‘Cablegate’ is in full flow right now. Nvidia is in hot water, with increasing cases of new GPUs encountering thermal issues and becoming damaged. The situation is still developing, so this is our full summary of all the details and a timeline of events.
Nvidia’s latest flagship GPU, the RTX 4090, allegedly fell victim to a fatal flaw found in its 16-pin power adapter. So far, 23 confirmed cases (and another 6 unconfirmed) have been recorded in one Reddit mega thread (opens in new tab), with more reports landing regularly. Nvidia has responded to complainants (and some inquiring YouTubers) to say they are looking into the issue.
The GPU was released October 12with first reports appear less than two weeks later. The megathread on the r/nvidia subreddit began recording cases on October 24th, with new cases appearing almost daily. Shoutout here to the hard work of the r/nvidia moderators in compiling the list of reports and providing links to the original posts.
Essentially, the overheating issue is caused by a type of power adapter included with the RTX 4090. Called the ’12VHPWR’ adapter, it’s a 16-pin connector that allows ATX 2.0 power supplies to connect to the giant GPU via standard PCIe cables.
The 12VHPWR adapter was developed in collaboration with the PCIe Special Interest Group (PCI-SIG), a consortium of technical manufacturers that oversees the development of the PCIe connector standard. Nvidia is a key member of the PCI-SIG and used the 12VHPWR adapter for the RTX 4090 (and the upcoming RTX 4080) because the power-hungry GPU was designed to be used with newer ATX 3.0 PSUs, which are not yet widely used by PC gamers.
Earlier this year, PCI-SIG sent a memo to its member companies informing them that there could be “thermal variance” issues in a small number of cases where the 12VHPWR connector was used with high-power connectors. You can read our full analysis of PM right here. The RTX 4090 has a base operating power of 450W, which really falls under “high power” components.
What this means is that Nvidia where warned of the issue in advance, but it appears that Team Green conducted their own internal testing and concluded that the card was safe. Judging by the now double-digit number of documented cases, it is not; while no one has actually been hurt yet, concerned users have noted that the plastic in the connector is melting and the card is emitting smoke, meaning an unattended one could pose a serious fire hazard.
Why is this happening?
The exact cause of the melted power connectors has yet to be determined, which we believe is the reason for Nvidia’s relative silence on the subject – the GPU giant has not released a major public statement or security alert commenting on the overheating issue, presumably due to it trying to find the cause behind the scenes .
There is, of course, an army of tech journalists and influencers trying to replicate the melting pot. There are slightly different theories; RTX 4090 is a huge graphics cardmeaning that users with smaller PC cases have had to bend the power cable at some pretty harsh angles to get it to fit against the window panel, the argument being that this damages the cable and causes the adapter to overheat.
This theory has yet to be confirmed, and we recently learned that Corsair’s resident PSU guide JonnyGuru published a report where he suggests that the adapter being improperly inserted into the GPU may be the cause. The problem appears to be localized to users with ATX 2.0 PSUs, as ATX 3.0 models do not require the adapter.
Judging by the reports coming via Reddit, no specific third-party model of the card falls victim to melted cables; MSI, Gigabyte and Asus have all been mentioned, among others. Interestingly, none of the reported cases seem to have involved a Founders Edition card purchased directly from Nvidia.
What is being done about it?
At first glance: not much! As we noted above, Nvidia has yet to release a proper statement. In fact, Nvidia’s senior technical marketing manager said in an email to a concerned YouTuber that they were “worrying about problems that don’t exist”.
Don’t worry though, Nvidia’s actual response isn’t that flippant. The brief response we received from Team Green was this: “We are continuing to investigate the reports, but we do not have additional details to share yet. NVIDIA and our partners are committed to supporting our customers and ensuring a prompt RMA process for them.”
PCI-SIG has revealed that a revision process for the 12VHPWR connector is in place, with an expected completion date of December 20th. There is no doubt right now that Nvidia is working frantically behind the scenes with its manufacturing partners to find a solution to this issue.
Fortunately, the rest of the hardware industry hasn’t rested on its laurels. In a fit of schadenfreude, AMD has triumphantly announced that it will not use The 16-pin connector on the next generation Radeon RX 7000 graphics cardinstead opting for a pair of conventional 8-pin PCIe connectors for theirs graphics card.
Elsewhere, some manufacturers have tried to come up with their own solutions to the problem. Seasonic and CableMod have both announced they will produce right angle contacts to prevent users from bending their cables at horrible angles.
What can we do about it?
If you’re looking to buy an RTX 4090 yourself (or if you’ve been lucky enough to find one already), the chances of it catching fire are admittedly vanishingly small. While we don’t know exactly how many units Nvidia has sold, it’s bound to be quite a few – the card sold out on day one, after all – but 23 confirmed failures isn’t astronomical, although it’s not statistically insignificant either.
If you basically want to guarantee the safety of your GPU, you can pay for a new ATX 3.0 power supply, which should prevent the need to use the faulty 12VHPWR adapter. Making sure the adapter is properly connected is also a must (as per JonnyGuru’s advice) and if possible, avoid bending the cable too aggressively.
Of course, our actual advice in this situation is to simply not buy an RTX 4090. Unless you’re a Twitch streamer or a professional animator, you really don’t need a $1,599 graphics card. Hell, watching the latest Steam Hardware Survey (opens in new tab), we can see that the majority of PC gamers are still using older 1000 and 2000 series Nvidia GPUs. Our recommendation? Either wait for more cards to be released, or look for a deal on a mid-range card from the last generation, like the amazing RTX 3070.
We’ll be back to update this article with any major developments in the “cablegate” situation.
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