quiet computer, video card, aftermarket GPU cooler

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I'm itching to build myself a new software development computer.

In my last couple of systems, I have gone with passively-cooled video
cards to avoid the annoying fan noise. In my most recent system, I am
using the ATI 9200 that offers the option to use two monitors.  The
two monitor system greatly improves my work experience (I love having
a full-screen application on one monitor and the debugger on the
other).  I want any new system to support two monitors as well,
preferably with two DVI connections.

The problem is that nearly all video cards with two DVI connectors use
fans.  The only non-fan option I can find is a Matrox card that is a
passively-cooled two-DVI card, the Millenium p650, but its design is a
couple of years old, it's an AGP instead of the newer PCIe.  It also
seems rather expensive for its feature set.

I've noticed that there are aftermarket GPU coolers. If they're
effective, they would expand my options for both video cards and
motherboards.  The question I have is about compatibility: if I select
a low-end video card with two DVI connectors, will I have difficulty
connecting a different heatsink?  Perhaps I should ask, rather, how
standard are the fan mounts on video cards?

Any words of wisdom from more experienced system builders?

Chuck Jungmann

Re: quiet computer, video card, aftermarket GPU cooler

Chuck Jungmann wrote:
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Do you really need DVI to display debugger output? I know the world of
programming has been passing me by but debuggers never were heavily
graphics-intensive in my time. And that is where DVI is going to give
you the real advantage -- 32-bit high-res graphics.

John McGaw
[Knoxville, TN, USA]

Re: quiet computer, video card, aftermarket GPU cooler

On Tue, 01 Nov 2005 15:26:05 -0600, Chuck Jungmann

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Among any given card name-designation, during the entry of
the product's life-cycle you will find the most examples of
cards using the chipset manufacturer's reference PCB design.
That design is meant to (usually does) include mounting
points for the heatsink.  By card name-designation I mean if
you were to compare two Radeon 9200, or two Geforce 6200
they "may" have the same reference PCB and 'sink mounts.

Thus, you would seek a heatsink marketed as compatible with
that reference chipset design.  One must assess some cards,
particularly those by the larger motherboard manufactuers
such as Gigabyte, MSI, and Asus, as these (and randomly a
few others like AOpen or PNY, and others) may depart from
this reference design.  Later in a GPU lifecycle, there will
also be more budget derivatives of any given GPU and the
trend has been for even further departure from the reference
designs to make low-end cards. Sometimes they have same
heatsink mounts, but other times not, and sometimes even
with same 'sink mounts, there are surface-mount component
placement changes that could interfere with mounting a 'sink
designed for a different card layout.

If you have no need for 3D gaming or other very demanding 3D
work, one option is to permanently underclock the card.
Random example- an nVidia FX5700 starts out with a core
clock of 425MHz in 3D, 300MHz in 2D.  The heatsink is
designed to accomodate operation in 3D @ 425MHz but even
then, has some margin for operating higher, I have seen some
that where quite sufficient for operation overclocked to
500MHz or beyond.  If you have no need for high performance
3D, your cooling needs are lower and you need not use that
heatsink with a fan, BUT there is a need to limit the card,
a safety measure to ensure it could never operate at the
higher heat level.  Even some Windows screensavers can
invoke this 3D mode so a permanent fix is warranted.

The permanent fix is to modify the card bios so the
operational speed is fixed lower.  With the FX5700 example,
2D and 3D might be set at 225MHz, and memory (while not as
pressing to reduce, still creates heat, consumes power, and
produces more heat from card power subcircuits) could be
underclocked similarly, perhaps around  200MHz (400MHz in
DDR terms).  Underclocking can also prolong the life of a
passively cooled card, as it is inevitable that such a card
will run hotter than the actively cooled counterpart would.

Towards this end card selection could ignore which came with
a fan and focus on which have a bios that standard bios
editors can modify- and there are a few guides on the web
towards modifying and reflashing a bios.  Done properly it
is safe and effective.  I don't advocate doing this, or not,
it is merely yet another option that is seldom mentioned so,
I did.  You will never notice the performance difference
from underclocking in a 2D use with any modern card.

Re: quiet computer, video card, aftermarket GPU cooler

On Tue, 01 Nov 2005 15:26:05 -0600, Chuck Jungmann

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Gigabyte do a couple of passively cooled nVidia 6600GTs.  Not sure if
they have two DVIs but you can get round that.  Or there's some quiet
heatsinks they recommend here too.


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