If you've been following the hard-to-miss news about the upcoming Nvidia Ampere graphics cards, you'll know that the rumors point to a few unusual design choices. There is talk of a 12-pin power connector and a whole new PCB and cooler design that is radically different from before. Now, in a new video detailing the design philosophy, Nvidia has confirmed the new cooler and 12-pin power connector, subtly explaining why certain decisions have been made.
The video starts off explaining the basics of thermodynamics, which is interesting but nothing new. But then it goes on to explain that to achieve more cooling, more air needs to be pushed through the card, and thus a radically different design was required, which is where things get interesting.
Shrinking the PCB to make space for cooling
"Whenever we talk about GPU performance, it all comes from the more power you give, and you can dissipate, the more performance you get." says Gabriele Gorla, Director of Systems Engineering at Nvidia "The biggest challenge, when you do a very high-end board and try to squeeze it into 6-7 inches, is that the power density becomes really really high"
So it looks like Nvidia had a handful of ambitions with the new cards, and challenges to solve in order to accomplish the goals. The team wanted to pump more power into the cards, and thus the cooler had to grow. But, this couldn't happen without shrinking the PCB to ensure the card in its entirety didn't grow too much, limiting the PCB itself to be 6-7 inches long.
And then shrinking the power connector to make space on the PCB
As it turns out, that's where the new 12-pin power connector comes in. It may not seem like much, but it's smaller than the dual 6-8 pin connectors Nvidia previously used. And that's not only because of its physical dimensions, but because it looks like Nvidia is planning on mounting the connector perpendicular to the board — this couldn't have been done with the old PCIe power connectors.
Nvidia didn't explicitly detail too much, but the images provided in the video confirm the rumors. The PCB will be quite short and have a triangular bite taken out at the end to make room for a fan in the cooler that can pull the air in through the bottom, and out the top end of the card, tapping into the airflow path to be exhausted by the rear case fan.
Given that the RTX 3090 is the first card to come from Nvidia with the **90 nomenclature since the GTX 690, we're expecting the halo GPU to pack an incredible punch — it's almost certainly going to be a card that Nvidia builds to show off what it can do, but will in practice be far too expensive for most consumers.
No, you don't need a new PSU for Ampere
Whether this new cooler design with the smaller PCB and new power connector will make it to the more mainstream models, such as the RTX 3070 and RTX 3080 remains to be seen. If it does though, there is no cause for concern as Nvidia also stated in this video that adapters will be provided — so no, you will not need a new power supply for the Ampere graphics cards, unless you're going for the halo card and need more watts.
However, what must be noted either way is that these rumors are all about the Nvidia reference card, so it isn't necessarily telling anything about the custom cards that make up a large chunk of the market. Nvidia's board partners will undoubtedly have their own designs, possibly sticking to the classic card design with roomier PCBs and the old-style PCIe power connectors. As noted in Seasonic's power cable leak, the 12-pin cable from the PSU manufacturer was only meant to be used with PSUs of 850W and above, so I believe there's a good chance that the 12-pin connector is only a thing on the halo GPU.
Nevertheless, there's elegance in this new connector. Not only is it smaller and now a single cable, but mounted perpendicular to the board, aimed 45-degrees to the rear would result in a very tidy looking power cable connection. For those concerned with aesthetics, it should will look much better than two cables sticking straight out to the side of the GPU.