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

For the Radeon HD 7970 3GB review 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 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

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, for this article 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.

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.

Our GPU comparisons for this review are pretty easy to predict.  We will be looking at the XFX Radeon HD 7970 3GB Black Edition that comes overclocked out of the box, the reference Radeon HD 7970, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 and the AMD Radeon HD 6970 cards.  

  • XFX Radeon HD 7970 3GB Black Edition – $599
  • AMD Radeon HD 7970 3GB – $549
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB – $499
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB – $349

The comparisons you should be paying particular attention to:

  • XFX HD 7970 vs Reference HD 7970 – How much difference does the clock speed increase make in our game testing?  Enough to warrant the price gap?
  • XFX HD 7970 vs HD 6970 – How much more does the 7970 look now in the retail packaging?
  • XFX HD 7970 vs GTX 580 – Again, more of the same – does the GTX 580 look more like it needs a price drop or is price point of these HD 7970 retail cards too high to force NVIDIA to make a move?

We are also going to show you dual-GPU CrossFire testing so be sure you keep an eye out on the GPU scaling from one 7970 to a pair.  Hopefully AMD will impress us with stabile scaling on the modern titles we use in our testbed.  

Now, with that out of the way, let’s get on with the results and see how the brand new XFX Radeon HD 7970 3GB card performs!

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