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.