While still civilian models and not ROG products, ASUS TOP graphics cards aren’t named thus just for marketing reasons. When you see a TOP-labeled product, like the new HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP, you can rest assured that something extra has gone into the development process. The TOP designation indicates a more complex and stringent GPU selection procedure, which entails extensive certification and validation. Only a relatively small percentage of the total chips assigned ASUS pass TOP certification, and as a result these models typically ship factory-overclocked, as they prove themselves capable of running at higher clock speeds.
The research and development people are pretty tight lipped about it all, but they did give me some “guerilla” insights into the workings of TOP processing. Only a few photos, though, and not very high quality at that, so apologies in advance!
The first step involves careful and prolonged selection of all GPUs available to engineers. Once the assessors complete various software, hardware, and endurance tests, the chosen few GPUs move on to the next phase. The remainder become non-TOP models, and pass their own certification process, which isn’t as complicated as the TOP path.
The labs then use the selected GPUs to assemble complete graphics cards, with PCBs and memory. The products are put under high resolution automated optical inspection (AOI) hardware for an extended certification stage that ferrets out any defects or flaws in manufacturing (special attention given to soldering and contact points, such as data interfaces).
Should the cards prove TOP-worthy, they are arranged into batches by date of production, and move on to the validation stage. Here ASUS engineers put them through the wringer, subjecting products to overclocking conditions, high load, and high temperatures. All tests are carefully formulated based on empirical research data collected over prolonged periods of time, and with previous generations added to the equation for further reference. Should even one card of a batch fail the test, the entire lot gets sent back to the third party assessors for another round of selection.
This process is considerably longer than the one employed for non-TOP graphics cards.