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We’ve covered the new graphics cards from ASUS based on 28nm AMD GPU technology previously, but final samples have landed at the office, so I snuck into a meeting room and decided to take some pictures for you to enjoy. These are the HD 7970 and HD 7950 cards, both using AMD “Tahiti” graphics processors made in a 28nm process and sporting a massive 4.3 billion transistors.

They’re an entirely new generation of graphics power for PC enthusiasts, and represent the top end of the new AMD roster – as is traditional by now, the “X900″ moniker refers to high-grade performance models, and so the 7970 and 7950 are the most powerful of their respective series.

Both cards use a large 384-bit memory interface with 3GB of GDDR5 video RAM. They at long last bring true PCI Express 3.0 compatibility, as well as DX11.1 enhancement. AMD has restructured the GPU into the so-called Graphics Core Next architecture, which consists of computing clusters that have stream processors, texture, ROP, stencil, and compute cores in groups for better parallel computing performance. The 7970 uses 2048 stream processors, while the 7950 has 1792 of those. Either way, this is genuinely incredible power brought to bear on PC applications, especially games. Plus, the power efficient and cool-running 28nm foundation means an overclock friendly environment that the more adventurous out there will love.

ASUS has added a whole batch of exclusive features, and of course you get the trademark quality manufacturing that the brand is known for with these two. The boxes look about the same at first glance, starring our good friends the demonic knight and his venerable warhorse. One day we will certainly miss this duo!

Riding into action twice again!

As you can clearly see from the model names, these are not straight reference cards, they’re the ASUS DirectCU II edition, which uses direct cooling with copper heatpipes and dual fans, as well as bigger and more conductive shrouds. The overall effect of DirectCU II is noticeable in that these are the coolest and quietest 7900 cards available, averaging 14dB lower noise than stock models and running about 20% cooler.

Let’s get ‘em open, then. First thing you get is this stylish inner box:

ASUS makes sure cards get to their destination snug and safe, so the inside of boxes is likewise of very high quality.

Both cards have nice and strong foam packing to secure contents, with the driver disc and manual placed on top. I recommend you go to AMD’s site for the latest drivers, although in this case you get the January drivers in the box, and the February ones have yet to come out.

Each card ships with its set of accessories, and they’re not exactly the same. This is the 7950 box, which comes with assorted power and display adapters and cables, as well as a CrossFire bridge.

HD 7950 with accessories out of the box

The HD 7950 uses a DirectCU II shroud that we’ve seen in previous-generation ASUS graphics cards based on both AMD and NVIDIA GPUs. It’s a lengthy card, and takes up three expansion slots, so please make sure your case can fit it before purchasing.

Witness the might of this dual-fan beast!

From the side, you can see just how large the DirectCU II shroud is, yet at the same time it’s quite well-ventilated to keep air circulating. I’d like to remind you once more to keep three slots free for this behemoth, as it’s a tall card. The card requires two 6-pin power connectors.

Support for AMD Eyefinity multi-screen display technology has come of age with these powerful new cards. Even the more modest 7950 easily carries four screens on one card:

HDMI, DVI, and two DisplayPorts...delicious!

One can never have enough power delivery with a juggernaut like the 7950 (not to mention its bigger version the 7970, which we’ll get to in a minute), and so ASUS engineers have worked hard to refine the circuitry here. The front of the card leaves some of the shroud open, so you can check out the beefy capacitors (as well as the all-copper heatpipes).

Up your score with more ore!

While the 7950 is already a colossus in terms of sheer graphics grit and can laugh in the face of even the most demanding PC games available right now, its 7970 sibling takes crazy-powerful to eleven. To tap this ludicrous graphics muscle quotient, those workaholics at ASUS product management and engineering went about burning the midnight oil, and the result is the first card with DIGI+ VRM digital power delivery, which comes from ASUS motherboards. To be double safe, they also gave the 7970 Super Alloy Power components. That’s not just a fancy name, those capacitors, chokes, and MOSFETs cost a lot more and contain higher-grade formulations that resist heat, vibration, buzzing, and all sorts of fluctuations much better than standard parts. As a result, the 7970 is significantly better-suited to overclocking, even when compared to the 7950.

OK, time to have a quick look at that 7970.

I am 7970. Hear me roar 14dB quieter.

While the 7950 comes with a shroud sourced from previous DirectCU II cards, the 7970 has its very own cooler design, giving it a very sleek, tight, aggressive, and nicely boxy look. I personally prefer this design to the more open plan feel of the 7950 cooler, but the choice is yours.

Power delivery is increased for the 7970, so it needs two 8-pin connectors:

Commensurate with its greater power, the 7970 from ASUS has the pull to manage six-screen AMD Eyefinity, with no adapter needed. Thus, it comes with two DVI and four DisplayPort outs. Nice!

Six screens of fascination

Keeping all this together on the back is a tough backplate, similar to the one we’ve seen on the ASUS GTX 580 not so long ago. It’s emblazoned with the DirectCU II name to remind you what you’re getting for your hard-earned cash (or credit). This backplate of course also helps with heat mitigation, and assists in preventing the card/PCB from deforming due to extreme usage.

Go on, put your back into it!

The 7970 uses a closed-off shroud that, as mentioned before, I personally find more visually pleasing. However, because of its presence we can’t readily get a good look at those Super Alloy Power components inside:

Another tower of power

The accessories that come with the 7970 are mostly the same as those bundled with the 7950, except you also get an extra heatsink for the MOS area in case you decide to take off the cooler and go for extra overclocking, which may necessitate added cooling. This heatsink even comes with a nice layer of thermal paste, which looks quite…cool.

Get a grip on better overclocking

While on the topic of overclocking, both cards have ASUS GPU Tweak in the box. This software interface allows for quick editing and modifying of clock speeds, voltages, and fan settings. The latest version is easier to use, more intuitive, and better for benchmarking with clock/voltage syncing and 2D/3D mode locking. You can also use the VGA Hotwire feature on the 7970, which helps make DIY overvolting and soldering more approachable.

It’s time for the inevitable comparison of the two cards. Surprisingly, the 7950 is actually taller than the 7970:

That's the 7950 on the right

Ditto for length, the 7950 is slightly longer than its peer, requiring more space in the case:

The 7950 is on the bottom in this pic

If you’re wondering which card to get, I have to admit it’s not an easy choice, since both are quite overpowered, and both have similar attractions going for them: 28nm technology, DX11.1, PCI Express 3.0, and of course ASUS DirectCU II cooling. I would likely get the 7970 in this match up, but it’s not a superbly easy choice to make, since the 7970 does cost more no matter what market you’re in. At any rate, these are two amazing cards, and with the upcoming expansion of the AMD 7000 series, it’d be interesting to see where 28nm technology is going.

Let us know your thoughts on these rather revolutionary graphics cards! Do you want one for yourself?

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