Turbo Twins and a Swordsman: New VGA Coolers Reviewed

We are going to talk about three new VGA cooling solutions from Titan, Scythe and Arctic Cooling trying to find an efficient and quiet replacement for the reference Radeon HD 4870 cooler. Read our new review for details.

by Sergey Lepilov
10/29/2008 | 05:21 PM

When ATI Radeon HD 4850 and 4870 graphics cards started selling, there appeared significant interest to VGA coolers for overclockers and regular mainstream users who do not intend to overclock for any reason. In fact, this interest is quite natural, because the reference coolers on these graphics accelerators turned out not particularly good, to put it mildly. Although the default Radeon HD 4870 cooler is efficient enough, it is too noisy. However, the cooler on Radeon HD 4850 is beyond all criticism. Its only advantage is its compact size, so it wouldn’t block the slot next to the graphics card. Although it is not a serious plus, because the slot next to the PCI-E is usually empty anyway. Otherwise, the cooler is very loud, ineffective and doesn’t suit for any overclocking.

 

Nevertheless, Titan, Scythe and Arctic Cooling launched their new cooling solutions that we are going to talk about today not only because the reference coolers for Radeon HD 4870 and HD 4850 had to be replaced, but also because they felt like expanding their product range in this pretty specific segment. Remember that we tested universal graphics card coolers back in February, which is 8 months ago. It suggests that while processor coolers take all the attention there is not much going on in the VGA cooling market these days. Today we will try to make up for it and offer you a detailed disucssiona dn tests of the three new cooling solutions for graphics accelerators.

Titan Twin Turbo (TTC-CSC88TZ)

The new cooler from Titan comes in a small clear plastic box. The icons on the front of the box mark the cooler’s key features that are described in a bit more detail in eight languages on the back of the package:

 

The cooler sits securely in additional plastic casing. It has a small section for bundled accessories including 8 aluminum heatsinks for the graphics card memory chips, a 1g syringe with Titan TTG-G30010 thermal compound and a set of retention spring-screws with rubber washers:

The foldable paper leaflet inside the package contains step-by-step installation instructions:

Titan Twin Turbo is designed pretty simply. It uses four copper heatpipes 6mm in diameter that come out of copper base. They hold aluminum plates cooled with two fans covered with a decoratively shaped aluminum panel:

The cooler is fairly small and measures 158 x 115 x 36mm. The manufacturer doesn’t mention the cooler weight anywhere, but according to our measurements it does not exceed 350g.

The cooler heatsink array is composed of 50 aluminum plates, each 0.15mm thick. The plates are spaced out at 1.5mm distance.

Despite high plate density, they are pretty narrow: only 8mm with slightly wider spots right around the heatpipes:

So, the heatsink actually has pretty small heat dissipating surface area. Titan Twin Turbo doesn’t need high-pressure fans, either.

The heatpipes lie in special grooves in the cooler base. This increases the contact surface and improves the heat dissipation efficiency. The heatpipes are in fact soldered to the base. The finish quality of the copper base could have been better, because you can feel the machine marks to the touch:

Although the copper base is not polished in any way, it is very even.

The cooler heatsink is topped with a pair of 70 x 70 x 10mm fans fastened with four screws in an aluminum frame:

Each of these 11-blade fans rotates at a constant speed of ~2000RPM creating a combined airflow of 31CFM and generating ~26.2dBA of noise. The TFD-7010SL12Z fans use a slide bearing with unknown MTBF:

Both fans consume maximum 2.166W of power. They have a three-pin power connector and no color highlighting.

Titan Twin Turbo is compatible with many graphics cards starting from old ATI Radeon 7000 and Nvidia GeForce 3 Ti 200 and finishing with Radeon HD 2400/2600 and GeForce 9600/9800 GT. You can download the installation instructions from the official web-site. Two retention loops have threaded holes and the other two plain holes. The distances between the opposite diagonal holes measure 54.8mm, 79.7mm, 75.4mm and 61.1mm. Depending on the graphics card you have you insert two or four retention spindles into these holes and install the cooler on to the card. After that you tighten the thumb-screws with springs at the bottom of the PCB:

Unfortunately, since Titan Twin Turbo is not officially compatible with ATI Radeon HD 3870/3850 and HD 4870/4850, you can only fasten this cooler using two screws out of four. As a result, even though the cooler base is pressed completely against the card, you can still shift it within the difference between the retention holes and spindles by applying a little effort.

This is what Titan Twin Turbo looks like installed onto ATI Radeon HD 4870:

The cooler and its heatpipes do not interfere with any components on the lower part of the graphics card PCB. However, if you decide to stick the aluminum heatsinks onto the memory chips, the heatpipes will be in the way of two middle heatsinks along the upper side of the PCB:

These were the only problems we had with Titan Twin Turbo installation. The cooler will block the slot next to the graphics card. Moreover, you should not use large expansion cards in the second slot, too, because the cooling efficiency will most likely worsen in this case.

In conclusion I would like to add that Titan Twin Turbo currently sells for ~$45.

Scythe Musashi (SCMS-1000)

The new cooling solution from the Japanese Scythe named after a famous Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi comes in a small vertical box made of thick cardboard. As usual, Scythe’s package has a lot of information on it in two languages:

 

The front of the box bears a large photo of the cooler and a sticker promising compatibility with ATI Radeon HD 4870 and HD 4850 graphics cards, which may have been added after the cooler launch. The back of the box has a photo of the bundled accessories, the list of compatible graphics cards, detailed technical specifications in several different languages and even two photos of the cooler installed onto a graphics card. Scythe Musashi is manufactured in Taiwan.

The cooler comes with the following accessories (from left to right and from top to bottom):

Scythe Musashi measures 250 x 104 x 35mm and weighs 375g. It has pretty simple design based on only two 6mm heatpipes:

The heatpipes go through copper nickel-plated base and hold two heatsink arrays: a smaller one made of 20 aluminum plates and a bigger one – of 58 aluminum plates:

The plates are ~0.2mm thick and the gap between them is 2mm.

The heatsink plates are only ~12mm tall. The fans on top of them are also 12mm tall. So, together with the cooler base the whole construction is only 35mm tall.

The heatpipe ends are covered with shaped caps that creates very finished look.

There is a small aluminum heatsink under the left fan directly above the cooler base:

Since the heatpipes coming out of the cooler base go along the graphics card PCB and not across it, like in most other VGA cooling solutions, they could have hardly designed this part of the cooler differently. In fact, it is pretty strange that Scythe Musashi uses only two heatpipes and not four. In the latter case the cooler could have turned out much more efficient.

The nickel-plated cooler base covered with protective plastic film is ideally even and polished to mirror-shine quality.

There are no grooves in the base plate. Scythe continues using the simple but less effective way of attaching the heatpipes to the base: they flatten the heatpipes to increase the contact surface and use thermal glue.

Two 13-blade fans measuring 100 x 100 x 12mm are attached to the top of the heatsink with wire clips:

The rotation speed of these fans using slide bearings can be adjusted from ~800 to ~2000 RPM with the help of a rotation speed regulator included with the cooler. It can be installed onto the case rear panel instead of one of the conventional brackets:

Moreover, the included Molex power adapter allows connecting Scythe Musashi fans not only to the mainboard fan connectors, but also to a Molex out on the PSU. Each fan creates 11.45-27.6 CFM airflow and generates between 12.5 and 29.22 dBA of noise. Their combined maximum power consumption shouldn’t exceed 2.6W.

Now a few words about the installation procedure. Scythe Musashi is compatible with a humongous number of contemporary and older graphics cards (you can find the full list of supported graphics accelerators in the specification table below). Therefore, its retention plates have a total of 22 threaded holes that can accommodate two or four retention spindles:

After that you install the graphics card on top of the cooler and tighten the backplate with provided screw-nuts at the back of the PCB:

We were extremely pleased to find this backplate among bundled accessories, because it not just presses the cooler securely against the graphics processor, but also prevents the PCB from bending.

Besides a large number of different heatsinks, Scythe Musashi owners also get another bonus: about 1mm thick copper plate:

You can use this plate if the protective metal frame around the GPU is taller than the GPU itself. In this case there is no direct contact between the GPU and the cooler, because the base of the cooler will lie on top of the frame and not on top of the chip.

This is what Scythe Musashi looks like installed onto Radeon HD 4870:

Unlike Titan Twin Turbo we have just discussed, Scythe Musashi covers the entire PCB that will be cooled by the airflow from its two fans. Heatpipes do not interfere with any components, and there is at least 12mm from the PCB to the heatsink plates (4mm from the power connectors):

Inside a system case Scythe Musashi will block the slot next to the graphics card. It is better to keep the second closest slot empty as well, for better access of cool air to the cooler fans:

 

The new cooler from Scythe is not that cheap at all, despite its fairly simple design. It is currently sold for about $50.

Arctic Cooling Accelero Twin Turbo

The last new VGA cooler was provided to us by the Swiss Arctic Cooling Company. There is no box whatsoever. The cooler comes in a clear plastic casing shaped exactly like it:

There is only the name of the cooler and the manufacturer logo on the front of this package. However, the back of the casing has a lot of useful info on it, as usual. Besides the specifications of Accelero Twin Turbo cooler and the list of supported graphics cards, there are two diagrams comparing the cooling efficiency and noise level of this solution against Nvidia GeForce 9600 GT reference cooling system. Actually, this is not the scariest competitor that they chose,  however, Arctic Cooling claims that their Accelero Twin Turbo is 26°C more efficient and 0.7 Sone quieter than the Nvidia GeForce 9600 GT reference cooler.

There is a small plastic box at the bottom of the exterior casing. All accessories sit in its individual sections:

Among them are two lattice brackets for the case rear panel, installation guide, a set of screws and washers, four aluminum heatsinks for the voltage regulator components, 8 heatsinks for the video memory chips and a Molex power adapter.

Accelero Twin Turbo measures 212 x 103 x 34mm and weighs 350g. Its front side is covered completely with a plastic casing with fans in it:

The cooler uses four 6mm copper heatpipes coming out of the copper base:

They hold an array of 30 aluminum plates. Each plate is 0.25~3mm thick and the gap between the plates is about 2.5mm:

According to the manufacturer, this simple design should be capable of dissipating 120W of heat.

Despite the seeming bulkiness, the cooler is only 35mm tall. The heatpipes lie in special grooves in the base plate and are soldered to it.

The cooler comes with highly efficient Arctic MX-2 thermal compound already applied:

The quality of the base finish is pretty typical of Arctic Cooling solutions: very even, without any machine marks but also without any polishing.

There are two 80 x 80 x 10mm fans fastened in a plastic frame attached to the heatsink plates.

The fans are not installed into the plastic frame the traditional way, but hang on four plastic panels, which reduce the noise, according to Arctic Cooling. Accelero Twin Turbo specifications claim that it generates between 0.2 and 0.6 Sone of noise depending on the fan rotation speed that adjusts automatically in the interval from ~120 RPM to ~2000 RPM. The fans create 40CFM or 68 m3/h airflow.

The fans use hydrodynamic bearings that should work for 30,000 hours at 40°C air temperature.

The fans are made in China (as you can see from the rotor sticker) and each fan consumes maximum 1.8W.

Accelero Twin Turbo is compatible with all contemporary graphics cards (except GeForce GTX 260/280 and Radeon HD 4870/4850 X2) and installs similarly to Scythe Musashi. The only difference is that we do not insert the spindles into cooler retention loops, but attach the retention to the card with screws at the bottom of the PCB. Unfortunately, there is no backplate among bundled accessories, however, you could use a plate from the reference Radeon HD 3870/3850, for instance.

Accelero Twin Turbo installed onto a Radeon HD 4870 looks as follows:

It doesn’t cover as much of the graphics card PCB as Scythe Musashi, however, the airflow will definitely cool almost the entire front side of the graphics card PCB.

Since the heatpipes go from the base towards the lower side of the card, they will not be in the way of video memory heatsinks along the upper side of the PCB. However, we had to remove one heatsink on the lower side, because it hit against one of the heatpipes:

Other than that, there were no problems. The graphics card with Accelero Twin Turbo cooler blocks the closest PCI slot. As in the previous two cases, we recommend to leave the next slot empty at all times, to ensure better air circulation.

Accelero Twin Turbo is priced around $35 and comes with 6 years warranty.

Technical Specifications and Pricing

Let’s sum everything up in a table where we can compare the three today’s testing participants side by side:

Testbed Configuration and Testing Methodology

Three new VGA coolers were tested inside a system case configured as follows:

To increase the general power consumption of the testbed we overclocked our quad-core processor from the nominal frequency to 3.9GHz. The Vcore was increased to 1.55V. DDRII memory was working at 990MHz frequency and 2.10V voltage.

The testing programs were installed under Windows Vista Ultimate Edition x86 SP1. We used DirectX 9.0c libraries (from August) and Catalyst 8.9 drivers. Radeon HD 4870 was warmed up by two 10-run cycles of Firefly Forest benchmark from the synthetic 3DMark 2006 suite in 1920x1200 resolution with activated x16 anisotropic filtering but without FSAA. Our preliminary testing showed that the GPU heated up less with enabled full-screen antialiasing (which is quite logical as it is loaded less) and other components temperature didn’t change.

We monitored the graphics cards temperatures using RivaTuner v2.11 utility (created by Aleksey Nikolaichuk aka Unwinder). We performed at least two test cycles for each cooler and waited for 10-12 minutes for the temperature to stabilize between test cycles. The ambient temperature remained at ~25°C during the tests and is used as a starting point on our results charts. The tests were performed only in a closed system case. We didn’t check the coolers efficiency in an open testbed.

The noise level of each cooler was measured after 1AM in a closed room about 20sq.m big using CENTER-321 electronic noise meter. The measurements were taken at 3cm, 1m and 3m distance from the noise source. During the acoustics tests all three 120-mm case fans were slowed down to ~700 RPM and the 140-mm processor fan – to ~600 RPM. In this mode the background noise from the system case measured at 1m distance didn’t exceed ~32.8 dBA, and the loudest fan was the 130-mm fan of the system power supply. When the system was completely powered off, our noise meter detected 30.8 dBA (the lowest was 30 dBA), which may either be the internal noise of the device or the heartbeat of an excited tester :). The subjectively comfortable level is around 34~34.5 dBA.

We are going to test the cooling efficiency of our participants on a HIS Radeon HD 4870 graphics card:

This graphics card not only dissipated a lot of heat, but also allows monitoring the GPU temperature as well as temperatures of other components, such as voltage regulator or power elements. Since the latter get really warm during work (100°C+), we installed aluminum heatsinks on them and on the memory chips:

We removed two heatsinks from the two top memory chips above the GPU for Titan Twin Turbo. We removed a heatsink from the lowest memory chip for Arctic Cooling Accelero Twin Turbo. Besides a slight hardware modification of the graphics card, we also did some work on its BIOS. In fact, we didn’t perform any significant modifications. We lowered the GPU frequency to 250MHz and voltage to 1.1V in 2D mode (compared with the nominal frequency of 500MHz and voltage of 1.263V). As a result, we could reduce the current in 2D mode from 23 A to 11 A and lower the GPU temperature by 8-10°C. The graphics card worked at its nominal frequencies of 750MHz/3600MHz in 3D mode. You can download the modified BIOS here (7-zip file, 39.5 KB).

Besides the three coolers we have discussed in our today’s article and a reference ATI Radeon HD 4870 cooler (with the fans at 25, 35 and 100% rotation speed) we also added the results for Arctic Cooling Accelero S1 with a Turbo-module. We didn’t test the coolers during graphics card overclocking and later on you will see why.

Acoustic Performance

First of all let’s check out the acoustic measurements for our testing participants and then move on to their cooling efficiency. Note that we are going to list the coolers in ascending order according to their noise measurements on the diagram with the cooling efficiency results. This way we will be able to evaluate them from two standpoints.

If you look at the measurements taken in the most optimal mode, at a 1m distance from the system case, you will see that there are four cooling systems that are the quietest of all. They are Accelero Twin Turbo, Scythe Musashi, Accelero S1 and Radeon HD 4870 reference cooler at the lowest fan rotation speed. Scythe Musashi with both its fans rotating at their maximum speed comes next. And even though the difference between Musashi and Accelero S1 with Turbo-module is only 0.5 dBA, you can clearly hear Musashi against the background of the quiet system case, but not the Accelero S1.

Arctic Cooling Accelero Twin Turbo generating 35 dBA of noise is even louder, although subjectively I would consider this cooler as well as the others before it to be of quiet or medium quiet type, rather than noisy type. However, the noise from the next cooler on the list, Titan Twin Turbo, is no longer within the boundaries of subjective comfort zone. Just like the noise from ATI Radeon HD 4870 reference cooler at 35% of its potential and ~2400 RPM fan rotation speed. The last one in our list is the default Radeon HD 4870 cooler at maximum fan rotation speed that can only be defeated by a powerful hair drier or a vacuum cleaner.

Cooling Efficiency Tests

As I have already mentioned above, the coolers are listed in ascending order according to their noise measurements, i.e. in the same order as on the previous diagram (at 1m distance). So, the coolers at the bottom of the chart have the least comfortable acoustic performance. The first diagram will discuss graphics processor temperature (GPU temp) and the temperature of the hottest voltage regulator component of the three (VRM temp):

The next diagram shows the data for three more sensors: "Display IO temp", "Shader core temp" and "Memory IO temp". However, since they are pretty similar to the first two we are going to discuss only “GPU temp” and “VRM temp”.

So, all alternative cooling system work well for the GPU. Scythe Musashi and Arctic Cooling Accelero Twin Turbo work best of all in quiet mode with the fans at their lowest speed as well as at maximum fan rotation speed with moderate noise level. However, the reference Radeon HD 4870 solution cannot ensure proper GPU cooling at minimal fan rotation speed. If you speed its fans up to ~2400 RPM the GPU temperature goes down significantly, but it is still behind the leaders. The third cooler, Titan Twin Turbo, is not that far behind Scythe and Arctic cooling in terms of efficiency, but, loses dramatically from the acoustic prospective.

Everything could have been really great, if it hadn’t been for the VRM components cooling. Look at the second group of results on the first diagram. It appears that none of the alternative solutions can cool these components properly in quiet mode. This is why we only tested the coolers on a graphics cards working at its nominal frequencies and didn’t overclock it: even when we increased the GPU frequency only to 800MHz the card would hang during the test cycle, which didn’t occur with a reference cooler. Even the aluminum heatsinks on these components didn’t help improve the card’s overclocking potential, unfortunately. I believe that cooling solution makers should really consider offering larger aluminum or even copper heatsinks with proper retention for these components on graphics cards like Radeon HD 4870.

Note how well the reference Radeon HD 4870 solution cools VRM component even at ~2400 RPM. It is very simple: since these components are located right beneath the fan, the greater the airflow – the lower their temperature. But if we have to decide on one of the alternative cooling solutions, then Scythe Musashi and Arctic Cooling Accelero Twin Turbo again will be the best call. The airflow from the fans of a short Titan Twin Turbo doesn’t cover the entire VRM zone of the PCB, so these components may run pretty hot.

Conclusion

So which solution of the three tested today could we recommend as a worthy alternative to a reference cooler on Radeon HD 4870? If you are not into any overclocking experiments, you can go with any of the three or even the old Arctic Cooling Accelero S1. With the graphics card working at nominal frequencies all coolers did well and demonstrated much better acoustic performance than the “stock” cooler on Radeon HD 4870. However, overclockers should first of all take care of proper voltage regulator cooling, before they switch to anything alternative, otherwise, they will not be able to achieve any pleasing results on such overclocking-friendly graphics card.

If you have already taken care of this problem, then I would recommend checking out Scythe Musashi and Arctic Cooling Accelero Twin Turbo as they proved to be the quietest and most efficient coolers of the three tested today. The Japanese swordsman is a little quieter and creates a much greater airflow. And if Scythe engineers had used four heatpipes instead of two and had soldered them into cut-out grooves in the cooler base instead of using thermal glue on them, Musashi could have become the ultimate best cooler. Right now it is just a good universal cooler with a lot of additional heatsinks, but slightly overpriced.

The Twin Turbo from Arctic Cooling may attract your attention due to its low price, efficient TX-2 thermal compound and remarkable Swiss quality. Arctic Cooling solutions really need to get a little more widely spread. As for the Titan twin Turbo, it is just a good inexpensive cooler, simple as that.

Why didn’t I mention Radeon HD 4850 anywhere in this article and didn’t include it into the diagrams? Well, any of the tested cooling solutions will be more efficient and quieter than the reference cooler on this graphics card, so, in this case, just pick the one you like the most. No tests are necessary to justify the choice.