Crashing during games after HD 7970 Vapor-X Install

Hey guys, just joined this forum, although I've been redirected here many times over the years passed for issues I've googled. ;) A little bit about me... I've been building systems for roughly 15 years, and have been a software engineer for 10 years. However, I haven't done much in roughly the last year or so as far as modifying my system, so I'm starting to jump back into things.

Anywho, after some deliberation I decided to post this topic here since I'm sure you guys see a fair share of "my machine is crashing" in the section. Allow me to preface this problem I'm having with a few points.

The build : ASUS P6X58D mobo, i7 920 Bloomfield CPU w/ Noctua U12-P HSF, 12 GBs of DDR3 G. skill Ripjaws, **new** Sapphire HD 7970 Vapor-X Ghz Edition, **new** 512GB OCZ SSD, (Several other SATA drives which are irrelevant and just for storage), Windows 7 Pro (64-bit), 850W Antec PSU.

1) I have had my i7 920 Bloomfield OC'd to 4.0gHz for years now. I can run OCCT for hours, etc. The system has been ROCK solid with NO crashing whatsoever, so this issue should have absolutely nothing to do with the OC.
2) Very recently I upgraded to an OCZ 512MB SSD, and did a fresh reinstall of Windows 7 Professional, 64-bit. I'm 99% certain that I have all of the same exact drivers installed that I was using on my SATA HDD, which are all up to date including the X58 chipset drivers.
3) I was reading about some explorer.exe crashing issues with the latest HD 7970 drivers from AMD, so I installed the drivers that came with the card instead.

Now, onto the issue... It seems as if I've stepped back in time, because I'm experiencing an issue that I dealt with years ago. That issue was related to faulty voltage regulators on my 5870HD at the time. Now that I've got my beefy new 7970 Vapor-X Ghz edition, a new SSD, and a fresh OS, I decided to start playing some of my old Steam games again. So far the crash has occurred in Left for Dead 2 and Dirt 2. Basically, you're playing along for an undetermined amount of time and suddenly the video freezes and the audio begins looping. There is no BSOD, and you cannot retreat to Windows. You need to do a hard reset. Now, logic tells me that it must be related to my SSD or the new Vapor-X, and I'm leaning toward the video card since I saw extremely similar symptoms with my old 5870HD. Perhaps unrelated, Dirt 2 has been not exiting correctly, and simply hangs after I select "Quit." I need to then go to task manager and manually kill the process. This may be unrelated, but I'm just trying to provide all of the puzzle pieces.

Tonight I was thinking about completely wiping the original drivers I installed for my HD 7970, and giving the latest and greatest catalysts a shot. And although I don't think it could be related to my SSD, I don't know a ton about them. Could it be related to that? Lastly, please keep in mind that it should have NOTHING to do with the overclock I have on the system, since that has been stable since the dawn of time. Prior to installing this Vapor-X, I was running an HD 5970 (dual GPU card), and the system never crashed.... EVER. I suppose it's also worth noting that even though I have this new card capable of DEMOLISHING any current games, I'm receiving stuttering in Dirt 2 periodically as well... Perhaps this is driver related. Anyway, I need to get this problem resolved ASAP, since this new video card is AMAZING otherwise. I'm praying there's not something wrong with the card itself, and that it's just driver (or maybe even SSD?) related. One other thing to note... It's possible I may have just been spoiled with the AC HSF (Three 92mm fluid dynamic bearing fans) I had on my HD 5970, but the temps rarely went over 45 deg C. The thing was AMAZING. All of the clocks have been untouched on my new HD 7970, and I manually ramped the fan speed up during gaming. I suppose I could connect a 2nd monitor and watch the temps in realtime while gaming, but I'm wondering how hot this new HD 7970 is getting. I've seen 52 deg C upon exiting a game into Windows, although I'm well aware of just how quickly those temps drop. I'm a bit worried how hot the card is getting while gaming, although it *should* be fine since both fans are working and I've left the GPU and MEM clocks completely alone.

Thoughts? Any intelligent input is welcome and greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance, and let me know if there are any details I may have left out.
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  1. Before installing the 7970, did you run a driver sweeper program to remove all of the drivers for the 5970? There might be some residual software running around looking for a home. My best guess off hand.
  2. I uninstalled the original drivers, did a sweep, then installed the latest and greatest...So far, so good! I do still get a once-in-a-blue-moon hiccup in Dirt 2 where the game will freeze for .25-.50 seconds, but then it doesn't happen again for quite some time. I doubt it's graphics related though, since the game is smooth as silk 99% of the time with sky high frame rates.

    Speaking of which, this card is knocking down some killer frame rates. I'm pushing 115+ FPS in some areas of Metro 2033 with everything maxed out. Rage also runs as if it's a totally different game, again with everything cranked.
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