Closed-loop liquid coolers have become extremely popular in the CPU market due to the cleaner build, and greater space around the CPU socket compared to traditional air cooling hardware. This means you can install an all in one liquid cooler without having to make concessions in terms of memory compatibility or worry too much about your motherboard’s PCI-E arrangement. As you might expect, all in one liquid coolers have progressively moved into the GPU sector to offer improved overclocking headroom and a lower noise output. There are some interesting parallels between CPU and GPU all in one liquid cooling though which needs to be addressed.
Firstly, many air coolers like the Noctua NH-D15 can outperform Asetek units, while being much quieter. It’s a similar picture with graphics cards because proficient air cooling setups including the Gigabyte Windforce X3 and Sapphire Tri-X provide a superb noise to performance ratio. Liquid cooled graphics cards have a price premium and involve a more complicated installation process. It’s important to remember that Maxwell is a very mature and efficient architecture which allows vendors to enable a 0dB idle fan mode. Despite my own qualms about closed-loop liquid cooling, it’s fantastic to see products which cater to a different target market. There’s clearly a demand for pre-assembled liquid cooled graphics cards, and their appeal is bound to grow in the next few years.
Today, we’re taking a look at the Inno3D GTX 980Ti iChill Black which utilizes a very powerful hybrid cooling solution. The GPU incorporates a traditional fan which only switches on during heavy load, in addition to a 120mm fan/radiator combination. The Arctic Cooling radiator fan is constantly on but has a very low RPM curve to maintain silent running. This impeccable hardware allows for an impressive core clock of 1203MHz and default boost reaching 1304MHz. The memory has also been increased to 7280MHz. As you can see from the chart below, this isn’t the greatest configuration we’ve encountered from the factory, but it’s exceedingly fast and should be a top performer. It will be fascinating to contrast this graphics card with the marvellous Inno3D GTX 980Ti X3 Ultra DHS which opts for a hefty air cooling design.
Packing and Accessories
The Inno3D GTX 980 Ti iChill Black comes in a huge box to properly house the closed loop cooler’s tubing and protect against leaks during shipping. Honestly, the picture doesn’t provide an accurate depiction of the packaging’s size. I have to commend Inno3D because they have taken the precautionary steps to reduce the possibility of damage occurring and utilized strong foam inserts as cushioning materials. The box itself features an attractive render of the GPU, and outlines its specification.
On the rear portion, there’s a brief synopsis of NVIDIA’s Maxwell architecture. I’m a bit surprised to see the back doesn’t contain any information about the liquid cooling solution and the acoustical benefits compared to NVIDIA’s reference cooler.
In terms of accessories, the graphics card is bundled with mounting screws, 6-pin PCI-E to molex adapter, case badge, DVI-D to VGA adapter and installation guide. There’s also a driver’s disk which you should disregard, a copy of 3DMark, and other documentation. This is a great selection of items and provides everything you need to get started! The mouse mat is surprisingly high-quality and relatively thick.
A Closer Look
The graphics card evokes a really distinguished feel via a brushed silver metal shroud and black 80mm fan. Furthermore, the metal finish almost resembles sandblasted aluminium and has a stunning reflection when observed at certain angles. The GPU measures a total length of 266mm, and height of 115mm while taking up three slots. Unlike some air-cooled alternatives, the overall dimensions make it a really sleek design that doesn’t look overpowering in a smaller form factor chassis. From this photograph, we can see the 80mm fan is positioned above a hefty VRM heatsink to maintain cool operation during heavy loads.
On the opposite side, there’s a strong backplate which helps keep the GPU steady and in an upright position after the radiator has been installed to your PC case. This is vital because the weight from the tubing and radiator can cause the graphics card to slightly sag. Thankfully, this backplate does a tremendous job and ensures the weight is distributed in an even manner. On another note, the backplate enhances thermal dissipation and employs an air hole arrangement to allow surrounding ventilation to cool the PCB.
As you might expect, the GPU’s tubing and pre-connected fan cable can cause quite a bit of clutter. Rather surprisingly, the pump is powered by a Molex connector instead of SATA which might pose a few problems for users with a tidy build. For example, some power supplies like the SuperFlower Leadex Platinum 1000W have a dedicated cable for Molex devices. However, unless you’re using LEDs strips, most users simply omit this cable from their system.When building a showpiece, it’s imperative to use the minimum number of cables to hide any unwanted connectors in the best possible way. In an ideal world, I’d also like to see the Molex cable a bit thicker, so it doesn’t feel overly disjointed from the actual GPU. Granted, this is a very small oversight and doesn’t really impact on the overall user-experience.
On a more positive note, the iChill logo changes colour based on the current temperature levels. In idle mode, the logo turns blue and alters to green in low power states. Under extreme strain, the logo changes to red to inform you of the current thermal range. This adds a bit of visual exuberance and can be quite helpful to quickly glance at temperatures without relying on monitoring software. Rather amusingly, the GPU’s thermals are so low, that an intense 3DMark benchmark still only ran on the low power setting. Granted, this did quickly change during testing but it was an interesting revelation.
The GPU requires a 6-pin and 8-pin PCI-E connectors which is somewhat surprising for a high-end model. I expected to see a dual 8-pin setup to leverage extra power. Despite this, the GPU’s factory overclock isn’t limited by its power connectivity in a significant way and still offers extreme performance.
Inno3D has done a superb job with the fan cable routing which neatly fits over the VRM heatsink and passes onto the appropriate header via a logical cable run. This allows for a clean finish and makes it relatively simple to decouple the included fan.
The pump is connected using a very stable mounting point and doesn’t veer from side to side even when a reasonable amount of force is applied. Asetek units are extremely reliable, and it’s very rare to encounter leaks, pump failure or problems with the mounting hardware. As a result, you shouldn’t be overly concerned about the perils of water cooling, and this offers peace-of-mind. Furthermore, the mounting job on the sample we received was flawless, and didn’t make any vibrations caused by a poor installation.
Here we can see the open-ended design, thick PCB and high-quality solder joints. This exemplifies the premium construction throughout, and optimized airflow through a side intake.
The included fan features high-angled blades to maximize static pressure and reduce turbulence. I’m quite fond of the white frame which contrasts beautifully with the jet black radiator.
The Rear I/O includes a DVI-D connector, three Displayport 1.2, and a HDMI 2.0 port which has the required bandwidth to output 60Hz on a 4K display.
Testing & Methodology
Before we delve into any testing we would like to take this opportunity to overview our test system. All tests will be conducted with the latest stable drivers available, with results will be taken from an average of three tests. All tests will be conducted using the highest factory setting if multiple options are available.
- Motherboard – Gigabyte X99-Gaming G1 WiFi LGA 2011-3 Motherboard
- Processor – Intel Core i7 5820K at Stock 3.3GHz
- RAM – 16GB (4 X 4GB) Crucial Ballistix Sport DDR4 2400MHz
- CPU Cooler – Thermaltake Water 3.0 with Gelid GC-Extreme
- Power Supply – BeQuiet Dark Power Pro 11 1200W
- Main Storage Drive – Crucial M550 512GB
- Chassis – Lian Li T80 Test Bench
- Displays – AOC U2868PQU 4K
- Operating System – Windows 8.1 Pro 64 Bit
- “Killawatt” style electricity usage meter wall plug
- Precision Gold N05CC Decibel meter
The latest drivers are always used at the time of testing, but please note reviews undergo a scheduling process. This means, a new driver could be released on the day of publication. However, this doesn’t impact on the results in a significant manner.
- Battlefield 4
- Grand Theft Auto V
- Metro Last Light
- Tomb Raider
- Unigine Valley
- Unigine Heaven
- CPU-ID HWMonitor
- TechPowerUp GPU-Z
During our testing, we use a range of readily available synthetic benchmarking tools which are free to download from the respective websites. We do this so the readers can download and compared to our results. Download links are contained within the “Software” subheading.
Everyone has their own reasonable noise level when it comes to comes to components in a computer. Some can handle all fans at 100% load to keep temperatures down, some want a completely silent computer.
With electricity becoming increasingly expensive across most parts of the world the need for computer components to become power efficient has never been more relevant. Graphics cards are often the most power-hungry components inside a desktop system so having an efficient graphics card is very important to keeping power bills under control. Power is often correlated to heat and so lower power consumption means a graphics card is likely to run slightly cooler and put out less heat into your system meaning your other components will run cooler with improved longevity. AMD and Nvidia have both made power consumption an integral part of the way graphics cards dynamically overclock so the need for graphics card vendors to use efficient VRM and PCB designs is becoming important to maximise performance. We take power readings after 5 minutes of two different load scenarios: desktop idle and Unigine Heaven load.
The cooling solution which graphics card vendors choose to implement is one of the main differences that consumers have to contend with when choosing a graphics cards. Apart from their acoustic properties, the thermal properties of graphics card coolers are extremely important. Lower temperatures are always better and with AMD and Nvidia opting to use dynamic overclocking algorithms that take temperature into account it is important that graphics card vendors use high-performance cooling solutions in order to maximise performance. The era of graphics cards reaching dangerous temperatures are now in the past but the importance of lower temperatures still remains. Lower temperatures mean better stability, longer component longevity and lower fan speeds .We take temperature readings after 5 minutes of two different load scenarios: desktop idle and Unigine Heaven load. We always record actual temperatures and make a note of the ambient; in the case where more than 1 GPU is used an average is created.
Even though the GPU has a lower core clock than the Inno3D 980Ti Ultra DHS, it manages to attain a higher score. As you can see, the results here are brilliant and exemplifies the sort of performance on offer during synthetic testing.
Once the resolution is set to 2560×1440, the GPU follows a similar pattern and isn’t too far off the best scores we’ve encountered.
The field is incredibly close during 4K benchmarking, and it’s evidently clear that the graphics card has sensational stock performance brought about by a hefty boost clock.
Here we can see the graphics card reports the best minimum frame-rate on record and remains with 1 frame of the top result. There’s nothing to choose from between the three custom 980Ti cards, which showcases the strong performance on this particular chip.
In a similar fashion, the GPU once again records the best minimum frame-rate and obtains an impressive average of 61 frames-per-second. Notice the fairly significant gap to the reference GTX Titan X.
The graphical demands on a 4K display during this benchmark are supreme which makes it very challenging to achieve good performance. Despite this, the GPU did extremely well and matched my expectations for a card of this calibre.
In terms of compute performance, the graphics card reports a good score, but it’s slightly behind its nearest rivals. Perhaps, this is down to the lower core clock which has a noticeable effect with OpenCL calculations.
Despite Battlefield 4’s gorgeous visuals, modern mid-high end graphics card can easily cope with the game on a 1080P render. The GTX 980Ti iChill Black is capable of a superb 120fps experience and provides this level of performance without major frame dips.
Even on a 1440P panel, the graphics card doesn’t falter and maintains a minimum frame-rate above 60. At first glance, this particular GPU falls behind other 980 Ti alternatives but the difference is tiny and within a margin of error.
During 4K testing, the performance remains fairly consistent although you will need to reduce some settings to reach 60 frames-per-second. Nevertheless, the GPU fares pretty well but it’s slightly behind other air-cooled GTX 980Ti offerings.
Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto’s ridiculously detailed open world environment makes it a great indicator of graphical performance. Here we can see, the GTX 980Ti iChill Black achieves an excellent frame-rate just shy of 100, and ensures the gameplay remains smooth during intense sections.
Once the resolution is set to 2560×1440, the GPU soars into first position by a decent margin and shouldn’t exhibit sudden performance drops which allows for a consistent user-experience.
As expected, the graphical fidelity on a 4K display is phenomenal but this requires a dual card configuration to maintain anywhere close to 60 frames-per-second. The data below emphasizes this notion and showcases the unplayable minimum frame-rate. However, reducing the texture detail and ambient occlusion complexity should boost the frame-rate to an acceptable figure.
Metro Last Light
Recent driver updates from both AMD and NVIDIA have dramatically improved the minimum frame-rate across various price tiers in Metro Last Light. At 1080P, the graphics card reports a solid 38 frames-per-second minimum, and provides a stellar experience for high-refresh gaming. While the minimum rates might look a little concerning at first, you have to remember this is during the worst possible scenario, and you shouldn’t encounter major frame-dips very often.
Increasing the resolution to 2560×1440 doesn’t impact too heavily on the frame-rate and the GPU continues to uphold a very consistent result.
During 4K testing, the graphics card like competing solutions, struggles to maintain 60 frames-per-second using Metro Last Light’s Very High preset. However, this is easily resolved with a few minor tweaks in the options menu and should dramatically increase the average frame-rate beyond 60.
Despite Tomb Raider being a fairly older title, it’s a suitable choice for testing due to the integrated benchmark tool and marvellous optimization across various tiers of graphics hardware. Here we can see the GPU performs brilliantly and showcases the kind of numbers possible on a 1080P display.
Even when the resolution is increased to 2560×1440, the GPU provides a superb 120+ frames-per-second experience and exhibits a very narrow gap between minimum and average results.
When paired with a 4K panel, the GPU is capable of driving 60 frames-per-second and doesn’t contain any sudden frame dips below 50. This is important because a larger drop could feel a bit jarring and seem less fluid to the naked eye.
Overclocking and Overclocked Performance
By default, the GPU already utilizes an impressive overclock, which curbs the amount of headroom via manual boosts. For example, the power limit is restricted to 106 percent and means it’s quite difficult to obtain large gains from the stock overclock. Despite this, I managed to increase the core clock by 70MHz to 1273MHz which boosted under load to 1512MHz. The memory overclocked to an effective rate of 7632MHz which is acceptable but some way off an 8000MHz+ overclock seen on some models. However, this shouldn’t really make a substantial difference in performance.
3DMark Fire Strike
Once overclocked, the GPU fares superbly and records impressive numbers which really rivals other high-end GTX 980Ti solutions.
Rather surprisingly, there’s a noticeable deficit compared to the 1080P results suggesting the lower core clock really comes into play at higher resolutions.
During 4K testing, the gap is less pronounced, and there’s little to choose from different variants of the GTX 980Ti.
Noise, Power Consumption and Temperatures
When it comes to noise output, the graphics card is absolutely sublime in both idle and load usage scenarios. As you can see from the data, the GPU is remarkably quiet under during Heaven 4.0 and features a much better noise to performance ratio than the Fury X. This emphasizes the quality of components on offer, and lack of whine from the water pump.
On another note, the radiator is constantly cooled by a 120mm fan which theoretically should increase noise levels compared to other 980Ti air-cooled products opting for a 0dB passive mode. However, the RPM values remain extremely low which allows the system to report a noise level within 1 decibel of 980Ti units with the fans off. This is really striking and showcases the efficiency and silent operation of the included fan.
The graphics card’s potent cooling solution increases power consumption in load conditions compared to air-cooled designs, but it’s nothing to be overly worried about due to efficiency of NVIDIA’s Maxwell architecture.
As you might expect, the GPU’s liquid cooler in combination with Maxwell’s impeccable efficiency allows for very reasonable temperatures under heavy load. The maximum reported figure is well within the graphics card’s thermal limitations and extremely close to high-end air cooling versions of the same chip. Also notice how the 68-degree result was achieved with an ambient temperature increase of 1 degree. which suggests there’s nothing to choose between the 980Ti models we’ve tested thus far.
At the time of writing, the Inno3D GTX 980Ti iChill Black is available from Overclockers UK for £599.99 and comes with a copy of The Division. Its nearest rival is the EVGA GTX 980Ti Hybrid costing £635.99 which features a 1140MHz core clock, 1228MHz boost and 7010MHz effective memory speed. Clearly, there are much cheaper GTX 980 Ti models on the market but none of these utilize an all-in-one liquid cooling solution. This means it’s essential to compare water cooling variants, and the Inno3D unit is the cheapest option right now. Saying that, I do prefer the EVGA’s tubing which has a textured finish but this is all down to personal preference.
The graphics card opts for an elegant design ethos which looks absolutely stunning and suits a huge range of colour schemes. Inno3D have deployed a neutral styling to cater to a wide range of consumer tastes and I’m really fond of the luxurious silver finish. It’s certainly not the most extravagant aesthetic design I’ve seen, but there is flashier elements via integrated LED illumination. Furthermore, this lighting system is quite useful to quickly gauge the current thermal status of the GPU and ensure the cooling hardware is performing as intended.
This is important with a water cooling unit to determine if any issues arise early on in terms of the pump’s flow. Please remember this is an Asetek-based unit and the chances of leakage are incredibly slim. Similarly, if there was a leak, the water flow shouldn’t damage the CPU, or GPU and be directed towards the motherboard or power supply. As with any water-cooled graphics card, the initial setup process is more complicated and requires a higher level of expertise. Routing the molex cable and tubing requires a patient approach to obtain a clean build. However, this product is geared towards enthusiasts who have a firm grasp of tidy cable management. In an ideal world, I’d prefer to see an easily removable fan cable which uses a SATA connector.
In terms of cooling prowess, the AIO is very impressive and an extremely capable piece of kit. For example, the pump doesn’t emit any noticeable whine and provides a beautiful desktop experience even under heavy load. The bundled 120mm opts for a really low RPM curve, and even though it’s constantly on, I didn’t feel it impacted on system noise in a significant manner. This is evidently clear by the data during audio testing, and I was surprised to see almost zero difference between this and other models utilizing a 0db fan mode. When it comes to temperatures, the cooler does a great job of keeping everything in check well below the GPU’s thermal limits. Although, there’s no major benefit using a closed loop liquid cooling according to our testing and high-end air-cooled models actually performed better. Despite this, the difference is within a margin of error and the running order could be different with more benchmark runs.
Out of the box, the graphics card contains a very potent factory overclock which provides stellar performance without the need for tweaking. This has a downside though and makes it quite challenging to achieve large boosts via manual overclocking. Honestly, the overclocking results were good, but I expected to see the memory overclock to around the 7800MHz+ mark. Nevertheless, this didn’t impact on the performance numbers by a large margin, and the GPU still managed to set some very impressive scores in 3DMark. When overclocking on Maxwell, the restrictions revolve around the GPU power limit and not core temperature. In this case, the 106 percent limit had an effect on the final overclocking result.
Custom variants of the GTX 980Ti are unbelievably powerful and a fantastic choice for a 2560×1440 or 3440×1440 display. It’s a bit overkill for 1920×1080 users unless you want to ensure the minimum frame-rate never drops below 60. Sadly, users have to make too many concessions using a single card to play games on a 4K panel. This is down to the current performance of NVIDIA’s Maxwell architecture which doesn’t quite have the graphical grunt to push so many pixels. In theory you could buy two of these and use them in an SLI configuration but many new releases have been shown to implement SLI quite poorly. However, DirectX 12 could revolutionize the scaling across dual GPUs and make the 980Ti a great option even when Pascal and Polaris have been released.
To summarize, the GTX 980Ti is an exceptional performer, and extreme models like the Inno3D iChill Black can easily surpass the reference designed Titan X. This makes it the fastest option available and a suitable option for consumers wanting a no-compromise approach. Admittedly, there are new products coming out this year which might deter you from buying but this isn’t going to make the GTX 980Ti suddenly obsolete or depreciate in value by a huge margin. Any new flagship always costs an extortionate amount of money, and the GTX 980Ti’s performance may seem even better in comparison if the newer cards cost a lot more money. This is an unknown entity right now but it’s clear that this GPU is fantastic providing you avoid a 4K display.
- Decent overclocking headroom
- Excellent thermals
- Impressive stock performance
- Perfect accompaniment to a high-refresh 1440P display
- Striking aesthetic design
- Sturdy backplate to reduce GPU droop
- Superb build quality
- Unbelievably quiet
- Tidy cable management can be a bit tricky for inexperienced PC builders
- Price premium compared to air cooling alternatives
“The Inno3D GTX 980Ti iChill offers a phenomenal performance to noise ratio and adopts a really unusual design philosophy. This makes it stand out from the competition and helps to forge a truly unique custom PC build.”
Inno3D GTX 980 Ti iChill Black Graphics Card Review
Thank you Inno3D for providing us with this review sample