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.