AMD's next-gen Radeon graphics cards will ditch blower coolers


amd radeon rdna2 cooler

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The Radeon news keeps a-coming in the wake of AMD’s portentous Financial Analyst Day. After showing off an exciting graphics roadmap and introducing a new “CNDA” compute-focused GPU architecture that could foretell big changes for Radeon’s gaming capabilities, Radeon chief Scott Herkelman took to the r/amd subreddit to confirm that AMD’s next-gen graphics cards will ditch the company’s long-held blower-style coolers.

After a keen-eyed Redditor noticed that a slide in AMD’s presentation teased an RDNA2 graphics card design with no blower (shown above), Herkelman jumped in to say the render will prove accurate in the real-world, too.

“There will be no blower reference fans for gamers on next gen,” he said via his verified account. “So you are correct.” He expanded the reasoning a bit in a follow-up post: “Our AIBs [AMD’s board partners—Ed.] may choose to do a ‘blower’ design on any of the next-gen GPUs, however, the majority of feedback we received from the community at the launch of 5700 XT on AMD reference designs has guided us towards dual/tri-axial designs. I’m excited for you all to see them when the time is right!”

dsc00594 Brad Chacos/IDG

The blower-style cooler on the Radeon RX 5700 reference edition.

AMD has said that its next-generation Radeon graphics cards, based on its next-gen RDNA2 architecture, will launch sometime this year. RDNA2 will add real-time ray tracing, variable rate shading, and a claimed 50 percent improvement in performance per watt to AMD’s arsenal. And the death of blower-style reference cards, it seems.

Nvidia and AMD traditionally used blower-style coolers for their reference designs. Blower-style coolers feature a single fan and jet the hot air from your GPU out of the back of your PC. They’re great for small form factor builds or in PCs with multiple graphics cards, and ensure that hot air won’t get trapped in a case with poor airflow, but they come with some drawbacks, as we explained in our reference vs. custom cooler breakdown:

“Blower-style designs often run much hotter and louder than coolers with axial fans that dump the hot air into your case. (Compare the Radeon RX 5700 reference card’s temperatures versus the temperatures of the Sapphire Pulse RX 5700, an affordable custom dual-axial design with a mere $10 premium.) GPUs can hit higher clock speeds at lower temperatures, so reference designs can leave potential performance on the table.”

AMD in particular has been dinged for its blower-style designs. The Radeon R9 290X was notoriously hot and loud without a custom cooler applied, as were Radeon Vega graphics cards. AMD worked hard to make the blower-style cooler on the Radeon RX 5700 much more tolerable than previous iterations—which Herkelman himself was keen to stress when he joined us on PCWorld’s Full Nerd podcast—but it still wasn’t as effective as cards with a dual-axial design.

dsc00570 Brad Chacos/IDG

Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 20-series Founders Edition cards feature a dual-axial design.

By contrast, Nvidia shifted away from a blower-style design to a dual-axial cooler for its GeForce RTX 20-series Founders Edition graphics cards. The change resulted in much better temperatures and acoustics, but left lower-cost custom cards by Nvidia’s board partners with little room to differentiate themselves from the Founders Edition models. It’ll be interesting to see how AMD-exclusive partners like Sapphire, XFX, and ASRock react with their own designs. Shifting away from blower-style coolers for reference designs is probably a net win for gamers overall, though.

Want to learn more while you wait for AMD’s next-gen GPUs? We’ve explained how AMD’s new compute GPUs could alter Radeon’s gamer DNA forever, and what the new Xbox Series X specs tell us about AMD’s next-gen Radeon graphics cards. Or, if you’re interested in what you can actually buy right now, be sure to check out our guide to the best graphics cards for PC gaming.

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