So quite a while ago (more than a year) I purchased an open-box Sapphire HD 6970 from Newegg, 1st gen. Overall it works rather well. Good temps, the fan made some funny sounds but once I enabled manual fan control in CCC it cleared up. I assumed this fan noise was why it was returned. After playing a few games with it, I started to notice in Civ5 some subtle flickering on the white colored graphics. Then when BF3 was released, I noticed some very weird artifacts in the game (small areas of about 9x9 squares rotating missing squares. I can't find anything like it online, will provide screenshots/videos if interested). There are only a few games that do this, whereas most run beautifully (e.g., Skyrim is perfect), but I'm very sad at how messy these artifacts make BF3 look.
So I have a few questions that I would love some help with as I try to learn more about customizing my video cards:
1) Software & Troubleshooting: What programs should I use to analyze what is wrong with my card? What would be a good BIOS to flash it with? I perused Sapphire's site a while back but didn't see anything shouting "HEY TRY OUT THIS NEW BIOS FOR YOUR 6970s!" Guru3d intimidates me, but I know they have some great resources on there for playing around with video cards.
2) Support: Can I trust Sapphire customer service with helping me figure it out? I assume I won't get a replacement or any nice/cheap solution with the card being an open-box purchase. Can I pretend it's under warranty? :x
3) Solutions and Enthusiast Experiments: A) I'd love to start experimenting with water-cooling and aftermarket VGA air-cooling, and I think a slightly wonky card would be a good place to start. I have the Antec 1200 case so I have room for a reservoir and pipes. Should I just turn this card into a Frankenstein? B) I ignorantly purchased an x58 chipset not realizing it was only beneficial to 3-way+ SLI/XFire so I think it would be fun to get 3 cards in there. Should I give up on the HD 6970 and get 3 cheaper cards? Or maybe slowly work up to 3 6970s? The thing is, I could "justify" 2x6970s because I am using 1 monitor at 1920x1080 and some games, like ToR could be a bit more beautiful and less laggy with more power. Basically, I want more Morphological filtering because it's so pretty! But 3x6970s on a single monitor? I think there is a bit of shame involved in how excessive that is.
Well if you've read all of this, you already deserve my thanks. There are just so many options and so many new cards coming out. I have too many thoughts running through my head and am hoping someone will be willing to help me sort them out.
I wouldn't jump to conclusions about your 6970 being defective until you've thoroughly troubleshot everything. I'm guessing you've tried different drivers? That would definitely be the most important thing to try, especially if you are only having problems with certain games. I always keep drivers that I download for later in case new drivers cause problems so I can easily revert back to the legacy drivers. It sounds like you've already made sure your temps aren't getting too high which could potentially cause problems like that.
As for Sapphire support, it certainly couldn't hurt. You don't have to specify that it's open-box. I don't think you'll be able to pretend it's under warranty, but they should at least be able to help you determine if it's defective or not and you can go from there.
If it does turn out to be defective, I'll offer my advice for purchasing a new card(s). At your resolution, I would definitely say 6970 3-way CF is going to be a waste. However, 3-way CF of cheaper cards might be a good route to go. After seeing <a href="http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/radeon-geforce-stut...">this</a>, I decided that I'd actually prefer 3-way CF over 2-way. I'd suggest 7750s because they offer great performance/$ & performance/watt while not breaking the bank or being overkill for your resolution. They'll still offer a great performance improvement over the 6970 while using less idle power and load power even though there are 3 of them and finally they obviously will have the latest features (28nm, GCN, DX11.1, etc.) You can also go for a 7850/7870 as well.
Yeah, there are definitely a few things I still need to do to the card. I need to track down a good BIOS and see if flashing that will help. The card has had the issue with the same games the whole time, since Catalyst 11.3. I've wondered if it's a result of old NVidia drivers that I have tried pretty hard to remove completely, but you know how those drivers can be. Never know when leftovers are lurking somewhere in some stupid way.
I need to find a buddy's computer with the same games and try the card out there. I need to find good diagnostic tools, as well.
I really like the idea of getting 3x7750s though. With the x58 chipset, it would be a good opportunity to experiment with XFire and after-market cooling on cheaper cards.
I am also considering tweaking the voltages a bit since I don't see the card pass 76c. Maybe higher voltages with make things happier. I have tried UNDERCLOCKING the card... Dropped the core all the way in CCC but that never made a difference, so I'm not sure higher voltages would make a difference, but I'm a bit of a noob to overclocking.
Anyway, I know I'm rambling. Thanks for the ideas. I will have to contact Sapphire and see if they know anything about these weird "artifacts."