Summary: With its enhanced copper-based ACS³ cooling, EVGA's e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ is designed to appeal to the hardware enthusiast who craves the best. The card not only delivers a better cooler than other GeForce 7800 GTX cards, EVGA also overclocks the board by default, running at 490MHz core/650MHz memory. See how this board performs against other competing cards in this review!
As a result of this, manufacturers are increasingly turning to new ways to help distinguish themselves from each other.
Some are relying solely on price, striving to produce the least expensive 7800 GTX card possible in order to sell it at the lowest feasible price. The MSI and EVGA cards we’ve reviewed previously are two examples of this.
Other board manufacturers have decided to tinker with the 7800 GTX’s clock speeds, overclocking the graphics core and/or memory on their 7800 GTX card in order to appeal to enthusiasts who are striving to get the most performance for their money. The end result has led to a clock speed war among the various card manufacturers, with each striving to outdo the other. BFG, EVGA, and XFX were among the first to duke it out amongst each other, but now ASUS, Gigabyte, and Leadtek (via a downloadable BIOS) are getting into the clock speed game. The result? More choices for consumers!
Now EVGA has decided to up the ante a little bit more, producing a card that’s not only overclocked higher than their previous 7800 GTX offering, it’s also got a new cooling unit. The end result is a product that EVGA hopes will deliver a knockout punch to the competition: the EVGA e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³.
First things first, the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ is still built on the same reference design as every other GeForce 7800 GTX card on the market. EVGA hasn’t magically figured out a way to produce a better board design than NVIDIA, nor have they determined a way to overclock their board any differently than anyone else. Instead what they feel they have done is design a better cooling solution, dubbed ACS³.
ACS³, short for Asymmetric Cooling System³ relies on largely the same cooling solution as NVIDIA’s stock cooler, only EVGA has come up with a few ways to enhance NVIDIA’s basic design, such as swapping out the stock aluminum heatsink for a copper one, and implementing a more robust ducting system with active cooling to help keep the entire graphics card cool, rather than just the GPU.
We’re not going to get into the politics of ACS³ or any of its predecessors, instead we’re here today to evaluate just how effective the new cooler is at keeping the 7800 GTX GPU cool, as well as the performance of EVGA’s supercharged card in general. As we mentioned in our Sneak Peek article earlier this month, ACS³’s design isn’t revolutionary, in fact a lot of the concepts found on ACS³ have been used in the past on GeForce FX cards from multiple manufacturers. Instead, what EVGA has done is integrate these concepts onto a 7800 GTX card before their competitors, and with a snazzy design and higher clock speeds to boot!
Without a doubt, the heart of EVGA’s e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ is its unique ACS³ cooling unit, so we’ll start there first. While EVGA’s ACS³ cooler looks like one component at first glance, it’s actually composed of multiple layers.
The heart of EVGA’s ACS³ cooler is arguably its copper heatsink unit. The basic design of EVGA’s copper heatsink looks like its borrowed largely from NVIDIA’s reference cooling unit used on most 7800 GTX cards, with the exception of course that EVGA uses a copper heatsink to help keep the GPU cool while NVIDIA’s reference design relies on aluminum. If you happened to check out our GeForce 7800 GTX Performance Preview back in June, you probably noticed the first picture, which depicted an early pre-production GeForce 7800 GTX card with copper cooling:
Once you exclude the copper heatpipe used to cool the GeForce 7800 GTX card pictured above, EVGA’s ACS³ cooler appears to be largely the same as NVIDIA’s original cooling design. We have a feeling that NVIDIA likely chose to go with an aluminum heatsink for their 7800 GTX reference design rather than copper to keep production costs down. NVIDIA’s board partners (including EVGA) likely stuck with this reference aluminum cooler for the same reason. Our guess is that since the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ is targeted for enthusiasts, EVGA knew NVIDIA’s stock aluminum cooler wouldn’t suffice for their needs and decided to go with the more robust cooling unit.
Sitting directly over the G70 GPU, underneath EVGA’s aforementioned copper heatsink, is a large aluminum metal plate with aluminum fins on the edges, as well as an aluminum heatpipe. These appear to be the exact same components used on every GeForce 7800 GTX card we’ve seen to date. If you click back to our shots of the pre-production 7800 GTX reference board, you’ll notice that it too has the aluminum plate and fins. Knowing how thorough NVIDIA’s engineers are, our guess here is that NVIDIA determined that aluminum is the metal of choice for this particular cooling application rather than copper; EVGA must have then run their own analysis for their ACS³ cooler and came to the same conclusion, using aluminum for the fins and plate rather than copper.
On top of these two layers lies the most visible aspect of the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ card, its black casing. The black casing is composed of aluminum and actually acts as a ducting unit, channeling air from the card’s fan all the way across the back of the board, where hot air exits from. NVIDIA’s duct used on the 7800 GTX is much shorter, stopping just behind the board’s memory modules, and since EVGA uses aluminum (rather than the plastic used by NVIDIA) the duct doubles as an additional heatsink, drawing heat off the graphics card.
For added flair, EVGA then adorns their aluminum duct with dozens of tiny “E”s, the company’s new logo. These logos not only serve as a decoration, they also provide additional ventilation for the card’s ducting system.
As a result of the changes EVGA has implemented to their ducting system, their ACS³ cooler is capable of pushing more air through its cooler because its duct is longer, with the added benefit of having more ventilation -- think of it like a river with multiple channels.
So far we’ve only detailed the layers of ACS³ that lie above the GPU, but EVGA has also made quite a few additions to the underside of the card for greater cooling performance as well.
EVGA starts the back of the card’s cooling off with a long, black aluminum plate. Sitting directly underneath the G70 GPU is a purple thermal pad. This pad is responsible for transferring heat from the underside of the GPU directly to the aluminum plate (via a heatsink which we’ll discuss later, which makes direct contact with the pad). In comparison, the plate on NVIDIA’s reference 7800 GTX design doesn’t make direct contact with the PCB, hurting its effectiveness.
By going with a long aluminum plate rather than the smaller plate used on NVIDIA’s reference 7800 GTX design, heat can be transferred over a greater surface area; essentially allowing the plate to “soak” up more heat, just like a larger sponge would soak up more water.
The only downside to this design is that it shares some of that area with the board’s memory modules, which can get pretty toasty under load themselves. With four memory modules and the GPU, you’ve got five hotspots on the bottom of the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³, all which need to be cooled.
NVIDIA gets around this on their reference design by using one large plate for the memory modules, and one smaller plate to help cool the GPU. This helps to separate the components from one another.
EVGA on the other hand helps mitigate this problem by including an additional layer of cooling on the underside of the board: RAMsinks for the memory modules, and a small heatsink directly underneath the GPU, sitting atop the thermal pad we mentioned earlier. Basically, these heatsinks take the brunt of the load for the large aluminum plate, with the RAMsinks responsible for the memory modules and the black aluminum heatsink at the center of the underside of the card responsible for the GPU. The large black plate then soaks up whatever these heatsinks can’t handle.
Use of thermal pads
Thermal pads aren’t used solely to transfer heat from the underside of the GPU, EVGA also uses them for all of the board’s memory modules, including the modules on the top of the card. This is the same practice NVIDIA (and most board partners for that matter) uses for their reference GeForce 7800 GTX card. Thermal pads are also used frequently on ATI-based cards as well.
EVGA clocks the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³’s graphics core at 490MHz, that’s 60MHz higher than the default GeForce 7800 GTX core clock speed of 430MHz, and helps to make the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ one of the fastest GeForce 7800 GTX cards on the market (for instance, this change nets the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ an additional 12% in fill-rate).
EVGA goes beyond NVIDIA’s reference specifications on the memory side as well. While NVIDIA’s reference specifications call for 600MHz memory (1.2GHz effective), EVGA bumps the speed of their memory on the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ to 650MHz (1.3GHz effective), that’s 8% faster than stock. This change nets the board an additional 3.2GB/sec in peak memory bandwidth, up to 41.6GB/sec.
Here’s a complete breakdown illustrating how the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ stacks up against a few other popular GeForce 7800 GTX cards, as well as NVIDIA’s reference specifications:
Wrapping up board analysis
While EVGA’s e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ looks wildly different than previous GeForce 7800 GTX offerings we’ve seen, it’s largely a reference GeForce 7800 GTX board design itself. EVGA simply enhances parts of NVIDIA’s reference cooler for better cooling.
Just in case you’re not fond of the black casing found on our e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ board, EVGA ships the card in four different colors: black, rose, silver and green. EVGA also sells their ACS³ cooling separately for existing 7800 GTX card owners who would like to check out ACS³ on their current 7800 GTX card.
Two different SKUs are available, the ACS³ Kit 1, which includes the basic ACS³ cooling kit (top ducted casing and bottom aluminum plate) and the ACS³ Kit 1+, which includes the basic ACS³ Kit plus the copper heatsink EVGA uses on the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³.
It’s important to note that neither kit includes the heatsink that rests underneath the GPU on the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ board, nor the RAMsinks EVGA includes on the KO. The large “E” logo located just behind our card’s fan is EVGA’s “E Chrome Sticker”, this is another optional accessory you can purchase for $9.99 from evga.com as well. All four colors are available for both upgrade kits.
Pacific Fighters - OpenGL
Far Cry – Direct3D
IL-2: FB – OpenGL
Half-Life 2 – Direct3D
Battlefield 2 – Direct3D
F.E.A.R. Beta – Direct3D
F.E.A.R. Beta – Direct3D
With the help of 3DMark’s looped testing feature, we were able to test out the performance of EVGA’s ACS³ cooling after an extended 3D session, these are the “load” test results you see above.
In order to illustrate the improvement brings, we decided to overclock our reference GeForce 7800 GTX board to the same levels that the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ board ships at out-of-the-box. Similarly, we ran the same tests in reverse for the EVGA card, underclocking the board to the reference 7800 GTX card’s speeds of 430MHz core/600MHz memory. As you can see based on the results, the harder you push the EVGA card, the better its ACS³ cooling performs in comparison to the reference GeForce 7800 GTX card.
F.E.A.R. Beta – Direct3D
Half-Life 2 – Direct3D
GeForce 7800 GTX core: If you’re looking for the fastest GPU available, look no further than NVIDIA’s GeForce 7800 GTX. The GeForce 7800 GTX takes all the key ingredients first found in the GeForce 6800 line, including SLI and shader model 3.0 support, and builds on it, with more pipelines that have also been optimized for today’s latest games and applications, as well as higher clock speeds.
Price: Street prices online for EVGA’s e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ currently start at around $580, making it one of the more expensive GeForce 7800 GTX cards on the market. Of course, for the extra money you get a card with enhanced cooling and higher clocks, so you definitely get what you pay for, but it’s still by no means an inexpensive upgrade.
The key ingredient EVGA adds to their e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ board is its ACS³ cooling. By replacing NVIDIA’s stock all-aluminum cooler with an aluminum/copper hybrid heatsink combination, the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ runs dramatically cooler than other GeForce 7800 GTX cards. In our testing, we witnessed considerably lower temperatures than NVIDIA’s reference 7800 GTX board. In fact, even at 490MHz core/650MHz memory, the EVGA e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ turned in lower temperatures than the reference NVIDIA board at its stock speeds of 430MHz core/600MHz memory!
In our opinion, this is the board’s best feature. After all, anyone with a mouse and keyboard can overclock their GeForce 7800 GTX board, in fact a few of NVIDIA’s board partners are already clocking their 7800 GTX boards to levels the same as, or similar to the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³, but none of them have EVGA’s ACS³.
On top of this, EVGA overclocks their KO board for added performance. With speeds of 490MHz on the graphics core and 650MHz on the memory, the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS is one of the fastest GeForce 7800 GTX cards on the market out-of-the-box.
EVGA then backs the board up with their new lifetime warranty program, which is granted to the original purchaser of the card. This provides peace of mind to gamers who have always wanted to overclock their graphics card, but for one reason or another have been reluctant to do it. EVGA’s e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ not only does all the guesswork for you, if you have a problem with it at anytime, EVGA will support you.
With the addition of the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ EVGA’s essentially got all their bases covered on the 7800 GTX front. On the lower end of the spectrum, EVGA provides their base e-GeForce 7800 GTX card, which ships with a 450MHz graphics core and can be had with or without Battlefield 2. At the extreme top-end is now the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³, which is also available with or without BF2, for a total of four different SKUs. This figure is already higher than any other 7800 GTX manufacturer, not including the multiple colors the KO board can be found in.
So with all this going for it, including a 93% score, why didn’t the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ score an Editor’s Choice Award? Quite simply, because we haven’t seen enough of the second generation GeForce 7800 GTX cards. ASUS has sent us their equivalent board, which ships overclocked from the factory and includes a dual-slot cooler, we have no doubt MSI, BFG, and others will likely be far behind EVGA’s lead. Until we get a chance to check more 7800 GTX boards out we want to hold back on the Editor’s Choice Award, instead giving the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ our Bull’s Eye Award.
While it isn’t a perfect match for our Bull’s Eye Award, which is geared towards more moderately priced products that deliver surprising performance, it can be argued that the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ is one of the better 7800 GTX values on the market. After all, you’re getting a board that’s been overclocked highly, making it faster than 90% of the GeForce 7800 GTX cards out there, all backed up by a lifetime factory warranty. And of course you can’t forget the ACS³ cooler, which retails for $35 for the ACS³ cooling kit 1+, and you’d still need to purchase the RAMsinks and heatsink for the GPU separately.
All this could quickly set you back well over $560 if you were to purchase a 7800 GTX card from another manufacturer, and then by all the parts individually, and you still wouldn’t have the lifetime warranty EVGA provides. It’s also important to note that just because you go out and purchase a +1 ACS³ cooling kit and throw it on your existing 7800 GTX card doesn’t guarantee you’ll hit the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ board’s clock speeds. Remember, if your GPU and memory just aren’t up to snuff, there’s no cooler on the market that can get around that. In other words, don’t buy a third-party cooler, or any graphics card with high-end cooling thinking it will allow you to overclock your board further, instead what EVGA’s ACS³ cooling provides is lower operating temperatures.
Among the first generation of cards, EVGA’s e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ is clearly the best GeForce 7800 GTX card on the market. EVGA provides better cooling and excellent performance, and backs it all up with their Step-Up program and superb customer support. We have no doubt that any enthusiast who purchases the e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO ACS³ will be well served for years to come, and can’t wait to see what plans EVGA has in store next for the GeForce 7800 GT!
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