Thermalright HR-03 Plus: Just Add Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS/GTX

Today we are going to test the best cooling solution for top graphics cards from Nvidia and not only for them. More heatpipes deliver higher cooling efficiency and generate less noise than the stock cooler. Read more in our article now!

by Sergey Lepilov
10/16/2007 | 08:23 PM

Cooling systems of Nvidia GeForce 8800 graphics cards are deservedly considered among the best available today. Without much buzz these coolers take heat off the 681 million transistors of the graphics processor as well as the scorching-hot high-frequency memory and the graphics card’s PCB. Besides that, the coolers are designed in such a way that the hot air is immediately exhausted out of the system case, having no chance to affect the other system components. It’s hard to find a worthy replacement to such a cooler. Experienced overclockers just turn to liquid cooling systems right away whereas ordinary users don’t even try to replace the graphics card’s stock cooler judging it good enough as it is.

 

It is indeed difficult to find an alternative cooler for the GeForce 8800 series among today’s air coolers. The G80 chip has an area of 484 sq. mm and its heat-spreader is even larger. Additional problems are provoked by the fastening mechanism since the mounting holes are placed atypically far away from each other and have a diameter of less than 1.5 millimeters. Added to that, the reference cooler of the GeForce 8800 series has contact not only with the GPU but also with the graphics card’s GDDR3 memory, NVIO chip and power elements all of which shouldn’t be left without cooling. Finding a cooler that would meet all these requirements is not easy.

Alternatives do exist, though. At the end of the last year we tested the Sparkle Calibre P880+ graphics card with a thermoelectric cooler that left a rather ambiguous impression on us. And today we offer you a review of yet another cooler, this time manufactured by Thermalright. The HR-03 Plus is a logical development of the Thermalright HR-03 model. It has more heat pipes (six instead of four) and a different fastening mechanism. The new cooler will be tested against the stock cooler of the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS graphics card.

Package and Accessories

You can know a Thermalright by its packaging:

A brown cardboard box with a couple of lines of text with the company name on the top panel and the name of the cooler on the sides – that’s all you can see here. Thermalright’s products are serious and you can feel it right away.

Inside the box there is a polyurethane-foam tray the heatsink lies in and a smaller box with accessories included into the kit.

The small box contains the following:

All coolers from Thermalright are shipped without fans, but the manufacturer strongly recommends using one on the HR-03 Plus. It means you have to buy a fan separately.

Design and Functionality

The HR-03 Plus heatsink has a copper base with six copper heat pipes, 6mm in diameter.

The pipes, coated with a thin layer of nickel-based alloy, go out of the copper base and then curve into the opposite direction.

The pipes carry 34 aluminum ribs. Each rib is perforated with 39 square holes:

According to the manufacturer, the perforation helps reduce the resistance to airflow and increase the efficiency of the heatsink. What is specifically emphasized, the perforated ribs do not have to be cooled by a high-speed fan as such a fan won’t increase the performance of the HR-03 Plus much. Perforated ribs are also used in Thermalright’s CPU cooler called SI-128 SE.

The pipes are placed not in line, but with a shift, in the ribs.

This simple solution helps reduce the resistance to airflow even more and also ensures a uniform distribution of heat in the heatsink ribbing.

The cooler’s base consists of two nickel-plated copper pieces:

The pipes lie in special grooves made in the base for a larger area of contact. The contact between the pipes and the base is established by means of soldering.

The cooler’s base is absolutely flat as I made sure by checking out the trace of thermal grease left on a piece of glass and on the GPU heat-spreader. Like in other heatsinks from Thermalright, the base is not polished to a mirror shine, though:

Yet this is hardly a drawback of these coolers. The nickel-plated copper pieces of the base are identical, allowing to install the cooler on the graphics card in two positions, with the heatsink being on the face side of the PCB or hanging down from the reverse side of it.

The Thermalright HR-03 Plus heatsink measures 133x156x38mm at 410g of weight (without a fan).

Installation Tips

The cooler is mounted on the graphics card in the following, very simple, way:

As you can see, the cooler’s base is pressed tightly to the GPU heat-spreader by four pins that are fastened to the back-plate with the figured nuts. The back-plate has a soft rubber pad in the center and four rubber rings at its ends:

The pressure is high, but the PCB doesn’t bend because each G80 chip is by default surrounded with a massive metallic square fastened with screws. The only thing left for you to do after the installation of the heatsink is to attach a 92mm fan to it by means of two wire clips. Installed on the face side of the GeForce 8800 GTX, the cooler looks like that:

Although the cooler’s fastening is very firm, I had some apprehensions if the graphics card wouldn’t fall off together with the mainboard’s PCI Express slot under the cooler’s weight. That’s why I recommend you to secure the graphics card not only at its mounting bracket, but also at the opposite side near the additional power connectors.

One drawback of the Thermalright HR-03 Plus is obvious right away:

The heatsink impudently occupies as many as three neighboring slots.

I guess it’s up to the user to decide if this drawback is significant for him. The manufacturer declares the opportunity to use the Thermaltake HR-03 Plus in SLI systems with two GeForce 8800 cards. One of the coolers is obviously supposed to be installed on the reverse side of the graphics card. This will look like that:

Once again, the manufacturer strongly advises you against using the HR-03 Plus in passive mode. This recommendation is quite logical considering the very high level of heat dissipation of GeForce 8800 GTS/GTX cards.

As for the aluminum heatsinks you should glue to the memory chips as well as to the power elements and the NVIO chip, I only installed one such heatsink on the latter chip during my tests:

The Thermaltake HR-03 Plus comes at a recommended price of $55. Before grumbling at the high price of the cooler, let’s have a look at its test results first.

Testbed and Methods

The Thermalright HR-03 Plus was tested in a closed system case with the following configuration:

To give you a notion of the overall heat dissipation of the system case, I want to tell you that the quad-core CPU was overclocked from its default frequency to 3514MHz at a voltage of 1.65V. The system memory worked at 1177MHz and 2.15V voltage

The graphics card from Leadtek is equipped with a reference cooler that only differs from the others of its kind with the figured aluminum piece on the face side:

Otherwise, it is the standard cooler with a copper base, two heat pipes, and a densely ribbed heatsink. Every place of contact has with a soaked thermal pad, and the copper base has a very thick layer of thermal interface:

I used Arctic Silver 5 for this test, of course. When tested in the automatic mode, the graphics card’s blower varies its speed from 1500 to 2000rpm. When adjusted manually, the maximum speed is 2740rpm.

The graphics card was overclocked to its maximum stable frequencies, which were 622/1458/1890MHz.

I didn’t test the GeForce 8800 GTX you could see in the photo above as it didn’t have the reference cooler. The card from BFG comes with a water-block for using with a liquid cooling system and it wouldn’t be correct to compare it with the Thermalright HR-03 Plus.

The testing programs were installed under Windows XP Professional Edition SP2. I used DirectX 9.0c (dated August 2007) and ForceWare 163.71.

The graphics card was loaded up by running 3DMark06’s Firefly Forest test for ten times at 1280x1024 with 16x AF and 4x FSAA. The temperatures were monitored with RivaTuner 2.0.4.

I performed at least two cycles of tests for each cooler and waited for 10-15 minutes for the temperature to stabilize between each test cycle. The ambient temperature remained at 23.5-24°C during the tests (marked with a vertical red line in the diagrams).

The noise level of each cooler was measured according to our traditional method. The subjectively comfortable level of 36dBA is marked with a dash line in the diagram; the ambient noise from the system case with a passively cooled graphics card was about 34dBA from a distance of 1 meter.

Thermal and Acoustic Performance

Since there are only two cooling systems in this test session, the temperature data for both the GPU and the graphics card’s PCB fit into one diagram:

For a fuller picture, the next diagram shows the amount of noise produced by each cooler:

Working in the quiet mode the Thermalright HR-03 Plus cools the GPU better than the reference cooler of the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB card by 8°C under peak load and by 6°C in 2D applications. The new cooler is also quieter than the graphics card’s native blower at that. The latter is worse than the HR-03 Plus even at the max speed, although the gap is smaller at 3°C. As the manufacturer notes, increasing the speed of the 92mm fan of the HR-03 Plus improves its performance by only 2°C. Unfortunately, the replacement of the graphics card’s cooler with the one from Thermalright and the ensuing reduction of the temperatures did not affect the card’s overclockability.

It’s not so clear with the PCB temperature. The HR-03 Plus has an advantage over the reference cooler, but it’s not as obvious as with the GPU temperature. I suppose that the temperature of the PCB may be lower if you install all the heatsinks on the memory chips and power circuit elements but I couldn’t check this out on the graphics card I was given for the test.

Next I wanted to see how the cooler’s performance would change if I installed it hanging from the reverse side of the PCB. Here is the GeForce 8800 GTS with the cooler installed like that:

Note that the whole arrangement becomes more compact when the cooler is installed on the reverse side of the PCB, but I should note that the first PCI Express slot is placed rather far from the CPU socket on my ASUS P5K Deluxe mainboard and doesn’t interfere with even large super-coolers. On mainboards where the PCI Express slot is closer to the CPU socket you may find you cannot install the HR-03 Plus this way (for example, on ASUS’ popular P5B mainboard series). This also depends on the CPU cooler you use, though.

As for the cheapest heatsink/cooler, I can tell you there was a 15mm gap between the standard copper heatsink of the P5K Deluxe mainboard and the bottom of the HR-03 Plus. You can only find yourself unable to install the Thermalright cooler on the reverse side of your GeForce 8800 GTS/GTX if you’ve got an alternative cooling solution on the North Bridge of your mainboard. Besides that, in my case the tall heatsinks on the Corsair Dominator TWIN2X2048-9136C5D memory didn’t prevent the cooler to be placed at the reverse side of the graphics card, but touched it. There won’t be even such contact with ordinary memory sticks, of course.

The second cycle of tests (with the cooler installed on the front and reverse sides of the PCB) was performed a week after the main test session due to certain reasons. The ambient temperature was 25.5°C and the monitor had been replaced with a widescreen 22” Samsung SyncMaster 226BW that had a max resolution of 1680x1050 pixels in which I ran the tests. Here are the results:

Thermalright HR-03 Plus – Front

Thermalright HR-03 Plus – Rear

As you can see, the GPU temperature has got worse by 4°C and there is no improvement in the PCB temperature I have anticipated.

I also want to tell you about the thermal conditions inside the system case after the stock cooler of the GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB was replaced with a Thermalright HR-03 Plus. As I wrote above, the new cooler from Thermalright doesn’t exhaust the hot air out of the system case. As a result, the hot graphics card influences the thermal conditions of the other system components quite a lot. For example, the temperatures of the CPU and mainboard grew by 2°C and 3°C, respectively, in 3DMark06 tests after I had replaced the graphics card’s stock cooler with the HR-03 Plus. These are not critical numbers and they didn’t affect the system’s overall stability, but you should be aware that replacing a cooler that exhausts the hot air outside with an alternative, like the Thermalright HR-03 Plus, is sure to affect the temperature inside the system case.

Conclusion

I liked the cooler even with the above mentioned drawbacks. It delivers higher performance and is quieter than the stock GeForce 8800 cooler. And I guess many owners of such graphics cards are viewing the photos in this article and thinking if they could attach a 120mm rather than a 90mm fan to it. I think the only serious drawback of the new cooler is that the hot air is not exhausted outside as is the case with the reference GeForce 8800 cooler, but this is a rather subjective thing and should be evaluated for a particular system case with its system fans. The heavy weight of the cooler and its blocking of three neighboring expansion slots are drawbacks, too. As for the price, the HR-03 Plus matches the price of the graphics cards it is meant for. Expensive cards can’t be cooled with cheap coolers.

I want to add that if you’ve got a top-end card with an AMD/ATI chip, i.e. a Radeon 2900 XTX, XT or Pro, you can replace its stock cooler with a cooler from Thermalright. The company offers the HR-03/R600 model for such cards – this cooler differs from the one I described in this review with its slightly different base and fastening mechanism. I guess that finding alternative coolers for AMD’s cards is even a more urgent problem than with Nvidia’s GeForce 8800 series.