New GPU Testbed – Sandy Bridge-E, X79, New Games

For the Radeon HD 7970 3GB review (and all those going forward) we decided it was high time we replaced the somewhat dated Nehalem-based infrastructure (even though honestly, it was fast enough) with something a bit more current.  Obviously that meant going with the new Intel Sandy Bridge-E processor and X79 motherboard – by combining support for 40 PCI Express lanes and 3-4 full size GPU slots it makes for the perfect GPU base.

From this point on, our reviews will be based around the following system:

  • Intel Core i7-3960X CPU
  • ASUS P9X79 Pro motherboard
  • Corsair DDR3-1600 4 x 4GB Vengeance memory
  • 600GB Western Digital VelociRaptor HDD
  • 1200 watt Corsair Professional Series power supply
  • Windows 7 SP1 x64

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The ASUS P9X79 Pro

The Intel Core i7-3960X gives us the fastest consumer-level CPU on the market to help eliminate the possibility of any processor-based bottlenecks in our testing (whenever possible).  There are still going to be some games that could use more speed (Skyrim comes to mind) but for our purposes this is as good as you get without getting into any kind of overclocked settings.  The ASUS P9X79 Pro motherboard has enough space for three dual-slot graphics cards when the time comes for testing 3-Way SLI and CrossFire and 8 DIMM slots should we want to go up from our current setup of 16GB of Corsair Vengeance memory.  

I chose to stick with the 600GB VelociRaptor hard drive rather than an SSD as our total installation size with Windows 7 SP1 x64 and 6+ games was already hitting the 115GB range.  Finally the 1200 watt power supply from Corsair offers up more than enough juice for three power hungry graphics cards while running quietly enough to not throw off our noise testing drastically.

Speaking of noise, we are re-introducing our sound level testing thanks to the Extech 407738 Sound Level Meter capable of monitor decibel ratings as low as 20db.  This allows me to accurately tell you the noise levels generated by the graphics cards that make in-house at PC Perspective.

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Along with the new hardware configuration comes a host of new games.  For this review we will be using the following benchmarks and games for performance evaluation:

  • Battlefield 3
  • Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • DiRT 3
  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Metro 2033
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution
  • 3DMark11
  • Unigine Heaven v2.5

This collection of games is both current and takes into account several different genres as well – first person role playing, third person action, racing, first person shooting, etc.  3DMark11 and Unigine Heaven give us a way to see how the cards stack up in a more synthetic environment while the real-world gameplay testing provided by the six games completes the performance picture.

For this review we are going to be comparing the new Radeon HD 7950 3GB against the previously released Radeon HD 7970 3GB reference card, the Radeon HD 6970 2GB offering and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB.  

The comparisons you should be paying particular attention to:

  • Radeon HD 7950 3GB vs HD 7970 3GB – How much performance drop is there from the $100 more expensive HD 7970 to the new HD 7950?  We realize there is going to be SOME with the shader count and clock speed drops but how does it relate to the price jump?
  • Radeon HD 7950 3GB vs HD 6970 2GB – Does the Cayman architecture have any legs in it?  Does the HD 6970 card fall in line with the $100 price steps that AMD has created?
  • Radeon HD 7950 3GB vs GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB – NVIDIA’s GTX 580 has yet another competitor in the HD 7950 that AMD claims is both faster and less expensive.
  • Radeon HD 7950 3GB vs HD 7950 3GB Overclocked vs HD 7970 3GB – We have a couple pages on the overclocking capability of the HD 7950 and does running this card at 900 MHz or 1000 MHz bring it into the range of the HD 7970?

Of course we will also have some CrossFire testing in our review, comparing how a set of Radeon HD 7950 3GB cards compare to two GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB cards in SLI.  You can check out our video on the Radeon HD 7950 CrossFire here as well, and then move on to our full benchmark suite!

Now, with that out of the way, let’s get on with the results and see how the new AMD Radeon HD 7950 3GB Tahiti card performs!

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