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Test System And Configuration

PowerColor's SCS3 HD6850: Radeon HD 6850 Goes Fanless
By , Greg Ryder

It takes guts to try passively cooling a 127 W graphics processor. PowerColor sells the first Radeon HD 6850 we've seen topped only with a heatsink. Does the triple-slot cooler do its job, or is Barts simply too complex of a GPU to cool like this?

Test System
CPU
Intel Core i5-2500K @ 4.5 GHz
CPU cooler
Prolimatech SuperMega + Noiseblocker Multiframe PWM
Mainboard
Asus P67 Sabertooth Rev. B3


RAM
8 GB Kingston HyperX 1600 "Genesis"









System SSD
256 GB Samsung 470 Series
Power Supply
Cougar GX 105080 PLUS Gold
Total1050 W
Combined Power 3.3V/5V160 W
Combined Power 12V1008 W
Efficiency93 %

Operating System
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
Test Equipment
Current and Power Meter
Energy Logger 4000 (Conrad Electronic)

• long-term measurements
• monitoring
• power measurements up to 1.2 KW
Voltcraft SBC-500 (Conrad Electronic)

• precise measurements down to milliwatt range
• power measurements up to 500 watts
Sound level meter
Voltcraft SL-400 (Conrad Electronic)

• sound level measurements
• long-term recording
• monitoring


Performance Categories: Gamer and Enthusiast

Although we cover a wide range of settings and resolutions in our launch coverage of various products, and will continue to do so, this piece includes two more generally-applicable performance categories that also take the acquisition cost into consideration. Our Gamer category is tested at 1680x1050, and our Enthusiast category is benchmarked at 1920x1080. We also base the image quality settings on both classifications.

Also this piece specifically covers a mid-range card, it's interesting that the results of our testing reveal that some high-end settings are accessible by lower-end boards as well.

Performance Index and Calculation Method

Instead of using cumulative frame rates to rank a graphics card, this review ranks cards in those same Gamer and Enthusiast classes. A graphics card that may be ranked rather low in the Enthusiast column might be completely usable in the Gamer category. Cumulative frame rates do not shed light on performance under specific conditions. Thus, we're replacing that old system with more transparent rankings.

So, how do we obtain these values? We take one representative from each GPU manufacturer, both for mid-range cards (AMD Radeon HD 6870 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti) and high-end cards (AMD Radeon HD 6970, Nvidia GeForce GTX 570), and assess their behavior in 15 games. Then, we compute an average for each of the two card groups, creating two fictional 'Raforce Gedeon' cards. We use these two models as a reference for quality settings in each benchmark test and dub these synthetic frame rates the 100% level for the Gamer and Enthusiast categories, respectively, for each benchmark. The sum of all performance percentages, divided by the number of tests, yields two indexes. As the 'Raforce Gedeon' card is manufacturer-agnostic, advantages held by specific cards are eliminated from the get-go. This might sound complicated, but it really isn't. So long as you test using typical game settings, the rankings are a good indication of the price/performance ratio for each graphics card.

Power Draw and Temperature Measurement

We fully-loaded our CPU with Prime95 running threads at low priority in the background. Then, we measured the power draw of an entry-level graphics card with well-known power characteristics (first at idle, and then with FurMark running). Subtracting the card’s idle and load power from the total system power yielded, in each case, the total system power draw without a graphics card. These two values nearly matched, which allowed us to simply subtract 131 watts from all subsequent power measurements in order to obtain the power draw of the graphics card by itself. Of course, we also analyze the total power draw as a sanity check. Temperature measurements are conducted at idle and full load, as usual. The measurements are conducted at a climate-controlled room temperature of 22°C (72°F).   

Sound Level Measurement

We measured at 50 cm (20”) from the card's center in a silent room.

Display all 52 comments.
Top Comments
  • 15 Hide
    aznshinobi , August 9, 2011 5:33 AM
    Wow... With the addition of the fan, I think it would be a good card. Pretty good temps with that added fan.
Other Comments
  • 2 Hide
    whysobluepandabear , August 9, 2011 4:48 AM
    I suggest you turn the music up, or invest in some headphones/ear-buds. This is pretty much just nitpicking over sound levels.
  • 6 Hide
    compton , August 9, 2011 5:20 AM
    WhysoBluepandabearI suggest you turn the music up, or invest in some headphones/ear-buds. This is pretty much just nitpicking over sound levels.


    There's nothing nitpicky about it. Most of the sound being generated by my system is in fact just the fan of my GPU at idle (about 1300rpm, almost twice as fast as the other two fans in my system). It's not easy making a system suitably quiet and fully capable -- you could always go with a cheap passive entry level card if you don't need or want a decent GPU. It's much easier now than in the past, but inevitably something has to give. You may not care about how loud your system is, but I actually put some effort into mine. Plus, it's not like you can't hear a system even with headphones on anyway; open back heaphones don't really attenuate any sound at all. I for one have been waiting on an appropriately quiet GPU -- I'd like some kind of hybrid system where the card's fan stops at idle and ramps up past a threshold temp, like my Seasonic PSU does.

    The less noise your system makes, the harder it is to eliminate the remaining sources of noise. For some people a passive GPU can be a make or break part when it comes to keeping the roar in check. This particular GPU may not be appropriate for many systems, but passive performance GPUs are still going to be niche products for some time to come. Hopefully the next generation will be able to more ably pair performance with lower power/heat/noise.
  • 15 Hide
    aznshinobi , August 9, 2011 5:33 AM
    Wow... With the addition of the fan, I think it would be a good card. Pretty good temps with that added fan.
  • 6 Hide
    Yargnit , August 9, 2011 5:39 AM
    That brings up an interesting question. Would it be possible to build a system that is silent (inaudible from say a distance of 1m) when surfing the net, watching videos etc, but is a full blown high end gaming rig when desired. (obviously not silently)

    Could say a GTX570 be cooled passively in 2d mode, and only kick on th fan in games? What about the CPU if it was set to downclock significanty and had a good aftermarket cooler?
  • -7 Hide
    whysobluepandabear , August 9, 2011 5:58 AM
    comptonThere's nothing nitpicky about it. Most of the sound being generated by my system is in fact just the fan of my GPU at idle (about 1300rpm, almost twice as fast as the other two fans in my system). It's not easy making a system suitably quiet and fully capable -- you could always go with a cheap passive entry level card if you don't need or want a decent GPU. It's much easier now than in the past, but inevitably something has to give. You may not care about how loud your system is, but I actually put some effort into mine. Plus, it's not like you can't hear a system even with headphones on anyway; open back heaphones don't really attenuate any sound at all. I for one have been waiting on an appropriately quiet GPU -- I'd like some kind of hybrid system where the card's fan stops at idle and ramps up past a threshold temp, like my Seasonic PSU does.The less noise your system makes, the harder it is to eliminate the remaining sources of noise. For some people a passive GPU can be a make or break part when it comes to keeping the roar in check. This particular GPU may not be appropriate for many systems, but passive performance GPUs are still going to be niche products for some time to come. Hopefully the next generation will be able to more ably pair performance with lower power/heat/noise.



    And then I would say: Just go water cooling if you're that intolerable to fan noise. This card already costs a premium, as would many other items if you were that anal about a few dB.

    Water is not only quiet, but a lot better at cooling - And just think, you won't need your Xanax anymore to cope with the fan noise.
  • -5 Hide
    haplo602 , August 9, 2011 6:22 AM
    did you consider loading the cards with a decent bitcoin miner ? I can get my hd5830 to 99% utilisation according to the linux aticonfig tool (sapphire 5830 xtreme, at 900MHz core and open air it shows 67 degrees celsius). also a bitcoin miner is a good representation of a real world opencl heavy workload.
  • 4 Hide
    killerclick , August 9, 2011 6:24 AM
    I can't stand fan noise (or disk noise) and it's great that companies are releasing products with low noise in mind. Still, with this card I'd go with a huge heatsink and a low-RPM fan rather than passive cooling. A 600 RPM 120mm fan (and the airflow it produces) is inaudible (for me at least) and is a great compromise between passive cooling and those vulgar, loud boxes.
  • 9 Hide
    duckgoquack , August 9, 2011 6:24 AM
    WhysoBluepandabearAnd then I would say: Just go water cooling if you're that intolerable to fan noise. This card already costs a premium, as would many other items if you were that anal about a few dB. Water is not only quiet, but a lot better at cooling - And just think, you won't need your Xanax anymore to cope with the fan noise.


    There are some ignorant people on here.

    Water cooling is not quiet. Decent pumps are loud and the only exception (enhiems 1048 isn't available in my country) along with all the associated fans.

    It is nearly impossible to make a quiet high performing system because graphics cards are two noisy.

    Seasonic power supply, under-volted nexus real silents and your system is under 20 Dba.

    But most graphics cards make 30-40 Dba and those are low-mid end ones.

    What comptom says is what i would like as well. With a decent fan controller, it is near possible, but will become a lot more realistic with 28nm
  • 0 Hide
    killerclick , August 9, 2011 6:31 AM
    WhysoBluepandabearI suggest you turn the music up, or invest in some headphones/ear-buds. This is pretty much just nitpicking over sound levels.


    I don't want to wear headgear just so I could have a pleasant gaming experience. Get a job, invest in some good cooling and have your neckbeard friends marvel at your whisper-quiet rig.
  • 4 Hide
    whysobluepandabear , August 9, 2011 6:55 AM
    duckgoquackThere are some ignorant people on here.Water cooling is not quiet. Decent pumps are loud and the only exception (enhiems 1048 isn't available in my country) along with all the associated fans.It is nearly impossible to make a quiet high performing system because graphics cards are two noisy.Seasonic power supply, under-volted nexus real silents and your system is under 20 Dba.But most graphics cards make 30-40 Dba and those are low-mid end ones.What comptom says is what i would like as well. With a decent fan controller, it is near possible, but will become a lot more realistic with 28nm



    You confuse ignorance, with apathy. I'm also not obsessive over a few dB. I rather throw the money into A.) A better cooling solution - or B.) Just use the money to buy a better GPU and etc.


    Trust me, I understand WHY you'd seek a silent system - but some of it is past the point of reason.
  • 1 Hide
    whysobluepandabear , August 9, 2011 7:00 AM
    And the dude that said water cooling is loud, needs to re-evaluate his knowledge on water cooling.
  • 1 Hide
    tmk221 , August 9, 2011 10:38 AM
    how about building video card with massive heatsink and ultra quiet fan that turns on only when temps are 80 celcius degree or more? this way it would generate no noise in everyday tasks and only little while playing games, but when you play games you don't care aboute a little extra noise as you have sound on and you don't hear it anyway
  • 0 Hide
    mt2e , August 9, 2011 11:20 AM
    I really do love the spirit of this card. I'm just suprised its a 3slot solution. If your case is icy, this card will have no probs. This is not a product that just anybody will be buying and will prolly know what their getn into when they do buy it.
  • 1 Hide
    superflykicks03 , August 9, 2011 12:47 PM
    "The test results with the ultra-quiet extra fan, which managed to reduce the card’s temperature by more than 54 degrees Fahrenheit under load, prove that the passive heatsink is excellent, and it only needs a little help."

    "Wow... With the addition of the fan, I think it would be a good card."

    Hmmmmm...A passive card that needs, um, fans to stay cool? Some passive solution...I'm struggling to see where this card fits in as a viable solution...certainly not an HTPC (at least in %99 of HTPC cases out there).

    I understand that a well ventilated case can keep it cool enough, but for the price, why not go with a better card with a massive aftermarket cooling solution, such as the Gigabyte's GV-R687OC-1GD? It is nearly silent as well, even under load, doesn't take up the extra slot, and most importantly its a Radeon HD 6870 for less money.
  • 0 Hide
    verbalizer , August 9, 2011 12:51 PM
    from Tom's charts it looks like forget this card unless your going silent HTPC or something, go out a grab a GTX 560 Ti....:D 
  • 1 Hide
    Yuka , August 9, 2011 1:51 PM
    Well, make it fit inside an ITX or MicroATX enclosure and it will be useful to me...

    It's good to see a company trying out new things though. Hopefully they'll improve the passive cooling and get better numbers. Good going PowerColor.

    Cheers!
  • 1 Hide
    banthracis , August 9, 2011 2:18 PM
    WhysoBluepandabearAnd the dude that said water cooling is loud, needs to re-evaluate his knowledge on water cooling.


    There's a difference between quiet and silent. There are many effectively silent PC builds out there ( < 20 dba). None of them are water cooled. Water cooling will only get you so far as you always add the additional noise component of a pump.

    In addition, water cooling is not always quiet. Noise is generated primarily by the fans. So a water cooling setup with some Delta 220CFM fans is gonna be loud as as heck, especially if you've got them mounted on an external radiator with nothing trapping the fan noise.

    SPCR has a very good guide to building a silent PC and Puget systems makes a 18dba PC. All of which uses air.
  • -1 Hide
    salgado18 , August 9, 2011 3:04 PM
    Haven't even read the whole article, but the new Test System page is great! Congratulations!
  • 0 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , August 9, 2011 3:35 PM
    IQ (XBOX 360 users)
  • 0 Hide
    mister g , August 9, 2011 7:20 PM
    YukaWell, make it fit inside an ITX or MicroATX enclosure and it will be useful to me...It's good to see a company trying out new things though. Hopefully they'll improve the passive cooling and get better numbers. Good going PowerColor.Cheers!

    I'm not surprised PowerColor is capable of this, if they could make a single slot 6850 and a low profile 5750 I'm pretty ure they got their cooling systems down pat.
    http://www.powercolor.com/Global/products_features.asp?id=342
    They don't sell the 5750 anymore.
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