AMD HD6800 Series + Tech Day in LA

The Silent Front
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When the first blow-out-the-back heatsink/fan was introduced as the Arctic Cooling VGA Silencer back in 2004, we applauded. It soon became universally accepted, and the basic design — a blower or squirrel cage fan combined with a directed airflow path through heatsink fins and out the back — is employed currently by both nVidia and AMD. While this design is effective with GPUs at 50~100W, is it as effective with >150W cards? Arctic Cooling certainly doesn't think so, and nor does any other high performance aftermarket VGA cooler maker. They are all using large open heatpipe/heatsinks with multiple fans blowing directly through them. The basic problem is that higher airflow is needed, with larger heatsinks, and this blow-out-the-back designs limits airflow to that which can be produced by the integral fan, which acts, in essence, as a gatekeeper for airflow through the fins. As a result, no amount of external airflow blown at the cooler improves the cooling much. When you consider the size and cooling surface of the best heatsinks for CPUs — which now are way cooler than the hottest video cards — the stock Radeon 6800 series coolers look inadequate.

Reference HD 6870: If it was a 150W CPU, that fan and the heatsink under the plastic would be considered far too small.

At the 6800 series launch event, we discussed this issue with David Bowman, an AMD product manager intimately familiar with the physical design. His answer comprised of these points:

  • The reference design is always configured to meet all the physical specifications of PCI Express. It ensures that partners have a design they can rely on to deliver a spec-compliant product to finicky clients. This means, for example, the heatsink cannot extend beyond the top of the card (so that a secure bar across the top of the PCI slot cards can be fitted) and the length is restricted as well.
  • At the beginning of a product cycle, most partners will go with the reference cooling design, but they quickly come up with variations to differentiate themselves. By the end of a product run, there are virtually no products using the reference cooler.

In other words, AMD recognizes the limitations of their reference cooling solution but need to adhere to PCIe specifications for OEMs and rely on their channel partners to offer more creative solutions for the retail market.


In spite of AMD's excellent marketing/PR efforts on the 6800 series launch, for us, the most interesting aspects were less about the cards themselves and more about the event and "Big Picture" considerations. Our musings, in no particular order...

1. Later 6000 series cards will actually be more interesting. The HD 6870/50 cards are not particularly exciting because there is no performance leap over the 5000 series, but the more subtle evolutions such as improved power consumption, more multiple monitor support, and lower pricing will help AMD keep its edge over nVidia.

2. As AMD informed us earlier in the year, the ATI name is being phased out. The new cards are embossed only with the word Radeon and the model number.

3. LA Stock Exchange Venue - The "Tech Day" presentation (all five hours) and evening wine/dine was held at the building which housed the LA Stock Exchange until 2001. It is now the "Stock Exchange Niteclub", described thus online: "It is hard to find foot space here if you decide to haunt this place later in the evening, as it's always crowded. Hi-fi sound systems and glaring lights make for a cool nightclub atmosphere. Live music and the young, hip crowd are just energetic enough to set you tapping your feet." A cool venue.

No toe-tapping yet but lots for info overload on a hall-wide triple screen.

A very cool room... full of tech geeks.

Q & A at the end of the presentations.

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