EVGA’s CES 2017 suite hosted a new set of 10-series GPUs with “ICX” coolers, an effort to rebuff the cooling capabilities of EVGA’s troubled ACX series. The ACX and ICX coolers will coexist (for now, at least), with each SKU taking slightly different price positioning in the market. Although EVGA wouldn’t give us any useful details about the specifications of the ICX cooler, we were able to figure most of it out through observation of the physical product.
For the most part, the ICX cooler has the same ID – the front of the card is nigh-identical to the front of the ACX cards, the LED placement and functionality is the same, the form factor is effectively the same. That’s not special. What’s changed is the cooling mechanisms. Major changes include EVGA’s fundamentally revamped focus of what devices are being cooled on the board. As we’ve demonstrated time and again, the GPU should no longer be the focal point of cooling solutions. Today, with Pascal’s reduced operating voltage (and therefore, temperature), VRMs and VRAM are running at more significant temperatures. Most of the last-gen of GPU cooling solutions don’t put much focus on non-GPU device cooling, and the GPU cores are now efficient enough to demand cooling efforts be diverted to FETs, capacitor banks, and potentially VRAM (though that is less important).
AMD’s Vega GPU architecture has received cursory details pertaining to high-bandwidth caching, an iterative step to CUs (NCUs), and a unified-but-not-unified memory configuration.
Going into this, note that we’re still not 100% briefed on Vega. We’ve worked with AMD to try and better understand the architecture, but the details aren’t fully organized for press just yet; we’re also not privy to product details at this time, which would be those more closely associated with shader counts, memory capacity, and individual SKUs. Instead, we have some high-level architecture discussion. It’s enough for a start.
The second card in our “revisit” series – sort of semi-re-reviews – is the GTX 780 Ti from November of 2013, which originally shipped for $700. This was the flagship of the Kepler architecture, followed later by Maxwell architecture on GTX 900 series GPUs, and then the modern Pascal. The 780 Ti was in competition with AMD’s R9 200 series and (a bit later) R9 300 series cards, and was accompanied by the expected 780, 770, and 760 video cards.
Our last revisit looked at the GTX 770 2GB card, and our next one plans to look at an AMD R9 200-series card. For today, we’re revisiting the GTX 780 Ti 3GB card for an analysis of its performance in 2016, as pitted against the modern GTX 1080, 1070, 1060, 1050 Ti, and RX 480, 470, and others.
Building-up a semi-custom liquid cooling loop is a bit of a new trend, spawned from a surge in AIO dominance over the market. The ease of installation for AIOs greatly exceeds what’s possible with an open loop, with the obvious loss of some customization and uniqueness. The cooling loss, although present, isn’t necessarily a big factor for the types of buyers interested in AIO CLCs rather than open-loop alternatives. Ever since we saw PNY’s solution years ago, though, and then more recently EVGA’s quick disconnect solution, the market has begun to burgeon with semi-custom loop “CLCs.”
An example of these semi-custom CLCs would be the EK Waterblocks Predator XLC 280 that we benchmarked in our Kraken X62 review. Today’s review also focuses on one of these semi-custom liquid cooling solutions, featuring benchmarks of the Alphacool Eiswolf GPX Pro on a GTX 1080. Our testing looks into thermal performance under baseline conditions (versus a GN Hybrid DIY option), frequency stability and performance, overclocking, and FPS impact. We’ve got a few noise and CPU tests too, though this will primarily focus on the GPU aspect of the cooling. The Alphacool Eiswolf GPX Pro does not work as an out-of-box product, necessitating our purchase of the Alphacool Eisbaer to hook into the system (CPU cooler + radiator). The Eiswolf GPX Pro is a $130 unit, and the Eisbaer cost us ~$145.
This unit was provided by viewer and reader ‘Eric’ on loan for review. Thanks, Eric!
GN reader ‘Eric’ reached-out to us to loan his Alphacool Eiswolf GPX Pro cooling block, which we’ve now applied to a GTX 1080 Founders Edition card. The Eiswolf build process isn’t too difficult – certainly easier than the tear-down of the average FE card. The Eiswolf GPX Pro has an on-card pump with designated in/out tubes, each terminating in threaded quick release valves that hook into a semi-open loop system. We later purchased an Alphacool Eisbaer for our radiator and CPU cooler, then connected them all together.
The review of the Eiswolf will be posted tomorrow, followed shortly by a look at EK WB’s Predator XLC. For today, we’re just posting the build log that our Patreon backers have helped produce.
Two EVGA GTX 1080 FTW cards have now been run through a few dozen hours of testing, each passing through real-world, synthetic, and torture testing. We've been following this story since its onset, initially validating preliminary thermal results with thermal imaging, but later stating that we wanted to follow-up with direct thermocouple probes to the MOSFETs and PCB. The goal with which we set forth was to create the end-all, be-all set of test data for VRM thermals. We have tested every reasonable scenario for these cards, including SLI, and have even intentionally attempted to incinerate the cards by running ridiculous use scenarios.
Thermocouples were attached directly to the back-side of the PCB (hotspot previously discovered), the opposing MOSFET (#2, from bottom-up), and MOSFET #7. The seventh and second MOSFETs are those which seem to be most commonly singed or scorched in user photos of allegedly failed EVGA 10-series ACX 3.0 cards, including the GTX 1060 and GTX 1070. Our direct probe contact to these MOSFETs will provide more finality to testing results, with significantly greater accuracy and understanding than can be achieved with a thermal imager pointed at the rear-side of the PCB. Even just testing with a backplate isn't really ideal with thermal cameras, as the emissivity of the metal begins to make for questionable results -- not to mention the fact that the plate visually obstructs the actual components. And, although we did mirror EVGA & Tom's DE's testing methodology when checking the impact of thermal pads on the cards, even this approach is not perfect (it does turn out that we were pretty damn accurate, though, but it's not perfect. More on that later.). The pads act as an insulator, again hiding the components and assisting in the spread of heat across a larger surface area. That's what they're designed to do, of course, but for a true reading, we needed today's tests.
So begin our buyer's guides for the season. The first of our Black Friday & holiday buyer's guides is focusing on the top video cards under $200, highlighting ideal graphics cards for 1080p gaming. We've reviewed each of the GPUs used in these video cards, and are able to use that benchmark data to determine top performers for the dollar.
This generation's releases offer, in order of ascending MSRP, the RX 460 ($100), GTX 1050 ($110), GTX 1050 Ti ($140), RX 470 ($170), RX 480 4GB ($200), and GTX 1060 3GB ($200). A few active sales offer rebates and discounts that drop a few noteworthy cards, like the 4GB RX 480 and 3GB GTX 1060, down to below MSRP. The same is true for at least one RX 470.
As we've drawn a clear price line between each of the major GPUs that presently exists in this segment, we're making it a point to specifically highlight cards that are discounted or higher performance per dollar. This is a quick reference guide for graphics cards under $200; for the full details and all the caveats, always refer back to our reviews.
This tutorial walks through the process of installing EVGA's thermal pad mod kit on GTX 1080 FTW, 1070 FTW, and non-FTW cards of similar PCB design. Our first article on EVGA's MOSFET and VRM temperatures can be found here, but we more recently posted thermographic imaging and testing data pertaining to EVGA's solution to its VRM problems. If you're out of the loop, start with that content, then come back here for a tutorial on applying EVGA's fix.
The thermal mod kit from EVGA includes two thermal pads, for which we have specified the dimensions below (width/height), a tube of thermal compound, and some instructions. That kit is provided free to affected EVGA customers, but you could also buy your own thermal pads (~$7) of comparable size if EVGA cannot fulfill a request.
We received a shipment of EVGA GTX 1080 FTW cards today and immediately deployed them in our test bench. The cards have undergone about 8 hours of burn-in on the 1080 FTW without thermal pads so far, though we've also got the 1080 FTW with thermal pads for additional testing. In the process of testing this hardware, GamersNexus received a call from EVGA with pertinent updates to the company's VRM temperature solution: The company will now be addressing its VRM heat issues with a BIOS update in addition to the optional thermal pads replacement. We have briefly tested each solution. Our finalized testing will be online within a few days, once we've had more time to burn-in the cards, but we've got initial thermographic imaging and decibel level tests for now.
EVGA's BIOS update will, as we understand it, only modify the fan speed curve so that it is more aggressive. There should not be additional changes to the BIOS beyond this, it seems. Presently, the GTX 1080 FTW tends to max its fans at around ~1600RPM when under load (maxes at around ~1700RPM). This results in a completely acceptable GPU diode reading of roughly 72C (or ~50C delta T over ambient), but doesn't allow for VRM cooling given the lack of thermal interface between the PCB back-side and the backplate. The new fan speed will curve to hit 2200RPM, or a jump to ~80% in Afterburner/Precision from the original ~60% (max ~65%). We've performed initial dB testing to look at the change in noise output versus the fan RPM. Our thermal images also look at the EVGA GTX 1080 FTW with its backplate removed (a stock model) at the original fan RPM and our manually imposed 2200RPM fan speed.