Temperatures, Clock Rates, And Performance
Temperature Behavior For Different Setups
Unfortunately, we have to dash your hopes for a completely passively-cooled card right out of the gate. Both cards do work when they're installed in an open test bench, albeit just barely. But as soon as you build them into a case (even a large one full of holes), both cards eventually hit their limits. And that's despite no other heat sources in there to complicate things; our CPU is water-cooled, after all. We even left the enclosure's side and back walls as open as possible. While Palit's GeForce GTX 1050 Ti KalmX simmered away with virtually no GPU Boost headroom, the XFX Radeon RX 460 Heatsink Edition frequently displayed a black and white checkerboard pattern on the screen. The expected protection mechanisms didn’t even kick in once, and at 93°C you're in trouble.
Each measurement requires a full hour to generate, so we're limiting ourselves to three scenarios for the thermography analysis: the open setup, a closed case with a single fan (positive pressure), and two fans (negative pressure). For the temperature comparisons, however, we're comparing all four results.
We clearly see that XFX's much smaller cooler falls behind and requires at least one case fan to help the GPU.
The voltage regulators tell a similar story in the chart below. The MOSFETs on Palit's card sometimes have to carry more load due to the missing third phase, but they also benefit from thermal pads on the heat sink.
We already suggested that the Micron memory on Palit’s card runs hotter than Samsung memory, despite a nominally better cooler. But because XFX's Radeon RX 460 Heatsink Edition runs into trouble before it can benefit from cooler memory, the thermal story is actually reversed.
Unless you use two fans, the memory on Palit's board runs consistently hotter than Micron's specified 85°C maximum, so that the card’s otherwise good measurements melt away. These readings just aren't recommended for long-term use.
IR Thermographic Images
To complement our charts, we also used the high-resolution thermal camera to document the three most important test cases, including readings from the heat pipe.
Open Bench Table
Closed Case (Positive Pressure, One Fan)
Closed Case (Negative Pressure, Two Fans)
The measurements show very clearly that components not measured by on-board sensors climb to temperatures you wouldn't want to see for extended periods, based on their manufacturers' specifications. Palit would be well-advised to lower its memory voltage and frequency, or switch to cooler-running Samsung modules. Nvidia, which sells its GPU and memory bundles, could also play a role in this.
Achieved Clock Rates
Here's where it gets exciting, since high temperatures always have a negative impact on sustainable clock rates! We let each card run in a test loop for an hour, after which we determined the average frequency over several more minutes. You really need to make these measurements over an extended period because the real performance drop becomes evident after at least 30 minutes or so.
While the passively-cooled Radeon RX 460 only ends up showing small clock differences, it always remains below its advertised base frequency. Even two fans don't allow it to maintain a constant 1090 MHz. Obviously, XFX doesn't provide enough cooling surface.
Palit's GeForce puts in a better showing for two reasons. First, its cooler is in a completely different class due to more than 100g of extra metal. Also, Nvidia's GPU Boost technology works more precisely. GP107 limps along in a fanless case, but perks up a bit on the open bench, finally reaching full strength with the help of some air flow.
As for winners and losers, it it appears that Palit's GeForce GTX 1050 Ti only loses a little, while the slower XFX Radeon RX 460 Heatsink Edition doesn't do well at all. A better cooler would have improved its standing, since the Baffin GPU isn't as bad as this card makes it look.
Manufacturers: you have to test your products under real-world conditions. It's not enough for your R&D departments to simply mount hardware on exposed motherboards and test in an air-conditioned room. Installing these cards in closed bench tables would have shown why the concept doesn't work as-implemented.
We're using a couple of recent games as examples of what happens when these cards get hot. Sniper Elite 4 is playable using the Medium setting, even after heating both boards. Surprisingly, the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti's advantage isn't as large as its $40 premium might suggest it should be. Apparently, the DirectX 12-enabled engine favors AMD's GPU in this title.
DirectX 11-based titles are known to go the other way, and Watch Dogs 2 shows Palit's GeForce GTX 1050 Ti to be a fair bit faster, even with the same power specification and waste heat. Larger clock rate variations again become more significant, since GPU Boost reacts much more sensitively to heat.
The takeaway is that better cooling always pulls better performance along with it.
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