ECS GeForce 9800 GTX+ Hydra, Liquid Cooled SLI
It's almost hard to believe the size of the ECS Hydra box, which almost as big as a small ATX case. The front is adorned with a huge metallic Hydra logo, although there is much more emphasis on the graphics than the product details. For example, we feel that the SLI aspect of the setup isn't promoted well enough - something that should be prominently displayed to a would-be buyer. A sticker does mention that a full retail version of the game Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 is included.
Inside the box is an oversized Quick Installation Guide that covers the basics of the entire setup, from installing the cards themselves to operating the water-cooling kit. The manual is generic and outdated with 6800 GT screens taken from a Windows XP box, and doesn't cover anything specific regarding the setup of the water-cooling kit. This is relegated to the Quick Installation Guide, but we feel that a kit like this deserves better. Thermaltake's online manual does the job for the most part, but is more geared towards CPU blocks rather than graphics and the onus is on ECS to make the user feel more comfortable and knowledgeable about their installation, especially when water and electricity are involved.
Under the foam cover we got our first glance at the two large 9800GTX+ cards and the ThermalTake BigWater 760is, as well as four MOLEX to 6-pin PCI-E power adapters, two DVI-to-VGA adapters, two S/PDIF cables, two DVI-to-HDMI adapters, an SLI bridge, and finally a bottle of coolant with a squeeze bottle applicator. Even though the box is large, we quickly noted that one of the two neon green UV-reactive tubes had a slight kink in it from being coiled in too tightly.
GeForce 9800 GTX+ cards are as long as it gets, with two 6-pin power connectors at the end, and dual DVI-I ports with S-Video at the other. Although lengthy, the cards are deceivably light thanks to the ThermalTake TMG ND4 VGA Coolers that were used, consisting of a small copper block and quiet 60mm fan. A clear plastic shroud with a small impeller fan lit by a blue LED pushes some air over the top of the copper block and out the vent at the end, although the plastic shaft does not reach all the way to the end of the case, allowing air to remain inside the case.
Each fan requires it's own 4-pin MOLEX power connector, increasing the number of outputs needed from the PSU. This is clearly something that should have been handled by the slot itself, and it's doubtful that the fan serves any real purpose here as the water blocks provide all of the real cooling. If, let's say, the block failed for some reason, there's almost no way this small fan could prevent overheating. At least the MOSFETs receive some passive cooling from four aluminum heatsinks attached directly on top, however, these are attached using flimsy thermal tape.
Water cooling consisted of a large copper plate sitting atop the GPU with adhesive pads between it and the memory and two marked rubber hoses protruding from each block, clearly labeled as IN or OUT. An issue that most users will run into is the total number of power connectors that the Hydra needs to run properly. Each card requires two 6-pin power connectors, while most modern PSU's probably only have two. To get the other two, you'll wind up using the power cables provided in the bundle. Each of these takes up two MOLEX plugs, four in total. Then add in the two fan cables and finally one more for the BigWater itself and you're looking at a total of 7 4-pin MOLEX and two 6-pin power cables. This is on top of any other fans or devices that are being powered.
The 9800 GTX+ supports two SLI connectors, allowing for 3-Way SLI (or more) with a compatible motherboard and drivers. A small cable runs from the card to the bracket, to light a small LED there alerting the user that the card is powered. A major problem we found when inspecting the cards concerned the front end of the copper plate. Seen on both cards, the plate curls away slightly towards the front, lacking any contact with the chips at all.