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The graphics contender - Sapphire AMD Radeon HD7950 OC

This card has Sapphire’s own ‘dual extractor’ Dual-X cooling solution; this oversized plastic shroud on the card has the tendency to conflict with cables or may prevent the card from being installed in certain cases.  There is quite a bit of overhang at the front of the card.  The shroud is a result of marketing needs to ‘style’ the card as well as to house the large cooling fans.

We tested the Overclock model, which comes with 900MHz core, and 1250MHz memory clock speeds.  Overclocking is no problem for 7950 or 7970 and users can go further if they want. The 28nm GPU and the cooling solution can take it.

The Sapphire 7950OC can easily be overclocked to HD7970 speeds being 925MHz core and 1275MHz memory clock.  Since there are a number of compute cores disabled overclocking isn’t enough to turn a 7950 into a 7970. From the limited testing we did, overclocking the already overclocked Sapphire HD7950 gave us scores that were between the 7950 and the 7970, which I am now dubbing as a ‘HD7960’.

We tested overclocking using AMD overdrive as well as Sapphire’s own TRIXX utility, which is based on the GPU-Z software.  The software performed well and offered all the functions needed such as fan control and profile mapping with a reasonable UI.

I have a major gripe with the card itself.  Cards with Non-reference coolers such as this one use elaborate heat pipe and heat sink coolers rather than elongated vapour chambers as found on the AMD reference card.

The latter are fastened to the graphics card at every corner of the PCB giving the circuit board reinforcement, preventing any breakage.

Non-reference coolers are heavy with most of their weight placed onto the centre of the card leaving the rear unsupported and no brackets are provided to stiffen the PCB.  The PCB sags/warps due to not having a ‘chassis’ and may fail in the future

There is a reinforcing plate on the card but it is probably meant as a heat sink with structural support a bonus feature.

A warped circuit board will eventually fail as some solder balls on the many chips or other electrical connections will break and the card fails.  This is not a cheap graphics card so these quality issues matter.  Users who claim that they will upgrade in three years do not have a valid claim. NVIDIA users know this issue well, having to bake their graphics cards in the oven to reflow the solder to try to fix their cards.

Vendors can solve this problem by using all he provided screw holes in the circuit board to mount their heat sink and not just half of them in the centre. They will reduce their RMA rates too. 

I have seen a number of non-reference cards in my time where the PCB has sagged or warped and this was one of the worst.

Having said that, Sapphires Dual-X cooling system does an excellent job of maintaining 70c load temperature and 30-40 idle temperate.  The fans are quiet too and if they are too loud for you full fan control is available. Given the thermal performance and providing it fit your case, I can overlook the sagging PCB.

Great bundle of accessories: Mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort, HDMI to DVI, HDMI Cable, DVI to VGA Dongle, a pair of power adapters comprising of single 5.25 power plugs to 6pin PCI-E Power.  These will all come in handy for a multi-monitor or Eyefinity setup, saving the user having to run out and buy adapters.

The power adapters are of a newer, proper design meant for use with strong power supplies.  These are not the old rubbish Y splitters that were bundled with older cards, as late as a NVIDIA GTX460

The driver CD bundles the HD7900 series launch driver version 8.921 for Windows 7, Vista and XP. At time of testing this graphic card AMD only offered Windows 7 64-bit drivers for download for the HD7900 series. 

AMD’s own drivers for the HD7900 are still unfinished with regards to enabling the full capability of the HD7900 series cards but that is not Sapphire’s fault.  Drivers are a monthly evolution so all features will be activated and improvements delivered, eventually.

No game is bundled with this expensive graphics card.

The packaging is efficient and environmentally friendly being pure cardboard.  I do not like the artwork Sapphire has chosen for the HD7900 series but that is subjective opinion.