ASUS unveiled pictures of its Radeon HD 7850 DirectCU II Dragon Edition graphics card. The new SKU is designed for specific markets, and is expected to be priced on par with reference clock speed models, perhaps even replacing the HD 7850 DirectCU II. Factory overclocked speeds, and a revamped DirectCU II cooler give it the edge, even as it steers clear of the HD 7850 DirectCU TOP.

Regardless of how high-end graphics card SKUs fare in the markets, it's the cost-performance "sweetspot" SKUs ($150-$250), that provide bread and butter to GPU makers.As NVIDIA readies new GPUs for this segment in its GeForce GTX 600 series, AMD wants to make the most out of its current offerings. As part of its efforts, it recently altered the reference clock speeds of SKUs such as HD 7750. ASUS is ready with a new custom-design graphics card targeting select markets (Greater China region is one such market), which offers factory-overclocked speeds and noise-optimized cooling at prices comparable to those of some of the most affordable Radeon HD 7850 graphics cards in the market, perhaps even replacing its own Radeon HD 7850 DirectCU II (reference clocks) graphics card. It is named Dragon HD 7850 DirectCU II. To sweeten the deal in the immensely competitive market segment, ASUS tossed in a few goodies.

To begin with, the ASUS Dragon HD 7850 DirectCU II (SKU: DRAGON HD7850-DC2O-2GD5) features slightly differerent board and cooler designs from those of the ASUS HD 7850 DirectCU II reference (HD7850-DC2-2GD5) and ASUS HD 7850 DirectCU II TOP (HD7850-DC2T-2GD5). The PCB features a strong 6 + 2 + 1 phase VRM, which consists of ASUS' SuperAlloy chokes (don't whine on load), high-grade LFPAK MOSFETs, Japanese condunctive polymer capacitors, tantalum capacitors,  and Digi+ VRM controller (likely rebadged CHiL CHL8318), which works with the included GPU Tweak software to provide software voltage control. The card draws power from two 6-pin PCIe power connectors

The cooling assembly of the ASUS Dragon HD 7850 DirectCU II is a slight variation of the cooler featured on the other HD 7850 DirectCU II cards. While its top stage (shroud and two 80 mm fans) is identical, the heatsink beneath is different, in that it appears to make use of five greatly S-shaped 8 mm-thick nickel-plated copper heat pipes to convey heat from the GPU to the aluminum fin stack. In the other HD 7850 DirectCU II cards, there are just three 8 mm-thick heat pipes, which pass through the length of the heatsink.

While the aluminum fins are stacked along the length of the PCB in this design, they are arranged along the height of the PCB, in the older HD 7850 DirectCU II cooling solution. The aluminum fins themselves feature a curvy, turbulence-inducing design, for better heat dissipation. Beneath the main heatsink is a base plate heatsink that draws heat from the VRM MOSFETs and memory chips. Although there are no hot components on the reverse side of the PCB (that we know of), ASUS strapped the PCB with a back-plate, complete with a "hot surface" caution sticker. 

The ASUS Dragon HD 7850 DirectCU II comes with clock speeds that are higher than AMD reference specifications, but lower than those of the HD 7850 DirectCU II TOP. The GPU is clocked at 910 MHz, and the memory at 1250 MHz (5.00 GHz GDDR5 effective), against AMD reference clock speeds of 860/4800 MHz.  It packs 2 GB of GDDR5 memory, across a 256-bit wide memory interface. Based on the 28 nm "Pitcairn" silicon, the Radeon HD 7850 is armed with 1,024 Graphics CoreNext stream processors. Display outputs have changed with the ASUS Dragon HD 7850 DirectCU II, compared to the other HD 7850 DirectCU II models. This card features two DVI, and one each of standard-size HDMI 1.4a and DisplayPort 1.2, whereas the other cards have two mini-DisplayPort connectors.

Pricing of the ASUS Dragon HD 7850 DirectCU II is a mystery, though it's expected to be highly competitive with the other reference-clocked HD 7850 graphics cards in the market. Expect a US $199-229 price-range, if the card ever makes it stateside.