by Sergey Lepilov
02/26/2008 | 04:13 PM
When AMD Radeon HD 3850/3870 and Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics cards appeared in the market, the search for alternative cooling systems regained its acuteness. The reason for that were very noisy and not efficient enough reference coolers on these graphics cards. In fact, standard cooling systems have two work modes: the coolers are either quiet but not efficient enough, or demonstrate pretty decent cooling efficiency but also generate too much noise. You can get the Radeon HD 3870 cards to run a little quieter by reflashing new BIOS with “normal powerplay”, but they still heat up a lot. Even the larger fan blades of the new reference cooler on GeForce 8800 GT don’t really change anything. Of course, overclocking fans will hardly be happy about this so they inevitably face the problem of finding a worthy replacement for their default VGA cooling system.
Our lab tests new VGA cooling solutions on a regular basis. Today, we are going to continue this good tradition by introducing to you three new coolers and a “Turbo Module” and comparing their performance against that of a few other cooling solutions we have already discussed before. We would like to present to you two new solutions from Thermaltake and Zalman as well as new VGA cooler from AeroCool. These coolers are very different in their heatsink design, but all of them use copper heatpipes. These days, however, almost all the cooling solutions for computer systems use heatpipe technology.
So, let’s get started. The first participant we would like you to meet is the new system from AeroCool.
We have recently introduced to you new CPU coolers from AeroCool Advanced Technologies (see our article called Four Heatpipes for Two: AeroCool SilverWind and Xfire Coolers Reviewed). This time we are going to talk about their VGA cooling solution of very original design. The cooler packaging is made of carton base covered with transparent plastic casing shaped up as a cooler and its components:
The reverse side of the package contains a detailed list of the cooler specifications and pinpoints its key features. AeroCool Double Power cooler is made in Taiwan.
The accessories bundle includes the following components:
The cooling system boasts very unusual design. Just take a look yourselves:
AeroCool Double Power consists of two parts - heat-spreader and a heatsink with a fan - that are connected with one another via a single copper heatpipe 6mm in diameter. The heatpipe comes out of the heat-spreader base, loops around the large heatsink and ends in the same base.
The heat-spreader is made of solid aluminum and features thin short ribbing:
The heatpipe transfers the heat to the main heatsink with a fan:
This unique construction determines the cooler’s unusually large size of 178 x 120 x 47.5mm. However, the use of solid aluminum (except for only one copper heatpipe) allowed making it only 210g big. I would like to point out right away that AeroCool Double Power is the lightest cooler of all our today’s testing participants.
90-mm fan should cool down the heatsink rib array hanging on the heatpipes and a solid base. Although I personally couldn’t figure out why there is no perforation in the base, because in this case the airflow created by the cooler fan could be directly right to the graphics card PCB:
The fan rotation speed should vary from ~2000RPM to ~3000RPM, however, our monitoring data reported the minimum fan rotation speed of 1920RPM, and maximum – of 2970RPM.
The aluminum surface of the cooler base if finished OK:
Here you can also notice the universal retention panels that attach to the graphics card. The list of graphics cards compatible with AeroCool Double Power cooler is pretty long and is available in the specification chart in this article. I would like to say though that you will not be able to install this cooler onto Radeon HD 2900 XT, because its base will sit on the metal frame around the graphics processor and there will be no contact with the GPU itself. However, this is not a serious drawback because these graphics cards have already been discontinued and haven’t become overclockers’ favorite anyway.
The cooler installation is a very simple procedure. First you have to screw in four spindles into the corresponding holes in the graphics card PCB locking them with small screw-nuts on the front side. Then you install the cooler on top of them and tighten it with spring screws:
This retention is very reliable, the cooler will not be moving around the chip surface. This is what it looks like when installed onto Radeon HD 3870:
You can see clearly that the main heatsink with a fan is hanging above the power part of the PCB, so the holes in the base could have really helped cool this part of the PCB really efficiently.
When installed onto a Radeon HD 3870 graphics card the cooler heatsink gets 4cm past the top side of the PCB and 1.5cm past the back side of it. Note that these numbers may vary on different graphics cards, because they depend on the PCB layout.
When the card with AeroCool Double Power is inside the system case, the picture may not be too rosy either:
In a standard ASUS ASCOT 6AR2-B ATX case. The heatsink unit with the fan hits against the hard disk drive and blocks completely two slots right next to it on Asus P5K Deluxe mainboard. Although you will still be able to fit a short modem or a sound card into the second slot from the PCI-E one.
The fan features white lighting:
It looks very nice in the dark.
AeroCool Double Power is priced relatively high and sells for $45, which seems a little unjustified because it is made of aluminum.
The relatively large vertical box with Thermaltake DuOrb cooler is made of thick carton and has two cut-out windows in the front and in the back:
These windows give us a great opportunity to check out the cooler without removing it from the box. The reverse side of the package lists the detailed cooler specifications, its major features and a brief list of supports graphics cards. Thermaltake DuOrb is made in China.
Inside the carton box there is a transparent plastic casing holding the cooler and a small box with bundled accessories:
The smaller box contains the following items:
At first Thermaltake DuOrb reminds us of Zalman VF900 LED cooler times 2:
The skeleton of Thermaltake DuOrb is made of two copper heatpipes 6mm in diameter that originate from a copper base. They carry a lot of copper plates cooled with a pair of fans:
We can say that this cooler is shaped as an “8”, which we have already mentioned in our news stories about it.
Thermaltake DuOrb measures 180.5 x 98.5 x 30mm and weighs 324g.
The cooler base is very even (we checked it using our thermal paste imprint method on the glass surface and then on the GPU), however it lacks Thermaltake’s traditional shining finish, which we often see on other cooling solutions from this manufacturer:
Two TT-8015L fans are 80x15mm big and feature blue lighting:
The fans rotate with constant speed of ~2500RPM and create 23.8CFM airflow. The manufacturer doesn’t report the level of generated noise for some reason, but against the competitors’ background it seemed subjectively louder. We don’t know why the new cooler has no fan rotation speed controller or a 5/7V converter. The fan bearing mean time before failure is claimed to be 50,000 hours.
Thermaltake DuOrb is designed for Nvidia 6800/7800/7900/8800 and AMD X1800/X1900X/X1950 graphics cards. It also fits perfectly fine onto Radeon HD 2900/3850/3870 graphics cards that are not in this list.
Thermaltake DuOrb installation is extremely simple, which has become a common feature of almost all contemporary VGA and CPU cooling solutions.
Two enclosed retention plates should be screwed on to the cooler base. The retention spindles then go into the special holes in these plates:
After that you should place the graphics card on top of the cooler (it is more convenient to do it this way rather than the other way around) and tighten it with the retention screws from the back side:
Thermaltake DuOrb doesn’t require you to use any special tools and the whole installation procedure takes about 5 minutes.
The card with installed Thermaltake DuOrb cooler looks very beautiful:
Thermaltake DuOrb is not any thicker than a standard Radeon HD 3870 cooler:
So, you will only lose one slot next to the PCI-E when the whole thing is installed into your system case:
Thermaltake DuOrb will add a pretty-looking blue lighting to your system in the dark:
The new Thermaltake cooler with unique design is priced at $50.
The Korean Zalman Company hasn’t pleased overclockers with any new and innovative CPU or VGA cooling solutions for a while. Zalman VF1000 LED cooler that we are going to talk about today was announced about a year ago, but started selling only in the end of last fall.
The cooler is shipped in a small box with yellow-greenish color design. Just like Thermaltake DuOrb we have discussed earlier, the box has several cut-out windows on both sides that reveal the cooler:
You can read a reminder to use additional Zalman heatsink unit for the graphics memory when working with GeForce 8800 based graphics accelerators. There is also a list of compatible graphics cards. It is actually very smart to make sure that the user sees this reminder before actually buying the cooler, rather than discovers it afterwards.
The reverse side of the box contains detailed technical specifications of this solution alongside with the cooler’s key features.
In the upper part of the package there is a smaller carton box with the following accessories:
The cooler consists of four copper heatpipes 5mm in diameter that come out of copper base:
They carry 52 copper plates, each 0.3mm thick. The whole thing is cooler with an 80x15mm fan with 11 transparent blades and LED highlighting:
In fact, everything is very simply designed. I would also like to point out that the whole thing is very reliably put together: the heatpipes are soldered to the cooler base and heatsink plates, not stuck to it.
The cooler measures 160x100x30mm and weighs 380g.
The base is ideally even, which was checked the same way as with the previous coolers. And the polish quality is legendary impeccable:
Zalman VF1000 LED can be installed on almost all contemporary graphics cards except AMD Radeon HD 3870 X2. The installation procedure is very simple. First you have to open the installation schematics and determine what two or four retention holes you will be using. Then screw in the bushes:
The rubber rings go on top of the bushes, which are then inserted into the retention holes on the graphics card PCB. The cooler is tightened to the graphics card with uniquely shaped screws through plastic pads:
We recommend tightening the screws evenly little by little: two diagonal screws at a time.
Once the cooler is installed onto a Radeon HD 3870, it looks very neat:
Zalman VF1000 LED on a graphics card is not any bigger than a standard Radeon HD 3870 cooling system:
This way only the mainboard slot next to the PXI-E gets blocked:
The fan highlighting is not as bright as the one we saw on Thermaltake DuOrb, but will also be a pleasing sight for modding fans:
Zalman VF1000 LED turned out the most expensive cooler of all we tested today, as its recommended retail price is set at $55.
The last graphics card cooling solution we are going to introduce to you today is not really a fully-fledged cooler. In fact, Arctic Cooling Turbo Module is a set of two fans that should be installed onto Accelero S1 or S2 passive cooling systems from Arctic Cooling, which we reviewed before. According to the manufacturer, the use of this Turbo Module allows dropping another 14ºC off the graphics processor temperature. Moreover, it doesn’t make the whole thing that much louder.
Arctic Cooling Turbo Module is shipped in a transparent plastic package with a carton insert:
The fan module comes with a brief user’s manual, Molex converter for the PSU and an Arctic Cooling logo sticker:
The fans are 80x15mm big and are connected with a short dual-pin sleeved cable:
The fans rotation speed is ~1500RPM and they generate 42CFM airflow at 0.1 Sone noise. From our subjective experience, Arctic Cooling Turbo Module works very quietly.
The fans retention consists of a plugs and clips that fit in-between Accelero heatsink plates:
Arctic Cooling Turbo Module installed onto Accelero S1 looks as follows:
With a pair of fans, Accelero S1 blocks two mainboard slots next to the graphics card:
Arctic Cooling Turbo Module is priced at about $8-$10, and together with Accelero S1 the whole thing will cost you less than $40.
Now let’s compare the technical specifications of our today’s testing participants side by side:
Today’s roundup participants were tested only in a closed system case with the following configuration:
To give you an idea of the overall heat dissipation of the system case, I have to add that our dual-core processor was overclocked from its nominal frequency of 2667MHz to 3800MHz. We increased its Vcore to1.625V. The DDR2 system memory worked at 1140MHz and 2.15V voltage.
The testing programs were installed under Windows XP Professional Edition SP2. We used DirectX 9.0c (dated December 2007) libraries, Catalyst 8.1 and ForceWare 169.32 drivers.
The graphics cards were loaded up by running 3DMark06’s Firefly Forest test ten times in 1920x1200 with 16x anisotropic filtering and 4x FSAA activated. We overclocked the graphics cards and then monitored their temperatures using RivaTuner 2.0.6 utility. We performed at least two test cycles for each cooler and waited for 10-15 minutes for the temperature to stabilize between each test cycle. The ambient temperature remained at ~25°C during the tests and is used as a starting point on our results charts.
The noise level of each cooler was measured according to our traditional method using CENTER-321 electronic noise meter. The subjectively comfortable level of ~34.5dBA is marked with a blue dotted line in the diagrams; the ambient noise from the system case including a processor cooler didn’t exceed ~33.2dBA from a 1m distance.
I decided to start our today’s performance analysis in a little bit different way by offering you the results of our acoustic measurements first. The cooling efficiency results will follow. First let’s discuss the noise levels measured for all coolers tested:
The coolers on this chart have been grouped according to the level of generated noise: within the subjectively comfortable level of up to 34.5dBA and beyond that. The quietest ones turned out Zalman VF1000 LED at 1700RPM, AeroCool Double Power at the minimal fan rotation speed and Arctic Cooling Accelero S1 with Turbo Module. You can barely hear the noise from the reference coolers on Radeon HD 2900 XT in 2D mode and Radeon HD 3870 at 45% of its fan rotation speed. However, you can clearly hear the fans on Cooler Master CoolViva Pro SE despite the fact that they are only 0.1dBA louder than the reference fan of Radeon HD 3870.
As for the relatively noisy group, the quietest here is the reference cooler on GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB, with the average fan rotation speed set manually at 910RPM. Its rotation speed drops to 450-500RPM in 2D mode and the graphics card becomes practically noiseless. And then the noise level is ascending up until the howling of the Radeon HD 3870 cooler at maximum ~4590RPM.
For your convenience we kept the same participants order on the cooling efficiency diagrams in the next sections.
First of all I would like to make a short introduction. We initially intended to test these cooling solutions not only on Radeon HD 3870 and GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB, but also on the hottest contemporary graphics accelerator – Radeon HD 2900 XT. And we have even got our hands on the corresponding solution from PowerColor. However, these tests never took place. AeroCool Double Power and Thermaltake DuOrb coolers failed to cool this graphics chip even at its nominal speed. GPU temperature got past 110ºC very quickly and then the notorious VPU Recover kicked in. Zalman VF1000 LED fought bravely until the end, but even at the maximum rotation speed of its fan the chip temperature remained at 98ºC, the system temperature around it was at 82ºC and the voltage regulator temperature hit 116ºC! However, the reference Radeon HD 2900 XT cooling solution managed to ensure much better results of 92ºC, 79ºC and 96ºC respectively, although it did howl vigorously.
Unfortunately, Arctic Cooling Accelero S1 with Turbo Module also didn’t prove up to our expectations here. To install it properly onto Radeon HD 2900 XT you will either have to remove the protective metal frame around the GPU (it stands out above the GPU heat-spreader a little bit) or file down part of the cooler base. Otherwise Accelero S1 has tight contact only with 1/3 of the chip surface and hence doesn’t provide proper cooling. So, we could only test our cooling solutions on Radeon HD 3870 and GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB. On the other hand, we doubt that the failed Radeon HD 2900 XT tests were of much practical value anyway, because these graphics cards are no longer manufactured.
MSI Radeon HD 3870 512MB graphics card (RX3870-T2D512E) features reference PCB design and is equipped with a standard cooling solution:
We immediately replaced the GPU thermal interface with Arctic Sliver 5. The card overclocked to 851/2412MHz with its default cooler.
The results chart below shows two groups of cooling solutions: with low level of generated noise and at the maximum rotation speeds of their fans. Here are the results:
The first thing I would like to point out is that all four alternative coolers for Radeon HD 3870 proved more efficient than the reference system. The latter manages to win a few degrees only at its maximum fan rotation speed, which will only be acceptable for some industrial environment because of extremely high level of generated noise. Speaking of other testing participants, I have to say that even the weakest cooler, AeroCool Double Power will cope well with an overclocked Radeon HD 3870, even in its quiet mode.
The best one in this mode is indisputably the Arctic Cooling Accelero S1 with Turbo Module. However, two other coolers, Thermaltake DuOrb and Zalman VF1000 LED could only cool the overclocked graphics processor by 3ºC and 2ºC better at their maximum fan rotation speeds having sacrificed the comfortable noise level. Thermaltake DuOrb fans have only one work mode at all, while the rotation speed of Zalman VF1000 LED fan can be reduced. In this case, however, it starts losing 4ºC on the GPU and 5ºC on the graphics card overall to Accelero S1. By the way, in terms of graphics card temperature Arctic Cooling Accelero S1 with Turbo Module proves the best cooling solution fro Radeon HD 3870 512MB.
Small temperature difference in 3D mode and in idle mode can be explained very easily. The thing is that if the graphics card is overclocked with RivaTuner v2.0.6 and its BIOS is not adjusted accordingly, the GPU frequency doesn’t drop down automatically (to 297MHz) in 2D mode as it happens at nominal speeds that is why the GPU temperature doesn’t get any lower. If you reflash corrected BIOS with the increased frequencies only for 3D mode the chip clock speed will drop. During our tests on MSI Radeon HD 3870 512MB we didn’t do it for certain reasons.
Don’t be surprised that here we are going to test our cooling solutions on a GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB and not 8800 GT, which weak cooling system we mentioned in the very beginning of this article. You all know that graphics processors are the same and the cards differ minimally from one another, but 8800 GTS 512MB dissipates more heat than 8800 GT, and hence should be better suited for the purposes of our today’s test session. However, I can’t disregard the fact that we will not be able to compare the obtained results against those of a default GeForce 8800 GT cooling solution.
For our experiments we picked a Leadtek WinFast PC8800 GTS 512MB graphics card with a reference cooler that looks like this:
We managed to overclock this card to 756/1877/2052MHz with its default cooler and Arctic Silver 5 thermal interface.
Here we have also added the results for Cooler Master CoolViva Pro SE cooler that wasn’t tested on Radeon HD 3870 for objective reasons. Here are the obtained results:
Of course, you can see that AeroCool Double Power will not be able to replace the reference GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB cooler, because it is less efficient in quiet mode for both: the CPU and the card in general, and at maximum fan rotation speed is not only efficient enough but is also quite loud. Those who value quiet operation should pay attention to Arctic Cooling Accelero S1 with Turbo Module as the most efficient and also very quiet cooler. It’s a pity that Accelero S1 cannot cope with a hot GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB in passive mode (without the Turbo Module).
If you are looking for maximum cooling efficiency for your GeForce 8800, you should consider Thermaltake DuOrb or a more “flexible” Zalman VF1000 LED with adjustable fan rotation speed. Even the GeForce 800 GTS 512MB reference cooler will do in this case, although you will have to sacrifice your acoustic comfort for the sake of this efficiency.
Well, the only cooling solution we cannot really recommend at this time is AeroCool Double Power, because of lack of cooling efficiency, not very convenient design and relatively high price. However, even this cooler has a few indisputable advantages, such as universal design, low level of generated noise at minimal fan rotation speed and original white highlighting. However, other today’s testing participants also boast the same features, except the white highlighting.
The leader of our today’s test session is evidently Accelero S1 with a Turbo Module. This very efficient and quiet cooler also turned out the cheapest of all cooling systems discussed today. As for the drawbacks, we should remember that it blocks two mainboard slots next top the graphics card. Besides, the hot air is only partially ousted from the system case, while the reference coolers on Radeon HD 3870 and GeForce 8800 GTS send almost all of the hot air outside.
Two testing participants with solid copper heatsinks – Zalman VF1000 LED and Thermaltake DuOrb – also showed their real best in this test session having proven efficient enough for overclocked graphics cards. I have to admit that unfortunately, Thermaltake DuOrb turned out pretty loud, therefore we hope that one day Thermaltake will add a fan rotation speed controller or a 7V (maybe even 5V) power adapter to the cooler bundle. At the same time, the Zalman solution is free from this drawback although it is just a little weaker than Thermaltake DuOrb at the maximum fan rotation speed. Among the drawbacks both these coolers have we should point out their high price and incomplete hot air exhaust outside the system case.