The crunch of footsteps when walking through a snowy field in ‘Assassin’s Creed 3.’ The satisfying ‘blat-blat-blat,’ of the PDW-57 in ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.’ If you’re a gamer, these sounds make the difference between a good experience and a great one.
Which is why our new flagships — the GTX 780 and GTX 770 – aren’t just powerful, they’re stealthy, too. Impressive, considering the brute power this hardware packs: the GTX 780, for example, features 2,304 Kepler GPU cores and 3 GB of GDDR 5 memory. Yet it’s significantly quieter than our GTX 680 or GTX 580.
It’s yet another example of just how obsessive we are about great gaming experiences. And it’s the result of a series of conversations between two engineers about the noise generated by fans, and when — and why — we notice it.
All too often, a graphics card’s fan kicks in when the action — and the graphics on the screen — are their most intense. That sudden change in speed creates an unwelcome distraction.
“If you hear an ambulance, you hear it right away — that’s not because it emits a solid tone, but because it modulates,” said David, one of the engineers. “The way our brain interprets sound, that modulation is something we really pick up on.”
It’s a problem that David — who studied mechanical engineering as a graduate and undergraduate at Oregon State and loves to take on his colleagues in bouts of ‘Battlefield 3’ — is passionate about. “If a GPU fan is noisy it’s going to pull gamers out of the experience,” he says. “It’s just like when a cell phone rings in a movie theater.”
So he developed an algorithm aimed at smoothing out unnecessary fluctuations in the fan’s speed. One example: the new software keeps the fan spinning at the same speed during less intense scenes so that it doesn’t have to abruptly accelerate when the on-screen action — and the GPU — heats up. “Once you’re playing that game, the fan shouldn’t change speed at all,” David said. “It doesn’t need to, so why?”
The result is a triple play. New hardware, such as a sophisticated new vapor chamber design and a longer extended fin stack help keep the GTX 780 cool. Coupled with new fan control software — and the efficiency of our Kepler GPU architecture — the result is a GPU that generates less than 45 decibels of fan noise, and fewer distractions.
We think you’ll be a fan, too.