Retail Fury X coolers still whine, don't include fix

In my review of the Radeon R9 Fury X, I noted a rather annoying sound emanating from the card. I explained the problem like so:

Despite its many virtues, our Fury X review unit does have one rather obvious drawback. Whenever it's powered on, whether busy or idle, the card emits a constant, high-pitched whine. It's not the usual burble of pump noise, the whoosh of a fan, or the irregular chatter of coil whine—just an unceasing squeal like an old CRT display might emit. The noise isn't loud enough to register on our sound level meter, but it is easy enough to hear. The sound comes from the card proper, not from the radiator or fan. An informal survey of other reviewers suggests our card may not be alone in emitting this noise. 

This high-pitched whine is annoying enough to constitute a major drawback from a $650 video card, so naturally, I asked AMD about the problem. In response, I got the following statement from AMD:

AMD received feedback that during open bench testing some cards emit a mild "whining" noise. This is normal for most high speed liquid cooling pumps; Usually the end user cannot hear the noise as the pumps are installed in the chassis, and the radiator fan is louder than the pump. Since the AMD Radeon R9 FuryX radiator fan is near silent, this pump noise is more noticeable.

The issue is limited to a very small batch of initial production samples and we have worked with the manufacturer to improve the acoustic profile of the pump. This problem has been resolved and a fix added to production parts and is not an issue.

At the time, this statement seemed remarkable for its confidence that the "problem has been resolved" and "is not an issue," especially given the incredibly short span of time—less than a week—between our receipt of a Fury X review unit and the start of retail sales.

Also, I didn't want to quibble with it at the time, but I don't agree with the characterization of the problem in the first paragraph. I think it downplays the severity of the issue; the noise is unique among the liquid-cooling systems I've used, including the one on the Radeon R9 295 X2.

After getting this statement, we requested that AMD send us an example of a retail unit with a the pump fix in place. Beyond that, prior to our review, all we could do is report our observations and wait to see what folks found when they had retail Fury X cards in their hands. Dummy me, I didn't think to do what the folks at PC Perspective did: order up a couple of retail cards from Newegg and test it themselves.

Their report on the results  is kind of science-y, replete with frequency analysis plots and such, but you don't need the graphs to understand the basic problem. The current batch of retail Fury X cards does not include an effective fix for the problem we found. They still whine. Worse yet, the retail cards sometimes seem to make other noises that the review samples do not, including apparent buzzing sounds from the pumps.

To get a better sense of what I'm talking about, click through to the article and listen to the WAV file with +12 dB gain. This sound file includes noise from several Fury X cards and a GeForce GTX 980 Ti for comparison.

I will say, though, that the microphones and speakers involved in recording and playing back this sound don't seem to capture entirely the frustrating character of the high-pitched whine. Something about it puts my monkey brain on edge, as if a teeny, tiny version of nails on a chalkboard were playing constantly in the background.

In addition to the PC Perspective report, a number of videos have popped up on YouTube in recent days showing off Fury X pump noise, including the whine but also rougher sounds. I hesitated to post about them since the extra noise didn't track with our experience, but it all seems to fit with PC Perspective's findings. Here's one example:

There are additional examples here, here, and here.

Of course, it's possible some Fury X cards don't whine and don't make other grating noises at all. We don't have a comprehensive survey of retail cards at our disposal. But it does appear AMD's statement about the Fury X noise problem being fixed and "not an issue" was more wishful thinking than an accurate assessment of the current situation. Caveat emptor.

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