Traditionally the launch of a next-generation high-end video card has been a staggered process. In the name of getting cards out as soon as possible the first cards are almost always reference cards coming preassembled straight from AMD or NVIDIA, which are then touched up in the livery of their partners before being boxed and sold. Only later on – particularly when there’s a solid supply of GPUs – can partners acquire individual parts and put together their custom designs.

But as it’s turning out the Radeon HD 7970 isn’t going to be a traditional launch. In a rare move AMD has loosened the leash on their partners just a bit, and as a result we’re seeing semi-custom cards planned for launch earlier than usual. XFX looks to be the first partner to take advantage of this more liberal policy, as alongside the reference cards being launched today they’re launching their first semi-custom 7970s.

AMD GPU Specification Comparison
  XFX Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition AMD Radeon HD 7970 AMD Radeon HD 6970 AMD Radeon HD 6870
Stream Processors 2048 2048 1536 1120
Texture Units 128 128 96 56
ROPs 32 32 32 32
Core Clock 1000MHz 925MHz 880MHz 900MHz
Memory Clock 1.425GHz (5.7GHz effective) GDDR5 1.375GHz (5.5GHz effective) GDDR5 1.375GHz (5.5GHz effective) GDDR5 1.05GHz (4.2GHz effective) GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 384-bit 384-bit 256-bit 256-bit
Frame Buffer 3GB 3GB 2GB 1GB
FP64 1/4 1/4 1/4 N/A
Architecture GCN GCN VLIW4 VLIW5
Transistor Count 4.31B 4.31B 2.64B 1.7B
Manufacturing Process TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 40nm TSMC 40nm
Price Point $599 $549 $350 $160

XFX has 4 7970s planned; half of which are using AMD’s reference cooler, and the other half using XFX’s twin fan Double Dissipation cooler. As is traditional with the first wave of customized cards, all of these cards are semi-custom as XFX is using AMD’s reference PCB. Fully custom cards will come farther down the line. Of these 4 cards, 2 of them will be launching today: XFX’s Core Edition pure reference card, and their customized Black Edition Double Dissipation model, which features both a factory overclock and XFX’s custom cooler. It’s the Black Edition Double Dissipation we’ll be looking at today.

XFX Radeon HD 7970 Lineup
  XFX Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition Double Dissipation XFX Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition XFX Radeon HD 7970 Double Dissipation XFX Radeon HD 7970 Core Edition
Product Number FX-797A-TDBC FX-797A-TNBC FX-797A-TDFC FX-797A-TNFC
Core Clock 1000MHz 1000MHz 925MHz 925MHz
Memory Clock 1.425GHz (5.7GHz effective) GDDR5 1.425GHz (5.7GHz effective) GDDR5 1.375GHz (5.5GHz effective) GDDR5 1.375GHz (5.5GHz effective) GDDR5
Cooler Double Dissipation Reference Double Dissipation Reference
Price Point $599 N/A N/A $559

The 7970 Black Edition Double Dissipation is XFX’s top 7970 card. XFX is binning the boards they receive from AMD to give their Black Edition lineup a moderately impressive launch day overclock. The 7970 BEDD ships at 1000MHz core (8% overclock) and 5.7GHz memory (4% overclock), on what’s proving to be a rather overclockable design for AMD. Notably they’re doing this without any extra voltage – both our reference and BEDD 7970s run at 1.17v – which means the BEDD’s power consumption is only marginally higher than the reference 7970.

Along with the factory overclock the BEDD features XFX’s Double Dissipation cooler. Like the 7970 reference cooler XFX is using a vapor chamber at the base of their heatsink to draw heat from the Tahiti GPU, which then leads to an aluminum heatsink that runs almost the entire length of the card. Airflow is provided by a pair of fans sitting on top of the heatsink, similar to a number of other double fan designs we’ve seen over the years. Meanwhile like the heatsink, the casing is also made out of aluminum, specifically brushed aluminum. Finally, XFX is using a custom bracket with their logo cut into it – they claim that this improves airflow, but compared to any other changes the difference would be minimal at best.

Compared to AMD’s reference blower design the biggest difference here is that like other twin fan designs the Double Dissipation cooler is fundamentally an open air internal exhaust design. This allows XFX to achieve a similar level of cooling as AMD’s design, but with less noise. The tradeoff of course is that with an internal exhaust case cooling becomes much more critical as the BEDD will be dissipating most of the 250W of heat a 7970 generates under load into the case rather than outside of it.

Because the card is based on an AMD PCB, the dimensions of the card are similar to the reference 7970. The PCB itself is 10.5” just like the reference card, but XFX’s cooler isn’t quite as long, shaving off roughly 0.3” compared to the reference card and making the entire package only 10.65” long. Meanwhile at the front of the card, since this is an AMD PCB the port layout is identical: 1 DL-DVI port, 1 HDMI port, and 2 miniDP ports, situated below XFX’s logo on their custom bracket.

Moving on to the packaging, XFX packages only a few additional items with the BEDD, and as a result the box not much bigger than the card. Inside you’ll find the usual driver CD and quick start guide, along with a metal XFX case badge, a mid-length CrossFire bridge, and a passive HDMI to SL-DVI adaptor. It’s interesting to note that XFX has not included the more expensive active miniDP to SL-DVI adaptor, contrary to AMD’s earlier claims that all 7970s would ship with one, so the BEDD is only good for driving 2 DVI monitors out of the box. Finally, XFX is offering a base 2 year warranty on the BEDD, which can be extended to a lifetime warranty (ed: not a double lifetime warranty) by registering the card within 30 days of purchasing it.

The MSRP on the BEDD is $599, $50 over the $549 MSRP for the reference cards. Even with the higher price it looks to either be popular or in short supply – we saw the card sell out at Newegg before our NDA even expired.

Winter 2011 GPU Pricing Comparison
AMD Price NVIDIA
  $750 GeForce GTX 590
Radeon HD 6990 $700  
XFX Black Edition Double Diss. $599  
Radeon HD 7970 $549  
  $500 GeForce GTX 580
Radeon HD 6970 $350 GeForce GTX 570
Radeon HD 6950 2GB $250  
  $240 GeForce GTX 560 Ti
Radeon HD 6870 $160  

 

The Test, Power, Temp, & Noise
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  • piroroadkill - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    The overclocking scales amazingly, and without increasing voltage.

    Soon we'll see some great coolers, and some high clocks.

    NVIDIA has their work cut out...
    Reply
  • Beenthere - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    The kiddies won't be able to get that $600 out of their pockets fast enough. It's like crack for a crackhead. :) Reply
  • imaheadcase - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    It would take a fanboy to buy a card that is less than %6 faster than a GTX 580 and $200 more. Reply
  • piroroadkill - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    Not really. It overclocks like crazy, uses less power while doing it, and has an updated feature set.

    Not to mention the increased VRAM. I've seen my 6950 use 1.6GB while playing Skyrim with custom texture packs, where there the 580 would be hitting the limits.

    If you're running an assload of screens at once, you really, really could use the extra VRAM.
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    Further to this, if you own a GTX580, it means you wanted the fastest single GPU card without caring about the cost to start with - a GTX580 looks like bad value compared to getting a 6950 2GB, unlocking it 6970 and then applying mild overclocks.

    Point is, some people want the best there is. This is without doubt the best single GPU card there is.
    Reply
  • Revdarian - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    Less than 6% faster than a 580? 200$ more?

    Which benchmarks are you seeing? because it is obvious that you aren't looking at the ones on this article.

    Crysis Warhead is 31% faster on average.
    Metro2033 is 36% faster.
    Dirt3 is 32% faster
    Shogun is 34% faster
    Batman is 22%
    Portal 2 is 17% faster with SSAA
    BF3 is 20% faster

    And all that is without the other overclock that adds up to exactly 11% better across the board (multiplicative, so all those other scores, multiply by 1.11 and you get the proper scaling)

    34.41; 39; 35; 37; 24; 19; 22

    And as for 200$ more, please link a retail 3GB 580 for 400$ as plenty of peeps would be interested on it, and since this Black Edition isnt really worth the premium as the standard ones are able to get the same clocks if a bit louder, then try to link a 350$ 3GB 580.
    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    1.5 gigs GTX 580 are about $400-450 now with rebates.

    Vram is a non-issue for %99 of games so that point is moot.

    People don't care about powering savings or draw in a gaming card, if you do you can't afford it.

    Most people who get a high end card don't overclock it. Maybe THIS card, but majority of people buy reference cards.

    %6 is being to generous..what i meant to say 6 FPS on average.

    Point still stands correct. :P
    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    Point is, people buy gaming cards not for minor increases, even if you can afford the best even by a small UNNOTICEABLE gain. Reply
  • Revdarian - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    Dude the second you said that 6% is being too generous you showed a total lack of Math understanding, as i said from the numbers in this review the lowest increase was around 17% and it usually hovered towards 30% and higher, those are significant numbers if you understood math.

    BTW this card isn't meant for low resolutions/low settings, so hmm yeah, of course that in low resolutions and settings the VRAM won't matter, but then again, you are bringing a cannon to a gun fight, totally overkill, so no, your post does not stand correct at all.
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    No, your point doesn't stand. VRAM does matter, especially on multi-monitor setups.

    Also, in some cases, the 7970 is quite a lot faster than the 580.

    I would say you're being a fanboy by saying faster card? Why would you need a faster card.

    A 580 should be enough for anyone!

    It's called progress, and for some, it doesn't matter what the cost is.
    Reply

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