New build, $400 to spend: Single HD 7970 vs. 2 x HD 7850?

Hello! I'd like to spend under $400 (perhaps a little more) on a graphics card. This will be my third build, not including upgrades on existing systems, so I know a reasonable amount; but of course things keep changing.

Based on the articles here, I'm tending toward a single GPU, and the HD 7970 (there are a few non-GHz editions around the $400 mark) seems to be the winner. I haven't had much luck with multiple GPUs; my last attempt was two 5870s, which didn't raise framerate enough to make it worth the power consumption. But my new motherboard is pretty darn nice, and might do better.

Motherboard: ASRock X79 Extreme11 LGA2011. This was the lucky purchase that got me designing a new gaming rig. It's capable of running four PCIe 3.0 slots at 16x! Frankly it's more mobo than I was looking for, but for $53 I couldn't resist. (No, it didn't fall off the back of a truck. I had it in my Amazon cart for comparison, and one day noted that its price went down by $550. Yes, I jumped.)

CPU: Intel Core i7-3930K. Spending double the price on a 3970X just didn't appeal to me.

Memory: Corsair XMS3 4x4GB. The motherboard can handle 1600 MHz memory without overclocking, which this is. It's also low-profile; in my last build I ran into problems fitting RAM heatsinks under the Megahalems CPU heatsink. These have nice latency as well: 9-9-9-24 at 1.50v.

CPU heatsink/fan: Noctua NH-D14. See? I don't want to bend any heat spreaders or whittle away fan casings.

PSU: Corsair HX1050. Once you go modular you never go back. The 650W version went into my second homebrew system, and has been performing well-- stable and quiet-- for over five years now. It's 80 Plus Gold certified too. I could probably have gotten away with the 850W version for this build, but for $20 more this power supply will make future expansions easier.

Primary HD: Samsung 840 Pro, 256 GB. Highly rated. I was thinking about a RevoDrive, but they're way more expensive and with SATA 6G you have to wonder whether it's worth it. The OS and a few load-speed-hungry games go on this HD.

Secondary HD: WD Caviar Green 1 TB. I have the SATA 3G version in my existing computer and have no complaints. It's mainly for project files, games that don't need the SSD speed, and a few movies (I have a NAS for most media files though).

Case: Cooler Master HAF X. I'm using the HAF 932 now and love everything about it except the peripheral card latches. Everything fits with room to spare (the CEB motherboard is a little larger than ATX boards, but that's OK) and its large fans do the job with minimal noise.

Monitors: Currently I'm using an Eyefinity 3x1 setup with three 16:10 monitors, each 1680x1050, so I'm pushing a little more than 5040x1050 through the system. Of course not every game can handle panoramic displays, but my favorites can. If I get some extra cash this might be upgraded to LED backlit 1920x1080 (totaling 5760x1080).

Preferred games: Alright, I admit it, I'm a World of Warcraft addict. Sure, the field of vision is a little screwey on the side monitors, but it's very pretty, and with that much screen real estate I can enlarge things for my aged eyes without blocking the view. But I also like first-person shooters-- I'm really looking forward to Bioshock Infinite. With many of the settings turned up, I get 20-30 FPS with my HD 5870. The game client's Settings page reports that I have "Fair" graphics; 8x Anisotropic filtering, liquid quality Ultra (I love the ripples!), view distance and environmental detail High. The framerate is consistent except when making sudden wide turns and when there's a lot of players running about, such as in the new Thunder King Island content.

Phew. I should also mention that I won't be overclocking much, if at all; I prefer a quiet and stable system to one that has a little extra speed. I keep the system up 24/7 running Folding@Home when not gaming. As I mentioned, fiddling with Crossfire never really worked for my preferred games; but with the better PCIe treatment of the higher-end motherboard, I'd like to get the community's opinions on whether to stick with a single HD 7970 GPU or two HD 7850s. Or, heck, some other combination. Thanks!
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  1. Single 7970 HANDS DOWN. I had a 7850 crossfire setup too, and it gave great performance, significantly more than a 7970 GHZ, however, I sold it due to one reason.

    Not microstuttering, not power usage, not noise, but heat. Both of my GPU's were in the 90 degree celcius, and this was just plain annoying, not to mention you also get a whole heap of other crossfire issues. A 7970 GHZ is just so much simpler to deal with, and its plenty powerful on its own.
  2. Thanks for the reply, JJ. From what you said, it appears that the twin 7850s did do better than the single 7970 except for the heat output; is this right?

    Another thread had similar advice-- go with the higher-end, single-card solution-- with the aviso that when games advance beyond the card's capabilities, you can get another equivalent card to your first one and then Crossfire them. Since the motherboard can run up to four at full bus speed, the only limit would be the cards' thicknesses.
  3. The thing that sucks about cfx is that in most games you don't scale 100%, you have microstuttering, and some times you get worse performance, and it requires a bit of tinkering. You also have to wait a bit after a game comes out to get a profile for it when it comes out.
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