Sapphire always seems to have a large number of models in their gamma, covering all user profiles. They even tend to offer several variants of the same model, so if you think you simply need a Radeon HD 7770, they make sure you have to think about which “taste” you want as well. This differentiation is achieved with varying cooling solutions and overclock levels. The rule of thumb is that there’s always a version with the referent cooler, as well as a few alternatives in the form of an overclocked revision, possibly with one of Sapphire’s aftermarket coolers. One such product is Radeon HD 7770 OC, which, although it doesn’t belong to one of the more famous series by this manufacturer, such as Toxic or Vapor-X, still possesses qualities that raise it above the competitors. ASUS has joined the same party with their TOP model, which, unlike Radeon HD 7850 carrying the same suffix, has the first version of DirectCU cooling. This was to be expected, since Radeon HD 7770 is a card you really want to offer as cheaply as possible, which makes high-end cooling and similar extravaganza not only too expensive, but also plain unnecessary.
A complete product
As for Sapphire’s bundles, it’s been more than a year or two that we’ve been unable to say anything bad about them, as they always seem to include exactly the needed components. As is the case with more expensive graphics cards, this one is also accompanied by a plethora of adapters and convertors, a driver disc, documentation and a very useful 1.8 metre-HDMI cable. In an era where most manufacturers omit such things even with the most expensive of Radeons and GeForces, this is a truly commendable policy.
As the box had little to distinguish it from other models on the shelf, bar the “Overclocked” sticker, we were expecting the referent cooler model with Sapphire’s sticker on it. This wasn’t the case, however, and the Radeon HD 7770 we got packed a cooling solution of much higher quality than the usual one, despite its not belonging to the Vapor-X family. The cooling system is based on a single large fan with a 90 mm diameter, paired with a very good cooling body. The cooling fins are made of aluminium and are packed pretty tightly, intersected by two copper heatpipes in order to transfer as much heat from the chip as possible. As already stated, this isn’t a Vapor-X solution, so the heatpipes don’t lie on the GPU directly, and are only connected with the latter via the copper base. Beneath the cooler lies the rather ordinary PCB, reminiscent of the referent solution (which it probably is), with the only obvious difference being its colour. A simpler PCB also hints at a simpler power unit, tri-phase in this case. The middle is dominated by the Cape Verde (XT) chip in full force, i.e. with 640 stream processors, 40 texture and 16 ROP units. This 28 nm GPU supports DirectX 11.1, ShaderModel 5.0 and OpenGL 4.1, or in short, all relevant standards in their latest iterations. As it shares its genetic model with Tahiti, AMD’s crème de la crème, all technologies such as ZeroCore, Eyefinity 2.0, CrossFireX, DDMA, PCI Express 3.0 etc. are supported, which is a direct consequence of AMD’s policy to consolidate the capabilities of its chips throughout the entire generation. The GPU is surrounded by four memory chips belonging to the fifth GDDR generation. They’re signed by Hynix, with a maximum frequency declared at 1250 MHz, or an effective 5 GHz. As it belongs to the mid-range, the de facto mainstream for the next half year or so, the card is equipped with a 128-bit bus, expectedly.
OC – more than a marketing trick
Although we were highly suspicious towards the OC suffix in the name, as well as the aforementioned sticker on the box, Sapphire has managed to destroy prejudice once again. As you (probably) already know, especially if you’re following InsideHW closely, many manufacturers tend to add the OC suffix to their products, but with the actual GPU being accelerated only by 10 or 15 MHz, which they believe satisfies the criteria imposed for an “overclocked” product. This is a very nasty habit that seems to be rearing its ugly face ever more often. Alongside all that, any sort of memory overclocking is a big no-no even with the most expensive, enthusiast models. The usual comment that the goal was to “leave it to the buyers to explore the potential of their cards” is merely an excuse for laziness or a desire to reduce the number of complaints on account of the cards. Sapphire isn’t entirely deprived of such policies, but this model certainly doesn’t belong to that category in any way. Not only has the company bumped up the GPU frequency from 1 GHz to 1150 MHz, but they also raised the memory from 1125 MHz (4.5 GHz) effectively to 1250 MHz (5 GHz). This makes the jump in performance very noticeable compared to the referent model, with the margin exceeding ten percent, a result often perceived as proof of a truly overclockable card. However, not much manual overclocking was possible beyond these limits; Sapphire seems to have approached the horizons of HD 7770 on the whole. This way, you’re sure to get a graphics card factory-overclocked almost to its very limits, but with warranty fully applicable in the usual period, which means that the manufacturer itself guarantees its stability and longevity.
ASUS Radeon HD 7770 DirectCU TOP
Unlike the previous model, ASUS’ bundle leaves a bit to be desired. Only the critical things have been included, such as the driver disc, DVI-to-VGA converter and a rough manual. The first thing we noticed on this model, therefore, was the DirectCU cooler, first-gen, which hasn’t been seen in quite a while. We’ve made it very clear on several occasions that we think nothing but the best of this quiet and efficient cooling solution, one that we used to see on more expensive mid-range models, now keeping the rather tame Cape Verde chip in check. The system is well-known by now – the copper heatpipes lie on the GPU directly, with the rest of the system made of aluminium. The fan turned out to be pretty quiet, as expected, having in mind the low TDP of the Cape Verde chip. We have to admit that DirectCU still looks very attractive and competitive with its black shield, despite its age. The cooler conceals the typical Radeon HD 7770 without much change, if any. Therefore, the central section is occupied by the graphics chip, surrounded by GDDR5 memory contained in four chips. The total memory capacity is 1 GB, which is more than enough for this category, while the memory interface is 128 bits wide.
The general impression made by this card is really good, as the card looks compact while retaining a high level of firmness and quality. There’s an aluminium rail running alongside the top edge, in order to prevent any bending. Connections are aplenty, with two mini-DisplayPorts, one DVI and one HDMI (1.4a), while the back of the card has a 6-pin molex. The CrossFireX connector is also there to satisfy all multi-GPU fans, while the PCI Express 3.0 standard ensures compatibility even with the latest motherboards. Of course, the TOP suffix in this model’s name is there for a reason, and like Sapphire’s card, this one is also quite a bit more ambitious than the referent model in terms of clocks. Yet Sapphire is the one to take the lead, as ASUS’ Radeon HD 7770 DirectCU TOP works at 1120 MHz for the GPU and 1150 MHz for the memory (effectively 4.6 GHz). These clocks do exceed the referent ones, but fall behind Sapphire by a good 30 and 400 MHz, respectively. The difference in performance is tiny, and the same goes for temperatures and noise. ASUS’ temperatures are lower by a few degrees, but the card is slightly noisier, so one could say that the heads-on between these two cards is rather uneventful. It’s interesting to see just how close manufacturers tend to get to the max in factory overclock, as ASUS’ model stopped at almost the same values as Sapphire’s, i.e. 1180 MHz for the GPU. The memory limitations were also similar, although this doesn’t play such a large role, for the simple fact that HD 7770 will always run out of GPU power before it manages to choke on the memory in real-world conditions. All in all, the third discipline also maintains the status quo between these two models. Not much to be surprised by, as the PCB design is virtually the same on both cards, the only difference created by the accompanying cooling system (and possibly PCB colour for the visually-oriented).
The cancer of price
The problems faced by these two models actually have little to do with them in particular – Radeon HD 7770 and Cape Verde-based cards in general are simply overpriced. The same models at default clocks would cost about 140€ at the moment, while these “modded” versions are more expensive by a good 10€ and upwards. Simply enough, the right price range for these cards is in the 120€ segment, while their current price makes them go against HD 6850 and HD 6870, as well as GeForce GTX 560, which is a battle they have to lose; the tiny Cape Verde just doesn’t belong to the same category. This is why we believe that it would be best if you stick to your money for a few more weeks (possibly months), as we’re positive that the prices of these new Radeons will drop considerably as soon as competition arrives. We can’t blame AMD for trying to make use of the momentum created with its early presentation of Cape Verde, but if efficiency of this strategy is to be improved, prices have to drop further. Regardless, Sapphire and ASUS have done a fantastic job in making HD 7770 even better. We yield a minor advantage to Sapphire based on a single differentiating factor between the cards, which is slightly higher default clocks on Sapphire’s end. The cards were just too similar to avoid delving into details in search for the winner. That said, take our recommendation only as an answer to the question: “If you were forced to choose between the two, which one would you opt for?”