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High Performance Cooling Options For The Radeon HD 7970

Custom Cooling: Deepcool's Dracula And Arctic's Accelero Xtreme
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A new vapor chamber design from AMD threw a curve ball at aftermarket cooler vendors. Fortunately, a handful of innovative companies made the changes necessary to counter some of what we think AMD screwed up with its reference Radeon HD 7970 heat sink and fan combination. Arctic, Deepcool, and EKWB are the first three to get hardware into our lab.

Arctic Cooling Accelero Xtreme 7970

Arctic hit a home run with its Accelero Xtreme, a cooler design that we first saw back in 2008. The Accelero Xtreme III is the newest iteration, though the company rebranded it the Accelero Xtreme 7970 with a cooling block modified to fit AMD's Radeon HD 7900-series cards.

The Accelero Xtreme 7970 operates both quietly and coolly. Its fan headers plug right into the graphics card for convenience and control, and the combination effectively brings down temperatures even in the face of aggressive overclocking. An $80 price tag is certainly appropriate in light of what the competition is asking. Our sole concern is that a fully built-up reference card with this cooler is 12.5" long, limiting its use in certain enclosures.

Aside from that one issue, Arctic's Accelero Xtreme 7970 is an excellent way to combat the reference Radeon HD 7970's loud centrifugal fan and vapor chamber-based heat sink. Perhaps more significant is the fact that it seems to be the only natively-compatible Radeon HD 7900-series aftermarket cooling option available for purchase in North America right now.

Deepcool Dracula 7970

Deepcool's generic Dracula is already available in North America. However, its Radeon HD 7970-compatible version is still en route, according to the company. If it were available today, the Dracula's $75 MSRP would be about five dollars less than the Accelero Xtreme 7970. Without fans, though, it quickly gets more expensive.

The Dracula 7970 is a powerful cooler for the Radeon HD 7970. Though it performed slightly below Arctic's Accelero Xtreme 7970 under load, remember that we armed it with a pair of 92 mm fans. The heat sink accommodates as many as two 140 mm or three 120 mm fans, so it's possible to improve this product's cooling potential if you're willing to spend the money. Deepcool's solution also measures 11.5" long, a full inch shorter than the Accelero Xtreme. If you have a space-constrained chassis, that inch could be critical.

On the other hand, the Dracula is very wide once you factor in its cooling fan bracket. It's conceivable to fit one of these inside an enthusiast-oriented enclosure, but two in CrossFire probably isn't going to happen. And with the price of fans added to its total, going the Deepcool route can get pretty expensive.

EK-VGA Supreme HF HD7970 Cu Adapter

EKWB's copper shim makes it possible to use more common coolers with flat contact surfaces and still maintain compatibility with AMD's Radeon HD 7970. Priced at $4 from frozencpu.com, this little adapter is an inexpensive way to help recycle a cooler you have on-hand without needing to drop $80 on something new.

Unfortunately, going that route imposes lower performance than a purpose-built heat sink for AMD's flagship graphics card. Transferring heat through an additional medium, plus two layers of thermal grease, results in GPU temperatures 10 degrees higher under load compared to Arctic's Accelero Xtreme 7970, which we'd consider a native solution.

Making an investment in a high-performance cooler like the Accelero should yield much better thermal and acoustic performance than a reference heat sink and fan combo. Otherwise, why buy it? The EKWB copper shim does the job it's supposed to. However, realizing a moderate gain required a high-end cooler like the Accelero III. A less-capable aftermarket heat sink wouldn't have fared as well, and we would have ended up even closer to what AMD's reference vapor chamber-based implementation was already able to do.

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  • 19 Hide
    cilliers , October 3, 2012 7:23 AM
    Guys!

    This surely looks impressive (giant graphics card and oversize heat cooler), but is this "eye candy" for the technically inclined PC enthusiast really moving forward, or just another pile of copper pipes sold at a price established out of pure value perception? This article got me thinking... Are we unknowingly creating a market demand for cooling products that make little sense in the grand scheme of things, nor shows little technological advancement? Why do we get so excited when a graphics card becomes so hot during peak operation that it requires cooling beyond standard specification. In engineering terms, any system that transforms such a large amount of electrical energy into heat as a side effect would be considered inefficient. By creating a market for "aftermarket" cooling, we do not only show our tolerance for inefficiency, but also create a booming demand for lackluster "solutions".

  • 10 Hide
    aznshinobi , October 3, 2012 4:19 AM
    Give me one please...

    But, would be nice to see the coolers compared to some mainstream solutions. IE the HIS IceQ X2 or Sapphire Toxic, etc. etc.
Other Comments
  • 10 Hide
    aznshinobi , October 3, 2012 4:19 AM
    Give me one please...

    But, would be nice to see the coolers compared to some mainstream solutions. IE the HIS IceQ X2 or Sapphire Toxic, etc. etc.
  • -7 Hide
    andle riddum , October 3, 2012 5:28 AM
    One warning to prospective buyers of Arctic products, their fans are really junk. I have/had S1 with turbo module, twin turbo, twin turbo PRO...and the fans failed within 1 year or so. Now I have normal fans zip tied, not pretty
  • 6 Hide
    ShadyHamster , October 3, 2012 5:41 AM
    I've never had a problem with arctic fans, the accelero xtreme for my HD5870 is still running perfect and its just over 2 years old now, same goes for the twin turbo i bought years ago for my HD3850.

    btw nice article :D 
  • 1 Hide
    theconsolegamer , October 3, 2012 6:00 AM
    Wait, was really necessary to apply thermal paste to both faces of the shim?
  • 19 Hide
    cilliers , October 3, 2012 7:23 AM
    Guys!

    This surely looks impressive (giant graphics card and oversize heat cooler), but is this "eye candy" for the technically inclined PC enthusiast really moving forward, or just another pile of copper pipes sold at a price established out of pure value perception? This article got me thinking... Are we unknowingly creating a market demand for cooling products that make little sense in the grand scheme of things, nor shows little technological advancement? Why do we get so excited when a graphics card becomes so hot during peak operation that it requires cooling beyond standard specification. In engineering terms, any system that transforms such a large amount of electrical energy into heat as a side effect would be considered inefficient. By creating a market for "aftermarket" cooling, we do not only show our tolerance for inefficiency, but also create a booming demand for lackluster "solutions".

  • 5 Hide
    mubin , October 3, 2012 8:18 AM
    I still love sapphire cooling system. Good for moderate oc and non-oc.
  • -1 Hide
    apache_lives , October 3, 2012 11:05 AM
    give me a reference card and cooler any day -- they last a lot longer (fans especially), cool the ram/vrm properly (manufacturers spec) and they help keep the card from bending/warping from the weight, and are less likely to be overclocked aka to spec = rock solid, long lasting card

    this applys to all mid-high end nvidia/ati(amd) video cards
  • 1 Hide
    WyomingKnott , October 3, 2012 12:42 PM
    Why "Dracula?" Because it sucks?
  • 1 Hide
    jtd871 , October 3, 2012 1:04 PM
    @theconsolegamer

    That's how you transfer heat from the shim to the unmodified Accelero III. I wonder if JB Weld would work better...although that would permanently attach the shim to the Accelero III.

    @cilliers

    The value is in the noise reduction at load. These processors run hot because they are doing a great deal of work pushing electrons around. Consider that incandescent bulbs work the same way - the friction causes the filament to get so hot that it glows. If you don't want a thermally hot/power hungry card for philosophical reasons, then don't buy one.

    @W(h)yKnott

    I imagine that "Dracula" is intended to connote sucking the heat away from the 79xx. The fact that these tests show that they are relatively inefficient at doing so makes for a humorous double entendre, like your handle.
  • 3 Hide
    luciferano , October 3, 2012 1:09 PM
    theconsolegamerWait, was really necessary to apply thermal paste to both faces of the shim?


    Unless you don't like not burning the GPU, pretty much. You might get away without it, but temps would be far higher. Maybe if you really lapped the cooler and shim you could get away with it, but I'd doubt that using no thermal paste at all would be a good idea even in that situation.
  • 2 Hide
    cleeve , October 3, 2012 1:11 PM
    theconsolegamerWait, was really necessary to apply thermal paste to both faces of the shim?


    Absolutely. If you don't, contact wouldn't be uniform and you'd have dead spots.

    Thermal paste is important, but the trick is to use as little as necessary, not to slather on gobs.
  • 2 Hide
    horaciopz , October 3, 2012 1:11 PM
    For whomever that is wiling to spend 80+ on a 400ish GPU a smarter choice would be a wattercooler block and conections.

    Its very unlikely that someone with such card is going to have air cooling "upgrade", since the WC setups are afordable. If that person wants to get better cooling solution, he wouldnt spend money on air cooling, just throwing on it an radiator or connect the GPU block to an existing radiator would be sufficient, better for looks, and better performance.
  • 1 Hide
    luciferano , October 3, 2012 1:12 PM
    cilliersGuys!This surely looks impressive (giant graphics card and oversize heat cooler), but is this "eye candy" for the technically inclined PC enthusiast really moving forward, or just another pile of copper pipes sold at a price established out of pure value perception? This article got me thinking... Are we unknowingly creating a market demand for cooling products that make little sense in the grand scheme of things, nor shows little technological advancement? Why do we get so excited when a graphics card becomes so hot during peak operation that it requires cooling beyond standard specification. In engineering terms, any system that transforms such a large amount of electrical energy into heat as a side effect would be considered inefficient. By creating a market for "aftermarket" cooling, we do not only show our tolerance for inefficiency, but also create a booming demand for lackluster "solutions".


    If I had a card that used 1000 watts of power but was ten times faster than the Radeon 7970 in every way, it would still be the most energy efficient graphics card in the world today. I also don't think that after-market VGA cooling is a booming market for lackluster solutions. The after market VGA cooling industry probably isn't booming because even the minority of overclockers in this world tend to not use an aftermarket cooler on their graphics card(s). Even then, just because there are some lackluster solutions doesn't mean that they sell nearly as well as the good solutions.
  • 0 Hide
    killerclick , October 3, 2012 3:42 PM
    cilliersAre we unknowingly creating a market demand for cooling products that make little sense in the grand scheme of things, nor shows little technological advancement? Why do we get so excited when a graphics card becomes so hot during peak operation that it requires cooling beyond standard specification.


    I buy aftermarket coolers for noise reduction only, I can't stand a loud computer. Now my machine is so quiet, it's hard to tell whether it's off or on, even when it's under load.
    And having more efficient hardware wouldn't help with the noise, the OEMs would just put smaller coolers and smaller/faster fans, so noise output would be similar.
  • -3 Hide
    Anonymous , October 3, 2012 4:13 PM
    Bad review is bad.
    Review the dracula with two 140mm fans or three 120mm fans as the design was intended, to show optimal performance.
    Overclock as far as you can with each design so we can see the value added to the card.
    Without that information this entire article is pointless, and leads to dumba$$ comments like 'why dracula, because it sucks?'
    How about review the design as it was meant to be used?
    *And what kind of a tech journalist doesn't have a few spare 120/140mm fans laying around? WTF!!!
  • 5 Hide
    cleeve , October 3, 2012 5:04 PM
    Nathanael KaurReview the dracula with two 140mm fans or three 120mm fans as the design was intended, to show optimal performance.


    The 7970 doesn't NEED more, temps were awesome. Noise, space, and cost also comes into play.

    Nathanael KaurOverclock as far as you can with each design so we can see the value added to the card.


    You think a slight temperature difference between the Dracula and Accelero will affect the overclock? That's just silly. Limits will be set by voltage unless temps are astronomical.

    Nathanael KaurBad review is bad.


    Overdramatic complaint is overdramatic. :) 


  • 1 Hide
    iknowhowtofixit , October 3, 2012 6:58 PM
    I wish there were comparisons to some of the AIB partner heatsinks that come pre-installed on the GPU. I bet the HIS iceQ would do very well here.
  • 0 Hide
    Onihikage , October 3, 2012 9:06 PM
    When the Sandia cooler makes its debut, I have a feeling the third-party GPU cooler market will explode.
  • 1 Hide
    sephmeister , October 3, 2012 10:52 PM
    What's the point of blowing an extra 80 on this and voiding your warranty? The Gigabyte versions are usually some of the most affordable versions anyways and come with coolers nearly identical to these...
  • 0 Hide
    A Bad Day , October 3, 2012 11:08 PM
    cilliersGuys!This surely looks impressive (giant graphics card and oversize heat cooler), but is this "eye candy" for the technically inclined PC enthusiast really moving forward, or just another pile of copper pipes sold at a price established out of pure value perception? This article got me thinking... Are we unknowingly creating a market demand for cooling products that make little sense in the grand scheme of things, nor shows little technological advancement? Why do we get so excited when a graphics card becomes so hot during peak operation that it requires cooling beyond standard specification. In engineering terms, any system that transforms such a large amount of electrical energy into heat as a side effect would be considered inefficient. By creating a market for "aftermarket" cooling, we do not only show our tolerance for inefficiency, but also create a booming demand for lackluster "solutions".


    OC most silicon chips, and they will lose efficiency.
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