What does a backplate do for a GPU? How do backplates work?

A backplate is an often overlooked component for a GPU. It does not directly affect the performance of your card, but it can help to keep it cool. The purpose of the backplate is to act as an additional cooling device that will reduce temperatures by drawing heat away from the PCB and towards its surface, where it can dissipate more efficiently. 

Backplates are most commonly found in cards with large heatsinks like EVGA’s GTX 1080 FTW2 or ASUS’ ROG Strix 1080 Ti OC edition, but they’re also used in smaller form factor cards like Zotac’s Mini 1070 Ti AMP! Edition or Gigabyte’s Aorus RX 580 Gaming Box (no heatsink). 

backplate-gpu
GPU Backplate RGB

Why are backplates essential for GPUs?

The importance of a backplate on a GPU depends a lot on the card itself. One can differentiate between maintaining high overclocks and throttling for small form factor cards where there isn’t room for an oversized heatsink.

There are cases where you don’t need or want a backplate. In some cases, if you have your GPU mounted in the exhaust of your chassis, you want to draw heat out through the front, not back into it (so the hot air will exit the system). There are also cases where you might be hoping for better cooling, like when using a thin point in an open-air test bench.

However, in most cases, having one allows for better cooling. A backplate can help direct airflow around the PCB to keep it cool. It also helps protect the board from damage by dampening vibrations and reducing stress on solder joints during shipping or installation (resulting in broken traces over time).

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How does it work?

A GPU backplate is made out of metal. It has a thermal pad on the bottom, which makes contact with the GPU’s PCB to draw heat into itself. When you look at your card from above (with the fan shroud removed), it can be seen as a thin sheet covering everything except what components need to touch the heatsink. The metal is also fragile, so it doesn’t cause airflow or contact resistance problems.

A graphics card’s PCB is usually made out of bare copper traces routed together aboard. It has thermal pads lining it to draw heat away from the components and transfer it to heatsinks attached directly to the GPU core. However, metal (and any object that conducts well) acts as a heat source in itself. It warms up when in contact with high temperatures and then transfers that heat into the air around it, which cools it down again.

In this way, a GPU backplate can help minimize hot spots on the card’s PCB by drawing heat from specific components and into itself. Once it’s warmed up, the same thermal conductivity that allows it to absorb heat will enable it to transfer that heat into the other heatsink fins for dissipation.

Heatsinks are typically aluminium or copper with a thin layer of thermal pad material between the metal fins and your components. Continuous contact with features like the GPU core or memory modules can cause that material to wear down over time, reducing its effectiveness. A backplate acts as a buffer between the heatsink and your PCB, preventing any metal-to-metal contact while absorbing a lot of heat from those parts.

Backplates act as additional heatsinks that spread out heat over a larger area. It is essential to consider that most modern graphics cards use an aluminium backplate. At the same time, some (like MSI’s GTX 1080 Gaming X) also feature copper inserts to help transfer heat even more efficiently. 

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The benefits of using a backplate on a GPU

The benefits of using a backplate are pretty similar to what you get with using the heatsink compound.

  • It helps conduct heat away from components more efficiently, allowing them to maintain higher stable clock speeds for longer while also preventing thermal throttling.
  • It can help reduce electrical resistance between metal fins, resulting in less airflow through the heatsink itself. Once again, this would allow your GPU to run at higher clock speeds while maintaining safe temperatures.
  • It can also prevent PCB damage, either from shipping (which causes stress on components) or improper installation (where a GPU could be dropped and put pressure on the board itself). It acts as a layer of protection between your card and whatever else it encounters in its life.

What’s the downside of using a backplate?

We have already studied the backplate of a GPU and its benefits. Now it’s time for its downsides. The main drawback is that they’re made out of metal, affecting airflow. The backplate itself acts as an additional heatsink (increasing overall heat), but it also causes turbulence that inhibits cooling where there would otherwise be unobstructed airflow. That’s especially true if you look at the whole picture and include the fan itself.

On top of that, if you think about what a backplate does, it becomes clear that there has to be some tradeoff. A GPU backplate is designed to prevent damage but also causes more thermal resistance. It’s meant to protect your PCB and prevent airflow around the GPU area – which could contribute to higher overall heat.

There are also installation issues that could arise, depending on the design of your GPU cooler and how it fits with your chosen backplate. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here – you might need to do some research before purchasing a suitably rated part for your model or even find aftermarket alternatives.

Types of backplates available today

There are various GPU backplates available on the market today, with more being added as new graphics card models come out. There’s also quite a difference between reference and third-party designs.

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The most common type covers the entire PCB, including the critical components, but not touching those parts or having any direct contact. That makes removing the heatsink, or thorough cleaning is much easier to remove when you need to do some essential maintenance. However, if you look at most reference designs and even older models from companies like MSI and ASUS, you’ll see that they have direct contact with critical components on the back of your GPU. It can wear down over time and could cause additional problems.

The second type is a smaller, more specific GPU backplate that only covers the area around your graphics card’s VRM and RAM slots. It allows you to add an extra layer of protection without creating any interference with airflow or other components. It is especially true if you look at reference models designed for that specific purpose.

The third type of GPU backplate is the one that covers everything other than your PCB but also goes beyond what a reference design might look like by adding copper inserts to help improve thermal conductivity at crucial points on your board. Both MSI and ASUS designs are authentic, though only MSI uses actual metal.

The fourth type is designed to help lower VRM temperatures by acting as a heatsink that transfers heat away from the board. It is done with MSI and ASUS designs, though they approach it slightly differently. MSI uses what looks like a standard backplate paired with an additional insert, while ASUS has decided to forgo the standard backplate entirely and design their own.

When should I get a backplate installed on my GPU?

If you’ve already got a reference design, it’s probably worth getting one installed even if you pay the premium to have someone do it for you. You can always tell not to bother with the backplate if you find it impacts your GPU’s cooling capabilities (by causing turbulence around the fan and preventing proper airflow).

For third-party designs like the ones from MSI and ASUS. If you’re buying a new GPU and want it protected, then, by all means, go ahead and get one installed before shipping out your card. That said, installation isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds or as easy as we’d like for it to be.

Summary

A GPU backplate is an additional piece of hardware that helps protect your graphics card from damage. It also can improve cooling by reducing turbulence around the fan and helping airflow through the area. However, this largely depends on how it interacts with other components like heatsinks or water blocks. If you’re looking for a way to reduce wear-and-tear over time without adding any physical contact, consider using a smaller backplate that only covers critical points in your board’s VRM section – but be mindful if installing yourself!

Frequently Asked Questions

Do all GPUs have backplates?

Technically no, a GPU backplate is a separate component that a manufacturer could include in their design.
However, GPUs with backplates typically have increased heat dissipation and cooling ability. The high-performance GPUs have more heat-generating components built into them, which all work at maximum capacity during intense gaming sessions. In other words, it’s essential for those designing these computer chipsets to make sure they also develop the chip appropriately and create an effective cooling system.

Is it necessary for every GPU?

No, not. There are plenty of cards that don’t have them, either because they are low profile or don’t require one.

Do some GPUs require the addition of a backplate for optimal cooling efficiency?

Generally Yes,
A backplate is often used, and its purpose is to allow for unobstructed airflow. A GPU can be an incredibly demanding device for cooling because the GPU block on the card, which has many densely packed integrated circuits nearby, generates a relatively high amount of heat that radiates outward from the card. Some cards don’t use a backplate for this reason – they use their printed circuit boards as both the heatsink and protective barrier against outside elements. 
In general, however, most GPUs require either an active cooling solution or an enclosure with appropriate airflow throughout your system to run efficiently and fast enough for graphic design applications such as Photoshop.

Do you believe it is better to use aftermarket or stock backplate, and why? 

In this case, at least, the truth is that there are pros and cons to each. Stock backplates do not allow for customization on any level, so an aftermarket backplate will, by definition “better” than a stock one. They differ most in their obstructive properties, such as their volume and weight distribution. It comes down to what obstructive comforts constitute more benefit than detriment for someone’s use while gaming. And while some may say that an aftermarket one might be better while some may claim the opposite, it just boils down to preference and usage habits or personal taste.

 


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