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Old 20-03-2012, 10:33 PM   #1
Booj
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Asus HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP Review

Introduction

2011 wasn't a year to remember for GPU products. The GTX580 spent well over a year as the top dog in the GPU world since its release in Q4 2010. The VLIW4 based HD6970 failed to impress, leaving overclockers and gamers reliant on the GTX580 for the best performance for over a year.

That period of stagnation came to an end with the release of the HD 7970 in January. With the move away from a VLIW to a SIMD based architecture codenamed Graphics Core Next (GCN), the 7970 was AMD's biggest GPU overhaul since the R600 based 2900XT.

It usually doesn't take Asus long to ditch the reference design in favor a custom PCB and cooler. Asus' successful Direct CU series has always impressed with its combination of improved PCB design with improved and quieter cooling compared to reference cards. For now the HD 7970 Direct CU II TOP is the flagship single GPU card in Asus' range.

The Asus HD 7970 Direct CU II is built with AMD's codenamed Tahiti core which was the first GPU core released using TSMC's 28nm process. It packs 4.31 billion transistors into a 365mm2 die. It features 2048 stream processors with 128 texture units and 32 ROP's. This card is the TOP version that comes with a decent factory overclock. The core is clocked at 1000Mhz with 3gb of GDDR5 hooked up via a 384bit bus clocked at 1400Mhz (5.6Ghz effective) The 7970 was also the first GPU to support PCI-E 3.0. Outputs consist of a pair of DVI-D and four full size Display Port 1.2 connectors.

Pictures



The box follows a similar design to those Asus has been using for a while. There's nothing like a warrior and beast with flames to entice the gamers.. except maybe if the warrior was a chick




The box is full of the features Asus wants you to take note of. I will go over some of these features shortly.




The 7970 Direct CU II comes with a standard set of accessories. We have a cd with driver, manual and software, a quick installation guide, a dual 6pin to 8pin PCIe adapter, DVI to HDMI adapter and Crossfire bridge. The final accessory is a Mosfet heat sink for use with subzero cooling or any cooling with the DCU cooler removed. Asus actually calls it a LN2 heat sink indicating they have built the card to cope with some serious overclocking.




Now for the card itself. The Direct CU II cooler is similar to previous models with an updated aluminum shroud. It uses a pair of 100mm fans to cool a large aluminum heat sink. It is a triple slot card (2.5 slots actually) so consideration needs to be taken when used with other expansion cards in a system. The card is 27cm in length for those wondering if it can fit in their case.



It's a beast alright.. You can see the 2.5 slot design, this helps with airflow if using a pair of cards in CrossfireX mode. On the left are two CrossfireX connectors for up to four cards, although this is impossible in a standard system without custom cooling. A little to the right of the CF connectors is a small dip switch. This isn't a BIOS toggle but a switch to change between dual and single link DVI. The reason being....




The 7970 Direct CU II TOP comes with no less than six display outputs. To run in six monitor mode, the aforementioned DVI switch must be set to single link mode. One of these days I must have a look at a full six monitor setup, the amount of screen real estate must be awesome.




The 7970 Direct CU II comes with a full length backplate. One of the hallmarks of Asus' DCU cards is the excellent build quality. The whole card is built like a brick.. err.. outhouse. It really is built like a tank and weighs almost as much.




Along the bottom of backplate in this picture is a series of control and read points best explained by the above picture. The read points can be read by any digital multimeter or they, along with the control points, can be hooked up to dedicated connectors on the Rampage IV Extreme motherboard for direct BIOS or OC-KEY control. This is very handy for the extreme overclockers who can monitor and change voltages in real time even mid benchmark.




Moving on to the disassembling the card, here we see the Direct CU II Cooler itself. It's name is self explanatory. Of course there are thermal strips for the memory chips and VRM sections. Note that some memory chips aren't entirely connected to these strips although it didn't hinder memory overclocking at all in my testing.




Now for the naked card. It comes with a total of twelve phases. There are super alloy capacitors and chokes that deliver clean power from the included pair of 8pin PCIe power connectors. Overall this implementation is significantly improved from the AMD reference design. One thing to take note of for the extreme crowd are the two protruding components located above the memory at the top of the card. To mount a ln2 pot, these components will need to be removed and placed on the rear of the card. Thankfully those familiar with soldering will find this job easy, but still it would have been nice if Asus could have placed these elsewhere.



Asus is using a DIGI+VRM digital controller chip with the model designation ASP1211. Information on this chip is difficult to come by. It does offer GPU voltage control but not control of memory voltage (at least with the current Asus GPU Tweak and other popular software) I feel as though this is an oversight as the reference card allows memory voltage control.




The back of the card is normally hidden by the backplate, however here it is for interest sake. Note the pair of super alloy capacitors at the back of the GPU. It is quite a neat and clean design... easy to insulate


Some users have reported abnormally high VRM temperatures which I inquired about with Asus. They informed me that the readings are incorrect. This is a direct quote:

After our internal testing, the temperature of VRM is normal but the software reading doesn’t reflect the real temperature within a specific range.

This phenomenon happens because the resistance of the related resistor holds a non-linear relationship with the real temperature.
Asus also provided the following thermal image as proof.






Benchmarks & Test Setup


Intel i7 2600K @ 5Ghz
Asus P8Z68-V-Pro
Kingston 2250Mhz C9 @ DDR3-2133 7-10-7-27 1T
Antec HCP-1200
Asus HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP (1000/1400 and 925/1375)
HD 6970 (880/1375)

AMD Catalyst 12.3 Preview Driver
Windows 7 x64 SP1

I would like to have included a GTX580 as well, but my card has had one too many floggings and has made its way to GPU heaven after only a few of the benchmarks were completed.

















The 6970 is absolutely destroyed. The tessellation performance of the 7970 in these mostly DX11 benches is impressive. The 75Mhz overclock of the 7970 D CU II TOP is noticeable as well. Again I would like to have included the GTX580, but the poor thing died after being modded and flogged on ln2.

At a common resolution of 1920x1080 all the highly demanding games tested run comfortably at maximum settings. Can it play Crysis? Why yes... Yes it can.

Temperature & Noise

I ran the Asus GPU Tweak utility to measure temperatures. It was quite a warm night in Adelaide with an ambient temperature of 27c. Here is the temperature of the card at idle. 39c is perfectly acceptable with just 10% fan speed. At this speed, the fan is indistinguishable over the background noise of the rest of the system.




Under load I looped Unigine heaven and let the card max out before taking the following screenshot. 66c at full load with 37% fan speed is impressive, particularly with a high 27c ambient temperature. Also note the seemingly high power temperature that Asus claims is a false reading according to their thermal image above. At this fan speed, the recorded sound level was 39.7 dBA, not silent, but perfectly acceptable from a high end over****ed graphics card at full load with a highish ambient temperature.

The D CU II Cooler impresses with its combination of cooling ability and low noise levels.



I suppose what I should do here is give a rating to the card. I won't do that because there is a subject that I haven't touched upon: The imminent arrival of the Nvidia GTX680. There are enough leaks now to suggest that it will be a strong card. I expect the 7970 will remain competitive, if not on outright performance then on price/performance if there's a resulting price drop. There are too many unknowns (publicly at least) to make a definitive call on it. Overclocking, power consumption, 2gb vs 3gb and features like Eyefinity vs NVsurround will make for interesting reading in the next few days.

For now, the Asus HD 7970 Direct CU II TOP is a good improvement on an already top notch GPU. In addition to strong performance, a decent feature set and outstanding overclocking, Asus has raised the bar further with its monster beef cooler with improvements in cooling ability and noise levels, considerable component upgrades, bulletproof build quality, six video outputs, voltage read points and a significant 75Mhz factory overclock.

It does come at a price however with at least a $100 premium over Asus own reference model. There's also that Kepler thingy lurking in the background. If the 7970 DCu TOP was to drop a bit in price, then there would be almost nothing to complain about, as long as you can take a triple slot card.

Still to come Overclocking
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Old 21-03-2012, 03:07 AM   #2
eva2000
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Sweet review Booj

Love the photos especially with just a Canon A640!

7970 DirectCU II looks awesome shame about it being triple slot based.
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Old 21-03-2012, 03:31 PM   #3
Booj
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Thanks mate

Yeah the old A640 is getting a bit long in the tooth now. It's been a soldier, but soon its time to upgrade. Been thinking of picking up a Canon 7D Body and lens, they're a bit cheaper recently but can't really spare the $$ right now.. A Computex trip in June beckons
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Old 22-03-2012, 08:00 AM   #4
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By Booj View Post
Thanks mate

A Computex trip in June beckons
oooh nice, if you see a nice Asus Z9PE-D16 board laying around, feel free to liberate it from a Computex display for me

Dual E5-2687W 16 core 32 thread action



Looking forward to your 7970 oc'ing results
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