BFG's GTX 295 H2OC: Water-Cooled Graphics

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In a market where dual-GPU, single-PCB graphics cards are readily available from most major OEMs, product manufacturers are increasingly turning to water cooling as a way to differentiate their products and out-maneuver their competitors. The superior thermal characteristics of liquid cooling allows companies like BFG to hit higher core / memory clocks than they might using air alone.  However, H2O-reliant high-end video cards cater to an even smaller slice of the market—specifically, those enthusiasts with big money to spend and who are comfortable using water in their own PC.

BFG's GTX 295 H2OC CLE (aka the GTX 295 H2OC with ThermoIntelligence Advanced Cooling Solution) changes that. This particular flavor of H2OC is a self-contained cooling system that arrives fully assembled and can be plugged into the system immediately, provided your case meets the appropriate requirements. This last characteristic is by no means guaranteed.  Consult our Thermal Analysis section for more information on how the cooler (designed by CoolIT Systems) integrates into a real-world, closed-case environment.

The H2OC CLE's "easy" setup is just one of its hooks; BFG clocks the card well above NVIDIA's baseline specifications. A standard GTX 295 has a GPU clock speed of 576MHz, a shader clock of 1242MHz, and DDR3 memory runs at 1,998MHz, give or take a tick. In contrast, BFG's water-cooled cards run a 675MHz core, 1458MHz shaders, and a memory clock of 2214MHz. That's 17.1 percent, 17.3 percent, and 10.8 percent above stock, and it's enough of a boost that we should see a practical performance difference.

One quick note on naming conventions: BFG has decided they would attach the "GTX H2OC" label to two video cards. The first—BFGEGTX2951792H2OCWBE in product-code parlance—is designated the "GTX 295 H2OC 1792MB PCIe 2.0 with ThermoIntelligence." This card ships with an attached water block, but must be integrated into the end-user's existing water cooling system. Just to make it completely clear, we're not evaluating this that card today but rather this card...
 

The Self-Contained Water-Cooled BFG GeFroce GTX 295 H2OC

Yup, it's a box. A large box. Most of what's inside it is the card itself—the only extras BFG ships with this beast are an HDMI cable and a DVI-to-VGA adapter. Flip the box over, and we see the following:



Pay attention to that; we'll discuss it in a few pages. For now, let's turn our attention to the video card itself.

This other card—part number BFGRGTX2951792H2OCLE—is the "GTX 295 H2OC 1792MB PCIe 2.0 with Thermointelligence Advanced Cooling Solution," and that's what we've got on the workbench. If you end up ordering one of these bad boys, double-check the actual product number—that's why we've bolded the two-letter distinction—and check a photo for good measure. Henceforth, when we refer to the GTX 295 H2OC, we'll be referencing the pre-built solution we're reviewing today.

The Cost of CoolIT
BFG's GTX 295 H2OC is a well-built card, with a cooling solution that places it in a niche of its own, but the card carries a hefty price tag, even in this rarefied air. According to NewEgg, the self-contained H2OC solution retails for $849.99, compared to $729 for the DIY water-cooled BFG card and "just" $469.99 for BFG's own air-cooled GTX 295. Do the math, and the H2OC commands a massive 81 percent premium over the already-expensive standard GTX 295. Higher clockspeeds, in this case, simply aren't enough—for what amounts to almost an extra $500. For that price we'd expect a video card to show up with pizza and compliment our taste in t-shirts. Does the BFG H2OC put out this kind of value? Let's take a look.

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