A new vapor chamber design from AMD threw a curve ball at aftermarket cooler vendors. Fortunately, a handful of innovative companies made the changes necessary to counter some of what we think AMD screwed up with its reference Radeon HD 7970 heat sink and fan combination. Arctic, Deepcool, and EKWB are the first three to get hardware into our lab.
Arctic Cooling Accelero Xtreme 7970
Arctic hit a home run with its Accelero Xtreme, a cooler design that we first saw back in 2008. The Accelero Xtreme III is the newest iteration, though the company rebranded it the Accelero Xtreme 7970 with a cooling block modified to fit AMD's Radeon HD 7900-series cards.
The Accelero Xtreme 7970 operates both quietly and coolly. Its fan headers plug right into the graphics card for convenience and control, and the combination effectively brings down temperatures even in the face of aggressive overclocking. An $80 price tag is certainly appropriate in light of what the competition is asking. Our sole concern is that a fully built-up reference card with this cooler is 12.5" long, limiting its use in certain enclosures.
Aside from that one issue, Arctic's Accelero Xtreme 7970 is an excellent way to combat the reference Radeon HD 7970's loud centrifugal fan and vapor chamber-based heat sink. Perhaps more significant is the fact that it seems to be the only natively-compatible Radeon HD 7900-series aftermarket cooling option available for purchase in North America right now.
Deepcool Dracula 7970
Deepcool's generic Dracula is already available in North America. However, its Radeon HD 7970-compatible version is still en route, according to the company. If it were available today, the Dracula's $75 MSRP would be about five dollars less than the Accelero Xtreme 7970. Without fans, though, it quickly gets more expensive.
The Dracula 7970 is a powerful cooler for the Radeon HD 7970. Though it performed slightly below Arctic's Accelero Xtreme 7970 under load, remember that we armed it with a pair of 92 mm fans. The heat sink accommodates as many as two 140 mm or three 120 mm fans, so it's possible to improve this product's cooling potential if you're willing to spend the money. Deepcool's solution also measures 11.5" long, a full inch shorter than the Accelero Xtreme. If you have a space-constrained chassis, that inch could be critical.
On the other hand, the Dracula is very wide once you factor in its cooling fan bracket. It's conceivable to fit one of these inside an enthusiast-oriented enclosure, but two in CrossFire probably isn't going to happen. And with the price of fans added to its total, going the Deepcool route can get pretty expensive.
EK-VGA Supreme HF HD7970 Cu Adapter
EKWB's copper shim makes it possible to use more common coolers with flat contact surfaces and still maintain compatibility with AMD's Radeon HD 7970. Priced at $4 from frozencpu.com, this little adapter is an inexpensive way to help recycle a cooler you have on-hand without needing to drop $80 on something new.
Unfortunately, going that route imposes lower performance than a purpose-built heat sink for AMD's flagship graphics card. Transferring heat through an additional medium, plus two layers of thermal grease, results in GPU temperatures 10 degrees higher under load compared to Arctic's Accelero Xtreme 7970, which we'd consider a native solution.
Making an investment in a high-performance cooler like the Accelero should yield much better thermal and acoustic performance than a reference heat sink and fan combo. Otherwise, why buy it? The EKWB copper shim does the job it's supposed to. However, realizing a moderate gain required a high-end cooler like the Accelero III. A less-capable aftermarket heat sink wouldn't have fared as well, and we would have ended up even closer to what AMD's reference vapor chamber-based implementation was already able to do.