These are my thoughts on Gigabyte's GTX 970 from a silent computing perspective. Some background information on the card: it was briefly reviewed by Tom's Hardware
. It's pre-overclocked to 1178MHz (from a stock 1050MHz) and comes with Gigabyte's Windforce 3X
cooler, which is a fewer-finned version of the Windforce 3X 600W
cooler installed on Gigabyte's GTX 980 and GTX Titan cards, but I believe the fans are the same on both models. X-bit labs has some further analysis
of the cooler, along with some basic noise measurements.
The card was installed in a system with the following specs:
The PC sits at the side of my desk in a carpeted room. All fans are speed-controlled to run at 600RPM or less when not gaming. Subjectively, the most audible part in the system is the 27" Samsung LCD monitor (depressingly, I cherry-picked this sample from Costco for its noise profile), followed by the Seagate drive, then the WD drives. I can't hear the fans unless they ramp up.
Back to the GTX 970: when it was first installed, the fans ramped up to 100% then down to about 50%. After installing the Geforce drivers they lowered to 34%, or 1600 RPM. Neither Gigabyte's OC Guru II software nor MSI Afterburner could convince the fans to spin any slower. At this speed the graphics card fans are the most prominent noise source, but I can still hear the monitor and Seagate drive. The noise is not distracting when music, games, or movies are played, but can be heard during breaks in the sound. The fans mostly sound like a tonal whoosh, but I can hear some pulsing, probably due to the three fans running at slightly different speeds. I may have also heard some electronics interference in the headphone output, but too be fair I heard it with the old video card too--the Asus Xonar D1 sound card has been a real disappointment in this regard (and many others).
So, out-of-the-box, I cannot recommend this card to someone who wants a quiet computer. But I intend to try several things to lower the noise:
- I've asked Gigabyte support how I can turn off the fans at low temperature. MSI and Asus have GTX 970 models that do this, and I heard that EVGA is developing a BIOS update to allow the same. So maybe Gigabyte will follow suit.
- I may try to install a Zalman Fanmate. X-bit labs says the Windforce fans can run as low as 3 volts, or 1000 RPM.
- More likely, I will remove the stock fan shroud and tie a quiet 120mm fan (or two) to the heatsink.
- Finally, I might install another aftermarket heatsink, such as the Prolimatech MK-26.
As for the GTX 970 overall, I bought it for its official 145 watts TDP, and was dismayed to see it regularly exceeded that in measurements by TechPowerUp
and Tom's Hardware
, who both have equipment that can directly measure DC consumed by the card. Worse, the idle power consumption of the cards vary wildly, although I don't think my sample has particularly bad idle consumption.
I took some power measurements done by eyeballing a Watt's Up power meter that measures whole system AC consumption. Load measurement was taken while running the Bioshock Infinite benchmark at 1080p, Ultra + DDOF graphical settings. Additional measurements were taken with GPU-Z.
Peak TDP: 66%
The GTX 970 responded well to forced TDP throttling. I lowered the TDP limit to 40% using OC Guru II and re-ran the benchmark:
Peak TDP: 42%
I'm rather CPU-limited, so someone with a more modern processor might see a bigger performance drop. I may test again with supersampling antialiasing, to more fully load the card.
In conclusion, I think the GTX 970 is an okay GPU for quiet gaming. It has an FPS/watt ratio higher than anything else bar the GTX 980. However it is difficult to cool silently, and it may be wiser to wait a month or two for a GTX 960 / 960 Ti with lower TDP, or wait longer for Nvidia to produce 20nm parts.
Either way, Gigabyte's card is probably not the best one to get if you want a near-silent PC.