WindForce 5X Cooling System
Although with a custom design, the PCB of the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 680 SOC WindForce 5X doesn’t differ dramatically from what we’ve seen with other products from ASUS, MSI and even Gigabyte itself. The only truly unique feature of the card is its WindForce 5X cooler. Gigabyte is proud of this original design which integrates a thermal chamber, nine 6mm copper heat pipes, a gigantic aluminum heatsink and five 40mm fans.
Notwithstanding its huge weight (the graphics card is as heavy as 1622 grams together with the cooler!) the cooling system is only secured on the PCB with six screws, four of which are near the corners of the GPU and two more are on the power circuit heatsink.
The protective casing is somewhat more difficult to remove. But once taken off, it becomes clear that the casing is decorative more than protective.
As we can see, the fins are curved to make the sides of the heatsink blank and solid whereas the long steel bar only serves as a fastener for the casing itself.
The heatsink being 45 mm thick, the thermal chamber wouldn’t be able to uniformly distribute the heat among the fins. That's why the heatsink is equipped with as many as nine copper heat pipes, 6 mm in diameter. Four pipes go out on one side, and five pipes go out on the other side, and all of them pierce the top part of the heatsink fins.
There is a layer of dense gray-colored thermal grease between the cooler's base and the GPU. Thermal pads are used for the memory chips and power system components. The details of the heatsinks are all soldered to each other.
The five 40mm fans installed on the top of the heatsink are manufactured by Power Logic (PLA04015S12HH model). They run on ball bearings and support PWM-based regulation.
The fans are installed upside down. That is, they are going to blow the hot air out of the heatsink, sucking it in from below. And if your system case doesn’t have an exhaust fan on the side pane, the hot air from the graphics card will remain inside the chassis and will have to be exhausted by other system fans.
Let check the cooling efficiency of the WindForce 5X cooler. We are going to use five consecutive runs of a pretty resource-consuming Aliens vs. Predator (2010) game with the highest image quality settings in 2560x1440 resolution with 16x anisotropic filtering and MSAA 4x antialiasing:
We used MSI Afterburner 2.2.5 and GPU-Z 0.6.6 as monitoring tools. This test was performed inside a closed system case at 24°C room temperature. All thermal tests were carried out before we took the card apart, i.e. with its default thermal interface still intact.
Here is how this cooler copes with Gigabyte GeForce GTX 680 SOC WindForce 5X graphics card in automatic fan mode and at maximum fan rotation speed:
Automatic fan mode
Maximum fan speed
With the fans regulated automatically, when their speed (according to our monitoring data) was increased up to 7260 RPM, the GPU was 68°C hot, which is an excellent result for an overclocked GK104 chip. And when the fans worked at the maximum speed (9750 RPM according to our monitoring tools), the GPU was only 54°C hot. It’s an indecently low temperature for an overclocked GeForce GTX 680, but also quite unbearable in terms of noise.
Unfortunately, we could not carry out our traditional noise level measurements. There are two reasons for that. First of all, there are three connectors of two types employed for connecting the five fans to the PCB, so we just couldn’t plug them to our monitoring and control unit. The other reason was the defective fan which is shown in the photo above. Its bearing would produce such a roar that we could hardly stand it. The fan would quiet down a little after warming up, but anyway.
If it were not for that defective fan, the WindForce 5X would be subjectively quiet at speeds up to 4000-4500 RPM, comfortable at speeds up to 6000 RPM and noisy at higher speeds. Since the fans rotate at up to 7260 RPM in the automatic regulation mode, we can't really call the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 680 SOC WindForce 5X a quiet graphics card. It is only silent in 2D applications when its fans work at about 2000 RPM, but that's hardly important for a gaming product.