If you’re looking to spend more than £350 on a gaming graphics card then we applaud you, but we also acknowledge that you have a dilemma on your hands. The big decision is whether you should choose the GeForce 7900GTX or the Radeon X1900 XTX.
Of course both chips are very good indeed, and if it was a simple question of performance then the X1900 XTX would get the nod, however there are other considerations to bear in mind. Some people prefer Nvidia’s ForceWare drivers over the ATi Catalyst offerings, and you can’t ignore the fact that SLI is a more stable platform than CrossFire if you fancy the idea of running dual graphics cards.
But for many people the choice is much, much simpler than that. All you have to do is to listen to an X1900 XTX roaring away when it starts to work hard and compare it to the near-silent 7900GTX and bingo, Nvidia’s got another customer.
The problem is that the X1900 XTX has 380 million transistors in its core and draws about 150W of power which results in a great deal of waste heat. By contrast the 7900GTX has 278 million transistors and draws less than 100W, and as a result it is relatively simple to cool the Nvidia chip while ATi cards often have industrial cooling solutions.
As an ATi partner and manufacturer Sapphire is well aware of this problem and it has come up with an ingenious solution in the shape of the Blizzard X1900 XTX. The basic card is a standard X1900 XTX with a core speed of 675MHz and memory that runs at 1.6GHz, so performance is monstrously fast just like every other X1900 XTX on the market.
The clever part is the liquid cooling solution, which is a Thermaltake Tide Water mini system that replaces the standard heatsink, fan and cooling duct. The water block connects to a pair of 10mm diameter rubber hoses which carry coolant to the cooling module that plugs into a PCI slot. This module uses a four-pin Molex connector to power the fan and pump and as things stand you need two slots to mount the card plus an additional slot for the cooler, although we understand that this layout may change.
On the edge of the cooler there is a switch that allows you to select a ‘Low’ or ‘High’ speed for the fan. The Low setting gives a fan speed of 2,000rpm and a noise level of 18dBA while the High setting of 2,500rpm gives a level of 26dBA. This noise is constant as the graphics card drivers have no control over the cooling module so the fan keeps spinning regardless of the graphics workload and this makes the High setting utterly pointless. On Low the Blizzard is very quiet indeed and the graphics chip stays cool at all times.
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