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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

ECS is very popular on the low-end segment, so we were really surprised to see this company launching a good high-end solution. The Hydra kit contains two GeForce 9800 GTX+ running at their default clock configuration and one Thermaltake BigWater 760is water cooler. The video cards come with the cold plates already assembled, so the only work you will have to do is to connect the hoses coming from BigWater to the video cards and fill the water tank with the coolant liquid that comes with the kit. We took an in-depth look at Hydra, check it out.

ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+Figure 1: ECS Hydra package.

ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+Figure 2: ECS Hydra components.

As we mentioned, the water cooler that comes with Hydra is a BigWater 760is, and we have already posted an article about this product. This water cooler uses two 5.25” bays and comes with everything pre-assembled: water tank, radiator, water pump, 120 mm fan and hoses. The only thing you will need to do is to install the hoses coming from the video cards and add liquid coolant, which comes with the kit. BigWater 760is has a potentiometer where you can control the fan speed – the fan glows blue when the system is turned on. On Thermaltake’s website you can find the complete specs for this water cooler.

ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+Figure 3: BigWater 760is.

Each card comes with a copper coldplate already installed. This coldplate is also manufactured by Thermaltake, being called TMG ND 3 LCS (or CL-W0119). On top of the coldplate there is a transparent duct with a 60-mm fan, which glows blue when it is turned on. Full information about the coldplates can be found on Thermaltake’s website.

ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+Figure 4: One of the video cards that come with Hydra.

[nextpage title=”Introduction (Cont’d)”]

As you may already know, GeForce 9800 GTX+ is simply an overclocked GeForce 9800 GTX. On GeForce 9800 GTX the graphics chip runs at 675 MHz, while on GTX+ it runs at 738 MHz (a 9.33% overclocking). On both cards the memory runs at 1.1 GHz (2.2 GHz DDR) and is accessed through a 256-bit interface, achieving a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 70.4 GB/s.

Hydra system comes with two GeForce 9800 GTX+ to be connected under SLI configuration.

ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+Figure 5: One of the video cards that come with Hydra.

ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+Figure 6: One of the video cards that come with Hydra, back view.

We removed the video card coldplate to take a look. As explained, this part is all made of copper.

ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+Figure 7: Video card coldplate.

On Figures 8 you can see the video card without its coldplate. It uses eight 512-Mbit Samsung K4J52324QE-BJ08 GDDR3 chips, making its 512 MB memory (512 Mbit x 8 = 512 MB). These chips can officially work up to 1.25 GHz (2.5 GHz DDR) and on this video card they are running at 1.1 GHz (2.2 GHz DDR), so there is 13% headroom for you to overclock the memories keeping them inside their specs. Of course you can always try to push them above their official specs.

ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+Figure 8: GeForce 9800 GTX+ with its coldplate removed.

This video card requires the installation of two auxiliary 6-pin power connectors, so in theory you need to have a power supply with four auxiliary cables for video cards. The product, however, comes with four adapters for you to convert standard peripheral power plugs into 6-pin power plugs, so if you power supply doesn’t have enough power plugs for video cards this won’t be an issue.

In Figure 8, you can see all accessories and CDs/DVDs that come with this video card. With the accessories that come with this card you can convert the video output to VGA and HDMI, plus the DVI and S-Video connectors already present on the product.

Hydra system comes with one full game, Tom Clancy’s Rainbowsix Vegas 2.

ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+Figure 9: Accessories.

Now let’s compare GeForce 9800 GTX+ specifications to its main competitors.

[nextpage title=”More Details”]

To make the comparison between the Hydra system and the other video cards we included in this review easier, we compiled the table below comparing the main specs from these cards. If you want to compare the specs of the reviewed video card to any other video card not included in the table below, just take a look at our NVIDIA Chips Comparison Table and on our AMD ATI Chips Comparison Table.

GPU Core Clock Shader Clock Processors Memory Clock Memory Interface Memory Transfer Rate Memory Price
GeForce GTX 280 602 MHz 1,296 MHz 240 1,107 MHz 512-bit 141.7 GB/s 1 GB GDDR3 USD 420 – 475
GeForce GTX 260 576 MHz 1,242 MHz 192 1,000 MHz 448-bit 112 GB/s 896 MB GDDR3 USD 27
0 – 300
GeForce 9800 GX2 600 MHz 1,500 MHz 128 1,000 MHz 256-bit 64 GB/s 1 GB GDDR3 USD 290 – 470
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 738 MHz 1,836 MHz 128 1,100 MHz 256-bit 70.4 GB/s 512 MB GDDR3 USD 200 – 210
GeForce 9800 GTX 675 MHz 1,688 MHz 128 1,100 MHz 256-bit 70.4 GB/s 512 MB GDDR3 USD 187 – 200
Palit GeForce 9800 GT 1 GB 600 MHz 1.5 GHz 112 900 MHz 256-bit 57.6 GB/s 1 GB GDDR3 N/A
Radeon HD 4870 X2 750 MHz 750 MHz 800 900 MHz 256-bit 115.2 GB/s 1 GB GDDR5 USD 560 – 580
Radeon HD 4870 750 MHz 750 MHz 800 900 MHz 256-bit 115.2 GB/s 512 MB GDDR5 USD 280 – 290
Radeon HD 4850 625 MHz 625 MHz 800 993 MHz 256-bit 63.5 GB/s 512 MB GDDR3 USD 170 – 190
Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2 857 MHz 857 MHz 320 927 MHz 256-bit 59.3 GB/s 1 GB GDDR3
Radeon HD 3870 776 MHz 776 MHz 320 1,125 MHz 256-bit 72 GB/s 512 MB GDDR4 USD 123 – 160

It is important to note that this table reflects the current prices for the listed video cards at Newegg.com, which are lower than the prices we published in other reviews, since prices tend to drop every day.

Since this system comes with two GeForce 9800 GTX+ cards, we are going to compare the performance of these two GeForce 9800 GTX+ in SLI mode against a single GeForce 9800 GTX+ and all the other high-end video cards listed on the above table.

According to ECS Hydra should arrive on the market by the end of August costing “below USD 600,” whatever that means. Of course it will cost more than two GeForce 9800 GTX+ as it also comes with  BigWater 760is water cooler.

Some important observations regarding this table:

  • All NVIDIA chips are DirectX 10 (Shader 4.0), while all AMD/ATI chips are DirectX 10.1 (Shader 4.1).
  • The memory clocks listed are the real memory clock. Memory clocks are often advertised as double the figures presented, numbers known as “DDR clock.” Radeon HD 4870 and Radeon HD 4870 X2 use GDDR5 chips, which transfer four data per clock cycle and thus the “DDR clock” for these video cards is four times the value presented on this table (i.e., 3.6 GHz).
  • GeForce 9800 GX2, Radeon HD 3870 X2 and Radeon HD 4870 X2 have two GPU’s. The numbers on the table represent only one of the chips.
  • All video cards included on our review were running at the chip manufacturer default clock configuration (i.e., no overclocking), except Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2. The official core clock for Radeon HD 3870 X2 is 825 MHz, while the official memory clock is 900 MHz. So this card was a little bit overclocked. We couldn’t reduce these clocks to their reference values and since we hadn’t any other Radeon HD 3870 X2 available we included this video card anyway.
  • Prices were researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review.
  • We couldn’t find Sapphire Atomic HD 3870 X2 for sale. This model will be more expensive than cards from other vendors based on the same GPU because it features water cooling. Just for you to have an idea, prices on the regular Radeon 3870 X2 are quoted between USD 240 and USD 370.

Before going to our tests let’s recap the main features from ECS Hydra system.[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

ECS GeForce 9800 GTX+ Hydra system main features are:

  • Two GeForce 9800 GTX+ video cards running in SLI.
  • Graphics chip (each card): GeForce 9800 GTX+, running at 738 MHz.
  • Memory (each card): 512 MB GDDR3 memory (256-bit interface) from Samsung (K4J52324QE-BJ08), running at 1.1 GHz (2.2 GHz DDR).
  • Bus type: PCI Express x16 2.0.
  • Connectors: Two DVI and one S-Video output (with component video support).
  • Video Capture (VIVO): No.
  • Cables and adapters that come with the product:  Two DVI-to-VGA adapters, two DVI-to-HDMI adapters, two SPDIF cables, four standard 4-pin peripheral power plug to 6-pin PCI Express auxiliary power plug (PEG) adapters and SLI bridge.
  • Number of CDs/DVDs that come with this board: Two.
  • Games that come with this board: Tom Clancy’s Rainbowsix Vegas 2.  
  • Programs that come with this board: None.
  • Extra Features: Thermaltake BigWater 760is water cooler and two Thermaltake TMG ND 3 LCS (CL-W0119) coldplates.
  • More information: https://www.ecsusa.com
  • Average price in the US:  This product will only reach the US market by the end of August. According to ECS, it should cost “below USD 600.”

[nextpage title=”How We Tested”]

During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the video card being tested.

Hardware Configuration

Software Configuration

  • Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit
  • Service Pack 1

Driver Versions

  • nForce driver version: 15.17
  • AMD/ATI video driver version: Catalyst 8.5
  • AMD/ATI video driver version: Catalyst 8.6 + hotfix (8.501.1.0, 6/21/2008) (Radeon HD 4850, HD 4870)
  • AMD/ATI video driver version: 8.520.0.0 (Radeon HD 4870 X2)
  • NVIDIA video driver version: 175.16
  • NVIDIA video driver version: 177.34 (
    GeForce GTX 260, GTX 280)
  • NVIDIA video driver version: 177.79 (GeForce 9800 GT, 9800 GTX+)

Software Used

Resolutions and Image Quality Settings

Since we were comparing very high-end video cards, we ran all our tests under three 16:10 widescreen high resolutions: 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600. We always tried to run the programs and games in two scenarios for each resolution, one with low image quality settings and then maxing out the image quality settings. The exact configuration we used will be described together with the results of each individual test.

Error Margin

We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.

[nextpage title=”3DMark06 Professional”]

3DMark06 measures Shader 3.0 (i.e., DirectX 9.0c) performance. We run this software under three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600, first with no image quality enhancements enabled – results we call “low” on the charts and tables below –, then setting 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering. See the results below.

ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 – 1680×1050 – Low Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 17557 8.24%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 16260 0.24%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 16221  
GeForce 9800 GX2 15623 3.83%
GeForce GTX 280 14904 8.84%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 14215 14.11%
GeForce GTX 260 13701 18.39%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 13355 21.46%
GeForce 9800 GTX 12759 27.13%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 11842 36.98%
GeForce 9800 GT 11471 41.41%
Radeon HD 3870 10694 51.68%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 – 1920×1200 – Low Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 17414 12.45%
GeForce 9800 GX2 15547 22.50%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 15489 33.78%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 15486  
GeForce GTX 280 14215 8.94%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 13017 18.97%
GeForce GTX 260 12668 22.25%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 12206 26.87%
GeForce 9800 GTX 11631 33.14%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 10691 44.85%
GeForce 9800 GT 10253 51.04%
Radeon HD 3870 9454 63.80%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 – 2560×1600 – Low Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 15920 12.54%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 14146  
GeForce 9800 GX2 13015 8.69%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 12315 14.87%
GeForce GTX 280 11766 20.23%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 10159 39.25%
GeForce GTX 260 9894 42.98%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 9365 51.05%
GeForce 9800 GTX 8743 61.80%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 8077 75.14%
GeForce 9800 GT 7679 84.22%
Radeon HD 3870 6823 107.33%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 – 1680×1050 – High Score Difference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 16260 16.59%
Radeon HD 4870 X2 16134 15.69%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 13946  
GeForce 9800 GX2 13900 0.33%
GeForce GTX 280 12157 14.72%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 11063 26.06%
GeForce GTX 260 10617 31.36%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 9391 48.50%
GeForce 9800 GTX 8981 55.28%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 8881 57.03%
GeForce 9800 GT 7899 76.55%
Radeon HD 3870 6915 101.68%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
3DM
ark06 Professional 1.1.0 – 1920×1200 – High
Score Difference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 15489 18.32%
Radeon HD 4870 X2 15313 16.97%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 13091  
GeForce 9800 GX2 12213 7.19%
GeForce GTX 280 10991 19.11%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 10014 30.73%
GeForce GTX 260 9450 38.53%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 8144 60.74%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 7972 64.21%
GeForce 9800 GTX 7811 67.60%
GeForce 9800 GT 6826 91.78%
Radeon HD 3870 6114 114.12%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0 – 2560×1600 – High Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 12479 14.56%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 12315 13.05%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 10893  
GeForce 9800 GX2 9829 10.83%
GeForce GTX 280 8704 25.15%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 7550 44.28%
GeForce GTX 260 7285 49.53%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 6065 79.60%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 5896 84.75%
GeForce 9800 GTX 5774 88.66%
GeForce 9800 GT 5045 115.92%
Radeon HD 3870 4319 152.21%

[nextpage title=”3DMark Vantage Professional”]

3DMark Vantage is the latest addition to the 3DMark series, measuring Shader 4.0 (i.e., DirectX 10) performance and supporting PhysX, a programming interface developed by Ageia (now part of NVIDIA) to transfer physics calculations from the system CPU to the video card GPU in order to increase performance. Mechanical physics is the basis for calculations about the interaction of objects. For example, if you shoot, what exactly will happen to the object when the bullet hits it? Will it break? Will it move? Will the bullet bounce back? Notice that we didn’t upgrade the PhysX to the latest version, which would make the physics calculations for CPU Test 2 to be made by the GPU instead of the CPU on NVIDIA video cards (since we aren’t considering CPU or 3DMark scores this change wouldn’t produce any increase in our results anyway).

We ran this program at three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600. First we used the “Performance” profile, and then we used the “Extreme” profile (basically enabling anti-aliasing at 4x, anisotropic filtering at 16x, and putting all detail settings at their maximum or “extreme” value. The combination of 2560×1600 resolution with extreme settings didn’t produce reliable results according to the program, so we aren’t going to add them here. The results being compared are the “GPU Scores” achieved by each video card.

ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 – 1680×1050 – Performance Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 11697 34.06%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 8725  
GeForce GTX 280 7695 13.39%
GeForce 9800 GX2 6990 24.82%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 6193 40.88%
GeForce GTX 260 5898 47.93%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 5651 54.40%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 4797 81.88%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 4499 93.93%
GeForce 9800 GTX 3805 129.30%
GeForce 9800 GT 3691 136.39%
Radeon HD 3870 2977 193.08%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 – 1920×1200 – Performance Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 9472 44.72%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 6545  
GeForce GTX 280 6106 7.19%
GeForce 9800 GX2 5379 21.68%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 4880 34.12%
GeForce GTX 260 4582 42.84%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 4336 50.95%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 3725 75.70%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 3370 94.21%
GeForce 9800 GT 2951 121.79%
GeForce 9800 GTX 2891 126.39%
Radeon HD 3870 2269 188.45%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 – 2560×1600 – Performance Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 5542 59.16%
GeForce GTX 280 3549 1.92%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 3482  
GeForce 9800 GX2 2910 19.66%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 2728 27.64%
GeForce GTX 260 2640 31.89%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 2382 46.18%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 2050 69.85%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 1815 91.85%
GeForce 9800 GT 1638 112.58%
GeForce 9800 GTX 1557 123.64%
Radeon HD 3870 1244 179.90%
E
CS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 – 1680×1050 – Extreme Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 8405 35.67%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 6195  
GeForce GTX 280 6005 3.16%
GeForce 9800 GX2 4858 27.52%
GeForce GTX 260 4531 36.72%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 4360 42.09%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 3567 73.68%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 3445 79.83%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 3201 93.53%
GeForce 9800 GT 2741 126.01%
GeForce 9800 GTX 2703 129.19%
Radeon HD 3870 1855 233.96%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1 – 1920×1200 – Extreme Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 6916 56.65%
GeForce GTX 280 4732 7.18%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 4415  
GeForce GTX 260 3576 23.46%
GeForce 9800 GX2 3508 25.86%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 3490 26.50%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 2753 60.37%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 2669 65.42%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 2399 84.04%
GeForce 9800 GT 2136 106.69%
GeForce 9800 GTX 2038 116.63%
Radeon HD 3870 1439 206.81%

[nextpage title=”Call of Duty 4″]

Call of Duty 4 is a DirectX 9 game implementing high-dynamic range (HDR) and its own physics engine, which is used to calculate how objects interact. For example, if you shoot, what exactly will happen to the object when the bullet hits it? Will it break? Will it move? Will the bullet bounce back? It gives a more realistic experience to the user.

We ran this program at three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600, maxing out all image quality controls (i.e., everything was put on the maximum values on the Graphics and Texture menus). We used the game internal benchmarking feature, running a demo provided by NVIDIA called “wetwork.” We are putting this demo for downloading here if you want to run your own benchmarks. The game was updated to version 1.6. The results below are the average number of frames per second (FPS) achieved by each card.

ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
Call of Duty 4 – 1680×1050 – Maximum Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 134.6 5.40%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 127.7  
GeForce 9800 GX2 106.2 20.24%
GeForce GTX 280 105.3 21.27%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 93.4 36.72%
GeForce GTX 260 91.0 40.33%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 75.7 68.69%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 72.4 76.38%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 72.2 76.87%
GeForce 9800 GTX 69.1 84.80%
GeForce 9800 GT 61.3 108.32%
Radeon HD 3870 43.0 196.98%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
Call of Duty 4 – 1920×1200 – Maximum Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 120.6 8.94%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 110.7  
GeForce 9800 GX2 94.5 17.14%
GeForce GTX 280 91.7 20.72%
GeForce GTX 260 77.1 43.58%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 76.4 44.90%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 61.3 80.59%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 59.5 86.05%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 59.1 87.31%
GeForce 9800 GTX 57.7 91.85%
GeForce 9800 GT 50.8 117.91%
Radeon HD 3870 35.4 212.71%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
Call of Duty 4 – 2560×1600 – Maximum Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 83.8 12.79%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 74.3  
GeForce 9800 GX2 64.8 14.66%
GeForce GTX 280 64.8 14.66%
GeForce GTX 260 53.5 38.88%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 48.1 54.47%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 40.6 83.00%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 39.7 87.15%
GeForce 9800 GTX 38.3 93.99%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 36.7 102.45%
GeForce 9800 GT 33.3 123.12%
Radeon HD 3870 22.4 231.70%

[nextpage title=”Crysis”]

Crysis is a very heavy DirectX 10 game. We updated this game to version 1.2.1 and used the HOC Crysis Benchmarking Utility to help us collecting data. Since we don’t think the default demo based on the island map stresses the video card the way we want, we used the HOC core demo available with the abovementioned utility. We ran this demo under three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600, first with image quality set to “low” and then with image quality set to “high.” Since all video cards achieved a number of frames per second below 10 at 2560×1600 with image details set to “high,” we are not including this test as the results aren’t reliable. We ran each test twice and discard
ed the first result, as usually the first run achieves a lower score compared to the subsequent runs since the game loses time loading files. The results below are the average number of frames per second (FPS) achieved by each card.

ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
Crysis 1.2.1 – 1680×1050 – Low Score Difference
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 125 37.36%
GeForce GTX 280 125 37.36%
Radeon HD 4870 X2 120 31.87%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 101 10.99%
GeForce GTX 260 99 8.79%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 91  
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 91 0.00%
GeForce 9800 GTX 84 8.33%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 84 8.33%
GeForce 9800 GX2 75 21.33%
GeForce 9800 GT 75 21.33%
Radeon HD 3870 71 28.17%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
Crysis 1.2.1 – 1920×1200 – Low Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 119 56.58%
GeForce GTX 280 115 51.32%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 108 42.11%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 84 10.53%
GeForce GTX 260 83 9.21%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 76  
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 76 0.00%
GeForce 9800 GTX 69 10.14%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 67 13.43%
GeForce 9800 GX2 63 20.63%
GeForce 9800 GT 61 24.59%
Radeon HD 3870 58 31.03%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
Crysis 1.2.1 – 2560×1600 – Low Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 103 110.20%
GeForce GTX 280 95 93.88%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 71 44.90%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 53 8.16%
GeForce GTX 260 52 6.12%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 49  
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 49 0.00%
GeForce 9800 GTX 44 11.36%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 43 13.95%
GeForce 9800 GX2 42 16.67%
GeForce 9800 GT 39 25.64%
Radeon HD 3870 35 40.00%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
Crysis 1.2.1 – 1680×1050 – High Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 57 103.57%
GeForce GTX 280 42 50.00%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 37 32.14%
GeForce GTX 260 32 14.29%
GeForce 9800 GTX 29 3.57%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 29 3.57%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 29 3.57%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 28  
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 26 7.69%
GeForce 9800 GX2 25 12.00%
GeForce 9800 GT 25 12.00%
Radeon HD 3870 19 47.37%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
Crysis 1.2.1 – 1920×1200 – High Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 47 123.81%
GeForce GTX 280 34 61.90%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 30 42.86%
GeForce GTX 260 26 23.81%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 23 9.52%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 23 9.52%
GeForce 9800 GTX 22 4.76%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 21  
GeForce 9800 GX2 21 0.00%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 20 5.00%
GeForce 9800 GT 20 5.00%
Radeon HD 3870 16 31.25%

[nextpage title=”Half-Life 2: Episode Two”]

Half-Life 2 is a popular franchise and we benchmark the video cards using Episode Two with the aid of HOC Half-Life 2 Episode Two benchmarking utility using the “HOC Demo 1” provided by this program. We ran the game in three 16:10 widescreen resolutions, 1680×1050, 1920×1200, and 2560×1600, under two scenarios. First with quality set to maximum, bilinear filtering and anti-aliasing set to x0. This configuration we are calling “low” on the charts and tables below. Then we maxed out image quality settings, enabling x16 anisotropic filtering and 16xQCS anti-aliasing. This configuration we are calling “high” on our charts and tables. We updated the game up to the June 9th 2008 patch. The results below are the average number of frames per second (FPS) achieved by each card.

ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
Half-Life 2: Episode Two – 1680×1050 – Low Score Difference
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 170.0 12.58%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 1
64.9
9.21%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 160.4 6.23%
Radeon HD 4870 X2 160.0 5.96%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 160.0 5.96%
GeForce GTX 260 157.0 3.97%
GeForce GTX 280 156.3 3.51%
GeForce 9800 GT 156.0 3.31%
GeForce 9800 GTX 153.8 1.85%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 151.0  
Radeon HD 3870 145.7 3.64%
GeForce 9800 GX2 136.8 10.38%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
Half-Life 2: Episode Two – 1920×1200 – Low Score Difference
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 165.0 10.74%
Radeon HD 4870 X2 158.0 6.04%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 156.7 5.17%
GeForce GTX 280 156.3 4.90%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 155.0 4.03%
GeForce GTX 260 153.0 2.68%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 149.8 0.54%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 149.0  
GeForce 9800 GTX 146.9 1.43%
GeForce 9800 GT 143.0 4.20%
GeForce 9800 GX2 135.2 10.21%
Radeon HD 3870 120.1 24.06%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
Half-Life 2: Episode Two – 2560×1600 – Low Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 156.0 6.12%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 147.0  
GeForce GTX 280 145.1 1.31%
GeForce 9800 GX2 130.6 12.56%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 129.7 13.34%
GeForce GTX 260 124.0 18.55%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 119.0 23.53%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 117.0 25.64%
GeForce 9800 GTX 107.9 36.24%
GeForce 9800 GT 96.0 53.13%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 93.9 56.55%
Radeon HD 3870 72.8 101.92%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
Half-Life 2: Episode Two – 1680×1050 – High Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 157.0 8.28%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 145.0  
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 144.0 0.69%
GeForce 9800 GTX 137.9 5.15%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 126.1 14.99%
GeForce 9800 GX2 125.4 15.63%
GeForce GTX 260 121.0 19.83%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 116.2 24.78%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 94.0 54.26%
GeForce GTX 280 89.3 62.37%
GeForce 9800 GT 80.0 81.25%
Radeon HD 3870 68.3 112.30%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
Half-Life 2: Episode Two – 1920×1200 – High Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 157.0 19.85%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 131.0  
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 124.0 5.65%
GeForce 9800 GTX 116.3 12.64%
GeForce 9800 GX2 111.1 17.91%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 106.5 23.00%
GeForce GTX 260 101.0 29.70%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 97.2 34.77%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 74.0 77.03%
GeForce GTX 280 70.3 86.34%
GeForce 9800 GT 63.0 107.94%
Radeon HD 3870 56.8 130.63%
ECS Hydra GeForce 9800 GTX+
Half-Life 2: Episode Two – 2560×1600 – High Score Difference
Radeon HD 4870 X2 130.0 182.61%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 75.0 63.04%
GeForce 9800 GTX 71.3 55.00%
GeForce GTX 260 61.0 32.61%
Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 58.4 26.96%
Sapphire Atomic Radeon HD 3870 X2 50.6 10.00%
GeForce 9800 GTX+ SLI 46.0  
GeForce 9800 GTX+ 39.0 17.95%
GeForce 9800 GX2 37.5 22.67%
GeForce 9800 GT 36.0 27.78%
GeForce GTX 280 35.5 29.58%
Radeon HD 3870 34.9 31.81%

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

It is really interesting to see ECS finally entering the enthusiast market with a good solution. If you follow our reviews, you must remember that ECS is trying to enter the enthusiast market for some years now, but unfortunately their previous attempts were products that looked cheap – the Chinese idea of a “fancy” product is a board that looks like a parade float. But this definitely isn’t the case with Hydra, which surprised us with its overall quality and presentation.

Let’s talk a little bit about the GeForce 9800 GTX+ in SLI mode before talking specifically about the ECS Hydra solution.

According to our tests with two GeForce 9800 GTX+ in SLI you get a per
formance increase between 21% and 80% on 3DMark06 (which simulates Shader 3.0, DirectX 9.0c games) compared to a single GeForce 9800 GTX+, a performance increase between 84% and 94% on 3DMark Vantage (which simulates Shader 4.0, DirectX 10 games) and a performance increase between 77% and 87% on Call of Duty 4. On Half-Life 2: Episode Two, two GeForce 9800 GTX+ in SLI achieved the same performance as a single GeForce 9800 GTX+ at 1680×1050 and 1920×1200 with no image quality settings enabled, but under other video configurations the performance difference was between 18% and 77%. On Crysis, however, we saw no performance increase, with two GeForce 9800 GTX+ achieving the same performance as a single GeForce 9800 GTX+.

Unfortunately the Hydra system failed to run Unreal Tournament 3 under SLI mode. We tried rebooting our system and running the benchmark again for six times to no avail.

Today with the price of two GeForce 9800 GTX+ you can practically buy a GeForce GTX 280, so which is better, two GeForce 9800 GTX+ in SLI or a single GeForce GTX 280?

On 3DMark06 the two GeForce 9800 GTX+ in SLI were between 9% and 25% faster than GeForce GTX 280 and on 3DMark Vantage the two GTX+ in SLI were up to 13% faster. The two GeForce 9800 GTX+ in SLI were also between 15% and 21% faster on Call of Duty 4 and on Half-Life 2: Episode Two our SLI configuration was up to 86% faster than GTX 280. Not bad at all! On Crysis, however, GeForce GTX 280 was between 37% and 94% faster.

So in most cases it is better to have two GeForce 9800 GTX+ in SLI than a single GeForce GTX 280.

We like the idea of bundling two video cards and a water cooler on a single package. But the success of Hydra will depend on the price it will reach the market. ECS wasn’t specific enough, saying “below USD 600” to us. Problem is that today each GeForce 9800 GTX+ costs USD 200, BigWater 760is has an official price of USD 190 (but can be found for USD 150 on the market) and each TMG ND 3 coldplate has an official price of USD 50. So if you’d buy these parts at retail you would spend… USD 600! So Hydra has to come with a price tag below that to make sense. Also keep in mind that the BigWater 760is that is sold on the market is more complete that the one that comes with Hydra, since it comes with the CPU block and required clips, another reason for Hydra to cost less than the cost of the parts separately.

ECS Hydra will be a good product if you want to have a water cooling solution for a cool and silent PC and are thinking about a system on the performance level under most circumstances above GeForce GTX 280.

If, however, you think only about price, than the new Radeon HD 4870 X2 will be a better choice, for being faster than two GeForce 9800 GTX+ in SLI, costing today around USD 560 – the same price range Hydra is targeted.

Radeon HD 4870 X2 was between 8% and 17% faster than Hydra on 3DMark06, between 34% and 59% faster than Hydra on 3DMark Vantage, between 5% and 13% faster on Call of Duty 4, between 32% and 124% faster on Crysis and between 20% and 183% faster on Half-Life 2: Episode Two.

The problem, however, is that the standard Radeon HD 4870 X2 heats like hell, and if you are really serious about build an excellent gaming machine you will need to buy a water cooler for it, making the final price of your video system higher than Hydra.

So whether or not ECS Hydra is a good system depends on the price it will reach the market, your budget to meet this price and your performance expectations in both gaming and thermal management. For the serious gamer it surely is a good product, but it isn’t a product that will please all users, especially for those that price is more important than heat.