PowerColor's SCS3 HD6850: Radeon HD 6850 Goes Fanless

It takes guts to try passively cooling a 127 W graphics processor. PowerColor sells the first Radeon HD 6850 we've seen topped only with a heatsink. Does the triple-slot cooler do its job, or is Barts simply too complex of a GPU to cool like this?

Passively-cooled mid-range graphics cards are now relegated to endangered species status. Their power draw, and thus the heat they dissipate, is just too high. Even attempting to keep a moderately-fast GPU cool without fan requires two things: a sophisticated heatsink design and the right operating environment. Almost amazingly, PowerColor doesn't drop the clock rate on its SCS3 HD6850 1 GB card at all, and instead offers the performance of a regular 6850 card (only without a fan).

Knowing full well that the 960-shader Barts core is rated for 127 W, we were dying to figure out how a heatsink all on its own could keep the GPU cool enough. In order to reach that conclusion, we not only benchmarked the board in a number of games, but we also tested it in several enclosures to assess its viability out in the wild. In addition to that, we mounted an ultra-quiet fan on the card to compare how active cooling changes things.

Here's a bit of a spoiler. In the summer, installed in the wrong chassis, this card rides the edge of disaster, and may even cross over. Read on to find out how to avoid a meltdown. We'll address whether it makes sense to use this card at all.

Create a new thread in the UK Article comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
  • tranzz
    I you rev the nuts off the fan can you get a super over clock from the card?
  • ps3hacker12
    wow, so with just 1 fan its a great card.
  • mi1ez
    the fact remains, to use a silent graphics card at it's full potential, you need a noisy case!
  • Solitaire
    Tom's... I think you've forgotten that heatpipe towers are hugely reliant on static pressure and airflow... of course sticking it on an uncooled open testbench will result in fail...

    Ultimately true passive setups involving mid-TDP parts will always remain impractical or a gimmick, as they always need some sort of forced airflow across them to remain workable. Turning a Big Air system into a Quiet Air one through Arctic/Scythe/Noctua abuse is always the better idea.
  • HEXiT
    i had a fanless solution on my 88gt done by sparkle. it worked, just. i put a 60mm cpufan on it and wow. temps down to 40'c from near 100. the cooler itself was ok but was blinding when you gave it a push... i guess this 1 will do the same. add a couple of low noise 120's and i bet the temps tumble... then again i hoped they would come with a fanless solution because the build quality for there fans is poor... min didnt even last a year on my 5870... also there customer service is second to none... it has to be the worst i have ever encountered from a new-ish entrant into the market.