The monstrosity shown in our latest GN livestream was what ranked us among the top-10 on several 3D Mark world benchmarks: It was a mixture of things, primarily including benefit of having high-end hardware (read: buying your way to the top), but also compensating for limited CPU OC skills with a liquid cooling mod. Our Titan V held high clocks longer than it had any business doing, and that was because of our Titan V Hybrid Mod.

It all comes down to Boost 3.0, as usual, and even AMD’s Vega now behaves similarly. The cards look at their thermal situation, with nVidia targeting 83-84C as a limiter, and then adjust clocks according to thermal headroom. This is also why there’s no hard guarantee on clock speed, because the card functionally “overclocks” (or “downclocks,” depending on perspective) itself to match its thermal budget. If we haven’t exceeded the thermal budget – achievable primarily with AIB partner coolers or with a liquid mod – then we have new budgets to abide to, primarily power and voltage.

firestrike no 6

We can begin solving for the former with shunt mods, something we’ve done and for which we’ll soon publish data, but we can’t do much more than that. These cards are fairly locked down, including BIOS, and we’re going to be limited to whatever hard mods we can pull off.

We took our nVidia Titan V Volta card apart when we first received it, following our gaming benchmarks, and are now embarking on a mission to take some Top 10 scores in HWBot Firestrike rankings. Admittedly, we can only get close to top 10 from access – we bought the card early, and so it’s a bit of an unfair advantage – but we’re confident that the top 10 slots will soon belong entirely to the XOC community.

For now, though, we can have a moment of glory. If only a moment.

Getting there will require better cooling, as we just aren’t as good at CPU overclocking as some of the others in the top 10. To make up for our skill and LN2 deficit, we can throw more cooling at the Titan V and put up a harder fight. Liquid cooling the V is the first step, and will help us stabilize higher clocks at lower temperatures. Volta, like Pascal, increases its clock (and the stability of that clock) as the GPU core temperature decreases. Driving temperatures down under 60C will help tremendously in stability, and driving them under 40C – if possible – will be even better. We’ll see how far we get. Our Top 10 efforts will be livestreamed at around 5 or 6PM EST today, December 16, 2017.

We’ve already sent off the information contained in this video to Buildzoid, who has produced a PCB & VRM analysis of the ROG Strix Vega 64 by ASUS. That content will go live within the next few days, and will talk about whether the Strix card manages to outmatch AMD’s already-excellent reference PCB design for Vega. Stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, the below is a discussion of the cooling solution and disassembly process for the ASUS ROG Strix Vega 64 card. For cooling, ASUS is using a similar triple-fan solution that we highly praised in its 1080 Ti Strix model (remarkable for its noise-normalized cooling performance), along with similar heatsink layout.

Learn more here:

Taking apart EVGA's GTX 1080 Ti FTW3 Hybrid isn't too different from the process for all the company's other cards: Two types of Phillips head screws are used in abundance for the backplate, the removal of which effectively dismantles the entire card. Wider-thread screws are used for the shroud, with thinner screws used for areas where the backplate is secured to front-side heatsinks (rather than the plastic shroud).

That's what we did when we got back from our PAX trip -- we dismantled the FTW3 Hybrid. We don't have any immediate plans to review this card, particularly since its conclusions -- aside from thermals -- will be the same as our FTW3 review, but we wanted to at least have a look at the design.

Tearing open the RX Vega 56 card revealed more of what we expected: A Vega Frontier Edition card, which is the same as Vega 64, which is the same as Vega 56. It seems as if AMD took the same PCB & VRM run and increased volume to apply to all these cards, thereby ensuring MOQ is met and theoretically lowering cost for all devices combined. That said, the price also increases in unnecessary ways for the likes of Vega 56, which has one of the most overkill VRMs a card of its ilk possibly could -- especially given the native current and power constraints enforced by BIOS. That said, we're working on power tables mods to bypass these constraints, despite the alleged Secure Boot compliance by AMD.

We posted a tear-down of the card earlier today, though it is much the same as the Vega: Frontier Edition -- and by "much the same," we mean "exactly the same." Though, to be fair, V56 does lack the TR6 & TR5 screws of FE.

Here's the tear-down:

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:

We can’t get all the way down to the inner workings of the pump on this one, unfortunately, as all of our source images for the Vega: Frontier Edition – Watercooled card are from a reader. The reader was kind enough to remove the shroud from their new WC version of Vega: FE so that we could get an understanding of the basics, leading us to the conclusion that AMD has built one of the most expensive pre-built liquid cooling solutions for a graphics card.

The video tear-down goes into detail on the images we received, but we’ll revisit most of it here. The card uses the same base PCB, same VRM, same GPU/HBM layout and positioning, and same everything as the air-cooled card. The difference is entirely in the cooling solution, where the Delta VRM fan goes away and is replaced with an additional reservoir (more on that in a moment), while the GPU/VRM cooling is handled by liquid plates and a pump. The die-case finstack atop the I/O is also now gone, and the baseplate is simplified to an aluminum plate with no protrusions.

Before getting started: Our Vega FE Hybrid mod has just gone through its final data pass, and is now in video editing and writing. The content will arrive tomorrow!

That cleared away, as we know a lot of folks are excited for the mod's results, we're now focusing on the MSI GTX 1080 Ti Lightning card momentarily. This is a video card that we first covered at Computex 2017, where we detailed initial specifications, MOSFETs and power components, and the target use case of XOC or heavy overclocking. We didn't yet have information on the card internals, but our latest tear-down (embedded below) gives some insight on the card's design. There are some unique features on this card that should pose an interesting A/B test during thermal benchmarking.

Following our first battery of tests, we dismantled our AMD Vega: Frontier Edition card (which we purchased retail) to get a closer look at the VRM & power design, thermal design, card assembly, and sizes for everything on the board. The tear-down process is the first step to our inevitable hybrid mod of AMD Vega, which should determine the card’s headroom with the thermal limitation removed. We’re also using this as an opportunity to report rough die size measurements, HBM stack measurements, and mounting distances for the community.

Full review testing is still forthcoming, as we didn’t have the usual pre-release embargo period to look things over, but this will serve as our first official Vega: FE coverage. Our next round of coverage will likely be a VRM analysis by Buildzoid, which will be accompanied shortly by thermal/power testing and overclock/gaming testing. Production tests will land in there somewhere – those are already half done – we just need to figure out where they fit best, based on content scheduling.

With hours to spare until our Vega shipment arrives from a retailer, we put together a review of the Zotac 1080 Ti Amp Extreme – it’s in editing now, and still pending completion – and tore-down the card. The tear-down is live now on YouTube, and is embedded below.

As for the reference to the rubber bumper not making contact, that’s shown in the above photo. Note also that this bumper isn’t over the inductors, so it’s not going to impact coil whine, and it’s not making contact to the VRM heatsink. We already tested this and have data for it in the review.

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