For those brave enough to watercool their systems (and we salute you) fitting a watercooled graphics card is invariably an exercise in nervous warranty voiding which involves replacing the stock GPU air cooler with an expensive third party waterblock and then fitting it into your watercooling loop with all the headaches that this can often lead to.
When you’re dealing with a piece of kit that can quite frequently top a value of £300 in the upper regions of the market, the whole process can be extremely nerve-racking, as can the art of overclocking of your newly watercooled GPU – push it too far and there’s no hope of an RMA thanks to the warranty voiding nature of all third party coolers (for most add-in board partners, at least - Ed.)
However, for those worried about voided warranties and shaky overclocking performance, there are a handful of graphics cards available with waterblocks (and in some cases full watercooling systems) pre-fitted, although this sort of bravery and innovation from board partners does not always result in a quality product. Get it right, and you’ll get a card you card that’ll clock insanely high and deliver great performance – get it wrong and you end up with a water filled disaster waiting to happen.
With the launch of the latest generation of Nvidia GPUs this past summer, three of Nvidia’s board partners have chosen to release a watercooled version of Nvidia’s flagship GTX 280, and today we’ll be looking at two of them – the BFG GeForce GTX 280 H₂OC and the MSI GeForce GTX 280 HydroGen.
Just as with the GeForce 8 and 9 series of cards, Nvidia has been very tentative with allowing board partners to fit cards with custom cooling solutions, and even almost six months since launch we’ve yet to see custom air coolers fitted to retail Nvidia GTX 200 series cards, so these cards really are something a little special right from the off.
While both are based around the same core GTX 280 architecture and reference board, each sports a very different pre-fitted, and crucially warranty covered, waterblock and ships with radically different factory set pre-overclocks in excess of 15 percent higher than a stock GTX 280.
Never ones to miss out on a bit of ludicrous clock speed fun, we’ve dusted off the bit-tech watercooling gear and both benchmarked and heavily overclocked both cards to decide which is more worthy of a place in your watercooling setup and whether either offers enough of a performance boost over a stock card to justify the extra cost.