Fan NoiseIn past years, users would accept everything for a little bit more performance. Nowadays, users are more aware of the fan noise and the power consumption of their graphics cards.
In order to properly test the fan noise that a card emits, we use the Bruel & Kjaer 2236 sound level meter (~$4,000). It has the measurement range and the accuracy we are looking for.
The tested graphics card was installed in a system that was completely cooled passively. That is, passive PSU, passive CPU cooler, passive cooling on the motherboard, and on a solid state drive.
This setup allows us to eliminate secondary noise sources and test only the video card. To be more compliant with standards like DIN 45635 (we are not claiming to be fully DIN 45635 certified), the measurement was conducted at 100 cm of distance and at 160 cm off the floor. The ambient background noise level in the room was well below 20 dBA for all measurements. Please note that the dBA scale is not linear but logarithmic. 40 dBA is not twice as loud as 20 dBA. A 3 dBA increase results in double the sound pressure. The human hearing perception is a bit different, and it is generally accepted that a 10 dBA increase doubles the perceived sound level. The 3D load noise levels were tested with a stressful game, not with Furmark.
Noise levels in idle are clearly too high. It looks to me like the fan settings in the BIOS have not been properly optimized to the card's cooling capabilities and its idle heat output. AMD did their homework there since their GHz Edition reference design is super quiet in idle.
Under load, the card is much quieter than the AMD HD 7970 GHz edition, which sounded like a leaf blower. Good job here, HIS. However, cards from NVIDIA typically end up being less noisy. The GTX 690 emits slightly less noise, but is much faster. Custom designed GTX 680s (not listed here) are also very quiet, so consider that if you are looking for a low noise and high-end graphics card.