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 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, 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.

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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.

In our review today you are going to see two pages of comparison for each game – one focused on the Radeon HD 7770 and the other on the HD 7750.  With an estimated price range of $159 for the HD 7770, this is the collection of cards we decided to pit against each other:

  • AMD Radeon HD 7770 1GB – $159
  • AMD Radeon HD 6850 1GB – $159
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 1GB – $180
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550 Ti 1GB – $129

The comparisons you should be paying particular attention to:

  • HD 7770 vs HD 6850 – These cards are currently going dollar for dollar but even though Barts may soon be off store shelves, does a gamer today want to go with the Cape Verde or the HD 6850 card?
  • HD 7770 vs GTX 560 – Yes, the GTX 560 is about $25-30 more expensive than the HD 7770 and so we assume it will perform better…but how much better?
  • HD 7770 vs GTX 550 Ti – With a price about $30 LESS than the HD 7770, does the NVIDIA GTX 550 Ti hold up well?

For the second page of each game / benchmark we’ll see how the $109 Radeon HD 7750 compares to the following:

  • AMD Radeon HD 7750 1GB – $109
  • AMD Radeon HD 6770 1GB – $109
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550 Ti 1GB – $129
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450 1GB – $109

The comparisons you should be paying particular attention to:

  • HD 7750 vs HD 6770 – While AMD would rather us compare the HD 7770 to the HD 6770, that is not where prices sit today.  Let’s see if Cape Verde Pro can hold its own.
  • HD 7750 vs GTX 550 Ti – Again, the GTX 550 Ti is a bit more expensive but in the same ballpark…
  • HD 7750 vs GTS 450 – The GTS 450 was never heralded as a great gaming card but does it stand up well to AMD’s new competitor for the exact same price?

We will also look at the retail card performance very quickly:

  • AMD Radeon HD 7770 1GB – $159
  • MSI Radeon HD 7770 @ 1020 MHz – $159
  • XFX Radeon HD 7770 @ 1120 MHz – $179

And then we’ll wrap up performance by looking at the Radeon HD 7770 1GB card in a CrossFire setup against similarly priced single cards:

  • AMD Radeon HD 7770 1GB – $159
  • AMD Radeon HD 7770 CrossFire – $320
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB – $329
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti – $249

Now, with that out of the way, let’s get on with the results and see how these new AMD GPUs perform!

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