Save CPUs, all components manufacturing in the PC hardware industry is centered upon the same core philosophy: Design a PCB, design the aesthetics and/or heatsink, and then purchase the semiconductor or Flash supply and build a product. In the case of video cards, board partners are responsible for designing aftermarket coolers (and PCBs, if straying from reference), but purchase the GPU itself from AMD or nVidia. The “hard work” is done by the GPU engineers and fabrication plants, but that's not to trivialize the thermal engineering that board partners invest into coolers.

When our readers ask us which version of a particular video card is “best,” we have to take into account several use-case factors and objective design factors. Fully passive cooling solutions may be best for gaming HTPCs like this one, but can't be deployed for higher-TDP graphics hardware. That's where various aftermarket designs come into play, each prioritizing noise, dissipation, and flair to varying degrees.

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