The HAWK Returns

The HAWK aims high, but stumbles slightly

The $300 to $400 range of video cards has become quite crowded as of late.  If we can remember way back to March when AMD introduced their HD 7800 series of cards, and later that month we saw NVIDIA release their GTX 680 card.  Even though NVIDIA held the price/performance crown, AMD continued to offer their products at what many considered to be grossly overpriced considering the competition.  Part of this was justified because NVIDIA simply could not meet demand of their latest card, and they were often unavailable for purchase at MSRPs.  Eventually AMD started cutting back prices, but this led to another issue.  The HD 7950 was approaching the price of the HD 7870 GHz Edition.  The difference in prices between these products was around $20, but the 7950 was around 20% faster than the 7870.  This made the HD 7870 (and the slightly higher priced overclocked models) a very unattractive option for users.

It seems as though AMD and their partners have finally rectified this situation, and just in time.  With NVIDIA finally being able to adequately provide stock for both the GTX 680 and GTX 670, the prices on the upper-midrange cards has taken a nice drop to where we feel they should be.  We are now starting to see some very interesting products based on the HD 7850 and HD 7870 cards, one of which we are looking at today.

The MSI R7870 HAWK

The R7870 Hawk utilizes the AMD HD 7870 GPU.  This chip has a reference speed of 1 GHz, but with the Hawk it is increased to a full 1100 MHz.  The GPU has the entire 20 compute units enabled featuring 1280 stream processors.  It has the 256 bit memory bus running 2GB of GDDR-5 memory at 1200 MHz, which gives a total bandwidth of 160 GB/sec.  I am somewhat disappointed that MSI did not give the memory speed a boost, but at least the user can enable that for themselves through the Afterburner software.

The Hawk branding was introduced with the original R5770 Hawk, based of course on the AMD HD 5770 graphics chip.  This was a very fun and affordable card at the time, and a very inexpensive way to get into DirectX 11 gaming.  It had enough performance to run older games at 1080P resolutions, and lower resolutions with DX10 and DX11 games.  The card was a success for MSI, as it was only around $15 more expensive than a standard HD 5770.  The extra build quality, speed, and cooling prowess helped it to become a fan favorite in the sub-$200 price range.

Lifting the box cover we see all the advantages that one receives by purchasing this card.

Something a bit distressing to me happened with the later generations of these cards.  The Hawk branding soon went from being a $175 card to being well above $200.  The budget enthusiasts that flocked to this card were a bit put off by the next generation R6870 Hawk and N560GTX Ti Hawk and their much higher price tag.  I was not sure where this trend would go, but we seem to have found out with the new R7870 Hawk.

The new Hawk was initially offered at $379, a far cry from the $175 of its progenitor.  As mentioned above, AMD cut the prices down on their entire 7000 series of cards.  The new price for this card is now sitting at a much more palatable $319 US.  Competition is good, no?  Now that the GTX 670 and 680 cards are much more available, AMD had to adjust their entire price structure for this latest generation of 28 nm graphics parts.

AMD was very excited about the HD 7800 series of parts, as they seemed to have come out of the oven in very fine form.  These cards were able to match and exceed the previous generation’s top cards in overall performance.  The HD 7850 was faster than the HD 6970, and the HD 7850 at 1 GHz was faster overall than the GTX 580 from NVIDIA.  This performance was achieved by a GPU with a 256 bit memory bus and a conservatively sized die.  What perhaps excited AMD the most was that a competing product from NVIDIA was nowhere to be seen.  Rumor has it that NVIDIA will be releasing a competitively priced product in August, 2012.  Essentially AMD has had a 5+ month lead in this rather important price category.  And it showed.  Initial prices of $379 for the HD 7870 did not sit well with consumers, but they did sell at a decent rate for the company and their partners.

With multiple layers of transparent material, it gets hard to see the card.  The box is very well protected, per usual for MSI.

This week AMD did cut prices, as mentioned above.  This has made the HD 7850 and HD 7870 much more accessible for users, and this is a good thing considering their performance.  These cards have pretty manageable heat production and power consumption.  Now that they will not put as big a dent in a consumer’s wallet, I am sure that adoption of these cards will again pick up sooner rather than later.

MSI decided to give this part the Hawk treatment.  Essentially it means improved cooling and acoustics, better build and power delivery, and a healthy overclock to take this card well above reference speeds and performance.  What was once the diminutive sub-150 watt R5770 has now grown into a nearly 11” long board that requires two six pin PCI-E power connections.  MSI has also put in a few extra wrinkles that should keep this board relevant to extreme overclockers and enthusiasts.

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