Hardwired: How to boost your GPU performance with Corsair’s HG10

As is always the case with the launch of a new GPU generation, the second-hand market sees a huge influx of previous-generation graphics cards. It’s how many PC gamers, but mostly enthusiasts, stay ahead of the system requirements of the latest games, which are becoming increasingly more demanding.

Right now, near the middle of 2017, we have a situation where, despite recent price drops from NVIDIA with the 1000 series graphics cards, they may still prove inaccessible to most people. For instance, even the cheapest GTX 1070 available locally is around R6,200. The power you get for that price is phenomenal, but for most people that’s simply too much cash to part with in exchange for a graphics card.

If you’re in the process of buying or building a new computer, R6,200 is a lot to spend on a single component and it’s likely going to be one of (if not the) most expensive components within your system. This is where the second-hand market may prove useful to you.

As always, exercise caution and common sense when dealing with classified ads and such. That aside, there are plenty of 900-series graphics cards that can be picked up for a fraction of the retail price they carried in late 2015 and early 2016. Better yet, if you’re already the owner of a GTX 980 / 980 Ti or TITAN X, you can still breathe some life into your system’s performance using nothing more than a GPU AIO bracket like the Corsair HG10.

If you’ve not looked at the performance figures supporting this claim, know that the gains in performance are massive. It’s difficult to imagine you could get these sorts of gains from a simple cooler upgrade, but it’s possible and attractively convenient. In isolation this is a worthwhile upgrade, but what could make it even better is if you were already planning on upgrading your CPU cooler in favour of an AM4-compatible unit, for example. With the Corsair HG10, you could relegate your current Corsair Hydro H60/70/80 (or 110 if you’re willing to go that far) to exclusively cool your GPU, while the new cooler would be used for the CPU.

Picking up the bracket and a second-hand GPU such as the GTX 980 Ti should set you back R5,500 at most. Now, you may be thinking, “Why not just buy one of the cheaper GTX 1070 graphics cards then?” Well, there’s an obvious answer to that: a well-cooled and overclocked GTX 980 Ti or TITAN X will net you better performance than the 1070.

In this particular instance, we didn’t use the GTX 980 Ti but the NVIDIA TITAN X graphics card instead. It actually delivers slightly lower performance than the GTX 980 Ti out the box (purely because of thermals), so your mileage will probably be even better with the more readily available 980 Ti.

The Maxwell GPUs, despite their massive improvements in performance per watt compared to Kepler-based models, are still based on the 28nm node and the thermal limitations of that are readily observed in this generation of processors. Effectively cooling these GPUs can net you all sorts of previously unattainable performance gains.

Obviously it makes no sense to go out and buy a new Hydro cooler, a bracket and a R6,000 graphics card with this same goal in mind, as you’ll end up spending in the region of R7,500 when it’s all said and done, which isn’t sensible. However, if all you need is a bracket, then it’ll set you back less than R1,000. With just your older Corsair Hydro cooler and this bracket, you can kick that GTX 980 Ti or vanilla GTX 980 into high gear, delivering performance that will see you well into 2018.

As stated previously, the card chosen for this project was the GeForce TITAN X. It’s not as easy to find in the second-hand market, but it illustrates like no other the gains that this bracket will net you. The TITAN X in question roared into current-generation performance levels with this modest upgrade. If you do come across this card in the second-hand market for a reasonable price, pick it up. You can turn it into one of the fastest graphics cards available at present, eclipsing the mighty GTX 1070 in every game and synthetic test there is.

As always, these brackets work only with reference cards and these should be even cheaper than the third-party cards of the time. The TITAN X only ever showed up in reference form, thus you’re guaranteed compatibility with it.

So now it’s time to take a look at what this simple addition to your gaming rig can do for its performance. Since this is about getting peak results, the testing was done on an overclocked Intel Core i7 Z270 system, which has enough grunt to push the GTX TITAN X to its peak performance where it matters: in the games you play.

Test system and hardware

  • Intel Core i7 7700K @ 5GHz
  • ASUS Maximus IX APEX
  • Corsair Vengeance DDR4 3,200MHz 2 x 8GB
  • Corsair Neutron XTi 480GiB SSD
  • Corsair HX1000i PSU
  • Corsair Hydro H80i v2, H110i GT
  • Windows 10 x64

As you can see from the results in the images above, the performance is fantastic compared to the baseline figures of the regular TITAN X. Performance gains in GPU-bound situations are as much as 23%, and that’s at 2560×1440 resolution.

The numbers speak volumes for just how much latent performance is still attainable within these GPUs. When one averages the performance gains, the TITAN X at the given clock speed of 1,480MHz and 3,800MHz (memory) delivers performance that sits squarely between the GTX 1080 and the GTX 1070 – far exceeding what the TITAN X was ever supposed to achieve.

Performance alone isn’t all there is to this tale, as it’s a direct result of lower operating temperatures. The maximum load temperatures as you can see are capped at 60 °C under multiple loops of the intense HWBOT Unigine Heaven Xtreme preset. This load isn’t indicative of games though, so the real-world load temperatures will likely be closer to 55 °C. That’s a far cry from the standard 84 °C, which would sometimes see the GPU clock down to as low as 1,138MHz. That’s a 24 °C drop in temperature at max load, essentially making the TITAN X a new graphics card.

There are, however, some important things to keep in mind should you choose to go this route. These have nothing to do with the bracket or the graphics card, but rather the fans Corsair ships with their Hydro coolers. They’re loud, and in fact almost unbearably noisy at full speed. This can be easily remedied by adjusting the fan speeds, but the challenge may be controlling them as it’s either through your motherboard fan headers or via Corsair Link (assuming you don’t have a dedicated fan controller). Obviously you always want to have primary control via your motherboard at worst, but this has implications such as using up most headers on the board. My suggestion is to invest in fan splitters, as they’re affordable and will save you plenty of headaches. Use one Corsair Link cable and connect all four fans to it. It’s an inelegant solution, but one that works well. Alternatively, you could go with the Corsair Commander if you have the money to spare.

Overall, the HG10 has always been an interesting and rather obvious upgrade, but for some reason it’s not as appreciated as it should be. The performance gains are perhaps harder to see with more readily available cards such as the GTX 970. This graphics card runs cool as is, and by and large the partner cards already offered near-peak performance where the limit was the silicon rather than the cooling. Where thermals truly make a difference is with the GTX 980 Ti and the TITAN X, as we’ve shown here. Remember as well that with the TITAN X configured in this manner, it provides not only better performance than the fastest GTX 980 Ti ever made (the GTX 980 Ti K|NGP|N Edition), but it really represents the best of the Maxwell GPU architecture, proving that it’s still relevant today by handling any game thrown at it with ease, regardless of the settings. It also provides perfect game performance for QHD monitors, and perhaps for some ultra-widescreen gaming as well.

While I used the TITAN X, there are plenty of GTX 980 Ti GPUs around that were “abandoned” as enthusiasts and high-end gamers alike jumped ship to Pascal. These 980 Ti cards are subject to the same performance leaps you’ve seen here, so they are most certainly worth considering.

Ultimately, you’ve nothing to lose by getting the HG10 for your current Maxwell-based GPU or future one from the second-hand market. It could be one of the cheapest, but most effective upgrades you’ll make for your gaming performance. A number of online retailers still have these available in SA and it’d be a shame to not take advantage of them. It’s a simple bracket, but it holds so many possibilities, and as you saw with the results, can propel a graphics card from one generation to the next.

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