Graphics Card Cooler round-up


If you were to purchase any boxed AMD or Intel processor today it would come with a reasonably large heatsink and fan. This is due to the fact that their desktop and server processors produce very large amounts of heat. However, the processor is no longer the only powerful processing chip within today’s computers. Other components are becoming just as powerful and as a consequence produce almost as much heat.

For example GPUs (Graphics Processing Units) that are the heart and soul of any add-in graphics card have become incredibly complex over the past few years. They have reached a stage where they are almost putting out as much heat as the CPU.

All these hot components are already taking their toll on system cooling. Decent air-cooled CPU heatsinks are now colossal in size, taking up a great deal of space within the case.

This is becoming an ever increasing problem for graphics cards as they are more limited when it comes to cooling capacity. As a result the majority of high-end graphics cards produced during the past two years have taken up not just one expansion slot but two. This has allowed ATI and NVIDIA utilize much bigger heatsinks and fans, allowing them to offer more effective – and necessary - cooling solutions on their flagship products.

There are of course downsides to the larger “reference design” coolers, such as the increase in operating volume. A good example would be a pre-overclocked Gigabyte GeForce 7800 GTX I picked up a few months ago. This card gets really hot when under load, and the single-slot cooler struggled with the high temperatures. This meant that the fan speed was dramatically increased to keep up with the load, and resulted in a much higher operating volume, which after a while I found to be quite annoying.

An obvious solution from the perspective of end users would be for manufacturers to look beyond the reference coolers and come up with innovative and more effective cooler designs but unfortunately this is not happening as much as we would like to.

Lastly this leaves us with the option of a completely silent but more complicated solution like water-cooling (which is not a bad idea for cooling both your CPU and GPU), or look for a better quality and quiet after market cooler. There are quite a few good air-cooled options available. Currently, I believe Arctic-Cooling, Thermalright and Zalman offer the best quality products, and we are testing them here today.

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