Report: graphics cards and thermal characteristics - BeHardware
>> Graphics cards

Written by Damien Triolet

Published on March 24, 2011

URL: http://www.behardware.com/art/lire/747/


Page 1

Introduction



In our many graphics cards tests, we regularly examine noise pollution and energy consumption of the different models tested but neglect an important element linked to this: temperature. Or more generally the thermal aspect of the cards. We decided to remedy this omission by carrying out a complete analysis of the cooling systems of a panel of well-known graphics cards. This also gives us the opportunity to introduce a new test protocol to cover this.


Silence or high temperatures
The Radeon HD 4850 illustrates very well the whole problematic of cooling systems for GPUs. The biggest criticism of this card is its temperature, even when at idle, AMD having calibrated its cooling system to prioritise quietness. The cooling system only kicks in at very high temperatures. The card is therefore quiet but gets very hot. These 2 elements are obviously linked and talking about one without the other makes no sense.


The Radeon HD 4850 then, shows up the compromises made between quietness and temperature.

It allows us to judge the effectiveness of different cooling systems on an objective basis. The choice of cooling system for a graphics card can moreover have an influence on other parts of the system as some models extract hot air from the PC and others actually direct a flow of hot air towards the processor and in fact heat it up or simply cause its fan to produce more noise pollution.

If this data allows us to better advise you between graphics cards that are similar other than the way they behave thermically, it will also provide useful information to advanced users who want to optimise their cooling systems to improve overclocking or the silence of their systems.


Page 2
Test protocol

Test protocol
So as to collect our data in a realistic environment, all meaurements were taken in a closed casing. We opted for the Sonata III from Antec, very popular and considered a reference in this area. We also used an Intel based platform with a Rampage Extreme from Asus based on the X48 chipset. We went for a Q6600 CPU (revision G0).

Noise pollution
To measure noise levels, we used a sonometer placed more or less 60 cm from the casing, like this:


We measured noise levels in idle and noise levels after 30 minutes in load. Ambient noise levels were measured at 34.8 dB, a fairly low figure.


Temperature
Temperature was measured in two ways: using various thermal sensors and infrared thermography. Infrared thermography gives you an overall visual look at temperature thanks to a 320x240 frame of infrared emissions taken with the Ti25 from Fluke.


To collect all the data, we first left the system in idle for 45 minutes. Then we wrote down the scores from the various sensors with dedicated software and we opened the casing and rapidly took a thermal image.

The system was closed directly afterwards and we moved on to measurements in load. We carried out the 3Dmark 2006s Pixel Shader and Prime to put the CPU in constant load as we compared graphic cards with very different performance levels. CPU usage of course increases when going from 50 to 500 fps. After 30 minutes we briefly stopped the 3Dmark test to collect the data which wasnít logged and then started the test again immediately. 15 minutes later we opened the case so as to take a thermal image. Then we wrote down maximum temperatures recorded before opening the case.

The following measurements were taken:

The fixed motherboard sensors: MB (motherboard, placement not detailed), SB (southbridge), NB (northbridge) and PWR (power supply)
A motherboard custom sensor: we placed it on the northbridge heatsink
The integrated CPU sensor: we took the temperature of the hottest core
The integrated GPU sensor
The integrated hard drive sensor
An external sensor placed behind the casing, 1 cm away, where the flow of air comes out of the graphics card


Between each card tested, we let the temperature of the motherboard drop back down to room temperature, which was noted each time and controlled using the air conditioning if necessary. We allowed a variation of plus or minus 1įC as we are not able to control the temperature of the room any better than this.

Notes on infrared thermography
It is important to note that images obtained may be affected by components with lower heat radiation than average as they may seem cooler than they actually are. Thermal emissivity (heat radiation) is the percentage of energy emitted from an object or body that has the same temperature. Our measurements are based on a 95% emissivity, which corresponds to the general rule.


This is not however the case for some components such as shiny metal surfaces. We approached this problem on the motherboard by putting neutral adhesive tape on parts such as USB connnections, network connections and so on. We didnít however do this for the GeForce logo on the graphics cards, which appears to be colder than the rest of the card, not because of any paranormal qualities but simply because the heat radiation of the logo is lower.


Page 3
Radeon HD 3450

Radeon HD 3450
The first card we looked at was the Radeon HD 3450, chosen to give us a fanless entry level standard reference. It is also a card that is relatively easy to place in the casing.




Infrared thermography

System in idle.


System in load.


Graphics card in idle.


Graphics card in load.

In spite of the fact that the Radeon HD 3450 is a small GPU that isnít demanding in terms of energy consumption, the fact that the card doesnít have an active ventilation system means that it gets up to rather a high temperature and creates a very hot spot within the PC. That said, this is very localised and doesnít really extend beyond the graphics card.


Temperature and noise level readings

Although the internal GPU sensor gives a reading of 99įC, the thermal imagery shows us that the cardís power supply is in fact hotter than this at 110 įC. As the card is fanless, it does not contribute any additional noise when the system is in load.


Page 4
Radeon HD 4850

Radeon HD 4850
The Radeon HD 4850 is the card that really got us interested in getting this data on the temperatures of graphics cards. It is known for getting very hot, even in idle.




Infrared thermography

System in idle.


System in load.


Graphics card in idle.


Graphics card in load.

Infrared thermography immediately confirms that the card gets very hot, even in idle. The zone close to the GPU gets up to 80 įC which is very high for a card that has an active cooling system.


Temperature and noise level readings

The internal GPU sensor confirms our observations and gives a reading of 81 įC for the GPU in idle. This really is very high but the fan is calibrated only to accelerate as of 80 įC. As a result the card is fairly quiet. In load the temperature gets above 90 įC, which is pretty much the average for top end GPUs.


Page 5
Radeon HD 4870

Radeon HD 4870
The Radeon HD 4870 uses a similar GPU to the Radeon HD 4850. Frequencies are a little higher and it therefore uses and gives off a little more energy, justifying a more imposing cooling system that expels hot air from the casing.




Infrared thermography

System in idle.


System in load.


Graphics card in idle.


Graphics card in load.

Although its cooling system remains cool in idle, the back of the card shows a similar temperature to the Radeon HD 4850 which gives the impression of heating up a lot because, in contrast, its cooling system is very hot. Once in load, the Radeon HD 4870 gives off a lot of heat which affects the northbridge quite a lot. As is often the case, the power supply circuit is what gets hottest on the card.


Temperature and noise level readings

In spite of the fact that the card expels air (very hot!) from the casing, it significantly increases the internal temperature of the system, partly because the double slot takes up more space than for example the Radeon HD 4850, and this prevents the flow of air. Although the card doesnít seem very loud, its cooling system unfortunately varies quite a lot which is very annoying.


Page 6
Radeon HD 4890

Radeon HD 4890
The Radeon HD 4890 is a Radeon HD 4870 with higher clocks, an alteration rendered possilble through a new revision of the GPU optimised for this: the RV790. The stock cooling system is similar but slightly sturdier.




Infrared thermography

System in idle.


System in load.


Graphics card in idle.


Graphics car in load.

The Radeon HD 4890 is better cooled than the Radeon HD 4870, AMD having improved calibration of the cooling system.


Temperature and noise level readings

Although the GPU is better cooled, this comes at the price of higher sound levels. The influence on the rest of the system is similar overall to what we noted for the Radeon HD 4870, that is to say that heat from the card also causes other system components to heat up.


Page 7
Radeon HD 4870 CrossFire

Radeon HD 4870 CrossFire
We wanted to see how a multi-GPU system behaved in terms of heat radiation. We opted for a CrossFire system based on 2 Radeon HD 4870s which also have the advantage of being comparable to the Radeon HD 4870 X2. On top of adding a supplemetary heat source to the system, the second Radeon also takes up a lot of space, and it is interesting to see the effect this has on the different readings.




Infrared thermography

System in idle.


System in load.


Graphics card in idle.


Graphics card in load.

Even in idle the system as a whole is relatively hot, which confirms what we feared.


Temperature and noise level readings

The temperature readings confirm this with very high levels both for the system in idle and in load. Noise pollution increases also and rapidly becomes unbearable in load, once again because of the variations in fan speed.


Page 8
Radeon HD 4870 X2

Radeon HD 4870 X2
The Radeon HD 4870 X2 is equivalent to 2 Radeon HD 4870s in CrossFire. Only the format is different as the 2 GPUs are placed on the same PCB and cooler with an enormous heatsink and its turbine that expels hot air from the casing. The card is also longer than the other Radeons which means that it takes up more space in the casing, but less than the CrossFire system of course.




Infrared thermography

System in idle.


System in load.


Graphics card in idle.


Graphics card in load.

In comparison to the CrossFire system, the system seems to heat up much less in idle. You will also note that one of the 2 GPUs is hotter than the other. In load however, both GPUs heat up a lot and this spreads throughout the system.

Temperature and noise level readings

The readings give the temperatures of each GPU and show that on the Radeon, one of them is better cooled than the other both in charge and idle, which is relatively logical as the flow of air heats up on going through the heatsink. Noise level readings are rather high, above all in load where the Radeon HD 4870 X2 beats all records. This said, figures do not tell the whole story and the 55 dB on this Radeon X2 are less annoying than the 50 dB of the CrossFire Radeon HD 4870 system.


Page 9
Radeon HD 5750

Radeon HD 5750
The Radeon HD 5750 is relatively undemanding in terms of energy consumption but does nevertheless use a double slot cooler.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

The Radeon HD 5750 remains relatively cool.


Temperature and noise readings

Nothing in particular to say here, the system remains cool with this card, without suffering overly from high noise levels.


Page 10
Radeon HD 5770

Radeon HD 5770
The Radeon HD 5770 uses a more complex design than the one used for the Radeon HD 5750. Thereís a chassis around the cooler and turbine that brings in cool air. Some of the hot air can be expelled from the box via the small grill situated at the back of the card.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

While the Radeon HD 5770 doesnít heat up enormously, youíll see that the power stage remains quite hot in load without reaching the extremes of the Radeon HD 4800s.


Temperature and noise readings

Note that in spite of the vent, very little hot air is actually funnelled out of the box. This is due to two things: the grill is very small and the GPU is relatively undemanding in terms of power consumption. This second point means that other system components donít suffer from too much hot air coming from the card inside the casing.


Page 11
Radeon HD 5850

Radeon HD 5850
The Radeon HD 5850 is in a similar format to the Radeon HD 4800s. The PCB is identical in size and the cooler very similar though the chassis is different. The hot air extraction grill is however smaller as part of the second slot is tacken up by a DVI connector.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

The Radeon HD 5850 is very well cooled at idle and remains at a reasonable level in load.


Temperature and noise readings

The readings on the different sensors confirm the infrared thermography images: the Radeon HD 5850 heats up relatively little at the same time as staying silent in idle and isnít noisy in load. The air funnelled out of the card is however fairly hot.


Page 12
Radeon HD 5850 CrossFire

Radeon HD 5850 CrossFire
Like any multicard system, the Radeon HD 5850 CrossFire means more heat in the casing and a larger card system. With the Radeon HD 5000s, whose energy consumption at idle is already low, AMD is also able to turn off the second GPU completely at idle.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

AMDís progress on energy consumption can be seen immediately if you compare these images with those for the CrossFire system based on the Radeon HD 4870. At idle, the Radeon HD 5850 pairing remains cool and brings about no significant increase in temperature of the other components, with the exception of the chipset that must handle 32 PCI Express lanes instead of 16 and which, visibly, is unable to make any efficiencies. Naturally in load temperatures increase.


Temperature and noise readings

The readings of the different sensors confirm these results and show that the chipset temperature reaches dangerous levels. We had to disactivate motherboard protection which was fixed at 90 įC for the chipset and which therefore is likely to require active cooling. Noise levels remain reasonable at idle but in load the system is of course not quiet at all, though less disagreeable than the Radeon HD 4870 CrossFire.


Page 13
Radeon HD 5870

Radeon HD 5870
The Radeon HD 5870 is very long. Its PCB is the same size as the GeForce GTX 200s but with a larger chassis. As a result the card will press up against the hard drive bay in many casings and you should place it elsewhere so as to remove it from too direct a heat source. Note that thereís a casing at the back of the PCB, which is therefore not exposed.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

Like the Radeon HD 5850 the Radeon HD 5870 is very well cooled at idle and remains at a reasonable level in load.


Temperature and noise readings

The readings on the different sensors confirm the infrared thermography images: the Radeon HD 5870 poses no particular problems in terms of temperatures, whether at idle or in load. While it is quiet at idle, it is noisier in load. It also extracts relatively hot air from the casing.


Page 14
Radeon HD 5870 CrossFire

Radeon HD 5870 CrossFire
Like any multicard system, the Radeon HD 5870 CrossFire means more heat in the casing and a larger card system, especially as these cards are very long. With the Radeon HD 5000s, whose energy consumption in idle is already down, AMD is also able to turn off the second GPU completely at idle.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

AMDís work on energy consumption at idle is immediately obvious if you compare these images with those for the CrossFire system based on the Radeon HD 4870. At idle, the Radeon HD 5870 pairing remains cool and brings about no significant increase in temperature of the other components, with the exception of the chipset that must handle 32 PCI Express lanes instead of 16 and which, visibly, is unable to make any efficiencies. Of course in load the temperatures increase.


Temperature and noise readings

While at idle the readings confirm good thermal characteristics, in load temperatures increase significantly for all components. Indeed, the temperature of the northbridge increases dangerously. We had to disactivate the protection system which was fixed at 90 įC for the chipset and which should therefore have active cooling. Noise levels remain reasonable at idle but in load the system is obviously very noisy.


Page 15
Radeon HD 5970

Radeon HD 5970
The Radeon HD 5970 is an extreme, bi-GPU model of the Radeon HD 5870 with however lower clocks so as to remain within an acceptable thermal envelope. The card is nevertheless a monster both in terms of performance and size. We had to take a dremel to cut the hard drive bay to fit the Radeon HD 5970 into our test casing. In contrast to the Radeon HD 5800s, the Radeon HD 5970 has a hot air extraction grill that takes up an entire slot.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

At idle, the card is hotter than the Radeon HD 5800s but remains within reasonable limits thanks to the disactivation of one of the GPUs. Naturally in load it heats up.


Temperature and noise readings

While at idle the readings confirm that there are no temperarture issues, in load temperatures are relatively well managed and lower than a Radeon HD 5800 CrossFire system. This is due to the fact that most of the hot air is extracted from the casing, which does however have a fallout in terms of the high noise levels of the card.


Page 16
Radeon HD 6850

Radeon HD 6850
The Radeon HD 6850 is relatively short, between the Radeon HD 5770 and the Radeon HD 5850. In fact it uses a similar cooler to the one used in the stock design of the first of these: a relatively small heatsink with a turbine that expels hot air out of the casing via a small vent.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card in idle.


Graphics card in load.

Although a little hotter in idle than other recent Radeons, the Radeon HD 6850 is pretty well cooled, including in load.


Temperature and noise readings

The readings of the different sensors confirm the images obtained through infrared thermography: the Radeon HD 6850 heats up relatively little, remains quiet in idle and isnít noisy in load. Note that the air expelled is pretty hot in spite of this.


Page 17
Radeon HD 6870

Radeon HD 6870
The Radeon HD 6870 uses a similar design to the Radeon HD 5850. Note however, although its PCB is the same size, the cooler panel sticks out 5mm from the back of the card, for purely aesthetic reasons.

This cooler is also very similar in size to that used for the Radeon HD 5850. There is a third heatpipe and it has been modified to accommodate the unusual placement of the power stage, the majority of components of which are now between the GPU and the bracket and not at the back of the card as is generally the case with AMD cards.




Infrared thermography

System in idle.


System in load.


Graphics card in idle.


Graphics card in load.

The Radeon HD 6870 is very well cooled and you can see that with the power stage placed between the bracket and the GPU the back of the card hardly heats up at all in load.


Temperature and noise readings

The Radeon HD 6870 poses no particular problems in terms of overheating, whether in idle or load. It also extracts relatively hot air from the box, especially as this is concentrated towards the small air vent. Although it is quiet at idle, it is rather noisy in load.


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Radeon HD 6950

Radeon HD 6950
The reference Radeon HD 6950 and 6970 share the same cooling system and power stage PCB. It is however possible that the Radeon HD 6950s sold in stores, especially once the first lots have been sold, will be slightly modified as they obviously donít require such a sturdy power stage.

The cooler uses a standard AMD design with a fan and vapour chamber. Like the Radeon HD 5870 but unlike the Radeon HD 5850, an aluminium plate covers the back of the PCB.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

The Radeon HD 6950 is very well cooled, both in load and at idle.


Temperature and noise readings

The readings confirm the above observations and you can see that hot air is well extracted from the casing thanks to the fan-based cooler. Noise levels are relatively well controlled, similar to what you get with the Radeon HD 5870 or the GeForce GTX 570. Note that the fan speed varies constantly during heavy processing, which can be annoying.


Page 19
Radeon HD 6950 CrossFire

Radeon HD 6950 CrossFire
Like any multi-card system, the Radeon HD 6950 CrossFire means more heat in the casing and it obviously takes up quite a bit of space, especially as these cards are very long. Note that AMD can shut down the second GPU entirely at idle.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

For a high-end multi-GPU system, itís pretty well cooled both at idle and in load.


Temperature and noise readings

The readings show that the cooler is doing its job, with GPU temperatures approaching 100 įC however. Noise levels increase a lot during load, which is partly down to the fan. Again fan speed varies constantly during heavy processing, which can be annoying.

Note also the high northbridge temperatures, which result from the high levels of performance, the available space and the fact that it has to supply additional PCI Express lanes. Active cooling for the northbridge is therefore very much advised on this type of platform.


Page 20
Radeon HD 6970

Radeon HD 6970
The reference Radeon HD 6950 and 6970 share both the same cooling system and power stage PCB.

A standard AMD cooler design is used with a fan and vapour chamber. Like the Radeon HD 5870 but unlike the Radeon HD 5850, an aluminium plate covers the back of the PCB.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

The card is well cooled, both in load and at idle.


Temperature and noise readings

The readings confirm the above observations. You can see that the air expelled from the casing is very hot and noise levels a little higher than on the previous generation. Note however that the fan speed varies a lot during heavy processing, which can be annoying.


Page 21
Radeon HD 6970 CrossFire

Radeon HD 6970 CrossFire
Like any multi-card system, the Radeon HD 6970 CrossFire means more heat in the casing and it obviously takes up quite a bit of space, especially as these cards are very long. Note that AMD can completely shut down the second GPU at idle.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

While the system is very well cooled at idle thanks to the low energy consumption of the Radeon HD 6970 in this mode, in load it really heats up!


Temperature and noise readings

This CrossFire system produces a lot of heat and while much of it is expelled from the casing, some is spread around inside, which increases the temperature of the internal components. While noise levels are nicely controlled at idle, in load this system gets very loud. Note that the fan speed varies constantly during heavy processing, which can be annoying.

Youíll also note that the northbridge gets very hot, a natural result of the high performance of the system, the available space and the fact that it has to supply additional PCI Express lanes. Active cooling for the northbridge is therefore very much advised on this type of platform.


Page 22
Radeon HD 6990

Radeon HD 6990
The Radeon HD 6990 is in the same format as the Radeon HD 5970: the PCB measures 29cm and the cooler casing sticks out another centimetre, taking the total length of the card to 30cm, which means it wonít fit in all casings. A particularity of its cooling system is that a central fan expels half of the hot air out of the casing and the other half towards the back of the card and the hard drive bay.

There are two biosí available for the Radeon HD 6990, one with an energy consumption limit of 375W and the other of 450W.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load, 375W.


System in load, 450W.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load, 375W.


Graphics card in load, 450W.

While the system remains very cool at idle, this is obviously not the case in load and all the components suffer as a result, especially in 450W mode.


Temperature and noise readings

This Radeon HD 6990 sends a lot of heat towards the CPU, chipset and hard drive when in load. In contrast to what you see on many systems, here it would be a good move to put an extraction fan at the front of the casing so as to deal with the hot air expelled by the Radeon HD 6990.

Unfortunately noise levels are also very high on this machine, beating all previous records. Note however that noise varies between 52.8 and 59.4 dB in 375W mode and by optimising cooling of the casing, it should be possible to stay at the lower end of this range.


Page 23
GeForce 9800 GTX+

GeForce 9800 GTX+
The GeForce 9800 GTX and GTX+ come, like all top end NVIDIA cards, in a rather large format similar to the Radeon HD 4870 X2. The card therefore takes up a lot of space, especially as it has a double slot cooling system. It expels hot air from the casing. The GTX+ variant uses a G92b clocked at a higher frequency than we have tested. There is little temperature difference between the two versions however because the increase in frequencies is compensated by the finer engraving process of the GPU.




Infrared thermography

System in idle.


System in load.


Graphics card in idle.


Graphics card in load.

In idle the card almost doesnít heat up at all, which is quite a difference to the Radeons. In load however, behaviour is similar to the Radeon HD 4870 for example in terms of the system as whole, but with the graphics card itself better cooled.


Temperature and sound level readings

Although the termperature of the card is better managed in load, noise levels are up. The air expelled from the casing is less hot, which is logical.


Page 24
GeForce 9800 GX2

GeForce 9800 GX2
The GeForce 9800 GX2 is the first bi-GPU card to use a sandwich type design in which each GPU is on a dedicated PCB, but both face each other with the cooling system in the middle. Hot air is mostly sent back inside the PC because the grill allowing it out is tiny on this card.




Infrared thermography

System in idle.


System in load.


Graphics card in idle.


Graphics card in load.

Given that the GPUs are placed near the front of the graphics card, that is where the heat is concentrated, with the back of the card carrying the turbine staying fairly cool.


Temperature and noise level readings

The card is less noisy than the Radeon HD 4870 X2, but is not however silent. Once in load, the temperature given off spreads around the system, just like with the Radeon.


Page 25
GeForce GTX 260

GeForce GTX 260
Here we tested the original GeForce GTX 260, which is equipped with 192 scalar units and a GPU engraved at 65 nm. The card has a casing that extends over the back.




Infrared thermography

System in idle.


System in load.


Graphics card in idle.


Graphics card in load.

Although the casing reduces temperature readings, you have to recognise that with the GT200, NVIDIA has worked very hard on energy consumption in idle. This means that the GPU stays cool as does the card as a whole. In load things are obviously different. Note that the thermal images show very clearly the difference between the metal and plastic parts of the casing.


Temperature and noise level readings

50 įC for the GPU in idle is pretty good, much better than the Radeons and this benefits the whole system. In load however the card shows similar results to the competition, with however slightly higher noise levels.


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GeForce GTX 275

GeForce GTX 275
Here we tested the stock model of the GeForce GTX 275 supplied by NVIDIA for its launch. The card is similar to the GeForce GTX 260+ equipped with the the most recent PCB.




Infrared thermography

System in idle.


System in load.


Graphics card in idle.


Graphics card in load.

With the GT200, NVIDIA has worked hard on reducing energy consumption in idle and this is confirmed again here. This means that the GPU stays cool as does the card as a whole. In load things are obviously different.


Temperature and noise level readings

50 įC for the GPU in idle is pretty good, much better than the Radeons and this benefits the whole system. In load however the card shows similar results to the competition, with however slightly higher noise levels.


Page 27
GeForce GTX 285

GeForce GTX 285
We werenít able to test the GeForce GTX 280 as for some reason it seems to be incompatible with the motherboard for this test system. No problem however with the GeForce GTX 285 which is similar to the GeForce GTX 260 and 280 but uses a GPU that is slightly less demanding in terms of energy as it is engraved at 55 nm rather than 65. In terms of the cooling system, the two are quite similar except for the fact that here the casing at the back has disappeared.




Infrared thermography

System in idle.


System in load.


Graphics card in idle.


Graphics card in load.

It behaves quite like the GeForce GTX 260. In idle the card stays cool. In load it heats up faster than the GTX 260 but this doesnít affect the system as a whole very much. The only reason we can imagine to explain this phenomenon is that the metalic casing is absent from the back and this means that card loses less heat from here. Although the back of the PCB is hotter, this heat is however transferred less to the chipset and the CPU.


Temperature and noise level readings

The card is a little quieter than the GeForce GTX 260 both in load and idle. This does not however affect temperatures, which are lower in spite of everything else.


Page 28
GeForce GTX 295

GeForce GTX 295
The GeForce GTX 295 uses the same concept and design as the GeForce 9800 GX2 in as much as the GPUs are both type GT200 and consume therefore more energy. Like on the GTX 285, NVIDIA has abandoned the casing on the back. The card has a larger grill for the extraction of air from the casing than on the GeForce 9800 GX2 but its design is nevertheless set up so that most of the air is extracted from the top of the card.




Infrared thermography

System in idle.


System in load.


Graphics card in idle.


Graphics card in load.

Important detail: the wings on the heatsink, visible from above the card, emit very little heat and this is why they seem cold. Of course this isnít the case in reality.

The GeForce GTX 295 is probably the best conceived bi-GPU card in terms of heat management. In spite of the fact that it has 2 55 nm GT200s, it does not heat up much in idle. In load it gets much hotter of course, but levels stay relatively reasonable in view of its spec and in comparison with other similar solutions. NVIDIA has done good work here then.

Small but interesting detail: the small hot point on the GeForce GTX 295 comes in reality from the PCI Express nForce 200 switch that is placed there and is known to give off a lot of heat.


Temperature and sound level readings

Very good in idle. Of course, there is no miracle solution and noise pollution is high in load. Youíll note that when the GPU is in load and is very hot, the air that comes out of the back grill on the card and the flow is weak. Most of the air is therefore circulatd within the PC by the opening designed for this in the top of the card. Our test casing, as with most casings, also has a grill above the extension ports that allows hot air to get out or cool air to get in.


Page 29
GeForce GTX 460

GeForce GTX 460
The GeForce GTX 460, tested in its stock 1 GB version here (the 768 MB version behaves similarly), has a relatively short PCB, the same size as on the Radeon HD 5770. Its cooling system is made up of a cooler with 2 heat pipes and a centrally placed fan, which only extracts part of the hot air outside the casing.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

The GeForce GTX 460 is cool in idle. In load it's mainly the power stage that heats up.


Noise and temperature readings

The GPU temperature at idle is very low at just 33 įC and the card remains quiet. As the hot air exits the card from its two ends, the temperature of the hard drives increases a bit in load, but not seriously.


Page 30
GeForce GTX 460 SLI

GeForce GTX 460 SLI
Like any multi-GPU system, the GeForce GTX 460s in SLI add additional heat to the system, especially as the stock cards don't expel heat from the casing.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

Although the system is very well cooled at idle thanks to the low consumption of the GeForce GTX 460 in this mode, in load it heats up quite a bit, especially as a good proportion of the hot air isn't expelled from the casing but rather directed towards the hard drives, which therefore heat up.


Temperature and noise readings

The readings taken confirm the above. You'll have to keep an eye on your cooling for the hard drives as their reliability is affected when temperatures increase. If your casing doesn't doesn't allow you to do this, you'll need to go for GeForce GTX 460s that aren't the same as the stock model and which expel more hot air out the casing.

You'll also note the high temperature of the northbridge which is due to performance levels, size and the fact that it must supply more PCI Express lanes. Active cooling is therefore very much advised on this type of platform.


Page 31
GeForce GTX 470

GeForce GTX 470
The GeForce GTX 470 has a similar design to the GeForce GTX 285, all loaded up to cool the very demanding GF100. Its PCB is however shorter and the same size as the Radeon HD 4800 or 5850. The vent situated at the back of the card covers a full slot.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

The GeForce GTX 470 behaves pretty much like the GeForce GTX 285 overall. Relatively cool at idle, temperatures go up over 90 įC in load, including on the power stage.


Temperature and noise readings

No secret here, given that the GeForce GTX 470 consumes more than the GeForce GTX 285 at similar temperatures (and with a similar cooler as well), noise levels are higher and become relatively disturbing, like on the GeForce GTX 295. The air extracted from the card is very hot.


Page 32
GeForce GTX 480

GeForce GTX 480
The GeForce GTX 480 is the highest consumption mono-GPU graphics card that weíve ever had a look at, which means high temperatures and noise levels. The card is in a similar format to the GeForce GTX 285 but with a larger cooler adapted to the additional load. Itís bigger and to make the most of available space, NVIDIA has made two changes. The first concerns the heatpipes, part of which stick out beyond the end of the card. Secondly, thereís an opening in the chassis which leaves the upper part of the cooler open, which means a gain of a few millimetres in the cooler size and direct acces to the air. Cynics might add that it will also mean you wonít be troubled by burning smells from the burnt casing! Whatever your outlook, the GeForce GTX 480 will in any case diffuse a certain amount of heat into the casing and youíll need to avoid placing another card (graphics or other) in the slot just to the side.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

While there are no problems at idle, in load the card rapidly rises to very high temperatures which has a direct incidence on components around it.


Temperature and noise readings

The sensor readings confirm this. At idle thereís no particular comment to make, except that the GPU is hotter than all competition cards. In load however, the GPU temperature explodes and other components rise in temperature by a few degrees as a result. This is accompanied by high noise levels, higher than for the Radeon HD 5970 or a CrossFire Radeon HD 5870 system. To top it all off, the card lowered its clocks slightly during testing as the GPU had reached its 105 įC safety limit. Naturally, the air expelled from the card is hot.

In view of these results, the GeForce GTX 480 has obviously not been designed for a basic casing such as the Antec Sonata 3 and requires a better optimised system to channel cool air to it and help with the extraction of the hot air generated.


Page 33
GeForce GTX 480 SLI

GeForce GTX 480 SLI
With the GeForce GTX 480 already pushing the temperature limits in our test system, the SLI configuration was obviously going to pose the odd problem. We did nevertheless want to run it through the same tests as the other solutions so as to be able to compare data and illustrate why you shouldnít mount such a system! Note that the card underneath is not touching the casing Ė thereís a good centimetre gap, which is nevertheless relatively little given that the cooler is exposed.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

At idle weíre faced with a similar situation as with the Radeon HD 4870 CrossFire system: relatively hot. In load temperatures explode and reach worrying levels.


Temperature and noise readings

The readings confirm the infrared thermography images: temperatures are up to dangerous levels. GPU temperatures easily go beyond the 105 įC safety limit and performances have almost been halved due, we presume, to the the GPU cutting its clocks from 700 MHz to 410 MHz. In spite of this, temperatures are still crazily high. Among the unfortunate record scores posted, the hard drive rises beyond 50 įC, the northbridge to 95 įC and the motherboard to 71 įC.

Of course the system also reaches record levels in terms of noise. Really too noisy in load and disturbing at idle.

Hopefully youíve got it, investing in a GeForce GTX 480 SLI system requires very careful choices in terms of the casing and cooler, even perhaps watercooling. An extreme graphics configuration, then, only for the most advanced users who wonít be mounting their GeForce GTX 480 SLI in a standard system.


Page 34
GeForce GTX 560 Ti

GeForce GTX 560 Ti
The GeForce GTX 560 Ti is a pumped up version of the GeForce GTX 460. Its PCB is slightly larger to provide for a sturdier power stage, and the cooler has been revised. The cooler is similarly structured to the one used on the high end models: a casing fixed to a plate that covers the PCB, between which the radiator is placed.

The radiator has the same radial format as on the GeForce GTX 460, but is larger and has a third heatpipe. The GeForce GTX 560 Ti will therefore only expel some of the hot air from the casing. The memory modules and the sensitive components on the power stage benefit from contact with the plate covering the PCB.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

The card is very well cooled at idle. In load it is still the power stage that gets hottest. Note that a good deal of the hot air is expelled towards the hard drives.


Temperature readings

The readings confirm the above observations. In spite of giving a hike in performance on the GeForce GTX 460, the GeForce GTX 560 Ti is slightly quieter.


Page 35
GeForce GTX 570

GeForce GTX 570
NVIDIA have used the PCB from the GeForce GTX 580 for the GeForce GTX 570. Given that the memory bus has been reduced from 384 to 320 bits, two 32-bit memory module slots are unoccupied. The same goes for 2 of the 6 phases on the power stage which havenít been used as energy consumption has been revised downwards somewhat.

The cooler is similar to the one used on the GeForce GTX 580 but not identical, in spite of looking the same on the outside. Although still using vapour chamber technology for improved efficiency, itís smaller, which makes sense, as thereís less heat to disperse.

To try and contain energy consumption, NVIDIA has built components onto the PCB which allow the drivers (but not the GPU itself) to monitor the GPUís energy consumption or rather the intensity of the current which passes down each of the three 12v power supply channels (PCI Express bus and connectors).

NVIDIA hasnít however activated global monitoring and, to avoid reducing performance in games or 3Dmark, only puts its system in action in the latest versions of Furmark and OCCT, namely in the extreme load tests used by testers to measure energy consumption. In these applications, if the driver measures energy consumption beyond a certain limit, it lowers clocks by half, and then by half again if this hasnít been sufficient. We set things up so that this didnít kick in during our tests.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

The GeForce GTX 570 is very well cooled for a card of this calibre.


Temperature and noise readings

The good news is that noise levels donít get too high either in load or at idle in spite of the fact that the card is well cooled. Note that the hot air expelled from the casing is relatively hot.


Page 36
GeForce GTX 570 SLI

GeForce GTX 570 SLI
Like any multi-GPU system, the GeForce GTX 570s in SLI make for increased internal temperatures, although they expel a lot of hot air from the casing.

Note that in an attempt to contain energy consumption, NVIDIA has integrated components onto the PCB which allow the drivers (but not the GPU itself) to monitor the energy consumption of the GPU, or rather the intensity of the current which passes down each of the three 12v power supply channels (PCI Express bus and connectors).

NVIDIA hasnít however activated global monitoring and, to avoid reducing performance in games or 3Dmark, only puts its system in action in the latest versions of Furmark and OCCT, namely in the extreme load tests used by testers to measure energy consumption. In these applications, if the driver measures energy consumption beyond a certain limit, it lowers clocks by half, and then by half again if this hasnít been sufficient. We set things up so that this didnít kick in during our tests.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

The GTX 570s in SLI do pretty well both at idle and in load.


Temperature and noise readings

Of course such a system gives off a lot of heat, but the very efficient GeForce GTX 570 coolers mean they donít get too hot. Although the noise levels donít get too high, this obviously isnít a quiet system.

Note also that the northbridge gets very hot, a natural result of the high performance of the system, the available space and the fact that it has to supply additional PCI Express lanes. Active cooling for the northbridge is therefore very much advised on this type of platform.


Page 37
GeForce GTX 580

GeForce GTX 580
For this GeForce GTX 580, NVIDIA has used a similar PCB to that used for the GeForce GTX 480 although it no longer has holes in it as, in practice, this resulted in no gain in terms of the channelling of cool air. The new PCB has been optimised to be more reliable under the extreme energy consumption conditions of the GeForce GTX 580, identical to those for the GeForce GTX 480.

The most significant development comes in the GeForce GTX 580ís cooling system. NVIDIA uses a slightly different turbine, which makes less noise. Whatís more, the external part of the radiator which accumulated a lot of heat and dispersed it within the casing has been replaced with a more standard model. Efficiency has been improved here thanks to the use of a vapour chamber, something AMD has been using on many of its cards for some time.

To try and contain energy consumption, NVIDIA has built components onto the PCB which allow the drivers (but not the GPU itself) to monitor the GPUís energy consumption or rather the intensity of the current which passes down each of the three 12v power supply channels (PCI Express bus and connectors).

NVIDIA hasnít however activated global monitoring and, to avoid reducing performance in games or 3Dmark, only activates its system in the latest versions of Furmark and OCCT, namely in the extreme load tests used by testers to measure energy consumption. In these applications, if the driver measures energy consumption beyond a certain limit, it lowers clocks by half, and then by half again if this hasnít been sufficient. We set things up so this didnít kick in during our tests.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card in idle.


Graphics card in load.

The GeForce GTX 580 is pretty well cooled. Weíre a long way from the situation with the GeForce GTX 480!


Temperature and noise readings

The readings confirm the above observations: the new cooler is very efficient and keeps temperature levels down without getting too noisy. Note, the hot air expelled from the back of the casing is very hot.


Page 38
GeForce GTX 580 SLI

GeForce GTX 580 SLI
Like any multi-GPU system, the GeForce GTX 580s in SLI make for increased internal temperatures.

Note that in an attempt to contain energy consumption, NVIDIA has integrated components onto the PCB which allow the drivers (but not the GPU itself) to monitor the energy consumption of the GPU, or rather the intensity of the current which passes down each of the three 12v power supply channels (PCI Express bus and connectors).

NVIDIA hasnít however activated global monitoring and, to avoid reducing performance in games or 3Dmark, only puts its system in action in the latest versions of Furmark and OCCT, namely in the extreme load tests used by testers to measure energy consumption. In these applications, if the driver measures energy consumption beyond a certain limit, it lowers clocks by half, and then by half again if this hasnít been sufficient. We set things up so this didnít kick in during our tests.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

This very extreme system is well cooled both at idle and in load and the impact on other components is quite contained, with most of the hot air expelled from the casing.


Temperature and noise readings

After the catastrophic results of the GeForce GTX 480 SLI, NVIDIA has managed quite a feat here by containing the temperatures on these similar and more powerful GeForce GTX 580s. Of course, in such an extreme system, a lot of heat is produced, but it stays within reasonable limits. Donít expect the cooler to be quiet in load however!

Note also that the northbridge gets very hot, a natural result of the high performance of the system, the available space and the fact that it has to supply additional PCI Express lanes. Active cooling for the northbridge is therefore very much advised on this type of platform.


Page 39
GeForce GTX 590

GeForce GTX 590
For its very high end bi-GPU, NVIDIA, like AMD with the Radeon HD 6990, has gone for a cooling system that expels air from the centre of the card towards its extremeties. A good deal of the hot air therefore circulates within the casing.

With extreme energy consumption, announced at 365W in standard usage but 450W in heavy loads, itís important to observe what impact this might have on the other components in the system.




Infrared thermography

System at idle.


System in load.


Graphics card at idle.


Graphics card in load.

Although the card is well cooled at idle, it heats up a great deal in load. As a great deal of hot air remains inside the casing, the temperature of all the components increases significantly.


Temperature and noise readings

Looking at these results, itís obvious that NVIDIA has opted for lower noise levels here, to the detriment of temperature levels. Itíll therefore be necessary to make sure the casing is well cooled, giving special attention to the hard drive bay.


Page 40
TI: systems in idle

Infrared thermography: systems at idle

Radeon HD 3450


Radeon HD 4850


Radeon HD 4870


Radeon HD 4890


Radeon HD 4870 CrossFire


Radeon HD 4870 X2


Radeon HD 5750


Radeon HD 5770


Radeon HD 5850


Radeon HD 5850 CrossFire


Radeon HD 5870


Radeon HD 5870 CrossFire


Radeon HD 5970


Radeon HD 6850


Radeon HD 6870


Radeon HD 6950


Radeon HD 6950 CrossFire


Radeon HD 6970


Radeon HD 6970 CrossFire


Radeon HD 6990


GeForce 9800 GTX+


GeForce 9800 GX2


GeForce GTX 260


GeForce GTX 275


GeForce GTX 285


GeForce GTX 295


GeForce GTX 460


GeForce GTX 460 SLI


GeForce GTX 470


GeForce GTX 480


GeForce GTX 480 SLI


GeForce GTX 560 Ti


GeForce GTX 570


GeForce GTX 570 SLI


GeForce GTX 580


GeForce GTX 580 SLI


GeForce GTX 590


NVIDIA had done best on the first generation tested in terms of temperature management with the GeForce GTX 260, 275 and 285 (and therefore the 280 also) as well as with the GeForce GTX 295. The other bi-GPU solutions as well as the Radeon HD 4870 make for higher system temperatures. With the new generations, AMD has come back and considerably reduced energy consumption of its GPUs at idle.

The Radeon HD 4870 CrossFire system as well as the GeForce GTX 480 SLI are therefore the least efficient and impact most on other system components. Radeon HD 5800 CrossFire systems do much better however.


Page 41
TI: systems in load

Infrared thermography: systems in load

Radeon HD 3450


Radeon HD 4850


Radeon HD 4870


Radeon HD 4890


Radeon HD 4870 CrossFire


Radeon HD 4870 X2


Radeon HD 5750


Radeon HD 5770


Radeon HD 5850


Radeon HD 5850 CrossFire


Radeon HD 5870


Radeon HD 5870 CrossFire


Radeon HD 5970


Radeon HD 6850


Radeon HD 6870


Radeon HD 6950


Radeon HD 6950 CrossFire


Radeon HD 6970


Radeon HD 6970 CrossFire


Radeon HD 6990 375W


Radeon HD 6990 450W


GeForce 9800 GTX+


GeForce 9800 GX2


GeForce GTX 260


GeForce GTX 275


GeForce GTX 285


GeForce GTX 295


GeForce GTX 460


GeForce GTX 460 SLI


GeForce GTX 470


GeForce GTX 480


GeForce GTX 480 SLI


GeForce GTX 560 Ti


GeForce GTX 570


GeForce GTX 570 SLI


GeForce GTX 580


GeForce GTX 580 SLI


GeForce GTX 590


Once in load, on the GeForce GTX 200 and Radeon HD 4800 generation, the comparable AMD and NVIDIA solutions behave similarly. With the Radeon HD 5000s, AMD has the advantage as the GeForce GTX 400s are very demanding in terms of power consumption. The Radeon HD 6000s and GeForce GTX 500s are more or less on a par.

While all the multi-GPU systems introduce quite a bit of heat into the casing, the GeForce GTX 480 SLI is in a league of its own, totally off the scale.


Page 42
TI: graphics cards in idle

Infrared thermography: graphics cards in idle

Radeon HD 3450


Radeon HD 4850


Radeon HD 4870


Radeon HD 4890


Radeon HD 4870 CrossFire


Radeon HD 4870 X2


Radeon HD 5750


Radeon HD 5770


Radeon HD 5850


Radeon HD 5850 CrossFire


Radeon HD 5870


Radeon HD 5870 CrossFire


Radeon HD 5970


Radeon HD 6850


Radeon HD 6870


Radeon HD 6950


Radeon HD 6950 CrossFire


Radeon HD 6970


Radeon HD 6970 CrossFire


Radeon HD 6990


GeForce 9800 GTX+


GeForce 9800 GX2


GeForce GTX 260


GeForce GTX 275


GeForce GTX 285


GeForce GTX 295


GeForce GTX 460


GeForce GTX 460 SLI


GeForce GTX 470


GeForce GTX 480


GeForce GTX 480 SLI


GeForce GTX 560 Ti


GeForce GTX 570


GeForce GTX 570 SLI


GeForce GTX 580


GeForce GTX 580 SLI


GeForce GTX 590

Radeon HD 3450


Radeon HD 4850


Radeon HD 4870


Radeon HD 4890


Radeon HD 4870 CrossFire


Radeon HD 4870 X2


Radeon HD 5750


Radeon HD 5770


Radeon HD 5850


Radeon HD 5850 CrossFire


Radeon HD 5870


Radeon HD 5870 CrossFire


Radeon HD 5970


Radeon HD 6850


Radeon HD 6870


Radeon HD 6950


Radeon HD 6950 CrossFire


Radeon HD 6970


Radeon HD 6970 CrossFire


Radeon HD 6990


GeForce 9800 GTX+


GeForce 9800 GX2


GeForce GTX 260


GeForce GTX 275


GeForce GTX 285


GeForce GTX 295


GeForce GTX 460


GeForce GTX 460 SLI


GeForce GTX 470


GeForce GTX 480


GeForce GTX 480 SLI


GeForce GTX 560 Ti


GeForce GTX 570


GeForce GTX 570 SLI


GeForce GTX 580


GeForce GTX 580 SLI


GeForce GTX 590

Radeon HD 3450


Radeon HD 4850


Radeon HD 4870


Radeon HD 4890


Radeon HD 4870 CrossFire


Radeon HD 4870 X2


Radeon HD 5750


Radeon HD 5770


Radeon HD 5850


Radeon HD 5850 CrossFire


Radeon HD 5870


Radeon HD 5870 CrossFire


Radeon HD 5970


Radeon HD 6850


Radeon HD 6870


Radeon HD 6950


Radeon HD 6950 CrossFire


Radeon HD 6970


Radeon HD 6970 CrossFire


Radeon HD 6990


GeForce 9800 GTX+


GeForce 9800 GX2


GeForce GTX 260


GeForce GTX 275


GeForce GTX 285


GeForce GTX 295


GeForce GTX 460


GeForce GTX 460 SLI


GeForce GTX 470


GeForce GTX 480


GeForce GTX 480 SLI


GeForce GTX 560 Ti


GeForce GTX 570


GeForce GTX 570 SLI


GeForce GTX 580


GeForce GTX 580 SLI


GeForce GTX 590


While it was very easy to spot a Radeon HD 4800 on the infrared photos, the recent Radeons do just as well, or even better here than the GeForces, especially as the temperatures of the GeForce GTX 480 at idle are slightly higher. Note the excellent progress made by AMD and NVIDIA with recent multi-card systems, with the exception of the GeForce GTX 480s of course!


Page 43
TI: graphics cards in load

Infrared thermography: graphics cards in load

Radeon HD 3450


Radeon HD 4850


Radeon HD 4870


Radeon HD 4890


Radeon HD 4870 CrossFire


Radeon HD 4870 X2


Radeon HD 5750


Radeon HD 5770


Radeon HD 5850


Radeon HD 5850 CrossFire


Radeon HD 5870


Radeon HD 5870 CrossFire


Radeon HD 5970


Radeon HD 6850


Radeon HD 6870


Radeon HD 6950


Radeon HD 6950 CrossFire


Radeon HD 6970


Radeon HD 6970 CrossFire


Radeon HD 6990 375W


Radeon HD 6990 450W


GeForce 9800 GTX+


GeForce 9800 GX2


GeForce GTX 260


GeForce GTX 275


GeForce GTX 285


GeForce GTX 295


GeForce GTX 460


GeForce GTX 460 SLI


GeForce GTX 470


GeForce GTX 480


GeForce GTX 480 SLI


GeForce GTX 560 Ti


GeForce GTX 570


GeForce GTX 570 SLI


GeForce GTX 580


GeForce GTX 580 SLI


GeForce GTX 590


In load, the GeForce GTX 480 breaks all the records, while the temperature of the Radeon HD 5000s/6000s are under control overall.


Page 44
Summary of results

Summary of results
Here we've brought together all the temperature readings taken during the tests. We've highlighted the most significant results:



At idle the GPUs of the majority of the Radeon HD 4800s, but also the GeForce 9800 GX2 and the GeForce GTX 480 SLIs run at a relatively high temperature. On the other hand the GPUs in the GeForce GTXs and the Radeon HD 5000s remain cool.

Multi-GPU systems give off more heat and take up more room. They also require the chipset to support more PCI Express lanes, which increases the northbridge temperature.




In load we note that a small card like the Radeon HD 3450 facilitates circulation of the air, which helps the CPU and other zones of the motherboard to stay cool. To a lesser extent, a single slot card like the Radeon HD 4850 also facilitates things at this level. On the other hand, a system made up of several graphics cards has an impact on air flow.

The air thatís expelled from the casing by the Radeon HD 4870, 4890 and 4870 X2 as well as the Radeon HD 5800s/5900s/6800s/6900s and the GeForce GTX 470/480/570/580 is very hot and you have to make sure you leave a small gap between the casing and the wall.

The most demanding solutions make the chipset heat up, as itís close to the graphics card. We have noticed this however: the temperature of the chipset increases when there are several GPUs in the system and/or performance levels increase, whether on one or several cards. We therefore suppose that the chipset heats more because of the extra PCI Express lanes. Of course, this isnít the case on bi-GPU and/or higher performance cards. The chipset does however have to process more data, once for each GPU and at a higher rate generally speaking. This extra work probably explains the increase in temperature when in load.

This is particularly worrying with the high-end CrossFire and SLI systems which forced us to deactivate chipset protection that was limited to 90 įC and which cut the system once this temperature was reached. For such a system youíll need to use the extra fan for the northbridge if it's delivered with your motherboard or direct a flow of air towards the northbridge cooler.


Page 45
Temperature and noise levels

GPU temperatures
We have shown the various GPU temperatures at idle and in load. In multi-GPU systems we read the temperature of the hottest GPU.



Noise levels

The Radeon HD 4850, 4870, 5850 and 5870, as well as the GeForce GTX 285 and GTX 560 Ti are silent at idle. The other cards can be heard slightly, some only very slightly. There are no problems to report here.

In load the mono-GPU Radeon HD 5000s had an advantage, but NVIDIA has made up ground with the GeForce GTX 500s, which run at lower noise levels for equivalent performance. We should say that in the case of the Radeon HD 4870 and the Radeon HD 6900s, the incessant changes in the speed of the fan are very annoying, and represent more than a few extra dBs.


Page 46
Conclusion

Conclusion
This extensive analysis of the temperatures of different graphics cards gives you information on how they manage their thermal properties but also on how these cooling systems impact on the rest of the system. Infrared thermography adds a visual dimension to the test that allows the observation of the hottest points on a system overall.

We have been able to draw several conclusions at the end of these tests. What is most obvious is that NVIDIA has worked hard on the GeForce GTX 200s, in terms of reducing the levels of energy consumption of GPUs at idle and also by calibrating the cooling system so as to keep its GPUs cool without excessive noise pollution. AMD allows its Radeons to get much hotter.


It is however too easy to conclude from this that some of these cards are more reliable than others. We are confident that AMD has checked the proper functioning of its GPUs at these temperatures. It makes sense that AMD and NVIDIA use materials with different thermal resistances to make their GPUs and choose the type of cooling system accordingly. The other components of the PC however, may suffer more due to one or other of the solutions. Excess heat may also cause other fans in a PC to start up more frequently. This is where the GeForce GTXs have the advantage.

Among the other observations that we can make, we note that multi-card systems cause temperatures to go up, which is no surprise. What is more significant however is that bi-GPU cards also lead to an increase in the temperature of some parts such as the chipset. The reason for this is that even if the data of the 2 GPUs passes through the same PCI Express link, there is more of it and it adds a supplementary load to the chipset which therefore heats up more. Overclocking enthusiasts will need to take care to cool the chipset on a Radeon HD 4870 X2 system or a GeForce GTX 295 more than with other cards.


Update 15/04/2010

The arrival of the new generation of graphics cards from AMD then NVIDIA changes things somewhat. With the Radeon HD 5700s and 5800s, AMD has made up any lag it had on NVIDIA and even outshone it in terms of energy consumption at idle, which means its offer includes quieter cards that remain relatively cool. Better still, this is also the case with CrossFire systems thanks to the ability to disable one of the two GPUs. On the other hand, NVIDIA has lost some ground with the GeForce GTX 400s with the very high consumption GF100, even at idle.

In load the energy consumption levels of the GeForce GTX 480 explode, which has a direct impact on temperatures, mainly of the GPU of course. After these tests it transpires that the GeForce GTX 480 is the first graphics card tested that canít be used in a basic casing such as the Antec Sonata 3 with a single 120mm extraction fan. Most users should steer clear then, except if youíre more advanced and able to set up the cooling system to go with it.
In an SLI system, the GeForce GTX 480 requires further special cooling care, even watercooling, which restricts it to a handful of users who wonít be concerned about the very high noise levels either. Our test casing is, we know, sacrilege in terms of the thermal characteristics of these cards and weíre currently considering a replacement system or the addition of a second casing reserved for multi-card tests.

As for cooling the chipset, especially the northbridge, with multi-GPU systems, it becomes even more important with recent cards which increase chipset performance and therefore potenially the load placed on it. With our passive cooling system we have reached the tolerance limits fixed by the motherboard manufacturer. We should therefore say that the platform used for these tests is based on Core 2 architecture and that the northbridge therefore includes not only the PCI Express ports for graphics cards but also the memory controller. Itís possible that this is less crucial on more recent architectures. Here again, weíre planning to update our test system.


Update 22/07/2010

With the GeForce GTX 460, NVIDIA is giving us a compact card with lower energy demands, especially at idle where it has minimal energy consumption. Note however that the stock cooling system expels around half the hot air within the casing. While this isn't a problem with a single-card set-up, in SLI the heat can accumulate in the hard drive bay. You'll need to make sure this has a dedicated fan or use GeForce GTX 460s designed with an alternative cooling system that will expel more of the air out of the casing.



Update 27/10/2010

Although the Radeon HD 6800 are pretty well coooled overall, in comparison to their level of performance their cooling systems are a notch below those on the Radeon HD 5700s and 5800s. The Radeon HD 6850 is slightly hotter at idle and the stock Radeon HD 6870 is pretty noisy in load.


Update 25/02/2010

While with the GeForce GTX 480, or even the GeForce GTX 470, NVIDIA broke all the records in the wrong direction, the situation was rectified with the new range which was introduced with an entirely revised cooling system that manages all that heat given off by the brand's high-end GPU much more efficiently. This has allowed these GeForce to jump ahead of the latest Radeons, which have higher energy consumption but whose cooling system hasn't really developed.

While none of the multi-card systems based on recent high-end models poses too much of a problem in terms of temperatures, it is important to take the overall cooling of the system into account, particularly the northbridge on platforms that call upon it for piloting PCI Express lanes.


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