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Conclusion: When It Comes To GPU Cooling, Bigger Is Better

Three Aftermarket Graphics Coolers On GeForce GTX 480
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All of these coolers are impressive when compared to Nvidia's reference model. Let’s not forget that we’re testing them on the GeForce GTX 480, a card that comes equipped with the largest and hottest GPU available. Folks who plan to use these coolers on cards like the Radeon HD 5800-series will see even lower load temperatures. With impressive thermal and noise performance, how could we complain about these monster VGA coolers?

Well, none of them are perfect. There are two main drawbacks tied to these mammoth aftermarket upgrades: price and size. The buy-in is significant, ranging between $50 and $75 USD, depending on the model. On high-end cards, this is a smaller percentage of the total cost, but on mid-range cards like the GeForce GTX 460 or Radeon HD 5850, that price will almost always bridge the gap to a more capable solution. As for size, all of these monster specimens take up three expansion slots, meaning that users intending to run a CrossFire or SLI setup will need to be careful about the motherboards they choose.

But the enthusiasts most interested in coolers like these desire silent operation and strong enough cooling performance to look past the price and inconveniences (something the GeForce GTX 480 didn't exactly offer out of the box). Power users willing to pay for the best graphics cooling available will be quite satisfied with the performance provided by some of the models we’ve looked at today.

Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus

Arctic Cooling’s entry demonstrates some of the best cooling performance and noise characteristics we’ve seen from an aftermarket heatsink and fan combination. The ~$70 price tag is high, but the hardware is capable.

While we’re not super excited about gluing heatsinks to graphics cards, for most users, this probably isn’t much of an issue. We're swapping hardware in and out all of the time, but most folks will install the Accelero one time and leave it there. Thermal tape is also an option if the user isn’t happy with glue. It’s also noteworthy that the Accelero XTREME Plus is the only cooler in the roundup capable of plugging in to the graphics card’s onboard fan header, an ability that doesn’t sound like much, but allows the fan to be controlled by graphics card software.

DeepCool V6000

The V6000 is not yet available in the US, the test sample came with defective thermal tape, and it will probably cost somewhere around $60 if it ever arrives.

The good news is that the company claims that the thermal tape problem is fixed for the mass production version, and the actual hardware is quite capable of handling hot GPUs like GeForce GTX 480. We do think the $60 MSRP is a little high compared to its competitors, but if the street price ends up being lower the V6000 might be an attractive option for folks who want improved noise and thermals but aren’t willing to spend ~$70 on an aftermarket VGA cooler. With that said, DeepCool has some work to do on the distribution of its product first.

Zalman VF3000F

The Zalman VF3000F demonstrates cooling performance on par with Arctic Cooling’s solution, but without adhesives of any kind, with user-adjustable fan control, and laden with far less weight than its competitors. One downside is that the VF3000 models are specific, and can't be used on one graphics card today and another tomorrow. But this is no worse than the Accelero XTREME Plus, with its permanent thermal adhesive.

Some users might prefer a fan solution that plugged into the graphics card, rather than requiring a header on the motherboard. Fortunately, while the VF3000F might cost ~$70 (and will soon be rendered less relevant by a new flagship from Nvidia that won't be PCB-compatible), the VF3000A and VF3000N can be had for under $50, which is a real steal for such a well-built aftermarket cooler.

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  • -1 Hide
    Poisoner , November 8, 2010 4:11 AM
    You just can't mess with the Accelero.
  • 6 Hide
    AMW1011 , November 8, 2010 4:30 AM
    Wow, I can't believe the Accelero and the Zalman were basically neck and neck, with no tangible victory in cooling. I always thought the Accelero would be better, but Zalman actually pulled this one off.

    However, what would be AMAZING, is to have a follow-up to see which of these two solutions work best in SLI, assuming EITHER work well in SLI. I think that is the big question, especially since we never expected bad temps.

    Also can you please add the voltages used for each overclock? It might give people, especially stock GTX 480 owners, a better idea of what these can handle, since cards will always vary when overclocking.

    Holy ***, stock voltages! That is crazy! Please post up your VID (stock voltage) for us. Either you have a golden GTX 480, or the VID is a lot higher than it needs to be, which is pretty common.

    Great article, I love to see these kind of side articles/reviews, and it was well done.
  • 0 Hide
    gabwerkz , November 8, 2010 5:53 AM
    You mean Zalman VF3000F, not Zotac VF3000F on page 7.
  • 0 Hide
    Nerdbox87 , November 8, 2010 6:21 AM
    Given that this entire article is based on cooling you really should have included all GPU temps - as vram / vrm cooling may be the difference between the Accelero and the Zalman (as I know my Accelero Twin Turbo on a 5850 struggled with vram temps in Furmark)

    On this my guess would be the Zalman would smash it
  • -1 Hide
    joytech22 , November 8, 2010 7:10 AM
    How was the 480 at just under 60C when my 470's are always idling at 86C in a Antec twelve hundred..?

    I mean sure this case isn't the best cooling case but there's never really much hot air in the case and with a sidepanel fan blowing on the two cards i just cant see how.

    Unless.. you guy's test in a cool room at about 15-20C or the fan speeds are maxed 100% of the time.
  • 1 Hide
    anacandor , November 8, 2010 7:16 AM
    joytech22my 470's are always idling at 86C


    Well, there's your praablem.

  • -1 Hide
    dvijaydev46 , November 8, 2010 7:51 AM
    Oh, Zalman's cooler looks weaker than Accelero but the later actually outperforms a bit. That's amazing.
  • 0 Hide
    Th-z , November 8, 2010 7:51 AM
    Don, what is your view on how to apply thermal paste. There are numbers of ways people talk about: a pea in the middle, several peas, line in the middle, several lines, and old school spread method. You use spread method when you apply the RAM/VRM sink on Zalman, I presume you use the same method on other parts, too. Maybe Tom can do a comparison test on different ways of applying thermal paste.
  • 0 Hide
    compton , November 8, 2010 8:12 AM
    These look good and would help me out quite a bit with a 465/470, but I wish I could get them in a design that would help maintain the existing footprint. My GF100 doesn't run quite as hot as some reference card designs, but that sure as hell doesn't mean that I'm happy with the leaf blower lurking in my case. Maybe I find a way to make the Zalman work.
  • 1 Hide
    avatar_raq , November 8, 2010 9:20 AM
    I think the Zalman one wins here. It performs slightly better, costs slightly less, weighs less and is shorter than the Arctic cooler. As for noise they're trading blows. Being shorter, the VF3000 does not increase the length of the GTX 480, unlike the accelero which may theoretically cause incompatibility with some cases. Being lighter, it strains the PCB much less. The fact it performed so close to the Arctic cooler with only 2 fans surprised me.
  • 1 Hide
    ares1214 , November 8, 2010 9:29 AM
    Is it a new habbit to NOT arrange them in order, just kinda throw them up there?
  • 1 Hide
    waynewarrior78 , November 8, 2010 9:34 AM
    Zalman VF3000F: My 2 cents...

    I have its twin brother for ATI. I must say its an amazing cooler. I use it with the stock heat plate on the 5850. I hit 1ghz easy and I prob could push it harder if I wanted. The best part is I can barely hear it even when its on full blast.
  • 0 Hide
    Draygonn , November 8, 2010 11:04 AM
    What are the fan speed %s at idle and at load?
  • -8 Hide
    nebun , November 8, 2010 11:13 AM
    my water cooling is way better idle 32c and load 50c
  • -5 Hide
    nebun , November 8, 2010 11:14 AM
    did i mention that i do not loose my sli capability, some mobos don't have the pci slots place to accommodate those air coolers
  • 0 Hide
    EXT64 , November 8, 2010 12:00 PM
    And how much did your full WC cost?

    It would have been nice if the TFII's cooler could have been tested too for comparison as it is only a dual rather than tri slot solution.
  • 0 Hide
    enzo matrix , November 8, 2010 1:35 PM
    joytech22How was the 480 at 65.8*C (you might want to try reading better) when my 470's are always idling at 86C in a Antec twelve hundred..?I mean sure this case isn't the best cooling case but there's never really much hot air in the case and with a sidepanel fan blowing on the two cards i just cant see how.Unless.. you guy's test in a cool room at about 15-20C or the fan speeds are maxed 100% of the time.

    60*C is the CHANGE VS AMBIENT. This means how much hotter it is vs the ambient temperature. Assuming a 20*C room, that means they hit 85.8*C on load.
  • 0 Hide
    bildo123 , November 8, 2010 1:40 PM
    Th-zDon, what is your view on how to apply thermal paste. There are numbers of ways people talk about: a pea in the middle, several peas, line in the middle, several lines, and old school spread method. You use spread method when you apply the RAM/VRM sink on Zalman, I presume you use the same method on other parts, too. Maybe Tom can do a comparison test on different ways of applying thermal paste.


    I used to to do the spread, but in comparison to the dot in the middle method, it's a PITA. And I remember one time I couldn't get a heat sink on properly and had to take it off, using the dot method, and it actually spread quite well. In either scenario I can't imagine the temperature vary by more than a couple degrees Celsius.
  • 0 Hide
    zcubed , November 8, 2010 2:04 PM
    The VF3000F is great. I got one for my GTX 470 which was idle at 44C and around 80-85C load. Then again I wasn't doing it any favors having overvolted it to 1.087v and clocks at 850/1700/1900. The stock fan was horribly loud and still getting very hot even without overclocking/volting so I got the Zalman and threw it on. 33C idle and 63C load with the fan at the lowest setting! Great job by Zalman and I managed to get the memory clock to 1975.
  • 0 Hide
    zcubed , November 8, 2010 2:09 PM
    Stock clocks for my GTX 470 are 607/1215/1674. So the gains are pretty good and the 70 for the Zalman VF3000F was well worth the decrease in temps and sound.
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