Check Me, Game Me, Validate Me
The next validation steps are just as heavily parallelized. Each card's outputs are checked. Then, Windows is booted up to make sure the card works as it should. Next on the list is at least one run of 3DMark06. Each of these stations has at least four people sitting at them, with each person checking three to four cards at the same time. Since some of these tests can take between six and eight minutes, some validation steps have two of these rows dedicated to them.
If an error occurs, the card is sent back, checked again, and repaired if possible.
I’m Just A Number In Your System
Remember the barcode that identifies each card, helping track its progress? Well, it’s at the end of the line. Just before the cards are put in their boxes and prepared for shipping, each graphics board receives a new sticker with another bar code, sporting its final serial number. The purpose remains the same though, allowing the manufacturer to retrace a board’s history all the way back through its assembly.
The Opposite Of Unboxing
Finally, the boards are put into their anti-static bags and placed into retail boxes, along with the remainder of their bundle.
Who Am I?
In case you were wondering, the card that we ended up tracking along the final production line is a passively-cooled GeForce GT 520.
Ready To Head Out
Once the cards are in their individual boxes, those boxes are sorted into shipping packages. Interestingly, nobody counts to make sure there are enough cards in these packages. Instead, since the weight of each final retail box is a known quantity, the entire package is weighed. Simple enough. Less room for error and much quicker. Efficiency, remember?
Some Suffer In Silence
Not all cards leave the factory. Zotac and PCPartner set aside some of their cards and subject them to another round of tests meant to recreate certain environmental conditions or simulate an accelerated life cycle. That’s exactly what we see here, the accelerated life cycle test. This routine subjects the cards to six grueling days at a constant temperature of 85 degrees Celsius (about 185 degrees Fahrenheit) at a constant humidity of 85 percent.
Beyond torturing the cards in constant conditions, the engineers and testers also need to know how cards will react to a rapidly changing environment. That’s why they subject these candidates to a shock therapy of extremes. The testing apparatus, appropriately named “Giant Force,” alternates between deep-freezing the poor boards at -40 degrees Celsius (-40 degrees Fahrenheit) and baking them at 85 Celsius (185 degrees Fahrenheit), while also varying the humidity from 10 to 95 percent. Have you ever gotten out of the sauna and jumped into an ice cold lake? It’s sort of like that, just a lot more extreme.
It’s Full Of Zboxes
After we were done with the part of the factory that handles graphics cards, we were shown the final assembly of Zotac's other flagship product, the Zbox. This one was built around Intel’s Atom platform.
Small Box, Big HD
This Zbox board is running a diagnostics test. After its BIOS settings are checked and adjusted as necessary, the board boots Windows XP from its drive and plays back both audio and video. If it passes, it moves on to the next station.
Even A Box Can Look Nice
From there, the naked board is installed into the familiar Zbox chassis. That green slip lying on top of the motherboard is a checklist that tracks the stations the platform passed through, who assembled the parts, and who did the testing.
Right... let me correct that.
"We were told that if the employee didn’t accept working overtime, most would actually be fired and forced to look for other employment."