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Gigabyte's GV-RX80L256V graphics card

Silencing the Radeon X800 XL

Price (Street)

ENTHUSIASTS HAVE ALWAYS craved snappier performance and smoother frame rates, but lately, many of us have also become obsessed with lowering system noise levels. Years ago, most high-end systems sounded like jet engines spinning up for take off. Today, however, hobbyists are trading in their noisy cooling solutions for stealthier designs that employ larger heat sinks, temperature-controlled low-RPM fans, and even water cooling.

While quieter cooling solutions have become more popular, only passive cooling can deliver the absolute silence that low-noise enthusiasts really seek. Cooling a chip without fans isn't easy, though. Today's denser chips and higher clock speeds present challenging thermal profiles, and in the graphics card world, passive cooling has largely been limited to low-end products.

Not content to let only budget cards bask in glorious silence, Gigabyte has brought passive cooling to ATI's mid-range Radeon X800 XL. The GV-RX80L256V combines silent cooling with the X800 XL's already impressive pixel-pushing power, and it comes equipped with HDTV output and VIVO for good measure. Priced at just over $300, the GV-RX80L256V could be the ultimate Radeon X800 XL, but can passive cooling handle a mid-range graphics chip running at 400MHz? Read on to find out.

The card
Apart from its cooler, the GV-RX80L256V appears to follow ATI's Radeon X800 XL 256MB reference design closely. We'll be focusing our attention on the specifics of Gigabyte's implementation, but you can read more on the features and performance of the Radeon X800 XL graphics chip in our initial review.

Most Gigabyte graphics cards come on turquoise boards, and the GV-RX80L256V is no exception. The massive gold-colored heat sink is a little gaudy for my tastes, but then I'm getting old, and bling is all the rage with kids these days. Or is it ice? I can never keep up.

The GV-RX80L256V's gargantuan cooler extends over the back of the card, but before we examine it in detail, let's have a peek at what lies beneath.

An ATI Rage Theater chip is tucked away under the rear-mounted heat sink. This video encoder/decoder chip powers the card's video input capabilities, but without an integrated TV tuner, the card falls just short of All-in-Wonder territory.

Gigabyte relies on a bundled output dongle for many of the GV-RX80L256V's video ports, leaving the PCI back plate looking a little plain. The only disappointment here is the lack of dual DVI outputs. We're over four months into 2005, and with LCD panel prices falling and even sub-$200 GeForce 6600 GTs sporting dual-DVI, a $300 graphics card like the GV-RX80L256V really should have two digital outputs.

Although it only has one DVI output, the GV-RX80L256V's video output dongle is pretty loaded. The dongle features S-Video input and output ports, composite video input, and component HDTV output. Those with older HDTVs should particularly appreciate the latter.

On the software front, Gigabyte bundles the card with copies of PowerDVD 5, PowerDirector 3, Joint Operations, and Thief III. PowerDirector 3 is a particularly useful addition given the card's video capture capabilities, and the game bundle isn't half bad, either. Joint Ops and Thief III are hardly cutting-edge titles, but both are relatively recent releases.