ASUS has a very rare addition to its MATRIX series offerings. MATRIX cards are always of a special build quality, including hand picked components and usually some very unique features not seen on any other card. Today we have the ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum. Let’s see what it has to offer, and can it take the top honors for performance and features.[review_ad]
Introduction – ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum
The ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum is the cream of the crop when it comes to HD 7970 model cards form ASUS. It carries a hand-picked GPU to ensure maximum overclockability along with an absolute boatload of features for the extreme enthusiast to be able to tweak and tune every last ounce of performance from it. Add to this the 20-phase DIGI+ VRM, and you start to see this is no ordinary monster. This is the type that can rip apart the competition piece by piece.
The ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum comes to market at about $489.99 MSRP, which is high for most users. However, when considering what you get for the price and the fact that the MSI HD 7970 Lightning is still 10 dollars more it looks like it could easily be justified. Let’s take a closer look and see if this holds true.
Here we see an overview of the many key features that make a MATRIX card so special. ASUS has added many features to this card, starting with the basics: the HD 7970 MATRIX has a huge PCB.
MATRIX Load Indicator
One feature we observed on the last MATRIX card is the MATRIX LED load indicator. The top of the card has a matrix logo cutout with fogged transparent plastic filling in the letters. This plastic is backlit by an RGB LED set that changes color depending on the loading conditions or how heavily the card is stressed. The initial loading is green or light blue, which signifies minimal GPU usage. Under extreme stress it turns red, which means extremely heavy load.
Enlarged Power Plane
Here is some ASUS-provided data showing PCB layout information, especially focusing on the GPU power plane. The MATRIX series of cards has a much larger GPU power plane area for more consistent loading and voltage to the GPU, even under the heaviest of benching conditions. This kind of thing really can shine during LN2 benchmarking sessions where the cards are pushed well past their intended power levels. One thing to note here is how much larger the MATRIX PCB is compared to the reference PCB. We will demonstrate this soon when WE compare the MATRIX PCB to another ASUS DirectCU II Card with a standard height PCB.
Extreme Mod Points
The MATRIX LINE makes it no secret that most of its design philosophy is based around those who push cards to the limit, not for gaming but for breaking world records in benchmarks. Normally in order to eliminate overvoltage or clock protections on a card, you would have to find ways to bypass the protection circuits during a loaded bench run. ASUS knows this so they have solder pads at the ready to bypass these protections for extreme benchmarking runs. This eliminates the concern that these protection circuits will enable during the wrong time, and ruin a worthwhile benchmark run. Also on this area, there are spots to connect trimmers in case you like to adjust the voltage the old fashioned way. Similarly, if you do not have a VGA hotwire compatible board, you can hook up a trim pot to these spots for an easy mod and direct hardware voltage control.
SAP (Super Alloy Power)
ASUS has great pride in the components they infuse into their graphics offerings very much like the motherboards we have covered previously. ASUS has whats called SAP or Super Alloy Power which covers the components in the very VRM we are discussing. The components are hand picked for quality and performance based around not only power delivery but efficiency as well. The components in the SAP solution are super durable for a rated lifespan of up to 2.5x what reference cards would offer and also with the DIGI+ controller your talking ultimate precision which means better voltage stability, better overclocking potential and overall better power efficiency clock for clock.
Here we see the VRM Chokes, MOSFET/driver assemblies and the solid state caps which make up the SAP components, or to simplify, the super strong and efficient VRM.
Here we have some good detailing directly from ASUS showing the improvement of the SAP choke component and how it is superior to other designs implemented presently. Other model chokes can make a whine or screeching sound due to the coil vibration, something we’re sure many enthusiasts and overclockers have heard before. The ASUS design has a sealed/filled core to inhibit vibration, which means noise free operation under extreme loading conditions. Another thing to remember is movement makes heat and friction, so less movement will mean cooler running components.
Here we see what makes the difference for the DIGI+ solution which has to do with the accuracy and efficiency of the Digital controller in comparison to the analog VRM control we see on many other solutions. This level of control allows for unprecedented voltage accuracy, along with lower signal noise and overall more overclockability due to the tighter stability offered by the DIGI+ digital controller.
DCII (Direct CU II)
ASUS DirectCU II coolers are the ASUS way of saying maximum cooling and plenty of quiet with one naming scheme. DirectCU II coolers are direct touch heatpipes to the GPU surface ensuring the heat is wicked away from the GPU and up into the cooling fin array as quickly as possible. From there the custom shrouded dual fans push air through the fins effectively but most important quietly to keep the GPU as cool as possible so hopefully it will never hit a temp to need a higher or noisier fan speed. The air pushing through the fin array also helps cool board components and the VRM cooler as well which is a nice little added bonus to this style cooler since we all know cooler components tend to run stronger, longer and with better efficiency.
As you see above the heatpipes on this cooler are massive and they are configured in such a way that they maximize the cooling efficiency of the fan airflow from the DirectCU II Cooler.
Hardware Level Tuning
ASUS put special attention into the tuning aspect of this card so that every last tiny bit of performance can be exploited.
VGA Hotwire used to require soldering to the graphics card in order to connect it to a VGA hotwire-enabled board for voltage control without needing to fumble with trimmers. With the MATRIX the wiring for VGA Hotwire connectivity is simply a plug and play affair, as there are plugs rather than solder points which allow direct voltage control with a VGA Hotwire enabled motherboard.
The Turbofan Button enables full speed fan for maximum cooling along with voltage tuning and optimizations to the boost clock settings and other TweakIt options.
The buttons at the board’s far edge of the board are for Voltage adjustment on the fly, directly on the card which can help if the card needs a small bump during a specific heavy loading point of a benchmark.
The Safe mode switch allows quick and easy clearing of the BIOS settings on the card should it have a bad crash during an overclocking sessions. This allows for a lot less worry should issues pop up.
Dust-proof Fan Technology
Everyone knows that one of the number one fan-killer is the dirt and dust the fan comes into contact with. Many fans simply are not sealed in such a way that they can keep dust out. Some aren’t even sealed, and you can see the sensitive winding area clearly exposed just by looking at the gap.
The ASUS solution is not just sealing the hub from dust but having 2 levels of sealing which means that over the lifespan of the cooler you can expect a much lower likelihood of grinding or fan failure caused by unprotected fans. This is definitely important, as we have lost count of how many times a perfectly good card or cooler has become useless just because the fans died.
ASUS offers its own software utility and its functionality has grown with generations just like the cards it supports. Of course the card can be overclocked, but voltages can also be tweaked. Within the GPU Tweak app we can even launch the GPU info utility which is a full custom version of GPUz. This is a really cool feature and especially beneficial to benchmarkers who we can definitely see using this card with some of the awesome tweaks we will discuss in the card overview.
There are many tools within the GPU Tweak menus some a little more hidden than others. First off, directly form the GPU Tweak utility itself you can check for BIOS updates and even update from within the program. Anyone who’s ever updated a vBIOS before knows that having a tool that can do this in a mere few clicks is really handy.
The charts besides offering real time monitoring can also be setup to log thermals, voltages and clocks so that after benchmark or gaming runs you can see if there was any thermal issues or throttling that may have affected performance.
One thing to note is the many different settings available for the MATRIX model card. This is one of the only cards we have ever seen with a Load Line Calibration setting to allow the card to be loaded with less voltage droop. VRM frequency, VDDCI voltage, memory and GPU frequencies are also adjustable. This card has a lot of versatility built in and it should net a huge benefit to overclockers and benchmarkers.
PCI-E Power LEDs
One really cool feature is that there are status LED’s on each PCI-E connector, which help you recognize that power is actively being sent to each connector of the card.
The dual greens seen above indicate everything is working well. However if the PCI-E cable is not active or is not installed at all, it will show the red light which tells you something is wrong. We could definitely see some value in this when diagnosing multi card setups or even single card issues. A dead PCI-E power cable could cause users to pull their hair out, as it would show no outward indication of the defect, and users would have no way of knowing.
PCI Express Gen 3 Capable
ASUS wants to ensure everyone is aware that PCIe 3.0 is here and ASUS is ready with not only cards such as this but boards to support it as well.
Overview of the ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum
This packaging is similar to what we have seen on the ROG motherboards and also previously on the MATRIX GTX 580 Platinum. The box is red in color and for the most part the front panel has very little spec info except the product name and a few small icons at the bottom edge. Also, a small image of the included Diablo III mousepad made by Steelseries is shown on the front as well. Flipping open the front flap there is a windowed opening showing the card off just a little.
The top of the flap shows a bunch of feature info, most of which can be found on the previous page of this review. The rear of the box has more info, this time mostly specs about the card and what it supports.
Here is what we see when we open the box. The topmost small box carries these accessories:
- Installation Disc
- Instruction Manual
- MOSFET Heatsink for LN2 benchmarking usage
- VGA Hotwire Cables
- Dual 6 Pin PCIe to 8 Pin PCIe Adapter
- DVI>VGA Adapter
- Crossfire Bridge
- ROG Case Badge
- Diablo III Mousepad
The accessory package is vast and covers a whole gamut of possibilities for the MATRIX card. The LN2 MOSFET heatsink is very cool as it gives a good impression of what this card was built for. It enables MOSFET cooling when the GPU is cooled by an LN2 pot.
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Here we see the card. It is absolutely huge, and like most other DirectCU II top-end enthusiast-class models, it is triple slot. The card looks like an absolute monster and we’re betting would look awesome in any ROG themed gaming build.
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The rear of the PCB is covered mostly by a backplate with exception to key areas and components for modification or other needs. Also note how tall the PCB is above the IO bracket, which speaks to the sheer level of engineering and components that ASUS needed to fit in this card.
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The I/O of the MATRIX card is awesome for enthusiast users as it has dual DVI ports and Quad DisplayPorts for Eyefinity 6 support. The card has 4K support as well. This allows for an amazing array of displays for a veritable wall of monitors.
Popping the Top off the TOP
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The heatsink comes off rather easy as it is a 4 screw mounting, and then it just pops off. The PCB is gigantic: it’s bigger than a smartphone, and about as wide as a game case from the PCI-E slot to the top. This thing is absolutely huge. you can also get a good look at the VRM layout and some of the overclocking features/buttons and controls even though most of the power components are shrouded by the full frame cooling plate.
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Here you can see the sheer size of the PCB over a more standard size card. As you can see it is well over an inch taller. This space is there for a reason as it houses a very advanced PWM design along with many special ROG controls designed for fine tuning the card. The DirectCU II Heatsink has a solid copper base which sandwiches the heatpipes to allow maximum thermal transfer for the lwoest possible temperatures and betetr overclocking headroom.
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After removing the heat spreader plate I find it a little curious that 33% or 4 of the 12 VRAM chips were left uncovered and therefore were not cooled by the heatspreader plate. This is likely not an issue but I do wonder if it could affect the overall clockability of the VRAM as a whole. We will find this out soon as we test how far this card can be pushed on its DirectCU II MATRIX cooler. The Heatspreader frame itself adds some definite rigidity to the PCB as it attaches and sandwiches the PCB between the frame and backplate.
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Here we get a glimpse of the 20 Phase GPU VRM which honestly is quite astonishing as the reference card already has a pretty beefy 12 Phase VRM. The MATRIX has to have more, because a better VRM means more headroom when pushing the limit on the card especially for the extreme enthusiasts.
The Digital controller for the VRM is a DIGI+ design and allows for very finite levels of control and voltage accuracy. The DIGI+ controller has been used on many cards and boards I have tested previously and I can say with absolute certainty that the performance is excellent and voltage stability and accuracy when overclocking is excellent.
Here are the TweakIT buttons which allow quick easy voltage control in real time to allow necessary adjustment during bench sessions. Also there is a Safe Mode switch which can help reset the BIOS to fix most issues caused by a crashed overclock on the card which can save a lot of headache especially if the rig is frozen on LN2.
The 100% fan speed switch is pretty what what it looks like, as it sets full fan speed and also makes some key optimizations to the TweakIT settings and boost clock as well.
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This card has a dual BIOS, much like other HD 7970 cards we’ve seen. The BIOS selection is controlled by the toggle as you see in the first image above. This toggle is located directly in front of the CrossFire Bridge connectors.
Looking at the far edge of the card you can see the previously mentioned modding zone where all of the solder mods can be made to enable features such as LN2 mode, or even disable the overvoltage protection of the GPU.
The Dual 8 Pin power connectors are employed to make sure the GPU has plenty of juice on tap. Here we also see the dual LED’s per plug to light up red or green depending upon if the card sees proper power delivery being made into that plug port.
Lastly you can see two of the three plugs that the VGA Hotwire connectors can be plugged into which will enable hardware level voltage adjustment to the card without the need to solder wires on the card like was required previously.
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Here are the dual 8 pin power plugs from the front of the card. This is a sign that a beefy power supply is recommended to ensure there is plenty of amperage when pushing the limits.
The memory used on this card is Hynix model : H5GQ2H24AFR-R0C which is rated for 6.0Gb/s operation. The memory comes clocked out of the box at 1650MHz (6600MHz Effective) but i am betting with this card and power design there is some headroom left in these things.
Here we see the GCN 28nm Tahiti GPU. This is a very powerful moster of a GPU and knowing it is a hand sorted unit for MATRIX platinum models means it will be even better. The out of the box clock for the GPU is 1100MHz but im betting just like the memory there is some headroom left in this one as well.
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||Thermaltake Level 10 GT|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-3770K/Intel Core i7-2600K|
|Motherboard||ASUS Maximus V Gene
|Ram||16GbpsB Patriot Viper Xtreme 2400MHz +|
|CPU Cooler||Swiftech H20-220 Edge|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital Velociraptor 300GB|
|SSD||Intel 510 series SATA III 120GB|
|GPU||ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum|
|PSU||Thermaltake Toughpower XT 1275W Platinum|
|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
|Alien Vs Predator|
|Batman: Arkham City|
The ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum is a strong and able card as we see by simply looking at the sum of its parts. But parts only mean so much as the ability to make the card run needs to be in place as well and ASUS does that quite well at the same time.
Starting up the GPU Tweak application we went through the settings and enabled all of the voltage and tweaking options. We were amazed to see two full pages of sliders available to tune everything down to even LLC. This is a level of control we have never seen before, and it is nice to see it. This kind of innovation is what pushes for even better future tuning products from overclocking-friendly companies like ASUS.
Clocking the memory we got to near 1300 MHz, but we experienced very minor artifacts so we tweaked and tuned it to 1275 MHz, which was completely stable for the GPU end. This was a fairly quick overclock, and we cannot see any reason others could not reach it also.
|Clock||Stock Frequency|| Max stable MHz
|GPU Base clock||1100MHz||1275MHz||16%+|
|Memory clock||1650MHz (6600MHz)||1800MHz (7200MHz)||9%+|
Memory overclocking was very good, netting a 7200MHz QDR stable clock, which is just under a 10% overclock, and while that may not seem like much it really is pretty good considering how high this card is clocked out of the box.
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 cards 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 PCIe 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)|
|ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum OC||33C/72C|
|ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum||32C/69C|
The MATRIX DCII cooler as we have seen before has proven very effective and the heat dump even when overclocked is easily managed with maybe a mild purr from the DCII’s fans.
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.
3DMark 11 shows a nice picture of where each card falls in line according by our testbench. The HD 7970 MATRIX blew away even the overclocked variants of the GTX680. When you consider the superb overclock, this lead extends even further.
Alien Vs. Predator
AvP looks like a very AMD friendly game as we see that both the HD 7970 DCII and the MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum top the charts with some very capable FPS results.
Metro 2033 has always been extraordinarily stressful for GPU’s, and this has not changed with time. Once again this game is definitely a little friendlier with AMD cards and the MATRIX actually puts us in some playable framerates, especially with the overclock which is nice since for the longest time it took dual card setups just to get somewhat playable framerates from this game.
Batman: Arkham City
We tested Batman Arkham City and once again the MATRIX sweeps the field, especially once the overclock score comes in. We can only imagine how much more power the card has waiting in the reserve for some extreme cooling action.
Dirt 3 surprised us, as the game is heavily marketed by AMD. Here though, the HD 7970 MATRIX barely comes out above the GTX 680. We figured it would have demolished it here. Once you tack on the overclock though, it pulls a very nice lead.
The ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum is a complex beast. Many users probably would never understand what the real capability or design of this card is, but enthusiasts know it is a sign that manufacturers love this just as much as we do. This is the reason that companies like ASUS hire people like Peter Tan and hold OC events to improve their products. As for the card itself, it is a very intense card, and an expensive one at that. For those who never intend to overclock, this card is slightly unnecessary, but might be cool to have nonetheless, especially as it comes with a custom cooler and a rock-solid build quality.
However, this card was designed with overclocking at heart. The HD 7970 MATRIX Platinum has all the right parts for those of us who chase world records in megahertz, and we would definitely recommend it for the overclocking and benchmarking crowd. The only real issue we can think of is that the triple-slot cooler could cause some issues in multi-GPU configurations. The four memory chips left uncovered by the heatspreader concerned us a little, but as you can see, the memory overclocks fine. Overall, this card is great for those looking for an amazing card that can take a pounding. If you do want one, though, be quick, as these GPU’s are hand-sorted for performance, and there are only so many super-sample chips left.
|OUR VERDICT: ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum|
|Summary: The ASUS MATRIX HD 7970 Platinum has a strong, capable build quality and feature set, along with some amazing overclocking ability. For this it receives the Bjorn3D Golden Bear Award.|