You are here

Gigabyte Volar CPU heatsink/fan

November 24, 2007 by Devon
Cooke

Product
Gigabyte Volar GH-PSU21-FB

Socket 775 / K8 / AM2 CPU Heatsink
Manufacturer
Market Price
US$35~45

Like many other Taiwan-based manufacturers, Gigabyte is fighting stiff competition
and outsourcing by diversifying its offerings.  In addition to its motherboards
and other PCB-based cards, Gigabyte has expanded its offerings to encompass
several other markets — including heatsinks. These and several other product categories are the result of Gigabyte's Thermal Division, whose labs in Taiwan were visited by SPCR editor Mike Chin in June 2007.

The Volar is the first heatsink we've seen from Gigabyte, but it's far from
their first. Their web site currently lists eight different heatsinks
plus one in development.  The oldest dates from the days of Socket 478,
so clearly the Gigabyte Thermal Division is here to stay.

The
Volar caught our eye because of its highly unconventional design, which
is somewhere between a classic top-down design and the monstrous
high-rise design that dominates the high end market.  It borrows from many others — a frameless fan that resembles Arctic Cooling's fans, a tilted
design borrowed from the Scythe Katana, and extruded
aluminum fins that look like they came from the same factory as Intel's
stock heatsinks.



A plastic blister pack shows off the heatsink inside the box.

Like most other heatsinks these days, the Volar is billed as being both cool
and quiet.  In support of the quiet claim, Gigabyte includes a simple resistor
grafted into a pass-through cable to drop the fan voltage down from the base
12V.  Noise is specified at 23 dBA or 18 dBA with the low-speed cable.
 This would be excellent, if it's true.

Heatsink, two styles of mounting clips, fan
control cable, some screws, thermal interface, and a small-print
instruction sheet

The small, single sheet of instructions is well illustrated and easy to follow,
but, as is usual for the tech industry, the text is small and the English poor.
In addition to the installation instructions, the sheet begins with a list of
nine exceptions to Gigabyte's warranty policy. Oddly, neither the length of
the warranty nor warranty terms are mentioned. Apparently, Gigabyte's warranty
policy differs around the world. Item number six — malfunction arising
from casualties
— deserves special recognition as the only warranty clause
we've seen that mentions death as a possible reason for a warranty claim.  Perhaps
they meant "catastrophes"...

Gigabyte Volar: Feature
Highlights
(from the product web page)
Feature & Brief Our Comment
Universal
design for both LGA775 and AMD AM2/K8 platforms
Wide
compatibility, though size may be more limiting than
mounting hardware.
Copper
base
and heat sinks with aluminum fins
Unusually,
the fins are one piece of extruded aluminum rather than multiple thin
sheets.
Angular
conical airflow ensures maximum cooling of MOSFET areas
The fan is angled down slightly to direct exhaust air towards the CPU
socket.
Spiraling
fin design
for increased surface volume ventilation
The
same design as Intel's stock heatsink ... but with heatpipes.
Omni-directional
high-conducting heat pipe for maximum dissipation
in any mounted position
A
prerequisite for any aftermarket heatsink these days.
Large 120mm
fan with fan speed control cable
Control
in a very loose sense; the cable can only drop the fan speed by a
single constant amount.
Easy
installation
Not
tool-free, but there's plenty of room to work around the base.


Gigabyte Volar:
Specifications
(from the product web page)
Heatsink Dimensions 122 x 125
x 141 mm (W x L x H)
Fan
Dimensions
120 x 120
x 38mm (L x B x H)
Number
of Heatpipes
3
Base Composition Copper
Fin Material Aluminum
Rated Voltage 12 V
Rated Current 0.2 Amp.
Fan Speed 2,000
rpm(default) / 1,500 rpm(low speed)
Acoustic 2,000
rpm, 23dBA (default)

1,500 rpm, 18dBA (with fan speed control cable)
Bearing Type EBR
MTBF 30,000 h
Total Weight 640 g
Supports Intel®
CoreTM 2 Extreme Processor Series

Intel® CoreTM 2 Quad Processor Series

Intel® CoreTM 2 Duo Processor Series

Intel® Pentium® Extreme Edition Series

Intel® Pentium® 4 Processor Series (LGA775)

Intel® Pentium® D Processor Series

AMD AM2 Series

AMD AthlonTM FX Series

AMD AthlonTM 64x2 Series

AMD AthlonTM 64 Series

AMD Sempron Series



PHYSICAL DETAILS

Like most aftermarket heatsinks, the Volar is built on heatpipes that extend upwards
to the fins from a thin copper base.  It's a good design, which is why it's
so common.  What's not so common are the fins, which at first glance appear
to be cut from a single piece of extruded aluminum. Closer examination reveals
that the fin block is actually two pieces that fit together, sandwiching a loop
of heatpipe in between them.



A frameless 120mm fan.

The fin block uses the same twisted, split-fin design as Intel's
stock heatsink, though it lacks the solid copper core and has been
expanded to fit the dimensions of a 120mm fan.



A closer look at fin spacing, with the metal mesh visible in the background.

Fin spacing is reasonably wide, but the fins are thicker than usual because
they are cut from a two stacked pieces of extruded aluminum rather than individual
bits of metal.  The block itself is just over an inch thick, enough to
provide plenty of surface area, but possibly too much for a low speed fan to
force air through.  The edges of the fin block are wrapped with a strip
of wire mesh that helps direct most of the airflow down through the fins rather
than letting the air spray out of the sides.



The fins are mounted at roughly a 45° angle over the base.

The fin block is mounted at an angle rather than vertically or
horizontally.  The reason for this design is unclear, but we may
speculate that it is intended to be a compromise between a high
back-pressure top-down design and a tower design that doesn't provide
any airflow to the VRM modules around the CPU socket.  Reducing
the dimensions may also have been a goal, but the 141 mm height is
still pretty tall.



Heatpipe legs leave plenty of clearance underneath.

The fin block is mounted on four heatpipes that rise from the base.  The
two shorter legs are actually opposite ends of a single heatpipe that is bent
into a loop and wedged between the two halves of the fin block — hence
Gigabyte's specification of three, not four heatpipes.



Fins are spaced wide enough that the fan blades are clearly visible through them.

INSTALLATION

The installation method is different for
Intel and AMD-based systems, but both methods utilize the stock system.
 For Intel systems, this means push-pins, while AMD systems
use the standard AM2 (or 939) retention module. As we may have noted in other heatsink reviews, we much prefer the AM2 mounting system; the push-pins used for stock socket 775 heatsink mounting are often painfully awkward to use, especially with large heatsinks.

Out of
the box, the Volar can be dropped straight into an AMD system with
minimal fuss.  It comes with two steel wings that seat the
heatsink securely in the retention module and a long clip that locks
the heatsink in place.  No tools are required, and, as long as
there are no obstructions in the case, the installation only takes a
minute or two.



The steel "wings" keep the heatsink centered over the CPU in AMD systems.

Intel systems are a little more complicated because the required
brackets don't come preinstalled.  The two AMD "wings" must be replaced
with a pair of push-pin brackets that are compatible with Socket 775 mounting
holes.  The switch is quite straightforward, and there is plenty of room
to work with.  The hardest part is dealing with the tiny screws, but this
is a minor inconvenience at worst.  Intel's pushpin installation system
could certainly be improved, but that's hardly Gigabyte's fault.



Intel systems need to install a pair of pushpin brackets.

Clearance around the CPU socket is not an issue; the bulk of the heatsink sits
well above the motherboard, so there is plenty of room for tall chipset coolers.
However, the height and breadth are not small; case clearance is more likely to
be a problem than motherboard compatibility. The height could probably be reduced a bit without any problem simply by bending the heapipes a little manually. Width is more fixed, however. On our test bench, the Volar hung
more than a centimeter over the top edge of the motherboard. In a small case,
it's quite likely to interfere with the power supply.

FAN



Fan provided by Everflow.

The fan is branded with a large Volar label on one side, and Gigabyte's logo
is printed prominently on the other. Close examination reveals some small text
at the bottom — "Everflow" — the fan's manufacturer. A search
for the model number on Everflow's
web site
turned up no results, but that's no surprise for a fan that has
obviously been customized to Gigabyte's needs. The "S" and "L"
at the end of the model number suggest a low speed, sleeve bearing design. However,
Gigabyte lists the bearing type as EBR, and 2,000 RPM isn't especially slow
for a 120mm fan — at least by SPCR's standards.



A simple resistor helps drop the voltage in the fan control cable.

Gigabyte's simple pass-through resistor cable drops the fan speed down to 1,500 RPM from
2,000 RPM. Gigabyte's claim that this drops the noise from 23 dBA to 18 dBA
is implausible; even the best 120mm fans have a hard time getting as low as 23 dBA at 1,000 RPM, never mind 1,500 RPM. A
quick multimeter test showed that the cable dropped the voltage to just under
9V with a regular 12V input. Perhaps this drop is enough to achieve a 5 dBA drop if the cooler is used in conjunction with a motherboard-embedded
fan controller.

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
9V
47°C
25°C
0.32
7V
49°C
27°C
0.35
5V
53°C
31°C
0.40
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 [email protected] distance with
high accuracy B & K SLM

The Volar's 40 [email protected] performance at 12V was nowhere close to Gigabyte's 23
dBA noise spec, and far from the 30 [email protected] 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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] 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 [email protected], 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.

* * *

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

* * *

Comment
on this article in our Forums

Sections: 

Google

www SPCR