Gigabyte Volar CPU heatsink/fan

Cooling
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TESTING


On the test bench...

Testing was done according to our unique heatsink testing methodology. The close integration between the fan and the heatsink made it impossible to use our usual reference fan, so the two were tested together as a single unit rather than our usual practice of considering the two separately. For the reason, we did not profile the fan separately. A quick summary of the components, tools, and procedures follows below.

Key Components in Heatsink Test Platform:

Test Tools

  • Seasonic Power Angel for measuring AC power at the wall to ensure that the heat output remains consistent.
  • Custom-built, four-channel variable-speed fan controller, used to regulate the fan speed during the test.
  • Bruel & Kjaer (B&K) model 2203 Sound Level Meter. Used to accurately measure noise down to 20 dBA and below.
  • Various other tools for testing fans, as documented in our standard fan testing methodology.

Software Tools

  • SpeedFan 4.33, used to monitor the on-chip thermal sensor. This sensor is not calibrated, so results are not universally applicable, but they should be comparable with the other tests we've done on this test bed. The current test system was put into service in January 2007.
  • CPUBurn P6, used to stress the CPU heavily, generating more heat that most realistic loads. Two instances are used to ensure that both cores are stressed.
  • Throttlewatch 2.01, used to monitor the throttling feature of the CPU to determine when overheating occurs.

Noise measurements were made with the fan powered from the lab variable DC power supply while the rest of the system was off to ensure that system noise did not skew the measurements.

Load testing was accomplished using CPUBurn to stress the processor, and the graph function in SpeedFan was used to make sure that the load temperature was stable for at least ten minutes. Every fan was tested at four voltages: 5V, 7V, 9V, and 12V, representing a full cross-section of the fan's airflow and noise performance. The fan speed control cable was not used, but its performance is equivalent to the 9V level of our test.

The ambient conditions during testing were 18 dBA and 22°C.

TEST RESULTS


Gigabyte Volar with Stock Fan
Fan Voltage
Temp
°C Rise
°C/W
Noise
12V
45°C
23°C
0.29
40 dBA@1m
9V
47°C
25°C
0.32
33 dBA@1m
7V
49°C
27°C
0.35
27 dBA@1m
5V
53°C
31°C
0.40
20 dBA@1m
Load Temp: CPUBurn for ~20 mins.
°C Rise: Temperature rise above ambient (18°C) at load.
°C/W: Temperature rise over ambient per Watt of CPU heat, based on the amount of heat dissipated by the CPU (measured 78W).
Noise: SPL measured in dBA@1m distance with high accuracy B & K SLM

The Volar's 40 dBA@1m performance at 12V was nowhere close to Gigabyte's 23 dBA noise spec, and far from the 30 dBA@1m SPL that we consider the high end of "quiet". Thermally, it did the job, but we've reviewed plenty of coolers that can outperform it at lower noise levels. At 9V — the level reached with the fan control cable — it was still too noisy to consider.

The best spot for the noise-to-cooling ratio is around 7V, where performance dropped only 4°C from full speed, and noise was a no-longer-ear-shattering but not-yet-quiet 27 dBA@1m. At this level, cooling was good enough for our processor with a 27°C rise. Processors that consume more than our 78W test CPU would probably not be cooled adequately. Overclocking by any significant amount is out of the question.

If low noise is a requirement, most of the usable range for the Volar occurs with the fan between 5V and 7V. Unfortunately, for much of this range, the quality of the noise was marred by a sharp mechanical buzz — the sound of the fan's frame rattling against the heatsink block. The buzz could be stopped by pressing on the fan hub. A sample of the buzz can be heard in the MP3 section below. It's quite likely that the exact character of this noise varies from sample to sample, but the way the fan is coupled to the fin block means this problem is probably not uncommon.

Only at 5V did the fan noise subside enough to be useable in a quiet system, though the noise was still quite tonal, with a clearly audible low frequency hum. Performance at this level was still good enough for low-powered processors or situations where the CPU doesn't see sustained stress, but that's a pretty limited market for an aftermarket heatsink.

NOISE RECORDINGS IN MP3 FORMAT

  • Gigabyte Volar: 5V-7V-9V-12V, 5s Ambient between levels: One Meter (Note: The 30cm recording is unnecessary; the noise is perfectly audible at 1m.)
  • Gigabyte Volar: 7V buzz: One Meter
  • Reference 120mm fan (not tested): 5V-7V-9V-12V, 5s Ambient between levels: One Meter, One Foot

Comparatives:

  • Scythe Infinity: 5V-7V-9V-12V, 5s Ambient between levels: One Meter, One Foot
  • Zalman CNPS8700 LED: 5V-7V-9V-12V, 5s Ambient between levels: One Meter
  • Scythe Mine w/ stock fan: 5V-7V-9V-12V, 5s Ambient between levels: One Meter, One Foot
  • Thermaltake Big Typhoon: 5V-7V-9V-12V, 5s Ambient between levels: One Meter, One Foot
HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made with a high resolution, studio quality, digital recording system and are intended to represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review. Two recordings of each noise level were made, one from a distance of one meter, and another from one foot away.

The one meter recording is intended to give you an idea of how the subject of this review sound in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. For best results, set your volume control so that the ambient noise is just barely audible. Be aware that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn't hear it from one meter, chances are we couldn't record it either!

The one foot recording is designed to bring out the fine details of the noise. Use this recording with caution! Although more detailed, it may not represent how the subject sounds in actual use. It is best to listen to this recording after you have listened to the one meter recording.

More details about how we make these recordings can be found in our short article: Audio Recording Methods Revised.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

If we gave awards for innovation or creativity in design, the Volar would be right up there on our list. Unfortunately, it's performance that counts, and Gigabyte's unusual design has failed to provide it. The "innovative" warranty terms don't help matters.

If there's a bright spot for the Volar, it's the installation system, which is straightforward and uses the stock mounting system. Unfortunately, this is a bit like praising a broker for providing honest bookkeeping on a portfolio that has become worthless. It's nice to have an installation system that works, but it's not what counts when it comes to picking a good heatsink.

Pros

* Uses stock mounting system
* Easy installation
* Provides VRM and MOSFET cooling
Cons

* Noisy
* Poor thermal performance
* Terrible noise-cooling ratio
* Confusing warranty terms

EDITOR'S POSTSCRIPT by Mike Chin

The mediocre performance of the Volar is disappointing, but the huge discrepancy between the claimed 23 dBA SPL specification and our measured SPL of 40 dBA@1m is shocking. Gigabyte's anechoic chamber and sound test instrumentation, which I had an opportunity to see first hand earlier this year, are very impressive and should provide very accurate acoustic measurements. The acoustics and equipment of our lab are downright primitive in comparison; yet we know our SPL measurements are fairly close to those obtained more professionally. The simple fact is that a quick listening comparison between the Volar against any number of fans (and coolers) that we know are accurately spec'd around 20~25 dBA@1m makes it very clear that the Volar is nowhere near the claimed mark.

The only explanations for this glaring discrepancy:

  • We have a very bad fan sample (though it doesn't sound obviously damaged).
  • Gigabyte engineers made those fan SPL measurements while it was in free air, not mounted on the heatsink.

The latter might bring the noise level down close to 23 dBA@1m, but it doesn't inspire confidence in Gigabyte's acoustic engineers. All this suggests that sophisticated test equipment by themselves don't result in superior acoustic design.


Much thanks to Gigabyte for the Volar sample.

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Articles of Related Interest

Recommended Heatsinks
SPCR's Unique Heatsink Testing Methodology
SPCR's Standard Fan Testing Methodology
Thermaltake Big Typhoon Heatsink / Fan
Scythe SCNJ-1000 Ninja Heatsink
Zalman CNPS8700 LED CPU Cooler: Update of a Classic
Scythe Ninja Mini CPU heatsink

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