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Asus V9900 Ultra - getting acquainted
Asus, one of NVIDIA's largest board partners have started shipping their Geforce FX 5800 Ultra product, known as the V9900 Ultra to distributors. We take a look at how the card performs in a wide variety of tests and comment on image quality too.

Asus are well known for their motherboards and VGA cards and it's no surprise that they were showcasing some interesting products on their large stand at CeBIT last month. The V9900 Ultra is what Asus are pinning their hopes on and like we've seen with MSI's 5800 Ultra, a lot of effort has gone into packaging and the exterior features of this card. Why? Because Asus themselves don't make the card. Their involvement with the board itself starts and finishes with putting the sticker on the ducting and putting it back in the anti-static bag.

Why is this so? Apparently because the 12-layer PCB is too difficult for board partners to manufacture at a consistently high levels of quality. It's as complex as a motherboard, or so NVIDIA say, but if we remember correctly Asus and MSI have both dabbled in the motherboard market. From talking to a number of board partners there is very little doubt that most are unhappy with the situation of the FX 5800 Ultra and especially with the number of GPUs they were presented with.

With the politics out of the way, the V9900 Ultra remains a very interesting product. Packaging for the V9900 Ultra is good, and on the front you have the quintessential futuristic image coupled with a few logos at the bottom right hand corner to show what standards this board supports. Also included on the front is information regarding the bundle of software the comes with the board. On the reverse side you have greater information about the board itself and the technologies present. Asus manage to give ample information without drowning the disconcerting buyer with techno-babble.

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The box is fairly large, and this is no surprise if you have seen a Geforce FX 5800 Ultra before. Asus have taken the cautious route and padded the box extremely well. Inside the cardboard box is a moulded foam packaging in which there are pieces cut out to hold the various items. Whilst this might sound somewhat tacky, it does a brilliant job, and although we didn't do a drop test there is no question that it's better than the packaging we saw on MSI's 5800 Ultra.

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The card is a snug fit in the slot where it doesn't move and the packaging cushions against knocks. Even the lid to this packaging is made from this hard foam which completely covers all three pods and provides further protection against problems in transit. Some of the best packaging we have ever seen from any manufacturer.

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Here we find the usual assortment of drivers, manuals, games that most people who buy this card will never touch, and the behemoth itself, the V9900 Ultra.

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Unsurprisingly the front and back of this card looks almost identical to the MSI 5800 Ultra. NVIDIA make these 12-layer PCBs and many board partners say this has led them being unable to make more creative designs. However NVIDIA counter this claim with giving examples of Gainward, with their CoolFX cooling and LeadTek with their, yet unnamed cooling solution that we snapped back at CeBIT.

We've already talked at length regarding the cooling, however it is one of the spectacles of the V9900 Ultra and we've taken some close-ups.

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Sadly Asus have done very little in quietening the fan and this causes serious disturbances when a 3D application is running. Whilst running Windows or any 2D application the fan stays off, however once an application that utilizes the 3D engine is running, the V9900 Ultra quickly becomes the loudest thing in the machine. Our test machine uses Coolermaster's new XDream SE heatsink and fan combo, and runs with the fan turned up to maximum speed (thus producing around 65dB of noise) and the V9900 Ultra can be heard above it.

There's no doubt that the FX Flow cooling technology is innovative and something different. Heatpipes are rarely seen on desktop computers and the amount of copper we see on the V9900 Ultra is comparable to that of a high-cost CPU heatsink, but the fact is, taking up 1 PCI slot and producing such noise is just not the order of the day. One hates to think what will happen to the air intake after a few months of frequent use, and how hard it will be to clear.

In the unit we were provided for this article, dust could already be seen building up on the inside of the plastic ducting. It is possible to remove the plastic ducting by unscrewing several screws however there's no doubt that the FX Flow has many shortcomings as a long-term cooling solution.

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The two slot solution looks fairly normal from the back, with all the connections being on the plane that is usually taken up with any AGP graphics card. There you have the standard 15 pin D-SUB connector, TV-OUT and DVI connector. Above that you see the two slots. On the left is where the hot air is pushed out after flowing over the heatsink, which is a folded fin copper affair. On the right is the air intake, and this is a very likely candidate for being stuck with dust after a few weeks of operation.

The card itself becomes very hot during operation. Using NVIDIA's own thermometer which is present in the drivers, we saw temperatures in the 60C degrees range when running a 3D application. We underestimated how hot the PCB becomes, almost dropping the card when removing it out of our test machine. We were only holding the edges of the PCB it goes to show how essential this extreme cooling is.

We've already discussed the technology within the NV30 many times before and in this review we are concentrating on the V9900 Ultra and specifically at FSAA tests. With that in mind, it's time to get down to work.