ASUS has a wide range of products, from hardware to routers and audio solutions. Today though, we’re taking a look at one of ASUS’ premier products: the ASUS HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP edition card. Keep reading what this beast of a card has to offer![review_ad]
Introduction – ASUS HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP
The ASUS HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP edition is basically a very beefed up version of the HD 7970, similar to the review we did of the GTX 680 DCII TOP. In these versions, ASUS essentially takes the GPU and builds a whole new card around it. This allows them to take advantage of the ASUS VRM engineering and performance designs to make the card just that much better. By stacking a DirectCU II cooler on top of this, they can create an amazing card. The TOP also has some extra advantages going for it, such as specially screened GPUs pushed at a high overclock to ensure you get something special right out of the box.
The ASUS HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP came to market at around $449.99 when you could find it but these cards simply are not available from scouring online stores for available stock. One thing to note is that ASUS does offer a model with the exact same features as the TOP but with a slightly lower clock at 925MHz GPU clock for only $434.99 available on newegg presently which means if you dont need the upper echelon screening of the TOP model you can still find it readily available with an identical card for ten dollars less.
Here we see a overview of the many key features that make a DirectCU II TOP Edition cards sop special. Well at least from the cooler point of view along with showing breakdown of how the whole DirectCU II system goes together. The breakdown really puts into perspective how much goes into just the engineering of the DirectCU II cooler and how it all integrates into making one functional and flat out awesome card.
SAP (Super Alloy Power)
ASUS has great pride in the components they infuse into their graphics offerings very much like the motherboards we have covered previously. ASUS has whats called SAP or Super Alloy Power which covers the components in the very VRM we are discussing. The components are hand picked for quality and performance based around not only power delivery but efficiency as well. The components in the SAP solution are super durable for a rated lifespan of up to 2.5x what reference cards would offer and also with the DIGI+ controller your talking ultimate precision which means better voltage stability, better overclocking potential and overall better power efficiency clock for clock. The SAP power components official rating for the SAP implementation is 45A per phase for 360A total power capability on the GPU alone whereas the reference you would have a max power handling of 300A, likewise memory tops out at 90A for the DCII variant which is 33% higher than the reference at 60A. This at the end of the day means that the power handling and to another token the overclocking headroom can be seen as quite a bit higher or even less load on components since the load on components will be even further away from their maximum loading limit.
Here we see the VRM Chokes, MOSFET/driver assemblies and the solid state caps which make up the SAP components, or to simplify, the super strong and efficient VRM. also here we see the SAP CAP or flat style caps at the rear side of the GPU location. These are placed to allow a quick boost of power to the GPU should a heavy load occur which will help with any possible voltage droops from a quick heavy load.
Here we have some good detailing directly from ASUS showing the improvement of the SAP choke component and how it is superior to other designs implemented presently. Other model chokes can make a whine or screeching sound due to the coil vibration, something we’re sure many enthusiasts and overclockers have heard before. The ASUS design has a sealed/filled core to inhibit vibration, which means noise free operation under extreme loading conditions. Another thing to remember is movement makes heat and friction, so less movement will mean cooler running components.
Here ASUS shows off its SAP selection for mosfet components. These are designed to not only be more efficient but also have a higher power handling capability which allows them to have extra head room for overclocking should you really want to push the limit. Also note the small package design of the SAP component as it is much smaller than the standard or generic mosfets used on some standard or reference model cards. This allows for a larger VRM design to fit into a smaller space so taht you can pack more punch without effecting the tight real estate within the chassis.
The SAP Solid state cap selection are japanese units with a much higher MTBF than what you may see on other designs. These units are designed to have a very high expected lifetime which allows users to rest assured that in their gaming rig these components should have a nice happy life with a evry low chance of failure for quite a long time. For those of us to like to throttle our cards and really put the squeeze on them, this means we have the capability built in as the components are solid and reliable and ready to take a pounding.
Here we see what makes the difference for the DIGI+ solution which has to do with the accuracy and efficiency of the Digital controller in comparison to the analog VRM control we see on many other solutions. This level of control allows for unprecedented voltage accuracy, along with lower signal noise and overall more overclockability due to the tighter stability offered by the DIGI+ digital controller.
DCII (Direct CU II)
ASUS DirectCU II coolers are the ASUS way of saying maximum cooling and plenty of quiet with one naming scheme. DirectCU II coolers are direct touch heatpipes to the GPU surface ensuring the heat is wicked away from the GPU and up into the cooling fin array as quickly as possible. From there the custom shrouded dual fans push air through the fins effectively but most important quietly to keep the GPU as cool as possible so hopefully it will never hit a temp to need a higher or noisier fan speed. The air pushing through the fin array also helps cool board components and the VRM cooler as well which is a nice little added bonus to this style cooler since we all know cooler components tend to run stronger, longer and with better efficiency.
AS you see above the heatpipes on this cooler are massive and they are configured in such a way that they maximize the cooling efficiency of the fan airflow from the DirectCU II Cooler.
ASUS Introduced the VGA Hotwire functionality quite some time ago on the Rampage IV Extreme. It is designed to make hardware level voltage monitoring and adjustment much easier than what has been seen previously with usage of soldered trimmers.
ASUS places pin headers directly on the motherboard which allows simple plug in connectivity for the wiring going to the GPU. There are three connectivity points for three different voltages that can be monitored and adjusted.
Here we see the attachment points for the VGA Hotwire on the HD 7970 DirectCU II card. These require some soldering on the card of the wires through the holes to allow connectivity of the VGA Hotwire feature. Also once those are connected there are 2 solder pads just next to the OVC connection which need to be shorted to enable the GPU Hotwire adjustment function.
NOTE: The VGA Hotwire function is a manual hardware level voltage control and is only recommended for advanced users, and usage of the function via soldering on the card most definitely will void any applicable warranties.
Eyefinity 6 Ready
The HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP edition card comes with dual DVI and quad DisplayPort connections for full Eyefinity 6 support which means from this single card you can have a massive panel array just waiting to blast you games to you in an insane surround or large scale environment.
Dust proof Fan Technology
You would think that by now everyone would know that one of the number one killer of a fan is the dirt and dust it comes into contact with. Many fans simply are not sealed in such a way that it can keep dust out and in many cases they are not sealed at all and you can see the sensitive winding area clearly exposed just by looking at the gap.
Here you can see that the ASUS solution is not just sealing the hub from dust but having 2 levels of sealing which means that over the lifespan of the cooler you can expect a much lower likelihood that you will get the grinding or simply the failing that you normally get from the unprotected fan as seen above.
We cannot count how many times we have had a perfectly good card or cooler just to have it become useless because the fan died.
ASUS offers its own software utility and its functionality has grown with generations just like the cards it supports. Of course the card can be overclocked but also voltages can be tweaked and within the GPU Tweak app we can even launch the GPU info utility which is a full custom version of GPUz. This is a really cool feature and a benefit especially to benchmarkers who we can definitely see using this card with some of the awesome tweaks we will discuss in the card overview.
There are many tools within the GPU Tweak menus some a little more hidden than others. First off directly form the GPU Tweak utility itself you can check for BIOS updates and even update from within the program. For anyone who’s ever updated a vBIOS before knows that having a tool that can do this in a mere few clicks is really handy.
The charts besides offering real time monitoring can also be setup to log thermals, voltages and clocks so that after benchmark or gaming runs you can see if there was any thermal issues or throttling that may have affected performance.
PCI-E Power LEDs
One really cool feature is that there are status LED’s on each PCI-E connector and these help you recognize that power is actively being sent to each connector of the card.
The dual greens seen above indicate everything is working well. However if the PCI-E cable is not active or is not installed at all, it will give you the red light which tells you something is wrong. We could definitely see some value in this when diagnosing multi card setups or even single card issues. A dead PCI-E power cable could cause you to pull your hair out without these kinds of indicators.
PCI Express Gen 3 Capable
ASUS wants to ensure everyone is aware that PCI-E 3.0 is here and ASUS is ready with not only cards such as this but boards to support it as well.
Overview of the ASUS HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP
This packaging is something we have seen before. This equestrian warrior design has been used for a while, though we’re not exactly sure who the character is supposed to be. The rear of the box shows some key specs along with some minor detailing of the key features such as the DirectCU II thermal and VGA Hotwire functions.
Here is what you get once you remove the GPU and foam and expose the accessories section.
- Installation Disc
- Instruction Manual
- MOSFET Heatsink for LN2 benchmarking usage
- Dual 6 Pin PCI-E to 8 Pin PCI-E Adapter
- DVI>HDMI Adapter
- Extended Crossfire Bridge
The accessory package is nice and covers not just connectivity but also the VRM heatsink should the card be moved to a benchmarking usage and extreme cooling is employed. This is above what some manufacturers offer in their high end cards as it allows cooling of the VRM by a properly sized cooling fin array, while in other cases you would need to figure out a way to cool the VRM by yourself.
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Here we see the front and rear of the card, and you can clearly see that the card is massive. It is definitely three slots thick and even the pictures don’t really convey exactly how big this card is. The large dual front fans are used to blast cooling air through the DCII fin arrays and keep the GPU and other components below it nice and cool. The backplate helps stiffen the card, and also helps dissipate heat as almost a heatsink would.
Click Images to Enlarge
The I/O side has enough connectors to allow for Eyefinity 6. The card offers four DisplayPorts and dual DVI connectors. This is plenty of connectivity for any display setup we would use, and most people use 1-3 displays, so offering up to 6 is rather extreme.
Click Images to Enlarge
The power end is fed by dual 8 pin PCI-E power connectors which means this card has more than enough available power for some very strong loading conditions at extreme clocks. Here at the rear in the middle of the backplate right behind the GPU is a small opening exposing the SAP Caps which provide the extra little jump the GPU may need when load suddenly spikes up which allows the VRM to respond without a vdrop or sudden unstable voltage condition.
Popping the Top off the TOP
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The heatsink comes off with the complete bracket assembly and all rather easy by just removing all of the screws (Dont forget the 4 in the IO area) and it will simply come off the card. The backplate is also retained by the same screws so it will fall or lift away as well exposing the complete PCB. The GPU is a HF 7970 model Tahiti GPU which was specially sorted for its ability to attain (and retain) high clockspeeds.
Click Images to Enlarge
Here you can see the dual LEDs which show power status to the two 8 Pin PCI-E connectors Also further up the PCB edge you can see the VGA Hotwire mod points which is where we solder the necessary wires in place to allow the hardware level voltage monitoring and tweaking necessary for extreme overclocking of the card. Also near the far side we find the vPLL adjustment along with the CrossFire bridge and the toggle switch for selection of the 2 physical BIOS chips on the card.
Click Images to Enlarge
After looking over all of that we move to the final section which is the VRM. The VRM is pushed by our good friend the DIGI+ controller which has been proven time and time again to be a very capable performer with its ability to balance both extreme performance with great efficiency. The DIGI+ controller in this case is pushing a 12 Phase VRM which shoudl be more than enough to beat up soem monster clocks especially in an extreme cooling condition.
Testing & Methodology
We’ve expanded our testing suite considerably since the X79 chipset release, and will continue to use the same methods for most of the motherboards and CPU’s we test. In the interests of thoroughness and accurate results, we run each test at least three times, and some tests more than that. We average the total of all the tests from each benchmark then report the average here.
The OS we use is Windows 7 Pro 64bit with all patches and updates applied. We also use the latest drivers available for the motherboard and any devices attached to the computer. We do not disable background tasks or tweak the OS or system in any way. We turn off drive indexing and daily defragging. We also turn off Prefetch and Superfetch. This is not an attempt to produce bigger benchmark numbers. Drive indexing and defragging can interfere with testing and produce confusing numbers. If a test were to be run while a drive was being indexed or defragged, and then the same test was later run when these processes were off, the two results would be contradictory and erroneous. As we cannot control when defragging and indexing occur precisely enough to guarantee that they won’t interfere with testing, we opt to disable the features entirely.
Prefetch tries to predict what users will load the next time they boot the machine by caching the relevant files and storing them for later use. We want to learn how the program runs without any of the files being cached, and we disable it so that each test run we do not have to clear Prefetch to get accurate numbers. Lastly we disable Superfetch. Superfetch loads often-used programs into the memory. It is one of the reasons that Windows occupies so much memory. Vista fills the memory in an attempt to predict what users will load. Having one test run with files cached, and another test run with the files un-cached would result in inaccurate numbers. Again, since we can’t control its timings so precisely, it we turn it off. Because these four features can potentially interfere with benchmarking, and and are out of our control, we disable them. We do not disable anything else.
We are revamping our testing method in order to better represent motherboard performance and offering to the consumer. Also we want to make it an easier read for you without miles of endless charts. We ask that you provide feedback in an effort to help us deliver better reviews for you.
|Case||Thermaltake Level 10 GT|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-3770K/Intel Core i7-2600K|
|Motherboard||ASUS Maximus V Gene
|Ram||16GbpsB Patriot Viper Xtreme 2400MHz +|
|CPU Cooler||Swiftech H20-220 Edge|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital Velociraptor 300GB|
|SSD||Intel 510 series SATA III 120GB|
|GPU||ASUS HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP|
|PSU||Thermaltake Toughpower XT 1275W Platinum|
|Mouse||Tt eSPORTS Black gaming mouse|
|Keyboard||Tt eSPORTS Meka G1 mechanical gaming keyboard|
We will use the following applications to test the performance of the graphics card.
Synthetic Benchmarks & Games
|Alien Vs Predator|
|Batman: Arkham City|
The ASUS HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP edition card has a specially sorted GPU and super strong SAP components ready to push the limits. So now we just need to find where this limit is.
Starting up we first found the GPU limit on air was around 1260MHz, which is rather good. This should make for some amazing gaming increases for users looking to get that last little edge in their favorite games.
Memory overclocking was definitely nice as we saw some real gains here as well with stability capping out at around 1700 MHz so backing it to 1680 MHz provided us a so-called “safe zone”. Even then it was still a very high clock so we cannot say that it would not cause some sort of degradation over the life of the card.
|Clock||Stock Frequency|| Max stable MHz
|GPU Base clock||1000MHz||1260MHz||26%+|
|Memory clock||1400MHz (5600MHz)||1680MHz (6720MHz)||20%+|
In order to ensure no system bottleneck we clocked the CPU to 4.6GHz to ensure there is no reason the system will slow down the cards performance at all.
Some may ask why we chose the mainstream Z77 system, and we can explain. Up until recent the X79 enthusiasts platform did not really support PCI-E Gen 3 on the Nvidia 600 series GPU’s. Because of the inherent instability many have seen with the X79 platform with Gen 3 products, Nvidia has been hesitant to enable it, and now there is a workaround via registry to get it working. However, in order to ensure the most consistent testing possible, we have stuck to the natively supported Z77 platform.
Important note: Overclocking can cause component failure. Please exercise caution when attempting any level of overclock on system components.
The temperatures were recorded with full loaded Heaven benchmark looping for over 30 minutes or longer depending how long it took for the card to level out in temps and sat at a plateau for more than 10 minutes.
|GPU Temperatures||Temperature (Idle/Load)|
|ASUS HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP OC||32C/71C|
|ASUS HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP||32C/67C|
The DirectCU II cooler stayed quiet at idle with no discernible noise from it what so ever and even under heavy load you could only slightly notice it on an open test bench. This should mean that in a chassis for a gaming system its not likely you would hear this card during normal gaming sessions.
Real world/Gaming Benchmarks
3DMark 11 is the newest in Futuremark’s suite of benchmarking utilities. Its a fully capable DirectX11 benchmark which also stresses and analyzes the system performance as a whole to simulate a heavy rendering environment such as a high end game or other app the end user may run. This benchmark was run with Performance settings 5 times and all runs were averaged for the result below.
3DMark 11 shows a nice picture of where each card falls in line coming from our testbench. The HD 7970 DCII TOP is coming in right on the heels of the GTX 680 which is not a bad spot to be by any means. With some overclocking action it could top the 680 by a few marks as well.
Alien Vs. Predator
Alien vs Predator looks like a very AMD friendly game as we see that the HD 7970 DCII tops the charts by a decent margin easily sweeping away the 680.
Metro 2033 has always been extraordinarily stressful for GPU’s, and this has not changed with time. Once again Metro is definitely a little friendlier with AMD cards as the DCII tops the charts from the HD 7970 camp and even the 7950 beating the 680.
Batman: Arkham City
We tested Batman Arkham City and once again the HD 7970 DirectCU II took a top spot but this time by a much smaller margin over the 680 which is a testament to the raw power of this card.
Dirt 3 is heavily marketed by AMD, so we were surprised that the 680 came out slightly on top of the 7970 model. Still, this is a very strong showing for the DirectCU II model card.
The ASUS HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP edition card is amazingly powerful and also carries a very stout design. The card itself is extremely solid with the DirectCU II cooler and bracket tying directly to the backplate. The overall design makes for a solid card that should have little to no PCB issues when installed in the chassis. Its sturdy build ensures that it can stand up to punishment.
The feature set of the HD 7970 DirectCU II Top is vast and very usable from the basic gamer to the extreme enthusiast. The DirectCU II cooler keeps temps nice and cool, ensuring a lot of headroom should you want to overclock the card. VGA Hotwire gives the power to you to hardware mod the card without the need for trimmers or finding a voltage mod point. The HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP edition card is a triple slot design, so multi-card installation could be problematic depending on the platform. The usage of dual cards should not be much of an issue but when installing 3 way or even 4 way CrossFire, you might going to need some sort of PCI-E flexible extenders as the triple slot cooler simply makes the card far too thick to fit with proper spacing. This kind of configuaration could be achieved by placing an LN2 pot on the card and removing the IO bracket, thereby eliminating the fitment issue entirely.
The HD 7970 DirectCU II is positioned in a unique spot to take on the GTX 680 head on. With some overclocking, you could easily eclipse the GTX 680 and get some excellent gaming performance from the card.
When assessing the value of a product many things need to be considered, such as where in the market is this card targeted. Taking into consideration the target market, the feature set, and the added value of the features, the card is very well priced. It is expensive, without a doubt, but with the value gained by the features, the card is well worth the expense. However, keep in mind that as with any special edition card, availability is limited. so if you do not need the super screened TOP GPU you can get away with shaving about ten dollars off teh bill and get the standard clocked model which still carries all of the special features that the TOP does but without the guaranteed GPU binning you get from the TOP models.
|OUR VERDICT: ASUS HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP|
|Summary: The ASUS HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP is a solid performer with plenty of overclocking headroom and performance to spare. For this it receives the Bjorn3D Golden Bear Award.|