Cool Gadget: Zotac's Hardware OC Controller

Zotac Nitro Hardware OC ControllerDue to the fact that the vast majority of NVIDIA’s partners sell graphics cards that are all essentially identical, save for their clock speeds or perhaps a custom decal, they all look for creative ways to differentiate their products from the competition. They usually do it by including a hot new game, offering a really long warranty, a low price, or maybe bundling in some other type of value-added software. But once in a while a company will take things a step further and do something a little more innovative.

Take Zotac for example. Zotac has developed a cool little device called the Nitro Hardware OC controller, which gives users the ability to monitor GPU temperatures and over- or under-clock their graphics cards on the fly, using a few buttons and a simple menu. The Nitro hasn’t been offered with any Zotac-branded graphics cards just yet, but the company is contemplating the prospect of including it with select AMP! Edition products at some point in the future. In the meantime, the Nitro is also being offered as a standalone product with an MSRP of $99.

I recently had the chance to play with the Nitro and have to say it’s a pretty cool gadget. Understand that this product isn’t for everyone. All of you uber tech-savvy HotHardware readers already know that NVIDIA’s nTune application already offers a host of overclocking tools for GeForce graphics cards--for free. But that doesn’t hinder the coolness factor of having a desk-bound gadget that lets you OC on the fly, from within any game or application without having to access the driver control panel. Would I buy one for a hundred bucks? Probably not. But we all know a geek or two that would love to sport one of these things on their desk.

Zotac Hardware OC ControllerThe Nitro works in conjunction with Zotac’s Firestorm utility. Firestorm is a relatively simple, streamlined application (<400K download) that features sliders for GPU engine, Shader, and memory frequencies, and fan speeds. When the Firestorm application is installed and running, and the Nitro is plugged into an available USB port, the Firestorm utility itself or the buttons on the front of the Nitro can be used to alter frequencies or fan speeds on the fly--even if a game is already running. Profiles can be saved as well, and a graphical representation on the Nitro’s VFD gives a real-time temperature readout. I found the temperature read-out particularly interesting. Watching temperatures increase or decrease during game play was an intriguing way to monitor the load being placed on the graphics card.

Zotac includes a hefty stand, driver disk, user manual and USB cable with the Nitro. And it currently supports all Zotac-branded GeForce-based graphics cards. If you’re the type that likes to tinker though, there is a way to get the Nitro working with any GeForce. Simply hold the shift key when you launch the Firestorm app and ignore an error message (while still holding shift) and it will work with non-Zotac branded cards. Shhhh. You didn’t hear that from me though.