Monday, September 21, 2009

Watching The Detectives

Loyd Case's blog, Improbable Insights, is filled with nerd detective stories. That's one of the reasons that Loyd has been one of my favorite tech writers for such a long time-- he shares his thought process in such an entertaining way.

Here's a good example: Logical Steps Versus Intuitive Leaps. Not only is it an excellent detective story, he also works in the Myers-Briggs personality assessment test as a bonus.

Because of this, I decided to try to figure out one of my own system anomalies: the video card.

What's always seemed odd to me is that even though my internal system temps are very reasonable, the GTX 260 runs hot. Hot as in "59°C at idle" hot, all the way up to 75°C when I'm playing a game.

The system has always been extremely stable, and I've never had a heat-related video crash, but I've always been curious about those temperatures.

Last weekend, I decided to experiment. I put a small fan in front of the case to increase airflow into the case. Right away, the idle temperature dropped by 4°C.

That result made me curious about the back of the case, oddly enough.

I set the system up originally with about 6" of clearance between the back and the wall, and very little clearance on either side. I wasn't sure that was enough space for ideal ventilation, but heat rises, and the air coming out of the case is much warmer than the surrounding air, so I figured that if there was a problem, it would take care of itself.

Now, though, I was wondering if lack of space behind the system was somehow inhibiting the airflow leaving the system. I shut down the system, moved it about 9" forward (still little clearance on the sides), and turned it on. Oh, and I also turned off the fan.

The idle temperature of my graphics card? 51°C. 6" made an 8°C difference.

When I turned the fan back on, it made almost no additional difference in temperature. I didn't have an intake problem. I had an exhaust problem.

Interestingly, when I play a game, the max temperatures are almost the same. The significant differences only happen when I'm on the desktop or working with non-game applications, but that's the vast majority of time I spend on the computer.

Of course, ATI is rolling out a new generation of graphics cards on Wednesday, and their combination of performance and thermal management is almost certain to make me upgrade. But it's nice to know that I now have a better environment for the almost -inevitable new card. And if I change cards, who knows? Maybe King's Bounty will actually work now.

If you're curious about the new ATI cards (as I bounce helplessly from subject to subject), here's an excellent primer with both known and speculative information: AMD 5800 series (thanks to the forums at Beyond3D).

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