Capable Cooling Hardware Tames The Beast
[Oct 13/2014 addendum: Visiontek has lowered pricing across its liquid-cooled graphics card line in response to feedback from this article, and the CryoVenom R9 295X2 kits have dropped a whopping $300. We have reflected this change in our writeup below. You can check the Visiontek website for specific details.]
Liquid cooling is popular because of its two main benefits: superb thermal performance and quiet operation. As the results on the previous page demonstrate, VisionTek's CryoVenom R9 295X2 embodies both goals while achieving much lower temperatures than AMD's reference Radeon R9 295X2.
If you're serious about buying a Radeon R9 295X2, and you're not particularly impressed with the closed-loop reference cooler and its ineffective treatment of the card's very hot VRMs, VisionTek's CryoVenom R9 295X2 is an attractive solution. If you want to link two Radeon R9 295X2 cards in four-way CrossFire, this product is more promising than AMD's factory implementation (though our initial impressions of four Hawaii GPUs working together weren't particularly positive).
And if you're looking for an all-in-one product that provides expandable open-loop liquid cooling combined with high-end graphics, this kit should be on your short list. VisionTek also has you covered if you want an open-loop liquid-cooled 295X2, but are afraid of sacrificing the warranty.
There is a price to be paid for the convenience and security that the CryoVenom R9 295X2 offers, however. Enthusiasts able to live with the reference cooler can pick up VisionTek's standard Radeon R9 295X2 for $1000 on Newegg, although AMD says this might be a short-term sale price. Compare that with the CryoVenom R9 295X2's base price of $1450 without a bundled cooling system. Include the open-loop kit with all of its trimmings, and you're looking at $1700. That's 1.7x what a base-model Radeon R9 295X2 costs.
To be fair, the included EKWB cooling hardware is top-of-the-line, and the price of its cooling kit alone would set you back a significant amount of money. Add to that an expensive 295X2 water block (at about $275) and the price difference is less of a surprise. If you buy the parts separately, though, your $1000 Radeon R9 295X2's warranty will likely be void once you install them.
What about alternatives? Asus offers the ROG Ares III-8GD5, a Radeon R9 295X2 on a custom PCB with beefed-up power circuitry and an EKWB single-slot cooler for $1500. But that doesn't come with the required open-loop cooling system, and Asus offers no option to bundle one.
Value can be a relative term. For a serious enthusiast who demands high-end liquid cooling and is concerned with more than paying the lowest possible price to get it, I think VisionTek's CryoVenom R9 295X2 can be a compelling option. Of course, a budget-conscious consumer can always opt for an $800 pair of Radeon R9 290X cards in CrossFire, resulting in similar 3D performance. Only, the acoustic output and resulting heat won't be in the same ballpark. There are certain benefits that only an open-loop liquid cooling system can introduce, and from that perspective, VisionTek's CryoVenom R9 295X2 does not disappoint.