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Turning up the heat on GPUs

Posted on 5th Aug 2009 at 11:18 by Mark Mackay with 47 comments

Mark Mackay
The first graphics card I ever bought as a stand-alone purchase was an ATI Radeon 9800 Pro with an Arctic Cooling VGA Silencer bolted to it. The game that I was oh-so-thoroughly addicted to at the time was one of my first PC games, and my first MMO, Asheron’s Call 2.

The effects and textures of AC2 were exceptionally advanced, especially for an MMO and especially for one released that many years ago. When you cranked up the detail settings and AA, it was very demanding on the hardware of the day.

The jump in visual splendiferousness from the crappy low-end Nvidia GPU that I'd been ripped off for by my local PC store was immense. It looked like a completely different game. However after about 10 minutes of gaming, my PC would BSOD and restart itself, telling me that it had recovered from a serious error.

After some browsing forums and experimenting with different drivers I decided that the card must be broken. So when RMAing it I thought: ‘Screw it, I’m gonna spend even more money’ and managed to obtain the illusive Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition. So, I had my shiny new £260 graphics card all set up. I fired up AC2 and low and behold, the same thing happened.

Turning up the heat on GPUs

I got the notion that maybe it was overheating, as turning down the settings a little solved the problem. So I bought myself a 12in desk fan and pointed directly into my case with the side panel off. Problem solved. It never shut down and restarted when settings were maxed out again.

Over the years I’ve owned a Radeon X1900XT and a Radeon HD 4870 and both have, at times, shut down on me when I've been playing games with absolutely maximum settings.

It's happened even when the cards have had aftermarket coolers and not been overclocked, which makes it all the more difficult to work out why I've had such a bad run. Have other people had similar problems with overheating or have I just been unlucky with my graphics cards?

47 Comments

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Elton 5th August 2009, 12:34 Quote
Probably unlucky, or maybe you never bothered to crank up the fan speed. :P

And props to you ever getting an X800XT PE, those things were amazing.

I've never really had a problem with GPUs overheating personally, well mainly because most of my cases has good ventilation and I only did a mild overclock. To this day I've ran most games on max settings and the GPU's been fine, of course this was post 2006 and it was when I finally got a gamer card of my own(X1950XT), it worked beautifully.
wuyanxu 5th August 2009, 12:35 Quote
my Geforce 4 Ti used to have purple texture problem after 2 years of usage. other than that, x800GTO, x1650pro, 8800GTX, gtx260 i've owned never overheated on my.

8800GTX feels close to overheating and with vents INSIDE the case, it cooked my USB/Firewire backplate. gtx260 had been fantastic, zero issues.

with my experience with 8800GTX, i wrote a guide on how to adjust fan speeds. it uses Rivatuner so should also work on ATI cards
http://www.overclock.net/nvidia/273072-how-set-auto-fan-profile-most.html#post3140251
Elton 5th August 2009, 12:37 Quote
I envy those who could afford a GPU almost every generation.

I do kinda regret getting my HD4850 though, the 9800GTX+ was only marginally more expensive at the time..

And the HD4870, a tad more...
Combinho 5th August 2009, 13:01 Quote
I've had an X1900 XT and a GTX260 and never had any issues, even when overclocked. The X1900 XT was in a Dell and didn't have a proper cooler, but I still never had any issues with it.
Cutter McJ1b 5th August 2009, 13:22 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Combinho
I've had an X1900 XT and a GTX260 and never had any issues, even when overclocked. The X1900 XT was in a Dell and didn't have a proper cooler, but I still never had any issues with it.

That's interesting. I cant imaging the through-flow was particularly great in the Dell case either.
Xtrafresh 5th August 2009, 13:29 Quote
are you sure it's the GPU that's overheating? Maybe your case setup is such that there are other components blocked off from decent airflow while a big hot GPU is installed? The NB especially comes to mind, as it's often overlooked when people build their cooling setup.
Cutter McJ1b 5th August 2009, 13:36 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Xtrafresh
are you sure it's the GPU that's overheating? Maybe your case setup is such that there are other components blocked off from decent airflow while a big hot GPU is installed? The NB especially comes to mind, as it's often overlooked when people build their cooling setup.

Yes, I had thought about this and tried cooling the Northbridge independently to find out. I tried bolting whiny little fans to it and also aftermarket heatsinks. I'm confident that it has been the GPUs at fault.
Paradigm Shifter 5th August 2009, 13:38 Quote
Nope, can't say I've ever had a card do that to me. Although the only cards that were really hot enough to do that that I've owned were an X1900XT and an X1950XTX (which was a replacement for the X1900XT when it died via Titan Quest...) the X1950XTX used to idle at 65*C and load at 90*C...

Of course, ever since I built my Athlon XP rig, I've been running some fairly high-airflow cases. A Thermaltake Xaser (that thing has so many fans in it! Pity they're all 80mm...) and then the Antec P180.
Burnout21 5th August 2009, 14:32 Quote
I had a passive cooled Geforce 4mx overheat in my shuttle once, but that was soon fixed by changing the bubble gum TIM on it.

(NOT IN USE) Geforce 2 mx 64mb

(NOT IN USE) Geforce 4 mx 64mb (overheated only once)

(NOT IN USE) Geforce 5700 LE 256mb (ran hot, so changed out the stock cooler for a BFG cooler)

(DIED due to OC) Geforce 6800GT 256mb, (ripped off the stock cooling with in a week as the pissy fan annoyed me to hell, arctic cooling nv silencer 5)

(NOT IN USE) Geforce 7600GS 256mb, stock cooling replaced for same reason as 6800GT

(SOLD) Geforce 8800GTS 320mb, kept stock cooling, ran fine but it killed a DFI NF4 motherboard due to overheating the northbridge.

(IN USE) Geforce GTX280 runs cool, but the fan is starting to get to me...

(IN USE)Quadro FX 3450, stock fan ripped off, waterblock fitted for silence

(IN USE)Radeon X800XT PE, still got stock cooling for now.

So one hell of a list, and never really had cooling issues however only a few keep the stock cooling solution..
Dreaming 5th August 2009, 15:06 Quote
The way my case is set up now I can't see myself ever having a GPU overheating problem in the future unless the GPU fan is woefully inadequate.
yakyb 5th August 2009, 15:20 Quote
i had a 6800gt and 3850 die on me due to overheating despite 0 overclock and plenty of case fans
Cutter McJ1b 5th August 2009, 16:07 Quote
Well, it's starting to look as though I've just been unlucky with my ATI graphics cards.
Paradigm Shifter 5th August 2009, 16:25 Quote
I think everyone has had problems with something at some time, if they'll just be honest...

For you it's ATi cards... for me it's nVidia - I tried an 8800GTX and two 8800GT's before the third 8800GT worked. The other three were DOA. :(
DragunovHUN 5th August 2009, 16:29 Quote
My Geforce 4 MX440 used to overheat and produce graphical anomalies when playing Vice City.

What a piece of trash that was! But back then i didn't know any better. Also, that card works to this very day while all my ATi cards died way before i decided to upgrade them. So yeah, i'm pretty much sticking with Nvidia. Gainward at that.
Cei 5th August 2009, 18:19 Quote
I've had no issues over the years, having run:

GeForce2 GTS 64MB, GeForce FX5900 256MB, Radeon 9800XT 512MB, Radeon X800 PRO 512MB, 8800GT 640MB, 8800GT 512MB, 9600GT 512MB, GTX 275 896MB. All of these with stock coolers and worked hard.

My one bone of contention was a Sapphire motherboard with an overheating northbridge. I tried desk fans into the case, a new case, and several other methods before finally bodging a 40mm fan right on top of the block. Needless to say, it worked and the instability went away. Then I ditched the board...
Aragon Speed 5th August 2009, 18:22 Quote
TBH I have had quite a few cards over the years, and I find the ATI cards more heat sensitive than Nvidia cards as a general rule.

I have a P182 case, so there isn't much of an airflow probem, but I recently had to drop back from a 4850 to a 9600GT because I just couldn't get the ATI card stable.
azrael- 5th August 2009, 18:33 Quote
I only ever had a graphics card die on me and that was, incidentally, also a Radeon 9800 Pro. It had stock cooling with one of these crappy 40mm (if that) fans on it. Then I decided to get the appropriate Arctic Cooling VGA Silencer for it, not unlike the depicted HIS iceQ. Blessed silence ensued.

However, about 10 months later or so the card died literally from one moment to the next. I left the room for 5 minutes and when I came back the screen was dark. Turns out that at one point the fan connector got loose so the card went on to only be passively cooled. I didn't have a clue anything was amiss, since thermal probes on ATi cards were first introduced as of the 9800*XT*.
Elton 5th August 2009, 20:21 Quote
I almost had an X1300 die on me...

That thing was above 80C and the friggin card was a low end one.
Cutter McJ1b 5th August 2009, 22:05 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elton
I almost had an X1300 die on me...

That thing was above 80C and the friggin card was a low end one.

I never had one die on me altogether before, though sometimes I wish it would so I could use it as an excuse to get a new one =)
azrael- 6th August 2009, 00:13 Quote
Accidents happen... :p
Arkanrais 6th August 2009, 00:44 Quote
for me, it was GeForce 2 mx 200 - FX 5200 - x1650pro - x1950pro.
the only one of them I've had issues with has been the x1650pro. from day one I had trouble getting catalyst installed and the card would overheat sometimes (it had a stupidly small heatsink with a very thin 40mm fan on it). the fan eventually ceased right up and now takes an indecent amount of force to rotate, but a 92mm fan sitting over the heatsink fixed that.
my x1950 has been perfect though, with a zalman vf1000 cooler on it with the fan speed set to minimum (at max speed, it sounds like a hair dryer and I've yet to see the gpu break 45°C)
Aracos 6th August 2009, 00:48 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elton
I almost had an X1300 die on me...

That thing was above 80C and the friggin card was a low end one.

I got a X1300 Pro like that but passively cool it with a arctic cooling accelero S1 rev 2 in a HAF 932 and you'll get less than 40C constantly :D
Elton 6th August 2009, 02:17 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by storm20200
I got a X1300 Pro like that but passively cool it with a arctic cooling accelero S1 rev 2 in a HAF 932 and you'll get less than 40C constantly :D

Come to think, I might consider using that X1300 to power a second monitor. Any ideas on how to do so?
C-Sniper 6th August 2009, 05:42 Quote
I put a massive Overclock on a Radeon 9550 once and that caused problems when I ran games at full settings (it was passively cooled too! :p) I think I ended up putting the core to 337mhz and the memory to 422 mhz. Time eventually killed the card ( I eased off the Overclock since many games became unplayable) but other than that I have had no problems other than random blips with a GeForce 5950Ultra
B3CK 6th August 2009, 06:03 Quote
I have a friend that went through a nvidia 8600Gt and then a 8800Gt, both were doing the same thing until I bought him an aftermarket pci slot cooler for just the card itself.
I think it's just his case is providing a dead spot in airflow where the graphics cards are.
tron 6th August 2009, 08:22 Quote
I don't think you have had a bad run. There must be something 'unique' about your setup. Maybe the climate or even the indoor temperatures you live in or the type of PC cases you use.

For AAA gaming, I always recommend cases that are built for the purpose of having high airflow. Whether it is a watercooled system or not.

I am a hardcore gamer as well. However, the only time I have ever experienced a blue screen due to overheating, is when my 9800 GTX fan failed while gaming. Straight away I rebooted and checked temperatures for the GPU which was around 90 degrees even after it had time to cool down.It must have reached well over 100 degrees before the crash.

I usually recommend spacious Lian Li or Coolermaster aluminium cases with large intake air grills and more than one intake fan at the front intaking chilled air into the case. Aftermarket coolers on the CPU and GPU. I dislike cases with front doors and cases that only allow a single intake fan at the front.
Xtrafresh 6th August 2009, 08:51 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cutter McJ1b
Yes, I had thought about this and tried cooling the Northbridge independently to find out. I tried bolting whiny little fans to it and also aftermarket heatsinks. I'm confident that it has been the GPUs at fault.
What about southbridge then? It sits directly under the longer GPUs, and can also get seriously toasty in some cases...
Cutter McJ1b 6th August 2009, 10:50 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by azrael-
Accidents happen... :p

I lol'ed =)
Cutter McJ1b 6th August 2009, 10:53 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Xtrafresh
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cutter McJ1b
Yes, I had thought about this and tried cooling the Northbridge independently to find out. I tried bolting whiny little fans to it and also aftermarket heatsinks. I'm confident that it has been the GPUs at fault.
What about southbridge then? It sits directly under the longer GPUs, and can also get seriously toasty in some cases...

I guess it could have been, but the symptoms have been identical across so many boards and the first couple weren't overclocked. Pretty sure the GPUs were to blame.
tron 6th August 2009, 11:46 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cutter McJ1b
Quote:
Originally Posted by Xtrafresh
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cutter McJ1b
Yes, I had thought about this and tried cooling the Northbridge independently to find out. I tried bolting whiny little fans to it and also aftermarket heatsinks. I'm confident that it has been the GPUs at fault.
What about southbridge then? It sits directly under the longer GPUs, and can also get seriously toasty in some cases...

I guess it could have been, but the symptoms have been identical across so many boards and the first couple weren't overclocked. Pretty sure the GPUs were to blame.

If the problem has spanned across many different motherboards, then I would definitely have another look at things like the type of case designs you have been using, and the general airfow.
Boogle 6th August 2009, 15:03 Quote
I found in high-end cards, the VRMs get very hot. The VRM temps on my GTX280 went crazy with the aftermarket Arctic Cooling heatsink.

Gone with water now, no longer any problems with high temps and noise. I've also made sure there's a nice breeze through the case to avoid hotspots.

I have found all the ATI cards I've ever had run too hot and easily overheat. Users turning up their fans is a poor solution. There's also the issue of the power circuitry on stock 4870s not allowing the GPU to hit it's max TDP. With PhysX games (and a small selection of other games) I've noticed the power consumption of my GTX280 has rocketed up - what if ATI release a similiar feature, will the drivers have to downclock the GPU for those games?

My GTX280 automatically turns itself off if any part overheats (VRMs/GPU), and that's been tested more than once by the pump being too low and turning off. I wouldn't like to try that with an ATI card. It's like the P3 vs. Athlon. The P3 turns itself off, but the Athlon just burns out.

Hate to appear like I'm bashing ATI cards, since I think they're pretty good. I especially like how ATI don't boast about the GFLOPS like Sony would. But ATI really need to get a lid on the heat, their heatsink solutions, and emergency procedures should the worst happen.
pimonserry 6th August 2009, 16:09 Quote
I must've been lucky, the only time I personally have had to replace a card was when Splinter Cell 2 wasn't compatible with my MX 4400 :(

But my current ATi 4870 will happily run at 80*C at load, with no signs of instability.
One time, after I found the manual fan controls, it hit 91*C at medium load and still had no troubles, but I made sure that didn't happen again.
People say the HSF with the card is loud, but it can certainly keep it cool, at 60%, only loud music/gameplay will cover it up but it can keep the card @ 770/1100 below 60*C.
Aracos 7th August 2009, 00:37 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elton
Quote:
Originally Posted by storm20200
I got a X1300 Pro like that but passively cool it with a arctic cooling accelero S1 rev 2 in a HAF 932 and you'll get less than 40C constantly :D

Come to think, I might consider using that X1300 to power a second monitor. Any ideas on how to do so?
One on DVI and one on VGA? Or did I misunderstand you?
Elton 7th August 2009, 03:14 Quote
I mean one monitor on my HD4850 and the X1300 powering the other, is that possible?
Horizon 7th August 2009, 03:26 Quote
You sure it's the video card? To swap video cards and the problem persist usually means it's another component. Is everything factory stock when you encounter these problems?
Cutter McJ1b 7th August 2009, 10:33 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Horizon
You sure it's the video card? To swap video cards and the problem persist usually means it's another component. Is everything factory stock when you encounter these problems?

Yes, it's been with various rigs over the years. The first ones I ever had admittedly lacked proper airflow but even as I got more into hardware and had better cases it was still an issue, albeit a less frequent one.
leslie 7th August 2009, 11:53 Quote
I have seen many things cause that sort of issue. Sometimes the card overheating, other times the southbridge. One thing many overlook in terms of system stability though is power. A bad psu, underpowered psu are obvious, but how about the actual power coming into your system.

How is the house wiring, or the electrical current. Back when we were still using Via chipsets and Win98, people always claimed crashes were caused by Windows. The day I put in a quality UPS with a line conditioner, things changed. A short time later I went with a higher end board and psu as well. While most were crashing Windows I was running overclocked and as stable as Windows 2000 was for most.

Studies have shown that not only are systems more stable, but the parts last longer when there is clean, consistent power. Contrary to common thinking, power spikes, while bad, are not as common and damaging as people think and that power dips are a large cause of problems with hardware failing. Also keep in mind that if you have an ups, and it is underpowered, it can create issues for it is teh same as a power dip.
Cutter McJ1b 7th August 2009, 12:45 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by leslie
I have seen many things cause that sort of issue. Sometimes the card overheating, other times the southbridge. One thing many overlook in terms of system stability though is power. A bad psu, underpowered psu are obvious, but how about the actual power coming into your system.

How is the house wiring, or the electrical current. Back when we were still using Via chipsets and Win98, people always claimed crashes were caused by Windows. The day I put in a quality UPS with a line conditioner, things changed. A short time later I went with a higher end board and psu as well. While most were crashing Windows I was running overclocked and as stable as Windows 2000 was for most.

Studies have shown that not only are systems more stable, but the parts last longer when there is clean, consistent power. Contrary to common thinking, power spikes, while bad, are not as common and damaging as people think and that power dips are a large cause of problems with hardware failing. Also keep in mind that if you have an ups, and it is underpowered, it can create issues for it is teh same as a power dip.

Interesting. I've never used a UPS before. Maybe I should get one.
Paradigm Shifter 7th August 2009, 12:54 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elton
I mean one monitor on my HD4850 and the X1300 powering the other, is that possible?

Yup, it's perfectly possible. :) Should just be a case of popping both cards in, hooking up monitors and hitting the power button. They're both ATi cards (although since the X1300 is now considered 'legacy'... you'll be stuck running Catalyst 9.3 if you're playing with Vista...)
Aracos 7th August 2009, 20:00 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paradigm Shifter
Yup, it's perfectly possible. :) Should just be a case of popping both cards in, hooking up monitors and hitting the power button. They're both ATi cards (although since the X1300 is now considered 'legacy'... you'll be stuck running Catalyst 9.3 if you're playing with Vista...)

I'll have to remember that, thanks.
leslie 7th August 2009, 21:13 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cutter McJ1b
Interesting. I've never used a UPS before. Maybe I should get one.

I recommend APC. They usually have better line conditioning and (much) longer lasting batteries than others. I have had some that barely lasted a year while my APC's lasted several. Also while some will claim lightening protection, APC has a much more standard/higher lightening rating.

A cheap ups is exactly that, cheap.
Elton 7th August 2009, 22:48 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paradigm Shifter
Yup, it's perfectly possible. :) Should just be a case of popping both cards in, hooking up monitors and hitting the power button. They're both ATi cards (although since the X1300 is now considered 'legacy'... you'll be stuck running Catalyst 9.3 if you're playing with Vista...)

Thanks! Just making sure +rep.
lenne0815 8th August 2009, 13:38 Quote
my 4870x2s thermal design is bad. very bad.
u basically have two choices, either running the fan at speeds that makes ur case move slowly forward, or water cooling.
im still at figuring out the third solution, getting efficient quiet airflow going, but just using and aftermarket aircooler so far has been a huge mistake, letting my vrm temps rise above 140 !!! degrees...
SinxarKnights 10th August 2009, 02:04 Quote
The only card I recall that had a problem was an x1650xt. That card was a beast but it got so hot it would cause crashes very often. Usually hitting 100C within minutes of loading up Oblivion. The only option was to take off the side panel and point a fan in the case while gaming.

Had a MX4000 fail on me but I had a huge overclock on it so that was more my fault...
Elton 10th August 2009, 03:14 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by SinxarKnights
The only card I recall that had a problem was an x1650xt. That card was a beast but it got so hot it would cause crashes very often. Usually hitting 100C within minutes of loading up Oblivion. The only option was to take off the side panel and point a fan in the case while gaming.

Had a MX4000 fail on me but I had a huge overclock on it so that was more my fault...

Yeah strangely all the X1k.05 cards ran a bit hotter.

The X1550(from the X1300), the X1650, and the X1950s. Good times though, I had an X1550 almost explode on me, it literally was hot enough to burn your hands.
thehippoz 10th August 2009, 03:49 Quote
the 8800gtx (g80) ran hot as a stove.. you could heat up a room in no time- made all the cards before that seem like shaved ice makers
Paradigm Shifter 10th August 2009, 13:35 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elton
The X1550(from the X1300), the X1650, and the X1950s. Good times though, I had an X1550 almost explode on me, it literally was hot enough to burn your hands.

I can't speak for any of the 1x50 cards other than the X1950XTX... but that ran a lot cooler (and a lot quieter!) than my X1900XT. It idled around 5*C cooler than the 1900XT, and ran about 12*C cooler loaded... but it was their top-end card, and the first of ATi's favoured cooler style that didn't sound like a leafblower even at idle...
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