Sapphire HD7950 Vapor-X Edition Review

Last month we reviewed the latest flagship GPU from Sapphire, the incredible HD7970 6GB Toxic Edition. The 7970 Toxic managed to get the enthusiast audience salivating, although most simply couldn’t afford the bank breaking asking price. In an attempt to rectify this today we are looking at the brand new HD7950 Vapor X card – another pimped out, heavily modified solution from the company, but targeted at a more affordable price point. Our sample was one of the first from the factory, before even the retail boxes were printed.
AMD’s HD7950 has enjoyed success this year, targeting the high end gamer who wants to play the latest Direct X 11 titles with all the eye candy maxed at full high definition resolutions.
Previous testing has highlighted that when overclocked, the HD7950 can nearly compete against the more expensive HD7970. Priced between £240 and £290, it has hit the sweet spot for high performance gaming throughout 2012.
Can Sapphire once again lead the way with their heavily customised HD7950 Vapor X solution?
ProductAMD HD7970 GHZ Ed
Sapphire HD7950 Vapor-X EditionAMD HD7950AMD HD7870AMD HD7850
Core Clock speed1050mhz850mhz-950mhz
Transistors4.31 billion4.31 billion2.8 billion2.8 billion
Stream Processors2,0481,7921,2801,024
Compute Performance3.79 TFLOPS2.87 TFLOPS2.56 TFLOPS1.76 TFLOPS
Texture Units1281128064
Texture Fillrate134.4 GT/s89.6 GT/s80 GT/s55.0 GT/s
Pixel Fillrate33.6 GP/s25.6 GP/s32.0 GP/s27.52 GP/s
Memory Clock1,500mhz
Memory Data Rate6 GBps5.0 Gbps4.8 Gbps4.8 Gbps
Memory Bandwidth288 GB/s240 GB/s153.6 GB/s153.6 GB/s
Sapphire have enhanced this card by offering a dual bios, with the secondary core overclock boost speed set to 950mhz. The remainder of the specifications are the same as the reference card.
We received one of the first Sapphire HD7950 Vapor-X cards direct from the factory in the Far East so didn’t get the retail box. Sapphire sent us an image of the retail packaging however before publication, shown above. As we would expect – another moody 3D rendered woman, this time adorned in a kinky white outfit. We have to ask, has someone stolen her snowmobile?
The bundle we received included a few video and power converter cables, Crossfire cable, software disc and HDMI cable.
The Sapphire HD7950 Vapor X Edition is built around a blue PCB with a large twin fan cooler taking centerstage at the front.
The Vapor-X cooler on this model is based on a new vapor chamber designed especially for this series. It is a very heavy graphics card, immediately noticeable when you first pick it up.
Sapphire are using two 90mm fans with aerofoil blades and dust repelling bearings.
The Sapphire HD7950 Vapor X Edition is Crossfire capable in 2, 3 and 4 way configurations. It takes power from a single 8 pin and a single 6 pin PCI E connector. The reference HD7950 is a dual 6 pin configuration, so Sapphire are clearly driving for maximum overclocked performance from the Vapor X.
The HD7950 Vapor-X offers two DVI output connectors, alongside a full sized HDMI and DisplayPort connector. All outputs can be used simultaneously.
The copper heatsink is connected to 2x 6mm and 2x 8mm heatpipes, which run into two separate racks of aluminum fins on either side. Sapphire incorporate several heatsinks to help enhance cooling of the VRM’s. The GDDR5 memory is directly cooled by the base of the main cooler above. It is clear that Sapphire haven’t cut any corners in the design of this massive cooling solution.
The card ships with a dual bios, which can be easily selected via the button above.
Above, the two bios settings. For the review today we are testing with the higher 950mhz core setting as we don’t imagine anyone buying this powerful gaming card will want to run at the slower speeds. AMD’s Tahiti core is built on the 28nm engineering process, equipped with 32 ROP’s and 1792 unifed shaders. The 3GB of GDDR5 memory is clocked at 1,250mhz, or 5Gbps effective and is connected via a wide 384 bit memory interface.
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 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 this year which will make for an interesting market comparison.
Main Test System:
Processor: Core i7 970 @ 4.6ghz
Sapphire HD7950 Vapor-X Edition (@950mhz core clock)
Cooling: Coolit Vantage
: MSI X58A-GD65
: Thermaltake Level 10 GT
Power Supply
: Corsair AX1200
: 6GB ADATA @ 2133mhz 9-10-9-32
: Kingston SSDNow V+ 512GB Gen 2 SSD (Storage) / Crucial RealSSD C300 256GB (OS boot)
Monitor: Dell U3011.
We also change the system later in the review to test Eyefinity across three 24 inch screens.
Ultra High End System (For 3 screen testing):
Processor: Core i7 3960 X Extreme Edition @ 4.6ghz
Cooler: Antec 920 H20
Memory: 16GB G.Skill 2,400mhz @ 10-11-10-30
Motherboard: Asus Rampage IV Extreme
Power Supply: Enermax Platimax 1200W
Optical Drive
: Asus BluRay Drive
: Lian Li PC-A77FR Aluminium Red Full Tower Case
Boot Drive: Patriot WildFire 120GB
Secondary Drive: 1TB Samsung
Monitors: Dell U2410 x 3.
Comparison Cards:
Asus GTX680
Asus GTX670 Direct CU II TOP
Sapphire HD7970 6GB Toxic Edition
HD7970 GHZ Edition
Sapphire HD7870 Overclock Edition
HD6990 (880 core)
Sapphire HD7770 Vapor X Overclock Edition
XFX HD7770 Black Edition S CFx
HD7770 CFx
Sapphire HD7750 Ultimate Edition
GTX590 SLi
GTX580 SLi
Windows 7 Enterprise 64 bit
Unigine Heaven Benchmark
3DMark Vantage
3DMark 11
Fraps Professional
Steam Client
Alien V Predator
Tom Clancy HAWX 2
Resident Evil 5
Far Cry 2
F1 2011
Total War: Shogun 2
Battlefield 3
Elder Scrolls V: SkyRim
Dirt Showdown
Max Payne 3
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 Sapphire HD7950 Vapor X slots in right behind the XFX HD7770 Black Edition cards in CrossfireX, averaging 76.4 frames per second.
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.
A great score from the Sapphire HD7950 Vapor-X, scoring 30,164 points, falling in around 1,500 points behind the AMD HD7970.
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.
We can see the benefits of overclocking the core, as the Sapphire HD7950 Vapor X delivers an almost identical score to the reference clocked HD7970 … 7,804 points v 7,823 points.
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
Sapphire HD7950
Vapor X Edition
Dial with static pattern5
Gray Bars5
Stadium 2:25
Stadium 3:25
Horizontal Text Scroll5
Vertical Text Scroll5
Transition to 3:2 Lock5
Transition to 2:2 Lock0
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 Text5
Resolution Enhancement
Theme Park
Ferris Wheel
Skin Tones
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.
Performance is exceptionally impressive, averaging 81 frames per second, 4 frames per second slower than the reference clocked GTX680 and 5 frames per second slower than the AMD HD7970 GHZ Edition.
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.
A very demanding Direct X 11 game which relies heavily on shader power. The Sapphire HD7950 Vapor X averages 85 frames per second, around 9 fps slower than the reference AMD HD7970 which is equipped with 2,048 stream processors.
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.
This engine favours Nvidia hardware and drivers although modern AMD hardware has no problems powering through the Direct X 11 engine without a hitch. The Sapphire HD7950 Vapor X Edition is 7 frames per second faster than the reference HD7950, slotting in behind the HD7770 1GHZ Edition in Crossfire.
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.
No problems powering this older title, averaging 155 frames per second.
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).
Another Nvidia favourite game, however the Sapphire HD7950 Vapor X scores well in this test, averaging 99 frames per second, just behind the overclocked XFX HD7770 Black Edition cards in Crossfire.
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.
Excellent results from this demanding Direct X 11 engine, averaging 69 frames per second. The Sapphire HD7950 Vapor X slots in behind the KFA2 GTX680 LTD OC Edition, which averages 71 frames per second.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is an action role-playing open world video game developed by Bethesda Game Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks. Skyrim‘s main story revolves around the player character’s efforts to defeat Alduin, a Dragon god who is prophesized to destroy the world. Set two hundred years after Oblivion, the game takes place in the fictional province of Skyrim, upon the continent of Tamriel, and the planet of Nirn. The open world gameplay of the Elder Scrolls series returns in Skyrim; the player can explore the land at will and ignore or postpone the main quest indefinitely. Skyrim has received universal acclaim from critics, selling more than 3.5 million copies within the first 48 hours of release.
Skyrim is a great game which runs well on AMD hardware. The Sapphire HD7950 Vapor X Edition averages 60 frames per second, just behind the reference clocked GTX680, which is 4 frames per second faster.
According to EA, Battlefield 3 garnered 3 million pre-orders by the day of its release. It is unknown at present whether these figures are worldwide or just for the US. The pre-order total makes it “the biggest first-person shooter launch in EA history”, according to the publisher. The engine is beautiful on the PC and very demanding of the partnering hardware.
We love this game and it runs very well on the Sapphire HD7950 Vapor X, averaging 85 frames per second.
Dirt Showdown is the latest title in the franchise from Codemasters, based around the famous Colin McRae racing game series, although it no longer uses his name, since he passed away in 2007.
An engine which runs exceptionally well on AMD hardware, and the Sapphire HD7950 Toxic Edition averages 64 frames per second, just in behind the flagship KFA2 GTX680 LTD OC.
According to EA, Battlefield 3 garnered 3 million pre-orders by the day of its release. It is unknown at present whether these figures are worldwide or just for the US. The pre-order total makes it “the biggest first-person shooter launch in EA history”, according to the publisher. The engine is beautiful on the PC and very demanding of the partnering hardware.
We configured the game to run on three 24 inch monitors at 5760×1080. We also dropped the Texture quality from ultra to high.
The game is fully playable across three screens, aided by the substantial overclock on the Vapor X.
Max Payne 3 is a third-person shooter in which the player assumes the role of its titular character, Max Payne. Max Payne 3 features a similar over-the-shoulder camera as its predecessors, with the addition of a cover mechanic, while also retaining much of the same run-and-gun style of gameplay. Max Payne 3 also marks the return of bullet-time in action sequences, for which the franchise is notable.
In bullet-time it is possible to see every bullet strike an enemy in detail. New to the series is a “Last Stand” mechanic, which gives the player a grace period after losing all health during which time the player may kill the enemy that wounded them in order to continue playing, however this mechanic is only usable if the player has one or more bottles of painkillers in their possession.
Max Payne 3 is a very intensive engine when running in Direct X 11, so for this page and comparison purposes we set to Direct X 10.1 and disabled Anti Aliasing. Our settings detailed above demanded 1344MB of graphics memory.
These are good results, averaging 63 frames per second and never dropping below 40 frames per second in the most intensive sections of the environment.
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.
The Sapphire HD7950 Vapor X improves on the reference cooling solution, even with the substantially overclocked settings. When gaming, the temperature of the core is only 60c… a fantastic result.
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. The motherboard is also passively cooled. This gives us a build with almost 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
At idle, the Vapor X cooler fans only spin at 1,100rpm, which is basically inaudible in the real world. When loaded, the noise emissions rise to 33.1dBa, which is hardly audible, especially when positioned inside a computer chassis. Under synthetic Furmark load, the noise levels rise to 33.9 dBa forcing the dual fans to around 1,900 rpm.
Sapphire seem to have mastered the art of fan profiles this year, supported by an excellent selection of low noise, quality fans.
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.
The Sapphire HD7950 Vapor X Edition consumes more power than the reference HD7950 in the secondary ‘performance’ bios position, indicated earlier by the PCB adoption of a single 6 pin and single 8 pin power connector.
To overclock today we are using the latest version of Sapphire’s TriXX software tool.
There is a huge amount of headroom on our review sample. We managed to push the core clock speed to a staggering 1,158mhz, translating to a 21.9% overclock. The GDDR5 memory could be pushed very high, from 1,250mhz (5Gbps effective) to 1,483mhz (5.92Gbps effective) – translating to a 18.6% increase. We achieved this by increasing the board power Li to ’11′.
This incredible overclock helped to drive the final score to 9,209 points. To put this into perspective, this is only slightly behind the Sapphire HD7970 6GB Toxic Edition when set to the slower bios setting (9236 points). We can’t guarantee that all of the HD7950 Vapor X boards will hit the same heights, but there is clearly some headroom available with the design.
The Sapphire HD7950 Vapor X Edition is certain to satisfy a huge audience of gamers who simply can’t afford the more expensive HD7970 6GB Toxic Edition. The build quality of the HD7950 Vapor X is exemplary, just like its bigger brother.
First impressions of the HD7950 Vapor X are extremely positive … while it isn’t equipped with the HD7970 Toxic metal backplate, it feels substantial in hand and weighs significantly more than the reference card.
Sapphire have been consistently releasing high end video cards this year which emit only a modicum of noise. Their choice of high quality 90mm fans with aerofoil blades and dust repelling bearings ensure that airflow is high while noise levels are reduced as far as possible. Commendation should be paid to the engineering team who are evidently tweaking the bios profiles to ensure a perfect balance between noise emissions and cooling proficiency.
Regular readers will already be aware that I continually complain about rising noise levels of products in reviews, so it is always a pleasure to analyse a high end Sapphire graphics card. When we compare the HD7950 Vapor X against the reference HD7950 cooling solution it is difficult to believe they are from the same family.
In regards to performance, AMD’s HD7950 hasn’t disappointed, although the Sapphire HD7950 Vapor X is batting in a completely different ball park.
As our results have shown the Sapphire HD7950 Vapor X is often able to compete against the expensive AMD HD7970 reference card. Even more remarkable, when we pushed the core speed to 1,158mhz via TriXX software, it matched the Sapphire HD7970 6GB Toxic Edition at theslower of the two bios settings in 3Dmark 11, scoring more than 9,200 points.
Right now we have no idea of the retail pricing of this card. Looking online at time of publication, a heavily overclocked card, such as the Gigabyte HD7950 Windforce is priced around £270 inc vat. Taking an educated guess, we would assume that Sapphire’s HD7950 Vapor X will be priced around the £300 inc vat point.
If you want the best equipped, fastest HD7950, then there is no doubt that this is the card you need to buy.
  • Fastest HD7950 on the market.
  • Quietest HD7950 on the market.
  • Our sample exhibited huge headroom for manual overclocking with TriXX.
  • HD7970 beating performance when manually overclocked.
  • There will be a price premium for pride of ownership.
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