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XFX HD5970 Black Edition – The world’s fastest video card?

The XFX HD5970 Black Edition is one of the fastest video cards money can buy. We got to test one, and we’re showing you the results.

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INTRODUCTION

In today’s competitive market, the prodcut that stands out from the rest is the product that succeeds. Whether it be by overclocking the card out-of-the-box or putting on a custom cooler, anything that differentiates it from the reference design is a bonus.

In that sense, the XFX HD5970 Black Edition video card excels, because it is weird, but cool. The GPU equivalent of a Ferrari or Lamorghini, the XFX HD5970 Black Edition makes us feel like the people on the BBC series Top Gear, who only test the fastest and most expensive cars. The card very fast, and unattainable for most reviewers. While a regular HD5970 can be bought at a steep $650-700, the XFX HD5970 Black Edition 4 GB costs a whopping $1200. In contrast to other products that are supposed to be “limited” and then produced in the millions the XFX HD5970 Black Edition 4 GB will only be available in very limited quantities. Each card also is numbered: ours is number 61, out of a total of 1000 produced.

 

XFX isn’t alone in making a high-end version of the HD5970. ASUS produced the HD5970 ARES, and Sapphire made the Sapphire Radeon HD5970 Toxic Mini, both at a similar price. However neither of these cards can compete with the XFX version when it comes to accessories and presentation.

SPECIFICATIONS

At the core, the XFX HD5970 Black Edition 4 GB is nothing more than a factory-overclocked HD5970 with twice regular HD5970.

  XFX HD5970 Black Edition XFX HD5970
Bus Type PCI-E 2.1 PCI-E 2.0, PCI-E 2.1
Performance Black Black, Standard
GPU Clock MHz 850 MHz 725 MHz
Stream Processors 3200 3200
Memory Interface Bus (bit) 512 512
Memory Type DDR5 DDR5
Memory Size (MB) 4096 MB 2000 MB
Memory Clock (MHz) 4800 MHz 4000 MHz
Microsoft® DirectX® Support 11 11
Shader Model Support 5.0 5.0
Open GL Optimization and Support 3.2 3.2
Profile Double Double
ATI Radeon CrossFireX™ Technology v v
ATI Radeon PowerPlay™ v v
ATI Radeon Stream Technology v v
Dimensions (Imperial) 12 X 4.376 X 1.5 12 X 4.376 X 1.5
Dimensions (Metric) 30.5 X 11 X 3.8 30.5 X 11 X 3.8
Max Resolution Analog 2048 x 1536 2048 x 1536
Max Resolution Digital 2560 x 1600 2560 x 1600
ATI Eyefinity Technology v v
DisplayPort 6 1

Interestingly enough, the regular HD5970 never was a true HD5870X2 due to the lower clocked GPU and memory. The HD5970 Black Edition, however, is a “true” HD5870X2, as it is clocked at the same level as a regular HD5870.

While it is impressive to have 4 GB of GDDR5 memory, it should be noted that only 2 GB is available to each of the onboard GPU’s. This is the same as the regular HD5970 in which 2 GB is shared between the GPU’s.

As we can see, the XFX HD5970 Black Edition 4 GB has support for up to 6 monitors, twice as many as the regular HD5970 supports. Considering this, as well as the other specifications, we came to the conclusion that the XFX HD5970 Black Edition 4 GB is in essence an XFX HD5870X2 Eyefinity6 Edition (our benchmarks confirm this). “XFX HD5970 Black Edition 4 GB” does sound cooler though.

CLOSER LOOK

What makes this card stand out is the presentation. XFX has created a Web mini-series around the card, or as they call it, the “Secret Weapon.”

Prologue: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=iv&v=2dWziA_u5OU&annotation_id=annotation_866432 and
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJtgg-qeeEA&feature=related

Episode 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIV3wNIu8IU&feature=related

Episode 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3mt6xNxk60&feature=related

Episode 3: To be released

Though this certainly has high production values, it is a bit over the top and “nerdy”. We can understand the marketing value behind the first few episodes, but we wonder how long they continue.

The first sign that this card is special is the huge box the card comes in. Inside, we find a large, custom G8-Brand P90-themed LAN Bag.

This is a good quality bag that has lots of space for everything from a keyboard to an MP3 player, mouse, mousepad, and whatever else users may need for LAN gaming.

Inside the LAN bag, we find a lot of accessories:

  • 5 adapters for mini-DisplayPort to regular DisplayPort (3x), HDMI (1x) and DVI (2x)
  • CD with drivers
  • Stickers for XFX and Black Edition
  • Black Edition case badge
  • Crossfire bridge
  • Coupon for 20% off a G8 “hoodie”
  • “Do not disturb” sign with activation code for Black Edition membership on www.xfxforce.com

The surprises don’t stop there, however. When we open the bag, we see that XFX has taken the “Secret Weapon” theme one step further by creating a case that is a near-exact replica of a P90 gun.

When we first saw this card, the thought came to us: how would anyone trying to transport this card on a flight explain it to Customs officials? Though the case is tacky, macho, and weird, it is funny.
 

A CLOSER LOOK – CONTINUED

As we open the “gun,” we can see that the XFX HD5970 Black Edition 4 GB fits snugly inside its case.

While the ASUS ARES and the Sapphire Radeon HD5970 Toxic Mini have their own unique coolers, the XFX HD5970 Black Edition 4 GB is very similar to a regular HD5970. Nonetheless, there are a few differences. While still plastic, the side of the card with the logo is has a higher quality feel to it than the regular HD5970. 
The cooling solution looks a lot like the one on the regular HD5970, but according to XFX, it has a “special tactical designed dual slot fansink housing “ to keep it cool. 

XFX also put a metal band all around the edge of the card, increasing its weight: the Black Edition weighs 1.4 kg, whereas the regular HD5970 weighs 1.2 kg. The metal band also has the card number inscribed on it. 

As mentioned before, the card comes with 6 mini-DisplayPort connections, which allow users to connect it to up to 6 monitors.

As this card is clocked higher than a regular HD5970, it also needs a bit more power. It uses two 8-pin PCI-Express power connections.

PERFORMANCE – SETUP

Though XFX has gone to extensive lengths to make this card appear special, the only thing that really counts is the performance.

We tested the card on the following system:

  • AMD Phenom II X6 1090T @ 3.2 GHz
  • Noctua NH-C12 Cooler
  • 4 GB OCZ Black Edition DDR3 @ 1600 MHz
  • ASUS Crosshair IV Formula
  • 300 GB WD Raptor (System Disk)
  • 1 TB Samsung F2 (Storage Disk)
  • Thermaltake 1200W PSU
  • 2x Dell 24” monitors with a maximum resolution of 1920×1200 each
  • Windows 7 Pro 64-bit

The cards tested were:

  • XFX HD5970 Black Edition 4 GB with Catalyst 10.8
  • XFX HD5870 Eyefinity6 Edition 2 GB with Catalyst 10.8
  • Reference HD5970 2GB with Catalyst 10.8
  • Reference GTX480 1 GB with ForceWare 258.96

UNIGINE HEAVEN 2.1

 

Unigine Heaven is a benchmark program based on Unigine Corp’s latest engine, Unigine. The engine features DirectX 11, hardware tessellation, DirectCompute, and Shader Model 5.0. All of these new technologies, combined with the ability to run each card through the same exact test, means that this benchmark is an essential component of our arsenal.

Settings used:

  • Shaders: high
  • Tessellation: normal and extreme
  • Anti-aliasing: 4x and 8x
  • Anisotropy: 16x.

Unfortunately, we had some issues with Unigine when testing the GTX480. The card would crash at startup. Nonetheless, we know that the GTX480 is very capable when it comes to tessellation, and had we been able to run the test on it, we would have found very good scores. 

The XFX HD5970 Black Edition easily beats the regular HD5970, and performs the same as the two Crossfire-linked HD5870 Eyefinity6 cards. 

CRYSIS: WARHEAD

 

Crysis is based on CryENGINE™ 2, developed by Crytek. CryENGINE™ 2 offers, among other features, real time editing, bump mapping, dynamic lights, network system, integrated physics system, shaders, shadows, and a dynamic music system. As one might expect, with this number of features, the game taxes system resources, especially the GPU. We expect Crysis to be a primary gaming benchmark for many years to come. Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion to Crysis, featuring an updated CryENGINE™ 2 with better optimization.

Settings used:

  • Mode: Enthusiast
  • FSAA: 4x and 8x
  • DirectX10

 

The difference between 4x AA and 8x AA is almost negligible for the XFX HD5970 Black Edition, the Crossfire-linked HD5870 Eyefinity6 cards, and the GTX480. The regular HD5970, on the other hand, shows a big drop in performance when we increase the anti-aliasing.

As we increase resolution, it becomes obvious that the XFX HD5970 Black Edition dominates over the other cards. Only the Crossfire setup manages to perform the at same level (this isn’t surprising as the XFX HD5970 Black Edition is essentially two HD5870 Eyefinity6 cards).

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: CALL OF PRIPYAT

Call of Pripyat is the latest addition to the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has long been considered the thinking man’s shooter, because it gives the player many different ways of completing objectives. The game includes new advanced DirectX 11 effects, as well as the continuation of the story from S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky.

Settings used:

  • Ultra setting
  • DX11 renderer
  • Anti-aliasing: 4x MSAA, DX10 style MSAA,
  • Default SSAO, High quality SSAO
  • Tessellation on

We took the average framerate from the 4 different benchmark tests in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: CoP. The XFX HD5970 Black Edition easily beats the HD5970 and the GTX480, and performs about the same as the HD5870 Crossfire setup.

JUST CAUSE 2

Settings used:

  • Maximum settings
  • Anti-aliasing: 4x and 8x
  • Anisotropic filtering: 16x

In both benchmarks, the XFX HD5970 Black Edition completely crushes the opposition when we increase the resolution. It yields an impressive average framerate of around 40-50 fps, at 3840×1200 with every setting set to maximum and 8x anti-aliasing. Only the Crossfire setup manages to match the card.

DIRT 2

Settings used: Mode: Ultra, anti-aliasing: 4x and 8x

The regular HD5970 almost keeps up at 1920×1200 but as we increase the resolution by adding a second monitor it falls behind.

POWER CONSUMPTION AND NOISE LEVEL

Using two 8-pin PCI-E power, the XFX HD5970 Black Edition card needs more power than a regular HD5970.

We measured the power consumption at the wall, meaning we measured the whole system and not just the video card. The monitor(s) are not included in this measurement.

Idle: Windows desktop
Full load: Running graphics benchmark in OCCP at full screen resolution

As expected, the XFX HD5970 Black Edition needs a lot of power. Users wishing to run this card should invest in a good quality power supply if you want to run one of these cards.

As also expected, this is a very noisy card. In fact, when running at full speed, it was so loud that we needed headphones to eliminate noise.

CONCLUSION

There is no denying that the XFX HD5970 Black Edition is a very fast card. In fact, it is one of the fastest cards money can buy at this moment. The card’s performance is only fully utilized until the resolution is very high, so it is great to see that the XFX card supports up to 6 monitors, instead of the 3 monitors the ASUS ARES and the Sapphire Radeon HD5970 Toxic Mini support. 

Opinions may differ on how sensible it is to ship the card in a box that looks like a gun, but it certainly makes the card stand out. The gun replica, aside we love the big LAN bag that XFX included. 

For all its successes, the card is loud, draws a lot of power, and costs an arm, a leg, and both hands. Unfortunately we cannot say that this card is worth $1200 (price from Newegg.com). Nonetheless, it isn’t that much more expensive than buying two HD5870 Eyefinity6 cards, and it comes with not only a cool LAN bag but also a very limited edition video card. It is also about the same as the other two special edition HD5970 cards from ASUS and Sapphire, and in our opinion is a better value than either of these two cards. 

It is loud, obnoxious, in your face, immature and too expensive, and yet we cannot help just loving it for its performance. We cannot give it a bronze, silver or gold award but it has our seal of approval. Now, being the obsessive technophiles that we are, we wonder how fast 2 of these would be in CrossfireX.

OUR VERDICT: XFX HD5970 Black Edition
Performance 10
Value 4
Quality 9
Features 9
Innovation 8
We are using an addition to our scoring system to provide additional feedback beyond a flat score. Please note that the final score isn’t an aggregate average of the rating system.
Total  8
Pros Cons

Incredible performance

Nice bundle/accessories

Supports 6 monitors

All the features of the HD5xxx series like ATI Stream and  DX11

Very limited edition

Expensive

Large and heavy

Power hungry

Loud

 

 

Summary: The XFX HD5970 Black Edition is one of the fastest cards on the market right now. Toss in the cool bundle with a LAN bag and a replica P90-gun case (yes, we admit it: we find it a bit cool in a childish way), 6 monitor support and all the other AMD features we’ve come to expect, and it should be obvious why we like the card. Unfortunately it also comes with a hefty pricetag and lots of noise and power consumption; however, that is currently the price we must pay if we want to have the very best. We are proud to give the XFX HD5970 Black Edition the Bjorn3D Seal of Approval.


 

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