Summary: Gigabyte has made quite a name for themselves building feature-packed motherboards for the AMD and Pentium 4 platforms. Now Gigabyte is entering a new market: CPU cooling. The 3D Cooler Pro is Gigabyte's first cooling entry. This cooler supports the Pentium 4, Athlon XP, and Athlon 64 processors, features heat pipe cooling, dual fans with flexible speed control and blue LEDs. Gigabyte's unique design also cools the surrounding components within your system such as your RAM and graphics card. What's our take on this new cooler? You'll have to read the article to find out!
It’s no secret that the motherboard business is extremely competitive, with dozens of manufacturers offering products based on the same chipset. Differentiating yourself from others in this market can be tough, regardless of how many additional features you add. Margins are tight, as consumers are always concerned about price.
As a result, Gigabyte, already well known for its line of motherboards and video cards, is now expanding into new areas just like other motherboard manufacturers. Shuttle made a name for itself with its XPC line of small form factor systems, but now that market is beginning to become crowded, with an increasing number of motherboard manufacturers releasing competitive products. In addition, with small form factor systems, there’s always the need to update your product lineup to support new system chipsets, which now seem to be replaced at a rate similar to the 6-month product cycles ATI and NVIDIA are known for in the graphics business.
Instead, Gigabyte has moved into another competitive, yet slightly more stable market: processor cooling. Specifically, Gigabyte has introduced a new line of high-end CPU coolers for the Pentium 4 and Athlon XP/Athlon 64 that are tailored towards gamers and hardware enthusiasts. These products are the GH-PCU21-FD and GH-PCU21-VG, better known as the Gigabyte 3D Cooler and Gigabyte 3D Cooler Pro respectively.
By supporting both processor platforms in one product line, Gigabyte is able to keep better control of its overall inventory (not to mention that the added volume helps to lower component prices). This strategy also simplifies things for retailers, who don’t have to keep up with separate stocks for AMD versus Intel products.
Of course, it’s also helpful for end users as well: those of you with Pentium 4 2.4C or 3.2GHz processors that have been thinking about moving over to AMD’s Athlon 64 platform won’t have to purchase a new heatsink/fan unit. Simply swap out the Pentium 4 kit for the Athlon 64 parts that ship with your 3D Cooler and you’re good to go. And while Gigabyte is new to the CPU cooler market, they didn’t half-step with the 3D Cooler Pro either.
Whereas most reference coolers from AMD and Intel are copper-slugged, aluminum designs that rely on good ‘ol air, Gigabyte’s 3D Cooler line are heat pipe solutions, with dual blower-style fans and an eye-catching blue LED in the case of the 3D Cooler Pro. Gigabyte is even working on a second-generation 3D Cooler design that is composed entirely of copper for maximum thermal transfer.
Heat pipe cooling really took off last year, with ABIT introducing its OTES line and Sapphire the silent ULTIMATE Editions. But the heat pipe was made famous with the debut of GeForce FX 5800 Ultra’s FX Flow cooler. The NV30 chip GeForce FX 5800 Ultra was built on needed a heat pipe solution to hit the high clock speeds NVIDIA had intended for it. Other NV30 chips that were used in NVIDIA’s desktop and Quadro lines ran at slower clock speeds, and thus were able to get by with more conventional aluminum heatsink-based cooling.
With this in mind, we were curious to see how Gigabyte’s heat pipe cooler fared. Would it allow us to hit all new clock speeds with our processors?
SIDEBAR: Gigabyte 3D Cooler Pro Product Webpage
Gigabyte has certainly implemented a unique design for the 3D Cooler. As we stated earlier, rather than rely on a traditional heatsink implementation, Gigabyte has integrated heat pipe cooling into the 3D Cooler series. If you recall, a heat pipe design relies on phase-change cooling. The heat pipes themselves are filled with a liquid which begins to boil once the processor heats up. Once the liquid boils, the vapor is forced to the other end of the heat pipe, where it is cooled. From there the vapor condenses back into liquid form and returns to the other end of the pipe. This cycle constantly repeats itself, keeping the CPU cool.
Interestingly enough, both fans blow inward: with the bottom blower sitting approximately one inch above the CPU interface when mounted, air flows above the heat pipe’s/copper base and then up through the apparatus. Meanwhile, the top blower also acts as an air intake. Both streams of air converge at the center, where they exhaust (for lack of a better word) as a massive, tall column of air out the sides.
Since the cooler has fins on all sides of it, this cool air stream exhausts on all sides of the Gigabyte 3D Cooler, hence the “3D” in its name. It’s essentially a true 360 degree cooler, providing cool air for nearby components such as system RAM and your video card, while at the same time the 3D Cooler keeps your processor cool.
The speed of the dual fans can be adjusted via a 3.5” front panel, which is included in the packaging. Speeds range from 2,000 RPM to 4,000 RPM. Obviously the higher the RPMs, the more effective the cooler is, but you also must deal with a higher noise level. In fact, the 4,000 RPM setting was so powerful I could actually feel a slight breeze while sitting four feet away from the test bed!
Installation is fairly straightforward and should be simple for those of you who are experienced system builders. Gigabyte includes clips for Athlon XP, Pentium 4, and Athlon 64/Opteron systems. Simply place the appropriate clip on the cooler, mount the unit over the processor properly, align the notches on the socket interface of your motherboard, and use the clip to latch the cooler to the processor. Installation and removal for all three processor platforms requires no tools.
In order to test the effectiveness of Gigabyte’s 3D Cooler, we grabbed our Athlon 64 3400+ test bed (which consists of a ASUS K8V Deluxe and at that particular time, a RADEON 8500 128MB and 512MB of Corsair XMS 3500 DDR SDRAM) AMD’s reference Athlon 64 heatsink, and Thermaltake’s Silent Boost K8, one of the quietest Athlon 64 solutions on the market. Temperatures were recorded with the latest version of Motherboard Monitor. Idle temperatures were taken after one minute of system bootup, while load testing was conducted after two runs of 3DMark 03. This was repeated three times and averaged.
AMD’s reference heatsink design combines a copper base plate with aluminum fins and a fan that operates at 3,600 RPMs. This setup is a pretty good compromise between price, performance, and noise level. Thermaltake’s Silent Boost K8 is a little more exotic in the sense that it’s composed entirely of copper, which has better thermal conductivity characteristics than aluminum (and also costs more) but in order to reduce noise levels, the fan only operates at 2,600 RPM.
As you can see, at idle the Gigabyte 3D Cooler Pro delivers an impressive 33 degree temperature at 4,000 RPMs, two degrees lower than the Thermaltake and three degrees lower than the AMD reference solution. The Gigabyte 3D Cooler Pro at 3,000 RPM comes in slightly higher than AMD reference, which isn’t too surprising considering they’re both designs that utilize copper base plates but the 3D Cooler’s fan is running 600 RPMs slower. At 2,000 RPMs we’re looking at 41 degrees Celsius.
Under load, the 3D Cooler Pro continues to deliver superior performance, with the processor operating at 42 degrees Celsius. The Gigabyte cooler finishes a surprising second as well at 3,000 RPM, coming in one degree below the Thermaltake cooler at 44 degrees Celsius. Based on our results, it looks like the higher RPMs of the AMD reference heatsink aren’t enough to offset the Gigabyte’s heat pipe design, as the 3400+ was running at 48 degrees under load.
We’ve got to admit, when we first heard Gigabyte was moving into the realm of CPU cooling, we weren’t quite sure what had made them come to that conclusion. While the market is a little more stable in the sense that socket changes are more rare, there are still a plethora of companies who are already competing in the cooling arena. Gigabyte’s 3D Cooler Pro however definitely stands out.
Gigabyte starts by fusing heat pipe cooling to an Orb-shaped heatsink design. The heat pipes are tall, giving the cooler more room to work with, while it’s encapsulated inside an aluminum-finned heatsink. At the heart of all this are dual fans which are capable of providing enough air to not only keep the heat pipe and heatsink cool (and thus, your CPU), but nearby system components cool as well -- when Gigabyte says 3D they really mean it.
The whole package is then topped off with blue LEDs. This gives the 3D Cooler Pro an added level of panache and is perfect for those of you with case windows.
For more control, the 3D Cooler Pro also features a 3.5” fan control panel which can be mounted on the front of your case, or with the provided adapter, in the PCI slot on the back of your computer. The speed of the dual intake fans can be adjusted from 2,000-4,000 RPMs.
The whole system is compatible with Athlon XP, Athlon 64, and Pentium 4, so if you want to use it on your existing K7 or Pentium 4 system now and also for that shiny new Socket 939 Athlon 64 FX you plan on upgrading to at the end of this year the 3D Cooler Pro is ready. Installation is a snap and is completely tool-less.
In short, we were very impressed with Gigabyte’s 3D Cooler Pro and we weren’t the only ones, the rest of the industry has taken notice also. Thermaltake has recently launched its Tower Series, which incorporates many of the features found in 3D Cooler Pro such as the heat pipe design and compatibility with a variety of processors. But the Thermaltake tower lacks 360-degree cooling and fan control, two features Gigabyte has in the 3D Cooler Pro.
So what’s the downside? Price. Online prices for the 3D Cooler Pro start at about $50, which is quite a bit to pay for a cooler, even if it does cool more than just your processor. Gigabyte does produce a cost-reduced version of the 3D Cooler Pro, the 3D Cooler. It features the heat pipe design and dual fans, but lacks the blue LEDs and fan control (RPMs are fixed at 2,500 RPM).
Gigabyte’s 3D Cooler Pro is a remarkable piece of work. It looks good, performs well, and can be configured to run quietly. In addition, it essentially can be used to help keep your other systems components cool. But with the 3D Pro’s high price and Gigabyte’s all-copper cooler right around the corner, we want to wait and see how much additional performance the copper unit brings before we come to a final verdict. Hopefully the introduction of the all-copper 3D Cooler Ultra will drive prices on the Pro model we tested today down a little bit. But if you just can’t wait until then, the 3D Cooler Pro definitely won’t disappoint.
SIDEBAR: Do you think Gigabyte made the right move by introducing a CPU cooler? What do you think about the 3D Cooler’s unique design? Voice your thoughts in the comments section!
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