X299 VRM thermals have been a topic of interest in the lab lately, as we’ve continued to learn how to work with our new power testing tools and have fully revamped CPU thermal testing. The time will come eventually, but for now, we’ve worked with Buildzoid to run some calculations on VRM thermals with the Gigabyte X299 Gaming 9 motherboard. These numbers are based off of GN testing for this video, where we overclocked the CPU to 4.5~4.6GHz and checked for power consumption at the 8-pin headers (of which there are two).

The Gigabyte X299 Gaming 9 motherboard makes some interesting choices with its VRM components, ultimately balancing between “ridiculous overkill,” to quote Buildzoid, and merely adequacy. The board is one of the higher quality motherboards out there right now, and so is worth a watch on the PCB break-down:

Following our AMD Radeon Vega: Frontier Edition review and preceding tear-down, Buildzoid has now returned to analyze the AMD Vega: Frontier Edition PCB & VRM. This is a 12-phase design (doubled-up 6) that ultimately resembles something similar to a 290X Lightning, making it the hands-down best VRM we've seen on a reference card. Given that Vega: FE is $1000, that sort of makes sense -- but Buildzoid does pose some questions as to what's necessary and how much current is really going through the card.

When interviewing EVGA Extreme OC Engineer “Kingpin,” the term “dailies” came up – as in daily users, or “just gamers,” or generally people who don’t use LN2 to overclock their GPU. The GTX 1080 Ti Kingpin card is not a device built for “dailies,” but rather for extreme overclockers – people who are trying to break world records.

Cards like this – the Lightning would be included – do have a reason to exist. Criticism online sometimes calls such devices “pointless” for delivering the same overall out-of-box experience as nearly any other 1080 Ti, but those criticizing aren’t looking at it from the right perspective. A Kingpin, Lightning, or other XOC card is purchased to eliminate the need to perform hard mods to get a card up to speed. It’s usable out of the box as an XOC tool.

While we crank away at finalizing the review for the GTX 1080 Ti Gaming X, the Ryzen R5 CPUs, and some other products, we decided to run a PCB & VRM quality analysis of MSI’s card. The new GTX 1080 Ti Gaming X is another in a line of overbuilt VRMs, but interesting for a number of reasons (especially given the quality of this round’s reference VRM).

In our analysis of the PCB, we go over VRM design, overclocking potential, and power mods. The power mod section (toward the end of the video) discusses shunt shorting and how to trick the GPU into permitting a higher power throughput than natively allowed.

View Buildzoid’s analysis below:

GPU diode is a bad means for controlling fan RPM, at this point; it’s not an indicator of total board performance by any stretch of use. GPUs have become efficient enough that GPU-governed PWM for fans means lower RPMs, which means less noise – a good thing – but also worsened performance on the still-hot VRMs. We have been talking about this for a while now, most recently in our in-depth EVGA VRM analysis during the Great Thermal Pad Fracas of 2016. That analysis showed that the thermals were largely a non-issue, but not totally inexcusable. EVGA’s subsequent VBIOS update and thermal pad mods were sufficient to resolve any concern that lingered, though if you’re curious to learn more about that, it’s really worth just checking out the original post.

VBIOS updates and thermal pad mods were not EVGA’s only response to this. Internally, the company set forth to design a new PCB+cooler combination that would better detect high heat operation on non-GPU components, and would further protect said components with a 10A fuse.

In our testing today, we’ll be fully analyzing the efficacy of EVGA’s new “ICX” cooler design, to coexist with the long-standing ACX cooler. In our thermal analysis and review of the EVGA GTX 1080 FTW2 (~$630) & SC2 ICX cards (~$590), we’ll compare ACX vs. ICX coolers on the same card, MOSFET & VRAM temperatures with thermocouples and NTC thermistors, and individual cooler component performance. This includes analysis down to the impact the new backplate makes, among other tests.

Of note: There will be no FPS benchmarks for this review. All ICX cards with SC2 and FTW2 suffixes ship at the exact same base/boost clock-rates as their preceding SC & FTW counterparts. This means that FPS will only be governed by GPU Boost 3.0; that is to say, any FPS difference seen between an EVGA GTX 1080 FTW & EVGA GTX 1080 FTW2 will be entirely resultant of uncontrollable (in test) manufacturing differences at the GPU-level. Such differences will be within a percentage point or two, and are, again, not a result of the ICX cooler. Our efforts are therefore better spent on the only thing that matters with this redesign: Cooling performance and noise. Gaming performance remains the same, barring any thermal throttle scenarios – and those aren’t a concern here, as you’ll see.

EVGA's "Classified K|NGP|N" line has become the company's solution for extreme overclockers, similar to MSI's "Gaming" and "Lightning" card differentiations. The new GTX 780 Ti (which we broke-down over here) stands as the best video card for gaming right now, outpacing nVidia's more developer-focused TITAN and AMD's R9 290X.

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EVGA has scrapped the reference design for the 780 Ti and opted for their own ACX-enabled active cooling solution. The 780 Ti natively runs at a TDP of 250W, but because overclocking increases wattage sent through the device, EVGA had to design with high power consumption in mind. This means improving the on-card VRM, cooling, and ability to accept higher wattage.

We've posted several articles that discuss what determines a "good motherboard for gaming," but until today, haven't had the chance to properly define what some of the more important board components do. Oscillating clock crystals, MOSFETs, chokes, the VRM, and other low-level motherboard components are defined in this post.

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Judging from our forums, motherboards are one of the more nebulous components for hardware -- they all feel similar to each other, and from a specs sheet, it looks like there's not much separating one board from another. Part of this is because Intel and AMD have moved several controllers to the CPU, part is because the deeper differentiators between quality are often not listed on a product spec sheet.

After numerous questions from a large reddit thread, we've decided to start a new video/article series exploring the components on the components -- or what comprises each individual piece of hardware. Starting with the motherboard made sense.

We previously published an article that gave a top-level overview of motherboard selection for new PC builds. In this year's revised edition, we'll approach the topic with a bit more depth than previously and will account for Intel's Haswell CPUs and AMD's FX line of CPUs.

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Selecting the best motherboard for your gaming PC build is important to ensure upgradability going forward, access to Haswell/AMD overclocking features, and overall system stability. Chipset selection is tied-at-the-hip with motherboard selection, but if you need help finding the right chipset, check out these previous two articles (Intel - Haswell; AMD - FX).

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