Review: Arctic Cooling VGA Silencer

Cooling
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Nov 3, 2003 by Russ Kinder with Mike Chin

Product
Arctic Cooling VGA Silencer
Manufacturer / Supplier
Arctic Cooling / Frontier PC
Market Price
US$22~27

Two weeks ago, our esteemed editor Mike Chin jumped the gun to post a preview of the Arctic Cooling VGA Silencer because he did not have access to an ATI 9500-9800 card. MikeC's preview was full of eager anticipation which I am sure whetted many SPCR readers' appetites.

I happen to have an Sapphire-ATI 9500 VGA card, now nearly 2 years old, but still a good performer, and more importantly, one that the VGA Silencer would work with. Mike arranged to have a sample sent to me, and now, a scant week later, we've worked together to turn this once-preview into a full review. The preview is no more; this review has taken its place. -- Russ Kinder

* * *

As VGA cards have continued to increase in power, performance and complexity, their heat output has raced upwards, approaching the wattage numbers of top Intel and AMD processors. The power dissipation chart below from the German hardware site TEC Channel tell the story plainly. My Sapphire 9500 is not in the chart, but it would be right up there just below the 9700 and at least as high as the GeForce Ti4600s.


TEC Channel's comprehensive VGA power dissipation chart.

Conventional VGA coolers deal with this heat in the same way that CPU heatsinks do, with a heatsink and fan. Given the peculiarities of the AGP card format, this solution isn't as efficient. For one thing, the heatsink for the hot GPU hangs upside below the card, with the PCI cards almost in touching distance confining the heat even more.

The exhaust fans in the PSU and the back of the case that the CPU relies on to evacuate the heat are on the wrong side of the AGP to help the cooling situation down there much at all. What ends up happening usually is that the VGA card's fan spends most of its time recirculating the warm air that it just passed over its heatsink.

The VGA Silencer is designed and manufactured by Arctic Cooling, who have impressed us with their inexpensive yet quietly effective thermally-controlled CPU coolers. (Check them in this Cooling Section.) As the name suggests, the VGA Silencer is meant to replace an existing cooler and provide quiet cooling. Its fan is not thermally controlled.

VGA Silencer differs considerably from other VGA coolers in a very important aspect: The fan blows the cooling air across the heatsink through a duct that exhausts the heated air out the back of the case. No more hot air recycling! They have a marketing name for this: Direct Heat Exhaust System or DHES. The VGA Silencer is reminiscent of the cooling system on the ill-fated GeForce FX 5800 Ultra in that the air is blown across and out the back. Thankfully, that is the only resemblance: That nVidia cooler was derided by all as lawnmower loud.

SPECIFICATIONS

You can see in the photo above that the VGA Silencer is substantial. The overall dimensions are 185 x 84 x 34 mm (~7.4" x 3.3" x 1.3"). The total weight is 278 grams, which is much lighter than 400g of the big dual-sided Zalman ZM-80 heatpipe VGA cooler (that 400g is without a fan!). The 34mm thickness means the VGA Silencer takes up 1 PCI slot directly beside the AGP slot.

The cooler design is simplicity itself. It is composed of just a few main parts:

1) single-piece aluminum extrusion with extra machining on the underside (as you'll see in photos below) is the primary heatsink part

2) plastic shroud that encloses the fins with openings on either end, and which also forms a housing for the fan.

3) radial blower style fan of ~70mm diameter is integrated into the plastic shroud.

4) 2-screw retention clip clamps the heatsink to the video card.

5) back slot mounting bracket that replaces the original on the VGA card and integrates an opening for the hot air exhaust. This bracket also has a 1200 / 2400 rpm fan speed switch that becomes accessible from behind the PC when the modified VGA card is installed. A wire with small 2-pin connector plus into the 12V header on the VGA card.

The photo above shows the exhaust opening end of the cooler, the double-slot mounting bracket, the 2-speed fan switch, 12V lead for the fan, and the 2-screw retention clip.

Here is a closer look at the exhaust end. Because the fins are fairly thin and the spaces between them not too narrow, the exhaust airflow is reasonably substantial at either speed.

The machined raised rectangular portion is clamped against the GPU of the video card via 2 screws through the plastic / metal retention clip. The threaded holes for the screws can be seen in 2 corners of the rectangular aluminum block. (That CPU core contact area is raised so that the rest of the HS can clear the components on the VGA card, by the way.)


VGA Silencer mounted on Sapphire 9500.


Bracket and screws retaining the VGA Silencer on the back side of the ATI card, mounted in motherboard.

It works much like the backside support bracket for some P4 coolers that goes underneath the CPU socket mount of the motherboard. The GPU core and PCB are clamped between the retention clip and the heatsink. The clip is substantial enough that a fair amount of pressure could be brought to bear by tightening those 2 screws.

It should be evident that the VGA Cooler's mounting system relies on the mounting holes in the ATI 9500-9800 cards (and the nVidia GF3 cards) to be correctly located on the board. There is little tolerance for variance from the standard location of those 2 heatsink mounting holes.

For the record, the installation of the VGA Silencer to the Sapphire 9500 was totally straightforward. If you can handle a screwdriver, you can probably handle this fine. It is far simpler than installing the Zalman ZM-80 heatpipe cooler. Just follow the instructions included in the package.



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