XFX HD7870 Black Edition Overclocked Graphics Card Review

For the last week we have been busy testing a plethora of new 7 series graphics cards from various AMD partners. Today we are looking at the latest card to be released from XFX, the HD7870 Black Edition which features a custom metal cooler, twin fans and overclocked ‘out of the box’ settings.
XFX are one of AMD’s primary partners and for the last year they have been releasing some great discrete solutions for all price sectors of the market.
All the partners lately have been highlighting their own buzzword technology claims. XFX offer ‘Ghost – Thermal Technology’ into the mix.

What is this? Well XFX say “Through rigorous testing and analysis we have discovered the optimal thermal design that allows air to pass through the heatsink directly to the PCB and core components. Older enclosed designs often trapped the heat, creating a bottle neck at the exhaust, this can be remedied but at the cost of a higher fan speed which creates excess noise. Our design allows us to keep the fan speeds lower while allowing the heat to dissipate evenly throughout the card.”
Product AMD HD7970 AMD HD7950 XFX HD7870 Black Edition
AMD HD7850
Core Clock speed 925mhz 800mhz 1000mhz (1,050mhz) 860mhz
Transistors 4.31 billion 4.31 billion 2.8 billion 2.8 billion
Stream Processors 2,048 1,792 1,280 1,024
Compute Performance 3.79 TFLOPS 2.87 TFLOPS 2.56 TFLOPS 1.76 TFLOPS
Texture Units 128 112 80 64
Texture Fillrate 118.4 GT/s 89.6 GT/s 80 GT/s 55.0 GT/s
ROPs 32 32 32 32
Pixel Fillrate 29.6 GP/s 25.6 GP/s 32.0 GP/s 27.52 GP/s
Z/Stencil 128 128 128 128
Memory Clock 1,375mhz 1,250mhz 1,200mhz (1,250mhz) 1,200mhz
Memory Data Rate 5.5 GBps 5.0 Gbps 4.8 Gbps (5.0Gbps) 4.8 Gbps
Memory Bandwidth 264 GB/s 240 GB/s 153.6 GB/s 153.6 GB/s
XFX have opted for a modest overclock of 50mhz on the core, from 1,200mhz to 1,250mhz. The GDDR5 memory also receives a 50mhz clock increase to 1,250mhz (5.0Gbps effective). The Gigabyte HD7870 Overclock Edition that we reviewed earlier this week received a 100mhz overclock to 1,100mhz on the core, but didn’t have a memory boost at all.

XFX are using the same dramatic artwork that we first noticed on the HD7950 Black Edition box earlier this year.

The bundle is extensive: including a Crossfire cable, ‘Black Edition’ metal badge and a ‘Do Not Disturb’ door design. They also include a vast array of literature on the product and promotional material for their power supply range. You can find many XFX power supply reviews on Kitguru.

The XFX HD7870 Black Edition is a stunning card which matches the other cards in their current range. We love the white and black metallic cooler, very classy. It is built around a black PCB.

This is the supermodel of the graphics card world, from any angle. There can be no arguing this point. The red metal strip along the top of the card highlights the name and the GHOST technology.

The HD7870 is Crossfire capable, but only in a 2 way configuration. If you want three way or QUAD Crossfire, then you need to budget for a 79xx series graphics card.

The XFX HD7870 Black Edition requires power from two 6 pin PCI E cables. This follows the reference guidelines.

The card is a dual slot design with two full sized DVI ports and a single HDMI port with two mini DisplayPort connectors. It is Eyefinity capable. This card can simultaneously output multiple, independent audio streams from the HDMI and mini Displayport connectors at the rear of the card.

XFX are the only company we know who put ‘warranty invalid’ stickers on their GPU base mounting screws. We feel XFX need to stop doing this as many enthusiast users like to apply their own thermal paste.

The cooler is formed around a copper base with 4 modestly sized heatpipes which split up into two racks of aluminum fins on either side of the core. The card uses 2GB of Hynix GDDR5 memory.

A basic overview of the hardware which we discussed earlier in the review. The Pitcairn GPU is manufactured on 28nm technology and this specific board features 32 ROPS and 2GB of GDDR5 memory which is connected via a 256 bit memory interface. The core clock is increased from 1,000mhz to 1,050mhz and the memory from 1,200mhz (4.8Gbps effective) to 1,250mhz (5.0Gbps effective). The card has 1,280 shaders.
On this page we present some super high resolution images of the product taken with the 24.5MP Nikon D3X camera and 24-70mm ED lens. These will take much longer to open due to the dimensions, especially on slower connections. If you use these pictures on another site or publication, please credit Kitguru.net as the owner/source. You can right click and ‘save as’ to your computer to view later.

To test today we are using our long standing Core i7 970 system, which is overclocked. We have a variety of hardware benchmarked on this system within the last couple of months which will make for an interesting market comparison.
Main Test System:
: Core i7 970 @ 4.6ghz
Graphics: XFX HD7870 Black Edition
Cooling: Coolit Vantage
Motherboard: MSI X58A-GD65
Chassis: Thermaltake Level 10 GT
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Memory: 6GB ADATA @ 2133mhz 9-10-9-32
Storage: Kingston SSDNow V+ 512GB Gen 2 SSD (Storage) / Crucial RealSSD C300 256GB (OS boot)

Comparison Cards:
MSI R7970 Lightning Edition
HD6990 (880 core)
Sapphire HD7770 1GHZ OC Edition
XFX HD7770 Black Edition S CFx
HD7770 CFx
Sapphire HD7750 Ultimate Edition
GTX590 SLi
GTX580 SLi
Monitors: Dell U3011
Windows 7 Enterprise 64 bit
Unigine Heaven Benchmark
3DMark Vantage
3DMark 11
Fraps Professional
Steam Client
Alien V Predator
Dead Island
Tom Clancy HAWX 2
Resident Evil 5
Far Cry 2
F1 2011
Total War: Shogun 2
All the latest BIOS updates and drivers are used during testing. We perform generally under real world conditions, meaning KitGuru tests games across five closely matched runs and then average out the results to get an accurate median figure. If we use scripted benchmarks, they are mentioned on the relevant page.
Some game descriptions are edited from Wikipedia.
Unigine provides an interesting way to test hardware. It can be easily adapted to various projects due to its elaborated software design and flexible toolset. A lot of their customers claim that they have never seen such extremely-effective code, which is so easy to understand.
Heaven Benchmark is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on advanced Unigine engine from Unigine Corp. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. Interactive mode provides emerging experience of exploring the intricate world of steampunk.
Efficient and well-architected framework makes Unigine highly scalable:
  • Multiple API (DirectX 9 / DirectX 10 / DirectX 11 / OpenGL) render
  • Cross-platform: MS Windows (XP, Vista, Windows 7) / Linux
  • Full support of 32bit and 64bit systems
  • Multicore CPU support
  • Little / big endian support (ready for game consoles)
  • Powerful C++ API
  • Comprehensive performance profiling system
  • Flexible XML-based data structures
We use the following settings: 1920×1080 resolution. Anti Aliasing off. Anisotrophy 4, Tessellation normal. Shaders High. Stereo 3D disabled. API: Direct X 11.

The HD7870 Black Edition manages to outperform the GTX580 at reference clocks.
Futuremark released 3DMark Vantage, on April 28, 2008. It is a benchmark based upon DirectX 10, and therefore will only run under Windows Vista (Service Pack 1 is stated as a requirement) and Windows 7. This is the first edition where the feature-restricted, free of charge version could not be used any number of times. 1280×1024 resolution was used with performance settings.

The XFX HD7870 Black Edition manages to outperform the HD7770′s in Crossfire, by a couple of hundred points. It falls in around 1,000 points behind the GTX580.
3DMark 11 is designed for testing DirectX 11 hardware running on Windows 7 and Windows Vista the benchmark includes six all new benchmark tests that make extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.
After running the tests 3DMark gives your system a score with larger numbers indicating better performance. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.
If you want to learn more about this benchmark, or to buy it yourself, head over to this page.

The overclock on the core and memory helps the XFX HD7870 Black Edition to perform at an almost identical level to the more expensive HD7950.
HQV Benchmark 2.0 is an updated version of the original tool and it consists of various video clips and test patterns which are designed to evalute motion correction, de-interlacing, decoding, noise reduction, detail enhancement and film cadence detection.
There are two versions of the program, standard definition on DVD and high definition on Bluray. As our audience will be concentrating on HD content so will we.
This has a total of 39 video tests which is increased from 23 in the original and the scoring is also up from a total of 130 to 210. As hardware and software gets more complicated, the software has been tuned to make sure we can thoroughly maximise our analysis.
Read our initial analysis over here

Dial with static pattern 5
Gray Bars 5
Violin 5
Stadium 2:2 5
Stadium 3:2 5
Horizontal Text Scroll 5
Vertical Text Scroll 5
Transition to 3:2 Lock 5
Transition to 2:2 Lock 0
2:2:2:4 24 FPS DVCAM Video
2:3:3:2 24 FPS DVCam Video
3:2:3:2:2 24 FOS Vari-Speed
5:5 FPS Animation
6:4 12 FPS Animation
8:7 8 FPS Animation
Interlace Chroma Problem (ICP)
Chroma Upsampling Error (CUE)
Random Noise: Sailboat
Random Noise: Flower
Random Noise: Sunrise
Random Noise: Harbour Night
Scrolling Text
Roller Coaster
Ferris Wheel
Bridge Traffic
Text Pattern/ Scrolling Text
Roller Coaster
Ferris Wheel
Bridge Traffic
Luminance Frequency Bands
Chrominance Frequency Bands
Vanishing Text 5
Resolution Enhancement
Theme Park
Driftwood 5
Ferris Wheel
Skin Tones
Total 196
A score of 196 points is class leading right now, the ideal solution for high definition media playback on a big screen.
F1 2011 is the newest Direct X 11 racing game from industry pioneers CodeMasters. The 2011 Formula One season is the 62nd FIA Formula One season. The original calendar consisted of twenty rounds, including the inaugural running of the Indian Grand Prix before the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Pirelli returns to the sport as tyre supplier for all teams, taking over from Bridgestone. Red Bull Racing are the reigning Constructor’s Champions. Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel is the defending Drivers’ Champion, one of five World Champions appearing on the grid.

Similar performance to the HD7950 at these speeds, dropping only 1 minimum frame per second throughout the test environment.
Homefront’s PC version was developed by Digital Extremes, a Canadian developer responsible for numerous Unreal Tournament games and Bioshock ports. It received mixed reports, although Kitguru really likes the single player aspect of this title. The engine isn’t the most demanding on the market, but it requires decent partnering hardware for solid frame rates at 1080p.

A slight performance boost when compared to the reference clocked card, but nothing noticeable with this particular engine.
Aliens V Predator has proved to be a big seller since the release and Sega have taken the franchise into new territory after taking it from Sierra. AVP is a Direct X 11 supported title and delivers not only advanced shadow rendering but high quality tessellation for the cards on test today.
To test the cards we used a 1080p resolution with DX11, Texture Quality Very High, MSAA Samples 1, 16 af, ambient occulsion on, shadow complexity high, motion blur on. We use this with most of our graphics card testing so cards are comparable throughout reviews.

The XFX HD7870 Black Edition is very closely matched with the Nvidia GTX580, averaging a single frame per second more at these settings.
Dead Island is a first person horror action-adventure video game developed by Techland and published by Deep Silver for Microsoft Windows. It is centered on the challenge of survival on a zombie-infested open world island with a major emphasis on melee combat. It is rather good fun, for a short while, but it becomes repetitive.

The overclocked card generates 3 extra frames per second over the reference HD7870.
Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 2 is an arcade-style flight action game developed by Ubisoft Romania and published by Ubisoft. After the events of the first game, the H.A.W.X squadron is sent to Middle East, where a high level of violence is being registered, and the appearance of various insurgents leaders in various hotspots. The team also has to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Russian nuclear weapons. The player will be controlling three groups: one American (Hunter), one British (Munro) and one Russian (Sokov), each with its own pilots and supporting characters. There will also be references to other characters in the Tom Clancy universe.
We are testing in full DX11 mode with all settings to maximum.

HAWX 2 runs well on all current hardware and even the HD6770 can maintain playable frame rates at these settings. The HD7870 Black Edition averages 104 frames per second, two more than the reference clocked card.
Resident Evil 5, known in Japan as Biohazard 5, is a survival horror third-person shooter video game developed and published by Capcom. The game is the seventh installment in the Resident Evil survival horror series, and was released on March 5, 2009 in Japan and on March 13, 2009 in North America and Europe for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. A Windows version of the game was released on September 15, 2009 in North America, September 17 in Japan and September 18 in Europe. Resident Evil 5 revolves around Chris Redfield and Sheva Alomar as they investigate a terrorist threat in Kijuju, a fictional town in Africa.
Within its first three weeks of release, the game sold over 2 million units worldwide and became the best-selling game of the franchise in the United Kingdom. As of December, 2009, Resident Evil 5 has sold 5.3 million copies worldwide since launch, becoming the best selling Resident Evil game ever made.

The overclocked Black Edition manages to maintain identical frame rates alongside the HD7950, averaging 148 fps.
Far Cry 2 (commonly abbreviated as “FC2 or “fc2″) is an open-ended first-person shooter developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. It was released on October 21, 2008 in North America and on October 23, 2008 in Europe and Australia. It was made available on Steam on October 22, 2008. Crytek, the developers of the original game, were not involved in the development of Far Cry 2.
Ubisoft has marketed Far Cry 2 as the true sequel to Far Cry, though the sequel has very few noticeable similarities to the original game. Instead, it features completely new characters and setting, as well as a new style of gameplay that allows the player greater freedom to explore different African landscapes such as deserts, jungles, and savannas. The game takes place in a modern-day East African nation in a state of anarchy and civil war. The player takes control of a mercenary on a lengthy journey to locate and assassinate “The Jackal,” a notorious arms dealer.
Far Cry 2 is still a popular game and the open world environment can be taxing on even the latest hardware available today.
Settings: 1920×1200, D3D10, Disable Artificial Intelligence(No), Full Screen, Anti-Aliasing(8x), VSync(No), Overall Quality(Ultra High), Vegetation(Very High), Shading(Ultra High), Terrain(Ultra High), Geometry(Ultra High), Post FX(High), Texture(Ultra High), Shadow(Ultra High), Ambient(High), Hdr(Yes), Bloom(Yes), Fire(Very High), Physics(Very High), RealTrees(Very High).

The HD7870 Black Edition performs at the same level as the HD7770′s in Crossfire, averaging 87 frames per second.
Shogun 2 is set in 16th-century feudal Japan, in the aftermath of the Ōnin War. The country is fractured into rival clans led by local warlords, each fighting for control. The player takes on the role of one of these warlords, with the goal of dominating other factions and claiming his rule over Japan. The standard edition of the game will feature a total of eight factions (plus a ninth faction for the tutorial), each with a unique starting position and different political and military strengths.
We are using the built in benchmark which is available via the STEAM client for this game.

The overclocked XFX HD7870 Black Edition produces an extra 3 frames per second over the reference card at 1080p, almost matching the HD7950.
The tests were performed in a controlled air conditioned room with temperatures maintained at a constant 24c – a comfortable environment for the majority of people reading this.
Idle temperatures were measured after sitting at the desktop for 30 minutes. Load measurements were acquired by playing Crysis Warhead for 30 minutes and measuring the peak temperature. We also have included Furmark results, recording maximum temperatures throughout a 30 minute stress test. All fan settings were left on automatic.

When we first tested the XFX HD7870 Black Edition we recorded 84c under Furmark load, which seemed excessively high. I reported this to XFX who then informed me that I must have a pre-production bios on the review sample. They sent me an updated bios with a DOS flashing tool.
XFX have assured me that this ‘updated’ bios is the final retail bios which will be shipped to customers. I felt it was worth including this information, so we are being completely transparent with our readership. It will be worth checking your temperatures if you buy one of these cards.
With the updated bios the temperatures dropped significantly, however the Black Edition didn’t run any cooler than the reference solution, which is a little disappointing.
We have changed our method of measuring noise levels. We have built a system inside a Lian Li chassis with no case fans and have used a fanless cooler on our CPU. We are using a heatpipe based passive power supply and an Intel SSD to keep noise levels to a minimum. The motherboard is also passively cooled. This gives us a build with completely passive cooling and it means we can measure noise of just the graphics card inside the system when we run looped 3dMark tests.
Ambient noise in the room is around 20-25dBa. We measure from a distance of around 1 meter from the closed chassis and 4 foot from the ground to mirror a real world situation.
Why do this? Well this means we can eliminate secondary noise pollution in the test room and concentrate on only the video card. It also brings us slightly closer to industry standards, such as DIN 45635.
KitGuru noise guide
10dBA - Normal Breathing/Rustling Leaves
20-25dBA – Whisper
30dBA - High Quality Computer fan
40dBA - A Bubbling Brook, or a Refridgerator
50dBA - Normal Conversation
60dBA - Laughter
70dBA - Vacuum Cleaner or Hairdryer
80dBA - City Traffic or a Garbage Disposal
90dBA - Motorcycle or Lawnmower
100dBA - MP3 player at maximum output
110dBA - Orchestra
120dBA - Front row rock concert/Jet Engine
130dBA - Threshold of Pain
140dBA - Military Jet takeoff/Gunshot (close range)
160dBA - Instant Perforation of eardrum

The XFX HD7870 Black Edition might not run any cooler than the reference HD7870 but at least the noise levels are substantially lower as shown above. When gaming, it will be difficult to hear the card over several chassis fans. Both Black Edition fans spin around 2,100 rpm when gaming and rise to around 2,500 rpm under Furmark load.
To test power consumption today we are using a Keithley Integra unit and we measure power consumption from the VGA card inputs, not the system wide drain. We measure results while gaming in Crysis Warhead and record the results.
In such an energy aware climate, AMD are making a big deal out of their new ‘ZeroCore Power’ technology. Many solutions today use power gating, clock gating and memory compression to reduce idle power requirements, but ZeroCore power technology can completely power down the core GPU while the rest of the system remains active.

Power consumption falls in line with the reference sample we reviewed a short while ago.
For the overclocking today, we are using Catalyst Control Center.

We managed to increase the core clock to 1,240mhz from 1,050mhz – translating to an 18 percent overclock. The memory maxed out at 1,345mhz (5380mhz effective).

The overclock increased the 3DMark 11 score from 6,797 points to 7,642 points, only 200 points behind the HD7970. Impressive results.
In the last fortnight we have received many new graphics cards from AMD’s partners. The XFX HD7870 Black Edition is another beautiful ‘supermodel’ styled card set to reinforce their lineup.
The XFX dual fan cooler helps to reduce noise emissions over the reference solution, although we were slightly disappointed to see that the temperatures were no better than the reference cooled HD7870, even with the updated ‘retail’ bios we were sent just before publication.
65c under gaming load is not a concern, but it is worth pointing out that Gigabyte’s HD7870 Overclock Edition achieved a record breaking 48c load result, 17c cooler than this Black Edition. In this case three fans are certainly better than two. Furthermore, it doesn’t help that the Gigabyte card is clocked 50mhz higher out of the box (1,100mhz), delivering extra frame rate performance.
While every sample will be different, it is clear the XFX HD7870 Black Edition has a lot of headroom available on the core. While they won’t all hit 1,240mhz, we would assume that 1,100mhz-1,150mhz would be possible with all of these cards.
The XFX slogan has always been ‘play hard’, but in this instance we feel ‘play safe’ would be more apt as 50mhz doesn’t seem like much of an overclock to us for such a renowned enthusiast brand name. Gigabyte have been able to crank their tri fan card to 1,100mhz without any effort, which will give them the edge in the benchmark tests.
The Gigabyte HD7870 Overclock Edition is the best HD7870 we have tested to date and is still our ‘must have’ award winner. This XFX HD7870 Black Edition is a great card, but it just doesn’t quite deserve our highest award. Gigabyte have pushed the HD7870 sector forward in a positive direction since launch day, and it is now up to other companies to meet this grade.
We don’t have a retail price going to publication, but you can expect to pay a premium over a reference cooled HD7870, probably around £300 inc vat.
  • Looks are stunning.
  • Great performance.
  • cooler is quiet.
  • Outperformed by the Gigabyte HD7870 Overclock Edition.
  • overclock is rather tame for XFX.
  • temperatures aren’t as impressive as we hoped.
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