As time progresses older video cards are hard to find new products to test with. So it was about time I gave up on trying to find coolers to fit my aging GeForce GTX 470's and move up to a more relevant GPU to today's offerings and thanks to HIS, I now have an AMD Radeon HD 7950 to abuse to no end with what is now and soon to be available in cooling technology.
As soon as I got wind of the new video card arrival, I went to a few companies to see what was out and about in the cooling world for my card to run with. The first to step up was EK Water Blocks or EKWB. I have had the pleasure of using one of their blocks on a GTX 470 and compared to the Danger Den blocks I run, the EK block seemed heavier, a bit more professionally done and it even cooled the card in question a few degrees cooler. So, I thought why not give them a crack at cooling my HD 7950.
After a few emails back and forth, the deal was struck for me to receive a fair bit of kit from EK that includes the EF-FC7950[EN] full coverage GPU water block. I did ask for the EK-FC7950 Backplate, but then EK wanted me to have a look at the EK-Ekoolant as well and even threw in a t-shirt so that I can take a bit of EK with me anywhere I go. I will say this, so far in my dealings with EK, I have to say they are on top of their game and treated me very well with the back and forth banter in emails and the speed in which this sample was delivered. It really seems there is no messing around with EK, its all business to deliver a top notch product.
Today I am going to be mounting the EK-FC7950[EN], nickel plated copper block with its plexi and stainless steel cover, the EK-FC7950 black backplate and I will be running with the EK-Ekoolant they have provided to my HIS HD 7950 IceQ Turbo video card.
This is going to be a bit lengthy to get through all the parts and components, but I think the results found at the end are well worth the wait while you read up on what EK has to offer those that are using a similar video card.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
I know the captured image is a lot less of a chart than it is an inclusion list and a bit of additional information. From what I could find on the EKWB site this is the best they had to offer, so after reading what is in that image we can get to the details of the EK-FC7950[EN] as well as the other included goodies.
The [EN] at the end of the EK-FC7950 name denotes that I have the electrolytic copper block that has an electro-less nickel plating applied to all of the copper surfaces after the block is milled. This is a full cover block, so the GPU, memory and VRM are all actively cooled with this block as well. Flipping the block over, since mine has the "plexi" or acrylic top, you can see most of what is going on above the block. Water enters the block through a G1/4" threaded fitting, passes through nineteen slits cut into the block to cool the GPU. Once through that the coolant travels into the acrylic top, under a stainless steel plate to cool the VRM, while all this time actively cooling the memory ICs as well. The coolant then returns through the acrylic top back into the nickel plated block on its way to exit the other side of the block.
As for the additional goods sent along, I asked for the EK-FC7950 Backplate to add strength to the PCB as well as the fact that it offers passive cooling for the VRM section on top of the PCB. I was also shipped a pair of 1000mL bottles of UV blue EK-Ekoolant to use for testing. This coolant is made to help fight the issues they had with plating last year as well as being anti-corrosive with mixed metals it has anti-algae additives as well. I wasn't given any fittings or barbs and even though they recommend the use of their own parts, the BitsPower parts I had on hand worked just fine. I also got a t-shirt with their name and logo on it, just to add a bit of swag to the box.
There are plenty of locations over the pond to obtain this block; even EK is selling them for €94.94 including VAT. Looking around I see that it does pay to shop around on that side of the ocean as well; I see this block listed as low as €74.87 inc. VAT. As for the people on this side of the Atlantic, I will say choices are quite a bit slimmer and the cheapest I could find was a $116.10 listing at Aquatuning, but that doesn't include anything, tax or shipping where applicable.
Be prepared to spend a bit more to get this block, but I think by the time we see what is all involved with the EK-FC7950[EN] and the other components along with the thermal results, you will find it is well worth the initial investment.
Starting off with the water block packaging we get the block in the typical packaging from EK. The grey hexagonal pattern over a black background with orange highlights is the same as it was when I last used an EK block. What has changed is the EN sticker for the nickel plating and the block itself.
The block I asked for is the EK-FC7950, but I also requested the nickel and plexi combination to have a very aesthetically pleasing and excellent cooling experience all in one.
This side of the sleeve that covers the inner box again houses the information on the blocks name, type and coating of the included water block.
On the orange inner box ends that stick out of the sleeve, there are icons for all of the parts groups that EKWB has solutions for next to the EK logo.
The other longer side is mostly the hexagonal design, but at the right end of it, there is the company information with phone numbers and web addresses to get into contact with EK if the need should arise.
Once you slide off the sleeve that wraps the orange inner packaging, EK explains a bit on how you must be an expert to install this, their disclaimers and the warranty information for the included block.
Opening the inner packaging you are greeted by some paperwork with a bag tucked inside of the folds that contains the needed screws and silicone pads to get the EK-FC7950[EN] mounted to my video card.
Removing the paperwork and hardware you are then shown that you may have not thought of everything you need to get this block installed. EK offers categories of what they offer and provide links as to where to look at these parts. Under this flap, between two layers of foam, is where the block is actually located.
EK-FC7950EN Full Cover GPU Water Block
The block is also protected with a cellophane sleeve to keeps any scratches or oxidation from getting to the block.
On the back, where the flap folds over, there is a tamper-proof sticker assuring you nobody has touched anything to the black after assembly and any possible testing.
I went with this combination because what is the point of a nickel plated block if you can't see it through the clear acrylic top? You can see cut-outs for caps and chokes, the EK logo over the GPU core cooling fins and the stainless steel plate that allows water to flow from the GPU and memory portion of this block over to the PWM section of it.
On the side of the block you will find a pair of tamper-proof stickers showing that the top has not been removed from either section of this block. I will be tampering with these soon.
This is where you can see this is essentially two separate blocks with the steel plate covering the pass-through of the acrylic to each block. The left side will be cooling the PWM and the right side handles the memory and GPU heat loads.
Once I pulled the nine screws and removed the stainless steel plate you can see how the coolant is forced out of the GPU and memory section, through the acrylic and over to the PWM block. The combination of screws and washers work well to keep leaks at bay through this transition.
I also removed the acrylic top off of the GPU section to show you an up close shot of the grooves cut into the copper block that will be doing most of the heat removal on this side of the block. These nineteen slits and the large pass-through holes allow for the high flow nature of the EK-FC7950[EN].
EK-FC7950 Backplate and EK-Ekoolant
The Ek-FC7950 black backplate ships in a bubble wrap envelope that gets folded snugly around the plate, taped on the back and the product sticker applied to this side.
The top of the backplate has a circular milled finish with countersunk holes to mount this to the video card and water block. Under the cut out logo, the top also shows "FC7950" etched into the plate.
The underside of the backplate is milled in many directions to allow the tool to level the plate as well as cutting away areas for the PWM at the left end and screw head and resister clearances made in the right end of it.
Since the backplate does passively cool a strip of PWM chips on top of the PCB, EK labels this as a potential hot surface when the video card is under load.
The 1000mL bottles of EK-Ekoolant are a pre-mixed solution for mixing metals in your cooling loop. It also states that this is not to be mixed; you just use it straight out of the bottle, no need to cut it with distilled water or anything.
There are some warnings to this product even though it is highly bio-degradable. So if you get any in your eyes or try to gargle with this, you may want to rinse the area and if a reaction comes of it, seek medical assistance. They almost make it seem like this stuff is evil with all of that.
On a lighter note we see that this fluid is slightly electrically conductive, has a low freezing point, two year shelf life, it's ROHS compliant when made and is mostly bio-degradable. EK also covers that this Ekoolant has anti-corrosive and anti-algae additives and is also UV reactive under a black light.
Accessories and Documentation
This is the hardware that accompanies the EK-FC7950[EN] block. There are white plastic washers and 4mm M3 screws to secure the block to the video card. Under those is an Allen wrench to use with the two outlet caps. There are also adapters and an extra pair of washers to work with them. On the right is an assortment of 0.5mm thick silicon padding for the memory (the longer, skinny strips) and the large pad needs cut down to fit the PWM area of chips.
The fold out single sheet of instructions is very clear and precise as to what needs to be done to prep the naked video card. It covers the measurements of the pad dimensions for the memory ICs and shows you along with a text description of where it all goes.
The back side is where you start thinking about adding the block. They cover the mounting at the top and even remind you of where not to add screws if you have the backplate to install. It then moves on to how the caps and spacers work for installation of both, if they are needed in your loop at all.
There was also this notice shipped with the block. This is pretty much what they expect users to do or think about when using the nickel plated blocks. Since they had issues before, these measures should assure the nickel plating stays in place for a long time to come.
The EK-FC7950 Backplate also needs some hardware to secure it. With the plate ships more M3 screws and washers and the Allen wrench to install them. There is also a strip of 0.5mm thick silicon padding to use with the plate to cool the PWM area on top of the PCB. On the right is a pair of Phillip's head screws that screw through the end of the PCB into the plate from the underside.
Even for the backplate installation, EK couldn't have made things easier for the user. The instruction sheet contains all you need to know to prep the plate and where the locations of all of the mounting holes are on the top side of the plate.
Flipping the paper over you now see which screws go into the EK-FC7950[EN] and the pair of screws near the power connections, even down to the placement of the plastic washers to keep the plate from shorting out the video card.
Test Subject and Installation
The victim of the torture I will be trying to deliver to the EK-FC7950[EN] is this video card supplied by HIS, my shiny and new HD7950 IceQ Turbo with a reference PCB design, although this version does have the blue colored PCB.
With this card, both the cooler and the support frame for the card must be removed to allow the EK solution to sit correctly with the card. Since I also have the backplate, the removal of the support frame is of little consequence here.
As per the instructions I cut the 0.5mm thick silicone and applied it to the memory ICs and the PWM area to the right. At this point I am ready to install the block portion of this assembly.
Since I was applying thermal pads, I figured I should go ahead and prep the backplate with the strip to keep the PWM circuitry on top cool as well.
I jumped ahead, added some TIM to the core and went ahead and set the four screws that hold the water block in place until you get to the mounting of the backplate.
This shot is just to show that this is a single slot cooling solution and is why EK also offers a replacement bracket to free up unused slots inside of the chassis.
The EK-FC7950 Backplate is held in place with four screws that have beveled heads to fit down in the countersunk holes for a clean finished look. There is a pair of screws holding the right side to the PCB from underneath making for a very strong sandwich to keep the PCB straight under the weight of this block and backplate combination.
Once installed you can see that some concessions had to be made for clearance reasons, but even so, the cut-away in the block with the acrylic covering the caps and chokes looks kind of cool.
There is one other such place on the block where this was done, right between the pair of stickers on the side of the block.
All that was left was to set up the loop, add the Ekoolant and add some power to the system. I have to say that the UV blue coolant looks really nice against the nickel plating as it passed through the EF-FC7950[EN].
Thermal and Audio Results
To obtain the results you are about to see in the charts I used a combination of Unigine Heaven Bench 3.0, GPU-Z and the HIS iTurbo software to overclock, measure temperatures and provide the stress load to heat up the components of the Radeon HD 7950 IceQ Turbo used in these tests. Keeping an ambient temperature of between 24.5° C and 25.5°C the HD 7950 was booted an allowed to sit idle for 10 minutes before I opened GPU-Z to read the measurements, even there I allowed the graphs to fill up completely before I used those temperatures for idle results. For the loaded testing, stock and overclocked, I used Heaven Bench with the setting in the image below and ran the program for roughly 30 minutes to get to the maximum temperature that the video card would produce.
To give the card the most abuse I could derive from this test, I was sure to maximize the tessellation and the AA and AF settings to make the video card produce the best quality image and maximize the power. Resolution makes little difference in the maximum temperatures, so I ran in windowed mode to get screen captures with GPU-Z to back up my work.
Getting right down to it, we can see that there is little difference in the idle temperatures, but there was a little bit of heat dump coming from the CPU in the loop as well. With just the video card alone in a loop, I think I could have seen 27°C at idle, but 29°C is fine with me at this point.
When we added the stress to the GPU with the EK-FC7950[EN] in place we see a huge difference in results. With the stock fan profile controlling the fans slope, at stock I got to 63° and when overclocked I hit 70° with the IceQ Turbo fan. On water with this EK product we got a 26° drop at stock and a 29° drop when overclocked.
As for the audio results, these are very subjective. For my results I was idling at 25 dB and with 12V to the fans I had 45 dB from the Noctua NF-F12PWM fans I use. Most users will go for higher RPM fans with good static pressure, but very few can deliver the performance and stupidly low audio results that these fans deliver from Noctua.
Let's start back at the beginning. The packaging is nice, secure and definitely catches your eye. The parts, hardware and instructions included showed up perfect, it even has extra hardware and is well thought out from beginning to end. While EK recommends only experts try to assemble this block to their video cards, I found that as long as you can read and follow instructions, there is no way to fail installing the EK-FC7950[EN], EK-FC7950 Backplate, or even using the EK-Ekoolant. HIS makes a video card that is very easy to disassemble and EK makes a full cover block that is just as easy to install. While this is a weighty combination, I think the results justify that.
For those of you wondering about the nickel plating, I had and still have no issues with this block. I went with their recommendation of using the Ekoolant and never looked back. I didn't notice anything unusual in the fine inspection I gave the block once I removed the acrylic top and could see it all right in front of my face.
With the combination of a copper radiator, the nickel block and the stainless steel plate on this block, I took the advice of the manufacturer to use a pre-mixed coolant specifically for these loops rather than my usual distilled water I tend to fill my loops with. The best part about using the UV reactive, blue coolant, is that I get to see the contrast between the coolant and the nickel block as it runs through the EK-FC7950[EN] under the acrylic top.
Since this is my first cooling sample specifically for this HD 7950, I want to be a little reserved in the award I deliver, just in case something better comes along. The thing is the $116 price for the block is very reasonable for the results delivered in the testing. Most aftermarket air coolers are going to cost near the price of this block and I am sure air cooling isn't going to come close to what I got with the EK-FC7950[EN] in terms of performance numbers. The backplate is going to cost extra and is more for structural support than it is to cool the PWM. My backplate never even got warm to the touch throughout the testing.
Assuming you already have a loop and are currently shopping for a water block for your reference Radeon HD 7950, EK delivered a terrific solution, so much so that I can't hold back from giving them the Editor's Choice Award, even before I see other submissions.