There are three main types of cooling available on graphics cards. The first, and most obvious, is the reference design. This usually consists of a waterwheel style fan at one end, a lump of aluminium and a plastic shroud. The second is third-party designs such as the Twin Frozr III from MSI, the Windforce from Gigabyte or the various DIY options. Finally of course is buying a waterblock from EK or Danger Den and the like, and plumbing it into a dedicated water-loop.
The PNY we have on test today combines two of these into a stand-alone format by utilising an Asetek self-contained pump, block and radiator combined with a reference card.
It's quite a bizarre thing and looks like someone has welded a Corsair H50 to their card, but does it work?
PNY are certainly confident that the cooling solution works, as the Fermi 110 GPU has been overclocked from the default 772MHz up to a whopping 857MHz out of the box. Considering some very hardcore pre-overclocked cards available usually stop around 800MHz, and the Gigabyte Super Over Clock is 855MHz out the box, this is the fastest 'out of the box' GTX580 around.
|Core Clock||857 MHz|
|Processor Clock ||512|
|Processor Cores ||1714 MHz|
|Texture Fill Rate ||54.85 Billion/sec.|
|Memory Amount ||1536MB GDDR5|
|Memory Data Rate ||4212 MHz|
|Memory Interface ||384-bit|
|Memory Bandwidth ||202.18 GB/sec.|
|On-board Outputs||DVI, DVI, and HDMI mini|
|Bus Type ||PCI Express® 2.0|
The packaging for the PNY is very cool indeed. Black with gold lettering always looks classy and PNY have resisted the urge to emblazon the box with a swathe of logos and the like, but rather focussed on what the PNY Liquid Cooled does differently to the rest. Which, as you'll see in a second, is almost everything.
The packaging is very solid as befits looking after a sealed loop. This is something you definitely don't want to open the box to discover the postman has been less than kind to it.
Such is the nature of the modification that if we'd have fiddled in Photoshop to remove the pipes out the top of the card, it would seem entirely reference.
Of course it isn't at all a reference design. It's difficult not to be both amazed by the way in which PNY have affixed the liquid part of the card, but also not furrow your brow in wonderment at seeing something so .. different.
With the standard DVI and mini-HDMI outputs, and utilising the same 8+6 PCIe power input as the normal card, the PNY sticks rigidly to the formula we're all used to. It just looks so strange. If we'd only seen a photo or two and not actually have it in our sweaty mitts then we'd be convinced it was an April Fool photoshop job.
As always when testing our GPUs we use the same setup to ensure that our results are, barring driver changes, easily comparable.
PNY GTX580 XLR8 Liquid Cooled
Intel Core-i7 950 @ 4GHz
Gigabyte G1 Assassin
6GB Mushkin Redline
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Amazingly even with the high overclock already in place the PNY has more to give, being capable of a pretty stellar 965MHz on the GPU core.
One thing we definitely recommend is manually increasing the speed of the standard fan. Because the GPU is kept cool with the Asetek water cooling the cards sensors indicate that it's very cool, so the fan barely spins which means the memory and voltage regulators get seriously toasty. So it's advisable to set the reference fan manually to ensure everything else on the card stays as cool as the GPU itself.
We will cover the GPU temperature at the end of our review, but 51°C maximum with our overclock is so stunning we don't mind mentioning it here. It might look a bit of a dogs dinner, but it works.
3D Mark 11
Behold the power of the PNY. It completely demolishes a stock GTX580 and is second only to the multiple GPU setups in our graph.
3D Mark Vantage
For once 3D Mark Vantage backs up its much newer stablemate. The PNY GTX580 not only gives a seriously good P-Score of nearly 32000, but responds well to the overclock too.
Such is the raw power dealt out by the PNY that with zero anti-aliasing in Unigine Heaven it's ahead of even the HD6950 CF setup, and it's not until the hefty 8xMSAA is applied that the multi-GPU setups really pull ahead.
Let's hope our gaming results replicate the benchmark scores.
Alien vs Predator
The consistency of the Alien vs Predator benchmark makes it one of our favourites and once again the PNY GTX580 makes a good claim for the fastest single card around. It's especially nice to see the overclock really making a difference.
The latest in the long line of Battlefield games really pushes the card hard, and it requires the full overclock to get the average frame-rate up to the magical 60FPS barrier.
Something strange happens with the mere Gamer settings in Crysis Warhead. Although the average frame-rate is rock solid both at stock and overclocked, the minimum frame rate really takes a pounding. Even weirder the, admittedly excellent, GTX560Ti gives us the same result. So let's turn it all up to eleven.
Things return to normal when the image quality is upped as high as it can go. In fact the overclocked PNY is up there with a standard GTX590.
Moving on to Crysis 2, in the vanilla boxed version the PNY dominates, being up there with some seriously beefy dual-GPU set ups. Our overclock is worth an 11% improvement which is pretty good going for a simple tweak.
With the hi-res texture pack and DirectX 11 improvements from the v1.9 patch, Crysis 2 certainly can take even the hardiest of systems. The PNY certainly makes a good fist of it, being surprisingly close to the HD6990!
The engine behind Dirt 3 is so well optimised that the PNY has no difficulties even with all the settings up to the stops. This does mean that our overclock has less benefit, but when you're dealing with frame rates this high there isn't a cause for complaint.
As we move back into the Tommy Gun world of Mafia 2 the PNY has much more to do and the overclock really comes into its own, boosting the frame rate from just above 80 to just shy of 100. All this without the card ever getting warm.
Far Cry 2
The older technology behind Far Cry 2 responds far better to pure clockspeed than any architectural tricks and tweaks, and our results bear this out. Two GPUs are definitely better than one, even one as capable as the PNY GTX580.
Metro 2033 is becoming a bit of a Crysis Warhead when it comes to head-scratching results. It's so dependant upon multi-GPU solutions that our PNY GTX580 gives the same results as we saw from the Sparkle GTX560Ti. Given how well the PNY performs in our other tests this is obviously a fault of the 4A Engine itself, rather than an issue with the card.
The Witcher 2
When we tested The Witcher 2 on the Gigabyte GTX580 SOC we were fairly certain that we'd seen the highest average frame-rate that this generation of single GPUs could produce. Oh ye of little faith. The PNY spanks it fairly comprehensively and is capable of delivering a playable experience, even with everything on Ultra. The minimum frame-rate does take a fair hit now and again, but generally the game runs as smoothly as we've seen on anything except the mega-bucks Mars 2.
Considering that the reference cooler on a GTX580 keeps the card around 80°C at stock and can head towards 90°C when heavily overclocked, the temperatures of the PNY are astoundingly good. A mighty overclock and very heavy loading still could only get it up to 51°C. Stunning.
Let's get one thing out of the way straight away. When we first saw the PNY XLR8 GTX580 we chuckled. It looks so strange, almost like a standard card has sprouted a growth, that we almost dismissed it. We're delighted we didn't.
Sure it might not be the belle of the ball, but when you talk about GPUs we only care about two things. Is it easy on the ears, and is the performance enough to blow our socks off?
The PNY is answers a resounding yes to both questions.
Starting with the most obvious thing, the performance is exceptional. It's the fastest pre-overclocked GTX580 we're aware of, and yet it still has plenty of untapped power and can be pushed up to a fairly stratospheric 965MHz. Even better and unlike some cards we've tested the overclock makes a clear difference to the performance too. At "stock" it's very fast, but if you're willing to overclock it, and who wouldn't be, then it becomes blazingly quick. 34000 P-Score, nearly 40 FPS average in The Witcher 2, the PNY is definitely the daddy when it comes to giving big numbers.
That's only half the story though.
The rest of it is the phenomenal performance of the bizarre cooling arrangement. It needs a bit of careful prodding because if you don't remember to turn the stock fan up to keep the GDDR5 and voltage regulators cool then the card quickly becomes hot enough to bake a potato upon. But a quick trip into the nVidia control panel sorts that out and you're left with a card that is about as loud as a standard card, the extra 120mm fan on the radiator obviously adds the noise that the reduced speed of the stock fan removes, but is amazingly cool. 51°C is mind-blowingly low for a card at these speeds.
One would assume that a card at this level of factory overclock, water-cooling, and a five year warranty would break the bank. Although it's a bit more expensive than a standard card at around £470, it's actually very good value considering a stock card is about the £400 mark and this has so much more.
We shouldn't like it as much as we do. But we do. We really do. It's quick and, despite the quirky looks, works outstandingly well. It has to be a Gold Award.
Thanks to PNY for supplying the XLR8 GTX580 Liquid Cooled for review. Discuss in our forums.