|Zalman VF900-Cu Ultra Quiet Heatpipe VGA Cooler|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Cooling|
|Written by Bruce Normann - Edited by Olin Coles|
|Wednesday, 18 June 2008|
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Ultra Quiet Heatpipe VGA Cooler
Do you need a better GPU cooler? It wasn't long ago, that this question only referenced CPU coolers. Aftermarket cooling for your CPU used to be confined to the overclocking toolkit. If you were going to crank up the clock rates, over-volt everything, and then play hi-res 3D games on it for 6 hours straight, you didn't have a choice. The stock HSF that came bundled with your CPU wasn't going to keep it from having a nervous meltdown. All that's changed, though. Benchmark Reviews has tested a number of cooling solutions and we've found that not everyone buys an aftermarket cooler to max out their top-line processor. Some are building value systems for friends: start with an OEM E21x0 chip from Intel, put a decent cooler on it, heat-pipes and 120mm fan, and crank it up to 3.0 GHz without breaking a sweat or breaking the bank. It's a lot quieter, too...! Now we are seeing the same sort of awakening in the GPU world. The competition between ATI and NVIDIA is fierce; it's definitely a buyers market in video cards these days. New chips are coming out every six months and they're almost always running more transistors, faster. There's a fair chance that the hottest and noisiest component inside your PC is the video card. Fortunately, the PC cooling industry has responded with some excellent products to keep the GPU heat and noise down. Join Benchmark Reviews as we look at how the Zalman VF900-Cu Ultra Quiet Heat-pipe VGA Cooler saved the day for one system builder.
Aftermarket coolers for CPU, GPU and RAM, used to be confined to the overclocking toolkit. In the last few years a substantial market developed for coolers of every size, shape and color. Every company with a stake in the game has been competing to offer the biggest, baddest, most outrageous cooling solution, and lay claim to the title of King of the Hill. There's also been some genuine innovation in the field and some technology shifts that have helped keep pace with the exponential growth in processing power harnessed inside the typical PC.
But, what about the "rest of us"...? What if I'm not a heavy duty gamer and I just want to build a nice mid-range PC that can handle everything I throw at it, including some light gaming. Luckily, there's a vast amount of hardware sitting in the sweet-spot, where you don't have to pay big bucks for the latest, the biggest, and the fastest. You can get all the performance you need for half the cost of the flagship products.
GPU Coolers, like all products, each have specific features and performance characteristics that make them unique. Each customer has needs, the key to happiness is to match them up as closely as possible. For a GPU cooler, my requirements break down to these:
None of this was on my mind as I started buying components for two recent builds. I needed some new PCs for the house, nothing special; just browsing, photo editing, office duty, and maybe some light gaming or folding. So, I put together a quality MB with a P35 chipset, a mildly overclocked E2180 CPU, a good CPU cooler, a nVIDIA video card, SATA2 HDDs, good quality (Micron) RAM on the cheap, a stable and quiet PSU, a case with good airflow, etc. What I didn't expect, was that the video cards would be the hottest and noisiest components in the box. I expected the modest requirements for video, which translated into nVIDIA GeForce 7300GT and 8400GS cards from major manufacturers, would keep me well away from the bleeding edge on heat and noise. What I got was something a little closer to the edge than I counted on. The 8400GS was running 17C above ambient at idle, with a reasonably quiet stock fan, and the 7300GT was running 22C above ambient at idle, with a stock fan that was louder and more irritating than my electric toothbrush. Clearly something had to be done, as I could hear the 7300GT in the adjacent room when trying to sleep at night.
I wasn't quite satisfied with the graphics performance of the 7300GT, so I bought an 8600GT. It turned out to have a very quiet fan, but the idle temps were still 24C above ambient, and it hit 80C while running 3D graphics benchmarks using 3DMark06. Foiled again...time to start researching GPU coolers.
My requirements hadn't really changed; the video cards in use were modest, middle of the road units. I started looking at what was available and quickly found a variety of GPU coolers in all price ranges. I didn't need a high-end cooler, but I knew that the low-end wouldn't cut it either. Thankfully, the middle ground was well covered with products from all the major manufacturers. My experience with CPU coolers gave me some insight to the success factors for air cooled, heat-sink-fan devices, so I had a good idea what I was looking for. I wanted: heat pipes, a large fan, as much copper as I could afford, excellent surface finish on the base, some way to adjust the fan speed, and a well designed mounting system (No plastic push-pins, please...!)
I found everything I wanted in the Zalman VF900-Cu. There were a couple of competing units, but the Zalman looked like the best of the bunch and I didn't want to go through this exercise and end up with a solution that almost succeeded. So I "safed out" and placed an order with Newegg for the VF-900Cu and some Tuniq TX-2 thermal compound.
About the company: Zalman
Zalman Tech was founded in 1999 and focused their early efforts on "silent" cooling solutions; their moto was "Noiselss Computing". They grew rapidly and their cooling product line has expanded to match the thermal challenges posed by the rapidly increasing heat load inside high performance PCs. They have also diversified with new products like 2D/3D convertible LCD Monitors, Heatpipe Cooled Power Supplies, Notebook coolers, Surround Sound Headphones, and their newest product, a FPS gaming interface.
They are headquartered in Seoul, Korea and have a staff of ~169. The company went public in 2007 and is listed on the KOSDAQ stock exchange in Korea. The CEO, Young-Pil Lee, in his greetings on the corporate website, captures the essence of their success: "Zalman will not content itself with present results and will continue its innovation driven efforts to guarantee client satisfaction."
Zalman VF900-Cu Features
Zalman VF900-CU Specifications