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Product Review: AMD Sapphire HD 7950 Mac Edition

Architosh reviews AMD Radeon based Sapphire HD 7950 Mac Edition graphics card for Apple Mac Pros. This latest board from Sapphire offers users AMD’s 28nm based Graphics Core Next (GCN) Architecture with up to 4.3 billion transistors and highly tuned for OpenCL. We put it through a whole series of benchmarks across both gaming and pro markets, plus real world tests.

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Maxon Cinebench and Pro Apps

One of the most trusted reference Pro apps benchmarks for general GPU and CPU performance is Maxon’s Cinebench, now at version 11.5. It consists of both real-world CPU and GPU tests, unlike the specific function abstract benchmarks commonly available, like some of those listed above.

The OpenGL based scene is a car chase scene based on a PAL-standard 25 FPS. There are 225,000 polygons but during the test it will process nearly a million polys. Because the scene is designed for 25 FPS and is approximately 30 seconds long, higher performing cards will can and will display a frame count higher than the original scene speed and subframes will be displayed and properly measured. (see image 07)

07 – The Maxon Cinebench scores were actually very tight. Longer bar is better.

With Maxon Cinebench the overall system does factor into the resultant performance of a given GPU. Although Maxon has optimized the test to minimize overall system impact on the GPU side of the test, items like main processor, memory bus speed and chipset do play a part in overall GPU ranking. In other words, the same GPU in a higher performing system will result in a better score.

We were surprised at how closely the AMD Sapphire HD 7950 was to the four year old Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT. But do bear in mind what was just stated above. In results embedded in the application, an ATI Radeon HD 4850 running on a 2.8GHz Core i7 based iMac from 2009 resulted in a 32.26 FPS rating. Like the Mac Pro we tested, that Core i7 based iMac has 4 cores and 8 thread capability.

08 – Cinebench by Maxon. Systems comparatively reported.

Within the app the highest performing embedded result came off a 12-core/12 thread 2.62 GHz Opteron Windows 7 workstatioin with an ATI FirePro V8750 workstation GPU with a result of 48 FPS. (see image 08 above). So we feel that if we had a up-to-date Mac Pro with 12-core capacity and many more threads capacity we might see a 40-something FPS score for the Sapphire card as well. We just won’t know for now.

Real World OpenGL Tests: Trimble SketchUp

While all these benchmarks are interesting and while many can test against specific functions of a GPU like raytracing based on OpenCL, in the end the real-world is what counts. At the moment Architosh’s real-world tests are limited in this review to Trimble’s popular SketchUp Pro 8 application. We also did some quick Vectorworks tests but nothing officially measured.

We had three test files to utilize, two of which we have used before for past reviews, including a model we used for reviews of SketchUp and Cheetah 3D, built by associate editor Tim Danaher. Review the images below to get a peak at what we threw at SketchUp Pro 8.

09 – SketchUp model testing. The Falkestrasse in Vienna.

10 – SketchUp model testing. Turning Torso tower.

11 – Large SketchUp model. With both cards this 184 mb SketchUp model made it itself felt.

The first image above is of the Falkestrasse project in Vienna by Coop Himmelblau. This iconic design was modeled by Tim Danaher several years ago. The file itself is not large and there is an animated sequence we run which navigates inside and outside this roof-top glass structure. This animation ran nearly equally well on both graphic cards. (see image 09)

The second image is a tower that Tim Danaher built years ago. The “Turning Torso” tower is very complex and we have an animated sequence again. The red square helps us orient a stop point. This file too is quite small. Again, we didn’t see any noticeable issues or performance between both cards with these two files. (see image 10)

Our third file is a heavily textured and image-propped SketchUp model of a house from my firm’s practice. This file is brutally larger at 184 MB. While not the largest SketchUp file on earth is takes literally minutes to load into the program. (see image 11)

Finally, we opened up a couple of 3D files in Vectorworks 2012 and took them for a navigation spin.


On the Falkestrasse project animation we noticed a tiny improvement in overall rendering quality and smoothness. With the turning torso model we couldn’t detect any performance or image quality between the two GPU cards. Bear in mind the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT has 512 GB of video memory, which at the time of its introduction, was a healthy bit of GPU memory.

Finally, we threw the large estate house at SketchUp. (image 11) This file, did show some differences as we navigated around the site from the sky based on saved SketchUp scenes. With each rotation to a new saved scene textures dropped out of the screen image while others hung on. This varied quite a bit as we ran this tests on both cards. The AMD Sapphire HD 7950 did marginally better. But we are still confused why all those textures couldn’t get cached into its massive 3 GB of GPU memory. But we don’t think the issue is there. We think it lies with the overall system and being 4 years old nearly we don’t feel that the Sapphire is being properly tested.

With the Vectorworks file tests we saw similar degrading of performance and relatively similar image quality. The bottom line with the hands-on evaluative testing with both SketchUp and Vectorworks is both cards offered solid performance with only the largest of files helping to demonstrate advantages in the Sapphire HD 7950 Mac Edition.

Wrap-Up and Conclusions

There are two types of buyers for this Sapphire graphics card. One type is the person who has a very old (2008,2009 or 2010) Mac Pro and would like to spruce it up rather than invest in a new machine. The second type of buyer is a current Mac Pro customers (2011 – 2013). For this latter group because we have not tested the card in a Mac Pro of this vintage we are hesitant to make broad statements about value. Clearly, one can see from the various benchmarks how much more powerful the Sapphire is to the reference Nvidia card in our tests. But what about newer cards? Our answer to that is we hope to do another round of testing soon in a newer Mac Pro.

For anyone with a Mac Pro who does play games the Sapphire HD 7950 Mac Edition does truly fly, as can be seen in the excellent Heaven and Valley scores. The Cinebench scores are seemingly so close that one might be misled to think that that Sapphire HD 7950 isn’t doing all that much. The same could be said of our hand-evaluative tests in SketchUp. However, we think the overall system is hampering the true Cinebench score quite a bit and a newer Mac Pro might have that score in the mid 30’s in FPS.

For now we feel the new AMD Sapphire HD 7950 Mac Edition is a solid investment for an aging Mac Pro and especially in conjunction with a maxed out investment in more RAM would breath new life in your machine. We will hold on further recommendations until we test it in a newer machine and expand our test suite. —- ANTHONY FRAUSTO-ROBLEDO AIA, LEED AP

Pros: Sapphire HD 7950 Mac Edition contains 3 GB of memory, has excellent memory bandwidth and supports OpenGL 4.2; dual firmware switch means you can run the card under Windows with non0UEFI compliant mode or Windows under UEFI hybrid firmware mode. Excellent OpenCL performance for pro apps that utilize OpenCL for compute intensive tasks; Very good backward compatibility, will work in (MacPro3,1) machines as long as they support 4 GB of ram and are running ideally Mountain Lion; runs pretty cool thanks to 28 nm process.

Cons: Although the card did not fully handle much better the mega SketchUp file we threw at it, we suspect this is not entirely the GPU’s issue, but rather an issue with SketchUp. We have little to complain about with this card and the installation process and documentation is solid.

Advice: We noticed that the drivers are already installed in Mac OS X Mountain Lion (10.8.3) signaling perhaps that this card will be a BTO (build-to-order) option in upcoming Mac Pros. For those who cannot afford a new Mac Pro at this time depending on how old your machine is, this card is recommended to breath new life into your machine. General graphics performance is marginal at around 30-50 percent, while those with OpenCL based apps should strongly consider this GPU.

Cost: 479.USD suggested retail.


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