Nvidia’s new GeForce RTX 3080 Founder’s Edition graphics card ditches the “reference” style, single blower-style fan for a push/pull cooling solution. That much you already know. What you may find fascinating is that without any kind of thermal solution directly attached, a GPU like this would reach in excess of 750 degrees Celsius — about 100 degrees hotter than the melting point of aluminum.
So, cooling: it’s kind of important!
You may also find it interesting that a GPU’s cooling design can directly impact the types of systems or options your favorite PC builds like Origin, Alienware, Maingear and Falcon Northwest might offer.
In fact, Kelt Reeves of Falcon Northwest — the company largely responsible for the birth of gaming PCs — is an outspoken perfectionist when it comes to what he’ll allow in his systems. Of course, setting a high watermark for quality is essential when you’re building PCs not just for discerning gamers, but also for the likes of Facebook, Steven Spielberg, Gabe Newell, Chris Roberts and Nathan Fillion.
Reeves and his team burned through a mountain of fans before landing on the perfect ones for Falcon Northwest’s 20th Anniversary Talon (read my review here). The company waited until 2019 to finally put RGBs on its systems because nothing met their high standards. And it’s Tiki micro-tower is pretty much responsible for the existence of the mini-ITX motherboard.
All this is to say that when Nvidia decided it was ditching its “reference” design with the single, blower-style cooler, and then AMD followed by showing its triple-fan approach to cooling the upcoming Radeon RX 6000 Series, I knew Reeves would have some opinions.
After all, that traditional design is Reeves’ favorite for good reason.
“As a system builder, we always prefer ‘blower’ style cooler designs that vent their waste heat out thru the back of the chassis instead of dumping it back into the case,” says Reeves. “So a well-designed blower-style card like the Nvidia 1080 or Vega Frontier is always what we request.”
But I did say he had a tendency to be outspoken. So let’s finish that quote!
“But the GPU manufacturers have taken the position that once the heat is off their product, it’s no longer their problem,” Reeves continues. “True. Not nice to those of us that run our cards in a case, but technically true.”
Reeves told me they’ve been able to cool the Nvidia 20 Series reference designs quite effectively in their Talon PC, and I can personally back that up. Sadly, those same cards treat the tiny Tiki (famous for their role at Facebook in the development of the Oculus Rift) a little more harshly. They “fire so much exhaust heat downwards into the chassis that they’ll overheat the CPU liquid cooler when running graphics-intensive apps.”
For the Tiki, blower cards are the only option, which apparently leaves the Nvidia RTX 30 Series completely off the table for one of the world’s best and most compact PCs.
Now, I’ve followed Falcon Northwest as a journalist and customer for the last 8 years or so, and to the best of my knowledge the company rarely if ever chooses an AIB (Add-In-Board partner such as Gigabyte or ASUS) card design over the “reference” designs from AMD and Nvidia.
“In our Talon mid-towers, we’ve been able to cool the Nvidia 20-Series reference designs quite well. However those same cards in our tiny Tiki micro-tower fire so much exhaust heat downwards into the chassis that they’ll overheat the CPU liquid cooler when running graphics-intensive apps. So for that small an environment, we have to use blower cards.”
Which is why I suspected Reeves would have a fear or two about integrating these new and — from Falcon Northwest’s POV — radically different designs into Falcon’s custom cases.
“AIB cooler designs are the Wild West,” Reeves says. “They’re usually monstrous, change constantly, and seem mainly designed to make for the most eye-catching photo on NewEgg, not necessarily the best thermal design. Even good brand names have put out some designs with real issues.”
What was the reaction of a popular PC builder upon first seeing the RTX 3080?
“I dreaded the 3080 reference design when I first saw it in photos,” Reeves tells me. “It appeared to vent all its waste heat directly onto the system memory. However once I got my hands on one for testing, I’m much happier with it. Not only is it beautifully built, but about 50% of the waste heat does exit thru the back of the PC. We have a 140mm fan right next to its second exhaust fan that keeps it from affecting memory much, and since we use liquid cooled CPUs it’s not pre-heating a CPU air cooler.”
Speaking of AIBs, though, EVGA’s traditional 3-axial fan designs made the cut this time around, so Falcon Northwest customers will be able to choose either EVGA’s implementation or the Nvidia Founders Edition style.
RTX 3080s are sold out everywhere thanks to bots and scalpers, with some going on eBay for north of $10,000! But if you really want one, a decked out Falcon Northwest Talon will cost you much less…