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.

Radeon HD 7870 2GB

Radeon HD 7850 2GB

For this review we are going to be creating some interesting comparison based around Pitcairn.  With an estimated retail price of $349, the HD 7870 2GB card will be going against Radeon HD 6970 2GB, the GeForce GTX 570 1.25GB and even the GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB card.  We are skewing the comparisons UP simply because we were impressed with the performance offered by these cards.  

While the Radeon HD 6970 is getting hard to find, we wanted to include it to see performance improvements from the Cayman architecture to the new Southern Islands designs.  The GTX 570 card is the most appropriately priced competition from NVIDIA though the GTX 580 is actually in a battle in some cases as well.  

When we look at the Radeon HD 7850, priced at $249, we are throwing it against the Radeon HD 6950 2GB card, the GTX 570 1.25GB as well as the GTX 560 Ti 1GB option.  

The GTX 560 Ti is probably the closet competitor to the HD 7850 in pricing though as we’ll see in our testing, the GTX 570 is being threatened as well at about an $80 premium.  

Let’s jump into the benchmarks!!

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