HIS Radeon HD 7970 IceQ X2 Graphics Card Review



Product: HIS Radeon HD 7970 IceQ X2
Company: HIS
Author: James Prior
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: January 16th, 2013

Summary

The HIS Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition IceQ X2 certainly appears to be a top shelf version of the erstwhile flagship AMD consumer graphics card, it's got all the enthusiast features and the still available AMD Never Settle bundle makes the card very, very attractive. The details that might preclude you from considering it are not the Add-In Board manufacturer's fault, but rather lie with AMD itself - the recent Never Settle driver has issues idle power consumption - the ultra low power state is operational but zero core power state is not, difficulties with Eyefinity, and stuttering in games, compounded when attempted in multi-GPU configuration.

HIS 7970GE IceQ X2

Windows 8 and AMD Eyefinity could have been a splendiferous thing, but alas it is not. The OS doesn't know to look for window edges natively, no snapping to panel in Single Large Surface mode. AMD Hydravision picks up the slack but for a brand new OS to not support a feature as old as the OS it's replacing is pathetic. Of course, running your multi-display setup in extended desktop mode, rather than eyefinity grouped, is the remedy to this. Windows 8 offers native multi monitor improvements like unique backgrounds and replicated task bar. Unfortunately the charms and start screen don't recognize the extra resolution on offer from Eyefinity and just monster size their icons and text, so you get the choice of running extended desktop mode and single display as modern ui, or having to scroll through the modern ui on your triple desktop display.

A disappointment that HIS are responsible for is the power tune level; why increase the board power capabilities to 375W and cap the thing at 300W? The slider needs to ramp up to 50% to get the most out of the dual 8-pin power inputs / six engine power phases design. Due to this short-sighted limitation, we found that while we could run a boost clock (P0 state) of 1225MHz, the 1.275v required triggered the base clock profile (P1 state) and would drop clocks back to 1000MHz to keep the card inside TDP. This was in spite of the improved cooling running the card at very acceptable VRM and GPU core temperatures, and no visual artifacts or errors during testing.

Another area needing improvement is the display output configuration; the reference AMD design offers 4 concurrent when using display-port enabled displays but can't drive three displays of the same type without an additional hardware purchase - an active mini DisplayPort to DVI/HDMI/VGA adapter. This makes Eyefinity problematic, it works best with all displays in the group on the same connection type as evidenced by in our configuration of 2 DP + 1 HDMI configuration showing tearing on the HDMI display. The HIS Radeon HD 7970 GE IceQ X2 card should have featured a single DL-DVI and 3 mini-DP outputs, with a mini-DP to HDMI adapter or DVI to HDMI adapter in the box.

My lasting impression of the HIS Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition IceQ X2 is that it needs a longer name - wait, no ... - is it's a great card that addresses almost every aspect we wanted to see improved on the reference design - that HIS can control. The IceQ X2 cooler represents a massive improvement over the reference design, inaudible at idle and movie playing load and only rising to a muted background whoosh under sustained heavy load. The board is stiffer and less resistant to droop thanks to the full length combination memory cooler and tensioner which manages not too take up extra room on the back of the PCB like previous AMD reference designs. The included iTurbo software has a very large interface in advanced mode, cumbersomely so, and it needs to be updated to match nicely with modern ui - a live tile mode would be nice, too. The limits in the software are good, and the single page control for engine clock, memory clock, powertune level, engine voltage and memory voltage is great. The driver issues aren't HIS' fault, but they go hand in hand with the card, so you've got to temper that with the performance and value of the Never Settle bundle.

We award the HIS Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition IceQ X2 card 4 stars; it's a solid buy if you're in the mood for turning dials and tweaking settings to enjoy gaming with what could be one of the fastest single GPU cards available. Let us know in the forums what you think of our new 'Stuttering Rage' testing methods.