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This seems to be some kind of driver issue, as the fans are going at it almost full speed all the time, rather than when any 3D is being rendered.

In the "old" days, you could configure this in the driver, but it doesn't seem possible in the stock NVIDIA driver anymore.

Any ideas on where to start?

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Apparently there is an issue with GTX480 cards and multi-monitor, which I'm running. The cards draw too much power, get hot and the fan spins up.

That is the real cause of this issue.

This is resolvable via a bios update, but I haven't yet found where to download a suitable BIOS for my ASUS card.

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SpeedFan does the trick for me.

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Ah. I think I've see it before actually. Will give it a try. – Macke Sep 28 '10 at 18:30
That did not work. SpeedFan can't control fan speeds on the GTX480 (not even the latest beta). – Macke Oct 22 '10 at 7:17

Only if Nifle's answer does nothing....

I think this is on purpose to stop Nvidia cards from burning out. If you are having problems, you can always buy an aftermarket cooler for the card and use this instead of the stock one.

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