XFX HD 7970 Black Edition Double Dissipation 3 GB Review

ccokeman - 2011-08-05 21:41:15 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: January 26, 2012
Price: $599

Introduction:

Just a few short weeks ago, I had the opportunity to look at and test a reference HD 7970 from Sapphire for the official launch of AMD's latest video cards, which feature an all new architecture based on the 28 nm Tahiti core. On top of the die shrink, this new architecture from AMD includes a move to PCIe 3 support, an increase to 3 GB of high speed GDDR5 memory, DX 11.1 compliance, Power Tune and Zero Core power technologies, and Eyefinity 2.0, which brings its own upgraded feature set. AMD's GCN, or Graphics Core Next Tahiti core, is a step away from the VLIW design and towards a non-VLIW SIMD engine for higher computing performance. This new core comes with a large increase in the transistor count to 4.31 billion, an increase in the streaming processor count to 2048 with 32 raster units, 128 texture units, and finally a move to a 384-bit wide memory bus for increased memory performance. For XFX, they have decided to further improve the reference design in the form of the Black Edition Double Dissipation HD 7970 – the latest card to carry the Black Edition pedigree. While you get the new tech from AMD, XFX includes their own X-Factors such as Duratec components, Hydrocell vapor chamber cooling, dual fans for a 13 dB drop in acoustics and at least a 7°C improvement in cooling performance, and a significant boost in the base clock speeds to 1000 MHz on the core and 1425 MHz on the GDDR5 memory. Let’s see if the improvements and hardware enhancements equate to a better end user experience.

Closer Look:

XFX has loaded the packaging with a ton of information about the Black Edition HD 7970. The front features the Black Edition logo, the name of the card, and information about the 3 GB of GDDR5 memory, double dissipation cooling, and Ghost Thermal technology. The back and sides touch on the rest of the card’s attributes including Hydrocell technology, Duratec component selection, and 4K display support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the outer sleeve is a black box typical of XFX's GPU products, with the XFX logo and "Play Hard" slogan on the top flap. Inside is a top panel that holds the accessories. Underneath, the HD 7970 is held in place by a form-fitting carton.

 

 

The accessory bundle included with the XFX Black Edition HD 7970 contains both documentation and hardware. The documentation includes the driver disk, a quick install guide, a door tag to let others know not to bother you while fragging, information on the limited warranty, and sales information on XFX's power supply line. The hardware side of the bundle is really kind of slim, consisting of an HDMI to DVI dongle, Crossfire bridge, and a Black Edition badge to put on your case.

 

 

The XFX Black Edition Double Dissipation HD 7970 promises improved performance and cooling over the stock cards – let’s dig a little deeper to find out if the card has what it takes to deliver on them.

Closer Look:

While the reference card featured an all-new shroud design with the familiar squirrel cage fan and tweaks to improve Crossfire Cooling performance, the XFX Black Edition Double Dissipation HD 7970 features a radical departure. Slightly longer than the 10.5 inch reference card at 10.8 inches long, the Black Edition fits in just about the same footprint and should not provide any challenges installing it into most chassis. The front view shows the Double Dissipation cooling fans and Ghost technology shrouding over the Hydrocell vapor chamber-based heat sink. The rear of the card is much like that of the reference card, without a backing plate or any memory modules taking up residence on the back of the black PCB. Across the top of the card is a red accent strip that displays the name of the card and cooling technology to provide visibility through the windows of many gaming chassis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Much like the reference card, the venting on the Black Edition has been opened up to reduce the acoustics and improve airflow through the rear of your case. On top of that, XFX has their own rear bracket that is supposed to improve airflow even further – the connectivity has been paired down to a single DL DVI, 2 Mini DisplayPort 1.2 connections, and an HDMI port that supports the HDMI 1.4a standard. DisplayPort 1.2 supports the use of an MST hub or daisy-chaining Displayport monitors into an Eyefinity configuration of up to six monitors. With Eyefinity 2.0, there is also added functionality of independent audio streams for each video stream, so that the audio streams follow the video to each specific monitor. The back end of the card is void of any detail and is not vented, except on the bottom and top of the shroud.

 

 

The XFX Black Edition HD 7970 supports CrossfireX in configurations that use up to 4 cards by way of the dual Crossfire Bridge connections on the spine of the card. Behind the bridge connections is the dual BIOS switch that can be used to flash a custom BIOS or recover from a bad BIOS flash. Power connectivity comes by way of a single 8-pin and a single 6-pin PCIe power connection to supply the 250 watt maximum board power requirements. It looks like the original idea was to use two 8-pin power connections, as the connection points are on the board but not utilized – much like the reference card.

 

 

Under the shroud is a large vapor chamber-based cooling solution that cools the Tahiti core, while the aluminum bracket cools the 3 GB of GDDR5 memory and power circuitry of the card. A pair of PWM-controlled 90 mm fans is used to draw the heat from the board components, blowing down through the heat sink assembly and out the top, bottom, and mounting bracket, which keeps all the board components cool.

 

 

The basis for the HD 7970 is AMD's all-new Tahiti 28 nm architecture. Not only is there a process shrink, but an increase in transistor count to 4.31 billion, stream processor count to 2048, and texture units to 128, while the ROP's stay at 32. GDDR5 memory is used with an increase in capacity to 3 GB on a 384-bit bus. In this case, XFX has boosted the clock speeds on the GCN core from 925 MHz to 1000MHz and boosted the speeds on the 3 GB of GDDR5 so that it runs at 1425 MHz. 2 Hynix GDDR5 modules with part number H5GQ2H24MFR-R0C are used to make up the 3 GB frame buffer and are rated to run at 1500 MHz. Software-based voltage control is possible with the use of the CHIL voltage controller.

 

 

With custom cooling and increased clock speed, the XFX HD Black Edition Double Dissipation HD 7970 should offer up a nice increase in performance at stock speeds as well as improved potential as the voltage is ramped up to increase the clock speeds further.

Specifications:

General
UPC Number:778656058118
Processor & Bus
Chipset version: ATI Radeon HD 7970
GPU Clock: 1000 MHz
Memory
Memory Bus: 384-bit
Memory Clock: 5.7 GHz
Memory Size: 3 GB
Memory Type: DDR5
Feature Technologies
AMD Eyefinity Technology: Y
AMD HD3D Technology: Y
Other Features
AMD - CrossFire ready: Y
Display Output
HDMI Ready:1.4a
Max Supported Resolution (ANALOG): 2048 x 1536
Max Supported Resolution (DIGITAL): 2560 x 1600
Output - DL-DVI-I: 1
Output - HDMI: 1
Output - mini DP: 2
Dual link Support: Y
Display Port ready: 1.2
Physical
Card Dimension (cm): 27.5 x 11.12 x 3.81
Card Dimension (inch): 10.8 x 4.4 x 1.5
Card Profile: Dual
Package Dimensions (cm): 16 x 32.1 x 9.8
Package Dimensions (inch): 12.6 x 6.3 x 3.9
Package Weight (Kg): 1.47 est.
Package Weight (lb): 3.24 est.
Thermal Solution: HD7970 MBA Ghost Dual fan fansink
Thermal Type: Dual slot
Includes
Promotional Bundles: PSU Cross Marketing Insert
Quick Installation Guide: 1
XFX Serial Number Door Hanger: 1
XFX BE badge: 1
Installation CD with Multi-Language User Guide: 1
Cross Fire Bridge: 1
Driver CD Installation Guide: 1
Requirements
External Power - 6-Pins: 1
External Power - 8-Pins: 1
Minimum Power Supply Requirement: 500 watt
XFX Recommended Power Supply: XFX 650W PSU

 

Features:

XFACTOR Features:

  1. Duratec: XFX Bracket
     

 

 

 

All ihnformation courtesy of XFX @  http://xfxforce.com/en-us/Products/Graphics-Cards/ATI/AMD-Radeon-HD-7000-Series/AMD-Radeon-HD-7970.aspx

Testing:

Testing of the XFX Black Edition Radeon HD 7970 will consist of running it and comparison cards 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 they each fall on the performance ladder. The games used are some of today's newest and most popular titles, which should give you an idea of 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 if applicable. I will first test the cards at stock speeds, and then overclocked to see the effects of an increase in clock speed. The cards will be placed in order from highest to lowest performing in the graphs to show where they fall by comparison. The drivers used are the 11.12 Catalyst drivers for AMD-based cards and the 290.53 drivers for NVIDIA-based cards.

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

Overclocking:

In my previous testing, the Sapphire card easily maxed out the core and memory clock speeds in the Catalyst Control Center, but I was unable to test it with the latest beta software that allows increasing the clock speeds above those limits. However, with the XFX Black Edition HD 7970, I was able to use the latest Beta Afterburner utility to hit clock speeds higher than the limits imposed by AMD in the BIOS and CCC. Keep in mind, the base clock speeds of 1000 MHz on the core and 1425 MHz on the memory are already sizable increases over the default clock speeds. However, XFX has added their Double Dissipation cooling to increase the overclocking potential of their Black Edition HD 7970. As a result, the card responded well to voltage tweaking and a further boost in the clock speeds to 1177 MHz on the Tahiti core and 1652 MHz on the GDDR5 memory. Clock speeds above 1.2 GHz on the core were possible in some games, but not the entire test suite – Dirt 3 just would not show love for a core speed that high. The fan speeds were set to 100% for the overclocked testing and the card stayed at almost the same temperature as the stock results, showing that it can handle a voltage increase without adverse effects. Noise from the fan was audible at 100% fan speed – not as loud as the stock solution, but loud enough to hear outside the case. The only downside to the Double Dissipation cooling solution is that it dumps the thermal load back into the case. With a high airflow case, however, this is less of a concern than with a chassis that has poor airflow.

 

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

Testing for the maximum clock speed consists of looping Unigine 2.5 for 30 minutes each to see where the clock speeds fails when pushed. If the clock speed adjustment fails, then the clock speeds and tests are rerun until they pass a full hour of testing.

 

 

 

 

  1. Metro 2033
  2. Batman Arkham City
  3. Battlefield 3
  4. HAWX 2
  5. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.5
  6. Dirt 3
  7. Mafia II
  8. 3DMark 11
  1. Temperature
  2. Power Consumption

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

 

In the Metro 2033 testing, the XFX Black Edition HD 7970 was faster than the reference-based HD 7970 in both resolutions – at stock and when overclocked by at least 2 FPS.

Testing:

Batman Arkham City is the sequel to Batman Arkham Asylum released in 2009. This action adventure game based on DC Comics Batman super hero was developed by Rocksteady Studios and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Batman Arkham City uses the Unreal 3 engine.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

In the Batman Arkham City testing, the XFX HD 7970 was faster across the board than the reference HD 7970, and even faster than the GTX 590 when running stock speeds at 1920 x 1080.

Testing:

Battlefield 3 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. Battlefield 3 uses the Frostbyte 2 game engine and is the direct successor to Battlefield 2. Released in North America on October 25, 2011, the game supports DirectX 10 and 11.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The higher clock speeds are, again, a point of difference when the performance of the XFX HD 7970 Black Edition is compared to the reference HD 7970. The higher clocks are worth 3 to 4 FPS over the reference card at stock speeds, depending on the resolution.

Testing:

H.A.W.X. 2 is an arcade-style flight game and is the sequel to H.A.W.X.. The Game is published by Ubisoft and was released in late 2010.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

As seen when testing the reference card, the newer "Tahiti" based core performs much better than the "Cayman" based single GPU cards. The higher stock and overclocked clock speeds on the Black Edition HD 7970 show positive scaling.

Testing:

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 2.5 is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on the Unigine engine. This was the first DX 11 benchmark to allow testing of DX 11 features. 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, DirectX 11 and OpenGL 4.0. Visually, it features beautiful floating islands that contain a tiny village and extremely detailed architecture.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

At both resolutions, the XFX HD 7970 Black Edition is the fastest single GPU card in the comparison field, whether at stock or overclocked.

Testing:

Dirt 3 is the third iteration of this series. Published and developed by Codemasters, this game uses the EGO 2.0 game engine and was released in the US on PC in May of 2011.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The dual GPU cards easily offer a performance boost over the single GPU cards in this game. The XFX HD 7970 delivers the highest FPS in the single GPU category in 3 out of 4 resolutions, with one the same as the GTX 580.

Testing:

Mafia II is a third-person shooter that puts you into the shoes of a poor, Sicilian immigrant, Vito Scarletta. Vito has just returned home from serving overseas in the liberation of fascist Italy, to avoiding his jail sentence, to finding his family in debt. The debt must be repaid by the end of the week, and his childhood friend, Joe Barbaro, conveniently happens to have questionable connections that he assures will help Vito clear the debt by that time. As such, Vito is sucked into a world of quick cash. Released in North America for PC in August of 2010, the game was developed by 2K Czech, published by 2K, and uses the Illusion 1.3 game engine.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The XFX HD 7970 Black Edition scales well in this game, offering best in-class performance through all four resolutions.

Testing:

3DMark 11 is the next installment in Futuremark’s 3DMark series, with Vantage as its predecessor. The name implies that this benchmark is for Microsoft DirectX 11 and with an unintended coincidence, the name matches the year proceeding its release (which was the naming scheme to some prior versions of 3DMark nonetheless). 3DMark 11 is designed solely for DirectX 11, so Windows Vista or 7 are required along with a DirectX 11 graphics card in order to run this test. The Basic Edition has unlimited free tests on performance mode, whereas Vantage is only allowed for a single test run. The advanced edition costs $19.95 and unlocks nearly all of the features of the benchmark, while the professional edition runs $995.00 and is mainly suited for corporate use. The new benchmark contains six tests, four of which are aimed only at graphical testing; one to test for physics handling and one to combine graphics and physics testing together. The open source Bullet Physics library is used for physics simulation and although not as mainstream as Havok or PhysX, it still seems to be a popular choice.

With the new benchmark, comes two new demos that can be watched, both based on the tests. Unlike the tests, however, these contain basic audio. The first demo is titled "Deep Sea" and involves a few vessels exploring what looks to be a sunken U-Boat. The second demo is titled "High Temple" and presents a location similar to South American tribal ruins with statues and the occasional vehicle around. The demos are simple in that they have no story – they are really just a demonstration of what the testing will be like. The vehicles have the logos of the sponsors MSI and Antec on their sides – the sponsorships helping to make the basic edition free. The four graphics tests are slight variants of the demos. I will use the three benchmark test preset levels to test the performance of each card. The presets are used as they are comparable to what can be run with the free version, so that results can be compared across more than just a custom set of test parameters.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

In the 3DMark 11 testing, the XFX HD 7970 Black Edition outperforms both the reference HD 7970 and GTX 580 in all six tests, showing the potential of the GCN architecture.

Testing:

Eyefinity & Surround:

This page will show how each card in the testing can run at a resolution of 5760x1080 in either Surround or Eyefinity mode. Higher and lower end cards are being pushed to deliver on this type of display solution for gamers as well as in office productivity. The reality is that a high end GPU is required for gaming at this resolution with moderate AA and AF settings. I will be using the same settings used in the standard GPU testing to run each card with a single large surface display. For the display, I will be using three ASUS VG236 120 Hz 3D-capable monitors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher = Better

 

The XFX HD 7970 Black Edition proves that the reference testing was not a fluke. The GCN architecture shows significant gains over the previous generation in Eyefinity mode with both Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering enabled in all of the benchmarks. The XFX HD 7970 delivers at least 30 FPS in all of the "Games" when run in Eyefinity mode.

Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using Unigine's Heaven Benchmark Version 2.5, with MSI's Afterburner overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using a resolution of 1920x1200 using 8xAA and a 5-run sequence 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 stock load test, with the fan moved to 100% to see the best possible cooling scenario for the overclocked load test. The idle test will involve a 20-minute cool-down, with the fan speeds left on automatic in the stock speed testing and bumped up to 100% when running overclocked.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

Lower = Better

 

Equipped with the Double Dissipation cooling system, the XFX HD 7970 Black Edition delivered significantly improved cooling over the reference cooler at stock speeds, both at idle and under load. When overclocked, the tables are turned somewhat. The XFX overclock was achieved with a voltage increase, while the reference card was not overvolted. The additional thermal load is dumped into the chassis, leading to temperatures on par with the stock results. On the other hand, the reference card gains the benefit of discharging the load out the back of the case.

Testing:

Power consumption of the system will be measured at both idle and loaded states, taking into account the peak voltage of the system with each video card installed. I will use Unigine's Heaven Benchmark version 2.5 to put a load onto the GPU using the settings below. A 15 minute load test will be used to heat up the GPU, with the highest measured temperature recorded as the result. The idle results will be measured after 15 minutes of inactivity on the system. With dual GPU setups, the two core temperatures will be averaged.

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

   

Lower = Better

 

The XFX HD 7970 seems to be more efficient at idle than the reference design at idle stock and overclocked. The fans spool down when in the Zero Core power state, dropping power consumption in relation to the reference design. Under load, the XFX HD 7970 Black Edition delivers power consumption numbers close to those of the reference card and higher when overclocked and overvolted as expected.

Conclusion:

Having just looked at a reference card for the hard launch of the HD 7970, it's interesting to see a non-reference cooling solution on a card with boosted clock speeds so soon – in fact, ready to go at launch. With its higher clock speeds and better cooling, the card was able to be pushed that much further when overclocked. I was able to push the core clock to 1177 MHz and the GDDR5 memory clock to 1652 MHz. Both are pretty substantial bumps over the reference clocks and the CCC clock speed limits. Using the latest Beta Afterburner software and bumping up core voltage, as well as the Power Tune voltage, the card just felt like it needed more voltage to go faster. Even so, the higher base clock speeds on the XFX HD 7970 Black Edition equates to an increase in the already stellar performance of the HD 7970 – everything else on top of that is just gravy. This HD 7970 Black Edition, featuring "Double Dissipation" cooling, from XFX is a step forward, as it uses XFX's X Factor technology and GPU Edging process to make sure that this Black Edition card can deliver better-than-stock gaming performance. Just what are all of these X factors? They are a series of technologies and features that drive reliability and performance –things like XFX's Duratec Professional Grade components, including a 2oz copper layer in the PCB for lower impedance, higher power efficiency, and better cooling. Solid Capacitors and Ferrite core chokes also deliver a longer lifespan and 25% reduction in power losses. IP5X fans block the majority of dust that flows into the fan bearings, for a bump in longevity of up to 10,000 hours. Improved fan profiles and XFX's own mounting bracket also improve airflow through the card by up to 20%. HydroCell vapor chamber-based cooling is used to improve cooling efficiency. Alongside the Double Dissipation dual fan cooling solution, this HD 7970 offers lower operating temperatures and reduced acoustics.

All of AMD and XFX's technologies, coupled with the higher base clock speeds, add up to a card that outperforms the reference card in each gaming test and helps validate the $50 premium over reference cards. Cooling performance at the default clock speeds was significantly improved in both the idle and load testing by as much as 11°C over the reference cooling solution. When overclocked, the Double Dissipation fans and Ghost Cooling cover do the work they were designed to do, cooling both the GPU core and PCB. However, venting the thermal load into the chassis can have adverse effects on the rest of the components in the chassis without adequate airflow through the chassis – a problem not unique to XFX, but with all designs of this type. Gaming performance, as one might expect, was excellent from the start at both popular resolutions, as well as in Eyefinity mode. At a resolution of 5760 x 1080, the XFX Black Edition Double Dissipation HD 7970 delivered FPS numbers of 30 FPS or higher in every "Game" tested – impressive for a single GPU card. Pricing for this level of performance on the XFX Black Edition Double Dissipation HD 7970 comes at $50 higher than the reference pricing of $549. For that price, you get excellent performance, excellent cooling, better acoustics, and the ability to crank up the settings. XFX has a great looking card that lives up to the reputation of the Black Edition.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: