Arctic Cooling ATI Silencer 2 VGA cooler

Cooling
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TESTING

Every effort was made to minimize the noise level of the test system so that the acoustic aspects of the ATI Silencer 2 could be isolated, measured and heard clearly:

  • A quiet PSU was chosen and remotely located outside of the PC case.
  • The hard drive was decoupled and muffled using foam.
  • A very quiet undervolted Panaflo 80L was used for CPU cooling.
  • No case fans were used.

Despite all efforts, the Silencer's recorded and measured sound levels can be expected to include at least 1 dBA of system noise, especially at the lower levels (~ 20 dBA/1m).


The Test Setup: The PSU was located outside the case;
the foam was placed at the PSU opening only to show the thermal sensor clearly.

TEST RIG

Intel P4-1.8 MHz CPU
VIA P4PB 400 mainboard - VIA P4X400 chipset, on-die CPU thermal diode monitoring
Sapphire Radeon 9600XT 128MB video card on-die GPU temperature diode
Hitachi / IBM Deskstar 180GXP 30GB hard drive
512MB RAM
Zalman 6500B CPU heatsink + Panaflo 80L fan @ 5V
Zalman Fanmate1 voltage controller
Seasonic Super Silencer 300 Rev.A1
Antec SX1040 20" steel tower case

Motherboard Monitor 5.3.7.0 system monitoring software
Futuremark 3DMark03 video benchmarking software


The installed Arctic Cooling ATI Silencer 2

With the case closed, the computer was left idle for 20 minutes to achieve a stable temperature. The after 3DMark temperatures were recorded immediately after one complete cycle of 3DMark03 was run. Because of the design of this video card cooler, it is important to consider its effect on case temperature.

Sound levels were recorded with the case both open and closed. They were taken with the systems at idle from a distance of 1m from the left side of the case.

TEST RESULTS

SAPPHIRE 9600XT NOISE LEVELS
3DMark03 Total Score: 3975
Total System Power Consumption: Idle 47W / Max 92W
SPL Measurements
Stock HSF
ATI Silencer 2
Open Case
37 dBA/1m
29 dBA/1m
Closed Case
32 dBA/1m
27 dBA/1m

The noise level of the Silencer is substantially lower than the stock cooler. The ATI Silencer 2 with the case open is still substantially quieter than the stock Sapphire HSF with the case closed! Also, the sound quality is much more even and less agitating. An incredible improvement. Now how does the cooling stack up?

SAPPHIRE 9600XT THERMAL RESULTS
(Ambient 21°C)
LOAD
Stock HSF
ATI Silencer 2
Idle
GPU
37°C
30°C
Case
30°C
26°C
After 3DMark03
GPU
43°C
34°C
Case
32°C
30°C

The ATI Silencer 2 proved to be far superior than the stock HSF. Not only was the idle GPU temp reduced by 7 degrees, the case temp was also lowered by 4 degrees. With 3DMark03, both GPU and case temperatures rose only 4°C; the GPU load temp was nearly 10°C cooler than with the stock HSF.

SOUND FILES

The sound of the ATI Silencer 2 was recorded at different fan voltage levels. Unlike the video card's PWM (pulse-width modulation) fan controller, a straight voltage controller was used to set the voltage. (PWM is a way to control fan speeds with minimal power loss.) It was noted that towards the end of the 3DMark03 test, the stock fan may have ramped up a bit. In other words, the Sapphire card's fan output voltage is probably thermally controlled.

The ATI Silencer 2 fan did not ramp up or down during testing, presumably because the GPU temperature never got high enough, even after repeated sessions of 3DMark over long periods. The ATI Silencer 2 fan sounded smoother with the voltage controller than when plugged directly into the VGA card's fan header. This is due to the effects of the PWM controller. Some bearing noise was clearly audible whether driven by PWM or the straight voltage controller.

The sound was recorded at 5V and 10.5V. For reference, we also recorded the fan while plugged into the video card's (PWM) fan output. The position of the microphone was 3" from the edge of the VGA cooler fan, out of the air turbulence zone. The case cover was left off.

SPCR MP3s: HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

The recordings above were made with a high resolution studio quality digital recording system. The microphone is 3" from the edge of the fan frame at a 45° angle, facing the intake side of the fan to avoid direct wind noise. The ambient noise during all recordings is 20 dBA or lower.

A quick and simple way to use these recordings for valid listening comparisons is to play the quietest recording on only one speaker (or headphones) and set the volume so it is just barely audible a meter away. You must also turn off any special sound effects, and set equalizer / tone controls to neutral or flat. Don't touch the volume setting afterwards, and use the same one speaker when you listen to any of the other files; that will be reasonably close to the actual recorded sound levels.

For full details on how to calibrate your sound system to get the most valid listening comparison, please see the yellow text box entitled Listen to the Fans on page 3 of the article SPCR's Test / Sound Lab: A Short Tour.

We did not record the sound of the stock cooler for two reasons:

  1. We didn't want to torture you, and
  2. The sound was so bad that it would not be acceptable to anyone who would be reading SPCR.

Compared to the stock cooler, the results were definitely impressive. But how did it stack up to the original VGA Silencer? To draw a comparison, we tested an ATI 9800 Pro equipped with the original VGA Silencer in the exact same system. Because the 9800 Pro is not equipped with a temperature sensor, we were limited to taking measurements of the case temperature only and only at the low fan speed.

NOISE LEVELS
Case Temp
SPL Measurements
Idle
after 3DMark03
ATI Silencer 2: 27 dBA/1m
26°C
30°C
Original VGA Silencer
Low: <20 dBA/1m
(High: 27 dBA/1m)
26°C
30°C

The original VGA silencer was much quieter than the ATI Silencer 2 when set to the low fan speed. Although it had the same noise measurement on the high setting, the sonic signature was smoother and less annoying than the new Silencer. The case temperature rise of 4°C on the low setting suggests that the original VGA Silencer cools the case more efficiently than the new ATI Silencer 2, which exhibited a similar rise at a higher voltage / fan speed and noise level.

In my personal system, running the Silencer fan at 5V (using a Zalman Fanmate via a motherboard fan header) on the Sapphire 9600XT, provides the same cooling as the stock HSF, with an incredible reduction in noise. While the reduction in fan speed played a considerable part in the improvement of the sound level, not running the fan off the the video card's PWM fan control makes for a further subjective improvement.

CONCLUSIONS

The Arctic Cooling ATI Silencer 2 is a successful product. Looking at it only as a replacement for original heatsink / fans on ATI 9600 VGA cards, if this Sapphire HSF is anything like the norm, it's impossible not to praise the ATI Silencer 2 as a roaring -- whispering? -- success. It is certainly a far more effective cooler, providing nearly 10°C lower GPU temps at load than the stock cooler.

Against its own predecessor, the AC VGA Silencer, things are not so clear cut. The absence of a manual fan control switch, the higher speed and general noise level of the new fan, and the more brittle plastic housing all combine to give an impression of better style and perhaps greater cooling focus at the expense of greater noise. Certainly, the stock ATI Silencer 2 has nothing to put against the original VGA Silencer with its fan switch on low. The new fan is not friendly to the Sapphire card's implementation of PWM, either, although we don't know for sure whether the original one had a similar issue. (We didn't have to know because it did not rely on the VGA cards fan speed control for the high / low switch.) Yes, the new ATI Silencer can be made to run at about the same noise level as the original, but at the added cost and bother of an external voltage controller like the Zalman Fanmate. Given that the new MSRP is a little higher than before, this is a bit of a disappointment.

Those who want the quietest cooling of a hot video card may wish to look to Zalman or AeroCool's heatpipe solutions combined with a very quiet 80mm fan, which may provide better acoustics depending on your system and case particulars. Those options will probably end up being more complex and / or costly.

Still, the second generation of Arctic Cooling VGA Silencers remain the only VGA coolers to do the obvious intelligent thermal thing in this age of red-hot VGA cards: Exhaust the heat out of the case. For this reason alone, the ATI Silencer 2 deserves consideration in your quiet computing platform.

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Our thanks to Arctic Cooling for the VGA Silencer 2 samples. NOTE: We will be following up with reviews of other new Arctic Cooling ATI & NV Silencer models with higher-end cards in the near future.

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