Articles: Graphics

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PC gamers often have to choose between speed and silence. Some of them are ready to put up with the roar of two Radeon X1900 XT in a CrossFire subsystem, but most people wouldn’t want to have a computer that is as loud as to require you wearing earphones to protect against noise. On the other hand, the graphics subsystem must be powerful enough to run modern games at a high speed. It won’t make a good gaming platform otherwise, however quiet it may be.

Graphics card manufacturers try to meet users’ demands and equip their solutions with coolers that have better noise characteristics than the reference ones, yet perfect silence could only be achieved with a passive cooling system. And here the manufacturers encounter the heat dissipation problem: powerful gaming solutions generate too much heat for a passive cooler to cope with. Particularly, our tests of graphics cards from ASUS with the SilentCool cooler – the 7800 GT Top Silent and the Extreme N6600 GT Silencer models – showed that despite the elaborate design of the cooler those graphics cards were prone to overheat without additional air cooling from a GPU fan or system fan on the side panel of the PC case. This might have been expected since Nvidia’s G70 and NV43 chips installed on the mentioned solutions dissipate quite a lot of heat whereas any passive cooler that relies only on inter-case ventilation is inferior in efficiency to even the simplest of active coolers.

Theoretically, it is possible to make a passive cooler acceptably efficient by increasing the area of its heat-dissipating elements, but this only leads to an increase in size and weight beyond all reasonable measures. The mentioned ASUS SilentCool is not small or light as it is, and would become downright monstrous if it were adapted to cool a Radeon X1900 XTX that dissipates about 120W of heat power. Until recently, the performance vs. silence dilemma was extremely hard to solve and only entry-level devices used to come out with passive coolers. Such solutions have a big market but are mostly intended for installation into multimedia centers for which noise level is a key characteristic: there are few people who would enjoy watching a movie or listening to music under an incessant humming of the cooler. Graphics cards of this kind had no worth in gamer’s eyes due to very low performance in latest games. But heat dissipation of GPUs declined after the leading manufacturers transitioned to 0.09-micron tech process, so it has now become possible to create a silent and relatively compact graphics card that would suit for playing games.

Of course, this doesn’t refer to top-end solutions. It’s the realm of high frequencies, of power consumption and heat dissipation of 80W and higher, even beyond 100W. It is obviously impossible to cool such a graphics card with a passive cooler. On the contrary, some devices like the Sapphire Toxic Radeon X1900 XTX come equipped with liquid cooling systems even!

We are now talking about mainstream-class devices, particularly about the Nvidia GeForce 7600 GT. The heart of this graphics card is the G73 chip, designed specially for mainstream products and manufactured on TSMC facilities using 0.09-micro tech process with low-k dielectrics. The GeForce 7600 GT is quite fast, although doesn’t allow using high resolutions along with FSAA in latest 3D games. The peak power consumption of this graphics card is a mere 35W which makes it plausible to create a passively cooled, i.e. absolutely noiseless, version of this device. Gigabyte tried that and has released its GV-NX76T256D-RH “Silent Pipe II” to the public. Let’s learn more about this device!

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