MSI always has made products built around stability and performance. The card we’re looking at today is no different, offering Military Class components and special designs tailored to those who love a good performing card with headroom to push it when needed.[review_ad]
Introduction – MSI R7870 HAWK Edition
MSI has a long history of building high performance and high reliability components whether it be graphics cards or motherboards. Along with inclusion of the Military Class components and newer technologies such as the GPU Reactor feature, they are really moving forward in ensuring service to both the high performance gaming market and the enthusiasts overclocking segment as well.
MSI has a long history of departing from the reference design, be it a different cooler or a custom PCB. This has effectively ensured that all different types of users can find what they’re looking for.
Today we are looking at one of the full custom models in the MSI R7870 HAWK edition graphics card. The R7870 HAWK is based on the 7870 GPU from AMD, which is in itself a powerful chip. We’re very interested to see what MSI has brought to the market with this card, and how much of it is substance as opposed to flair.
The HAWK R7870 is an HD 7870 GPU paired to a full 2GB of VRAM through a 256-bit memory bus to handle resolution/texture duties. The card is fed by and requires usage of dual 6 pin PCI-E connectors, which means a max theoretical power draw of 225W.
The R7870 HAWK looks to be a strong performer with looks that match that claim, but we will take a further look and take it for a spin as well to test this claim. The R7870 HAWK is found at a retail price of $319.99 on Newegg at the time of writing so it really drops it in a price point below the “big boys”. This is very beneficial to gamers who want the performance but can’t afford to drop $500 on a single piece of hardware.
Military Class III Components
MSI has long touted the Military Class components on their cards due to the fact that they are specially tested components, not just by them but by a third party testing center according to the enclosed certificate. “Military Class components” sounds nice, but are they really necessary on a card or motherboard? Honestly, no, as most times the reference components are good enough to do their job. However, they are not designed to push the limits to the extreme. The answer is better and stronger components. Most manufacturers worth their salt will use better components, so in order to try and stand out, MSI uses “Military Class” components, in an attempt to ensure better hardware reliability.
Here we see the layout and highlights of the Military Class components, starting with the gold caps, which add a nice, shiny appearance to the card as well. The CopperMOS is something we have seen before in high performance VRM’s. The absence of the composite capsule around it definitely helps it stay cooler and overall performance has been good from our experience previously. The solid state caps are a dark color for appearance’s sake, but their totally solid state nature means better overall reliability and working stability as well.
Twin Frozr IV Cooler
MSI introduced the Twin Frozr cooler quite some time ago. The Twin Frozr is MSI’s version of the custom cooler to keep the GPU and components cool on the card.
This is the Twin Frozr IV, which means that it has gone through some revisions over the years. As MSI learned new tricks and ways to optimize the performance, they added features such as the propeller bladed dual 80mm fans, large dual 80mm heatpipes on the outer edge to help accelerate heat dissipation.
Dust Removal Technology
MSI has implemented a dust removal technology into the card which enforces a reversed rotation of the cooling fans for the first 30 seconds of operation to blow dust away from the cooler and help keep it clean to avoid blockages. This could definitely be helpful as we have seen in many cases of overheating and failure caused by dust that users did not know was there.
The MSI R7870 HAWK has a secondary “unlocked” BIOS which is meant for extreme overclocking. This BIOS removes all of the standard protections to allow for extreme overclocking that won’t get squashed by a standard BIOS protection. We would only recommend running this BIOS if running supplemental cooling, and even then only under proper precautions, as this can cause the card to overheat quickly if proper cooling is not applied, causing permanent damage.
MSI offers its own software utility. MSI Afterburner is co-developed with Rivatuner which is very similar to what the other top manufacturers are offering.
There we see it above with multiple options including voltage control and power limit controls to ensure our overclock ceiling is just a little bit higher.
One really cool feature is the inclusion of the GPU Reactor module. One thing to note up front is this is more targeted at the extreme enthusiasts, and will net only marginal gains for regular users in an air cooled environment.
As seen above, the module is a separate PCB with multiple components to assist the stock VRM with power delivery directly to the rear of the GPU mounting. This is about the closest you can get to wiring it directly to the GPU itself. While this unit is nice, its real benefit will not be seen for the most part under standard cooling, as the kind of loads under which this supplemental device will assist will likely be under extreme benchmarking applications. Obviously, with such high loads and power delivery, the cooling needs to be proportional, keeping the card at sub-ambient temperatures. This level is where the GPU Reactor will shine. Under standard cooling it may help bolster the power circuit to the tune of a few extra MHz, but its true potential is under extreme load situations where users push clocks to the limit. Just for the cool factor, on the top of the PCB are blue LED’s which will light the MSI branded GPU Reactor cover to give an almost Iron-Man like appearance to the reactor unit.
MSI knows that extreme users will want to monitor vitals so they implemented the V-Check point feature which allows users to plug in included cables. This allows users to insert a voltmeter probe and monitor voltages with extreme accuracy directly from the card’s PCB.
Here we see the location along with what voltages can be monitored. Each lead carries both the signal and a ground connection, so that if needed, 3 voltmeters can be used during operation to keep an eye on the cards vitals.
PCI Express Gen 3 Capable
MSI delivers the 7 series products amped up and ready to run on PCI-E Gen 3 spec, and they even offer the boards to run it as well.
Overview of the MSI R7870 HAWK
The packaging for the R7870 HAWK is bold and loud with a large stealth fighter on the front. Only a few pertinent icons grace the front; most are saved for the front flip up panel. Once the panel is flipped open you are thrown face first into detailed descriptions of most all of the features we discussed previously. The rear covers alot of the simply text based spec and feature data along with compatibility information.
Here is a list of all items included in the accessory pack:
Dual 4 Pin Molex to 6 Pin PCI-E Power adapters
Military Grade III components Certificate
- DVI to VGA Adapter
- Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort Adapter
- V-Checkpoint Cables
The accessory package is enough to get the card hooked up, and it even comes with a mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapter tossed in.
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Here is the card: simple yet mean looking, and with some pretty unique looking fans as well. We see the single CrossFire connector up top which will allow for connection to another card for a multi-GPU setup. The heatsink also includes a stiffening bracket which ensures that the custom cooler in design does not allow the PCB to flex. Since the Twin Frozr attaches to the PCB at the GPU point, the cooler itself does not support the PCB like the reference model. The supportive bracket helps in that regard to ensure optimal PCB rigidity. Flipping the card around we have a full backplate covering almost the complete PCB; this also helps reinforce the PCB to avoid bending. One unique thing we see here is the GPU Reactor cover which lights up blue when powered on and looks pretty cool for anyone with a windowed chassis.
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The edge of the card gives us a look at the densely packed fin array for the cooler along with the V-Check Point connections. These connections are placed so as to be readily accessible in a bench top configuration. Here also we see the fan connector which is for both fans as they both pull from the same header; this ensures equal fan speed to both.
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The connectivity continues with the dual 6 pins ready to push power to the card and even provide some additional power fi overclocking is necessary.
The rear IO supports multiple connectivity options including:
- Mini-DisplayPort (x2)
This is enough connectivity to control a nice array of displays should the need for an Eyefinity setup arise.
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The cooler base as you see here is a web of heatpipes all fighting for space in the baseplate to wick away heat from the GPU to ensure nice and cool temps even under the heaviest load.
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The GPU Reactor cover as you see here simply clips onto the backplate and keeps objects from touching the power components on the reactor which could cause issues if metal was to come in contact with that area. Once removed we have full access to the GPU Reactor module, which simply pulls off the card with a slight amount of force. One thing to note is that the bulge caused by the GPU Reactor cover might interfere with multi-GPU setups if the cards are cramped together.
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Here we see how the Reactor is attached to the card itself. There are 2 pin headers placed in such a way that it would be practically impossible to install it incorrectly. This is good thinking by MSI, as we could only imagine the nine kinds of hell this could cause if it was installed in the wrong direction.
Inside the HAWK Edition
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The heatsink pulled off rather easy with 4 screws removed, under which we find that the stiffening bracket is dually used as a heatsink for the VRM and memory components of the board. This is a good design, and it really did help make the card much more solid feeling along with moving heat away from critical components quite well. In the middle we found the 7870 GPU sitting in place waiting for action.
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Here, after removing the stiffening bracket/component heatsink, are the Military Class components explained above. The CopperMOS components are very unique, and it does not seem right to see a metal driver/MOSFET without a composite capsule cover. As you see, the high class components are all around the board to support the various components power circuits.
Testing & Methodology
We’ve expanded our testing suite considerably since the X79 chipset release, and will continue to use the same methods for most of the motherboards and CPU’s we test. In the interests of thoroughness and accurate results, we run each test at least three times, and some tests more than that. We average the total of all the tests from each benchmark then report the average here.
The OS we use is Windows 7 Pro 64bit with all patches and updates applied. We also use the latest drivers available for the motherboard and any devices attached to the computer. We do not disable background tasks or tweak the OS or system in any way. We turn off drive indexing and daily defragging. We also turn off Prefetch and Superfetch. This is not an attempt to produce bigger benchmark numbers. Drive indexing and defragging can interfere with testing and produce confusing numbers. If a test were to be run while a drive was being indexed or defragged, and then the same test was later run when these processes were off, the two results would be contradictory and erroneous. As we cannot control when defragging and indexing occur precisely enough to guarantee that they won’t interfere with testing, we opt to disable the features entirely.
Prefetch tries to predict what users will load the next time they boot the machine by caching the relevant files and storing them for later use. We want to learn how the program runs without any of the files being cached, and we disable it so that each test run we do not have to clear Prefetch to get accurate numbers. Lastly we disable Superfetch. Superfetch loads often-used programs into the memory. It is one of the reasons that Windows occupies so much memory. Vista fills the memory in an attempt to predict what users will load. Having one test run with files cached, and another test run with the files un-cached would result in inaccurate numbers. Again, since we can’t control its timings so precisely, it we turn it off. Because these four features can potentially interfere with benchmarking, and and are out of our control, we disable them. We do not disable anything else.
We are revamping our testing method in order to better represent motherboard performance and offering to the consumer. Also we want to make it an easier read for you without miles of endless charts. We ask that you provide feedback in an effort to help us deliver better reviews for you.
|Case||Open Air Test Bench|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-3770K|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte Z77X-UP5 TH
|Ram||16GB Patriot Viper Xtreme 2400MHz +|
|CPU Cooler||Swiftech H20-320 Edge|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital Velociraptor 300GB|
|SSD||Intel 510 series SATA III 120GB|
|GPU||MSI R7870 HAWK 2GB|
|PSU||Thermaltake Toughpower Grand 1200W|
|Mouse||Tt eSPORTS Black gaming mouse|
|Keyboard||Tt eSPORTS Meka G1 mechanical gaming keyboard|
We will use the following applications to test the performance of the graphics card.
Synthetic Benchmarks & Games
|Aliens vs. Predator|
|Batman: Arkham City|
The MSI R7870 HAWK edition combined with the advanced controls offered from the MSI Afterburner software allowed us to easily get the card clocked to around 1290MHz for the core, with the fan at full tilt. However, most gamers will not want the fan at full speed 24/7, so we would recommend a milder overclock of around 1250MHz. We were able to accomplish this without pushing the card too hard and the fan was left on auto with full stability. All this is with standard cooling, and we haven’t even touched on the possibilities granted by the GPU Reactor module.
Memory clocking was quite good as we saw much headroom in this card as it easily pushed past the stock 1200 clock and fell right in line at 1580 MHz with full stability from our testing. Your card may not necessarily be happy here for 24/7 use, but it is a reachable goal.
In order to ensure no system bottleneck we clocked the CPU to 4.6GHz to ensure there is no reason the system will slow down the card’s performance at all.
Some may ask why we chose the mainstream Z77 system, and we can explain. Up until recent the X79 enthusiasts platform did not really support PCI-E Gen 3 on the Nvidia 600 series GPU’s. Because of the inherent instability many have seen with the X79 platform with Gen 3 products, Nvidia has been hesitant to enable it, and now there is a workaround via registry to get it working. However, in order to ensure the most consistent testing possible, we have stuck to the natively supported Z77 platform.
Important note: Overclocking can cause component failure. Please exercise caution when attempting any level of overclock on system components.
The temperatures were recorded with full loaded Heaven benchmark looping for over 30 minutes or longer depending how long it took for the card to level out in temps and sat at a plateau for more than 10 minutes.
|GPU Temperatures||Temperature (Idle/Load)|
|MSI R7870 HAWK OC||33C/78C|
|MSI R7870 HAWK||31C/74C|
The Twin Frozr cooler easily kept the card in check even pushing the limit on overclocking but as temps neared 80 C during overclocking, we decided it was time to call our max, as we would rather have a slightly lower clockspeed than damage components in the pursuit of more MHz.
Real world/Gaming Benchmarks
3DMark 11 is the newest in Futuremark’s suite of benchmarking utilities. Its a fully capable DirectX11 benchmark which also stresses and analyzes the system performance as a whole to simulate a heavy rendering environment such as a high end game or other app the end user may run. This benchmark was run with Performance settings 5 times and all runs were averaged for the result below.
Here we can see where the R7870 starts off and finds itself amongst a pack of big brothers, and even some underlings. The R7870 HAWK takes on Nvidia’s GTX580 and bests it ever so slightly, so this card is looking pretty good so far.
Aliens Vs Predator
Aliens Vs Predator is a quite demanding game and overall just a cool title so we had some fun running this one through its paces.
In Alien vs Predator we see the 7870 once again a step ahead of the GTX 580; most likely, the out of the box overclock helped with this capability.
Metro 2033 likely one of the most demanding games that we have tested with, as it brings virtually every GPU to its knees. The 7870 is no exception, but in this bout the raw power of the GTX 580 GPU shines through as it takes a commanding 3 FPS lead over the 7870. Keep in mind, however, that the 7870 is a midrange performance model, whereas the GTX 580 is top of the line.
Batman: Arkham City
Batman is a popular game, which is why we include it. Here once again the GTX 580 shines ahead quite a bit and puts the 7870 in its place.
Dirt 3 was highly marketed by AMD, so we are not surprised to see the 7870 shine here. It just barely trails the GTX 580, which shows that gaming performance can vary greatly depending on the game and how it is made.
When looking at a card, we try to look at it as a package, rather than at individual attributes. The R7870 HAWK is presently on the market for around 319.99 which is about even with the other players in the category.
The efficiency of the Twin Frozr IV cooler means the card’s heat is not an issue unless it really gets pushed hard. However the cooler’s dual fans can get loud when they spin up to full RPM.
The card’s performance is also very good, meeting the GTX 580 almost head to head in many cases, and even eclipsing it depending on the benchmark. The overclocking headroom is immense, with memory getting a very fruitful increase in clockspeed right out of the gate, and the GPU showing it can really move as well. Add to this the fact that there is a completely separate BIOS that is unlocked and setup for extreme cooling/benchmarking, and this card could easily hit far better numbers for those who love to push benchmarks.
To round it out, we would say this card’s price is great: it is expensive, but not too expensive for some great gaming performance. For those looking for a card cheaper than the top-of-the-line models, it is hard not to recommend the MSI R7870 HAWK as it offers great temps and impressive overclocking levels.
|OUR VERDICT: MSI R7870 HAWK Edition|
|Summary: The MSI R7870 HAWK is a truly amazing card at a decent price point. It has plenty of overclocking potential, giving it some serious performance edge. For this, the MSI R7870 HAWK earns the Bjorn3D Golden Bear Award.|