Nvidia Serves Up RTX 3090 Cooler Design Process, Explains 12-Pin Connector

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

(Image credit: Nvidia)

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

(Image credit: Nvidia)

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.

Nvidia will be announcing the new Ampere graphics cards on September 1st, when we'll finally get to know all the facts.

Niels Broekhuijsen

Niels Broekhuijsen is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He reviews cases, water cooling and pc builds.

  • Gurg
    So does the adapter connect at PSU or do two 8 pin connectors plug into the adapter and then the adapter plug into card?
  • TJ Hooker
    Gurg said:
    So does the adapter connect at PSU or do two 8 pin connectors plug into the adapter and then the adapter plug into card?
    It'd have to be the latter. Modular PSU connectors aren't standardized at the PSU end, so if Nvidia includes a generic adapter it'd have to connect to the 8 pin connectors that would normally be plugged into the GPU.
  • saunupe1911
    Does this new series of Nvidia cards have HDMI 2.1??? That's what I want to know so I can game on my TV above 60hz
  • King_V
    Ok, if it's just a matter of being a more compact/convenient way of having dual-8-pin power, then that suggests the RTX 3090 will have a power draw of AT MOST 375W.

    That's not great, but it could well be as low as 300W, which would be nice. Possibly less.
  • nofanneeded
    I dont see anything in that movie about RTX 3090 design at all , all are older cards ... and nothing new , Vapor chamber ? been used since forever . how we move heat? we know it for two hundreds of years already... sooo whats new? smaller PCB ? lol ...

    OMG Either show real innovation or stop trying to fool us Nvidia ... you will never invest in expensive cooling solution. and we know that.
  • thekillerx10
    I don't think the 3090 idea will succeed,it will suffer like their older brother Gtx 690
  • Gillerer
    thekillerx10 said:
    I don't think the 3090 idea will succeed,it will suffer like their older brother Gtx 690

    One major reason the GTX 690 suffered was because it - like all x90 cards before it - was a dual-GPU card at a time when game developers were starting to ignore SLI/Crossfire. Like two GTX 680s on a single board. The then emerging - now common - deferred rendering techniques are largely incompatible with the traditional ways of doing multi-GPU.

    Game developers chose to not waste time supporting SLI since less than 1% of gamers would benefit from it. When you couldn't use SLI, the card offered performance similar to a single GTX 680.
  • jeffrs
    I'm hoping that a water cooled version is offered. I'm running a Cryovenom (which is still awesome). The Cryo was the first GPU where I didn't just toss the fan cooler into the garbage.
  • ddferrari
    I certainly think this will be a major upgrade to my 1080Ti, but I sure won't be buying the Founders (Flanders?) edition. It looks like an ugly, Soviet-era piece of tech. It's depressing just to look at it. I'll take a hard look at an EVGA water-cooled model, should one arise.

    And good luck keeping those exposed heatsink fins from bending.
  • EricLane
    The way it is talked about, it seems they're are a 850W PSU WILL be required for a 3090, is that right? Because I bought a new 750W three weeks ago.... :(