience enough to surpass this card with the current market. This single card is the real sweet spot for gamers right now.
Sapphire HD 7850 OC Review Aired 17 March 2012
The idea of an entertainment PC has been something we have looked at on this show before. We have built systems before based on this ide and are looking at doing so again but these are traditionally fairly large boxes. Sure you can get them down in size and even make them look like entertainment center components but in the end they are still not what you would call tiny.
Sapphire decided to take a stab at building a super small form factor PC, the idea however was to not be limited to just an HTPC role, they wanted a fully functional uber small form factor PC. The result of this effort is the Sapphire Edge HD3.
Now let me make clear this system is a fully functional PC. The computer has a dual core Fusion based processor and video, 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM and a 320 Gig HD. The system has dual USB2 ports in the back and dual USB3 ports in the front for connectivity as well as a wired network card and built in wireless. For video output the syst5em comes with the ability to connect via a standard VGA connector or HDMI and comes with an adapter to convert the HDMI to DVI if needed.
Sapphire actually lists this on their website as a Paperback PC and that description is not far off the mark. The computer is TINY, weighs next to nothing and takes up only a tiny amount of space. This small form factor makes this full PC able to fit into quite a few areas and not just the HTPC arena. The small size means this could fit well in a work place as it can hide behind monitors and other devices. It can also use this size to effect in a home or dorm room were space is at a premium.
With this small size however some tradeoffs had to be made. The HD3 is powered by a Fusion CPU, the E-450. This is a low cost Fusion processor designed for netbooks and low cost notebooks. This dual core processor has onboard graphics using the HD6320 and has a very small power signature. At no time during ANY level of testing did the power draw go above 40 watts, yes even under full load or a WoW session.
As a Family PC the idea would be for this to be a small form factor second PC and as use as a general family PC for people looking to basically browse the web and steam entertainment options. In this capacity I set this PC down for my family on our 46” Plasma and let flay. My family members found the wireless internet was more than up to the task of allow easy internet access and worked well for streaming video from YouTube, Hulu and Netflix as well as audio from Pandora. We also found that the wireless worked well for streaming audio and video from the wife’s machine, such as my large CD collection that has been put on the wife’s machine in WMA format.
As a small business workstation this PC again worked really well. The small form factor let it set pretty much anywhere there was open desk space. We fired up a full office suite and the Edge did not even blink an eye, easily handling the various documents we threw at the system ranging from simple Word files to complicated Publisher files and Excel spreadsheets of various sizes.
When we hit the Gamer we began to see some limitations to this mighty mite. I was able to load up WoW and play at 720 resolution with some pretty good detail level. While I was not getting blazing frame rates the game play was smooth enough to be playable. I tried to throw Champions online at the Edge and it just was not up to the task, at 720 resolutions the system just did not have the power. I fired up Reckoning and Skyrim and again the system lacked the horsepower to really make these games happen, however older titles faired better.
As I was about to finish testing the gamer side of this computer I had a thought, I was testing an online game streaming service, Onlive, I wondered how it would work. I quickly installed Onlive and fired away. Within minutes I was playing Arkham City at 720 resolutions on high detail butter smooth, something the system could not do if I installed the game directly.
As I looked back over our experiences with using the Edge I realized that this was a system built to use the Stream as it is beginning to grow on the internet. What I mean is this is a system built for making the most of streaming services. With this system not having an optical drive the ability to stream shows is how this will be most effective, even with a decent size HD in it. The same goes for music and thanks to streaming services like Onlive even gaming. These streaming services allow the PC to not need high powered hardware to enjoy high end entertainment and this is were the Edge excels. The small form factor means it will fit anywhere and the system might be not be a power house of processing power but it sips electricity even at full load. I mean seriously I played Arkham City for 2 hours non stop at good resolution and detail and only used about 75 watts power the whole time. My big PC uses that just sitting there.
Now this is not a simple plug and play PC, there is some work required. The system comes with no optical drive or OS. This means you will either need to buy and external optical drive or put your OS on a flash drive for install. Also this does not come with a keyboard and mouse, so these will need to be purchased as well.
The device design is very well thought out with the cooling handled by a small fan on the CPU and the use of natural thermal motion. The air intakes are at the bottom on the case and the exhaust at the top. Despite the readings showing a warm CPU temp of around 50C I can tell you the top of the box never got above anything but a little warm. The case is coated in a rubbery compound that feels very durable. The power the HD activity lights are actually very subdued and did not glare at me during use in a dark room.
The dual USB3 ports in the front of the computer are hidden behind a small panel. The panel in this case a small rubber cover that is held on by a rubber hinge. I can tell you I personally do not like this design as you have to hold it open to plug in USB devices. However it does hide well when it closed.
I cannot spend enough time talking about how small this PC is. In the picture here you see it next to a Wii, a very small game console. As you can see this thing is really small, this makes it easy to put it on any entertainment cent or PC cart in an office and not feel like you had to cram it into a space.
When you understand the design of this PC and what it is targeted at then this is actually a very attractive device. The small form factor, good solid basic PC function and a device that seems built to stream everything it can makes the Edge a really neat little PC.
If you are looking for a general family PC for someone that does a lot Facebook and net browsing then this is a great choice. If you need a small workstation to access internet application or do basic office work this is a great option. If you gaming is limited to older games, simple games, social games or the games you want to play can be found on a streaming service like Onlive then this is a solid buy.
This is not your ordinary PC and is not for everyone but in it’s nitch this PC has a definite Edge.
Sapphire Edge HD3 Review as aired live 10 March 2012
While out at CES we had a chance to speak with the folks at Intel and they asked us if we would be interested in looking at one of their Extreme Edition processors, now we did not get the either of the six core processors, but instead they gave us a chance to look at the quad core i7 3820. Clocked at 3.6Ghz stock with a turbo boost up to 3.9Ghz, this also has full hyper threading and makes use of a quad channel memory controller. Unlike the other two Extreme processors the 3820 is only partially unlocked, with the multiplier limit to x43, or a 4.3Ghz max.
Now before we get started I want to make clear this review will be of the entire Extreme (Socket 2011) platform as well as the CPU. We were provided a motherboard by the folks at Sapphire, a Pure Black X79N, Kingston gave us a quad channel RAM kit, 16 gig HyperX DDR3 1600 and Intel gave us the chip and cooler. We will look at the individual components in later reviews.
The Extreme processors and platform are meant to be just that, extreme. With quad channel memory access the design should allow applications that make intense use of the memory to roar compared to a dual channel system. Intel lists the Extreme as the ultimate desktop processor and says you will use it to dominate in your gaming, well lets put that to the test.
We begin our testing with the basic setup, using the Pure Black board we put in Kingston’s 16 gig of RAM. With this platform using 4 sticks at a time it makes no sense to run less than 16 gigs of RAM. The Sapphire board we have allows for 4 sticks to be used but some of the higher end boards allow for 8 sticks and make it simple to run at much as 32 gig if the memory demand is there. We round out the build with a Sapphire 6950 Flex card for our video and fire up some games.
For our game testing we chose some games that we have seen push harder at the CPU; Skyrim, Supreme Commander, Champions Online, Civilization V and Star Trek Online. I chose these games based on the fact I know each of them intimately and so can tell when a hitch in smooth playback hits. Also these games have shown processors make a difference in their performance, much more so than games most places use in testing which are of the FPS style and really focus more on the GPU.
The pricing for the 3820 is supposed to come in under $300, so this actually makes the chip less expensive than the 2600K. However for purposes of our testing I do not have a 2600K and so had to use the closest thing I have, the 2500K. With this chip lacks the hyper threading of the i7 chips it is still a gaming brute and has proven to be a great value chip for a gaming system build. We set all of the games at 1080 resolutions and then maxed out the in game graphics settings and let her fly.
From a pure experience point of view there was zero difference between the two systems. Both systems ran everything I threw at it butter smooth, with no glitches or hitches. This does show that moving from 8 gig on the 2500K to 16 gig on the 3280 along with dual vs. quad channel memory was making little to no difference in the game play experience, or does it. With the experience being a dead tie we next move to some frame rate counts to see how the 3820 is really doing against the 2500K.
Now at this point I could put up a bunch of numbers but to be honest the numbers do not mean that much. What I mean is both chips where within about 4% of each other in every test. At no point in ANY test did the 3820 draw out a clear lead, in fact in couple of tests the 2500K was able to tie the 3820. The conclusions we can draw are pretty clear in most of the games on the market right now the 3820 does not give a significant advantage.
However when you step outside of gaming the 3820 and the entire platform can get it’s chance to shine. You see the key to the Extreme platform is that quad channel brute of a memory setup. To use it however you have to saturate the memory channel, you need really memory intense applications to make use of this. With that in mind this little chip could be a serious brute when it comes to CAD, heavy rendering and video operations. However in gaming there just not seem to be enough pressure put on the memory system to allow the quad channel controller to shine.
However the Extreme platform does excel in one area of gaming over the 1155 platform and that is in PCIe lanes. The 1155 cannot get above 2 lanes at X8 in performance but the 2011 (extreme) can handle 2 lanes at x16, this means in theory high end Crossfire/SLI setups should gain a performance boost.
The 3820 is a solid chip and a value for an i7 processor, however the chip is held back as a value due to it needing the X79 boards and quad channel memory kits. This pushes the cost above an i7 build. In addition the 3820 faces stiff competition, not from AMD but within Intel. The 2500K can deliver a similar gaming and everyday computing experience for a lot less money.
When it comes to overclocking, as I mentioned the 3820 is a limited model. For our overclock testing we did as we always do and looked to see how far we could take the chip with no tweaking, just raise the speed at otherwise stock settings and see what we can get. The 3820 was able to get to 4.0Ghz before it would go no farther without tweaking. Our 2500K was able to hit 4.2Ghz making the 2500K come even closer to the 3820 in performance numbers.
What this is showing us is first that most of todays games are still fine on a quad core processor, this means that hyper threading or even adding more cores is not really something most of us need to worry about. Additionally while having 16 gigs of RAM is nice and quad channel on the memory in theory means you will get great performance, the reality is that you need to have software the pushes the memory enough to make this really have an impact and that is something again most of us will never hit, even most hard core gamers.
I know this might not be what Intel wants to hear but what I got from reviewing the 3820 is what a great chip the 2500K is. Now that being said do not take my position to mean I think the 3820 is a bad chip. With a reasonable, sub $300 price the 3820 is a great chip to allow a professional using memory intense software, a way to get into the 2011 platform at a more reasonable price. You get the performance of a solid quad core processor with hyper threading and the power of quad channel memory plus the ability to really put in massive amounts of RAM. However the claim by Intel of a platform that will let you dominate gaming is just not there. Sure it can be a brute of a gaming platform but at the end of the day the 1155 platform can deliver the same gaming experience for less money and you can use the savings to boost other areas of the gaming PC and actually get a more powerful system for the same money for your games.
A special thanks BTW to Kingston and Sapphire for getting us the RAM and motherboard quickly so we could do these tests. Also a special thanks to Intel for letting us test this platform but also for sending us their cooling solution so we could get on our testing right away.
Review as aired live 11 February 2012
It is easy to get caught up in the race for the biggest, baddest video card. If the luxury level high end is not your cup of tea maybe you are excited about the mainstream performance lineup. For gamers this is where the excitement typically ends. I mean budget video cards, seriously? Yes seriously and this time out the game has changed.
Typically card in the $100 or less price point fall into one of two categories, budget lower powered cards of the new generation or really old cards from previous generations that need to be moved. These card are usually thought of as a way to add better TV playback to a system with integrated graphics. This use is still in the fore front without a doubt but AMD seems to have decided to push the bar a bit.
Today AMD is announcing the HD 6670 ($99 msrp) and the HD 6570 ($79 msrp). These card fall fully into what would be categorized as a budget card solution. We had sent to our show both cards in reference design by AMD and Sapphire provided us a 6570 retail model to compare. Now I am sure if you browse the net today you will see all sorts of sites showing benchmarks and telling you how those numbers mean something. The truth is though to the target audience for this price point those numbers are worse than meaningless.
At this price point you are going to see the vast majority of these cards purchased by people with cookie cutter machines from Dell or HP. These are gamers that are classified as casual or even light gamers looking to add a bit more graphics power to their budget computer purchases. With this in mind I thought a great way to test these cards was to put them in the hands of this target audience. So my wife became an unwitting test subject.
My wife is a light gamer in ever definition of the word. She plays Wizards 101, LOTRO as well as Civilization and a few older titles such as Warhammer. Her system is using an Athlon II 640 with 4 Gigs of RAM, a WD Green 1 TB HD and a 24” LG Monitor. Her current video card is a Sapphire 6850 and all of her games are set at 1080 for resolution.
The other day while she was at work I swapped out her 6850 and put in the 6670. I left all the settings as she had them and put the system back together before she got home. Over the next couple of days she gamed away and at no time noticed a change in her gaming experience. Oh I can already hear the enthusiasts on the web crying BS on this but it is true.
You see we that deal with higher end equipment daily tend to forget a simple truth, the REAL WORLD is not as fascinated with high frame rates and benchmarks as we are. They do not need uber detail levels to enjoy their games. After a few days of her running the card I told her what I had done to get her impression. Other than a few times that LOTRO seemed to hiccup she had not noticed the change at all. The hiccups were so minor she figured they where just bandwidth issues with the game.
Today a package from Sapphire arrived with their 6570 product so I decided to use it for testing instead of the engineering sample I had gotten in. While the wife was picking up the kids I again pulled a switch on her. She came in and her and the kinds launched into a 3 hours session of Wizards 101. Again there was no change in the game play experience for her. When she switched over to LOTRO however the card began to stumble quite a bit. We dropped the resolution down to 1600×900 and it again delivered a game play experience she could enjoy. The same had to be done for Civilization V.
Now the rest of the tech community might cry crap at my testing methods I think I have shown something that needs to be looked at. You see at the end of the day benchmark numbers are a clinical study to specific point in time under set circumstances. While that might sound good it is meaningless in the real world since those conditions are seldom if ever met in real life. At the end of the day the experience of using the computer is ALWAYS more important than the benchmark numbers, even more so in the area of budget computing.
With the 6670 and 6570 AMD has a solid swing that will not be a home run but is a definite base hit. These cards use very little power so even the stock PSUs in your Dell or HP can handle the upgrade. The engineering samples where capable of low profile design which means we should see some models using that form soon. This is great news for some of the smaller computer designs.
If you are a budget home user that is looking to wade into the world of computer gaming then both of these designs are a perfect fit for you. When we looked at the Fusion a few weeks ago I mentioned that putting a low cost card on the system would allow for some solid game performance at the 720 resolution, well for $80 you can get that kind of card.
The Sapphire model is a nice step up from the reference design with a better cooling solution, we did some quick tests and found it was running a full 7C lower at load than the reference design and was much quieter.
Neither of these cards are what a serious gamer will consider in their system. If you are building a custom system I would say these are both cards that would only be considered at the most budget levels. However if you are just starting in the world of computer gaming and have been using onboard graphics then these two cards offer a great budget alternative to move into a new level of gaming experience.
For the $20 price difference I would normally say to ignore the 6570. However in todays reality $20 can be a bigger deal than it used to be. If you have a 19” monitor or smaller with that budget computer the 6570 is a solid choice to take a step up in the gaming experience. Both cards deliver solidly in the range they are targeted at and are great buys. While most releases over the next few days will stick to the base design I would say your best bet is to look toward Sapphire first. They are the premier partner for AMD products and with good reason.
Segment Aired 1 May 2011