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Oh good times are a-coming! We just took possession of a HD 7870 DirectCU II graphics card from ASUS, and while its bigger bro the HD 7970 DirectCU II is certainly more of a monster, this one is the card the more practical gamers have been waiting for. Or the ones who are simply “frugal”, such as myself. The 7870 brings the proverbial sweet spot category to life with new 28nm AMD “Pitcairn” GPU technology. It’s essentially a more powerful, increasingly efficient, and optimized version of 2010’s 6870, with the leaner fabrication process effectively cramming more power on a smaller form factor to result in 20%-50% more performance, depending on application. And unlike the gigantic 7970 and 7950, the 7870 is a more modest two-slot part, and isn’t as long, measuring a decent 27cm, or 10.6”. The DirectCU II shroud/cooler in this case doesn’t cover the entire PCB, but otherwise offers the same direct-contact copper heatpipe architecture for faster heat dissipation, as well as two 100mm fans that run very quiet compared to more generic offerings (10dB lower noise emissions than stock, officially). The ASUS version of the 7870 also runs 10% faster than reference, clocking 1100MHz on the GPU. It comes with 2GB GDDR5 at 5000MHz actual, which is twice the memory allotment of the 6870, so you can expect better performance in higher resolutions. Technically, AMD is touting these cards as more than ready for 4K, or Ultra HD (2160p, 1600p and other screen sizes), and hopefully the more mainstream nature of the 7870 will help usher the arrival of better-looking content.


The card uses the AMD-rebranded Graphics Core Next design, which runs 1280 stream processors. This may not sound like a whole lot over the 1120 stream processors deployed by the 6870, but efficiency and optimization are the key concepts here, and the 7870 does a better job with DX11 features such as advanced tessellation (up to four times the processing power in this particular application).


I really like this card. It’s a reasonable option for power users on a budget, or with cases that aren’t so big they have their own gravitational pull. You can easily fit this into any micro ATX chassis, unlike the triple-slot behemoths that are the 7970 and 7950 DirectCU II cards. Those are really for the hardcore crowd. This one is perfect for gamers like yours truly, who currently want to run everything in high on 1080p with 8X AA. To that end, the 7870 is more than enough. In other words, it’s that “goldilocks” card you’ve been waiting for, located right in the middle of the zone of affordability, without sacrificing real world performance. Sure, in benchmarking it will not match the raw power of bigger 28nm cards, but in actual gaming it will shine.


We also get the GPU Tweak utility in the box, which does a much better job with overclocking and overvolting than the AMD Catalyst suite allows for. It’s more detailed, friendlier, and has nifty features like 2D/3D mode locking and voltage/clock speed syncing, resulting in a safer overclocking environment. And don’t forget PCI Express 3.0 is standard, although the data bus remains at 256-bit.


Let’s take a look at some pics, starting yet again with my good friends the knight and the warhorse, who return once more to herald better graphics for the widest gamer and enthusiast demographic out there. These two never seem to tire from all of their box appearances!

They're ba-aaa-ack!


The customary ASUS high quality inner box and foam fastening are all present and accounted for.



The 7870 DirectCU II sits nice and secure amid lots of foam.



That new graphics card smell - always an exciting moment!


In the box we find a Molex to 6-pin adapter, DVI to VGA plug, and CrossFire bridge.


Basic accessories, but the card is the star of the show here


As we look at the part, the first thing to note is the elegant DirectCU II colour scheme and design, plus those two oversized 100mm sound-dampening fans. Just think back to as little as seven years ago: something like this would have been science fiction back then, in the halcyon days of cards that had coolers the size of a business card.


Putting a positive spin on gaming


The front of the card is quite open as you can see, and while I personally enjoy the closed-off and boxy look of the reference coolers on AMD cards, this type of shroud really does allow for easier removal of hot air and circulation of cool air. You can also see the copper heatpipes poking out.


Very low temps mean better gaming


On the side we have two 6-pin power inputs, a more reasonable logic than the 6-pin/8-pin you have on the bigger cards. This makes for an easy transition for anyone currently using a mid-to-high range card from the last two years, many of which use the same double 6-pin arrangement. Minimum 600W power supply recommended to maintain a stable and healthy PC, and if you plan on pairing two 7870s, make that 850W.


Two slots and two power plugs - we can certainly live with that


ASUS has given us two DisplayPorts, one HDMI, and one DVI. Technically the HD 7870 can drive up to six screens via AMD Eyefinity.


If only everything in life was this accessible!


Comparatively speaking, the HD 7870 will indeed cost more than the HD 6870 did when it came out 18 months ago or so in 2010, but of course we’re getting a lot more technology for that little extra. The HD 7850 will also be out soon, and don’t forget the 7700 cards, which are also quite powerful and definitely more affordable. But overall, this is the card to beat at the moment, and by far the most attractive option whether you’re looking for an upgrade (it’ll work just as well on a PCI Express 2.0 board, to be honest), or a new build with one of those fancy motherboards.

Let us know your thoughts!

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