We arranged our results by lowest average temperature, but we have to admit that some readers might not think this is fair. The reason is that our graphics driver would kick the card into thermal-protection mode whenever the GPU exceeded 95° Celsius.
That means a room temperature of only 21° would cause the graphics card to kick down in the “leading” configuration, and that the only two acceptable cases were Lian-Li’s PC-Q08 and SilverStone’s tiny SG06B. But how could this be?
Our test card is a dual-fan design that feeds half of its exhaust out the back of the case and the other half into the case. Because the second fan is completely shrouded by the side panels of the SG07B and Mini-Tank, it received only pre-heated air from the first fan. Ouch. Size was not even an issue here, as proximity to an unvented portion of the side panel made all the difference.
Yet, not all cards have dual fans, so we went on to retest the SG07B and Mini-Tank with an equally-challenging card that used a single-fan, blower-type cooler. While blower-type GPU coolers are ideal for reducing case temperature, power-throttling on current models like AMD’s Radeon HD 6950 and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 580 would have made consistent results almost impossible to achieve. Finding a blower-type card without this limitation forced us to step back to our older samples.
The card we chose, Gigabyte’s 2 GB GeForce GTX 285, runs around 5° hotter, yet has around 5° more thermal headroom before it kicks into a lower-performance mode.
The results are pretty impressive, as the SG07’s GPU temperature rises to only 4° over the open platform (using the same GeForce GTX 285), while the Mini-Tank is only 6° warmer than the open platform. We credit SilverStone’s foam air duct for the case’s 2° advantage over the larger competitor, and case fan speed didn’t affect GPU temperature with that duct in place.
Getting back to our original tests, SilverStone’s SG07 has the lowest average noise level, while Lian-Li’s PC-Q08 did the best job of hushing our noisy graphics card. This result also makes sense, because the graphics card cooling fans faced the PC-Q08’s bottom, rather than side-panel vents.
An intake fan that blows directly on the CPU, along with the lowest average noise, gives SilverStone’s SG07B the highest cooling-to-noise ratio, but only when its fan is in low-speed mode. Lian-Li follows with a close second-place finish, and is the quietest case that properly supports the thermal design of our original graphics card.