XFX says "We don't need no stinkin' reference design!"
It’s not unusual to see factory-overclocked videocards ship with custom cooling solutions—a few months after the GPU launches. This time, XFX hits the ground running with their Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition. This is a factory-overclocked card with a custom cooling solution that aims to take the performance crown. Based on what we’ve seen to date, XFX has delivered the fastest single-GPU card on the planet.
The Radeon HD 7970 is AMD’s latest GPU, with support for DirectX 11.1 and OpenCL 1.2. It’s a brand-new new architecture—completely different from past AMD GPUs—built on TSMC’s 28nm manufacturing process and sporting a staggering 4.3 billion transistors. In AMD’s reference design, the 7970’s core runs at 925MHz and its GDDR5 memory is clocked at 1,375MHz. XFX ups the ante significantly, pushing the core clock speed to a whopping 1GHz and running its 3GB of memory at 1,425MHz.
While it wouldn't be fair to call a reference-design Radeon HD 7970 a me-too product, XFX is to be congratulated for offering something special right out of the gate.
As you might imagine, the results are nothing short of amazing. We’re seeing genuine performance milestones here, including a 3DMark 2011 performance score higher than 8,000 (for a single GPU), Far Cry 2 hitting 100fps at 2560x1600 with 4x AA, and Batman: Arkham City heading north of 50fps at the same resolution and AA settings. On top of that, the system idle power is just 124 watts, and a dark idle (when Windows 7 blanks the screen) draw of 110 watts. Push the card and you’ll see system power consumption climb to 349 watts, but that merely puts its overall power draw into Fermi territory. XFX’s Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition is substantially faster than EVGA’s super-overclocked, 3GB GeForce GTX 580 Classified, and it’s outfitted with just two PCIe power connectors (one 8-pin and one 6-pin). EVGA’s card requires three power connectors.
XFX’s dual-fan custom cooler, housed within an attractive brushed-metal housing, looks much more elegant than most of the competition. Despite using two fans, this card was noticeably quieter at full load than XFX’s Radeon HD 6970, and it was almost inaudible at idle.
Aside from carving its logo into the bracket, XFX took no liberties with the outputs: The mounting bracket has two mini-DisplayPort 1.2 connectors, one HDMI 1.4a, and a dual-link DVI. Use a combination of DisplayPort and DVI-capable displays, and the card can support three-panel Eyefinity setups up to 2560 x 1600. Use one or more 1920 x 1200 (or lower res) monitors, and you can also tap the HDMI for a four-panel setup. And when DisplayPort 1.2 monitors and hubs ship, this card will be capable of supporting as many as six displays.
The XFX Radeon HD 7970 Black Edition has all the earmarks of a winner: superb performance, relatively low power consumption, and better than average noise levels. It’s pricey, at $599, but no more so than other cards in its class. If you crave the fastest single-GPU card in the world, it’s here—and it includes the twin bonuses of easy multi-monitor support and high efficiency.
The cowling for the heatsink and fan features an attractive brushed-metal finish.