The Inno3D GTX480 iChill Black Series graphics card is a beast, there is no denying that fact based on what we have seen. Those prepared to do a little overclocking, which we suspect will include anyone looking at buying a water-cooled graphics card, will be rewarded.
Out of the box the GTX 480 iChill Black Series is a water-cooled GeForce GTX 480 that is at best 3% faster than a standard card. Having that said, it is a hell of a lot quieter and way cooler when under load, two massive improvements right there.
As we insisted throughout the review, there is no sense in not tinkering with the card's settings and taking full advantage of the water-cooling provided. Do some overclocking of your own and you will find performance gains in the order of 10 to 20%. Holding us back on the overclocking front was the lack of voltage adjustments. This raises the concern for the lack of overclocking software support for this graphics card. In fact, it wasn't until we used the Nvidia System Tools that we received any kind of real overclocking support at all.
The MSI R5870 Lightning used for comparison in this review is a superior product in terms of design (not necessarily performance or value). MSI redesigned their product from the ground up, covering the hardware to the overclocking software, and the results speak for themselves. The fact that the Inno3D GTX480 iChill Black Series is just a reference card with a water-block slapped on makes it a little less exciting.
Performance-wise the GTX480 iChill Black Series was still faster than the overclocked MSI Radeon for the most part. Out of the dozen gaming titles used for testing, the GTX480 iChill was much faster in seven of them, Resident Evil 5 and Metro 2033 were too close to call, while the R5870 Lightning was the better performer in Battlefield Bad Company 2, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat and Wolfenstein.
Given the price premium Nvidia is asking for the GeForce GTX 480 over the Radeon HD 5870 ($500 vs. $400), we believe the latter is a better value and more practical alternative. We know that the MSI R5870 Lightning retails for a steeper $480, so how much does the Inno3D GTX480 iChill Black Series cost?
Unfortunately, at this stage the Inno3D GTX480 iChill pricing is still unclear. You won't find a card selling online just yet and it hasn't even been announced on Inno3D's website. We are lucky bastards, we will give you that. Now, Inno3D just recently announced the GTX 470 version of this card, and we are hearing they are charging a small additional charge for the specialized cooling.
We are talking less than $30, which if is indeed the case would be a no-brainer for anyone looking to buy a GeForce GTX 400 series product.
Update (5/24): We have received word from Inno3D that the price premium for the water-cooling is going to run at around $150 over the price of a GTX 480 reference card. It was too good to be true at less than a hundred dollars, so you can consider this a hefty additional charge to pay for an otherwise exceptional upgrade to this GeForce GPU.
Those looking to secure one of the fastest graphics cards money can buy, the Inno3D GTX480 iChill Black Series is a prime candidate. While it is far from the best value graphics card, this card was never meant to be. What the GTX480 iChill allows you to do is overclock the hell out of the GTX 480 GPU without cooking your entire system and without compromising stability.