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Most of the recent SPCR silent gaming PC build guides were initiated with a
clear set of goals we brought to each project: For example, a mid-tower ATX
system incorporating the quietest GTX 980 with sub-20 dBA SPL at full load.
Or a mini-ITX system suitable for LAN events with similar gaming and acoustic
performance. The components were then sought out, and once collected, assembled,
with the usual iterative fine tuning for optimal quiet and cooling.
There have been one or two exceptions where a particular product or some external
stimulus got a project started. The NCASE M1 build was spurred by the simple
fact of having one on hand: It's a hard-to-get, unusual and expensive case,
and it was a challenge to make a powerful gaming system in such a small case.
The second was our first MicroATX gaming build, which was initiated by my personal
fascination with the Corsair Carbide Air 240 case.
This build is another exception. It was initiated by an invitation to review
an AMD Radeon R9 290 graphics card equipped with a full-cover watercooling block.
The invitation from VisionTek came just as we were planning out the entire series
of gaming builds for late fall and winter. Further discussion proved VisionTek
were willing to supply the other components for a discrete watercooling system
and a CPU watercooling block to complete the package. Could the VisionTek CryoVenom
R9 290 be the basis of a quiet, discrete, entirely water cooled system? Our
limited experience with water cooling told us the pump would be a huge challenge
to silence. But for a super-hot graphics card like the R9 290, 290X or any recent
dual-GPU top dogs from either nVidia or AMD, especially in a multi-card rig,
watercooling looked close to being the only viable option, never mind the noise
level. It was a challenge we could not resist.
That's how this quiet watercooled gaming PC build guide project began. We had
never even looked closely at a discrete watercooled PC before, never mind build
one. Diving into the deep end seems an apt phrase here.
CryoVenom R9 290 LE is most impressive. Click for 1280px image.
Since SPCR has never covered VisionTek products in the past, it seems appropriate
to introduce the company.
Visiontek was founded in 1988 and became a major supplier of peripherals and
memory products for computers in the US. According
to its web site, Visiontek currently "offers state-of-the-art, graphics
cards from AMD, memory, solid state drives, power supplies, candyboards, gaming
network cards, TV tuners, and more to the computing industry, with branded products
still found at major retailers, distributors, PC system builders, and e-commerce
sites across North America."
VisonTek's partner for watercooling technology is EKWB
(EK Water Blocks) of Slovenia, a renown specialist in computer watercooling
products for more than 15 years.
CRYOVENOM R9 290 LIMITED EDITION
A big portion of any build guide is a discussion of component option for the
build. In this case, only one graphics card was considered, the CryoVenom R9
290 LE which initiated the project.
The R9 290 GPU has been around for just over a year, long enough for it to
have been thoroughly tested by many web tech review sites. At stock clocks,
the R9 290 ranks a bit higher than nVidia's GTX 780 but trades blows with the
much newer Maxwell-core GTX 970, losing by a hair more often than not. Huge
AMD price cuts since the GTX 970 and 980 introduction last fall have positioned
the 290 at some 10% lower price than the $330~380 GTX 970.
The cooling block covers all the hot elements on the R9 290 card. The
quality of machining is top notch. The back panel cover occupies two slot
spaces for all the output ports but the card itself is probably slim enough
to fit into the space of a single slot.
The PCB gets support from a full size, thick backplate made apparently
from anodized aluminum.
The full designation of the product is VisionTek
CryoVenom® R9 290 Limited Edition Graphics Card (900698). This is an
AMD Radeon R9 290 with 4GB GDDR5 factory-fitted with a full cover water block
from EKWB. The card came with an individually signed test report certifying
it to be stable with the GPU overclocked 19% to 1127 MHz, and memory overclocked
18% to 1475 MHz. OC capabilities should push this 290's performance past the
stock 1 GHz clock of the 290X even with the latter's 9% advantage in the number
of stream processors. It probably allows the CryoVenom 290 to edge past the
GTX 970. Of course, at such clock speeds, this card will also exceed its nominal
275W TDP and the 290W TDP of the 290X. This is where the nVidia Maxwell architecture
GPUs actually have their greatest edge: 165W TDP for the GTX 980 and just 145W
for the 970. Devotees of silent computing need no more information to know the
R9 290 is much harder to cool quietly than the GTX 980/970. Liquid cooling of
the entire card certainly looks worthwhile given the ~300W thermal load.
The CryoVenom R9 290 LE is a most impressive device to behold and examine.
The base that mates with the GPU, VRM and RAM is made of nickel-plated copper,
while the rest of the waterblock is machined from clear acrylic, with an additional
aluminum plate possibly for additional heat conduction. Liquid tubing can be
attached from either side of the card or both sides as necessary. A ~2.8mm
thick anodized aluminum plate which covers the entire backside provides excellent
rigidity and resistance to PCB flexing.
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