If you're in the market for an 8600 GTS, there are plenty to choose from, including BFG Tech's new OC2 model. As one might expect, this card comes factory "overclocked," boasting respective core and memory speeds of 720MHz and 1110MHz. Those clock speeds are higher than any other 8600-series card we've tested, which is an achievement in itself. The OC2 has another ace up its sleeve, though: BFG's new ThermoIntelligence cooler.
Designed new from the ground up, this single-slot cooler aims to strike a nice balance between superior cooling and acceptable noise levels. Nvidia's mid-range reference coolers have generally been pretty marginal, so there's certainly room for improvement. But other manufacturers have their own cooling solutions, too, and ThermoIntelligence already has plenty of competition. Read on to see how the GeForce 8600 GTS OC2 fares against that competition and whether ThermoIntelligence is a smart choice for your next mid-range graphics card.
At its core, BFG's GeForce 8600 GTS OC2 is not unlike any other 8600 GTS card; it uses the same G84 GPU with 32 stream processors and has the same 128-bit path to 256MB of GDDR3 memory. We've already covered the 8600 series in depth, so I won't rehash the finer points of its features and architecture here. If you're unfamiliar with the graphics tech behind the 8600 family, I suggest you read our initial review of the line.
Today we're narrowing our focus on the unique attributes of BFG Tech's OC2 spin on the 8600 GTS. It takes a discerning eye to spot those attributes, though, because the OC2 looks rather like a standard reference design.
Under the hood, it's another story.
Nvidia's reference design for the 8600 GTS calls for respective core and memory clocks of 675MHz and 1000MHz, but BFG has cranked those up to 720MHz and 1110MHz. That puts the OC2 ahead of most of the GeForce 8600 GTS field, although XFX and Asus offer versions with slightly higher speeds. However, those cards come standard with Nvidia's reference cooler for the GeForce 8600 GTS, and the OC2 does not. Instead, it sports a custom cooling solution of BFG's own design that the company reckons is far superior to what Nvidia offers.
BFG calls its new cooler ThermoIntelligence, and they've whipped up a whole website extolling its virtues. Custom graphics coolers are nothing new, of course, but BFG's approach is unique in both its simplicity and its single-slot footprint. In fact, this ThermoIntelligence design is so subtle that you might not give it a second glance just sitting there on the card. To put it into context, let's see how it compares side-by-side with Nvidia's reference cooler.
As you can see, the two cooler are roughly the same size. However, BFG has moved the fan from the middle of the card, where it sits almost directly above the GPU, to the upper left-hand corner. Popping the plastic ThermoIntelligence shroud reveals why.
Moving the fan away from the middle of the card allows BFG to put more cooling fins directly over the GPU, where they're needed most. That makes a lot of sense, and BFG says it's good for a five-degree drop in GPU temperatures when compared with the reference cooler. What's more, BFG claims the design bestows even greater benefits upon the second card in SLI configurations, which can run up to 11 degrees cooler with ThermoIntelligence than with Nvidia's standard heatsink.
GPU temperatures aren't the only consideration for graphics coolers, though. Silence is golden, and BFG says the ThermoIntelligence cooler is a little quieter than Nvidia's stock offering. The BFG cooler also includes a variable speed fan that intelligently ramps RPMs when the card heats up and spins the fan down when the GPU isn't being taxed.
In addition to its trick cooler, the OC2 comes with a standard array of cables, including VGA adapters for its two DVI outputs and a component video output dongle. HDCP is supported, as well, just in case you feel the need to be protected from high-definition content.
There isn't much to see on the software front. A driver CD is included in the box, and although it contains some BFG desktop wallpapers for fanboys, that's about it for extras. We're not particularly fond of needlessly bundled software, so the lack of outdated games and otherwise free-to-download demos isn't a worry. However, it might've been nice to see some DVD playback software in the box or perhaps a full version of a game we'd actually like to play, especially since the OC2 is among the pricier 8600 GTS cards on the market.
BFG's never been big on bundling, instead deferring to the allure of its lifetime warranty and 24/7 telephone tech support that's toll-free in the U.S. and Canada. Both are nice perks, although the BFG is no longer the only graphics card manufacturer offering lifetime warranty coverage.