It’s starting to appear that making a custom 5970 makes you part of the ‘cool club’, with three manufacturers going to the effort of giving their own spin on ATI’s highest-end card, which we’ve seen the past two issues from Sapphire and ASUS. However, while the Toxic and Ares both respectively focused on modifying the card, and indeed eschewed the reference cooler in favour of better-performing choices, XFX have chosen a slightly different path for their 5970 Black Edition Limited – of which there will only be 1500 produced worldwide. We asked XFX for one, and we’ve got the fifty-ninth card of the production run. We put it to pasture and let it stretch its legs.
The B.E. Limited arrived at Atomic HQ in one of the biggest boxes we’ve ever received, and even we weren’t expecting such a huge shipment. We leapt out of our chairs and tore it apart, where we soon saw… another box. Huh.
But inside that box was finally what we were waiting for, and peeling open the second inner box revealed… a bag. This bag is roughly 60cm long, with XFX artwork printed all across its surface. It’s got three large pockets on the front for mice, cheesy snacks or energy drinks, and one large compartment in the centre for keyboards or other long-ish implements (we hear that some kinds of “sporting devices” may fit inside, but that’s the extent of our knowledge of that scary world).
Luckily enough we weren’t simply shipped a bag, and inside the bag lay a few goodies: six mini-DisplayPort adapters that give two DVI, HDMI and two full-size DisplayPort connectors; as well as a big gun. A gun, for crying out loud!
That’s what we would have said, if it were real (which would have been awesome, if somewhat frightening and illegal), but it’s still rather cool regardless. XFX have packed their 5970 inside a replica P90-like bullpup submachinegun, and after we opened it to remove the card – safely nestled inside with protective foam – we promptly shot everyone in the office with our death bullets. Fake ones, but hey, don’t incur our wrath! We were so amused by the case we took a video of it, which you can see online here. There was probably something else we had to… yes! There’s a card to look at too. It’s quite powerful, we hear. Let’s go do that, shall we?
A 5970, Limited
The card starts out with a modest enough aim at performance computing, and running under the hood are two RV870 XT cores. Manufactured in the now-standard 40nm process, these each boast 1600 stream processors for a combined total of 3200, and each has exclusive access to a huge 2GB of GDDR5 memory. Though not connected to the memory chips through as wide a connection as the competition from NVIDIA (Fermi uses a 384-bit memory bus), the RV870 cores utilise a 256-bit memory bus that give plenty of bandwidth to the memory chips in all but the most extreme of circumstances. Large textures with high amounts of antialiasing shouldn’t be a problem for this beast.
XFX take that formula, which every standard 5970 shares, and boost the core frequencies by 125MHz to a factory of 850MHz, increasing the performance by forcing the stream processors to compute at a higher rate. With higher clocks comes a higher heat load, which XFX manage through the introduction of a custom-designed, though still familiar heatsink.
It keeps the black plastic shroud that has been a mainstay of the 58xx series, though the intake fan has been relocated from its original position at the end of the card to take pride of place in the centre. Sitting between the two cores, this fan glows brightly with red LEDs, and makes a freaking annoying roar – from an idle of 75.8dBA that can only be classified as “alright, please just be quiet now” to a load that is effectively the same level of noise, this is nowhere near the pleasant 52.4dBA that the ASUS Ares managed to pull with the same tech.
The B.E. Limited does manage to get some impressive temperatures from the card, though, and the roaring fan keeps temperatures to an impressive 32 degrees at idle while peaking at 63. Memory chips are satisfyingly cooled by a custom aluminium heatsink that runs along the top ridge of the card, though it still becomes noticeably hot under load; and the entire card vents a lot of heat within the case.
Hot, noisy performance
Like the gaping maw of a volcano, staring at the B.E while running is sure to singe an eyebrow or two, with performance high enough to cause some serious blistering. Of the three custom-designed 5970 cards we’ve looked at the XFX offering is fastest in both Crysis and 3DMark Vantage by six average frames a second and a thousand points respectively, though the lack of dedicated tessellation hardware means that performance in Heaven and our new Lost Planet 2 benchmark suffers markedly.
Still, it’s the first time XFX have tried its hand at a limited edition card, and noise aside they’ve put together a compelling package. It’s just a shame no-one will ever be able to find one!
In the meantime, we’ll be busy playing with our new toy.