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In addition to presenting our measurement results and bar charts, we shot some videos to allow our readers to form their own, subjective opinion about the sound level of our test candidates. The numbers on their own don't fully reflect the sound spectrum generated by these cards, and different people perceive noise in a different way.
We set the microphone amplifier gain for the loudest card (Zotac's AMP! Edition board). Thus, you can compare the sound level of all cards with some semblance of relativity.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 670
The reference card has a single radial fan. It’s a simple design, but its cooling performance and resulting sound level are acceptable, as long as you install it in a case that effectively exhausts hot air and does not merely whirl it around inside.
Can you hear me now? No! The redesigned, slimmer Asus cooler is a winner. We were impressed by this card. Apart from its fan, nothing else makes noise. No chirping, resonance, vibration, or bearings banging around.
Gainward GTX 670 Phantom
When Gainward redesigned its Phantom cooler, the company took a step in the wrong direction. We'd already noticed that in testing the GeForce GTX 680, and the fan remains very audible here as well, even when our case is closed up. Consequently, we deem this fat bumblebee an acoustic disappointment. However, sound output can be somewhat controlled by manually adjusting the card's fan control curve. Gainward would be well advised to look how competitors like Galaxy/KFA² have mastered this aspect of their design.
Have you heard such a thing as coil chirping louder than a card's cooling fan? It's regrettable that the Galaxy/KFA2 GeForce GTX 670 generates all of that extra noise because its cooler does move plenty of air, and its fan is clearly optimized for quiet operation at reasonable temperatures. The chirping sound prevented this card from attaining a higher spot in our ranking, though we're also sure that aggressive fan throttling and higher thermal readings will thwart attempts at significant overclocking beyond Galaxy's factor settings.
Update (6/29/2012): Galaxy responded to our feedback after the German version of this piece went live, and is sending another sample for us to test.
Gigabyte hit pay dirt with its new fan throttling curve. The card simply does the right things at the right time, whether under idle or load. We also like its slim form factor, and the card's performance is only outshone by Asus. We are happy that our input helped convince Gigabyte to change the fan throttling curve of its GeForce GTX 680 card’s Windforce 3X cooler, and we really appreciate that Gigabyte's updated implementation made its way to this GeForce GTX 670 as well.
Palit GTX 670 JetStream
Like the GeForce GTX 680 that came before it based on the same JetStream design, this card is a noisemaker. Unfortunately, it doesn't translate that noise and the advantage of a big three-slot cooler into exceptional thermal performance. As with the Gainward submission, we recommend tuning this board's fans manually.
Zotac GTX 670 Amp!
Zotac's card is the gaming Ferrari. It's up there as the most expensive GeForce GTX 670 in our round-up. It's also quite fast. Whereas you want your super-car to let out a throaty bellow, though, that's not an attractive quality in a graphics card, and this one is fairly loud. In our opinion, we would have liked to see Zotac trade some of its cooler's excellent heat dissipation for a lower fan speed (and less noise). With that said, the AMP! Edition board isn't so loud that it's unusable. We'd still probably throttle the fan using a software utility, though. We also noticed some resonance between the fans, which can result in an annoying low-frequency wail at certain RPM levels.