EVGA iCX Technology - Adding Thermal Sensors and Improved Cooling
The new EVGA GTX 1080 FTW2 with iCX Technology
Back in November of 2016, EVGA had a problem on its hands. The company had a batch of GTX 10-series graphics cards using the new ACX 3.0 cooler solution leave the warehouse missing thermal pads required to keep the power management hardware on its cards within reasonable temperature margins. To its credit, the company took the oversight seriously and instituted a set of solutions for consumers to select from: RMA, new VBIOS to increase fan speeds, or to install thermal pads on your hardware manually. Still, as is the case with any kind of product quality lapse like that, there were (and are) lingering questions about EVGA’s ability to maintain reliable product; with features and new options that don’t compromise the basics.
Internally, the drive to correct these lapses was…strong. From the very top of the food chain on down, it was hammered home that something like this simply couldn’t occur again, and even more so, EVGA was to develop and showcase a new feature set and product lineup demonstrating its ability to innovate. Thus was born, and accelerated, the EVGA iCX Technology infrastructure. While this was something in the pipeline for some time already, it was moved up to counter any negative bias that might have formed for EVGA’s graphics cards over the last several months. The goal was simple: prove that EVGA was the leader in graphics card design and prove that EVGA has learned from previous mistakes.
EVGA iCX Technology
Previous issues aside, the creation of iCX Technology is built around one simple question: is one GPU temperature sensor enough? For nearly all of today’s graphics cards, cooling is based around the temperature of the GPU silicon itself, as measured by NVIDIA (for all of EVGA’s cards). This is how fan curves are built, how GPU clock speeds are handled with GPU Boost, how noise profiles are created, and more. But as process technology has improved, and GPU design has weighed towards power efficiency, the GPU itself is often no longer the thermally limiting factor.
As it turns out, converting 12V (from the power supply) to ~1V (necessary for the GPU) is a simple process that creates a lot of excess heat. The thermal images above clearly demonstrate that and EVGA isn’t the only card vendor to take notice of this. As it turns out, EVGA’s product issue from last year was related to this – the fans were only spinning fast enough to keep the GPU cool and did not take into account the temperature of memory or power delivery.
The fix from EVGA is to ratchet up the number of sensors on the card PCB and wrap them with intelligence in the form of MCUs, updated Precision XOC software and user viewable LEDs on the card itself.
EVGA graphics cards with iCX Technology will include 9 total thermal sensors on the board, independent of the GPU temperature sensor directly integrated by NVIDIA. There are three sensors for memory, five for power delivery and an additional sensor for the GPU temperature. Some are located on the back of the PCB to avoid any conflicts with trace routing between critical components, including the secondary GPU sensor.
These new sensors are monitored through EVGA Precision XOC software and a new window that clearly shows positions and current temperatures. You can also track them through the logging and graphing tools including with XOC.
The fans on iCX enabled graphics cards will run asynchronously, with the left fan spinning based on the GPU temp and the right fan based on the memory and power delivery temp. Both fans can be controlled independently in the software with uniquely created profiles at the user’s discretion.
On top of the card you’ll find a Thermal Display System, a fancy name for an area where three LEDs will indicate the current temperature status of the three different location. All adjustable and customizable through the Precision XOC software, the default behavior changes between blue, green and red based on crossing different temperature thresholds. The display has a G for the GPU temp, P for the PWM and M for memory.
This gives users with windowed chassis or open air test beds an easy place to look to check on the status of their GPU and if any components are running hotter than expected. It also means that if you have a defect in your product, or you are applying too much voltage to component, you may get a heads up before any larger issues arise.
And, to be blunt, this kind of system would have made preventing last year’s ACX 3.0 issue a breeze.
The iCX Technology also includes a new cooler as well, with high-contact base plates and back plates.
Trust me, this thing touches EVERYTHING it can, including the memory, PWM componentry, and more, while integrating unique touches like interlaced pin fins in an attempt to increase cooling overall with more surface area. The back plate is split between the GPU and the PWM sections, minimizing the amount of crossover between the two sources.
EVGA has updated the primary cooler with small holes along the fins and fins that open up halfway down when contacting with the heatpipe itself. The result is air that can more easily move down over the fins and between them, improving overall airflow and reducing fan bounce-back.
A new safety fuse has been put in place on iCX designs between the motherboard and the graphics card, with a 10A rating, meant to prevent any potential damage to your graphics card from finding its way to the rest of your system. This is not a user replaceable part – when it blows you have an RMA on your hands anyway.
I don’t have like-for-like comparison data for the hardware in-house, but EVGA did provide me with this table to showcase the advantages of the new cooler and how it can improve the temperatures in all areas. GPU, memory and power delivery are all running cooler and at deltas of 1-6C.
Testing EVGA iCX
In my time with an EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 FTW2 iCX this week, everything seemed to be working exactly as EVGA had explained. The new version of Precision XOC shows the temperatures of the GPU, power, and memory directly on the first screen, taking the highest of the current readings.
Hitting the sensor button on the left reveals the detailed imagery, showing temps for all nine additional sensors. There is variance amongst the various locations on the PCB, though I tend to see that one is always hotter than the rest. For example, the memory reading to the right of the GPU is higher than the others due to its proximity to the power components. It seems likely that the software will and MCUs will always base their algorithms based on that data point, but having fallback for oddities or dead/incorrect sensors is a positive.
Despite my best efforts, at stock settings in Precision XOC, I was never able to get any of the temperature indicators to break into the “red” zones of 83C – the cooler on the FTW2 card kept everything at 75C or below even after extended use.
I did cheat a little – by lowering the “red” zones to 70C to make sure the functionality was complete, and it was; no issues to be found.
Including benchmarks or graphs here seems a little counterproductive – we don’t have identical matching ACX 3.0 and iCX card options so the performance, temperatures and clock speeds are obviously going to be different. And whether or not the new cooler has anything to do with it would be nearly impossible to tell anyway. I can say that the noise levels for both our GTX 1080 FTW2 with iCX and the GTX 1080 SC with ACX 3.0 were identical in practice.
Also, I used our FLIR One to look at the front and back of each card and didn’t see anything that stood out.
EVGA GTX 1080 FTW2 with iCX
EVGA GTX 1080 FTW2 with iCX
EVGA GTX 1080 SC with ACX 3.0
EVGA GTX 1080 SCwith ACX 3.0
The split backplate definitely has some effect in keeping the heat on one zone from spreading the other on the iCX design.
Overall I think that the new EVGA iCX Technology is the best solution for graphics card monitoring and cooling on the market today. The ability to monitor not just GPU temperature, but also VRM and memory temps, without having to add your own thermocouples or monitoring hardware, will be a great advantage for enthusiasts and overclockers that like to push the edge when overclocking. If you are curious about swapping out coolers for an AIO water cooler or even a custom water block, having access to this data is even more important to you.
The problem for EVGA is that, exceptions of specific defects aside, they have made just excellent coolers for the last generation or two of parts that the direct advantages to the average consumer are going to be low. Unless you want to be able to monitor temperatures to prevent or find failures, the ACX 3.0 cooler design is great and keeps memory, power components and the GPU at well under the recommended spec.
EVGA expects the iCX Technology and upgraded cooler to add a $30 premium to the current GTX 10-series lineups when compared to the ACX 3.0 offerings, which will continue to co-exist. For current EVGA customers that have a 10-series card with the ACX 3.0 cooler, they will be offering a one-time upgrade to the new iCX iteration for $99. Consider the cost difference and that EVGA will have to sell old cards are refurbished, that seems like a reasonable asking price.
The new EVGA iCX Technology is impressive and will likely serve as a roadmap for future GPU development from competing AICs as well as reference designs coming from both NVIDIA and AMD. If you are upgrading to a new system and GPU in the immediate time frame, then the iCX options will be great solutions. But I would imagine many of our readers and gamers would be prepared to wait for this technology integration on the next generation of graphics chips.