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BFG 9800 GT 512MB ThermoIntelligence Passive Cooling Review

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SKYMTL

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BFG 9800 GT 512MB ThermoIntelligence Passive Cooling Review




Manufacturer Product Page: BFG NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GT
Product Number: BFGE98512GTHE
TechWiki Info: BFG 9800 GT 512MB ThermoIntelligence Passive Cooling
Availability: Now
Warranty: Lifetime
Price: Approx. $200CAD



In our last graphics card review, we promised to ply our contacts with wine, women, hockey sticks and maple syrup (yes, in that order) in a quest to find the products that were left out in the cold over the last few months. We were looking for graphics cards that bucked the reference trend set by what seems like an industry full of copycats. Could Nvidia’s and ATI’s board partners deliver with some exciting products? Hell, they better because they have had the last year in which to tinker with the same designs and then overclock the balls off them by way of slapping on an aftermarket cooler. The more we looked at the market, the more we wanted to see something new, something interesting. Last month, Sapphire came to use with one heck of a passively cooled card and we were hooked like a toddler on chocolate and Tic Tacs.

Today we let BFG have a go at impressing us with their own unique take on a classic with their 9800 GT 512MB ThermoIntelligence passively cooled video card. BFG’s ThermoIntelligence line of products always carries aftermarket heatsinks or water blocks and this one is no different. Yeah, this is the same card at the same speeds as the ever-popular 8800 GT but it has been gussied up with the 9-series moniker and BFG has added a crème de la crème cooling solution from our friends over at Thermalright. To our knowledge, this is one of the first applications we have seen of a retail Thermalright heatsink (in this case an HR-03 Rev.A) on a graphics card from BFG or any other manufacturer for that matter.

While this card has not yet been released to many retailers, you can find it here and there with a retail price of around $180CAD / $140USD after rebates. That puts it slightly in-line with most overclocked 9800 GT 512MB cards out there which we believe is more than fair since in this case higher clocks have been replaced with one of the meanest coolers available.

So what we have here is a card with BFG’s legendary customer support and lifetime warranty which is graced with a Thermalright heatsink. Is this a match made in heaven? Let’s find out.

 
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SKYMTL

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The BFG Advantage: Lifetime Warranty & Trade-Up

The BFG Advantage: Lifetime Warranty & Trade-Up

With dozens of manufacturers vying for your attention in the highly competitive graphics card market, companies are always looking for ways to distinguish themselves from their competition. Some have gone the route of offering highly overclocked cards while others tend to focus on the customer satisfaction aspect of their business before thinking about increasing the performance of their products. BFG has been making a name for themselves by offering the best of both worlds by releasing both overclocked versions of their cards while giving a customer service experience that is second to none. Two of the major aspects of BFG’s commitment to their customers are their Lifetime Warranty and newly-introduced Trade-Up program.


Lifetime Warranty

One of the longtime marquees of BFG has been their Lifetime Warranty on all their graphics cards sold here in North America. From personal experience, all someone has to do is call BFG’s 24/7 customer support hotline, troubleshoot with the representative and if nothing comes of it an RMA number will be issued. This may seem too easy to be true but numerous posts across several tech-centric forums bear nothing but praise for BFG and the way they handle their customers. Indeed, our own http://www.hardwarecanucks.com/forum/troubleshooting/1829-canadian-rma-experience-3.html thread has several posts about good experiences with BFG’s Lifetime Warranty. Just remember: in order to be eligible for the lifetime warranty you must register your card with BFG within 30 days of purchase.

Unfortunately, some manufacturers have one-upped BFG by offering their own lifetime warranties but unlike BFG they also cover aftermarket cooler installation and overclocking.

For more information about BFG’s Lifetime Warranty, please visit their website here: BFG Tech - Warranty


Trade-Up Program


BFG has recently introduced their Trade-Up program which is in effect for 100 days after the purchase of a new BFG graphics card. This program gives a BFG customer piece of mind by offering them the opportunity to trade in their graphics card for a newer model within 100 days plus pay the difference in cost. The worth of the BFG graphics card you trade in is based off of the pre-determined MSRP of the card in question at the time you apply for the trade-up so this price will probably be quite a bit less after a few months.

This means if you purchase either card we are reviewing here today, you will be able to trade it in for a better card if one is released within 100 calendar days of your invoice date. The only caveat about this is that your card’s value will be based off of the pre-determined BFG price whenever it is you choose to trade it in. In addition, you must register your card within 30 days to have a chance at trading it in for something better.

For more information about the Trade Up Program, please follow this link: BFG Tech - tradeupprogram
 

SKYMTL

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BFG 9800 GT 512MB TI Specs / Packaging & Accessories

BFG 9800 GT ThermoIntelligence Specs



As already mentioned, the specifications for BFG’s card are in-line with that of the reference card and not one MHz higher in any aspect. This is slightly disappointing considering the kick-ass cooler this thing has straddling its PCB but unfortunately increased clocks just weren’t meant to be.


Packaging and Accessories



The packaging for the BFG 9800 GT ThermoIntelligence Passive is typical for BFG’s e-tailer destined cards. In all of our BFG reviews we mention this but it is worth mentioning again: BFG packages the cards for online stores differently from those sent to brick and mortar retailers. As such, the box is quite a bit plainer than what you would normally see from many other manufacturers.


Hold on, what? Exactly how much can it vary? Either it has a Thermalright heatsink or it doesn’t and truth be told, this isn’t something that instilled much confidence in us. Hopefully, this is just BFG covering their butts legally rather than an indication that they can change the actual product without advising their customers.


Even though the Thermalright heatsink on this card isn’t a wilting daisy when it comes to durability, BFG does a good job making sure nothing happens to it during transport. Basically, the card is wrapped in the usual bubble wrap, protected by another layer of foam padding and finally wrapped in a form-fitting cardboard box.


Accessories are what you would expect in the way of adaptors, connectors, instruction manuals and advertisements. However, much like the 3D Vision kit we took a look at a while back, it seems that BFG has included a coupon which will entitle you to 10% off the digital download of certain games. We checked availability and it seems even brand new games like Dawn of War II are included in this offer so hopefully people will take advantage of it.

Unfortunately, BFG did not include the wire fan clips that typically come with all of Thermalright’s coolers since they consider this to be a truly passive solution. Don’t worry though, in a later section we will show you how to easily install a single 92mm fan onto this card. Another issue we see here is the fact that there is no S/PDIF connector or DVI to HDMI adaptor included even though many people will want a passively cooled card for their HTPCs.
 
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SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the BFG 9800 GT Thermointelligence

A Closer Look at the BFG 9800 GT Thermointelligence



Upon first glance, the top of the BFG 9800 GT ThermoIntelligence isn’t much to look at even though there are a number of points of interest which are important to note. To begin with we can see that BFG has opted to install the HR-03 Rev.A in a wrap-around configuration as opposed to the typical upright installation many users tend to gravitate towards. To cut costs, BFG has also decided to keep the memory ICs naked without any pre-installed heatsinks.


When the card is flipped over, we are greeted by a full view of the HR-03 Rev.A’s fin assembly. Due to its size, you will need at least 1 ½” of free space on top of your card in order to properly install the 9800 GT ThermoIntelligence which shouldn’t be a problem for the majority of systems out there. However, some of you may run into an issue if your motherboard has an exceptionally tall northbridge cooler and a high placement of the PCI-E slot.


The components used in the power distribution section of this card are slightly different from a reference 9800 GT but there isn’t anything here that could be called a significant dumbing-down of the design. What did surprise me was that much like the memory; BFG didn’t bother to put any heatsinks on the VRMs. Considering this card is intended to be run passively, there will be very little airflow over the VRMs while the heatsink will be pumping heat into its immediate surroundings. As such, without very good airflow within your case I would be a bit worried about the lifespan of the VRMs.


BFG uses the stock Thermalright mounting mechanism that is supposed to provide even pressure distribution over the largest possible surface area. Even with this system in place, in some cases we have seen overzealous installations where the screws were overly tightened and the resulting pressure caused the PCB to noticeably flex. Luckily, BFG seems to have been aware of this fact since there is no evidence of excess PCB flexing on their card even though the cooler is well secured.
 

SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the BFG 9800 GT TI con't

A Closer Look at the BFG 9800 GT Thermointelligence p.2



BFG chose the upper portion of the HR-03’s retention plate for the only sticker on their 9800 GT ThermoIntelligence. Meanwhile, we can see that the HR-03 Rev A. uses a quartet of independent heatpipes to quickly move heat away from the core so it can be dispersed by the cooling fins.


This card uses Qimonda HYB18H512321BF-10 GDDR3 modules that are rated to run at 1Ghz (2Ghz DDR) so they should have some overclocking room left in them. However, due to the passive cooler and lack of heatsinks on the ram and VRMs, we are not going to test overclocking in this article since it is really not recommended for this product.


Unfortunately, the backplate of the card serves up a huge disappointment; there is no native HDMI connector. Let’s be honest here; a passive card is a prime picking for HTPCs but without an HDMI connector nor a S/PDIF cable nor a DVI to HDMI adaptor, the 9800 GT ThermoIntelligence isn’t appealing in the least for this potential market.
 

SKYMTL

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Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup

System Used

Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q 9450 @ 2.67Ghz
Memory: G.Skill 2x 2GB DDR2-1000 @ 800Mhz DDR
Motherboard: ASUS P5E Deluxe X48
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Hitachi Deskstar 320GB SATAII
Fans: 2X Yate Loon 120mm @ 1200RPM
Power Supply: Corsair HX1000W
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate x64 SP1


Graphics Cards:

BFG 9800 GT ThermoIntelligence
HD 4830 512MB (reference)
HD 4670 512MB (reference)
HD 4650 512MB (reference)

9800 GT 512MB (EVGA / stock speeds)
9600 GT 512MB (EVGA / stock speeds)
9600 GSO 384MB GDDR3 (Palit / stock speeds)
9500 GT 512MB GDDR3 (EVGA / stock speeds)


Drivers:

Nvidia 180.48 WHQL
ATI 9.1 WHQL


Applications Used:

Call of Duty: World at War
Crysis: Warhead
X3: Terran Conflict
Dead Space
Left 4 Dead
Far Cry 2
Fallout 3
Need for Speed Underclover


*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 4 benchmark runs

All game-specific methodologies are explained above the graphs for each game
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
13,264
Location
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Call of Duty: World at War

Call of Duty: World at War


To benchmark this game, we played through 10 minutes of the second mission (Little Resistance) starting from right after the player calls in the rocket strike on the enemy positions on the beach. This was benchmarked using FRAPS.

1440 X 900





1680 X 1050



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
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Location
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Dead Space

Dead Space


To benchmark Dead Space, we used a timed 10 minute gameplay session around in Chapter 2: Intensive Care on Hard Difficulty in which we battle a few necromorphs and enter a zero-G environment. Seriously, what good is a benchmark without action sequences? “Walkthroughs” are unacceptable around here… Once again FRAPS was used.

1440 X 900





1680 X 1050



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
13,264
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Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead


For benching Left 4 Dead, we used a pre-recorded 5 minute timedemo taken on the Death Toll campaign during The Church mission. Framerates were captured with FRAPS.

1440 X 900





1680 X 1050



 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
13,264
Location
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Need for Speed Undercover

Need for Speed Undercover


Benchmarking NFS: Undercover proved to be an interesting process but we finally decided on the Ocean and Wilson Circuit race for a worst case scenario benchmark run. The benchmark run involves running 4 laps of the circuit at the hardest difficulty setting with 7 other racers and a high traffic volume. The total amount of time usually ranged between 3:30 and 3:40 of gameplay time recorded in FRAPS.

1440 X 900





1680 X 1050



 
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