Last week, Tim had a look at the Radeon X1950 Pro SCS3 from PowerColor and found it to be a genuinely good product. It's always our opinion that high-end performance and complete silence is a great combination, even if you do need to pay a bit of a premium for the privilege.
You may also remember the XFX GeForce 7950 GT 570M Extreme that we had a look at in September of last year. This was another passively cooled card that came with a small overclock straight out of the box and even though it is slightly more expensive, it also impressed us a lot.
Now we have another passive card to look at and it combines a similar cooler to the PowerColor with the same graphics chip as the XFX. So today we're going to find out which card will take the passive cooling crown.
The Inno3D iChiLL 7950 GT Accelero S1M is currently the flagship product in Inno3Ds iChiLL range. Combining Nvidia's fastest available DirectX 9 GPU (GeForce 7900 GTX and GeForce 7950 GX2 are pretty rare these days -- Ed) with a completely passive cooler and boosted clock speeds it should prove quite the silent competitor.
This isn't the first iChiLL card we've looked at; you may recall Tim's review of the Inno3D GeForce 7900 GS iChiLL ACS6 back in March, but it is the first that uses the passive Accelero S1M cooler. You see, the iChiLL range is split into two groups, those with Zalman coolers and those with Artic Cooling coolers. The Zalman HSFs are either the VF-700 or the VF-900, both of which utilise fans to help dissipate heat. However, the Artic Cooling cooled cards (try saying that after a few beers! -- Ed) use either the Silencer 6 or the totally passive Accelero solutions. It is one of these latter ones that we're looking at today.
The iChiLL range is only available for the GeForce 7000 series of cards at the moment so you won't be able to get a fully warranted silent 8800 GTX quite yet (there is one ThermalRight heatsink already available though -- Ed). However, you should know by now that the 8800 series kicks out enough heat to warm a small country so you're going to need active case cooling at the very least. Inno3D does, of course, offer the full selection of Nvidia cards using reference coolers so if silence isn't your thing then it still has plenty on offer.
As Tim also mentioned, there are many arguments for and against buying a DirectX 9 based mid to high end graphics card at this point. The imminent arrival of DirectX 10 hardware is of course a concern but unless you have Windows Vista, or plan to buy it soon, you can't play DX10 games anyway so there's little point stressing over getting a DX10 board.
However, that's not even the fundamental point, what really matters is that if you're looking to get a completely silent graphics card you will likely have to wait several months after mid-range hardware is released before you begin to see custom coolers added to retail products. And even then the power envelope might be too large to enable a passive solution to be viable. So, we can assume for the time being that if you're looking for a totally silent graphics card then one of these cards is as good as you can get.
The iChiLL range has sported the same box design since its inception earlier this year. A glossy black cardboard box is perforated with a couple dozen holes on the front that aim to show off the wondrous hardware inside. The overall impression is one of simple sleek modernity rather than the usual flashy colours and manga style characters often seen adorning graphics card boxes. Surprisingly little is made of the fact the card inside is passively cooled, with just a reference to being silently cooled by Arctic Cooling in the top right corner. Maybe being able to see the card inside is enough for most people to realise it doesn't use a fan.
Of course, the real concern is that the box is sturdy enough to withstand the rigours of the journey to your home and protect the card inside. And, I have no reason to doubt this one can. The plastic blister style insert holds the card and all the extras firmly away from the edges of the box, ensuring nothing rattles around.
Inside, you get a quick start guide, a comprehensive selection of cables, a driver CD, and a Cyberlink DVD Solution CD. On this you'll find PowerDVD, PowerDirector, PowerProducer, MediaShow, Show2Go, MusicMatch, and trial versions of PowerDVD Copy and PowerBackup. Unfortunately, no games are included.
Unlike the PowerColor card, the iChiLL doesn't include VIVO so the selection of cables and dongles is limited to two DVI-to-VGA converters, an S-Video to composite cable, and a two-Molex to six-pin power cable. This isn't the most comprehensive bundle we've ever seen but it's pretty much par for the course.