Summary: Like the CPU industry, prices are rapidly falling in graphics industry -- high-end cards like the X1900 XT can be found for under $350, while the X1800 XT 512MB is below $200 and the 7900 GT is quickly approaching $250. Prices have never been this good. A lot of these high-end cards however generate a lot of noise, and so many enthusiasts are swapping out the stock coolers for aftermarket units and finding that the new coolers generate less noise with lower GPU temps. In this article, we're taking a look at four aftermarket VGA coolers from Arctic Cooling, Thermaltake, and Zalman, with prices ranging from $22-$60. See how the new coolers compare to each other, as well as stock cooling in noise and performance in this article!
ATI’s flagship consumes the most power due in part to its 48-pixel shader architecture and more complicated eight-channel memory controller, consisting of eight 32-bit memory controllers. Previous GPUs with a 256-bit internal memory interface relied on just four 64-bit memory controllers. ATI has also added dedicated logic for flow control with their dispatch processor and branch unit in each pixel shader quad. All this adds up to a GPU that contains 384 million transistors.
In comparison, NVIDIA’s GeForce 7900 GTX only contains 278 million transistors, resulting in a power consumption of a mere 85Watts. While NVIDIA employs a massive aluminum cooler with 4 heatpipes and a huge 80mm fan, ATI uses a smaller, all-copper cooler with a poorly designed 60mm fan that must spin much faster than NVIDIA’s 80mm fan to pull the same amount of air. This results in noise levels of over 60db when ATI’s cooler revs up to full speeds.
While ATI’s solution effectively cools the X1900XT(X) and X1800XT cards, the vacuum-like noise is practically unbearable when the fan is running at full speed. NVIDIA isn’t completely off the hook however, the stock cooling on the GeForce 7900 GT and 7600 GT can get pretty noisy as well.
This is where third party manufacturers create replacement coolers. Arctic Cooling, Thermaltake, and previously reviewed Zalman have created alternative solutions that either provides better performance, lower noise levels, or preferably, both. Today we’ll be looking at Arctic Cooling’s Accelero X1, designed for the nVidia’s 6800 series, 7800 series, and 7900GTX cards, the Accelero X2, designed for the X1800 and X1900 series cards, and finally the Thermaltake Tide Water compact video card water cooler, compatible with all current video cards. With street prices on the Radeon X1800 XT below $200 on Price Grabber, and the X1900 XT quickly falling below $350, we figured now was a good time to revisit the performance you could get from these new coolers.
The Accelero models are a major change compared to the Silencer models. The major difference is that the Accelero coolers no longer exhaust air out of the case. Initially this may seem like a major step backward, heating up the case. However Arctic Cooling had a specific reason for doing this. The Accelero Coolers are designed to work with the BTX form factor. Although we may never see it in mainstream use, Arctic Cooling decided to future-proof its coolers.
The Accelero coolers come with the unit itself, screws and washers, thermal pads, and instructions.
Installation of the Accelero X1
We are going to test the Accelero X1 on the BFG 7900GTX. Although it isn’t NVIDIA’s hottest single card (that honor goes to the GeForce 7800 GTX, consuming 100Watts), it is NVIDIA’s newest, and has a gigantic and effective cooler. The 7900GTX’s cooler, borrowed from the Quadro 5500 (NVIDIA’s professional graphics line) is larger, with a larger fan and more fins. Therefore if the Accelero was to even tie the stock cooler, we would consider the Accelero a successful design.
Apply the thermal pads onto the RAM chips. This process is once again extremely annoying because the pads stick to anything they touch. Line up the X2 with the mounting holes and place it on the board. The screws that come with the Accelero X2 are only one length, 6mm. Thread seven (7) of them through washers and flip over the card slowly.
The radiator has many fins placed close together to fit as many as possible in a small space. The copper water block is not as finely finished as the Accelero coolers’ bases or the perfectly reflective base of the Zalman VF900. The block came with stains on the outside. Although that won’t hurt performance since the core won’t make contact with the outside, it isn’t a good sign either way.
The fan and pump run from a Molex connector that is sleeved.
Tide Water Installation
Follow the steps outlined previously to remove the stock X1900XTX or 7900GTX cooler shown in the Accelero X1/X2 installations. We’ll be installing this cooler on an X1900XTX because it consumers more power and generates more heat than the 7900GTX. However, installation is the same for any card.
The Tide Water comes with two pairs of mounting bolts, with accompanying nuts. One pair is for NVIDIA cards and the other for ATI cards. Since NVIDIA cards have mounting holes with a smaller diameter, their mounting bolts have a thinner beam. There are also screws that hold down the water block to the mounting bolts and of course, washers. For cards with four mounting holes near the core, pick two that are diagonally opposite of each other. Stick a mounting bolt through a washer and PCB and then secure it from the opposite side with a matching nut. Do the same for the other mounting hole.
On paper, the VF900’s specs are quite impressive:
and maximizes heat dissipation surface area for excellent cooling performance.
- Weight : 185g
- Base Material : Pure Copper
- Bearing Type : 2-Ball
- Speed : 1,350 ~ 2,400rpm ¡¾ 10%
- Noise Level : 18.5 ~ 25.0dB ¡¾ 10%
The VF900 weighs 85g less and is 30mm less wide than the VF700. Many aspects are left unchanged though. The fan size is the same, as well as its dual ball bearing design. Zalman also uses the same ZM-RHS1 heatsinks for the RAM (a.k.a. ramsinks) for both series. The installation method and mechanism, which we will discuss later, remains the same as well.
Another important accessory is the Zalman Fan Mate 2 unit. This has been included with most of Zalman’s coolers VGA and CPU coolers. It is a mini fan controller, giving you full control of the fan’s speed, not just 12V/5V (full speed/silent) like many others. It is also extremely small, so it can be mounted almost anywhere in your case, as long as cable length permits.
The Zalman VF900 is compatible with most video cards today – it can even fit on cards up to 4 years old! (Ti4xx). However because its price tag is about $40, the cooler would be worth more than some older video cards.
1GB Corsair PC8500C5
Antec SP2.0 450W
Antec Sonata 2 Case
7900GTX w/ AcceleroX1
X1900XTX w/ Zalman VF900 (retested); Accelero X2; Thermaltake Tide Water
We used ATI Tool to monitor both the 7900GTX’s and X1900XTX’s temperatures. “Idle” temperature is defined as letting the card sit for 15 minutes inactive and recording the average temperature achieved. “Load” temperature is defined by looping 3DMark06 graphics tests for 25 minutes and taking the maximum temperature achieved during the point.
Great performance: The Accelero was able to best all other coolers except the Tide Water, both at 100% fan speed. It was able to provide a maximum temperature rise (Delta T) of only 13C. The 6 heatpipes and different shape helped Arctic produce the best air cooling for video cards. The Accelero X1 was able to marginally best the performance of a much larger stock cooler from the 7900GTX.
Large Size: The Accelero coolers are tall, they rise above the video card making it impossible to fit in SFF cases and maybe even some horizontally oriented cases (desktop).
Performance: While we were expecting more from Thermaltake's Tide Water cooler, technically it did stiil achieve the lowest temperatures of all coolers that we tested, hitting temps of 56C at full load and the lowest temperature rise of 10C over idle. Therefore, in terms of performance, Tide Water clearly delivered, cooling our Radeon X1900 XTX to cooler temps than any other cooler that we've tested.
Size: The Tide Water takes up two slots in addition to an extra two slots taken by the video card. All other coolers don’t require more than two slots. The cooler was also very bulky and barely fit in the Antec Sonata case, a very popular mid tower case today.
Good Performance: The VF900 achieved similar performance to the Accelero. While it achieved a 3C advantage over the Accelero at dynamic speeds, it trailed by 1C at full speeds. The Zalman tended to have a rather high Delta T because it sustained a lower idle temperature than the Accelero, but similar load temperature.
Price: At $36 online, the Zalman VF900 is about 64% more expensive than the Accelero. So the only reason for spending the extra money would be for the Zalman’s compactness, for a SFF system or such.
The Arctic Cooling Accelero X1 is designed for NVIDIA’s 6800 series, 7800 series, and 7900GTX cards performed extremely well. Although it would be pointless to buy an Accelero X1 for a 7900GTX because the performance is equal, the Accelero X1 would work wonders on the 7800 series cards which had single slot coolers and consumed up to 100W. Arctic Cooling’s Accelero X1/X2 coolers were a breeze to install, containing the least parts of all coolers tested today. As well as greatly reducing idle and load temperatures, the Accelero X2 completely eliminated the piercing whine produced by the stock X1900/X1800 cooler at moderate to full speeds. The only issue with the Accelero coolers is that they divert from the standard Arctic Cooling VGA cooler design by not exhausting hot air out of the case. This however is explained by the BTX design. The Accelero’s performance, price and warranty (6 years) make it our most recommended VGA cooler today, hence it earns our Bull’s Eye Award.
Thermaltake came up with a great concept: a complete watercooling enclosed in a two slot box. This idea needs major polishing in the value department however. Although Thermaltake did achieve the desired goal: clearly Thermaltake's Tide Water bested all the air coolers in this roundup. However, it did not achieve the desired performance you normally expect of a watercooling system, especially for almost 3 times the price of the Arctic Cooling Accelero, we were expecting a much bigger performance edge.
Another issue with the Tide Water is its size. Although it is small for a water cooling system, it is huge for a cooler that only covers one object in the case. In addition to that, it barely fit in a standard mid tower and took up 4 slots total. We did a review on the Sapphire X1900XTX Blizzard featuring Thermaltake’s single slot version of the Tide Water. The card and cooler took up only two slots total, and still managed to achieve the same temperature level results as the larger version of the Tide Water. So in conclusion, we would only advise the Tide Water to someone who must have the best cooling available at any cost, we'd like to see Thermaltake either give the Tide Water a major performance update or huge price cut, or both.
With the arrival of the Accelero, Zalman’s much more expensive VF900 was superseded overnight. Thought it provides excellent performance and noise levels, the Accelero provided equal performance in both categories for over 60% less money. Loyal Zalman customers will definitely be satisfied though. Zalman’s small size is its only advantage, so it will fit anywhere.
Overall though the Accelero coolers are our recommendation of choice as of now.
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