XFX’s Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition Double Dissipation: The First Semi-Custom 7970by Ryan Smith on January 9, 2012 6:00 AM EST
Being the first mover in any market has its advantages, and this is especially true for XFX’s Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition Double Dissipation. While there’s nothing here we haven’t seen in the past on other video cards – a custom cooler and a moderate factory overclock – for the time being XFX is the only vendor offering either of those. Not surprisingly the Black Edition Double Dissipation appears to have sold out over at Newegg before our NDA even expired.
At this point in time XFX’s biggest advantage is that they’re the only vendor offering an open air cooler. There are obvious tradeoffs in these designs and it’s definitely not suited for everyone, but for cases that can handle the heat load of an open air cooler, XFX’s Double Dissipation cooler makes the resulting card significantly quieter than the reference design under load, offering the performance of a 7970 with less noise than any current high-end card. The only thorn in XFX’s side here is that their idle noise is a bit high, something I suspect they’ll fix on their first fully custom card when they can program in a more fitting fan profile.
Meanwhile XFX’s factory overclock gives the Black Edition Double Dissipation a distinct edge over the reference 7970 and any cards at similar clockspeeds, but I don’t believe this is as a significant advantage for the Black Edition Double Dissipation as its cooler. There’s plenty of evidence that most if not all 7970s can reach XFX’s factory overclock, so you’re effectively paying for the privilege of having those speeds pre-burnt into the BIOS. Not that there isn’t a place for a factory overclock, but unless you’re absolutely sheepish about doing it yourself, there’s probably nothing here you can’t do on your own. At best an argument can be made that by grabbing a pre-binned card you can expect a better aftermarket overclock – and you’ll absolutely want to do some overclocking of your own as we were able to get another 125MHz out of our sample.
Of course XFX isn’t giving this away for free – the Black Edition Double Dissipation comes at a $50 premium making it a $599 card, and the notable absence of the active miniDP to SL-DVI adaptor means you’d need to shell out another $25 to build a kit at parity to most other vendors' 7970 kits. Nevertheless XFX has generally earned their price premium. If you were satisfied with the reference 7970’s performance for its price, then the Black Edition Double Dissipation is not far off that curve, though at the end of the day it’s a factory overclocked card and you are definitely paying a premium for that.
With that said, if you’re looking to save a buck we’d suggest keeping your eyes open for the non-Black Edition version of the Double Dissipation card in the future. Without the factory overclock it should be a bit cheaper than the Black Edition, conferring the same advantages of the open air cooler without quite the price premium.