ASUS prides themselves on their non-reference design, which means it is an aspect of the card that are ASUS-designed, not Nvidia's reference release design. Most of the cheaper graphics cards are simple reference designs with minimal repackaging from Nvidia's specs. This is why you may sometimes be puzzled by two cards that look identical on paper, but one costs $10-20 more, but what you don't see are the subtle details which make a card cooler, quieter, more efficient, or perhaps more aesthetically-pleasing. The GTX 560 Ti DCUII is one of ASUS' many "fully non-reference" designs. ASUS' DCUII cooling system is a standout feature, but will cover some of the more subtle details that come together to make up the full package.
As you probably know, GPUs have lower tolerable thermal thresholds than processors, and thermal performance limitations are far easier to reach with a GPU. Additionally, ASUS' market research revealed a strong desire for an acoustically-friendly graphics card. ASUS knocks two birds out of the sky with their DirectCU II cooling system. A large heatsink and an all-metal bezel and support structure, coupled with two 80mm fans, provide a high thermal dissipation capacity. Simultaneously, the larger heatsink allows the fans to operate at lower RPMs, meaning less noise. When run at full power, they will still get very loud, but the highest fan speed we ever saw was 60%, which did become noticeable outside of the case, mostly because it was higher pitched than the other case fans.
The DirectCU II cooler is neatly packaged in a hefty, rock solid, and sleek-looking industrial design. The red accents streak over the length of the card adding some contrast, and the all-metal enclosure of the cooler provides an elegant and simple design which we appreciate. The subtle contours and lines of the enclosure add a splash of eccentricity, and the cooler surface has a pleasant diffused matte finish which looks great alongside the predominantly-black cases and PCBs we see today.
The DCUII cooler does add weight to the card, and ASUS has implemented their GPU Guard design to combat card sag, PCB stress, and stress-related performance degradation. The metal bracket along the upper edge in the picture above also helps accomplish this same task, and it adds significant rigidity to the cards which gives it a satisfying solid feel.
The SAP CAP (Super Alloy Power CAPacitor), the chips seen centered between the HSF screws, is a POSCAP which uses several high-performance capacitors mounted directly behind the GPU, placing it physically as close as possible for efficient and reliable power delivery to the GPU. This "little" detail has a number of implications. Since it is closer to the GPU, there is less resistance (less power loss/heat output) and will deliver a more stable power signal to the GPU.
The SAP capacitors themselves also have much higher capacity than reference caps, which becomes aboslutely crucial for stable power delivery when the card becomes heavily loaded, especially when water cooling or other exotic cooling methods are being used which allow for high power draw. ASUS' non-reference back-to-back design has been so successful over the past few generations that Nvidia has incorporated the same design as the reference for the uber-efficient GTX 600 series. Minimizing capacitor distance from the processor has also been validated by their employment in ASUS' best-selling motherboards.
The air is driven through the heatsink fins by two 80mm fans, with each having 9 aerodynamically-shaped blades. The fan geometry enables good overall noise-to-airflow ratios, and is paramount to the quiet operation of the cooler without sacrificing cooling capability. These will get pretty loud when dialed all the way up, as is usually unavoidable with smaller fans. As we mentioned before, the sound became noticeable at around 50% fan speed, which was only seen when overclocking and at full load. The noise wasn't particularly loud, but was noticeable due to the higher-pitch sound when compared to the other case fans. ASUS has also dust-proofed its fans to keep them spinning freely and quietly, which is an often-overlooked, yet potentially-critical design feature.
The one downfall of this cooling system is the lack of airflow directionality. Although the large rear vents will allow much of the heat to exhaust directly out of the case, much of the heat-carrying airflow will wash around the perimeter of the card, so you'll want to ensure you've got decent case airflow. However, the reduced thermal radiation level of the high-capacity cooling system means lower core temperatures, and can actually lead to lower ambient temperature increase versus rear-exhaust fan systems with reference cooling systems which run hotter, as the overall thermal radiation level is higher.
Getting under the hood of ASUS' DCUII-equipped cards is substantially easier than almost any other card, especially reference cards, which have upwards of a dozen or more screws and intricate enclosures. The DCUII cooler comes off with the removal of four spring-tensioned screws which use a basic small philips-head screwdriver. The large surface are of a GPU makes removing the cooler from the GPU core a bit of a nerve-wracking process, but patience will always prevail and the cooler will be free from the PCB.
One thing that's quickly apparent is that the black PCB has a matte finish on it, which looks much better in my opinion than the glossy black PCBs. The circuit traces are also very clean, and is another non-reference re-design that goes deeper than the surface specifications on the box. Another non-reference design ASUS proudly touts is its power delivery system, branded their " Super Alloy Power." The capacitors, chokes and MOSFETs are made from metals which are especially magnetic, heat-resistant, and anti-corrosive - translating into longer lifetimes and more reliable operation. ASUS has also developed their own power management engine, which was designed to provide real-time optimization under low and up to high power loads.
The Super Alloy Power logo is neatly stamped on the chokes, and neat heatsinks runs across the row of MOSFETs, keeping the power delivery comonents significantly cooler. The MOSFETs are the hottest part of the VRM along with the drivers, especially when bumping up the voltage. Many non-reference cards don't have heatsinks on the MOSFETs and Drivers, and this can induce instability which cripples overclock potential. Rounded corners on the PCB are a nice touch, and give the card a sleeker look, although not something that will immediately jump out at you.
The DirectCU name comes from the exposed copper heatpipes seen on many popular CPU coolers, and boosts the efficiency of dissipation from the GPU core to the heatpipes and heatsink which will wick the heat away. The base is not polished, and are left with a rather rough machined surface. However, the base is very flat, which is the important quality.
The 1GB of GDDR5 memory, made by Samsung, neatly encloses the GF114 GPU. The trace-heavy GPU-memory interface is a significant design concern, and with ASUS' design, the clean nature of the traces can be clearly seen.
Diving deeper, ASUS also has a secondary over-current protection in place, which they call Fuse Protection. There is a set of fuses which will break in the event that the over-current controllers malfunction. This design element adds a hard-wired piece of added protection, providing an extra bit of peace of mind when pushing the card. It should also be noted that the DVI ports and HDMI port are fully-shielded, something many other cards won't have, and ensures a smooth signal to your monitor and prevents unwanted signal noise from clouding images.