Sapphire Radeon HD 7950 OverClock Edition £360
31st Jan 2012 | 10:00
The best graphics card on the market right now
Sapphire has waded in first with its take on AMD's latest HD 7000 series card, the Sapphire Radeon HD 7950 OverClock edition.
Unlike the AMD Radeon HD 7970 there are unlikely to be very many strictly reference models of the Radeon HD 7950. Instead we're more likely to see card manufacturers taking the opportunity to put their own spin on the PCB, clocks and cooling.
The HD 7970 was a reference model all the way down the line, with overclocked versions only coming much further down the release schedule. The Radeon HD 7950 though is being freed by AMD to allow manufacturers to do whatever they like right from day one.
With the impressive performance of the reference AMD Radeon HD 7950, which we've already seen, any improvement on that is going to be very welcome indeed.
And anything that offers even more overclocking potential with this already blazing fast GPU is just dandy in our books.
AMD's biggest card manufacturer, Sapphire, has opted to re-design the PCB and has created a new twin-fan cooling solution to sit atop the brand new slice of graphical silicon.
Sapphire has also opted to clock its Radeon HD 7950 OverClock edition 100MHz faster than the reference model we've already reviewed.
That's not quite as fast as the AMD Radeon HD 7970's 925MHz, but it's certainly not far short.
In fact, in certain areas, it's actually better.
The benchmarks don't lie and show the Sapphire Radeon HD 7950 OverClock edition is only a fraction behind the vanilla Radeon HD 7970.
Thanks to the impressive overclocking potential within the Sapphire card, and the AMD Tahiti core in general, you can easily push the OverClock edition to the same performance levels as the HD 7970.
All of these benchmarks were run at 2560x1600, with the overclocking results taken at the relevant card's maximum achieved overclock.
There's little between them at the very top end of the OC tree.
DirectX 11 tessellation performance
DirectX 11 gaming performance
As good as the reference version of the AMD Radeon HD 7950 is, the Sapphire HD 7950 OverClock edition is just better.
Coupled with the awesome overclocking potential of the Tahiti core is an excellent cooling array with whisper quiet dual fans.
Being able to keep the temperature well below that of the reference card gives us far more faith in the longevity of the chip given a serious overclock.
That's a good job considering the excellent Trixx overclocking utility Sapphire bundles with the card.
That software is intrinsic to the extra performance we were able to wring out of the HD 7950 OverClock edition.
The AMD overdrive software runs out of track at 1,100MHz, while Trixx will allow us to push the card up to 1,300MHz and play around with the voltages to help us get close to the limits.
We quickly managed to hit a 1,170MHz core clock speed with the Sapphire sample we've been playing with.
And that's faster than we were able to push the Radeon HD 7970.
So the performance is excellent, on par with the top-end AMD HD 7970, and the cooling array makes for near silent graphical power play.
There's got to be a catch, right?
Well, we're still looking, but we'll be damned if we can find one…
At £360 it's only a tenner more expensive than AMD is recommending the reference design be sold for, and around the same amount cheaper than the rivalling Nvidia top-end card.
We say rivalling, but really there is no contest. The Sapphire HD 7950 is cheaper and knocks the Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 about like a tiger playing with a toddler.
Nvidia then has some work to do to rival this excellent card.
The only problem we can see has no real bearing on the end user at all and is only really an issue for AMD.
Nobody is going to want the HD 7970 now there's a card which is practically as good for over £100 less.
The raw performance of the HD 7950 is a known quantity now, as is its overclocking potential. With the Sapphire backing though it's an even better GPU.
There's also the power-saving goodness of the AMD ZeroCore Power technology which turns off most of the GPU when it's not needed.
We're struggling to think of something negative to say here. Aside from the fact you'll only get the true value of this card with a big-screen, 2560x1440 or 2560x1600 monitor, there's nothing to say.
Quite simply this is the only card we'd consider spending cash on if we were looking for a serious GPU upgrade.