Unpacking the XFX HD 7950 Black Edition caused a bit of déjà vu. The card bears a strong resemblance to its big brother, the HD 7970 Black Edition (reviewed April 2012), clad in svelte brushed aluminum. If graphics cards dressed up for black tie galas, then the XFX Black Edition is ready to attend.
XFX pushes the reference clocks higher than stock, hitting 900MHz for the core clock and 1,375MHz for the memory clock. The additional memory cycles translate to a peak memory bandwidth of 5.5 gigabytes per second—the same as the HD 7970, and higher than the 5GB/s of the stock 7950. The question is: Can the GPU keep up? There’s always a balance between memory bandwidth and how much of that bandwidth the GPU cores can actually use. Plus, as more games become shader- and tessellation-intensive, bandwidth isn’t as big a part of the equation.
AMD’s reference HD 7950 board sets its core clock at 800MHz and memory at 1,250MHz, using the default cooling system. Sapphire takes this reference board, adds dual 12cm fans, and juices the core clock to 900MHz. The memory clock remains at 1,250MHz—but that’s 3GB of 1,250MHz GDDR5. Priced at around $480, it’s worth seeing how the card compares with Nvidia’s GTX 580. Note that we’ve also included results from the XFX Radeon HD 7970 for your reference, but excluded that card from the direct comparisons.
For direct comparison we turned to two different versions of the GTX 580—the slightly overclocked EVGA GTX 580 SC with 1.5GB of GDDR5 and the ultra-beefed-up EVGA GTX 580 Classified with 3GB of video RAM—as well as the XFX Radeon HD 7950 Black Edition reviewed next.
The Sapphire card ships with a slight memory bandwidth disadvantage compared with the XFX card (5GB per second versus 5.5GB/s) due to running its GDDR5 frame buffer at the reference clock speed. This shows up in a few benchmarks, where the Sapphire card places just a little behind the XFX card, but the differences are pretty small.
‘We don’t need no stinkin’ reference design!’ says XFX
It's not unusual to see factory-overclocked videocards ship with custom cooling solutions a few months after a GPU launches. But XFX didn’t waste any time with its Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition—a factory-overclocked card with a custom cooling solution that aims to take the performance crown. Based on what we’ve seen to date, XFX has delivered the fastest single-GPU card on the planet.
The Radeon HD 7970 is AMD’s latest GPU, with support for DirectX 11.1 and OpenCL 1.2. It’s a brand-new architecture—completely different from past AMD GPUs—built on TSMC’s 28nm manufacturing process and sporting a staggering 4.3 billion transistors. In AMD’s reference design, the 7970’s core runs at 925MHz, and its GDDR5 memory is clocked at 1,375MHz. XFX ups the ante significantly, pushing the core clock speed to a whopping 1GHz and running its 3GB of memory at 1,425MHz.
As you might imagine, the results are nothing short of amazing. We’re seeing genuine performance milestones here, including a 3DMark 11 performance score higher than 8,000 (for a single GPU), Far Cry 2 hitting 100fps at 2560x1600 with 4x AA, and Batman: Arkham City heading north of 50fps at the same resolution and AA settings. On top of that, the idle system power is just 124 watts, and a dark idle (when Windows 7 blanks the screen) draws 110 watts. Push the card and you’ll see system power consumption climb to 349 watts, but that merely puts its overall power draw into Fermi territory. XFX’s Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition is substantially faster than EVGA’s super-overclocked 3GB GeForce GTX 580 Classified, and it’s outfitted with just two PCIe power connectors (one 8-pin and one 6-pin). EVGA’s card requires three power connectors.
A fabulous single-player experience in a massively multiplayer online game
STAR WARS: The Old Republic (TOR) comes with a buffet of a story for an MMO, but you only get to fill your plate once. From decisions as significant as choosing your character’s class specialization to events as trivial as responding to key dialog options, everything you do has a lasting and permanent effect on your gameplay. We like the feast: BioWare’s masterful use of instanced environments creates more captivating gameplay for the solo quester than most any other MMO.
But this is BioWare’s first foray into the massively multiplayer world, and it shows. TOR is more a role-playing game you play alongside 999,999 friends than a true MMO. BioWare either poorly integrates or completely misses the mark on many of the elements that define an MMO. On the upside, the beautiful blend of voice acting and dialogue options in each of TOR’s many quests should earn the game a celebratory parade through the Yavin 4 throne room. And while the scripted quests (occasionally punctuated by John Williams’s familiar score) are immersive, they make the rest of the game’s environments seem stale by comparison. TOR’s non-instanced “generic” areas just aren’t very player-interactive. The Nar Shadda casino, a cold and lifeless location that cries out for mini-games and interactivity, is just one example. And don’t get us started on TOR’s cantina music.
Strange things happen on the Internet all the time. The art of RickRolling was -- and for some, still is -- one of them, whereby for a short period of time it became vogue to trick people into visiting Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" video on YouTube. Even more strange than RickRolling becoming a thing is the fact that AVG Technologies managed to convince YouTube to pull the popular video yesterday.
One of the problems with our accelerating technological progress is that the evolutionary path is strewn with dead formats. Remember cassettes? VHS? Betamax? Laserdiscs? I was reminded of this again when I got involved in some serious de-cluttering. I found multiple boxes of SVHS-C cassettes left over from ten and twenty years ago. Many of them are treasured memories so I decided to dub these to DVD with the eventual goal of importing into Avid to edit them.
For dubbing purposes, I picked up a Sony VRD-MC6, which Sony calls a “multi-function DVD recorder.” It’s a convenient little box for burning DVDs from various other sources. It has a small screen to show you what’s being burned to the DVD and it can write to single and double-layer discs. Perfect for my needs.
Working my way through ten years of recorded videos was both joyous and frustrating. Read on for some of the lessons I’ve learned from several decades of shooting personal videos and candid stills.
At some point or another, everyone fantasizes about being able to fly, soaring through the air like a bird high above the ground, over buildings and wherever your fancy takes you. A man named Jarno Smeets took that dream and seemingly made it a reality by concocting a sort of winged apparatus that allowed him to flap his arms and soar like an eagle. He uploaded a short YouTube video that quickly went viral, and just like that, over a million viewers were able to live out their fantasy of flight vicariously through some guy on the Internet. The only problem is Jarno Smeets doesn't appear to exist and it now appears that the video is a fake. Hello bug, meet windshield.
Consumers downloaded the Windows 8 Consumer Preview over a million times in less than 24 hours, but we're willing to bet that the majority of those downloads came from the technically inclined rather than, say, your parents. The tech world has already proclaimed what it likes and doesn't like in Windows 8 -- but do everyday people really care if W8 has an enhanced contact app? Can everyday people even locate the contact app in W8? Lockergnome's Chris Pirillo decided to put the W8 interface to the test by plopping his elderly father down in front of the new OS with no introduction.
Not to be beaten at its own game, TV streaming service Hulu has started airing its first original series to compete with Netflix. The show is called Battleground, and it centers around a Senate campaign in Wisconsin. Netflix just debuted it’s first series Lilyhammer, but the two companies are going about things quite differently.
Time Warner has rolled out a new TV viewing option for its customers to enjoy from the safety of home (and only from home). Live TV streams are now flowing to compatible web browsers for those with Time Warner TV and internet services. The TWC TV web app is in beta, but supports Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari. Although, the service does have a number of catches.