In general, we see a trend in the market preference for quieter, smaller, cheaper, and more powerful GPUs.  In reality, we might see two or three of these features in a product, at the expense of the other(s).  I took the opportunity to visit as many vendors as my time allowed in Computex to find GPUs which could potentially fit into these categories.

On the NVIDIA side of things, Zotac where showing two silent models.  The first is actually a PCI card, rather than PCIe – a GT 430 with 512 MB DDR3 memory on a 128-bit bus, running at 700 MHz core speed and1600 MHz memory.  A purely silent card, it has a single slot design and supports DVI-I, HDMI, and VGA.  It’s interesting to see a PCI card on sale – they have their uses mainly in industrial applications, but due to the PCI specifications there’s a bandwidth limitation which may hinder any significantly faster GPU.

The Zotac 520 ZONE Edition, with 48 CUDA cores and 1 GB DDR3 memory on a 64-bit bus, runs at 810 MHz with 1600 MHz memory.  Again, this is a silent card, but a dual slot solution, supporting DVI-I and mini-HDMI.

Sparkle, apart from competing with Gigabyte and ASUS on SKU naming complexity, had three silent cards on display – a GTS 450 (SXS4501024DSSNMP), a GT 440 (SXT4401024S3LNMP) and a GT 520 (SXT5201024S3LNMP).  The GTS 450 version supports two DVI ports and a mini-HDMI, whereas the other two give the standard VGA, HDMI, and DVI connectors.  The GT 440 is a single slot solution, and all three have 1GB memory.

In terms of raw power in the veil of silence, we have to look at the AMD side of things and Powercolor, who have wrapped a HD6850 (yes, you read that right) in a passive heatsink using 5 heatpipes – this thing is massive:

The issue that probably bugs me the most about this card is I can see people using two in Crossfire.  In order to shift that much heat, the case will require sufficient cooling – i.e. fans, and thus defeat the point of silent running.

Powercolor also had two more sensible passive solutions on show: a HD6670 and HD6570.

In a similar vein, over at the AMD booth, they had selected passive cards from various manufacturers – an ASUS EAH6670, a Gigabyte HD6770 (GV-R677SL-1GD), a HIS 6570 Silence and an XFX HD5670 (HD-567X-ZNH).

Even though there is a distinct trend to produce graphics cards with dual slot coolers, it does pique my interest when a manufacturer has a single slot solution to what is typically a dual slot answer.  This is often at the expense of length, fan noise, and cost of heatsink materials, but in terms of performance per unit volume, a good single slot GPU can sometimes be the answer.

So enter the Powercolor HD6850 Single Slot Edition.  Again, you read that right – a single slot 6850.  This card isn’t significantly longer than the standard 6850 from looks, put I’d wager that the fan must work hard to push air through when the card is working at a full load.

On the professional side of things, Sapphire had a FirePro V7900 on display as a single slot solution.  The V7900 is the 1280 streaming processor variant with 160 GB/s memory bandwidth, and differs from the commercial equivalent by utilizing features most people don’t need but professionals do.  My usual perception in terms of a environment using professional GPUs (i.e. clusters for simulation) is that more per machine is usually better, so I could see up to 7+ of these in one motherboard  – perhaps.

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  • SteelCity1981 - Tuesday, June 07, 2011 - link

    Heck a lot of motherboards that came out within the past couple of years don't even support a PCI slot anymore. Even your cheapest motherboards that have came out within the past few years as at least one PCIe slot. Doesn't make much sense to support a PCI GPU anything anymore considering PCI is a big bottleneck on even modern budget GPU's and now there are intergrated graphics on cpu/gpu's solutions that are even faster then some modern budget PCIe graphic cards now. Reply
  • Stahn Aileron - Tuesday, June 07, 2011 - link

    It's mentioned in the article why the PCI version was made: industrial (and perhaps some enterrpise) level usage. To me, it sounds like you're making your assumption based solely on the consumer market.

    Industry and enterprise tend to have some simpler and somewhat more cost-sensitive needs. I would think a PCI design would be easier and cheaper to implement compared to PCIe. For example, less runs on the MB for connections (PCIe x16 slot has a lot of contacts); smaller footprint on the MB (x16 slot is overall longer than typical PCI.)
    Reply
  • haplo602 - Tuesday, June 07, 2011 - link

    actualy it's a mighty fine card for AGP only boards :-) brings in the latest tech while still being enough for such a low end system.

    how much bandwidth do you think does a low res game need ? also GPGPU is plenty for this. get a board with 5 PCI slots and there you go :-)

    basicaly I could stick 6 GPUs into my workstation with that ...
    Reply
  • Taft12 - Friday, June 10, 2011 - link

    If you're putting a current-gen video card in an AGP system, you have no interest in the "latest tech" Reply
  • Gauner - Tuesday, June 07, 2011 - link

    What about atom boards?

    I have a D510MO that only comes with PCI slot, the integrated graphics card is incredibly bad, for every single thing. If I can get my hands in some dedicated graphics card for 30-50$ and It would solve all the problems with youtube HD, hulu and 1080p content of any kind, plus let me play some old games, I will buy it right away.
    Reply
  • Taft12 - Friday, June 10, 2011 - link

    If only you had heard of ION before buying that board! Reply
  • Andrew Rockefeller - Tuesday, June 07, 2011 - link

    Pair a passive HD6XXX with a 45W TDP Llano and a chunky heatsink and you could have a nice silent runner on your hands.. full passive without feeling gimped. Word has it that Llano will be hybrid crossfire compatible with Norther Island GPUs, so it's could be a rather impressive build all things considered.

    http://news.softpedia.com/news/AMD-Hybrid-CrossFir...
    Reply
  • MrTeal - Tuesday, June 07, 2011 - link

    The passive 6850 is a really interesting card, but not everyone needs a completely silent GPU, especially since most people have case fans and a PSU fan that keeps the rig from being computer silent. Why does there seem to be no middle ground between the lower end passive cards and the typical banshee card?

    Take a 6950, use a similarly sized massive heatsink like the one on the 6850 with the fins spaced properly for low backpressure airflow, and toss two high quality slow and quiet 80mm fans on it. Sure it would add $20-$40 to the cost, but it'd be worth it to some of us.
    Reply
  • vailr - Tuesday, June 07, 2011 - link

    Any news about updated "Bus only" powered PCIe graphics cards?
    For purposes of: enjoying speedy graphics, while minimizing power requirements and heat output.
    AMD vs. nVidia options.
    Reply
  • provostzakharov - Tuesday, June 07, 2011 - link

    When installed in a tower case, the passive cards appear to have the base of the heatsink located above the fins. So when the fluid in the heatpipes condenses, it will run down towards the fins instead of back towards the hot chip. Am I seeing this right? Seems backwards... Reply

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