The Retail Radeon HD 7870 Review: HIS 7870 IceQ Turbo & PowerColor PCS+ HD7870by Ryan Smith on March 19, 2012 9:00 AM EST
Being in the business of producing video cards is often not an easy feat, as a GPU manufacturer’s partners only have limited control over the resulting product. At the end of the day most of the performance of a GPU is dictated by its design and fabrication, so partners need to find ways to differentiate themselves not only from each other, but to meaningfully differentiate themselves from the reference products.
This is why AMD’s partners are so happy with the 7000 series. The overclocking headroom in Cape Verde, Pitcairn, and even Tahiti translates into room for them to play with factory overclocks, allowing them to create cards that are meaningfully different from the reference cards in performance. So long as partners can sell all of their GPUs, both high clocking and not, then factory overclocked models are a textbook upsale that lets them grab some more profit in what’s otherwise a cutthroat business. Coupled with a chance to further differentiate themselves based on coolers, and the 7000 has given partners a chance to stand out in a way they couldn’t on the 6000 series.
As far as today’s cards are concerned, both HIS and PowerColor stand out in different ways. PowerColor’s PCS+ HD7870 is a rather straightforward upsell: for $20 (6%) more PowerColor will sell you a 7870 card that gets 5-7% more performance than a stock 7870. And because of their custom open air cooler, it can do this while being a bit quieter than AMD’s reference design. As has been the case with factory overclocked cards in the past this is really an individual decision – based on our limited data, it looks like most 7870s should be able to hit PowerColor’s factory overclocks – but if you just want a bit more guaranteed performance for a bit more money, PowerColor is happy to sell it to you. If nothing else the performance gain is large enough to justify considering it in the first place.
HIS on the other hand makes things a bit more interesting, and a lot less clear. For their IceQ Turbo 7870 their upsell is $40 (11%) for roughly the same 5-7% performance improvement, and if all you care about is stock performance then it’s not a good deal. The real differentiating factor is the IceQ cooler; it’s simply leaps and bounds ahead of any other 7870 we’ve seen so far, though it gets there by using an extra slot in width. If for some reason you need its impressively effective cooling – say for overvolting in the future – then it’s a great candidate. Otherwise without with the prospect of overvolting it’s effectively limited by the AMD PCB and what Pitcairn can do on stock voltage, in which case its temperature advantage likely won’t translate into any material benefit. But then this is the advantage of the GPU partner system for consumers – a company like HIS can go out and create an overcooled card, even if it's for just a niche market.