In general, we see a trend in the market preference for quieter, smaller, cheaper, and more powerful GPUs.  In reality, we might see two or three of these features in a product, at the expense of the other(s).  I took the opportunity to visit as many vendors as my time allowed in Computex to find GPUs which could potentially fit into these categories.

On the NVIDIA side of things, Zotac where showing two silent models.  The first is actually a PCI card, rather than PCIe – a GT 430 with 512 MB DDR3 memory on a 128-bit bus, running at 700 MHz core speed and1600 MHz memory.  A purely silent card, it has a single slot design and supports DVI-I, HDMI, and VGA.  It’s interesting to see a PCI card on sale – they have their uses mainly in industrial applications, but due to the PCI specifications there’s a bandwidth limitation which may hinder any significantly faster GPU.

The Zotac 520 ZONE Edition, with 48 CUDA cores and 1 GB DDR3 memory on a 64-bit bus, runs at 810 MHz with 1600 MHz memory.  Again, this is a silent card, but a dual slot solution, supporting DVI-I and mini-HDMI.

Sparkle, apart from competing with Gigabyte and ASUS on SKU naming complexity, had three silent cards on display – a GTS 450 (SXS4501024DSSNMP), a GT 440 (SXT4401024S3LNMP) and a GT 520 (SXT5201024S3LNMP).  The GTS 450 version supports two DVI ports and a mini-HDMI, whereas the other two give the standard VGA, HDMI, and DVI connectors.  The GT 440 is a single slot solution, and all three have 1GB memory.

In terms of raw power in the veil of silence, we have to look at the AMD side of things and Powercolor, who have wrapped a HD6850 (yes, you read that right) in a passive heatsink using 5 heatpipes – this thing is massive:

The issue that probably bugs me the most about this card is I can see people using two in Crossfire.  In order to shift that much heat, the case will require sufficient cooling – i.e. fans, and thus defeat the point of silent running.

Powercolor also had two more sensible passive solutions on show: a HD6670 and HD6570.

In a similar vein, over at the AMD booth, they had selected passive cards from various manufacturers – an ASUS EAH6670, a Gigabyte HD6770 (GV-R677SL-1GD), a HIS 6570 Silence and an XFX HD5670 (HD-567X-ZNH).

Even though there is a distinct trend to produce graphics cards with dual slot coolers, it does pique my interest when a manufacturer has a single slot solution to what is typically a dual slot answer.  This is often at the expense of length, fan noise, and cost of heatsink materials, but in terms of performance per unit volume, a good single slot GPU can sometimes be the answer.

So enter the Powercolor HD6850 Single Slot Edition.  Again, you read that right – a single slot 6850.  This card isn’t significantly longer than the standard 6850 from looks, put I’d wager that the fan must work hard to push air through when the card is working at a full load.

On the professional side of things, Sapphire had a FirePro V7900 on display as a single slot solution.  The V7900 is the 1280 streaming processor variant with 160 GB/s memory bandwidth, and differs from the commercial equivalent by utilizing features most people don’t need but professionals do.  My usual perception in terms of a environment using professional GPUs (i.e. clusters for simulation) is that more per machine is usually better, so I could see up to 7+ of these in one motherboard  – perhaps.

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  • w4rlock - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 - link

    Since when does a FirePro (V7900 or any other) have ECC memory? That would be major news, finally a competitor to the Tesla series.
  • IanCutress - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 - link

    My bad, I somehow misread the specifications. Article updated.

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  • Lonyo - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 - link

    Nothing odd about a single slot HD6850.
    The HD4850 came with a single slot cooler as the reference design, and the HD6850 uses less power. Any HD6850 single slot should be more effective than a 4850 single slot card, and the HD4850 wasn't a particularly bad card noise wise (temps were high though).
  • Cygni - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 - link

    I have a silent 4850 with a similarly massive heatpipe arrangement. It's hard for me to really call it a true silent card, as at load, you NEED a fan blowing on the heatsink. Without the fan, were talking temps well over 100c.

    However, I just attached an 80mil fan to a rheostat and crank it up when its gaming time, and can turn the fan all the way off for normal use. I imagine that 6850 is going to need a similar arrangement.
  • hechacker1 - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 - link

    I had a standard 4850 single slot (I think ATI reference). Indeed it was able to run silently when not doing stressful gaming. I modded its bios to ramp down the fan and it was hardly audible over the standard case case.

    I think a fan based solution is better, because at least it can be properly cooled under stress, and silent when it's not. My 4850 routinely got to 100C temps while gaming with its fan going at 100%.
  • Drag0nFire - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 - link

    I slapped an Accelero S1 on my 4850, then zip tied a 120mm fan running at 500rpm. Worked like a charm. Granted, taking roughly 3 slots, it isn't for everyone. But it ran cool and was never audible.

    I have no doubts that it should be possible to cool a 6850 passively. If you have any doubts, It should be super easy to add a silent fan.
  • Wurmer - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 - link

    I used to run 2 Gigabytes silent edition in Xfire and it was not so bad heat wise. True, you need good ventilation but many full tower case nowadays are equipped with 200 mm + fans which provide quite a bit of air flow without producing overwhelming noise. Those where not single slots and they had a pretty big heat sinks. Even with reduced air flow, they sill worked quite well. All in all, that is certainly one of the good GPU Gigabyte made but it wasn't widely sold due to the fact that it was a bit of an odd players and also because silent edition are always more expensive then their regular version.
  • SteelCity1981 - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 - link

    Heck a lot of motherboards that came out within the past couple of years don't even support a PCI slot anymore. Even your cheapest motherboards that have came out within the past few years as at least one PCIe slot. Doesn't make much sense to support a PCI GPU anything anymore considering PCI is a big bottleneck on even modern budget GPU's and now there are intergrated graphics on cpu/gpu's solutions that are even faster then some modern budget PCIe graphic cards now.
  • Stahn Aileron - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 - link

    It's mentioned in the article why the PCI version was made: industrial (and perhaps some enterrpise) level usage. To me, it sounds like you're making your assumption based solely on the consumer market.

    Industry and enterprise tend to have some simpler and somewhat more cost-sensitive needs. I would think a PCI design would be easier and cheaper to implement compared to PCIe. For example, less runs on the MB for connections (PCIe x16 slot has a lot of contacts); smaller footprint on the MB (x16 slot is overall longer than typical PCI.)

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