|ASUS Radeon EAH5870 V2 Video Card|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Video Cards|
|Written by Bruce Normann|
|Sunday, 13 June 2010|
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ASUS EAH5870/2DIS/1GD5/V2 Features
Above and beyond the features that come with every graphics card based on an ATI HD 5870 GPU, there are several hardware and software features that ASUS brings to the table with the EAH5870 V2. First, let's look at the special hardware features that come along with the latest ASUS design initiative, called "Extreme Design". You have to look close, because there's no big sticker on the box and it's not mentioned on the product's web page, but the features are there, nonetheless.
OCP with Redundant Fuses
It's been awhile since I saw fuses on low-voltage electronics assemblies. In most applications, power requirements have been going down steadily and most designs rely on the current limiting features built into commonly available voltage regulators to do the job. High power graphics cards are another matter, where 25A is not an unusual load. If you're already pulling that kind of current, a voltage spike can dump a lot of power into the board and cause serious damage. Most manufacturers do some failure analysis on returned products, and I'm sure ASUS has seen its share of burnt components caused by power surges generated upstream. So, it's in their best interest and yours if adding a small, cheap fuse can prevent a catastrophic board failure.
These are one-time fuses, not the resettable versions that have become popular recently. To avoid a one-strike-you're-out situation, ASUS installed redundant fuses, so you have not one, but two chances to blow the fuse before sending the board back with an RMA.
Bonding of GPU substrate to the main PCB
How many times have you cranked down on the mounting hardware for a monster CPU cooler and wondered if you were bending the motherboard. Of course, you were....even if it was slight. Now, add cyclic thermal stress and you have a potential for failure. The same applies to your GPU, although I haven't seen a TRUE hanging off a video card, yet. Without a socket to add some structural integrity to the area around the GPU, there's a greater opportunity for stress and strain on the GPU and the hundreds of tiny components soldered close in. The typical mounting system for GPUs relies on an intermediate substrate as the interface between the actual GPU and the main PCB.
You can see in the image above that it's common to fill in the gap between the die and the substrate with an underfill, but the gap between the substrate and the main PCB is wide open. ASUS decided to extend the underfill concept to the bottom of the substrate and increase the strength and rigidity in this critical area. I wouldn't have thought this could be a significant problem, but back in 2008 it cost NVIDIA about $200 million to replace a bunch of mobile GPUs with failed solder connections. Better to be proactive about it, I think, and the additional cost is probably minimal. A little bit of glue in the right place, and you're golden. I suspect that the additional layer of underfill is not really protecting the solder balls in the lower gap, but by making the entire area less flexible, they are doing a better job of protecting the solder bumps between the GPU die and the substrate.
Labyrinth seal for fan hub
Fans move air. Air contains dirt. More air = more dirt. Fans rotate on bearings. Bearings + dirt = FAIL.
Pretty simple; if you don't want your fan to fail, keep dirt out of the bearings. Traditional contact sealing methods, using rubber or felt to close off gaps, generate friction, heat, and airborne particles. None of these sound like things you want in a video card, and to top it off, it uses up energy to create all those things we don't want. ASUS has adopted a better method, commonly called a labyrinth seal, which is a non-contact solution. It's quite effective in an open-air situation, and has none of the issues I mentioned above. They're not recommended for sealing off submarine propeller shafts, but you probably figured that out already. Just like the glue above and the fuses, this is a simple, cheap fix that addresses a real reliability issue. Sure, it's all just good engineering design practice, but if your company is using better design standards than the other guy, why not let the customer know about it?
In addition to the hardware tweaks, ASUS is bundling a few software utilities with this Voltage Tweak edition. Key among them is the SmartDoctor program, which allows software control of the GPU voltage and is the key to getting a serious overclock on the Radeon HD 5870. At its most basic, SmartDoctor starts up with this default screen, and if you want to manually overclock the GPU and memory this is all the further you need to go. Voltage adjustments are limited to a maximum of 1.35 VDC, which is considered a safe number, at least for air cooling. For most of my review this is what I used, as I like manual controls for benchmarking, but there are other options if you want to explore.
ASUS SmartCooling - Dynamic fan speed controller for a quiet work environment
SmartCooling is an ASUS exclusive technology that effectively reduces the fan noise under normal use, and dissipates the heat when the GPU loading is high. SmartCooling only works on specially designed ASUS graphics cards with monitor chip that can detect and adjust the board temperature and fan speed.
When activated, SmartCooling allows you to set five (5) GPU temperature thresholds and the fan speed dynamically changes according to this temperature threshold. When the the GPU temperature is below the lowest threshold, SmartCooling automatically reduces the fan speed to the lowest fan speed level to reduce noise and save energy. Moreover, when the GPU temperature passes over the threshold, SmartCooling automatically increases the fan speed for better heat dissipation.
ASUS HyperDrive - Exclusive dynamic overclocking features
There is another small piece of software included, that serves as a companion to SmartDoctor, and it's called GamerOSD.
I like to keep things simple when I can, so most utility software doesn't do much for me, but I can see using some of the more advanced features of SmartDoctor and GamerOSD. The custom fan speed profiles are useful for me, because I like to run my GPU a little cooler than the factory defaults, but I don't necessarily want it running at 80% all the time. On-the-fly changes of clock settings sounds like too much work, especially when you are supposed to be paying attention to the game, but I can see where it's useful during rest periods. Sometimes you can't exit the game without losing your progress, and you still want to throttle the GPU back while you're off getting a cup of coffee.