ECS GeForce 9800 GTX+ Hydra, Liquid Cooled SLI

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

 

Performance Summary:  A single GeForce 9800 GTX+ isn't bad to have around - its performance puts it more or less on terms with an AMD Radeon HD 4850, a card that comes with a similar price tag.  Put two of these together in SLI and you've got more than a match for just about any single GPU based card out there, and even more so after bumping up the core, shader, and memory clock speeds.  3DMark Vantage overall scoring was spot-on with the GeForce GTX 260, while individual GPU Test frame rates were close to 25% better with the ECS Hydra.  Most, if not all, of the gaming benchmarks were heavily skewed in the Hydra's favor as well with the delta between it and the closest runner-up ranging from 10% in ET: Quake Wars up as high as 33% in Company of Heroes.
 



At a price point of $549 (U.S.), the ECS GeForce 9800 GTX+ Hydra is a hefty purchase, but when you consider it piece by piece, it's actually a good deal on some high-end hardware.  Each 9800 GTX+ alone could set you back as much as $199, add in the Thermaltake BigWater 760is kit and you're looking at another $170 or so.  You also get the pre-installed water blocks on the video cards and a full retail copy of Rainbox Six: Vegas 2 to show off your purchase.  That's not a bad way to go about upgrading your system.

However, we felt that ECS (and Thermaltake, by extension) left us wanting more.  Providing excellent, yet extravagant cooling methods almost demands that the cards come pre-overclocked; it's not enough to force the consumer to go out and do this on their own.  Our overclocking experience was so favorable, adding an additional 12-14% in overall performance while barely affecting thermals, that we can't see why ECS didn't go the extra mile to ship them with higher speeds by default.  It would also have been nice to see some changes with the Thermaltake BigWater 760is.  With a kit like this, having external options on monitoring temperatures or changing fan speeds would make for a real killer product.  Having to open your case to find and turn a small dial, on the other hand, seems to be less than a user-friendly approach.

Our final concerns go back to ECS and their approach at high-end products.  We had previously looked at their X48T-A and noted that a few corners were cut; things like hot gluing heatpipes to heatsinks for heat transference are shortcuts to watch out for.  Unfortunately, the same kind of problems reared their head with the GeForce 9800 GTX+ Hydra kit as well.  The small, poorly attached heatsinks over the PWM were the first warning, and the lifting of the water blocks over the front of each card were a huge disappointment.  There's really no excuse to ship them out in this condition.  We also can't help but point out the ineffective plastic coolers placed over the waterblocks that seem to add little more than some extra bling.   

  • Convenient, all-in-one internal water-cooling kit
  • System can be expanded to include other components 
  • Top-notch performance when run in SLI mode
  • Temperatures are kept in check, even under load conditions
  • BigWater fan runs a bit loud, even at lowest settings
  • Bezel bereft of any displays or controls 
  • Power-hungry beast in both number of connections and Watts
  • Some shoddy construction used with card cooling


Our Final Verdict:  In short, we love the performance of the ECS GeForce 9800 GTX+ Hydra, yet we just can't abide by all of the little nuances that take away from making this a "break-out" product.  Innovation is one thing, but quality control must be at the forefront of the minds at ECS if they truly want to compete with the upper-tier enthusiast-class manufacturers.

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