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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  • Death666Angel - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    You should read the launch article. But in case you won't:
    "At the 7970’s core clock of 925MHz this puts Tahiti’s theoretical FP32 compute performance at 3.79TFLOPs, while its FP64 performance is ¼ that at 947GFLOPs. As GCN’s FP64 performance can be configured for 1/16, ¼, or ½ its FP32 performance it’s not clear at this time whether the 7970’s ¼ rate was a hardware design decision for Tahiti or a software cap that’s specific to the 7970. However as it’s obvious that Tahiti is destined to end up in a FireStream card we will no doubt find out soon enough."
    Reply
  • R3MF - Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - link

    many thanks, must have missed that first time around. Reply
  • cyrusfox - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    Its great that you still include Starcraft 2 results, you're about the only site that still constantly includes that game, and as that game has odd issues on amd cpus and gpus, its good to know this card still scales well on that game. Appreciate that you still bench it Ryan. Thanks Reply
  • geniekid - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    ++

    I understand that FPSes are usually the most graphically taxing games, but SC2 and Civ 5 show that there are other genres that take advantage of graphical processing power. Plus, it's always nice to see benchmarks for games I actually play :)
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    Agreed for all the above.

    I used to love that Counter Strike was included in all the benchmarks. Realizing that game no longer saw any true benefit from a new GPU some odd years ago; but it was nice to see in the charts here on AT for posterity. BTW, I think Steam is developing a new engine for CS; maybe AT would like to do some reviews of software version differences.
    Reply
  • chizow - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    AMD and its fans can't really claim they're the champions of the poor and downtrodden budget enthusiast anymore with the 7970's pricing. I mean the pricing looks OK compared to last-gen parts as of today, but I don't think that's going to be the case when Nvidia releases their Kepler parts in the next few months.

    Nvidia has a great opportunity with Kepler to do what AMD did to them a few years ago with Cypress....which is make the opposition look really bad with regard to pricing and win back some of that mindshare and goodwill AMD has built up over the years. If the high-end Kepler part ends up 15-20% faster than the 7970 as many expect and is priced at $500 like the last 2 Nvidia flagship single-GPU parts, I wonder if AMD will be the one issuing rebate checks?

    I always considered the 4870 a pricing mistake on AMD's part where they failed to capitalize on a successful part. What's clear is that AMD also realized their mistake and have made steps to correct their pricing over the years:

    4870 $299
    5870 $379 (raised to ~$430)
    6970 $369
    7970 $549!!!

    In the past, even when ATI was running 2nd for the generation behind Nvidia, they provided users value at a price point that made sense against that generation's competitor parts. I don't think that will hold true in this case when Kepler is finally released, and AMD will have to suffer those consquences (similar to Nvidia and GT200).

    Will be fun to see how it shakes out either way, but its good to see AMD trying to make a buck or two and put the charitable spin to rest for good.
    Reply
  • SlyNine - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    I'm really hoping they lower the price.

    I bought 2 8800GTs 512 (when it first came out) and the 5870 when it first came out. I knew both those cards values were over the top. Proven by the fact that the cost went up soon after I bought them.

    My point is there can be value at the very high end, the 5870 is proof of that. This card can not touch what the 5870, 4870, 9700pro, 8800GT was in value at the time of release. If this card is the card that made them switch to AMD then they were not paying attention.
    Reply
  • Morg. - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    They will lower the price, because nVidia will try to compete.

    They're just taking advantage of the current position of the 7970 : first 28nm gpu.
    Reply
  • chizow - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    Well I think those are all valid case points and extremely impressive parts, but the reality of it is, the 5870's pricing was just a result of the fallout from the 4870.

    If you look back, as fast as the 5870 was, it was still in a similar position as the 7970 is today, only 15-25% faster than the GTX 285. The GTX 285 launched at only $380 as a die-shrink refresh of the 280. All prices around that time were badly deflated due to price wars, the economy, but most importantly, the 4870's pricing. So when the 5870 launched at the end of 2009, they couldn't price it any higher at first, but once it became clear Nvidia didn't have a 40nm response in 2009, they quickly jacked up the price.

    Overall though I think value just depends on where you are in the upgrade cycle with either Nvidia or AMD and how much of an improvement you need to see before you upgrade. If you're with Nvidia right now with a 480/580, the 7970 doesn't really look all that great for 15-25% more performance at $550. It makes more sense to wait for Kepler for that expected 50% increase at roughly the same price point.

    But it might be worth it for an AMD user who's going to see 50%+ gains from a 6970/5870. Still, one has to wonder if that performance is worth it for such a huge increase in price, which again, is the position AMD has put itself in based on their historical pricing.
    Reply
  • Morg. - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    The 15-25% performance is wrong.

    drivers are beta at best

    resolution reviewed are typically where the 580 shines

    the 6970 was about 5% worse than a 580 above full HD . don't know where you get 50% but that's great for you.

    No top card ever looked great at its top card price. that's not the point of the top card.
    Reply

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