Sapphire has made quite a name for itself as one of the premier and largest AMD board partners and all with some stylish and simply impressive cards in the process. Today we look at the HD 7950 Vapor-X model and see what kind of magic has been infused in the DNA to make this card a must have for all the enthusiasts gamers out there.[review_ad]
Introduction – Sapphire HD 7950 Vapor-X
Sapphire has been making AMD cards since back when AMD first adopted the idea of having add in board partners handling the manufacture and selling of AMD GPUs. So now at over 10 years later they are still going strong with a much wider product line than ever as they have recently made the move into motherboards and even mini PC’s or bookshelf PC’s for media center usage. All of that aside, Sapphire has not forgotten its roots and it is still a lead innovator for AMD graphics solutions. Sapphire always has some reference and some more crazy or extreme designs such as the one we have today in, the Vapor-X model.
Vapor-X has to do with the cooler design as the heatsink base which contacts the GPU is a vapor chamber design which quickly removes any heat from the GPU and pushes it out to the fin array for a very efficient cooling design. This of course is a very basic explanation but we will go into that further within the review. Vapor-X designs are also very much known for their out of the box overclocks and overclock capability above and beyond what comes to you when you unpack it. This gives me a feeling of promise as I know I should have some good times tweaking this card up a bit to see what it can really do.
The HD 7950 Vapor-X looks to have some impressive specs and capability all at a present retail price directly from Newegg of $329.99 which places it right in the fray with the other offerings carrying the same chipset.
Sapphire made good use of Vapor chamber style coolers or even hybrid designs such as what we see here. The vapor chamber in this case sits right upon the GPU die for optimal thermal transfer and from there the heat is quickly transferred to the heatpipes connected to the other end of the vapor chamber which feeds that heat out to the fin array for efficient heat dissipation ensuring much cooler temps for the GPU which in turn can lead to better overclocking potential.
GCN 28nm Architecture
The New 7000 series GPUs from AMD are named “Graphics Core Next” which is simply stating it is the next generation built upon the 28nm technology. This is done to allow a smaller package fitting more processing power for even better visuals and performance than ever before.
AMD Eyefinity is a very capable display array function from AMD and allows for multiple displays to be placed together in a grouping for a super-sized gaming or productivity display setup. Nvidia has their surround to counter this but the amount of displays per card supported by AMD has been much higher for some time now, as Nvidia just recently with the 600 series allowed for more than 2 displays per card whereas AMD has allowed well over that and triple that in some cases from a single graphics card for quite some time now.
EZ Boost Button
The HD 7950 Vapor-X offers a Dual BIOS which can be changed at the press of a button. The primary BIOS carries a clock speed of 850MHz on the GPU and 1250MHz (5000MHz effective) on the memory. Pressing the button then posting the system enables the 2nd or “Boost” BIOS which is quite higher clocked at 950MHz on the GPU and 1250MHz (5000MHz effective) on the memory. This allows for a nice kick of performance or free performance as a 100MHz GPU clock increase should net at the least an FPS or 2 in most games if not a bit more. But besides that I want to see how much more we can pump out of this card and what its true potential can be.
PCI Express Gen 3 Capable
Sapphire wants to ensure everyone knows that the cards are PCIe Gen 3 ready and capable, with a compatible CPU and board there will be lots of extra bandwidth on tap to really let this card strut its stuff.
Overview of the Sapphire HD 7950 Vapor-X
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The packaging of the HD 7950 Vapor-X is simple, quite clean and just looks good with a masked character just to give it a little attitude. A few key support icons are on the front edge but otherwise mostly clean and clear, I guess you could say a professional or sleek look.
The rear is another story entirely as it carries the same character but alongside this is a whole host of different data showing supported technologies and many of the awards won by previous product some even from us right here at Bjorn3D.
Inside the box we are greeted with the card in an anti-static bubble bag and a foam insert to keep the card from moving around during transport. This is all encased in a recyclable egg crate paper mesh enclosure which is a pretty cool and eco-friendly move compared to the plastic clamshell we see on some cards.
Lifting the egg crate card tray out we find the accessories so let us see what comes with it.
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Here is a list of all items included in the accessory pack:
Dual 4 Pin PATA to 6 Pin PCI-E Power adapters
Single PATA to PCIe 6 pin power adapter
- DVI to VGA Adapter
- HDMI Cable
- Crossfire Bridge
The accessory package is more than enough to get the card hooked to pretty much any display and the HDMI cable was a nice touch to have it included. Some HDMI capable displays do not include a HDMI cable but do include a DVI, While they both are digital I just like the HDMI better due to the ease of connectivity.
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Here is the card: The cooler looks pretty sharp, both in style or appearance and simply it looks like a sharp object with all of the jagged angles. Some people like the smooth sleek looking cooler designs but for me the edgy kind of design like we see here is cool with me as it just makes the card look like something you don’t want to mess with.
The cooler is a dual slot design but the shroud does encroach slightly into the adjacent slot space but from what I can tell it’s not enough to really cause an issue but definitely check fitment before starting your system if you have another card sandwiched against it.
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The rear IO supports multiple connectivity options including:
This is enough connectivity to control a nice array of displays should the need for an Eyefinity setup arise.
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Here we see the card at most all angles including the rear of the PCB where many components can be seen. This card does not have a backplate so you will see the card in the nude when installed in your case.
Removing the cooler we get a look at what is under the hood and what makes it run. Running along the top PCB edge we see the stiffening bracket which helps make sure the PCB is nice and solid since the Vapor-X cooler focuses all of its mounting tension on the GPU itself and not on supporting PCB rigidity.
The VRM for the GPU and memory are both cooled by separate plate style coolers which use pushpin mounting mechanisms to seat the cooling plate and thermal pad to the components. Once removed you get a better look at the power delivery system along with the detail Sapphire went into to ensure adequate cooling such as the tiny cooling plate for the small VRM components at the top IO side edge.
Here also we see the cooler with the Vapor chamber large in the middle and raised GPU contact area to ensure maximum contact and thermal transfer.
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Here is the previously mentioned BIOS switch or button that controls which BIOS is enabled. When the boost BIOS is enabled the Sapphire logo will light up white whereas when the standard BIOS is enabled it will not be lit. Note that you must make the switch of BIOS before powering on your system otherwise the standard vBIOS will be loaded.
Here we can see the VRM components which are actually quite interesting as this card uses IOR Directfet units which offer excellent cooling properties along with very high power capability for excellent performance and efficiency potential. Also the grooved top on the chokes tells me they are made to run super cool as well which is something that is always good as cooler components simply run better.
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||Sapphire HD 7950 Vapor-X|
|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 Sapphire HD 7950 Vapor-X overclocks much like other HD 7000 series cards I have tested. Simply set the clock and run with it.
The first thing I adjust is the GPU to find the maximum stable frequency which I found to be 1128MHz. 1130 was stable for the most part with only minor artifacts very rare but any artifacts or strange issues is enough for me not to let it pass as I want to represent something that can actually be used. Memory overclocking was equally as impressive pulling over 1650MHz settling in around 1655MHz (6620MHz Effective) which is a huge overclock well over 30% on both the GPU and memory and to me this level of free performance is huge for a gamer looking to gain some extra speed.
|Clock||Stock Frequency|| Max stable MHz
|GPU Base clock||850MHz||1128MHz||32%+|
|Memory clock||1250MHz (5000MHz)||1655MHz (6620MHz)||32%+|
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)|
|Sapphire HD 7950 Vapor-X OC||42C/66C|
|Sapphire HD 7950 Vapor-X||40C/64C|
The Vapor-X cooler definitely earns some kudos here as even with a clock of over 30% increase the card never even saw 70C. This cooler is quite nice and stays very quiet which is another plus as some gamers use speakers and not a headset so the last thing you want is a cards fans screaming in the background.
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 the HD7950 Vapor-X pulls some good numbers and the boost BIOS pulls almost another full FPS with just the press of a button. Do note that 1 FPS gain in this test is actually a pretty big gain.
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 The 7950 Rockets ahead even beating the AMP edition 680 we tested previously, and the press button boost BIOS gave an almost 5 FPS jump for a quick and easy performance boost.
Metro 2033 likely one of the most demanding games that we have tested with, as it brings virtually every GPU to its knees. The HD7950 Vapor-X does quite well here as at standard clocks it is slightly below the AMP edition 680 and with the help from the boost BIOS it takes a clear lead over the 680 by over 1 FPS, so this card definitely responds well to frequency adjustments.
Batman: Arkham City
Batman is a popular game, which is why we include it. The game is a Nvidia “Way it’s meant to be played” title so I’m not really surprised to see the Nvidia cards rule the roost on this one. The 7950 Vapor-X is not far behind but this game does not see as drastic of performance gains from the boost clock as it saw just a little over 1 FPS boost which is still a gain but just goes to show that software optimization plays a role here as well.
Dirt 3 was highly marketed by AMD, so I was a little surprised to see it trail behind the 680 and 670 models but then again they are very powerful cards. The 7950 holds its own and turns in some super high numbers and once again the boost BIOS gives us a solid 6 FPS jump which is not really needed at almost 2 FPS but it shows that when the software is optimized for it, the performance will show.
When I received the HD 7950 Vapor-X edition I sometimes get a little jaded and assume everything is a gimmick with some of this stuff now days. Well after using the card for a while I can confirm Sapphire has what it takes to build a very powerful card and it shows in the performance I got from this one here.
The card comes out of the box overclocked and even has a boost BIOS for even more free performance. For those power users who want even more there is a lot left on the table just waiting for it to be tweaked and tuned to even more amazing performance. The cooler is no joke as the Vapor-X design keeps even my super high overclock nice and chilly without any excessive fan noise which is always an awesome thing to see. In the case of cooling solutions Sapphire is simply doing it right.
The only real complaints I have is that I do not see why Sapphire chose to leave the memory untouched as there is huge potential here as well and could easily have pushed the card into new regions of performance in testing.
When it comes to choosing a graphics card for your gaming rig there are many factors to consider. For all of the ones I see mattering Sapphire built it the right way in the HD 7950 Vapor-X and this makes it a card I can highly recommend to anyone looking for a card that simply works and works awesome no matter what you want to do.
|OUR VERDICT: Sapphire HD 7950 Vapor-X|
|Summary: The Sapphire HD 7950 Vapor-X gives the appearance of some serious performance and delivers even more. It can overclock like nobody’s business and stays cool and quiet in the process. For this it earns the Bjorn3D Golden Bear Award.|