XFX Radeon HD 5970 Black Edition Limited Review

jlqrb - 2010-09-01 00:16:25 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: jlqrb   
Reviewed on: September 7, 2010
Price: $1,199.99

Introduction:

The HD 5970 is currently the pinnacle of gaming performance. It offers nearly unmatched in game frames-per-second in most new video titles, supports DX11, as well as Eyefinity, and has been AMD’s flagship graphics card for some time now. This is due to the card's dual 725MHz Cypress cores, which offer amazing gaming performance thanks to the 3200 combined unified shaders, 32ROPs and the 2GB of available GDDR5 memory. These specifications are impressive in and of themselves, but there are a handful of companies that won’t stop at good enough, and we can now add XFX to that list.

XFX has just released its latest and greatest, and the company was nice enough to send us a sample. The graphics card is the XFX HD 5970 Black Edition Limited. If it sounds familiar there is a good reason. This card has become somewhat infamous for the alleged pre-release theft, eBay sale and the inclusion of a plastic P90 assault rifle. It does appear as if all of these have paid off though, as anticipation for this graphics card is high and there are very few gamers who have yet to hear about this XFX Black Edition Limited graphics card.

What XFX has done with this graphics card is take the reference design and build upon it by adding 4GB of GDDR5 memory and dual Cypress GPUs clocked 125MHz faster than the reference models. This would be enough for most gamers, but the XFX card takes the 4GB HD 5970 in an entirely new direction. This is because the card uses six Mini-DisplayPorts to add support for up to six monitors using the ATI Eyefinity technology. This is intriguing to say the least, as who has not wondered how a HD 5970 (let alone a 4GB model) would run games spanning across six monitors?

 

Closer Look:

The graphics card comes packaged in a large box that matches with the Black Edition theme and simply has the XFX logo next to the phrase "play hard." This gives the box a very simplistic look, but eliminating any images and specifications makes for a cleaner and more appealing style. Aside from the look of the box this thing is huge! My rough measurements put it at over 3' tall, so don't expect a small box to show up at your door.

The internal items consist of two large foam pads at the top and bottom of the box and a LAN bag, which is where all the gear, including the graphics card, is stored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The LAN bag, like the box, matches with the Black Edition graphics card and has the XFX logo on it. The bag is designed by G8 and serves the initial purpose of protecting the HD 5970 during transit, but once the graphics card is removed it is now your own personal LAN bag. This is actually a very nice addition and as you can see in the second image the bag can hold the majority (if not all) of the add-on components needed for a LAN party.

In the bag the accessories are found in the three side pouches and come in boxes made to appear as ammo clips. Also found in the bag is the now infamous P90 plastic assault rifle casing.

 

 

 

The accessories consist of multiple XFX stickers, a case badge, drivers disc, manuals, CrossFire connector and even a 20% discount off a G8 Esports Hoodie. Also included are all the necessary adapters to setup Eyefinity. There are three Mini-DIsplayPort (DP) to DisplayPort adapters, two Mini-DP to Single-Link DVI adapters and another that is Mini-DP to HDMI. The included cables should be enough to get you going, though I was surprised to see multiple cables all using different connection standards. This makes it appear as if XFX thinks the owner of this card is going to either be running it with only three monitors or doesn't mind spending even further for additional DP adapters. With my configuration I was able to make use of five of the adapters, but my monitors do not have a HDMI port, so I had to use an adapter from a previous review to hook up the sixth monitor.

 

 

The included plastic assault rifle is quite a departure from the ordinary as this is the first graphics card I have ever seen housed inside a toy gun. The rifle resembles a P90 and has a latch at the bottom to open the casing. The HD 5970 is found on the inside wrapped in an anti-static bag and surrounded by foam pads.

 

Closer Look:

The XFX HD 5970 Black Edition Limited graphics card is a 12" beast that has a black heatsink shroud and a red fan placed directly in the middle of the card. This is a distinct difference from the reference design, which has the GPUs next to each other and the fan at the back of the PCB. With the fan in the middle, each core is separated into its own thermal zone, which should reduce the heat of each core by eliminated thermal transfer. Still, one flaw to this design is that some of the heat from the rear GPU will flow into the case as opposed to out of it. This could increase the temperatures of internal components, but since there is only limited ventilation on the back and the fan pushes air out, most of the hot air should not end up inside the case.

For the connection type the HD 5970 BE Limited uses the PCI Express x16 2.1 bus type, which supplies it with only a fraction of its needed power. The additional power comes from dual 8-pin PCI-E connectors that are found on the side of the PCB. So, with the two 8-pin connectors and the power from the PCI-E x16 slot this card can ultimately be supplied with up to 375W of total power. Additionally, on the opposite side of the PCB is a single CrossFire interconnect that will allow this card to be used in a QuadFire configuration!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The video connections on the card consist of six Mini-DP ports, which is the standard for ATI graphics cards that support up to six monitors. Of course, this puts the HD 5970 BE Limited in a unique situation. This makes it the fastest graphics card on the market to support up to six monitors using Eyefinity, but it also means that the max resolution supported by a single display is only 1920 x 1200. This is because the included DVI adapters are only Single-Link and will not support resolutions beyond 1920 x 1200. Still, this is an Eyefinity edition graphics card, so this should not be much of a limitation and the large majority of gamers do not game beyond 1080 resolution.

 

 

The back of the heatsink shroud has multiple ventilation holes to allow air to flow into the graphics card.

 

The XFX HD 5970 Black Edition Limited graphics card is one sexy piece of hardware! It comes with dual 40nm Cypress cores fully clocked at 850MHz and has 4GB of on-board GDDR5 memory rated at 1200MHz (4800 QDR). Both of these are enhancements over the reference design as standard HD 5970s down-clock the core to 725MHz and only have 2GB of total GDDR5 memory. Additionally, you also get all the standard specifications that make the HD 5970 one of the fastest graphics cards available. These are the card's 3200 (1600 per GPU) unified shaders, 64 ROPs and use of the 256-bit bus type. This card is essentially an HD 5970 on steroids!

 

 

The cooling solution used on the XFX HD 5970 Black Edition Limited is quite robust and is another enhancement over the reference models. It actually uses a large interconnected heatspreader that makes contact with memory chips, VRM and bridge-chip via thermal tape. This will keep all of the memory and voltage regulation area nice and cool, but since the GPUs are the true hot spot, XFX has upgraded the cooling beyond that of the reference design. Each core on this graphics card gets its own heatsink, which uses advanced cooling technologies such as a solid copper base, three cooper heatpipes and a large aluminum finned array. Additionally, each core is separated, so they should run at a comfortable thermal level regardless of the workload.

 

 

The fan on the HD 5970 Black Edition Limited has a red glow that gives the graphics card a very nice look. However, since the LED is embedded in the fan area and under the heatsink shroud it won't be clearly visible in a standard case.

Specifications:

Bus Type
PCI-E 2.1
Performance
Black
GPU Clock MHz
850MHZ
Stream Processors
3200
Memory Interface Bus (bit)
512
Memory Type
GDDR5
Memory Size (MB)
4096 MB
Memory Clock (MHz)
4800MHz
Microsoft® DirectX® Support
11
Shader Model Support
5.0
Open GL Optimization and Support
3.2
Cooling Fansink
ROHS
Profile
Double
ATI Radeon CrossFireX Technology
ATI Radeon PowerPlay
ATI Radeon Stream Technology
Dimensions(Imperial)
12 X 4.376 X 1.5
Dimensions (Metric)
30.5 X 11 X 3.8
Max Resolution Analog
2048 x 1536
Max Resolution Digital
2560 x 1600
ATI Eyefinity Technology
DisplayPort
6

 

Features:



 

All information courtesy of XFX @ http://xfxforce.com/en-us/products/graphiccards/HD%205000series/5971.aspx

Testing:

Testing of the XFX Radeon HD 5970 Black Edition Limited card will consist of running the card through the OverclockersClub.com suite of games and synthetic benchmarks. This will test the performance against many popular competitors. Comparisons will be made to cards of equal and greater capabilities to show where it falls on the performance ladder. The games used are some of today's newest and most popular titles to give you an idea on how the cards perform relative to each other. The system specifications will remain the same throughout the testing. No adjustment will be made to the respective control panels during the testing with the exception of the 3DMark Vantage testing where PhysX will be disabled in the NVIDIA control panel. I will test the card at stock speeds, then overclocked in order to see how much additional performance is available and to determine if it can run with the current fastest single GPU cards on the market. The drivers used in this test will be the 10.8 Catalyst drivers for ATI and 257.15 Forceware drivers from NVIDIA for the GTX 480, 470 and 465 while the GTX 460 gets the 258.96. Tests will be conducted at both stock and overclocked settings to gauge performance when an increase in clock speed is applied.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Overclocking the HD 5970 seemed easy at first and I was able to quickly take the core to 900MHz and the memory to 1300MHz. With these settings the card appeared to be doing well, and would even pass the AMD stability test, as well as run MSI's Kombuster without errors for 15 minutes. However, when it came to gaming these settings would not remain stable. This would result in long screen freezes and even random crashes while gaming. So, without being able to successfully benchmark a game I went back to tweaking the core. In the end I found that it was one core that was limiting the overclocking potential of the graphics card. This GPU could only run at around 875MHz, while the other GPU was stable just above 900MHz. Still, the end result was decent for an HD 5970 (especially for the memory) as the clocks were able to be set at 885/1300MHz respectively.

Maximum Clock Speeds:

Each card has been tested for its maximum stable clock speeds using MSI's Kombuster utility. So far my testing has shown that higher clock speeds may be stable in games where GPU usage does not reach 100%, but will crash within a few minutes using this utility. The reported clock speeds are those that proved stable over a 15 minute test at 1920 x 1200 and 8x AA.

 

  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Metro 2033
  3. Crysis Warhead
  4. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2
  5. Darkest of Days
  6. Bioshock 2
  7. Just Cause 2
  8. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.0
  9. Batman: Arkham Asylum
  10. Resident Evil 5
  11. 3DMark 06 Professional
  12. 3DMark Vantage
  1. Temperature
  2. Power Consumption

Testing:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built especially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real time effects and damage. This next generation first person shooter comes to us from Ubisoft surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this version of the game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50 square kilometers of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The XFX HD 5970 Black Edition Limited graphics card did an amazing job in this benchmark! You really aren't going to find another card that can run FarCry 2 across six monitors at 5670x2160 and nearly achieve 50FPS. And this was just the single HD 5970. When run in QuadFire the results nearly doubled and it was just shy of the 90FPS mark.

Testing:

Part first person shooter, part survival horror, Metro 2033 is based on the novel of the same name, written by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. You play as Artyom in a post-apocalyptic Moscow, where you'll spend most of your time traversing the metro system, with occasional trips to the surface. Despite the dark atmosphere and bleak future for mankind, the visuals are anything but bleak. Powered by the 4A Engine, with support for DirectX 11, NVIDIA PhysX and NVIDIA 3D Vision, the tunnels are extremely varied - in your travels, you'll come across human outposts, bandit settlements, and even half-eaten corpses. Ensuring you feel all the tension, there is no map and no health meter. Get lost without enough gas mask filters and adrenaline shots and you may soon wind up as one of those half-eaten corpses - chewed up by some horrifying manner of irradiated beast that hides in the shadows just waiting for some hapless soul to wander by.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The XFX HD 5970 Limited did a good job when running Metro 2033 across three monitors; however, six monitors at 5760x2160 proved to be too much, even for the QuadFire setup.

Testing:

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the story line of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the island. Along the way there are EMP blasts and aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the CryEngine 2.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The XFX HD 5970 Limited again did an outstanding job and soundly beat the 2GB HD 5870 at all resoluitons.

Testing:

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the latest iteration of the venerable first person shooter series, Call of Duty. Despite its long, successful pedigree, the game is not without substantial criticism and controversy, especially on the PC. Aside from the extremely short campaign and lack of innovation, the PC version's reception was also marred by its lack of support for user-run dedicated servers, which means no user-created maps, no mods, and no customized game modes. You're also limited to 18-player matches instead of the 64-player matches that were possible in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Despite all this, the game has been well received and the in-house IW 4.0 engine renders the maps in gorgeous detail, making it a perfect candidate for OCC benchmarking. You start off the single player missions playing as Private Allen and jump right into a serious firefight. This is the point where testing will begin. Testing will be done using actual game play with FPS measured by Fraps.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Again, we have a very strong showing for the XFX HD 5970 Limited; it is, however, the QuadFire numbers that are the most impressive as two of these cards can run this game at nearly 60FPS across six monitors!

Testing:

What would testing be if we did not show both sides of the fence? In this test, PhysX was set to low, while leaving the remaining settings intact. You have seen time and again where the ATI cards suffer when PhysX is enabled. Mirror's Edge and Cryostasis are two prime examples. Darkest of Days is no different. What happens in this test shows that although the game can be played by cards from the red team, the video effects and quality are diminished.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Darkest of Days has dismal support for more than one GPU and as such, all the performance for all configurations was only as good as a single GPU HD 5870.

Testing:

Just Cause 2 is a third-person shooter that takes place on the fictional island of Panau in Southeast Asia. In this sequel to 2006's Just Cause, you return as Agent Rico Rodriguez to overthrow an evil dictator and confront your former boss. When you don't feel like following the main story line, you're free to roam the island, pulling off crazy stunts and causing massive destruction in your wake, all beautifully rendered by the Avalanche Engine 2.0. In the end, that's what the game basically boils down to; crazy stunts and blowing things up. In fact, blowing things up and wreaking havoc is actually necessary to unlock new missions and items.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

 

Unlike Darkest of Days, Just Cause scales exceptionally well with more than one GPU, so the results here are impressive for both the XFX HD 5970 Limited by itself and in QuadFire.

Testing:

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.0 is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on the Unigine engine. What sets the Heaven Benchmark apart is the addition of hardware tessellation, available in three modes; Moderate, Normal and Extreme. Although tessellation requires a video card with DirectX 11 support and Windows Vista/7, the Heaven Benchmark also supports DirectX 9, DirectX 10 and OpenGL. Visually, it features beautiful floating islands that contain a tiny village and extremely detailed architecture.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The XFX HD 5970 Black Edition Limited performed great in Unigine as it was able to smash the HD 5870's performance.

Testing:

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a new game that brings together two bitter foes, The Joker and Batman. The Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. Your task is to rein in the Joker and restore order. This game makes use of PhysX technology to create a rich environment for you to ply your trade.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The XFX HD 5970 BE Limited performed very well in Batman and was able to reach nearly 80FPS in a three monitor configuration and was just over 30FPS with six monitors. One thing we are seeing though is overclocking only slightly improves the framerate.

Testing:

Resident Evil 5 is the sequel to one of the best selling video games of all time. You play the game as Chris Redfield a survivor of the events at Raccoon City who now works for the BSAA. Sent to Africa to find the genesis of the latest Bio Organic agents, you meet up with another BSAA operative and work together to solve the problem. The game offers incredible 3D effects and a co-op gaming style.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

Resident Evil 5 can be played at any resolution and again, the HD 5970 just annihilates the single GPU HD 5870.

Testing:

Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. 'Entry' is 1024 x 768 progressing to 'Extreme' at 1920 x 1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We appear to be hitting a performance wall in 3DMark06 as all the high-end cards performed at very close levels.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest has begun. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The XFX HD 5970 Black Edition Limited graphics cards performance in both stock and QuadFire configurations was beyond amazing! Especially in the higher settings.

Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using MSI Kombuster which is paired with MSI's afterburner overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using the stability test set to a resolution of 1920 x 1200 using 8xAA. I will use a 15 minute time frame to run the test ensuring that the maximum thermal threshold is reached. The fan speed will be left in the control of the driver package and video card's BIOS for the first test, with the fan moved to 100% to see the best possible cooling scenario for overclocking. The idle test will be a 20 minute cool down with the fan speeds left on automatic.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower = Better

Even with the XFX Limited graphics card being clocked higher than a standard HD 5970 the cores were considerably cooler at both idle and load levels.

Testing:

Power Consumption of the system will be measured in both idle states and load stated and will take into account the peak voltage of the system with each video card installed. I will use MSI Kombuster to load the GPU for a 15 minute test and use the peak load of the system as my result for the maximum load. The idle results will be measured after 15 minutes of inactivity on the system.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower = Better

 

The power requirement for a single graphics card is reasonable, but when combined with another 4GB HD 5970 the power draw jumps considerably, and at load left me with only 100W remaining of a 1200W power supply.

Conclusion:

While XFX is not the first to equip a HD 5970 with 4GB of memory and crank the core up to 850MHz, the company is the first to include six Mini-DisplayPorts on the card to add support for up to six monitors. This places the HD 5970 Black Edition limited graphics card in a league of its own and dedicates it (without limiting it) to the Eyefinity segment of the market. This is actually ideal as gaming at resolutions beyond 5760x1080 takes a toll on any graphics card and not many are currently up to the task. However, with this beast it is an entirely different story altogether as the majority of games tested played incredibly smoothly even when the AA, AF and in-game settings were increased. So, the HD 5970 BE Limited has stellar out-of-the-box performance, but when you throw an additional 4GB HD 5970 in QuadFire into the mix the performance becomes astronomical. With dual cards, there are four functioning GPUs and 8GB of of total available memory, and this translated into smooth gaming across all, with the exception of one or two of the tested games.

Along with the amazing performance this graphics has a very robust cooling solution. This is due to the use of dual heatsinks on each core that utilize three copper heatpipes to efficiently transfer the heat away from the GPU. Additionally, XFX has also relocated the cores to opposite ends of the PCB, which will reduce the temperature by giving each core its own thermal zone, thus preventing much of the heat from transferring between the cores. The only real issue with the cooling is that the fan can get very loud. Even when sitting at an idle state the card makes noticeable noise, so anyone sensitive to fan noise might want to consider another card or get an after-market cooling option.

The HD 5970 Black Edition Limited in itself didn’t have any real issues to report, though when it came to the bundled adapters I was a little disappointed. This was due to three of the six adapters having a different connection type, which could make it hard to setup six monitors with the included adapters. Also, since all the DVI adapters are all single-link this card does not support resolutions beyond 1920x1200 out-of-the-box. Depending on your needs this could create a situation where additional funds are needed to get the correct cable(s), and when shelling out $1200 you really just want it all to be included.

Beyond the adapters though, one accessory that is very welcome is the included G8 LAN bag. This thing is exceptionally well designed and could easily help transport all your hardware to a major LAN event or just over to your buddy's place.

The XFX HD 5970 Black Edition Limited graphics is a fast, powerful and cool graphics card with only minimal flaws. So, with all this and the ability to support up to six monitors, this graphics card is bound to be sought after by all Eyefinity junkies and those who require the latest and greatest. However, this card will set you back $1200, and is set to be released in limited supply. We already have number 0095, so you better buy it now or save up quick!

 

Pros:

 

Cons: