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If the speed of a graphics card depended on how many words were in its name, the Gainward PowerPack! CoolFX Ultra/2600 TV-DVI-DVI would probably be the fastest card on the planet.
Gainward’s CoolFX line of cards tailors to those for whom having the latest kit just isn’t enough. These individuals simply must own the absolute fastest stuff out there regardless of the price.
To scale these heights, the CoolFX doesn’t bother with your run-of-the-mill air cooling but instead uses water cooling to keep excessive heat under control. Water cooling brings two key advantages – first, it keeps the card cooler than any conventional fan, enabling it to be run at much higher frequencies. It’s also much quieter, so you can get the benefit of higher clocks without any of the noise intrusion of a high-rpm fan.
However, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and with this in mind, the Gainward PowerPack! CoolFX Ultra/2600 cards will cost you far more than a standard GeForce 6800 Ultra. At the time of writing this card costs £586.33 from Scan, while a conventional air cooled model such as the AOpen Aelous 6800 Ultra (a full review of which is imminent) is only £369 – a fairly significant 58 per cent price differential.
You also have to negotiate a complex and potentially hazardous installation process. Opening the large box you’re presented with a quite daunting amount of kit. Even if you’re used to installing graphics cards, you’re really going to have to put your engineer’s hat on to get to grips with this little lot. Our advice would be to set aside plenty of time, and enlist the help of a technically minded-friend if you’re not feeling too confident yourself.
If you decide that you’re brave enough (and rich enough), inside the box you’ll find a water tank, a pump, a radiator, a bottle of corrosion protection liquid and an amount of tubing. There are also a number of connectors, a power splitter, and DVI to VGA converters. You do get a manual, which while wordy, proved not to be as clear as we would have liked. What isn’t in the box is a bottle of distilled water, so you’ll have to get hold of one - a visit to the local garage shop helped us out here.
Gainward sensibly suggests that you don’t start to fill the system with water while it’s in your PC to avoid the risk of water getting onto your components. In fact the whole process is a great advert for InertX, a coolant that isn’t corrosive and won’t damage anything if it spills. However, for the purpose of creating a standard testing environment, we chose to use distilled water, as indicated in the manual.
Gainward suggests activating the pump system without powering up the PC. This is to ensure that the system gets filled with water before the graphics card has to do any work, ensuing that it doesn’t overheat and get damaged. To do this you need to short the power plug to make the power supply think that it’s plugged into the board. Gainward supplies a connector plug to enable you to do this. This proved easier said than done however. Using a recent ATX power supply proved difficult, as these won’t power up unless a load is applied, so we had to use an older power supply to get around this issue.