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
  $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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  • chizow - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    15-25% is right according to this review and every other one on the internet, beta drivers or not.

    If you want to nitpick about results, you'll see the differences are actually even lower than 15-25% in the one bench that matters the most, minimum FPS.

    As for not being able to interpret or follow an argument, the 50% was in reference to the 7970 compared to last-gen AMD parts like the 6970/5870, not the 580.
  • Kjella - Monday, January 9, 2012 - link

    The 4870 was the killer? The 5000 series kicked major ass with the 5870 flying off the charts and the 5850 - the one I got - was a total killer at $259 MSRP that I managed to get before the price hike. You'll still be paying $200+ to get a card to beat it and the 7970 did nothing to shake that up. I'm waiting for Ivy Bridge anyway, hopefully we'll have Kepler by then but if they don't improve the performance/$ more than AMD did I might just sit it out for another generation. Reply
  • SlyNine - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    Agreed but I'm not really willing to spend more then I did for this 5870.

    However the more I look at the benchmarks the more I wonder what they will look like when you really start to push the 7970.

    Thinking back to the 9700pro launch alot of people didn't consider that to be alot faster then the 4600 because they were benchmarking them at irrelevant setting for the 9700pro. But when you really pushed each card the 9700pro was more then 4x as fast.
  • Galid - Monday, January 9, 2012 - link

    Nnvidia fanboy.... saying something like ''I don't THINK that will hold true in this case when (video card that doesn't exist yet made by nvidia) is finally released'' totally useless

    The only reason 4870 was so cheap is because the die was SO small compared to GT200 parts... and Nvidia's politic is to make the fastest video card at the expense of big die(lower yields) and high costs....
  • chizow - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    " Nvidia's politic is to make the fastest video card at the expense of big die(lower yields) and high costs.... "

    And let your own thoughts govern your conclusions....see how they match mine...

    Its funny that you immediately jump to the fanboy conclusion when even the AMD fanboys are coming to the same conclusion. High-end Kepler once released will be faster than Tahiti, its not a matter of if, its a matter of when.

    AMD made a ~50% jump in performance going to 28nm, to expect anything less from Nvidia with their 28nm part would be folly. A 50% increase from GTX 580 puts Kepler comfortably ahead of Tahiti, but given 7970 is only 15-25% faster, it doesn't even need to increase that much.

    Also, the 4870 was so cheap because ATI badly needed to regain market and mindshare. They stumbled horribly with the R600/2900XT debacle and while the RV670/3870 was a massive improvement in thermals, the performance was still behind Nvidia's 3rd or 4th fastest part (8800GTS) and still significantly slower than Nvidia's amazing mid-range 8800GT.

    Still, I think they underpriced it by a large amount given it was half the price of a GTX 280 and only ~15% slower. Just a lost opportunity there for ATI but they felt it was more important to get mind/marketshare back at that point and now they get to reap the windfall. The trickle down effect becomes most obvious once you start projecting performance of the mid-range parts against last-gen parts.
  • Morg. - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    50% ? not really .

    As I said before, this is mostly a matter of TDP.

    The only reason the gtx580 was ahead (and that was only at full HD and lower resolutions) was its higher TDP / bigger die size.

    nVidia may choose to release yet another high TDP part for 680, just like 580 and it may just give them the same edge, but they will NOT win this round, just like they did NOT win the previous one.

    The main problem for nVidia on this round is being late to the 28nm party, other than that it's business as usual.
  • Morg. - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    What I mean by that is simply that perf/watt/dollar is the ONLY measure of a good GPU or CPU, the actual market position of the part does not make it "good" or "bad", just "fitting".

    The gtx580 was the perfect fit for "biggest and baddest single gpu card", it however had worse perf/watt than 6-series, and much worse perf/dollar.

    AMD could easily have decided to double die size on 6- series and beaten the crap out of the gtx580 but they didn't, because they targeted a completely different market position for their products.
  • chizow - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    Huh? No.

    If you target the high-end performance segment, the only thing that matters is performance. Performance per watt isn't going to net you any more FPS in the games you're buying or upgrading a card for, and its certainly not going to close the gap in frames per second when you're already trailing the competition.

    You're quite possibly the ONLY person who I've ever seen claim perf/watt is the leading factor when it comes to high-end GPUs. Maybe if you were referring to the Server CPU space, but even there raw performance with form factor is a major consideration over perf/watt. No one's running mission critical systems on an Atom farm because of power considerations, that's for sure.

    And yes, of course Nvidia is going to release another high-end massive GPU, that's always been their strategy. If you haven't noticed, AMD has quietly gone along this path as well, losing their small die strategy along the way, making it harder and harder for them to maintain their TDP advantages or produce their 2xGPU parts for each generation. AMD used to crank out an X2 with no sacrifices, but lately they've had to employ the same castration/downclocking methods Nvidia has used to stay within PCI specs.

    And to set the record straight, Nvidia has won the last two generations. AMD certainly had their wins at various price points, but ultimately the GTX 280/285 were better than the 4870/4890 and the 480/580 were better than the 5870/6970. Going down from there, Nvidia was competitive in both price and performance with all of AMD's parts, and in many cases, provided amazing value at price points AMD struggled to compete with (See GTX 460, GTX 560Ti).
  • Morg. - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    Right .

    perf/watt is everything.

    That is why the 6990 completely raped the 590 . perf/watt .

    The 6990 with minor tweaks actually matched a 6970 CF.

    The 590 with minor tweaks actually exploded. and it was more expensive...

    Your fanboism clouds your mind young padawan ... nVidia may have taken single GPU crown on the last two rounds, but they never had price/performance for anything.

    Need I remind you you could get a CF of 6950's for the price of a gtx580 ? and that said CF would kill a 680 should it be 50% faster than said 580 ?

    Gtx 460 and 560 ti were failure compared to AMD's offerings - in terms of performance.

    They had the nVidia logo, the nVidia drivers (good thing actually) and some stuff.

    But they did NOT have better performance for the same price. 560 Ti was almost in the same price bracket as 6950 and much slower, non-unlockable etc..

    So yes, single GPU crown all you like ..
    best GPU / arch. ?
    well I'd say that's best efficiency with comparable performance = AMD

    (Again .. if you're one of those who think a gtx580 is a good card for one full HD screen .. go ahead spend 550 bucks on a GPU and 100 on the screen -- otherwise the reality is AMD was within 5% with the 6970)
  • chizow - Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - link

    Perf/watt and perf/price means nothing when the concern in this segment is absolute performance. Once you start compromising and qualifying your criteria, you start down a slippery slope that you simply can't recover from. If anything, lower performance means you necessarily win the perf/watt and perf/price categories but by doing so, you lose the premium value of compromising nothing for performance.

    By your metric, an IGP or integrated GPU would be winning the GPU market because it costs nothing and uses virtually no power, but of course, it would be completely asinine to make that assumption when referencing the high-end discrete GPU market where raw performance relative to the market is the only determinant of price.

    You can go down the line all you like in price/performance segments with CF/SLI, for every example you give there's an equally if not more compelling offering from Nvidia with the GTX 460, 560, 560Ti, 570 etc. that offers price and performance points that have AMD matched or beaten. Because the deck is stacked starting at the top, and when you have the highest performing part in the segment, that sets the tone for everything else in the market.

    AMD is finally coming to grips with this which is why they are pricing this card as a halo product and not as a mid-range product.

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