HD 7970 done the Gigabyte way
It was hard not to be impressed by AMD's first 28nm graphics card, the Radeon HD 7970. Taking the mantle of 'world's fastest single-GPU', the 7970 - built around a wholly revamped architecture - tore through our benchmarks and left all previous-generation cards lying in its wake as it churned out new levels of performance across a wide range of games.
As far as single-GPU solutions are concerned, they don't come much better, but that's hardly going to stop AMD's partners from trying to improve on an already-winning formula now is it? A wave of partner cards that follow AMD's reference design are already available, but custom variations have started to appear much sooner than anticipated, and the one that's really catching our eye is Gigabyte's HD 7970 OC (model number GV-R797OC-3GD).
It's no secret that we've been left impressed with Gigabyte's recent high-end cards - particularly the Super Overclock series - so we're expecting great things from a card that aims to be both cooler and faster than AMD's regular design.
To that end, the manufacturer has employed its latest generation WindForce 3X cooler that features a little something dubbed "Triangle Cool" technology. What this means is that the heatsink resting directly above the GPU consists of a triangular internal structure that, in Gigabyte's own words, "enhances the efficiency of heat dissipation dramatically," and "minimizes the flow of turbulence between fans."
We'll find out exactly how well it works later in the review, but what you need to know right now is that the 7970 OC comes armed with three ultra-quiet 80mm PWM fans sat above a GPU-and-memory-encompassing heatsink, a massive array of aluminium fins, and a trio of 8mm-thick copper heatpipes.
The cooler looks the business, and so does the card itself. Eagle-eyed readers will note that Gigabyte's finally using a black PCB, which is a better match for its current-generation motherboards and a distinct improvement over what we like to call periwinkle blue.
But the beauty of the this one is more than skin deep. With the meaty cooler at hand, Gigabyte raises the core clock speed of the 7970 OC from a standard 925MHz up to a cool 1,000MHz. That's an eight per cent bump on what's already the world's fastest GPU, and it's joined by a standard 3GB GDDR5 frame buffer operating at an effective 5,500MHz. Could Gigabyte have gone higher on the core, and should the memory have been pushed further as well? The answer's probably yes on both counts, but then the manufacturer may want to leave a little room for a Super Overclock model further down the road.
Elsewhere, the PCB's a standard length at 10.5in, but unlike AMD's reference design, Gigabyte's cooler doesn't overlap the board. As a result, this custom-cooled and pre-overclocked take is actually a few millimetres shorter than a standard card, and it's lighter, too, at around 759g (compared to just over 1kg for AMD's reference design).
There's no change at the front or back. In keeping with AMD's default specification, the 7970 OC draws power from eight- and six-pin PCIe connectors, and the selection of outputs includes the standard DVI, HDMI and two mini-DisplayPorts. As you'd expect from every HD 7970, a pair of CrossFire fingers are available for multi-GPU configurations, as is a dual-BIOS switch that provides a fail-safe for users planning exotic modifications.
So, how much is it going to cost? Well, that's the sticking point. Gigabyte hasn't yet confirmed an MSRP (or indeed a retail release date), but given current 7970 pricing, we'd expect to see the souped-up card land at stores in the coming weeks priced at or beyond the £500 mark.
A meatier take on the world's fastest graphics card was never going to be cheap, but we're itching to fire up Gigabyte's card so let's see what it can do. And, if you haven't done so already, head on over to our earlier analysis to get a deeper understanding of what the Radeon HD 7970's new architecture is all about.