Hardware

We’ve reviewed an onslaught of cards from the RX 5700 series, including the RX 5700 and XT reference models, the Sapphire Pulse XT, MSI Evoke XT, and RX 5700 Red Dragon by PowerColor. Today, we’re looking at another non-XT model: The Sapphire RX 5700 Pulse is going head-to-head with the PowerColor RX 5700 Red Dragon, with the AMD Reference card tagging along to provide some much-needed perspective that, although there will only be one winner between these two AIB cards, both are a massive upgrade over AMD’s blower design.

As a reminder that’s hopefully unnecessary, the real difference from one board partner card to the next hinges upon thermals and acoustics, not necessarily gaming performance. There certainly can be a gaming performance impact, but this is typically limited to less than 2% change in performance from baseline for the RX 5700 series cards. AMD already maxed the silicon as much as it could and boosting isn’t as sensitive as NVIDIA cards; further still, the AMD RX 5700 non-XT model is artificially limited (without modifications, which are possible) to a SET frequency of 1850MHz (not necessarily GET). This, along with maxing the silicon, relegates most changes from cards to what we call “quality of life” features, like significantly reduced noise levels, PCB designs that might be more accommodating to one case or another, and reduced thermals. VBIOS power limitations are also at play, where VBIOS changes can allow cards to draw more power than reference, but won’t necessarily yield performance benefits as a result. Finally, another useful feature present on both the Sapphire and PowerColor models is dual VBIOS, which allows a backup if the user botches a flash.

We’re finally looking at a non-XT version of the RX 5700, and the first one we received is the PowerColor RX 5700 Red Dragon, which comes with dual-VBIOS to match its dual-axial cooler. The card is a proper 2-slot design with a more muted, less gamer-y aesthetic, but more importantly, it should serve as a competitive alternative to the reference model and its cursed blower fan. The RX 5700 Red Dragon is priced at $360, about $10 over MSRP for the 5700 reference card, and comes in about $50-$60 under the 5700 XT partner models that we’ve recommended so far. Today, we’re looking at thermals, acoustics, and some gaming performance for the Red Dragon.

As we dive into this, a few notes: Like the RX 5700 XT reviews we’ve posted (Sapphire Pulse, MSI Evoke, Gigabyte Gaming OC), this will focus most heavily on thermals and noise. Because it’s the first non-XT that we’re reviewing, we’ll also look briefly at gaming impact versus reference, alongside overclocking differences. For the most part, though, we already know where the silicon performs (and you can check our Pulse review for the most up-to-date full suite of data), and so we just need to see how the cooler changes things. That’ll primarily be in noise, noise-normalized thermals, ands tock thermals.

The Phanteks P400A gave us tentative hope at Computex when we saw its move to a fine mesh front panel, similar to what Cooler Master did with the NR600. The P400A follows-up on the original Eclipse P400, but while keeping the base tooling, it massively overhauls the panel design to move away from a closed-off, suffocated front and toward a more open mesh. Phanteks also avoids the trap that many fall into by eliminating a dust filter, instead relying on the fine mesh as a filter and keeping airflow as open as possible. In today’s testing, we’ll look at the Phanteks P400A RGB for thermals and acoustics, but we’ll also test the white panel versus black panel to see if the paint thickness matters, then throw the original P400 panel on for comparison.

The original Phanteks Eclipse P400 released circa 2016. The P400 is a case that launched during the initial explosion of S340-esque cases with sealed front panels, full-length PSU shrouds, and no optical drive support. Phanteks has gotten an impressive amount of use out of that tooling over the years, most recently with the case we’re reviewing today: the mesh-fronted P400A that comes as a $70 base model with two fans and a fan controller or a $90 RGB model with three fans and an LED controller. We’ll be covering the $70 model in a separate piece, since this review is already full to the brim with testing of the P400A’s front panel.

We’ve already reviewed the reference RX 5700 XT, the Sapphire Pulse model that we received as a frontrunner for board partners, and the MSI Evoke OC, which was overall poor value when compared to cheaper solutions on the market. Now, we’re looking at the Gigabyte Gaming OC card, the first triple-axial fan contender in our RX 5700 series benchmarks. It all comes down to thermals and noise with these, as gaming performance is functionally the same between each card when stock, and so we’ll focus-down on if Gigabyte can achieve competitive thermals at equivalent noise to the Sapphire and MSI cards. At $420 MSRP, the Gigabyte Gaming OC is priced around the Pulse and just below the Evoke.

For this testing, we’re focusing most heavily on thermals and noise. As a reminder, and we’ll say this in the conclusion as well, board partner cards ultimately come down to thermal and acoustic differences. There are a few that have extreme impact on XOC capabilities, like a KINGPIN or HOF card, but none of the 5700 XTs that we’ve yet looked at focus on that market. Gaming benchmarks become unimportant, as performance remains unchanged in nearly all partner designs. The one exception is the Evoke OC, which posted roughly a +2% performance advantage over baseline reference/Pulse performance, but otherwise, expect no meaningful or even measurable performance impact in gaming from these cards. The biggest gain is in massive quality of life improvements, such as reduced noise levels (in a noticeable way), reduced thermals, features like extra VBIOS on-board (the Pulse has this), or fitment advantages.

Lian Li O11 Dynamic XL Case Review & Benchmarks

By Published August 30, 2019 at 9:30 am

The O11 Dynamic was a case we liked enough to keep around for housing one of our work PCs. The layout is nonstandard, from the side intake vents to the placement of the PSU and storage, but it works. It may be the only case we’ve ever tested with a completely sealed-off glass front panel that still managed to perform actually well in testing. The O11 Air variant impressed us somewhat less, but improved substantially when the dust filtration was removed. Now, in 2019, Lian Li is introducing the O11 XL, a larger version of the original case, still bearing the Der8auer badge for his initial work on the O11 Dynamic. 

Like the Dynamic, this case is meant to be used for water cooling builds, but our standardized test bench is used for air testing. This is still useful to determine the performance capabilities of the case, as it’ll all scale when comparing one case to the next, but note that water cooling can obviously brute-force its way past a lot of thermal issues. Still, the O11 Dynamic made an actually good air-cooled case thanks to the bottom intake and side intake options, so even though it looks best as an aquarium, it didn’t have to be one.

This is a prototype, and it’s one of the most unique closed-loop liquid coolers we’ve ever reviewed. Cooler Master sent us their first engineering sample of a new 200mm closed-loop liquid cooler – or AIO, as some like to call them – and it’s built for the mini-ITX Cooler Master H100 case. Technically, a cooler like this could also be used to mount to other cases with 200mm fans, like the H500M or H500 cases, although the tubes would need to be longer. The cooler tries to solve the problem of matching radiators to 200mm case intake fans, since most radiators work best with 120 or 140 fans, and would exhibit worse performance without leveraging the full surface area of a 200mm fan. Today, we’re benchmarking this new cooler on our standardized bench.

The Cooler Master 200mm closed-loop liquid cooler is as yet unnamed, but it’ll be included in a bundle with the H100 MITX case from Computex. The total bundle cost should be around $100 when all is done, but standalone units are unlikely to be sold right now. Cooler Master noted that it would read our YouTube comments section to help determine if there’s enough demand for a 200mm CLC standalone, but that it otherwise is targeting this cooler specifically for its new mini-ITX case with one 200mm fan.

The biggest challenge with 200mm fans, as always, is that none of them are standardized. Cooler Master designed this cooler to fits its CM MF-200R fans, and so fans with alternate hole spacing – like the Noctua 200mm fans – will not fit without twist ties and clamps. We still tested the cooler with both the CM MF-200R and Noctua 200mm fans, but the Noctua unit does not natively fit.

Separately, we’ll re-embed some airflow LPM tests from our previous CM vs. Noctua 200mm fan comparison.

The Coolman Threebody is a case we bought in the Shenzhen SEG E-Market in China and had sent back to us, along with a couple other items that might show up in future content. This is less of a review and more of a look at some cool features in a weird case, since most of our audience can’t wander down to Shenzhen and pick one up. Maybe Western-market case manufacturers can take some cues from the Threebody’s design. Asking price at the market was $66 US, and we paid $60 for it.

The most optimistic feature of the Threebody is the big yellow warning sticker that says TEMPERED GLASS: Please handle with care. Both translucent side panels are very definitely plastic and not glass, as curved glass panels are a luxury even for major manufacturers like Cooler Master. It’s not a lie since the small pane on top of the case is glass, but this is also the smallest and most hidden of the three clear panels, so maybe they should have gone for plastic there as well.

Today’s review looks extensively at the thermals and noise of MSI’s RX 5700 XT Evoke OC card. It’s named “OC” because it has a higher stock clock than average – and higher than some other partner models, too – although the actual overclocking performance for all these cards is limited primarily by silicon quality and memory controller quality. We’ll be most heavily comparing the 5700 XT Evoke to the Sapphire 5700 XT Pulse, which performed excellently and got our recommendation in the review. The Evoke OC should cost around $430, although price isn’t final at time of writing, and that’d put it about $10-$20 ahead of Sapphire’s pricing, or $30 over AMD’s reference card. We’ll go deep with thermal and noise analysis today, alongside some gaming analysis, to see if MSI’s Evoke OC is worth the extra money.

Gaming performance is of minimal interest in this type of review. We’ve already established the 5700 XT’s performance in our initial review (and it didn’t change much in our Sapphire Pulse 5700 XT review), and so the point of interest is thermals and acoustic. Gaming performance hardly changes past what the base silicon can do, and overclocking performance is more luck-of-the-draw than PCB influence, and so we’ll only present a few gaming charts here to establish the average delta between the Evoke and Pulse or Reference models. The MSI RX 5700 XT Evoke OC should be available here whenever it’s actually listed, but partners have been slow to post cards on retailers.

We know that Sapphire’s Pulse is supposed to be $410, although current listings have it on pre-order at $420. We also know that the MSI card should be around $430, but they haven’t finalized that pricing. We’ll review based off of the information we (think) we have.

MSI’s really trying to make black-and-gold a thing for components this year. The company used to be a frontrunner for blue-and-black, then the black-and-red era of Z97 onward, and then the black-and-RGB era, and has now started making black-and-gold everything. That trend began with motherboards, like the Ace, but is continuing to video cards. Aside from that, the rest of this will come down to cooler quality. We’ll do a separate tear-down video on our YouTube channel, but let’s dive into thermal data.

In a world of tempered glass, LEDs, and gimmicks, it’s pretty rare that we come across a fully spartan product that focuses on performance. EVGA has filled that market segment with its DARK series motherboards, named at least partially for their lack of LEDs, and its coolers have traditionally been more price/performance focused than looks-oriented. The CLC series does have a couple RGB LEDs, but only enough to tick the marketing boxes. For the rest, the coolers are aimed at hitting a price/performance mix for the best value. Today, we’re reviewing EVGA’s new CLC 360 liquid cooler to see if it hits the mark.

EVGA’s CLC 360 should be priced about $150 on average, which puts it close to competition like the NZXT Kraken X62, Corsair H150i Pro, and some Deepcool Castle models. EVGA’s CLC 360 uses an Asetek pump at its core and is Asetek-supplied, with the usual customizations on top. As typical, these coolers are primarily differentiated by price, fan choice, and maybe warranty, with some further deviation from the supply by way of LEDs. EVGA has gone relatively spartan with LEDs and looks, instead prioritizing the focus on price and performance balance. With an Asetek Gen5 pump, we’re staying on the plastic three-pronged impeller rather than the newer metal impellers, but performance is overall unchanged between Gen5 and Gen6 – the differences are mostly in focus on reduction of permeation in the tubes.

Sapphire’s RX 5700 XT Pulse is the first of the non-reference 5700 XT cards we’ll be looking at. Following the RX 5700 XT Reference card review, where our primary complaints revolved around its design being excessively hot and loud, the 5700 XT Pulse bears promise to rectify those issues. Our review will focus almost entirely on thermals and noise, as the gaming performance is largely unchanged. Even in spite of that, though, reducing operating noise levels is a massive quality of life improvement from the reference design, and that’s more exciting than the gaming performance.

Sapphire’s RX 5700 XT Pulse should cost about $10 more than MSRP for the reference 5700 XT, which would put it at around $410 USD at launch. With that price, the reference card will have never made sense to buy, but that’s basically what we said in our launch review.

We’ll talk more about the components and build quality in our upcoming tear-down video of the card, but let’s just get straight into noise and thermals for today’s review.

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