EVGA GTX 580 Hydro Copper 2 £562
27th Aug 2011 | 09:00
Want to get your graphics card wet without drowning it?
Water, water everywhere but you really don't want to drink this stuff. Because it has coolant in it, and you will die. Or at least have a nasty tummy ache for a while.
The GTX 580 Hydro Copper 2 is EVGA's monstrously OTT take on the Nvidia GeForce GTX 580, a GPU that already has the honour of being the fastest single chip graphics processor around.
EVGA reckons that's not good enough, though, and has kitted its flagship card with the company's FTW Hydro Copper 2 water cooler, ready to be plumbed into your liquid-chilled system for that little bit of extra performance that air cannot provide.
If you've already got a water-cooled system and want a graphics card that wants to get wet with it, it's a tempting prospect. There are just two things to bear in mind: You could buy a stock GTX 580 and fit a water cooler yourself. This is, of course, slightly riskier and won't come with EVGA's lifetime guarantee, but you could do it for over £150 less than this if you shop around. Alternatively, you could go for a lot more in-game performance and pick up a dual chip GTX 590 for roughly the same price.
Against those two alternatives, EVGA's GTX 580 FTW Hydro Copper 2 had better be something special.
The GPU itself is relatively uninteresting. Beyond being a GeForce GTX 580, there's very little in the way of modification to its set-up.
EVGA's surrounding components are all top class, with 0.4ns memory soldered in. But then it's hard to find a GTX 580 that doesn't have decent transistors and memory on the PCB. It's the flagship card in most companies' stacks.
It has the standard 512 CUDA cores typical of all GTX 580s, and a massive 204GB/s maximum memory bandwidth. It requires both an 8-pin and a 6-pin PCIe power connector, and EVGA recommends a power supply of at least 600W to get it going.
Much more interesting, though, is that water-cooling block. It's very well put together and pre-fitted and covers both GPU and memory in a solid and sleek black sheath. The straight lines are broken only by the illuminated EVGA logo on the top corner.
The cooling block itself is made from chrome-plated C110 copper – a measure of high purity – and the inlet and outlet pipes jut out from the side near the SLI ports. You can plumb the card in exactly as you choose.
Inside the box are stoppers for whichever side of the card you don't want the pipes sticking out of, and there are both in and 3/8-inch connectors and clips for the piping, depending on what diameter tubes you have in the rest of your system. You'll need to supply the tubing separately, along with a pump and fan assembly if you don't already have one.
Which brings us onto one of the problems this card faces: this kind of water-cooling is a dying art, on account of the fact that most liquid cooled CPU heatsinks now are self-contained systems, such as the CoolIT and subsequent Corsair systems we've reviewed in the past. You can't add extra components to those – so is it worth investing in all the peripheral gubbins to build a fully water cooled system yourself?
One of the best things about the EVGA GTX 580 FTW Hydro Copper 2 is that the water-cooler is much smaller than any suitable air cooler. It's the only way to get a GTX 580 into a single slot space, and therefore not a bad option if you're looking to build an SLI system and can afford it.
Plus, it's only ever going to be as noisy as your water-cooling system (that is, not very), and reduces the amount by which the GPU heats up the components around it.
It's not for the faint hearted, though. Strangely, there are no instructions included in the box explaining what all the pipe connectors do or how they fit together, so if you're not absolutely sure of what you're doing, don't expect EVGA to help. Or your PC will be taking an early bath, and we wouldn't expect the lifetime warranty of the card to cover it.
We benchmarked the EVGA GeForce GTX 580 FTW Hydro Copper 2 at the highest possible detail settings we could. You'd see more of a pronounced difference between the scores at lower resolutions, but if you're not gaming on a 30-inch screen you'll need to ask yourself whether or not you really need a card like this.
On the bench
The scores were disappointing. In Just Cause 2, the GTX 580 is more than capable of reaching the CPU limit of the game at the highest resolutions, and more GPU megahertz make no difference at all. In fact, it performed better when underclocked to the speeds of its non-augmented peers.
The Shogun 2 benchmark shows that the GTX 580 does scale with speed at high resolution, just not very well. Paying almost £200 for an extra frame per second would be foolish beyond belief. What's worse is that even though the cooler itself never let the core temperature rise above 46°C, the card wouldn't clock above around 950MHz, hitting a wall as soon as it was pushed close to that number.
In a carefully tuned system you might be able to get a little more speed out of it, but not a great deal. Fermi is a big, complex design and there are limitations there you just can't go over.
DirectX 11 gaming performance
Shogun 2: Frames per second: Higher is better
Nvidia GTX 580: 17
EVGA GTX 580 Hydro: 19
DirectX 10 gaming performance
Just Cause 2: Frames per second: Higher is better
Nvidia GTX 580: 118
EVGA GTX 580 Hydro: 115
GTX 580 Hydro: Degrees Centigrade: Lower is better
Stock speeds: 46
Which leaves the EVGA card in a bit of a quandary. It looks lovely, and it's hard not to admire EVGA's determination to keep purist water-cooling alive, but with so many other options around multi-monitors and 3D gaming to consider at the moment, it's not the best way to blow nearly £600 on making games better.
A properly water-cooled system is about more than just money and performance, it's a hand-built work of nerd-art you'll be proud of in years to come. EVGA's FTW Hydro Cooler 2 is beautifully engineered to fit into such a system, and runs silently when fully plumbed in.
Unfortunately, though, there's just not always enough of a performance benefit to watercooling any more. Admittedly, keeping the GPU core temperature down to a fraction of what an air cooler can is an achievement. And it will also lengthen the life of your chip – but the actual in-game benefits are marginal.
Sadly then, there are just too many other things you could do with that cash to blow it on the FTW Hydro.
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