The Nothing Card

HIS iClear card

The above-pictured object is an HIS iClear Card. And I don't know what it does. It was brought to my attention by a reader who suspects it has no function at all. I think he may be right.

According to the iClear Card's product page on the HIS site, it, and I quote verbatim, "is HIS latest solution to video card noise reduction. It has an excellent implement of state-of-the-art design and technology and give you a better gaming experience by reducing the distortion and noise generated from graphic card. It reduces the noise distortion generated from high-end graphic card (from both Radeon and GeForce) or TV tuner card, which provide up to 10% increase performance on Signal-to-Noise Ratio."

And they go on. Apparently it has "State-of-the-art design". But if you look at its specifications page, the only spec it seems to have is a name.

I suppose the "state of the art" part is because it plugs into a PCIe x1 socket, not boring old PCI. It's a bit hard to see in the picture, but I think it also has contacts for all of the PCIe x1 pins, too. But all it seems to have to connect to any of those pins are six capacitors and a few tiny surface-mount components, all sitting in the corner of an otherwise empty rectangle of fibreglass.

So I suppose it's meant to be a power supply smoother, or something. It's within the bounds of possibility that noisy DC input could have some sort of effect on the performance of a video card, if only making it less overclockable; putting a few more caps across the input rails would help with that. But many modern video cards get most of their power directly from the system PSU; hanging some caps across the PCIe power rails won't make any difference to that.

And I'm entirely at a loss regarding how this has anything to do with "noise reduction". Most PCs these days have a 100 per cent digital data path for the video subsystem, so there's no need for noise reduction at all. Software tells the graphics card what to do, it figures out what colour all of the pixels should be, and then it communicates that information to a monitor via a digital link. "Noise" doesn't enter into it, here; if there's enough noise to actually affect even one pixel of the signal, the result will probably be a completely blank screen or a hideous mess. The effect of noise in digital systems is either zero or catastrophic; there's nothing in between.

Perhaps the iClear Card is s supposed to make analogue "VGA" video less noisy. But I've never seen even VGA video that actually was noisy. I've seen distortion from cheap VGA extension cables and blurriness from the inescapable failure of CRT screens to display square pixels on their non-square phosphor, but not noise.

Alexey Samsonov at Digit-Life spoiled the fun by actually reviewing the iClear, testing it in the one application where it'd have the best chance of doing something - when a low-quality analogue TV tuner card is trying to tune a weak signal, but a video card a couple of slots over is emitting RF noise and making it difficult.

And lo and behold - the iClear actually did something!

For almost the entirety of almost every signal-to-noise-ratio graph in the review, the "without iClear" and "with iClear" lines are right slap bang on top of each other. But here and there, at certain frequencies, the without-iClear line actually does dip below the other one. In a couple of places, by as much as three decibels. And it never goes above the other line, which suggests that the differences aren't just experimental error.

I'd be interested to see what happened if you just plugged a completely blank card into the slot between the video card and the tuner, though. As long as the card has a ground plane and one lousy contact hooking that sheet of featureless copper up to the system ground, I suspect you'd see a similar reduction of noise at certain frequencies. You'd think that if the capacitors were really doing something, there'd be at least a small signal-to-noise improvement across the whole spectrum graph. That's what HIS is claiming, after all, insofar as their claims are comprehensible at all.

Apparently Newegg have been giving iClears away for free with purchase of a video card, which implies that the card has not been a major commercial success.

At least they're not claiming it makes your hi-fi sound better.

[UPDATE: Boing Boing Gadgets presents X-Maple pixel-flutter reduction block for PCIe!]

29 Responses to “The Nothing Card”

  1. mlipphardt Says:

    I suspect you're right about it working even with nothing on board. The caps are electrolytic, which are pretty worthless at the frequencies you are talking about with video. Unless you've got some line frequency junk out there. The cap formed by the power and ground planes would be more effective. Too bad we can't see what the SMT parts are.

  2. victorlazlo Says:

    This has got to be an April Fools joke.

  3. Stark Says:

    Well, at least it doesn't start blathering about quantum this and vibrations that. Otherwise this really does look like the PC video equivalent of hi-fi audio quackery. It's bad enough that we have actual working PC video products that are quite literally worth their weight in gold - now we've got the beginnings of quackery here too! It's only a matter of time before we start seeing goofy products like wood mounting plates (guaranteed to reduce quantum noise and provide warmer color-tone!)to replace those pesky metal ones and 1000 dollar monitor cables made of super pure nitrogen bathed and quantum aligned copper blessed by Tibetan monks!

  4. FuzzyPlushroom Says:

    I suspect the only use for that expanse of unused PCB is to display a rather large, pointless logo.

  5. Jax184 Says: - Here's a better look at the thing. Not a lot going on there.

  6. Steven Den Beste Says:

    I wonder if they think it's supposed to be a bus terminator?

  7. Haesslich Says:

    Is it possible that it's supposed to filter noise generated by the video card that could make audio noise?

  8. Hobie-wan Says:

    Wow, 6 caps, 6 resistors, and 6 empty pads for caps.

  9. adrian Says:

    Obviously the unused pads are for the GTX model. Or is the GTX the crap one?
    It's actually a good idea to have something plugged into every socket on your mobo, as it stops power from escaping into the air (this is why you shouldn't leave a power point switched on with nothing plugged in, electricity will leak out and build up in the room, causing those little shocks when you touch the door handle)

  10. Jax184 Says:

    Power escaping into the air?

  11. arteitle Says:

    The small rectangular components are also capacitors, albeit ceramic rather than electrolytic. Given the component numbering, apparently the designer intended to use either those SMT ceramic caps or the unused spots for through-hole caps, so it's not that six caps are missing, per se. That's not to say that this product accomplishes anything. I've seen similar useless boxes of small-valued capacitors sold to car enthusiasts as "power smoothers" with all sorts of bogus promises about improved fuel economy, etc.

  12. Gareth Pye Says:

    the concept of shielding your TV tuner from your graphics card and other components isn't completely stupid. It may not be effective, but there is something to be said for the concept. Sure that metal box around those components on your TV tuner should be enough, but not all TV tuners have those.

    You'd be better off making just a metal box for the tuner though.

  13. corinoco Says:

    I think the audiophile/car electrics quacks have just found a new market - g4m3r2 d00d5.

    Imagine how many more fr4gs j00 getz when your chloro-fluro-carbon cooled, 16-core rig has niobium RF interference filters! No noise on your video cables when they are connected by oxygen-and-nitrogen-free yttrium-doped monomolecular copper (blessed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama)! Get 1.7% for FPS when your hard drives are supported by quantum magnetic monopoles!

    Step 3? Profit!

  14. phrantic Says:

    You know, it'd work better if it came in red.

  15. Chazzozz Says:

    In all seriousness, I bet the design process went something like this:

    Warehouse Manager - "Geez! I've got a butt-load of these old capacitors left, and all we seem to use now are solid-state ones. What am I going to do with them all?"

    Lead Designer - "I could design a card that does nothing more than use up a lot of old components. Heck, I could even make it look useful for something."

    Marketing Manager -"Hey!! That's a great idea! In fact, let's use less components per card so we can make more of them! Then, we'll give it a fancy name and tell people it'll make their computer run better! w00t!!"

    Cue the clown music...

  16. Hobie-wan Says:


    Why yes, those are Cs, not Rs next to the surface mount ones. Ah well.

  17. mlipphardt Says:

    Well, on the upside the SMT ceramic caps might actually do something for Mhz noise. Not that it matters in actual, you know, reality.

  18. zerodgz Says:

    You know, this card serves another very important purpose: Providing something for those of us who were suckered into buying PCI-e motherboards to support our shiny new graphics cards only to discover that there's absolutely nothing ELSE worthwhile to stick in our multitudes of 1x slots. Network card? Built into my motherboard. Sound card? Decent one built in. SATA card? I have eight ports on my motherboard. IDE card? Surpise! They don't bloody exist in PCI-e (or if they do, they didn't when I built my PC). Etc., etc.

    So I may as well just stick a big old slab of do-nothing fiberglass in there just so my video card doesn't feel lonely. God knows nothing else useful is going in there.

    Oh, and another "benefit:" It'll probably slightly impede airflow to your video card if you stick it in the adjacent slot.

  19. maxshcherban Says:

    OMG, this is one the funniest IT stuff I've ever seen :) Thank you for this insight, man!

    Chazzozz commenter, you seem to know a lot about design companies from the inside ;)

  20. mlipphardt Says:

    Um, phrantic, I'm afraid you are wrong. Black is the proper color for speed. Even Dan sez so.

  21. Itsacon Says:

    The theory on the large PCB acting as a ground-plate insulator between the graphics card and other components would be easy to test. Get a hacksaw and make it smaller. If Newegg is giving them away, I have no doubt Dan can get a few from his mates at Aus PC to test that. And I don't think he has any problem with taking a hacksaw to a device that smells like an EMPower modulator...

  22. Jax184 Says:

    A less brute force method would be to remove the caps and see if it still performs the same.

    Or for that matter, make your own grounded plate.

  23. Itsacon Says:

    What's the fun in that? :-)

  24. frasera Says:

    too bad it costs so much. at say 10-15 dollars it would make a fun gag gift.
    thats all its good for.

  25. tpgp Says:

    Boing Boing Gadgets reviewed a superior product last week.

  26. davolfman Says:

    I'm going to go out on a limb and say I think it might actually serve a useful purpose. What I think it is is some sort of bandpass filter (forgive me if I'm using the term wrong, my dad's the electrical engineer, not me) across the power lines. I think the intent then would be to reduce the noise things like graphics cards and disk controllers induce in the analog output audio of either onboard or add-on card sound. Whether it would be effective or not would be a different matter then.

  27. zerodgz Says:

    That wouldn't make a whole heck of a lot of sense. The noise generated by processing/video hardware stems from the various rapid electrical pulses going hither and yon all over the circuit traces, which act as little tiny antennae. The power supply has next to nothing to do with it, even if it's a lousy one. Bad power supply output might make a given device not work right or not work at all but it wouldn't have any significant impact on how noisy the device was while working and/or not working.

    To shield sound hardware (say) from stray EM noise a Faraday cage sort of thing would be effective, and could be easily implemented by some judicious placement of some aluminum foil or something. Preferably grounded to the metalwork of the case.

    I'd be a lot more impressed by this card if it were a big old chunk of eff-off shiny copper that just connected the ground pin in a PCI-E slot, because in that case I could be reasonably assured of it doing something, even if that something weren't particularly useful.

    Plus, it'd look cool.

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