Since the introduction of the original Radeon HD 6970 last year, manufacturers have been hard at work, redesigning AMD's original design with their own designs and cooling solutions to stand out from the crowd. Today we have GIGABYTE's first non-reference design HD 6970 which sports a redesigned PCB, improved power circuitry, boosted clock speeds and a dual-slot triple-fan cooling solution. So how does this perform against AMD's reference design? Let's fire up our test bench and find out!
The GIGABYTE HD 6970 OC measures in at approximately 278 millimetres in length (10.94 inches) similar to a reference design, and requires a minimum of 550W or greater system power supply. Cooling is provided by a custom WINDFORCE X3 solution that combines a large vapour chamber, multiple heatpipes and large aluminium fin array allowing for efficient heat transfer from the HD 6970 graphics processor core.
As with the majority of new 6900-series graphics cards it features support for AMD's Eyefinity multi-display technology, AMD Accelerated Parallel Processing (APP), HD3D technology, CrossFireX, PowerTune power management technology and Microsoft DirectX 11 game support. It also supports UVD 3, a set of dedicated video playback accelerators and video quality enhancements, as well as Dual-stream HD (1080p) playback support. More information about these technologies can be found here (PDF).
Inside the box we find a user manual detailing installation, product features and general requirements of the video card. A software and driver disc for installation is also included. Two PCI-Express to Molex power converters are present for the 6-pin and 8-pin power connectors on the card, as well as a DVI to HDMI converter, CrossFireX bridge and gold plated HDMI cable. Overall a well executed package and more than you tend to get from other manufacturers.
In terms of the display outputs on the back of the card, GIGABYTE's HD 6970 OC moves away from AMD's reference design by replacing the two mini-DisplayPorts with one full-sized DisplayPort connector. One HDMI and two DVI ports are still included as per the reference design. This configuration still allows up to four monitors based on GIGABYTE's website, without the need of a second graphics card.
A unique technology featured on GIGABYTE's motherboards has come to graphics cards in the form of the Ultra Durable VGA technology banner. This includes a 2oz copper design for a lower working temperature and a reduction of hotspots, better overclocking and better power efficiency, as well as Japanese solid capacitors, Tier 1 memory from Samsung and Hynix, as well as quality Ferrite Core chokes and MOSFETs adding to the benefits of the 2oz copper design. You'll find the majority of non-reference GIGABYTE graphics cards sporting this logo, while SuperOverclock (SOC) cards feature the Ultra Durable VGA Plus+ logo.
On the edge of the card you'll see a set of CrossFireX connectors. Unlike mainstream video cards such as the 6870 and 6850, the 6970 allows two, three and four-way CrossFireX with supporting motherboards, just like we find on AMD's reference design.
At the end of the card there are a pair of PCI-Express power connectors, one 6-pin and 8-pin, which is a standard offering for performance/enthusiast level of a video card, and in-line with AMD's reference design.
One of the most obvious ways that GIGABYTE's card differs from the original reference design, apart from the PCB and improved power circuitry, is the cooling system. The card sports GIGABYTE's own WINDFORCE X3 thermal cooling solution with a large vapour chamber and multiple heatipes to transfer the GPU's heat to an aluminium heatsink spanning the whole PCB, which is then cooled by air pushed by three PWM controlled fans.
Three-quarters of the cooling solution is a large vapour chamber with an aluminium fan array, similar to the size of AMD's reference design if not slightly larger. The last quarter of the card is linked to this vapour chamber by two large nickel plated heatpipe's further moving heat to a separate heatsink at the far end of the card, directly underneath the third cooling fan near the power connectors.
In the picture below you can see one of the two heatipes linked to the forward part of the card - underneath that is a small glimpse of the upgraded capacitors and chokes. Thankfully GIGABYTE have covered the MOSFETs under an aluminium heatsink that is cooled by the multiple WINDFORCE cooling fans to make sure the card is kept cool at all times, and reduce the chance of heat spots and components failing during long periods of load.