GeForce GTX 480 Real World Temperatures & Sound

We have now spent some quality time with NVIDIA's Fermi in the form of its GeForce GTX 480 SLI and GTX 480 video card configurations. There has been a lot of talk about the sound and temperatures produced by these new GPUs. We look to put a fork into all the rumors and misunderstanding in the enthusiast community.

Introduction

There has been a lot of talk about the new GTX 480 and GTX 480 SLI video card configurations from NVIDIA. Certainly much of the criticism has come the power envelopes shown, and quite frankly, there is not a whole lot of misunderstanding on that front. The GF100 sucks down wattage faster than Kirstie Alley goes through her third helping of banana pancakes at IHOP. There is really no denying that, or anything subjective to discuss. Fermi is a pig. But what about the sound it makes and the temperatures it produces in actual usage scenarios? This is not going to be the same for everyone. Different chassis have different airflows and temperatures in our homes will greatly affect Fermi's heat and sound.

GTX 480 SLI and GTX 480 Heat & Sound

If you are not up to speed on what is possible in terms of GTX 480 and GTX 470 sounds we suggest you take a look and a listen to this page from our review last week. Those videos were recorded using a synthetic stress test that show you the absolute limits of the technology. But what about when you are playing a game at home?

Our goal here is to show you what Fermi should deliver in terms of heat and sound in a real world gaming scenario, so what we did was take our GTX 480 cards off the open test bench, and installed them into a chassis that I used previously for my personal system. We show you what GTX 480 SLI and single card GTX 480 do in terms of temperatures and fans speeds in a real chassis playing real games. Below we will share our thoughts on noise levels experienced and our GPU system temperatures. The video below covers our test setup and how we went about gathering our data and will let you see what we saw.

Conclusions

I have seen a lot of the talk going around comparing the GTX 480 to the failure that was the FX5800. And in all honesty, there are some valid comparisons to be made, but the GTX 480 is NOT another FX5800. The GTX 480 is not a "dustbuster," but the possibility exists for it to be depending on the environment you are using it in.

GTX 480 SLI - We used our cards in a configuration NOT suggested by NVIDIA. We did not do this to put NVIDIA in a bad light, we did it because we think this is the way most of the people will configure SLI cards in their own chassis. Our slots don't leave us much choice on the Gigabyte motherboard we used. NVIDIA suggest that we leave a space between the cards.

For SLI, we suggest using 1st and 3rd slots in X58 mobos for best cooling in motherboards that permit configuring both slots as x16 link width. We don’t want people doing this in mobos that only permit x4 link width in the 3rd slot.

If you have the luxury of following this suggestion it keeps the first card from being spaced tightly with the second card and certainly allowing for better ambient airflow to the card. If you can follow NVIDIA's suggestion, do it. You will be happier for it.

Using the GTX 480 in an SLI configuration is going to supply awesome gaming performance. Along with that performance you are going to get a LOT of heat and a lot of noise. There are just no two ways about it. GTX 480 SLI is hot and loud. Without the air conditioning on in my house it raised my office temperature by over 10F overnight while leaving a 3D game running. I can hear the GTX 480 SLI downstairs from my office. I can close the door to my office and hear it running. It makes a lot loud sound. It however is not terribly annoying. The sound during normal usage is not so shrill that it is terribly annoying, but you will hear it. If you however have a high ambient temperature in your house or are putting two GTX 480 into a chassis that has an in-case ambient temperature above 95F or so; be prepared to hear some real racket. Even with the SLI set up well ventilated, I could still hear the system with my headphones on. Sitting 4 feet away, 480 SLI is going to pump out 55dB under load; and that is a best case scenario, unless you live in Alaska.

GTX 480 Single Card - (Update 04/02/2010) I wanted to be clear on the fact that we used a DUAL DISPLAY setup while doing the above testing. With a single display attached, the idle temperature is reduced on the GTX 480 single card. We saw completely idle temperatures on an OPEN bench with 73F ambient temperature at 45C.)

The GTX 480 single card is a much different animal than the SLI configuration. I spent a full day gaming on it, and quite frankly it did not leave me with a bad taste in my mouth...or an earache. Again, you can hear the card's fan spinning at all times, but it was not annoying. With a well ventilated case and an ambient temperature of less than 80F in your house, you should be OK with the GTX 480 sound profile. And again, you WILL hear the GTX 480 any time you use it, but it is not an abusive sound. I have to listen for my Radeon 5970, and if I do while it is under load I can hear it, but honestly I never heard it till I listened for it. If the GTX 480 is under load, you just hear it without focusing on it.

Once the fan RPM breaks the 70% mark as told by MSI's Afterburner program, the fan on the card gets fairly loud, but it does not have that annoying "dustbuster" whine that the FX5800 had. Of course you can make the GTX 480 fan obnoxiously loud and annoying, but you have to get it hot and spun up into the 85%+ range. Doing that is going to require a chassis with terrible airflow or an ambient air temp that is very toasty.

The Bottom Line

The GTX 480 is hot. I know many enthusiasts are not going to be satisfied with a video card that idles at 73C (and even hotter in most SLI setups) and runs 93C under pretty much any kind of load. There have to be long term implications to this and I would just suggest that you buy from a board builder that has a rock solid warranty and a reputation for great customer service if Fermi is for you. These cards are hot and can very much raise the temperature in the room you are using your setup in. Maybe NVIDIA can bundle a coupon for a new ceiling fan?

The GTX 480 is loud. The fans however do not become annoying unless they are spun up to very high RPM levels. Even SLI, while you can certainly hear it, is not distracting once you get used to it. Single card noise is manageable if you have a lower ambient temperature to start with and have good chassis airflow. No doubt this is one of the reasons we are seeing a "Fermi Certified" chassis from Thermaltake. If you have good airflow in your chassis, the sound is not annoying high pitched or bothersome. However If you are a person that cherishes silence, the GTX 480 is not for you.

Discussion

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