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EVGA GTX 480 Hydro Copper FTW Review
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Date: Jul 22, 2010
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Mathew Miranda
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Introduction and Specifications

When it comes to high end graphics cards, too much is never enough. As gamers, our insatiable thirst for more pixel pushing power leads to a never ending cycle of exotic, enthusiast level videocards, including dual GPU models that take up two or three expansion slots on our motherboard. Add In Board (AIB) partner companies like EVGA regularly take supplementary measures to accommodate consumers who desire products that perform faster, run cooler, and operate with less noise than reference design models. For the most part, these steps may consist of more aggressively binning GPUs in order to provide factory overclocked options, redesigning the PCB and heatsink to support more voltage for higher clock frequencies, or replacing the reference cooling design with a more sophisticated aftermarket solution.

Its no secret that reference design cooling solutions have their limits, especially when talking about the smoking hot GF100 GPU. It never takes long for aftermarket coolers to show up and provide enthusiasts with a superior option that usually results in lower temps, less noise, and more overclocking headroom. In order to squeeze every last ounce of performance from a videocard, modders can take the initiative and upgrade the card's heatsink on their own. But sometimes, manufacturers will do it for them.

EVGA GTX 480 Hydro Copper FTW Videocard

The EVGA Hydro Copper FTW GTX 480 looks to eliminate two of the biggest objections against NVIDIA's GF100, heat and noise. Once the custom waterblock from Swiftech is added to an existing liquid cooling loop, this videocard runs dead silent and operates at much lower temperatures than its air cooled counterparts. As an added bonus, it comes overclocked right out of the box, and with further tweaking we expect it to hit even higher levels of performance. Read on as we add this baby to our watercooling loop to see how well it performs in stock form and how far we can push it past its rated speeds.

EVGA GeForce GTX 480 Hydro Copper FTW
Specifications and Features

Core Clock
752 MHz
Memory Clock
950 / 3800 MHz (Clock Rate / Effective Rate)
Shader Clock
1504 MHz
CUDA Cores
480
Total Memory
1536 MB GDDR5
Memory Interface
384 bit
Memory Bandwidth 182.4 GB/s
Output Connectors
1 x Mini-HDMI, 2 x Dual Link DVI-I connectors
Bus Type
PCI-E 2.0
Key Features

Microsoft DirectX 11 Support
NVIDIA PhysX Technology
NVIDIA PureVideo HD Technology
NVIDIA SLI Ready
NVIDIA 3D Vision Surround Ready
PCI Express 2.0 Support
OpenGL 3.2 Support
Dual Link HDCP Capable
NVIDIA CUDA C/C++, DirectCompute 5.0, OpenCL Support
Accessories

EVGA Driver / Software Disc
EVGA Precision Tuning Utility
One Mini-HDMI to HDMI Cable
One DVI to VGA Adapter
One 6 pin PCI-E Power Cable
One 8 pin PCI-E Power Cable
Two 1/2" High Flow Fittings
Two 3/8" High Flow Fittings
User Guide
Power Requirements 1 x 6 pin , 1 x 8 pin PCI-E power connectors
Minimum 600 Watt power supply
Dimensions

Height - 4.376 in / 111.15 mm
Length - 10.5 in / 266.7 mm
Weight - 3 lbs
Single slot form factor
Warranty

Limited Lifetime Warranty (Must register within 30 days)
Price
$650



 

While price is always an important consideration, its arguably not the deciding factor when it comes to these overclocked, super-cooled flagship parts. There are plenty of mainstream models that offer batter bang for your buck, but in the world of $600 videocards, cost takes a backseat to performance for many, the most important selling point of this particular market. This Hydro Copper FTW videocard provides the highest clock speeds of any GeForce GTX 480 in EVGA's line up. At 752MHz core, 1504MHz shader, and 950MHz memory, this GPU is rated well beyond reference specifications. How much this translates into increased frame rates will be revealed on the following pages. But first, we'll take a closer look at the card and included bundle.

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Closer Look

Watercooling has seen greater mainstream acceptance in recent years. As a result, manufacturers have acknowledged the trend and expanded their product lineups to include these more exotic parts. But what's the big draw for videocards, motherboards, or memory pre-installed with liquid cooling options? Simply put, increased cooling potential nets higher overclocking headroom which translates into higher, stable operating frequencies and ultimately, greater performance. In this particular case, performance is anchored by lower component temperatures and a quieter computing environment as well.




The Hydro Copper GTX 480 measures 10.5" in length, making it one of the longer cards on the market. It is an inch longer than the GTX 470, which measures 9.5", but is much shorter than ATI's HD 5970, which checks in at 12" long.



Along the top edge of the card, we find some important connections. Like the reference design, EVGA's HC FTW GTX 480 requires two power jacks, one 6-pin and one 8-pin PCI Express connectors. Dual SLI connectors enable multi-card gaming, making it possible to link up to four of these monsters on the same motherboard.


EVGA teamed up with Swiftech to produce the waterblock found on this card. Within it, the Hydro Copper uses a 0.6mm thin pin matrix, while the shiny base plate consists of chrome plated C110 copper. The top plate is made of sturdy black derlin, and an integrated heat pipe connects the block to the mosfet heatsink for additional cooling ability.  


With the waterblock removed, we can clearly see NVIDIA's reference design GTX 480. The GF100 GPU is a huge chip, and we understand why it requires so much cooling. The black PCB is pretty much standard on all high end graphics cards, with less expensive models sometimes sporting other colors. 


There are a couple of things to note on the PCI bracket of this card. First, it has three available connections, just like the standard GTX 480. You get a mini-HDMI port along with two dual-link DVI connectors. Just remember that NVIDIA Surround technology requires two current generation videocards so don't expect multi-monitor gaming capability from a single product. Secondly, EVGA has replaced the reference design dual slot bracket with a single slot option, freeing up adjacent PCI slots on the motherboard for other purposes. Too often, we find watercooled videocards sporting the stock dual slot bracket, negating one of the advantages of using a single slot waterblock.


Included with the GTX 480 HC FTW is an accessory bundle that makes the installation a simple affair. There is a quick start guide, driver disc, DVI-to-VGA adapter, and HDMI-to-mini HDMI cable. EVGA thankfully included a set of 1/2" and 3/8" stubby fittings with corresponding hose clamps. And they didn't let us down on the software front either. The driver disk contains EVGA Precision, OC Scanner, SLI Enhancement, NVIDIA's Supersonic Sled Demo, and the Design Garage Demo.

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Test System and Unigine Heaven 2.0

 

HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEM: In order to provide comparable results, the graphics cards tested here were installed on the same, high end X58 based test system. The components we used consisted of an EVGA Classified motherboard, Core i7 980X Extreme Edition processor, and 6GB of OCZ Blade memory. Within the BIOS, we configured the processor to an overclocked speed of 4.38GHz and memory to 1857MHz.

We feel these settings will minimize the occurrences of CPU performance bottlenecks during benchmark runs and allow the graphics cards to show their true potential. Furthermore, our Crucial M225 solid state drive entered the testing process with a clean copy of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit installed. Once installation was complete, we fully updated the OS and installed the latest drivers and applications relevant to the review article.

HotHardware's Test System
Core i7 Powered

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7 980X Extreme Edition
Overclocked 4.38GHz

EVGA Classified 760 Motherboard
X58 Express Chipset

EVGA Hydro Copper FTW GTX 480 1.5GB
XFX HD 5970 Black Edition 2GB
Gigabyte Super OC HD 5870 1GB
EVGA GTX 480 1.5GB

6GB OCZ Blade DDR3-1857
(3 X 2GB) 7-8-7-20 1T


Crucial M225 128GB SSD
Firmware 1916

Watercooling Loop:
Laing MCP655 D5 12V DC Pump
Thermochill PA120.3 Triple Radiator
EK-RES400 v2 Multi-Option Reservoir
1/2" ID / 3/4" OD Tygon R3400 Tubing
Bitspower 1/2" Compression Fittings
Six 120mm Yate Loon D12SL-12 Fans

Display:
Dell 3008WFP LCD Monitor
2560 x 1600 Resolution

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Professional 64bit
NVIDIA GeForce Driver Release 257.21
ATI Catalyst Display Driver 10.6

Benchmarks Used:

Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Dirt 2
Aliens vs Predator
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat
Just Cause 2
Batman: Arkham Asylum
FarCry2
H.A.W.X.

In order to find out where EVGA's Hydro Copper FTW GTX 480 stands in the land of high end graphics, we put it up against a trio of heavy hitters. For reference, we tested an EVGA GTX 480 in stock form to go along with a couple of serious ATI competition. Gigabyte's Super Overclock HD 5870 is ATI's fastest single GPU videocard, while the XFX HD 5970 Black Edition is a slightly overclocked version of ATI's top card. Without a doubt, the four cards we're comparing in this article represent the some of the most powerful models available from both ATI and NVIDIA.

Keep in mind while looking at our results, we ran benchmarks with every setting as close to being maxed out as possible to see how well the graphics cards could handle them. In most cases, this means anti-aliasing (AA) set to 8x and anisotropic filtering at 16x, at a demanding resolution of 2560 x 1600. Some of the games we use offer higher levels for NVIDIA cards like the GTX 480, but we find 8x AA / 16x aniso to be the max for ATI cards. Textures, shadows, and all other image quality settings were locked in at their highest settings, with V-sync disabled.

 

Unigine Heaven v2.0 Benchmark
Synthetic DirectX 11 Gaming


Unigine Heaven

The Unigine Heaven Benchmark v2.0 is built around the Unigine game engine. Unigine is a cross-platform real-time 3D engine, with support for DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11 and OpenGL. The Heaven benchmark, when run in DX11 mode, also makes comprehensive use of tessellation technology and advanced SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion), and features volumetric cumulonimbus clouds generated by a physically accurate algorithm and a dynamic sky with light scattering.

 

 

For Unigine Heaven v2.0, we were forced to dial down the settings a bit in order to complete the benchmark. Even with all this heavy duty hardware, we could not conquer this particular test at maximum settings and get smooth fraterates. Here, we find EVGA's Hydro Copper FTW GTX 480 trailed the HD 5970 by only 2 frames per second, a 6% disparity. That's impressive considering the HD 5970 is packing two ATI Cypress GPU's compared to one NVIDIA Fermi chip. Also worth noting is the fact it recorded a much higher minimum FPS during our Heaven 2.0 testing.

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Futuremark 3DMark Vantage

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
Synthetic DX10 Performance


3DMark Vantage

The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark Vantage, is specifically bound to Windows Vista-based systems because it uses some advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 10. With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated new graphics tests, CPU tests, several feature tests, and support for the latest PC hardware. We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark Vantage's Extreme preset option, which uses a resolution of 1920x1200 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.



The HC FTW GTX 480 turned in a score of X10437, edging out the HD 5870 Super OC and stock GTX 480. But it was no match for the HD 5970 Black Edition, trailing it by 25% in this benchmark. At the end of the day, you really can't do much with 3DMark Vantage besides run the test and compare your score with others on forums. The following pages consist of our real world gaming tests, so let's find out how the EVGA Hydro Copper FTW performs in that environment. 

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Battlefield: Bad Company 2 - DX11

Battlefield Bad Company 2
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance


Bad Company 2

Bad Company 2 is a wildly popular first person shooter that is the latest game in the Battlefield series. It features DX11 and can be brutally demanding on graphics cards, especially with eye candy turned up. At 2560 x 1600 and high image quality settings, we used FRAPS to monitor frame rates as we played through a chase scene within the game that featured snow, trees, gunfire, and explosions.



 

Bad Company 2 is one of the most graphically demanding games we test. EVGA's HC FTW GTX 480 trailed the HD 5970 by 16% in average FPS, while leading the overclocked HD 5870 and stock GTX 480 by 9% and 16%, respectively. 

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Dirt 2 - DX11

Dirt 2
DX11 Gaming Performance


Dirt 2

Dirt 2 was released in September 2009 and provides a sequel to the original Colin McRae: Dirt racing game. Codemasters delayed the PC version of Dirt 2 so that they could enhance their Ego engine with DirectX 11 effects. The engine displays certain bleeding-edge rendering technologies like hardware-driven tessellation, which is used for a more detailed audience, tessellated clot as well as a more realistic water that has lifelike ripples, waves and splash effects. DX11 also affords the game more impressive post-rendering motion blur, filtered soft shadows and lighting effects. Dirt 2 is also a solid benchmark for multi-core processors since DX11 is designed to take advantage of multi-threaded system architectures.

Dirt 2 testing confirmed the results from our Bad Company 2 scores. The overclocked GTX 480 is slightly faster than the stock 480 and HD 5870, but falls behind the HD 5970 by a wide margin. In this case, it was 18% slower than the top card.

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Aliens vs Predator - DX11

Aliens vs Predator
DX11 Gaming Performance


AvP

Aliens vs Predator is a DX11 title from British developer Rebellion, the same team behind the 1999 original PC game. It brings the war between two of science fiction's most popular characters to the first person shooter gaming world. AvP delivers three single player campaigns and provides unique 3-way multiplayer gaming as well. For our testing, we used the AvP stand alone benchmark using a resolution of 2560 x 1600 and maximum image quality settings.

Once again, the Hydro Copper 480 videocard squeaks by the stock 480 and HD 5870 in performance. Here, it trails the HD 5970 in performance by 25%.

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S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat - DX11

S. T. A. L. K. E. R. - Call of Pripyat
DX11 Gaming Performance


S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Call of Pripyat is the third game in the STALKER series and throws in DX11 to the mix. This benchmark is based on one of the locations found within the latest game. Testing includes four stages and utilizes various weather conditions, as well as different time of day settings. It offers a number of presets and options, including multiple versions of DirectX, resolutions, antialiasing, etc. SunShafts represents the most graphically challenging stage available. We conducted our testing with DX11 enabled, 2560 x 1600 resolution, and 4x anti-aliasing, and ultra settings.

Both GTX 480 graphics cards beat ATI's high end models in our STALKER testing, and it wasn't even close. The Hydro Copper FTW GTX 480 was 28% faster than the HD 5970 in average FPS, and 47% better than the HD 5870. 

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Just Cause 2 - DX10

Just Cause 2
DX10.1 Gaming Performance


Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 was released in March 2010, from developers Avalanche Studios and Eidos Interactive. The game makes use of the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the original. It is set on the fictional island of Panau in southeast Asia, and you play the role of Rico Rodriquez. We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article using one of the built-in demo runs called The Dark Tower.  The test results shown here were run at 2560 x 1600 and maximum image settings.

Just Cause 2 follows a similar trend to our earlier resutls. The HC FTW 480 shows minimal improvement over the reference model GTX 480, while falling behind the 5970 by 18%. 

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FarCry 2 - DX10

FarCry 2
DX10 Gaming Performance


FarCry 2

Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date.  Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article with a fully patched version of FarCry 2, using a built-in demo run recorded in the Ranch Map.  The test results shown here were run at a resolution of 2560 x 1600 and maximum image settings.

With image quality settings turned up, FarCry 2 proved to be more of a challenge for ATI's high end offerings than NVIDIA's top end models. Once again, we see the GTX 480, in both stock and overclocked versions, prevailing over the dual-GPU HD 5970. On average, the Hydro Copper FTW GTX 480 was 29% faster than ATI's leading card in FarCry 2 testing.


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H.A.W.X. - DX10

H. A. W. X.
DX10.1 Gaming Performance


H.A.W.X.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. is an aerial warfare video game that takes place during the time of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter.  Players have the opportunity to take the throttle of over 50 famous aircrafts in both solo and 4-player co-op missions, and take them over real world locations and cities in photo-realistic environments created with the best commercial satellite data provided by GeoEye.  We used the built-in performance test at 2560 x 1600 and maximum image quality settings, utilizing DX10.1

With every setting maxed out on a 30" LCD, HAWX runs smooth with the Hydro Copper FTW. Our overclocked GTX 480 trailed the XFX HD 5970 by 7 frames per second, a 9% difference in performance. On the other hand, it led the stock GTX 480 by 11%, while prevailing over the Super Overclock HD 5870 by 23%.

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Batman: Arkham Asylum - DX9

Batman: Arkham Asylum
DX9 Gaming Performance


Batmat:Arkham Asylum

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a third-person action game developed by Rocksteady and is arguably the best comic book videogame of all time. Cast as the Dark Knight, you track down the Joker and bring him back to Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. However, the Joker escapes and takes over the asylum filled with hundreds of villains, which you must battle in this dark and creepy world. Gameplay consists of fist fighting, attacking from the shadows, and exploration. We tested the game using the built in benchmark at 2560 x 1600, 8x AA, and very high image settings. For ATI models, we used Catalyst Control Center to apply 8x anti-aliasing. PhsX was disabled for all cards.

With image quality settings cranked up in Batman: Arkham Asylum, the Hydro Copper FTW GTX 480 videocard flexed its muscles and pulled off another win over the HD 5970. With an average frame rate of 90 FPS, it performed 12% faster than ATI's dual-GPU graphics card.

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Overclocking Performance

 
Overclocking 
Push it to the limit

Overclocking is not an exact science. When it comes to overclocking headroom, every GPU is different. And just because your friend's GTX 480 hit 900MHz doesn't mean that yours will, even using the same settings and hardware. Many factors can influence what a video card is capable of, starting with the unique capability of each GPU. These factors may also include complementary components within the system, but we find the primary influence is the type of cooling used on the graphics card.






To overclock the Hydro Copper FTW, we used two excellent utilities from EVGA. Precision is a GPU overclocking and real-time monitoring utility that allows fine tuning of the core, shader, and memory frequency. It also provides independent or synchronous fan controls for multi-GPU systems. You can save up to 10 profiles with the ability to assign hotkeys for in-game access. We also used EVGA E-LEET tuning utility which allows GTX 480 voltage adjustments, as well as PWM frequency modification.

We found stability at an impressive 944MHz core and 1125MHz memory frequency with voltage set at 1.175V. That's a 26% GPU overclock over the rated speed of the Hydro Copper FTW video card, and a 35% increase over the reference design speed clock  These settings allowed us to game and run benchmarks with no issues. E-LEET offered higher levels of voltage settings, and although our temps remained in check, we refrained from pushing our luck further. 

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Power and Temps

 
Power Consumption and Operating Temperatures
How low can you go?



We have good news and bad news here. The bad news should not come as a major surprise as the GTX 480 in its stock form is one power hungry video card. Our results show the overclocked EVGA HC FTW GTX 480 uses even more juice due to higher operating frequencies. But if you're considering this monster card, we can't image a few extra dollars on your electricity bill over the course of a year being a deal breaker. 





The good news is this graphics card runs at very low temps. Of course, every liquid cooling loop is different and ambient temperature is a major factor, but our testing showed impressive results in both idle and load states.  Here is where a water-cooled video card makes its mark. Yes, it costs more. Yes, it requires additional hardware to implement. But, it will operate at much lower temps than its air cooled brethren. The GF100 is a perfect candidate for liquid cooling and can truly reach its potential once temps are kept in check.

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: Since its launch, NVIDIA's GTX 480 took over the throne as the most powerful single GPU-based graphics on the market. With the higher clock speeds offered by EVGA's Hydro Copper FTW Edition, we fully expected to see a performance increase and that's exactly what happened. Looking at the numbers, the extra 52MHz on the GPU provided measurable frame rate jumps in every test we conducted. On average, we recorded an 8% speed bump throughout testing. Even more impressive are the gaming results shown in FarCry2 and STALKER, where this card exceeded the HD 5970's performance.  And that's not even considering the significant additional performance headroom we saw when we overclocked the card to 944MHz core and 1125MHz memory frequencies.  Finally, the thermal characteristics of the GPU under load and at idle were dramatically improved, especially under load, which is a huge plus for any end user type, performance freak or otherwise.      


 


One of the advantages of buying a video card with a pre-installed GPU water block is that you'll usually pay less for the total package than you would when purchasing the card and water block separately. And from the looks of it, that's the case we have here. The Hydro Copper FTW GTX 480 has a street price of $650. Since EVGA doesn't offer an air cooled FTW GTX 480, we'll compare that to the SuperClocked+ GTX 480, which retails for $540. Add $140 for a comparable waterblock and you can save approximately $30 by choosing the Hydro Copper FTW edition, along with the time and effort it takes to replace the stock heatsink with the GPU block. In case you were wondering, EVGA already has the GTX 470 waterblock available for individual purchase at $140. Soon, we expect to see the waterblock used on the GTX 480 HC at a similar price point.   



In closing, let's start with the obvious. This card is not for most people. It targets a niche market of enthusiasts who water-cool their components, looking for the highest level of performance available. But consumers have a few choices available to them in this scenario. There's the do-it-yourself route, where you purchase a reference design GTX 480, a separate GPU waterblock, and replace the stock heatsink on your own. EK, Danger Den, Koolance, Heatkiller, XSPC, and Bitspower all make waterblocks specially designed for the GTX 480, which range in price from $85 up to $150. On the other side of the fence, there are a handful of high-end, water-cooled ATI cards on the market. PowerColor showed us liquid cooled 5870s and 5970s recently, at Computex 2010. But at the time of this review, EVGA is the only company offering water-cooled GTX 480s and 470s. 

Although it costs quite a bit more than a standard GTX 480, there is some value in purchasing Hydro Copper FTW Edition with a pre-installed waterblock. That's a convenience some enthusiasts may appreciate when putting together a high end build. Additionally, EVGA cranked up the operating frequencies to give users a performance edge right out of the box. And with this product's cooling ability, we estimate users will easily hit over 800MHz core clock, likely reaching 900MHz like our review sample did. And for peace of mind, we appreciate the lifetime warranty this card comes with. No, EVGA didn't make this card for everyone. But if you are in the market for a watercooled GF100 with sexy lines, cool temps, ridiculous overclocking headroom, and remarkable performance, we highly recommend the Hydro Copper FTW GTX 480.

 

 

  • Very low GPU idle/load operating temps
  • Silent
  • Massive OC headroom
  • Single slot PCI form factor
  • PhysX and CUDA Support
  • Useful OC utilities included
  • Lifetime warranty

  • Expensive
  • Requires additional liquid cooling hardware
  • Heavy
  • Power hungry




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