PC gaming is one of those things that is a constant balancing act between meeting the specifications of the latest games, and your wallet. Graphics cards can, and often do, cost more than a console, so it is important to buy something you know is high quality, and will hold you over for a while.
Since the AMD 6800 series came out, I was using twin AMD 6850 cards in Crossfire. I was pretty satisfied with the performance and the price was decent, allowing me to buy first one, then the other when the time was right. Still, I started noticing some issues with increased power consumption (the reason I needed to upgrade my PSU in the first place), flickering with certain incompatible games, and higher temperatures inside my case.
I decided to give the AMD Radeon HD 7870 Double Black Diamond, provided to us by Diamond Multimedia a try. The Double Black Diamond is a new addition to the Diamond line of graphics cards, and is essentially a factory overclocked version of their standard 7870 GHz Edition. Since the card is already overclocked, you can push it a little further with less worry of catching the thing on fire. The card is really only a few weeks old and not “out there” in the market fully yet, so I had to dig around for some pricing information. I’ve been told the retail price is around $340.00, which puts it in line with the current GHz Edition of Diamond’s 7870 and with the general pricing strategy of Diamond’s previous releases. It also puts in in line with the 6970 series and Nvidia’s GTX 570 line of GPUs, so as a graphics card goes, it’s fairly affordable.
The absolute last thing I am going to do is take a screwdriver to a graphics card I intend to use and pull it apart. Neither am I going to set the thing in a white box and take pretty pictures of it for hours on end. There is one way to review a piece of hardware, and that is to plug it in and push it. If you want to see what it looks like on the inside, as well as get the truly technical details, an excellent source is here. This page also offers a few comparisons of this and other cards in action during gameplay, with several different titles.
Physically, the Double Black Diamond is nearly identical in appearance to the standard 7870 GHz Edition, with only the sticker on the fan being the only outwardly different feature. On the back, the card features dual mini display ports, HDMI and a Dual Link DVI connector, which would allow you to connect up to six monitors in all. A full size DisplayPort is not present, but a passive adapter is thoughtfully provided in the packaging. This adapter interfaces with a standard Active DisplayPort adapter, allowing you to use three or more monitors. Also, if you are still using a VGA connection, a DVI to VGA adapter is also in the packing, as well as a Crossfire Bridge, so really you will have all you need to get started.
The card itself will cover two expansion slots in your PC, much like any other current card, and measures 9.8 inches long, 4.9 inches wide, and 1.5 inches thick. Coming in at 2.2 pounds, the Double Black Diamond is a pretty heavy piece of hardware. It utilizes the standard PCI-E x16 Bus, and is compatible with the latest PCI-E 3.0 standard. I had to do a little creative cable management and move two hard drives, but the card fit in well, and was about as long as AMD’s reference HD 6990. As long as you are using a standard ATX chassis, or larger, you should have little trouble fitting it in.
According to the product page, the power requirements are one 75W 6 pin PCI Express power connector on a 500W PSU. It is recommended, however, that you use the card with a 600W or greater PSU and two 75W 6 pin power connectors if you are using Crossfire. I’m not sure if this is a typo, but being as there is two 6 pin connector ports, I decided it was best to plug a connector into each one, just to be on the safe side.
The core clock of the 28nm Pitcairn GPU is set at 1050 MHz across its 2.8 billion transistors, the 2GB (2048 MB) GDDR5 memory is set to 1200 Mhz with a speed of 153.6 GB per second (lost you there, didn’t I?). What this means is the card is set to run faster than the standard model, and actually puts in in competition with the Nvidia 580 GPU. Using AMD’s VISION Engine Control Center, I was able to push the card even further to 1100 MHz on the GPU and 1450 on the memory, while only adding a moderate 20% boost to the power control settings (Didn’t one of you wonder why I needed a 1000 watt PSU?). You can use other tools, such as MSI Afterburner, to further tweak and push the card, but for me, this was enough. Here you can find instructions to overclock the card, as well as a few more performance comparisons.
Immediately upon firing this card up, I was able to tell a difference. I’ve been told by a few parties that my Crossfired 6850s are faster, but if that is true, I can’t tell the difference. Gone was the slight tearing effect I would see when rapidly moving windows across my desktop. Under a full load, playing Battlefield 3 at Ultra settings and using all they eye candy, the card went no higher than 57 degrees on air cooling alone, while my older setup would push 63 within a few minutes. This has kept the temperature inside my case cooler as well, which has provided benefits in other areas.
The noise levels are moderate. You can use the AMD VISION Control Center to manually adjust the speed of the fan, but unless you are going for a significant overclock, it is not necessary. Once it hits 40% starts to be a little loud, and if you spool it up all the way you might think a jet is getting ready to take off. Still, I keep coming back to a multi card setup; twice the cards produce twice the noise. Overall, I am happy with the noise levels as they are, but I hope I have no need to use the fan at higher speeds.
The card supports resolutions up to 4096 x 2160, and performs amazingly well when utilizing it with an Eyefinty Desktop. Other specifications include support for AMD’s Crossfire X technology, DirectX 11.1, and OpenGL 4.2. It features HDMI 1.4a, support for Stereoscopic 3D, HDR texture compression, 16x angle independent anisotropic texture filtering, and up to 24x multi-sample/super-sample anti aliasing modes.
When it comes down to graphics cards, everyone will have a different opinion. It does not matter if you like Nvidia, AMD or the Great Pumpkin, someone is always going to find fault with your choice. For my money, AMD has always given me a better performance for the price. Their line of GPUs overclock well and run stable at higher settings, allowing you to run them neck and neck with any other card out there.
The AMD 7870 Double Black Diamond is the first Diamond Multimedia card I have used, and so far I am impressed. It’s priced comfortabl, takes everything I throw at it, and performs like a champion.
Rick first got his start in gaming with the Atari 2600 console, and it was all downhill from there. Now he spends his free time writing about games and technology for Sergeant Merrell, and is also on the Off Duty Gamers staff. His prior service as a United States Marine, and in law enforcement, give him a peculiar sense of humor, so be advised.