Last month, we had a go at Asus’s flagship HD 7950, the Direct CU II TOP edition and while we loved its performance, the thing was a monstrosity and required three slots in your chassis. Well, today we have another gigantic card from them, the top of the line HD 7970, which is also AMD’s flagship offering for now. But this edition from Asus is more than merely just the fancy cooler and high price, it’s designed specifically to be used with their ROG motherboards, as we’ll take a look at in a bit. First, let’s see the card itself and what you get in the box.
Quite a looker
Design and Build
While it looks similar at first glance, the HD 7970 is actually a tiny bit shorter than the HD 7950 at 11 inches, compared to 11.8 inches of the latter. Make no mistake, it’s still gigantic and feels a bit heavier, too. The card uses the same Direct CU II cooler, where the heat pipes come in direct contact with the CPU core for better heat dissipation. The two large, low RPM fans move enough air, while staying whisper quite.
The card is all set for a 6 monitor Eyefinity setup. We have two dual-link DVI-I ports, followed by a row of four display ports. We came across a similar problem we had with the earlier card here, due to the three slot design. The external metal frame tends to block the SATA ports on the motherboard, if you have them facing upwards rather than outwards. To power this card, you’ll need two 8-pin power connecters, and of course a good quality 650W PSU or higher. The card supports quad-CrossFireX as well. Being an enthusiast level GPU, Asus have added two tiny LEDs just behind the power connectors that light up green when the power plugs are connected or red, if they’re loose or the card is not getting enough power.
Before we dive into the features of the Asus HD 7970, here’s a little background on the chip itself. This is AMD’s flagship single-core GPU right now, based on the ‘Tahiti’ core. It’s identical to the HD 7950 in transistor count, memory bandwidth, etc., except for the shader count, which is 2048, compared to 1792 on the HD 7950. The core speed has also been bumped up slightly to 925MHz, by default. The extra shader count does make it a little faster, but given how everything else is the same, don’t expect a massive jump in performance.
A beast of a card
Asus have given their own treatment to this card and have pushed the core clock to 1GHz, which can be tweaked further through their very nice GPU Tweak software. The card packs in 3GB of GDDR5 memory, so there’s no shortage of frame buffer. The two special feature exclusive to Asus is VGA Hotwire and DIGI+ VRM onboard. VGA Hotwire works in conjunction with their RAMPAGE IV Extreme motherboard, which has provision for VGA Hotwire. This allows you to directly control the voltages and clock speeds by simply shorting the leads on the GPU. All this can be monitored in real time either through the BIOS, OC Key or their TurboV EVO utility. Read more about it in our Asus X79 preview we covered back in October.
The second exclusive feature is the DIGI+ VRM, which is the same digital power regulation system used on their Sandy Bridge motherboards. It features 12-phase power and ‘Super Alloy’ components like capacitors, chokes, etc that are designed to withstand high voltages and temperatures for a more stability and longer lifespan, even at extreme overclocks. Next, let’s have a look at how this bad boy performs.
Processor: Intel Core i7-2600K CPU @ 3.40 GHz
Motherboard: GIGABYTE P67A-UD3R
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB (4GB x 2) @1600MHz
Hard drive: Intel SSD 520 240GB (Boot Drive), WD Velociraptor 300GB (Secondary Drive)
GPU: Asus HD7970-DC2T-3GD5
PSU: Cooler Master Silent Pro 1000W
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
The card is silent for the most part and even when stressed with FurMark, barely emits any sound. The cooler does a great job of keeping the temperatures in check, as the card idles at just 40 degrees Celsius and on full load, does not cross 67 degrees Celsius. The GPU Tweak program bundled along works well and lets you monitor and log the stats of the card, which is handy, if you’re trying to push it to the limit.
3DMark is a computer benchmarking tool created and developed by Futuremark Corporation to determine the performance of a computer's 3D graphic rendering and CPU workload processing capabilities. The latest version makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11, including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. We used the ‘Performance’ preset for this benchmark.
Battlefield 3 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and is based on the new Frostbite 2 game engine. The game only supports DX10 and DX11, which enables enhanced in-game destruction with Destruction 3.0, creating more refined physics than its predecessor and quasi-realtime radiosity using Geomerics' Enlighten technology. The game is a visual treat and a nightmare for graphics cards, which makes it perfect for our test. We used the ‘Ultra High’ preset, Post AA – High, Blur – Full, Field of View – 90, Level – ‘Fear no Evil’.
Crysis 2 is a first-person shooter video game developed by Crytek and is based on the new CryEngine 3. Just like the first iteration of the game, Crysis 2 continues to be one of the best looking shooters to date. The settings used for this benchmark were ‘Ultra High’ preset in Adrenalin, DX11 and High-resolution texture patch.
Dirt 3 is a rallying video game and the third in the Dirt series of the Colin McRae Rally series, developed and published by Codemasters. The game is extremely scalable and features DX11 tessellation effects. We used the built-in benchmark tool, along with ‘Ultra’ quality preset.
Metro 2033 is a first-person shooter video game, which continues to bring even the toughest graphics cards, down to their knees. The game has a lot of DX11 eye-candy, which really puts a strain on any GPU. All DX11 features were enabled for the benchmark and we used the “Tower” level for our test.
Batman: Arkham City
A sequel to Arkham Asylum, Arkham City features a more open world gameplay as well as DX11 elements. For this test, we disabled Nvidias’s PhysX, since it would be unfair to AMD’s cards. Everything else was maxed out.
The Asus HD 7970 (DC2T-3GD5) will set you back a whopping Rs.36,000. There’s no doubt that the AMD’s HD 7970 is the fastest single core GPU in the market today and Asus improves upon that with nifty feature for the hardcore enthusiast. My main issue with this card, just like the HD 7950 that we reviewed earlier is its sheer size, which many may have difficulty with fitting into their chassis. If you’re planning on upgrading to, say, the RAMPAGE IV Extreme, then this card might suit you. Else, you’re better off with the standard edition.
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