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Making A Value Case For Water-Cooling A GPU

CryoVenom R9 290 Review: Water Cooling With A Warranty
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Where do you find value in VisionTek’s air-cooled CryoVenom R9 290? Well, personally, I have three reasons to ditch air cooling when it comes to AMD's Hawaii-based Radeon cards. First, the reference design runs too hot, even at stock frequencies, and even after AMD increased its maximum fan speed setting, resulting in thermal throttling. If you go with a centrifugal cooler, you're going to have to accept lots of noise. Opt instead for a cooler armed with axial fans and you're dumping all of the card's heat  back into your chassis, potentially affecting other components adversely. The CryoVenom R9 290 avoids those issues.

Ideally, you want to mount the radiator for your water-cooling setup with its fans facing outward, pushing waste heat right out of your case. Experienced builders can do this with low-speed fans that make high-end gaming machines extremely quiet. But even if we set aside the hit to portability and risk of a leak associated with liquid cooling, the CryoVenom could have a big hill to climb when it comes to calculating performance per dollar.

Because of market volatility and the fact that VisionTek's CryoVenom R9 290 is currently unavailable, we have to base the above chart on suggested retail pricing. We can’t know the actual street price of both boards until they're available simultaneously. We can only observe that a lack of supply is pushing most Hawaii-based cards between $150 and $200 higher than AMD's launch pricing.

The above chart also adds our $180 cooling system to what you'll pay for the liquid-cooled card. If you already have some old liquid-cooling gear laying around, rendering it "free", in a sense, you can push the CryoVenom’s overclocked and stock value ratings to 107% and 94%, respectively. And if you’re really tired of choosing between throttled performance, an overheated case, and excessive noise, that sounds like a bargain able to transcend basic frame rate calculations.

Value always looks worse when you're comparing individual components to each other. The rest of your platform isn't free though; we have to add in everything else supporting these parts. Let's say you're an enthusiast building a $2000 PC specifically for gaming, and a $100 upgrade boosts performance by 10%, you actually achieve a 5% value gain, regardless of how low the baseline part was priced.

If VisionTek can deliver on its promise to re-launch the CryoVenom R9 290 at $600, it will sell for close to the same price as a lot of air-cooled cards. That would make its value comparatively equal to comparative performance, with VisionTek's offering serving 2% more value at stock clock rates and 16% more value than stock when we overclock it, and 6% more value than our retail air-cooled sample when it's overclocked as well. But that $600 price tag is purely theoretical until VisionTek makes the CryoVenom R9 290 available for purchase.

So enough of the theory. In practice, a liquid-cooled product costs more than air cooling. Working out the value equation to favor water cooling is very difficult unless hammering away at heat and noise are your priorities. If you've used a Radeon R9 290 or 290X with AMD's reference heat sink and fan, those two attributes are no doubt important. Once you make the decision to water-cool, VisionTek would like to be the company selling you a turnkey solution. You get an extra $150 in cooling hardware for $150 at most (cool), without the work that goes into installing your own block (cool), and the hardware is still covered by a warranty (also cool). I think that's a good deal, even if the CryoVenom R9 290's one-year warranty is 50% shorter than what VisionTek gives you with its other cards.

You did catch that last bit, right? I mention it because the card we reviewed in PowerColor LCS AXR9 290X: Water Makes Hawaii Comfortable gives you two years of coverage.

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  • 1 Hide
    OttoD , March 10, 2014 1:53 AM
    Would have loved Reference vs. Custome Aircooling vs. water, is it worth going from example Sapphire Tri-X to water? theres really no need for reference coolers in no one in there right mind will buy one of those unless its for fitting water your self.
  • 2 Hide
    blackmagnum , March 10, 2014 2:40 AM
    Calling DangerDen... we need help with another hot AMD!
  • 0 Hide
    hansrotec , March 10, 2014 3:21 AM
    Moving to water cooling with my 7970 was night and day in terms of temps and noise. worth every penny. right now im planning a cooling overhaul to drop the temp while not needing the pump to speed up as much - larger/ more rad and a new pump started with an swiftech h220 and added on an EK 7970 lightning block with a 120mm rad and small reservoirI will say while i could go back to the CPU being air cooled i could not go back to the GPU being air cooled.
  • -1 Hide
    SchizoFrog , March 10, 2014 3:24 AM
    Just got to love these so called 'full cover water blocks' that only cover 80% or less of a GPU card. Yes, they may cover all the necessary components on the PCB but it looks half finished and leaves the card looking ugly with the exposed components that remain and for the money you pay, would it be too much to ask to extend it to cover the full length of the GPU?
  • 0 Hide
    tcb1005 , March 10, 2014 8:05 AM
    Do you ever have to clean out your water loop? If so, I think I would go with the air cooled.
  • 2 Hide
    Crashman , March 10, 2014 8:15 AM
    Quote:
    Do you ever have to clean out your water loop? If so, I think I would go with the air cooled.
    This one has been clean for years because it contains antifreeze and has all copper parts. My mixed aluminum/copper systems were horrrrrrrible for building up crud.
  • -5 Hide
    dgingeri , March 10, 2014 11:34 AM
    That math seems wrong to me. Sure, the card, the water cooler, and the backplate are the right components, but since it doesn't come with an air cooler, and the water cooler is less complicated to put on, and the fact that the water cooler is more reliable due to now having a fan, it seems to me that the water cooled version should be cheaper, or at the very least the same price as an air cooled version. This is a ripoff.
  • 2 Hide
    Crashman , March 10, 2014 12:04 PM
    Quote:
    That math seems wrong to me. Sure, the card, the water cooler, and the backplate are the right components, but since it doesn't come with an air cooler, and the water cooler is less complicated to put on, and the fact that the water cooler is more reliable due to now having a fan, it seems to me that the water cooled version should be cheaper, or at the very least the same price as an air cooled version. This is a ripoff.
    Thanks, but VisionTek doesn't make the cooler, they buy it. Same with the card, they buy that with the air cooler and I've never paid more than $20 for "overstock" replacement coolers on eBay.

    Go look at the price of the acrylic/nickel block and the backplate. Assume they're stockpiling the leftover air coolers at some cost and will sell them in the far future for about the cost of stockpiling them.

  • -2 Hide
    dgingeri , March 10, 2014 12:24 PM
    So, you're telling me they buy the cards with the air coolers pre-installed and then replace them with the waterblock? That's about the most asinine idea ever. They could easily buy the cards from an OEM supplier, like Sapphire, without the cooler and just add the water block. The air coolers are more expensive than $20, that's for sure. The copper alone is probably worth $15, just for recycle value. (I got $15 each from a copper recycler for a couple server CPU coolers I pulled from a dead server someone asked me to recycle a couple weeks ago, and those were less copper than I've seen on most GPU coolers these days. The CPU coolers were just a 1/4" plate barely bigger than the CPU socket with 1" tall thin fins soldered onto it.) A GPU cooler for an R9 290 is probably about $40-50 to the card maker, maybe $10 less than that water block. They'd save a bunch getting the card from an OEM supplier without the air cooler and installing the waterblock. If they're actually doing as you say, they're wasting tons of money, and the management should probably be fired for incompetence.
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , March 10, 2014 12:42 PM
    Quote:
    So, you're telling me they buy the cards with the air coolers pre-installed and then replace them with the waterblock? That's about the most asinine idea ever. They could easily buy the cards from an OEM supplier, like Sapphire, without the cooler and just add the water block. The air coolers are more expensive than $20, that's for sure. The copper alone is probably worth $15, just for recycle value. (I got $15 each from a copper recycler for a couple server CPU coolers I pulled from a dead server someone asked me to recycle a couple weeks ago, and those were less copper than I've seen on most GPU coolers these days. The CPU coolers were just a 1/4" plate barely bigger than the CPU socket with 1" tall thin fins soldered onto it.) A GPU cooler for an R9 290 is probably about $40-50 to the card maker, maybe $10 less than that water block. They'd save a bunch getting the card from an OEM supplier without the air cooler and installing the waterblock. If they're actually doing as you say, they're wasting tons of money, and the management should probably be fired for incompetence.
    Until recently the only way to buy cards was complete from AMD. And the cooler it came with was incredibly cheap.

    AMD recently released these to distribution by manufacturing partners, so maybe they can now get them bare. But they couldn't when these were launched, and this is a launch card. Since I don't know the full details of AMD's recent move, I cannot comment further.

  • 2 Hide
    RazberyBandit , March 10, 2014 2:19 PM
    Thomas. I really wish you guys would stop claiming that the installation of an aftermarket cooler voids the warranty on every one of these cards. There are, in fact, exceptions.

    In the USA and Canada, MSI and XFX still allow owners of their cards to install aftermarket cooling solutions WITHOUT voiding the original manufacturer's warranty. (Both have supported doing so for many years.) Should the owner of an MSI or XFX card with an aftermarket cooler installed on it ever need service for that card, the original-equipment cooling solution must be reinstalled prior to returning it for service.

    XFX offers a 2-year warranty on its regular R9-series cards, and a lifetime warranty on Black Edition cards. Meanwhile, MSI offers a 3-year warranty on all its R9-series cards. So should the owner of an MSI or XFX R9-290/290X card want to use the EK solution mentioned in the article, that owner would still be fully covered by the respective manufacturer's warranty.
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , March 10, 2014 2:50 PM
    Quote:
    Thomas. I really wish you guys would stop claiming that the installation of an aftermarket cooler voids the warranty on every one of these cards. There are, in fact, exceptions.In the USA and Canada, MSI and XFX still allow owners of their cards to install aftermarket cooling solutions WITHOUT voiding the original manufacturer's warranty. (Both have supported doing so for many years.) Should the owner of an MSI or XFX card with an aftermarket cooler installed on it ever need service for that card, the original-equipment cooling solution must be reinstalled prior to returning it for service.XFX offers a 2-year warranty on its regular R9-series cards, and a lifetime warranty on Black Edition cards. Meanwhile, MSI offers a 3-year warranty on all its R9-series cards. So should the owner of an MSI or XFX R9-290/290X card want to use the EK solution mentioned in the article, that owner would still be fully covered by the respective manufacturer's warranty.

    Do you have links? I wish I'd known about MSI and XFX's exceptional policies, I would turn to them for more samples!
  • 1 Hide
    Rhinofart , March 10, 2014 2:58 PM
    Did DangerDen come back? I thought they went under. I was really sad that they went away. I havne't used Aircooling on anything (Except my Mac) since 2001. People who say Liquid Cooling is stupid, just don't get it. Not worth trying to explain it to them. Penny pinching scardey cats. ;0)
  • 0 Hide
    RazberyBandit , March 10, 2014 3:01 PM
    Neither has its policies publicly available on its website. (XFX actually did a few months back when it dropped the Double-Lifetime Warranty.) Maybe you could call 'em? XFX: 800-880-3225 MSI: 1-626-913-0828
  • 0 Hide
    RazberyBandit , March 10, 2014 3:03 PM
    (Double-post. Please remove.)
  • -1 Hide
    dgingeri , March 10, 2014 3:10 PM
    AMD doesn't manufacture cards. Their partner for manufacturing is Sapphire, and has been since the ATI days. I know MSI and Gigabyte buy their reference cards from Sapphire and add their own coolers. I don't see anything blocking other companies from doing the same.
  • 1 Hide
    tcb1005 , March 10, 2014 3:14 PM
    Quote:
    AMD doesn't manufacture cards. Their partner for manufacturing is Sapphire, and has been since the ATI days. I know MSI and Gigabyte buy their reference cards from Sapphire and add their own coolers. I don't see anything blocking other companies from doing the same.


    Actually AMD designs the cards, and TSMC manufactures the GPUs which the distributors, Sapphire included, buy the add their heatsinks and branding to.
  • -1 Hide
    dgingeri , March 10, 2014 3:23 PM
    Yes, AMD designs the boards, TSMC makes the GPUs, several subcontractors print the circuit boards, Sapphire takes the circuit boards and puts on the surface mount devices, (resistors, capacitors, etc.) GPU, memory, and connectors, then sells the finished boards, with or without the default cooler, to name brand companies like MSI and Gigabyte, who supply support and warranty coverage, and sometimes the coolers.
  • -1 Hide
    ta152h , March 10, 2014 3:45 PM
    This article leaves out one of the more important aspects of this device.When I first saw this, I was scratching my head as to why anyone would water cool a castrated device, instead of just getting the real deal, and working with it.The answer is not given here, although it's an important question. Only the crazy pricing has made this less important, but that's a temporary issue. It's also unclear that this will be exempt from the price bloating that's hitting other cards; it seems likely it will be.So, why not pit this device against a R9 290X, with a better than stock cooler, to bring the price in line with each other? Doesn't this device beg that question? Doesn't it have to be better than the R9 290X? Well, it no doubt would be in some ways, like noise and similar consideration, but the performance is also important to quantify to make an overall judgment. Including the base speed of it and the air cooled card just isn't that important. One would have done. Including the performance of a R9 290X just matters more.
  • -1 Hide
    somebodyspecial , March 10, 2014 4:15 PM
    Consider a AIR cooled version somewhere in between the OC retail card and the water cooled card. OR just look at toms scores and compare to this article as they already mounted a $75 ACX to it previously.Buy NV and just avoid this hawaii crap. This clearly should have been a 20nm chip as hardocp says. Why do you have to fix a bad product? Just buy NV and get great drivers (no phase3 at least), Gsync to make your card live longer (playable in many games much longer), physx (not in much but looks great when it is included, Borderlands2 etc), low noise, low heat OC great out of the box. Even Mantle is useless in 2 weeks as GDC kicks off showing OpenGL already having the same, and DX coming with it in v12. We are having to fix this card because it was not designed properly.I'm scratching my head as to why anyone wouldn't just buy NV and avoid all the problems. Isn't that easier? Faster? Cooler? blah blah...All better on NV side and this thing won't be $600 ROFLMAO. They will look at other cards being sold and price accordingly above them (well duh, no company does you favors for free and expects to make profits, see AMD's entire company life...never made a dime overall).
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