- ASUS HD 7970 DirectCU II 28nm Graphics Card Review
- A Closer Look - DirectCU II
- Features - GPU Technologies
- Features - Software and Utilities
- Testing - Temps, Voltages, Acoustics, and Overclocking
- Benchmarks - Batman: Arkham City
- Benchmarks - Dirt 3
- Benchmarks - Aliens vs. Predator
- Benchmarks - Battlefield 3
- Benchmarks - 3DMark 11
- Benchmarks - Unigine Heaven
- Benchmarks - WQHD Performance
- Final Thoughts
- All Pages
Adequately summing up ASUS' HD 7970 DirectCUII seems as beastly a task as the card is beastly. Starting from the outside working in, the overall aesthetic screams durability and gives off an aura of industrial design. The card is rock solid due to its integrated support frame, backplate, and all-metal bezel which all come together to create and uber-rigid structure to support the card. The two 100mm fans are super quiet, and use dust-proof bearings to maximize durability and lifespan. The matte black PCB and brushed metal backplate look great, and this is a mean-looking card, as are its DCUII-bearing siblings.
The DirectCUII system contacts the GPU with a network of heatpipes machined to contact directly with the GPU itself, much as the ever-popular and very efficient Hyper 212 series from Cooler Master. One of ASUS' proudest non-reference design features of the 7970 DCUII is the Super Alloy Power (SAP) system with an all-digital VRM, which ASUS calls Digi+. Using a more intense manufacturing process and select metals, the SAP components are smaller, more efficient, have higher tolerances to temperature and voltage differences, and are more stable and reliable overall. This lends to more overclocking headroom, which segues us to our next point.
Many buyers have been confused by the apparent locking of voltage of ASUS' 7970 cards. However, the voltage locking is specific to certain versions of GPU Tweak, and version 188.8.131.52 enables the full voltage range up to 1.4V. Either way, with a newer build which limited how much voltage we could apply, we were able to overclock the 7970 DCUII by 25% to an 1160 MHz GPU clock and 7000 MHz memory clock at a mere 10 mV above stock voltage. That result is impressive to us. With the expanded voltage range, we were able to squeeze out another 20 MHz on the core clock and 100 MHz on the memory, which is still a nice additional boost, but required 1.250V. Anything over 1.250V was met with nearly-immediate instability when we began stress-testing, so our guess is this was a power component limitation as the GPU core temperatures were within a 65-75 degree envelope.
All the while, the HD 7970 made nothing more than a hum when being loaded up to test overclock stability. The large 100mm fans don't need to spin very fast to move air, and we never saw our fan Duty Cycle peg above 50% using the default fan ramp. The fan ramps can be user-customized as well, allowing you to tweak your thermal-acoustic balance to meet your needs. Especially with a high power and high TDP card like a 7970, it's great to see that it doesn't have to come with the price of atrocious acoustics.
The 7970 is at the top of the single-GPU stack for AMD, so it's no surprise that along with ASUS' non-reference design that it seems we've had nothing but great things to say. After all, it's a beast of a card that provided buttery smooth gaming even at WQHD resolutions on many of our favorite games and benchmarks while staying pleasantly cool and quiet at the same time. Of course the elephant in the room with any top-tier graphics card is its price. If you can find it in stock, you can find the HD7970-DC2-3GD5 for a low-$400 price. Due to high demand and roadmap adjustments from AMD, the shortage should ease in the coming weeks.
Of course that's fairly high, but compared to its immediate competitors, ASUS' rings in at a competitive spot in the market. Other HD7970 graphics cards with non-reference coolers can be found for about $400 at many big-box retailers, but they tend to lack many of the non-reference PCB design and features that hardcore overclockers might want, like the HotWire support. Another feature is that that the 7970 DCUII comes with four DisplayPorts, and ontop of that, they are full-sized, so you won't be inundated with mini-HDMI and/or mini-DIsplayPort adapters. Coupled with all of the features of the reference HD7970 (such as 6-screen EyeFinity) and when compared with a GTX 680 that's $100 or more than the 7970 DCUII, you have a pretty well-priced card, albeit at the niche at the top end of the market.
The bottom line is pretty simple. ASUS' HD7970 DirectCUII card is a great card all-around. It has plenty of pixel-pushing power for buttery smooth gameplay at high framerates, and nearly all popular games can be played maxed out at WQHD resolutions. The DirectCUII cooling system is whisper quiet and keeps temps comfortably low. Overclocking even at low voltage was very fruitful, gifting us with a free 25% boost in performance. The only thing you can really nitpick at is the size and weight, but even reference 7970 cards are bulky. We personally don't mind the tri-slot design, but for speed-freaks with padded pockets, it gets in the way of tri or quad-CrossFire setups without a watercooling loop. Even the price, at the low-$400 price range, makes it a more attainable than the typical $500 top-end price bracket, and gives the GTX 680 a hard value target to try to beat.
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