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PowerColor HD 6850 1GB SCS3 Passive Review

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SKYMTL

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Metro 2033 (DX11)

Metro 2033 (DX11)


There has been a lot of buzz about Metro 2033 which has mostly centered on its amazing graphics coupled with absolutely brutal framerates on even the best GPUs on the market. For this test we use a walkthrough and combat scene from The Bridge level which starts at the beginning of the level and lasts for about 3 minutes of walking, running and combat. Famerates are measured with FRAPS and Advanced PhysX is turned off.


1680 x 1050

POWERCOLOR-SCS3-52.jpg


1920 x 1200

POWERCOLOR-SCS3-53.jpg
 

SKYMTL

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Unigine: Heaven v2.0 (DX11)

Unigine: Heaven v2.0 (DX11)


Unigine’s Heaven benchmark is currently the de-facto standard when it comes to simple, straightforward DX11 performance estimates. While it is considered a synthetic benchmark by many, it is important to remember that no less than four games based on this engine will be released within the next year or so. In this test we will be using a standard benchmark run with and without tessellation enabled at three resolutions,


1680 x 1050

POWERCOLOR-SCS3-54.jpg


POWERCOLOR-SCS3-55.jpg


1920 x 1200

POWERCOLOR-SCS3-56.jpg


POWERCOLOR-SCS3-57.jpg
 

SKYMTL

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Core Temperature / System Power Consumption

Core Temperature


For passive cards we do temperature testing a bit differently. Instead of using only an open test bench (which features very little airflow over the components), we also used a Cooler Master HAF 912 in order to simulate an in-case cooling situation. Therefore, the results are broken into four categories:

Open Test Bench: Motherboard lying flat with no direct air movement over the GPU heatsink
In Case: Standard cooling with the case’s front and back fans enabled
Case w/side 12cm: Standard in-case cooling with a 120mm / 1200RPM fan installed on the side panel
12cm Direct: In case with a 120mm 1400RPM fan attached directly to the heatsink with zip-ties

The ambient temperature was kept at a constant 22°C (+/- 0.5°C). If the ambient temperatures rose above 23°C at any time throughout the test, all benchmarking was stopped.

For Idle tests, we let the system idle at the Windows 7 desktop for 15 minutes and recorded the peak temperature.


POWERCOLOR-SCS3-59.jpg

All in all, this passive heatsink has what it takes to keep the GPU core well cooled as long as sufficient airflow is provided. The massive temperature reduction with the installation of a simple side panel 120mm 1200 RPM fan indicates that standard in-case performance may have been better if PowerColor had implemented fins that run parallel to the case’s airflow rather than at perpendicular. Meanwhile, adding a 120mm fan directly to the heatsink resulted in some impressive temperatures but we doubt most people looking at the SCS3 would choose this route.

For those of you wondering, VRM temperatures never exceeded eighty degrees when the card was installed into a case.


System Power Consumption


For this test we hooked up our power supply to a UPM power meter that will log the power consumption of the whole system twice every second. In order to stress the GPU as much as possible we once again use the Batch Render test in 3DMark06 and let it run for 30 minutes to determine the peak power consumption while letting the card sit at a stable Windows desktop for 30 minutes to determine the peak idle power consumption. We have also included several other tests as well.

Please note that after extensive testing, we have found that simply plugging in a power meter to a wall outlet or UPS will NOT give you accurate power consumption numbers due to slight changes in the input voltage. Thus we use a Tripp-Lite 1800W line conditioner between the 120V outlet and the power meter.

POWERCOLOR-SCS3-58.jpg

The power consumption numbers are in line with what we expected for a HD 6850 with slightly upgraded components.
 

SKYMTL

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Overclocking Results

Overclocking Results


Remember folks, this is a passively cooled card so overclocking performance is FAR from its intended uses. Nonetheless we decided to see just how far we could take it before the core hit 80 degrees in a HAF 912 case with a side panel 120mm fan installed.

The capacity this card has for overclocking isn’t all that great since temperatures increased exponentially with every 25MHz bump to the core and memory. But some extra performance can still be squeezed out of it.

Core Speed: 835Mhz
Memory Speed: 4216Mhz

POWERCOLOR-SCS3-65.jpg
 

SKYMTL

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Conclusion

Conclusion


Sometimes, reviewing graphics cards becomes a bit monotonous. No, I really am serious. There’s only so many ways to describe the long list of custom cooled, moderately overclocked cards until one gets the “been there, seen that” mentality. The PowerColor HD 6850 SCS3 on the other hand is something altogether different and it actually had me sitting up and taking notice.

Passively cooled GPUs have been available for as long as many of us can remember but the SCS3 is different in a number of ways. Truly silent cooling is now being offered on a relatively high performance card that doesn’t have any issues playing today’s hottest (forgive the pun) titles. PowerColor has also priced this HD 6850 at a reasonable level so it should fit well within most people’s budgets.

Cooling performance is what makes or breaks passively cooled cards and for the most part, this card's heatsink design does live up to our hopes and PowerColor's design promises. When placed in a well ventilated case, the temperatures did creep upwards but even after a good hour of intense gaming, the HD 6850 wasn’t anywhere close to its thermal limits. However, that’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement. With the cooling fins placed at a right angle to incoming airflow from the case fans, cooling performance is nowhere near what it could be had air been allowed to pass through the assembly. As it stands, temperature optimization can be accomplished by simply adding a side panel fan to your case.

For its market niche the SCS3 is an unmitigated success but its value for people who don’t absolutely want a passive card is dubious at best. Indeed, we can’t really consider this a “silent” GPU per se since there needs to be a fan operating somewhere within your enclosure to supply the heatsink with the airflow it so desperately needs. But in our opinion, PowerColor has designed a passive card that can pump out the framerates without featuring a steep admission price. That alone is a worthy accomplishment.


 
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