iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






ECS Hydra and Zotac Zone

Interesting liquid-cooled 9800 GTX / GTX+ solutions for PC enthusiasts.

October 24, 2008

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Performance tests


  • Intel Core2 Extreme QX9650 (3000 MHz) CPU
  • Zotac 790i Ultra motherboard on NVIDIA nForce 790i Ultra
  • 2GB DDR3 SDRAM Corsair 2000MHz (CAS (tCL)=5, RAS to CAS delay (tRCD)=5, Row Precharge (tRP)=5, tRAS=15)
  • WD Caviar SE WD1600JD 160GB SATA hard drive
  • Tagan TG900-BZ 900W PSU
  • Windows Vista 32bit SP1, DirectX 10.1
  • Dell 3007WFP 30-inch monitor
  • ATI CATALYST 8.8; NVIDIA 177.79
  • VSync disabled


  • Call Of Juarez (Techland/Ubisoft) -- DirectX 9.0, Shaders 3.0 (HDR), maximum quality settings; demo, batch file included.
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 1.003 (GSC Game World/THQ) -- DirectX 9.0, maximum quality settings (dynamic lighting enabled); demo, copy files to the savegames folder, run the game, load level 'ixbt3', and type "demo_play ixbt3" in the console.
  • 3DMark Vantage 1.00 (FutureMark) -- DirectX 10.0, Shaders 4.0, multitexturing, 'Extreme' settings.
  • CRYSIS 1.2 (Crytek/EA), DirectX 10.0, Shaders 4.0, 'Very High' settings, levels 'Rescue' and 'Harbor'; batch file, e-mail us to obtain the timedemo. We express gratitude to CRYTEK for creating a timedemo for iXBT.com / Digit-Life.
  • Company Of Heroes Opposing Fronts (Relic Entertainment/THQ) -- DirectX 10.0, Shaders 4.0, maximum quality settings; batch file, run the game, invoke graphics settings and click the test button.
  • World In Conflict 1.007 (Massive Entertainment/Sierra) -- DirectX 10.0, Shaders 4.0, 'Very High' settings with adjusted AA and AF; run the game, invoke graphics settings and click the test button.
  • Devil May Cry 4 (CAPCOM) -- DirectX 10.0, 'Super High' settings with adjusted AA and AF; Scene 1 and Scene 4.

Note that performance charts are located on dedicated pages, because they don't fit a reasonable resolution.


Performance charts: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

World In Conflict

Performance charts: World In Conflict

Call Of Juarez

Performance charts: CoJ

Company Of Heroes

Performance charts: CoH

3DMark Vantage, Graphics MARKS

Performance charts: 3DMark Vantage, Graphics MARKS

Devil May Cry 4, SCENE1

Performance charts: Devil May Cry 4, SCENE1

Devil May Cry 4, SCENE4

Performance charts: Devil May Cry 4, SCENE4


ECS Hydra 9800 GTX+ 2x512MB is a very interesting solution for enthusiasts and overclockers, as such a powerful cooling system provides a good overclocking potential. If we take into account that this kit can work only on NVIDIA platforms, this is almost the fastest SLI solution. However, all drawbacks of the SLI technology (possible switching and abrupt FPS changes in the AFR mode when each card processes its own frame (odd and even) instead of processing a part of the image) may spoil the generally peachy impression, so we shouldn't forget about it. I don't understand fans of dual-GPU configurations, be it SLI or CrossFire. Our tests prove that only games with built-in benchmarks demonstrate excellent performance and instant FPS. It happens because developers fine-tune drivers for such applications in the first place. It might not look that cool in other games.

Still, this is a very interesting product indeed. Yes, it's not meant for casual users or those who like to listen to mosquitos humming on the background of the working PC. This kit is for enthusiasts. And we should also take the price into account. If this kit is much more expensive than the 4870 X2 or GTX 280, perhaps there will be no point in buying it.

On the other hand, an enthusiast gets a good liquid cooling system, which will come in handy even in the next generation of graphics cards (you may find new heatsinks, if the bundled ones are incompatible).

Zotac GeForce 9800 GTX Zone Edition 512MB is smaller, slower, but still very interesting. The company designed the entire cooling system, no components were bought from other cooler builders. This solution is very quiet. Note that the company also offers the 9800 GTX+ Zone card in the same bundle. I think this solution will be also interesting for overclockers and liquid cooler enthusiasts. However, you will hardly be able to use this cooling system in other systems or with other cards, because the heatsink is meant to be installed near the pump and liquid container. These cannot be separated to replace the heatsink with another with a different base. So this cooling system can only be installed on a graphics card with PCB layout identical to that of 9800 GTX.


A few words about our benchmarks.

In our updated FRAPS review we have illustrated how crude and inaccurate tests with this utility are. Testers do not have other tools, except for benchmarks built into games.

This article and its first part explain that it's sometimes possible to test games with integrated and identically looped demos. Although this implies lots of potential errors, since measurement accuracy depends on a given tester: whether he starts/stops FRAPS in time or does it too late/early.

But I have run across situations, when demo load changes abruptly in the very beginning or end. So a half-second delay in starting/stopping the utility changes the average FPS by 15-20%. That's not a measurement error anymore - such a test is a total waste of time. One time you delay the test, another time you start it too early (not intentionally, of course), and you end up with absolutely different performance results.

But even that's not the most important thing. The fact is, there are almost no games with built-in demos anymore. So, testers are forced to use a method that we deem totally unacceptable. They measure gaming performance by walking a straight line from the a starting point in a scene to a selected destination (the nearest fence, tree, etc.).

We all understand that it's impossible to navigate to a finish spot in precisely the same route with different cards and in different resolutions. Besides, such games always introduce random elements into a scene, and objects may be placed slightly differently on the same scene.

Unfortunately, websites that publish a huge number of tests do not always reveal their test methods for each game (except for those with built-in benchmarks).

So, we believe that it's better to offer a limited number of game tests, but each will be crystal clear, accurate and showing actual differences between graphics cards.

Both ECS Hydra 9800 GTX+ 2x512MB and Zotac GeForce 9800 GTX Zone Edition 512MB get the Original Design award.

We express gratitude to Zotac and ECS/Elitegroup Russia for provided graphics cards.
PSU provided by TAGAN, monitor provided by NVIDIA.

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Article navigation:

Page 1: Introduction, graphics cards

Page 2: Cooling

Page 3: Bundles, boxes

Page 4: Performance tests, conclusions

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