The central concept behind the Matrix series of cards from ASUS is to provide much more advanced and robust controls for regulating how the video card functions; from cooling to performance. In order to achieve this, all ASUS Matrix series cards are equipped with a dedicated onboard controller chip ASUS calls the "Super Hybrid Engine" in conjunction with the "iTracker" software application. This chip performs a number of duties related to monitoring and regulating how the card behaves and the iTracker application allows the user to have a say on how the process works.
Specifically, the chip monitors the card's GPU, memory and power subsystem in real-time for temperature, voltage, power consumption and loading. The chip uses this data to alter the fan speed and clock speed of the card in real time. The iTracker application can display all of the data being collected by the chip but it also allows the creation of custom performance profiles which gives the user full control over how the card responds to performance data. Everything from fan speed triggers to core and memory clock speed and even voltage can be set up in the profiles.
Lastly, the iTracker software allows you to set different settings depending on whether the system is running in 3D mode or 2D mode. This means you can set your card to down-clock using a very low-noise fan profile for 2D mode for quiet computing while switching to 3D mode will engage a different profile that can overclock the card and switch to an aggressive fan profile. While in 2D mode, the fan can also automatically turn itself off completely and stay off as long as the temperatures remain below a certain point.
All this is done rather seamlessly once the iTracker application is installed and the profiles are set up. Switching between the 2D and 3D modes is also automatic and happens any time a 3D application is launched, such as a game. Best of all, since most of the heavy lifting is done by the dedicated Super Hybrid Engine chip, there is essentially zero CPU overhead.
The first of the two ASUS ROG Matrix series cards we're evaluating in this article is the Radeon HD 4850 version. This card uses a dual-slot cooler that is identical to the one found on the ROG EN9800GT Matrix we reviewed two months ago.
The EAH4850 Matrix's dual-slot cooler features a single blower-style fan that sucks in air and blows it through the body of the card, which is covered by a large heatsink, and out the rear of the card through a grill in the rear I/O panel. The heatsinks and fan are covered by a few pieces of plastic that help to guide the airflow as well as serve aesthetic purposes. The top of the plastic housing features the ASUS logo in white lettering and a Republic Of Gamers sticker is displayed on the fan's motor housing. Overall, it is one of the more appealing graphics card cooler designs we've seen.
The cooler has three long heatpipes and they serve as the only thermal connection between the heatsink and the GPU. The heatsinks are elevated above the card by stand-off posts and don't make direct contact with the card. The first two heatpipes connect to the heatsink the fan is blowing into, which is directly over where the GPU is located. The third heatpipe connects to a second smaller heatsink that wraps around the fan itself. The onboard memory chips are cooled by two strips of ramsinks which sit snug under the primary heatsink. The voltage regulation chips are not covered by any heatsinks but the the fan is located directly over them and the residual airflow is enough to keep them cool.
Overall, the cooler performs quite well and is fairly quiet, especially while the system is idle or experiencing low load. With the iTracker profile setup to operate as quietly as possible, the cooler can be near silent. While it is technically possible for the fan to switch off during low-usage while in 2D mode, it doesn't quite have the passive cooling capacity necessary to maintain stable temperatures in this mode and during our testing it never switched off. Overall the ROG EAH4850's cooler is a significant improvement over the little single-slot high-pitched and sometimes noisy reference cooler.
The card gets additional power from a single 6-pin PCI-E power connector and the rear I/O panel features two DVI ports and a single HDTV port which can be used to output either S-video or composite through the use of included adapters. The accessories bundle included with the ROG EAH4850 Matrix is identical to the one included with the 4870 version which will be discussed on the next page.