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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  • Duraz0rz - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    I don't think GCN, a completely new architecture, would qualify as an "old graphics solution". Reply
  • Morg. - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    1. yes no reason to go further than a good 5850 right now . (I still have a 4850 and it's just gone into the 'bit too shitty' zone for me)

    2. 6950 murders a 5850, and the new 7-series does the same to the 6-series.

    3. The architecture just changed on AMD side, towards more of a vector processor, just like nVidia's Fermi, this is a good thing for compute and the future of IT in general (heterogeneous core blabla and stuff). (by the way, GCN is not all that new, it's just an adaptation of an older design)

    4. Obviously, all that power is becoming a bit useless to gamers since game devs have shifted most of their focus to consoles, and the last big PC game dev (blizzard) focuses on delivering "playable" games for everyone, thus limiting the computing requirements.

    5. This is 2011, You can expect that shading and tesselation will eventually enable games to look as good as your hardware can make them, with graphics settings limited to how many FPS minimum and average you want. This is especially true since future consoles will have some of that . and the next round even more.

    I'd expect that kind of stuff to be mainstream around 2013 - 2014, so if you're going to keep your new box for 3 years, why not ... (on the other hand, the best graphics board for money currently still is the 6950 of course...).

    And .. the tiny bit of truth : yes the gtx 580 is what the 480 was meant to be, with quite a few glitches fixed. It's obviously not meant for a 40nm process (500+ Watts in basic overclocking is a bit much) and that was part of nVidia's strategy : develop fermi on 40 nm then port it to its intended size : 28nm.

    AMD waited for 28nm and I believe that was the best choice, seeing how they managed to deliver (much more easily than Fermi by the way .. which had major issues for its first release).. Just looking at the power requirements for the 7970 tells the whole story . That thing is downclocked to hell just to remain under 300 Watts ...
    Reply
  • theprodigalrebel - Monday, January 09, 2012 - link

    Should come with a warning: No motorboating the card Reply
  • IceDread - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    I purchased XFX radeon hd 5970 a couple of years ago. XFX are inferior when it comes to overclocking. They were more restrictive and values had to be adjusted each restart even if I remember correctly.

    The result was that everyone who wanted to overclock their xfx cards installed firmware from other companies to successfully be able to overclock their cards.
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    This was true for me, too. I had an XFX 4890 (which is dying now, despite running at stock for a long time).

    It had a custom (and worse) vrm section of the board, and didn't overclock worth a single damn. Those promises of 1GHz 4890s? Haha, not if you owned one of these.
    Reply
  • Mjello - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    Is it possible to control the fan manually. That would fix the idle noice easily Reply
  • wifiwolf - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    The article stated it's already at its minimum rate since it's using the same controller as the reference card. Reply
  • fausto412 - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    Can we get more detail info on this newly added tech?

    I read the AMD whitepaper buy I am curious as to real world impact of it.
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    Actually PowerTune is not new. It was first introduced on Cayman (6900 series); the Tahiti (7900 series) implementation is no different.

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4061/amds-radeon-hd-...
    Reply
  • dcompart - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    It'd be nice to see the overclock performance of a standard cooled card for comparison. I'd like to be able to balance the price justification not only on noise but performance. The comparison between a regular 7970 against a stock overclocked card doesn't persuade me, then it irritates me further to see the XFX overclocked further, without even playing devils advocate and showing the overclock potential of a regular 7970 with standard cooling. It doesn't make want to buy the Overclocked card, it makes me feel deceived! Reply

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