"Heat Terminator": Thermalright Spitfire and VRM Heatsinks

We have never tested any graphics card coolers of such size, weight and efficiency. And I have to admit that this cooler managed to surprise us tremendously that is why I am sure that you won’t stay indifferent to Thermalright Spitfire as well.

by Sergey Lepilov
04/27/2010 | 04:14 PM

“Supermarine Spitfire was a pretty successful British fighter plane during WWII. At least my grandfather who participated in the battle of Khalkhin-Gol, fought in the World War II and brought down two German fighters spoke of Spitfire as a comparatively convenient and reliable aircraft, although he only managed to fly it closer to the end of the war. It is hard to tell why Thermalright decided to name their new graphics card cooler Spitfire, because it doesn’t look anything like an air-fighter at all, even from a distance. Maybe in this case it is not the exterior resemblance but the ability to kill something that inspired the name. And what exactly could a graphics card cooler kill? Of course, primarily high heat dissipation, and high noise levels. So, our today’s article will tell you how successfully Thermalright Spitfire cooler and Thermalright VRM-R3-5 heatsinks manage to accomplish this goal.

Package and Accessories

 

To my genuine surprise the packaging of the new Thermalright cooler and heatsinks is again pretty primitive and unappealing: brown cardboard boxes with minimum information on them:

The only things you can find out from the writing on the boxes are the manufacturer name and the heatsink model. Nothing else. It is in fact pretty strange since Thermalright provided their Venomous X, IFX-14 and Ultra-120 eXtreme RT1366 coolers with very eye-catching attractive looking boxes with a lot of information on them, and now they seem to have gone back to their “signature” brown boxes. Anyway, let’s take a look inside now:

And inside there is a lot of stuff: three manuals, heatsinks, thermal grease, pads, fan retention clips, - in other words everything necessary to install the heatsink over the graphics card and then top it with all the additional goodies. There is, however, no fan bundled with the heatsink. I would like to add that Spitfire and VRM-heatsinks all sit in protective casings made of polyurethane foam.

Design and Functionality

Ok, it is time to meet our today’s hero – Thermalright Spitfire:

 

The cooler is huge. You can check out its dimensions on the following scheme:

As a rule, air coolers of such size are usually designed for processors, namely for the most powerful ones. Thermalright Spitfire is also threateningly heavy for a graphics card: 550 grams! And that is the net weight: without the retention brackets and fans.

The design of this new cooler is neither unique nor remarkable. There are six copper heatpipes 6 mm in diameter coming out of the copper base. These heatpipes pierce aluminum heatsink plates:

Each of these heatpipes goes through an individual heatsink array. As you understand there are a total of six arrays. Each has 50 aluminum plates 0.5 mm thick and spaced out at 2.0 mm from one another. The heatsink arrays are covered with two solid plates at the top and at the bottom, which makes the heatsink sturdy and robust. The gaps between the heatsink arrays are about 5-6 mm:

 

I would also like to point out that heatsink plates are perforated, which helps Spitfire to remain highly efficient even with low-speed cooling fans. The heatpipes and plates are soldered together, and so are the heatpipes and the cooler base:

The thinnest part of the base plate beneath the heatpipes is 2 mm. The base plate is slightly convex on both sides, but it is not crucial for graphics cards with “naked” chips, because the contact surface is fairly small:

All Spitfire parts are covered with a thin layer of some nickel alloy. I would like to add that according to Thermalright, Spitfire as well as all other coolers from this manufacturer use high-tech sintered copper powder wick heatpipes.

Compatibility and Installation Tips

Thermalright Spitfire is compatible with a lot of graphics cards including the latest AT Radeon HD 5870 and HD 5850 as well as the new Nvidia GeForce GTX 480, which will. However, require an additional retention kit. Cooler is installed through the PCB with included screws and large screw-nuts and an X-shaped padded backplate:

The entire installation procedure doesn’t require any special tools. This is what Thermalright Spitfire with VRM-R5 heatsinks looks like on the reference ATI Radeon HD 5850:

Pretty massive, don’t you think so? You can also install Thermalright Spitfire with the heatpipe ends facing down (the base is double-sided), but in this case you will hardly be able to fit the graphics card with the cooler on it into the system case. And since the cooler is very heavy, it comes with special pillars and rails that will hold it still inside the system case:

These pillars can replace two retention screws in the mainboard if the case is not deep enough to accommodate them. The scheme above shows that Thermalright Spitfire heatsink will take all the space over the processor, which will make it impossible to install an efficient tower cooler onto it. Therefore, you will have to do with a low-profile CPU cooler, like Thermalright AXP-140, for instance. And the owners of mainboards with two fully-functional PCI-E slots will be able to simply move the graphics card into the lower slot:

 

Note that the tower cooler (Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus in our case) could still be installed, though only perpendicular to the memory DIMM slots. But in this case we couldn’t attach the pillar at all. However, the gigantic Thermalright Spitfire coexisted beautifully with Scythe Samurai ZZ. In conclusion to our Spitfire review I would like to add that the recommended retail price of this giant is $75, which is pretty expensive in our opinion.

Closer Look at VRM Heatsinks

VRM-R3, R4 and R5 heatsinks are bundled with two screws and washers, thermal pads, two fan retention clips, installation guide and Thermalright sticker:

VRM-R3 and R4 heatsinks differ only by the position of the external heatsink. The R3 one will be parallel to the mainboard, while the R4 one – perpendicular to it:

 

These heatsinks are not very different from VRM-R1 and R2, which we have already reviewed before the same heat-spreader, two heatpipes coming out of it and an external heatsink made of 25 perforated aluminum plates, which are 0.45 mm thick and spaced out at 2 mm distance from one another:

 

VRM-R5 model was developed specifically for use with Spitfire cooler and looks like VRM-R4 which heatpipes and external heatsink have been shifted to the right. Also, VRM-R5 has a larger heat-spreader with taller fins. Other than that there are no design differences of any kind.

The schemes below show the dimensions of the discussed heatsinks:

 
VRM-R3


VRM-R4 

 
VRM-R5

All heatsinks without the fans weigh 140 g each. Each heatsink can take an 80 mm fan that is why each comes with two retention wire clips. The recommended retail price of these additional heatsinks is $30.

Testbed and Methods

We are going to run the tests inside the system case with the removed side panel. It had the following configuration:

Our quad-core processor was overclocked to 3.8 GHz with the nominal processor Vcore increased to 1.3 V in the mainboard BIOS. The memory voltage was at 1.62 V and its frequency was around 1.47 GHz (7-7-7-14_1T timings). The graphics card frequencies were increased from their nominal values to 910/4800 MHz without any accompanying voltage changes:

The testing programs were installed under Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate RTM x64. We used DirectX End-User Runtimes libraries (from February 2010) and Catalyst 10.3 graphics card driver. We used 15 runs of Firefly Forest test from the semi-synthetic 3DMark 2006 suite in 2560x1600 resolution to warm up the graphics cards. We enabled anisotropic filtering 16x:

Besides, we additionally used FurMark version 1.8.0 burn test that was launched for about 20 minutes in 2560x1600 resolution:

We used RivaTuner version 2.25 alpha (by A. Nikolaichuk aka Unwinder) and GPU-Z utility version 0.4.2 to monitor the frequencies and temperatures of our graphics cards.

The tests were run at least twice for each type of load. The temperature stabilization period between the two test cycles was about 10-12 minutes. The ambient temperature was checked next to the system case with an electronic thermometer with 0.1°C precision that allows monitoring the temperature changes over the past 6 hours. During our test session room temperature stayed around 25.8-26.1°C.

Thermalright Spitfire and VRM Heatsinks Efficiency Q&A

Q1: Can Thermalright Spitfire cool a top-class graphics accelerator in passive mode (without a fan)?

A: Yes, it can, but only inside an open system case or on an open testbed, at nominal frequencies of 725/4000 MHz and under gaming load (in our case it was 3DMark 2006):

If we use FurMark to load the graphics card working at its nominal frequencies, then the temperatures will exceed 100 °C very rapidly and we will need to terminate the test manually. The same occurs when we try using a passive Thermalright Spitfire inside a closed system case (even f the ventilation inside is properly organized), but this time any type or intensity of load will do the trick. At the same time we can assume with all certainty that it is quite possible to have Spitfire cooler in passive mode cope just fine with mainstream graphics accelerators.

Q2: Can I replace the thermal pads from VRM heatsinks for the mainboard voltage regulator components with thermal compound? Will it affect the VRM temperature?

A: you not only can but simply must replace the thermal pads. You shouldn’t be concerned about improper contact between the heatsinks and the VRM components: it is pressed very neatly and securely to them:

You can check out the test results obtained with the default thermal pad and Arctic Cooling MX-2 thermal paste. They speak for themselves (pay special attention to the three temperatures at the bottom of the GPU-Z screenshot): 


Thermal pad


Thermal paste

By simple replacing the default thermal pad on the VRM components with thermal paste allowed reducing the peak temperature of these components by 30 °C! Therefore, we strongly urge you not to use Thermalright’s default thermal pads and apply some quality thermal paste instead that will guarantee efficient heat transfer from the VRM components to the heatsink on top of them.

Q3: Thermalright Spitfire heatsink is designed to accommodate a 140 mm fan, but how much cooling efficiency will be lost if we use a 120 mm fan instead?

A: To answer this question e tested Thermalright Spitfire with two Thermalright fans of different sizes from X-Silent series:

 

Using the noise meter and rotation speed controller we set up the fans equally in terms of their acoustic performance that is why the 140 mm fan worked at its default 900 RPM, while the 120 mm fan rotated at 1070 RPM. Here are the obtained results:


Thermalright X-Silent 140 (900 RPM)


Thermalright X-Silent 120 (1070 RPM)

As you can see, Thermalright Spitfire cooler with a 120 mm fan turns out only 1 °C less efficient in GPU temperature and 3-4 °C less efficient in VRM temperature than with the 140 mm fan. However, if we lower the rotation speed of the 120 mm fan to the acoustically comfortable 800 RPM, then the GPU temperature will increase by 7 °C, which is, in fact, not that bad at all for this temperature range:


Thermalright X-Silent 120 (810 RPM)

At this point the next two questions become quite logical…

Q4: Does it matter in terms of efficiency what fan we use with Thermalright Spitfire: X-Silent or an alternative one?

A: Let’s try to check things out using Noctua NF-P14 fan as an alternative:

 

It turned out that there is no difference in cooling efficiency if both fans works at the same speed:


Thermalright X-Silent 140 (900 RPM)


Noctua NF-P14 (900 RPM)

Q5: How greatly does the cooling efficiency of Thermalright Spitfire depend on the fan rotation speed?

A: To answer this question we tested Thermalright Spitfire in three speed modes of the 140 mm Noctua NF-P14 fan: 600 RPM, 900 RPM and 1200 RPM. The graphs below show the obtained results: 


600 RPM


900 RPM


1200 RPM

The graphics processor temperature lowers most rapidly when the 140 mm fan speeds up from 600 to 900 RPM (by 6 °C), and when it speeds up from 900 to 1200 RPM the temperature drops only by 2 °C. Here I have to stress that even in the quietest fan mode the temperatures of the GPU and voltage regulator components remain extremely low for an overclocked Radeon HD 5850.

Q6: VRM heatsinks can be topped with an 80 mm fan. Does it make sense to do so? In other words, how greatly will the use of a fan lower the VRM temperatures?

A: To answer this question we tested our graphics card with Thermalright Spitfire on the graphics processor (with Noctua NF-P14 fan at 900 RPM) and the VRM-R5 heatsink over the voltage regulator components in passive and active mode (with an 80 mm GlacialTech GT-8025 fan at 1600 RPM):


Noctua NF-P14 (900 RPM) 
+ VRM5 (passive)


Noctua NF-P14 (900 RPM) 
+ VRM5 (1600 RPM)

By adding another 80 mm fan to Thermalright VRM-R5 we could lower the voltage regulator components temperature of the Radeon HD 5850 graphics d overclocked to 910/4800 MHz by another 19-20 °C compared with the passive mode.

Q7: How does Thermalright Spitfire efficiency compare against that of alternative graphics card coolers?

A: To answer this question let’s compare the performance of our today’s hero against two very efficient solutions: Thermalright T-Rad2 GTX and Arctic Cooling Accelero Twin Turbo Pro paired with a VRM-R4 heatsink in passive mode:

 

 

Accelero Twin Turbo Pro worked with default cooling fans at 1100 RPM and at their maximum speed of 1960 RPM. Thermalright T-Rad2 GTX was tested with 92 mm Thermalright TR-SL-92-1500 fans working at 1000 RM and their maximum speed of 1540 RPM, which is still an acoustically comfortable mode for the fans of this size. Besides these coolers, we also included the results for the reference Radeon HD 5850 cooling system in auto mode and at maximum fan rotation speed. Before we proceed to the results, I would like to add that Thermalright VRM-R4 heatsink as well as VRM-R5 were installed over a layer of thermal paste instead of the default thermal pads. The testing conditions were exactly the same as before: case with a removed side panel and ambient temperature at 25.8-26.1 °C.

The results are summed up on the diagram below:

Thermalright Spitfire is an undefeated leader in terms of Cypress GPU air-cooling. It demonstrates astonishing advantage over the competitors. It would be enough to say that Spitfire cooler equipped with a 140 mm fan at 900 RPM cools the graphics processor under FurMark workload the same way Thermalright T-Rad2 GTX and Arctic Cooling Accelero twin Turbo Pro do with both their fans at maximum rotation speed. And most importantly the same is true for the load created by 3DMark2006, too! Excellent cooling efficiency, great job, Thermalright! At the same time I have to say that the voltage regulator components on the overclocked Radeon HD 5850 cooled by Thermalright Spitfire and VRM-R5 heatsink run hotter than in case of two alternative coolers bundled with VRM-R4. The explanation would be pretty simple in this case: both – T-Rad2 GTX as well as Accelero Twin Turbo Pro direct the airflow towards the graphics card, while the Spitfire fan blows the air parallel to the card. On the other hand, even the peak temperature of 63 °C on the voltage regulator components during FurMark test is not something you should really worry about.

Q8: Can Thermalright Spitfire be installed with the heatpipe ends facing down so that it doesn’t interfere with tower coolers over the CPU, and how will this positioning affect its cooling efficiency?

A: Unfortunately, when Thermalright Spitfire was turned with its heatpipes facing down, we couldn’t install the graphics card into any of the available PCI-E slots on the board, because Spitfire cooler was hitting against the power supply unit (or it would hit against the bottom of the system case). Moreover, in this case you won’t be able to fasten the heatsink using the additional default retention kit.

Q9: Can Spitfire be installed onto Radeon HD 5870/5850 with the reference heatsink plate left over the memory chips and the voltage regulator components?

A: No, it cannot. Spitfire heatpipes go straight up and this plate won’t let you put the cooler onto the GPU. Of course, you could cut out a piece from this plate, but in this case you will definitely lose the graphics card warranty.

Q10: How much cooling efficiency will be lost if we use aluminum heatsinks enclosed with Thermalright Spitfire for the voltage regulator components of Radeon HD 5870 and HD 5850 graphics cards as opposed to VRM heatsinks?

A: Of course, you can use the enclosed heatsinks for the voltage regulator circuitry, but in this case the VRM temperature will be 30°C+ higher depending on the overclocking and type of operational load.

Conclusion

Of course, Thermalright Spitfire is undoubtedly the most efficient air cooler for the fastest and hottest graphics accelerators out there. This massive heatsink is not afraid of high graphics card clock speeds or the “mean” FurMark test, which some GPU and graphics card makers do not recommend running at all. Together with Thermalright VRM-R5 heatsink and a quiet 140/120 mm fan, the new cooler will easily cope with seriously overclocked Radeon HD 5850 and HD 5870. As for the mainstream and low-end graphics solution, Thermalright Spitfire can cool them to comfortable temperatures even without any fan at all. As for compatibility with the new Nvidia GeForce GTX 480, Thermalright has already announced that the new retention kit for this super-hot graphics accelerator is already available.

Despite Spitfire’s superb efficiency, we should always remember that all this is true only for an open testbed, large Full Tower system case, or for a system case with a removed side panel or a side panel with vent holes in it. This cooler can only be installed without any fans into a closed system case because of its humongous size. But even if you manage to close the side panel, its efficiency will be handicapped because of the weak airflow towards the fan. Moreover, when a graphics card with Thermalright Spitfire is installed into the first PCI-E slot on the mainboard, the heatsink makes it impossible to use any CPU coolers designed in the tower form-factor or tall top-coolers. And even if your mainboard has two fully-functional PCI-E slots, you may still be unable to fit a tower cooler onto your processor even if you move the graphics card into the lower PCI-E. On the other hand, since this cooler is targeted primarily at enthusiasts, many of them may have liquid-cooling systems installed and Thermalright Spitfire will be perfectly compatible with them. In other words, the compatibility issue we have discussed today is quite subjective.

So, what do we end up with here? On the one hand, the “heat terminator” - Thermalright Spitfire – is a very effective cooler, which is impossible to beat. But on the other hand, this efficiency will come at a price of $75, plus a large system case, low-profile processor cooler and maybe also a pricy mainboard with two PCI-E x16 slots in the very least. Altogether these components make a true enthusiast’s kit. Well, this is the choice you will have to make on your own. As for Thermalright VRM heatsinks, then we can definitely recommend all Radeon HD 58xx owners to use them. Just make sure that you replace thermal pads with thermal paste.

At this time we would like to award Thermalright Spitfire cooler with our Ultimate Innovation title as the absolutely most efficient graphics card cooling solution out there: