Introducing A Passively-Cooled Radeon HD 6850
Passively-cooled mid-range graphics cards are now relegated to endangered species status. Their power draw, and thus the heat they dissipate, is just too high. Even attempting to keep a moderately-fast GPU cool without fan requires two things: a sophisticated heatsink design and the right operating environment. Almost amazingly, PowerColor doesn't drop the clock rate on its SCS3 HD6850 1 GB card at all, and instead offers the performance of a regular 6850 card (only without a fan).
Knowing full well that the 960-shader Barts core is rated for 127 W, we were dying to figure out how a heatsink all on its own could keep the GPU cool enough. In order to reach that conclusion, we not only benchmarked the board in a number of games, but we also tested it in several enclosures to assess its viability out in the wild. In addition to that, we mounted an ultra-quiet fan on the card to compare how active cooling changes things.
Here's a bit of a spoiler. In the summer, installed in the wrong chassis, this card rides the edge of disaster, and may even cross over. Read on to find out how to avoid a meltdown. We'll address whether it makes sense to use this card at all.