The ASUS V9999 Gamer Edition Up Close
The crown jewel of this review is the GeForce 6800-based video card. ASUS put together a great-looking card with a blue PCB and hefty cooling solution. The V9999 needs the added cooling because the 12 pixel-pipeline GeForce 6800 comes clocked 25MHz higher than standard 6800s, topping out at 350MHz. Additionally, the card is equipped with 256MB of GDDR3 memory clocked higher than the default 700MHz for a top speed of 1000MHz (500MHz DDR). Also note that the card requires two power connectors, because this 6800 is based on the same PCB as the 16-pipeline GeForce 6800 Ultra. ASUS does not supply a Molex Y-adapter, meaning they want separate leads running to each power port. If you manage to forget to hook up the extra power leads, the card has an onboard speaker that emits an attention-getting high-pitched sound to let you know that you need to connect the power.
ASUS was not going to let heat be an issue with the increased clock speed the company set the V9999 to run at. The cooler is designed with heat pipe technology, drawing heat from the RAM to fins that get airflow from the fan blowing across the GPU. A mild dampener was the fact that ASUS opted to use thermal pads on the RAM rather than thermal grease or paste. We did not confirm what material was used on the GPU. We did briefly attempt to remove the cooler to get a better look at its design and application, but ASUS did such a good job of securing it to the card, we were not going to take any chances. The card's fan ran fairly quiet. Additionally, the fan can be actively managed with ASUS Smart Doctor, throttling the RPM based on GPU and memory temperatures. We did play with this a bit during the installation phase and we could hear the fan slow down when there was no load. The noise reduction here was significant. As an added touch, ASUS included a lighted fan that emits a cool blue, which should please those with windows in their cases.
The ASUS Smart Doctor is a handy utility that helps users get a better picture of the inner workings of the V9999. The application sports some impressive options to control how the V9999 behaves. To start things off, the utility can monitor the card's voltages, temperatures, and fan speeds. It also offers an easy slider for adjusting the GPU and memory speeds. Once a desired speed has been set, you can apply them by having the utility run a very quick test to see if the speeds were acceptable. Even more useful were some of the features that lay beneath the surface of the sharp-looking interface, unveiling a solid collection of useful options.
The settings screen is composed of three tabs: Settings, Monitor, and Fan Control. The Settings tab lets you adjust the interval at which the data is updated on the screen, ranging from five to 60 seconds. Additionally, you can set Overheat Protection, which will decrease the clock speed of the GPU if it reaches excessive temperatures, preventing damage to the core. Hyperdrive is ASUS' method for overclocking the V9999, offering three variations to how the card adjusts its speed. The first option is 3D Game mode (which only works with the ASUS drivers on the CD). This sets the GPU clock to its highest stable speed when playing a 3D Game. CPU Usage Mode is another method where Smart Doctor detects high CPU usage and increases the GPU speed concurrently. This is an effective means for auto-overclocking when using reference drivers, but for those who run distributed computing, such as SETI and our favorite, Folding@Home, this method will increase the card speed unnecessarily. This is where manual overclocking comes in handy. In Temperature Mode, the GPU speed is adjusted based on the temperature of the core. Consequently, if the GPU is running below 25C, the clock will be set at the fastest rate and will slow as the GPU increases temperature. If the temperature rises to 40C or more, the GPU will be slowed down until the temperature drops again. This is a totally dynamic process that is constantly adjusting but should prove to be the most balanced of the three choices.
Smart Doctor has several configurable alarms to notify the user if any setting has reached a set threshold. AGP, FBVDDQ, VCC, and VCORE can all be monitored and trigger an alarm if there is a variant ranging from 0-50%. Temperature Setting alarms can also be set for the GPU and Memory, and there is a Fan Speed alarm if the fan drops below a certain RPM. Lastly, there's the Fan Control tab. Here the fan speed can be manipulated based on three different criteria: Manual Mode, Smart Cooling, and Auto Fan. Manual Mode lets the user set the speed of the fan to any speed of their liking. SmartCooling will set the fan speed from Slow, Medium, Fast, and Fastest based on the set temperature of the GPU. The final option is Auto Fan Control where the speed adjusts based on the clock speed of the GPU. With this enabled, the fan is set to run at medium speed all of the time and throttles up to Fast and Fastest as the GPU speed increases. If you don't want to hear fans speeding up and slowing down a lot, Auto Fan Control is the best bet, where the speed will be steady at medium the majority of the time but will increase if things get too warm. Manual mode works best when used in conjunction with temperature alarms and Overheat Protection.