Fanless PCIe Graphics Cards from Asus and Aopen

Graphics Cards
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TEST RESULTS

Ambient conditions at the time of testing were 22°C, and 120V / 60 Hz.

An initial testing phase was carried out using the integrated graphics on the system motherboard to establish baseline levels for system power and CPU temperature. Unfortunately, neither RTHDRIBL nor ATI Tool would not run on the integrated graphics chip, so 3DMark05 was used in conjunction with CPUBurn to establish the baseline power level. 3DMark05 produces a very dynamic load which is not as strenuous as the constant load from ATI Tool, so the peak power was used as a reference. Proper stress on the integrated graphics might raise the results by another watt or two, but the impact on the rest of the system temperatures would probably be minimal.

VGA Test Bed: Baseline Results (no external VGA card installed)
System State
System Fan Voltage
System Power Consumption (AC)
CPU Temperature
Idle
12V
79W
41°C
CPUBurn
12V
147W
64°C
CPUBurn
9V
148W
64°C
CPUBurn
7V
148W
65°C

Once the initial testing was complete, the real testing began.

AOpen Aeolus PCX6600-DV128LP

There's not very much to say about AOpen's card, because it failed about 20 minutes into the first session of RTHDRIBL. Before the failure, the system power consumption gradually crept up by about 10W to a peak power consumption of 204W just before it failed. Then, just as we were about to turn the fan down to the next level, the screen went blank and we heard the BIOS beep as the computer restarted. The acrid smell of burned electronics filled the room, and the card no longer output any signal.

VGA Test Bed: AOpen Aeolus PCX6600-DV128LP
System State
System Fan Voltage
System Power Consumption (AC)
CPU Temperature
Idle
12V
101W
41°C
CPUBurn Only
12V
169W
63°C
CPUBurn & RTHDRIBL
12V
204W
66°C

We took the card apart to look for obvious signs of failure, but there were no visibly damaged components. Nevertheless, we never managed to get the card working again on several other systems we tried.

A rough idea of the power consumption of the card can be judged by comparing the total system power consumption with and without the card installed. The following procedure was used to derive the estimates in the table below:

  1. The system AC power consumption was measured at various loads, with and without the video card.
  2. We used efficiency test results from our Antec Neo HE 430 review to estimate the approximate DC output power being delivered at the various AC input power measured.
  3. The power consumption of the graphics card at idle was assumed to be the difference in power demand between the two systems when both were running CPUBurn.
  4. The power consumption of the graphics card under load was assumed to be the difference between the system with the card running CPUBurn and RTHDRIBL simultaneously, and the baseline system running CPUBurn only. This ensured that any load on the CPU from RTHDRIBL did not skew the results, since the CPU was running at full load in both cases.
Video Card Power Consumption: AOpen Aeolus PCX6600-DV128LP
GPU State
Estimated DC Power Consumption
Total increase in System Power (AC)
Idle
14W
+18W
RTHDRIBL
35W
+47W
Just before failure
43W
+57W

Asus EAX1600XT Silent/TVD/256M

The Asus card completed our full test without missing a beat. The system was left burning for more than two hours, and ATI Tool never detected an artifact during that time. Our visual inspection of the RTHDRIBL window confirmed the software test; we did not notice any visual degradation.

VGA Test Bed: Asus EAX1600XT Silent/TVD/256M
System State
System Fan Voltage
System Power Consumption (AC)
CPU Temperature
Idle
12V
105W
41°C
CPUBurn Only
12V
172W
63°C
CPUBurn & RTHDRIBL
12V
205W
68°C
CPUBurn & ATI Tool
12V
208W
66°C
CPUBurn & ATI Tool
9V
208W
68°C
CPUBurn & ATI Tool
7V
209W
70°C

While the card was under load, the heat that it gave off had the effect of raising the CPU temperature by 4~5°C, pushing it dangerously close to overheating. However, no CPU throttling was ever detected, so we concluded that no increase in noise would have been needed to keep the CPU cool. Obviously, this result will not be the same in every system, but it is worth noting that the additional heat from the card can affect the rest of the system as well. In a system where the CPU is already being cooled near its thermal limit, it is quite possible that the system would need to be noisier to exhaust the heat from the passive card.

Video Card Power Consumption: Asus EAX1600XT Silent/TVD/256M
GPU State
Estimated DC Power Consumption
Total increase in System Power (AC)
Idle
18W
+25W
ATI Tool
46W
+61W

The EAX1600XT is hardly a cool-running card. With an estimated maximum power of 46W, it may require more power than the CPU in some systems. That it could be cooled with a neat, smallish passive heatsink makes the engineering quite impressive.

CONCLUSIONS

The failure of the AOpen card does not speak highly of its suitability in a quiet system with slow fans and low airflow. Its low profile just doesn't provide enough space for a heatsink that can cool it adequately. On the other hand, its form factor is one of its biggest selling points; Low profile cards are not easy to find. With this in mind, it is probably most accurate to say that the PCX6600-DV128LP is best suited to specialized applications such as well-cooled home theater systems that do not tax the 3D capabilities of the card.

The Asus card is a successful fanless graphics card. It survived our toughest tests while putting out more heat than the Aopen card. The 4~5°C rise in CPU temperature suggests that additional system cooling for some systems, depending on use patterns and ambient conditions. Certainly, an exhaust fan in the usual position above or beside the motherboard I/O panel is strongly recommended; it should be considered mandatory with this video card. Performance is perfectly good for any home theater PC application (especially with the breakout box for composite and S-video) and will likely be good enough for casual or less demanding gamers. It's a good product with a clever, effective cooling system.

Many thanks to AOpen for the samples of the PCX6600-DV128LP and the motherboard in the testbed,
to ASUSTeK for the sample of the EAX1600XT Silent/TVD/256M.

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SPCR Articles of Related Interest:
Gigabyte GV-N66256DP Fanless AGP video card
Chaintech AA6800GT + Arctic Cooling NV Silencer 5
Arctic Cooling ATI Silencer 2 VGA Cooler
Arctic Cooling VGA Silencer
Zalman ZM-80 VGA Heatpipe Cooler

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