Chaintech AA6800GT + Arctic Cooling NV Silencer 5

Cooling
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TESTING

The system used to test the ATI Silencer 2 was called into service here again. Every effort was made to minimize the noise level of the test system so that the acoustic aspects of the NV Silencer 5 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.

TEST RIG

Intel P4-1.8 MHz CPU
VIA P4PB 400 mainboard - VIA P4X400 chipset, on-die CPU thermal diode monitoring
Chaintech AA6800GT APOGEE 256MB video card, on-card GPU and "ambient" temperature monitoring
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

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.

With the case closed, the computer was left to idle for 20 minutes in order to achieve a stable temperature. The After 3DMark temperatures were recorded immediately after one complete cycle of 3DMark03 was run.

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.

The AA6800GT video card we used has two temperature sensors. The first was the common "GPU Core" sensor. The second was the "Ambient" sensor. We are unsure as to the location of the "Ambient" sensor on the board. Please note that the "Ambient" temperature is not the ambient temperature of the room within the testing took place. It can be considered as being similar to a case temperature measurement.

TEST RESULTS

CHAINTECH AA6800GT STOCK
3DMark03 Total Score: 9527
Total System Power Consumption: Idle 63W / Max 132W
NOISE LEVELS
SPL Measurements
Idle
Max during 3DMark03
Open Case
41 dBA/1m
54 dBA/1m
Closed Case
36 dBA/1m
49 dBA/1m

CHAINTECH AA6800GT STOCK COOLER THERMAL RESULTS
Sensor
Idle
After 3DMark03
GPU Core
53°C
70°C
"Ambient"
36°C
53°C

As the 3DMark03 total score of 9527 indicates, the Chaintech AA6800GT is a very powerful video card. It looked pretty darn good during the benchmarks, with the FPS staying at a reasonable level throughout. The detail and textures displayed by the 6800GT were extremely impressive. A very nice card, except for the horrific noise level, which is plainly unacceptable for SPCR. The temperature of the core is not bad by GPU standards.

CHAINTECH AA6800GT w/ NV SILENCER 5: NOISE LEVELS
SPL Measurements
Plugged Into AA6800GT
Plugged Into Fanmate @ 5V
Stock Cooler
Open Case
36 dBA/1m
28 dBA/1m
54 dBA/1m
Closed Case
31 dBA/1m
26 dBA/1m
49 dBA/1m

CHAINTECH AA6800GT w/ NV SILENCER 5: THERMAL RESULTS
LOAD
Plugged Into AA6800GT
Plugged Into Fanmate @ 5V
Stock Cooler
Idle
GPU Core
50°C
53°C
53°C
"Ambient"
34°C
35°C
36°C
After 3DMark03
GPU Core
58°C
66°C
70°C
"Ambient"
44°C
51°C
53°C

The improvement in noise level with the Arctic Cooling NV Silencer 5 is totally dramatic even run straight off the video card fan header, although plugging it into the Zalman Fanmate1 voltage controller makes for an even better result. Interestingly, even with the Fammate1 set to minimum, the cooling performance of the AC NV Silencer 5 is always better than the stock solution.

SOUND FILES

The sound of the NV Silencer 5 was recorded at different fan voltage levels using a Zalman Fanmate. 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.

With the ATI Silencer 2, the fan sounded smoother when plugged into a linear voltage controller rather than directly into the VGA card's fan header. This is due to the effects of the video card's PWM fan controller. Some bearing noise was clearly audible whether driven by PWM or the linear voltage controller. Unexpectedly, when we plugged the NV Silencer 5 into the Fanmate at maximum (10.5V), the sonic signature was worse than when plugging it into the video card's fan header. We expect this is because at normal usage, the thermally controlled fan output voltage of the VGA card is substantially less than 12V. With the Fanmate set to minimum, the sonic signature was much better than when plugged into the AA6800GT's fan header.

The sound was recorded at our Fanmate's lowest and highest settings, 5.7V and 10.5V respectively. For reference, we also recorded the stock cooler. 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 a pair of headphones) and set the volume so it is just barely audible a meter away. You must 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. The end result will be reasonably close to the actual recorded sound levels.

Below are two recordings of very quiet fans that are barely audible from 1 meter away.

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.

CONCLUSIONS

The Arctic Cooling NV Silencer 5 is quite successful as a replacement for the AA6800GT's stock cooler. It is certainly a quieter and far more effective cooler. By running it off the Fanmate at minimum voltage, we were able to achieve slightly lower idle temperatures than with the stock cooler. The temperatures at high load were even better, dropping 4°C while reducing the acoustic output by some 15 dBA/1m! The noise reduction is probably enough to make many a gamer breathe a sigh of relief in any pauses between trigger pulls.

Those who want to achieve 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, such as a Nexus or Panaflo, which should provide better acoustics depending on your system and case particulars. Those options will probably end up being more complex and/or costly and perhaps not as effective in cooling.

The 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 NV Silencer 5 deserves serious consideration in a gamer's quiet computing platform.

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Our thanks to Arctic Cooling for the NV Silencer 5 sample and to Newegg for the US$415 Chaintech AA6800GT Apogee sample.

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Discuss this article in the SPCR Forums.



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