Fanless PCIe Graphics Cards from Asus and Aopen

Graphics Cards
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April 19, 2006 by Devon Cooke

Product
AOpen Aeolus PCX6600-DV128LP
Fanless GeForce 6600 for PCIe
ASUS EAX1600XT Silent/TVD/256M
Fanless Radeon X1600XT for PCIe
Manufacturer
AOpen ASUSTeK Computer Inc.
Market Price
US$140 US$190

Finding a good fanless graphics card can be a bit of a challenge. There are lots of them around, but the majority are entry-level cards. Then there's the ever-present question of reliability. It's one thing to slap a fanless heatsink on a powerful card; it's another thing for that heatsink to perform well enough to cool it under stressful conditions in a real computer. Fanless cards must rely on system airflow to move heat away from them, and it's no simple trick to design a passive heatsink that works well under a wide range of airflow conditions.

The Gigabyte GV-N66256DP was the first fanless graphics card we tested. It's an AGP model. Two PCIe models are examined in this review: A low profile GeForce 6600 from AOpen, and a more recent Radeon X1600XT from Asus:

The low profile AOpen Aeolus PCX6600-DV128LP card is targeted primarily at the home theater and SFF markets. Designing a video card that is low profile and fanless is quite a challenge; the AOpen needs to dissipate the same amount of heat with about half of the surface area available to a more conventional card.

The ASUS EAX1600XT Silent/TVD/256M is a full size card with a mid/low performance GPU. However, unlike the AOpen card, only the GPU is cooled; the RAM chips are open to the air. If this cards shows any symptoms of overheating, it will be the RAM that we suspect, not the GPU.

AOPEN AEOLUS PCX6600-DV128LP

Aside from its low profile design, the Aeolus distinguishes itself from NVidia's reference 6600 by the speed and type of RAM that it uses: GDDR3 clocked 150 MHz faster than the DDR RAM used in NVidia's version.


Half-height video cards are unusual.

The cooling system wedges the card between two chunky blocks of aluminum that are connected around the back of the card by a pair of thin heatpipes. All of the major chips, including the GPU and all the RAM chips, are covered by the heatsinks. As can be expected of a passively cooled card, the heatsinks take up quite a bit of space. Most of the additional volume is on the back side of the card, making the Aeolus a double-width card. Given the layout of most SFF systems, this may mean that the second expansion slot will be unusable, or, even worse, the card may not fit at all. Tall capacitors or heatsinks around the PCI Express slot may also cause problems.


Chunky aluminum heatsinks on both sides of the card.


A pair of heatpipes connect the two heatsinks.

Because of the low profile backplate, there is not enough room to fit the three output connectors supported by the GeForce 6600 on the back panel. Only the DVI-I and the TV-out port made it on to the back; the D-Sub VGA connector is must be installed in a separate slot. A 15-pin ribbon cable is used to connect the physical port to the card itself. Most people should be able to do without this extra connector; single monitor setups can always use the DVI-I to VGA adapter to hook up the appropriate type of monitor.


The VGA plug is included on a separate backplate...


...but a full size backplate will fit all three connectors...


...or it can be removed entirely if not needed.

SPECIFICATIONS: AOpen Aeolus PCX6600-DV256LP (from AOpen's web site)

GPU

nVIDIA GeForce 6600
Core Clock : 300MHz
DirectX Generation : 9

Video Memory

-2ns
DDR3
128 MB
Bus Type PCI-E
Highest Resolution / Colors / Refresh Rate 2048 x 1536 / 32bit / 85Hz
RAMDAC Speed 400 MHz
Connectors DVI connector x 1
TV-Out (Composite&S-Video) x 1
VGA Out (15 Pin D-Sub) x 1
Form Factor Low Profile
Driver Support Direct3D, DirectDraw, DirectVideo and ActiveX for Windows 2000/XP
OS: Windows 95/98/Me/2000/XP/NT4.0 and Linux
DirectX: 8 / 9
Software Package Auto driver installation wizard
User-friendly interface to control VGA settings
Accessories DVI-CRT converter x 1
User's Guide : AOpen User's Guide x 1
VGA driver disc : AOpen VGA driver disc x 1



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