In the world of enthusiast computing, we’ve come to a crossroads. Crossfire and SLI performance is such that it’s not quite worth it (yet) to run dual graphic cards, over a big single. The sacrifice many of make now is losing a slot to a dual (or even partially triple) slot graphics card. While many boards have saved costs/PCI express lanes by not putting a slot where it will be blocked by a dual slot card, there are many boards in the SFF world that lose a useful slot. In the case of M-DTX, we lose the only other slot that is available, meaning we are stuck with the onboard audio or RAID solutions, which is not always ideal.
Single slot cards have become a rarity above the low power, low profile HTPC orientated cards. Why should we be limited to such low performing cards just because we do not wish to sacrifice an expansion slot? Apart from a couple of PowerColor and Sapphire cards, the availability of mid-high end cards is incredibly minimal.It is understandable that manufacturers may think that today’s power hungry GPUs and the consumer demand for quieter products negate the need for single slot products.
With PowerColor having released a single slot AMD HD6850 (approximately 120 watts TDP) and the fact that most gamers wear headphones when gaming, these reasons are, in my opinion, nullified. In the high end, the HD6850, GTS450, GTX550 TI, and the HD7850, all come in under the 130 watt single slot cooling barrier. PowerColor also sells a full-length single slot FirePro V7900, with a TDP of 150 watts, which could bring the HD6790, HD6870, GTX460 into single slot territory.
Single slot cards available in retail
After an exhaustive search of the popular e-tailer Newegg, I have found mostly variants of the lower power, low-mid range GPUs that are available in single slot models. apart from the usual outlier PowerColor, we are limited to HD6670 and lower in performance if we wish to purchase a single slot graphics card. Interestingly enough, the range of AMD/ATI chipset cards available is much larger than the range of nVidia cards. This may be due to various limitations put on third party manufacturers by AMD/ATI and nVidia, or possibly just the demand for the products.
Thankfully, there is a full range of output types, ranging from analogue DE-15, mini display port, DVI-I, HDMI, mini HDMI and Display Port. This should cover any VDU you choose to use with the cards. DVI-I is the core output available on GPUs at the moment, and it’s pleasing to see some of the cards carrying two of these for multi-monitor usage. All of the AMD/ATI chipset cards shown above (except the XFX HD6770 VGA) support Eyefinity, enabling easy to setup and use multi-monitor layouts.
The obvious outlier in the above range is the PowerColor HD6850. Featuring DVI, HDMI and two mini DisplayPorts, this card can support full Eyefinity capability, and has the raw power to run it, too.
PowerColor has a habit of producing unique, desirable products based on ATI/AMD chipsets. From passive cooled mid-high end cards (once again their fastest is a HD6850 GPU), to the single slot and low profile solutions, with a few watercooling models thrown in for good measure.The AX6850 model in particular features 1GB of GDDR5 and runs at 775mhz.
The important feature for our purposes is the single slot cooler. While no figures are available for noise (nobody appears to have reviewed this card yet), the thin fan may be a little bit louder than your average dual slot cooling solution. The card is a full length product, at 23cm or 9?, so this may have some limitations on the chassis used. Amazingly, while the card does need a single 6-pin power cable, it is still able to be cooled by a single slot cooler with a single fan. Performance should be similar to the dual slot HD6850.
After hours on Google, Newegg, and the like, I have come to the conclusion – there are currently 0, yes that’s right, zero, aftermarket coolers for any mid-high end graphics cards. This is understandable, but not exactly preferable. With the scarcity of decent single slot GPUs in the retail channels, it would be nice to be able to replace the stock dual slot coolers with an aftermarket single slot product, without going to watercooling.
Maybe the demand isn’t there, or the manufacturers don’t see the demand.
The lack of decent high end single slot graphics cards and aftermarket solutions (outside of the catalogues of PowerColor and Sparkle) is depressing. Single slot cards can prevent the loss of useful expansion slots, enabling you to get more performance out of your rig. Most gamers use their rigs with their headphones on, so why lose performance potential over a slightly louder system? Graphics chipsets currently cope perfectly well with temperatures up to 100 degrees (if not more) so the less efficient, but smaller, coolers are still up to the task of a mid-high end GPU.We invite any graphics card or cooler manufacturer to come to the table with new solutions, as the SFF world is crying out for products like these, as our smaller motherboards and chassis are losing out with the wasted space of a dual slot GPU.