|Zalman VF3000A VGA Cooler|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Cooling|
|Written by Bruce Normann|
|Friday, 10 September 2010|
Page 4 of 8
ZALMAN VF3000A Detailed Features
I'm an engineer, and I spent a good portion of my career building things, so I tend to look very close at the little details of a product. It's where I see the personality of a company coming out, because you can always tell which things they pay a lot of attention to, and also the things that get a pass. One of the things that impressed me when I reviewed my first Zalman VGA cooler was the quality of the machined screw threads. It sounds like such a simple thing, but I've been a victim of the infamous "wood screw video card assembly technique", and when a product screws together with precision and ease it's very noticeable to me. I wasn't disappointed when I assembled the VF3000A; it had exactly the same quality I experienced in the past.
This is the core of any processor cooling product: the mounting base, where the copper meets the core. Theories abound about how it should be designed and manufactured. Direct touch or fully encased, flat or convex, textured or mirror finish, thin or thick, nickel plated or bare, aluminum or copper. All these options are currently represented by different products in the marketplace. The amazing thing is that there are some very successful products in every category. In this case, Zalman continues with their design thread of using a large, split copper block that's a couple millimeters thicker than the heatpipes which are encased between the two halves. With the VF3000 series, they've expanded the size of the block to accommodate the larger GPU cores that are most in need of top-notch cooling.
The VF3000A has a very definite mirror finish. This Soviet-era pin is reflected perfectly in the copper base. I focused my lens on the reflection, not the pin, and the focus is sharpest towards the bottom of the reflection where every small detail is visible. Place this surface on an ATI Radeon HD 5xxx series processor, where the GPU die packaging has a surface like glass, and very little TIM is needed, which further improves heat transfer. In the background you can see one of the threaded mounting posts in detail, along with a rubber O-ring that takes up a little bit of slack in the mounting process and also acts as an insulator.
The whole next section will discuss installation, but I need to show some of the other details now. Here are the eight memory heatsinks that are included with the Zalman VF3000A kit. One of them is larger than the others, because there is a voltage regulator located near one of the DRAM chips on the ATI reference design. I installed the cooler on a non-reference board from PowerColor, and there is no device there, so the big heatsink hangs over the edge quite a bit. It doesn't interfere with anything, but it is not as securely mounted as the other seven. his is one area where I think Zalman can expand the market for this kit. If they can include just one extra of the small RAM-sinks, it would help those without reference design boards.
It was a bit difficult to get the memory heatsinks positioned exactly on the DRAM package, but my eyesight isn't as good as it once was, so blame me. Once they're stuck on there, there's no possibility of lifting off and relocating them. You have to get it right the first time, and as you can see above, I missed a bit in the aft direction on this one. The heatsinks were a little heavier and thicker than some other units I had left over from another project, and of course the red aluminum matches everything else in this ATI-colored world perfectly. So far, after a couple weeks of usage and some tough stress testing at extreme temperatures, the adhesive is holding fine. For the record, I can also say the same for the similar DRAM heatsinks that came with my two year old Zalman VF900-Cu cooler, which has been running pretty much 24/7 since I installed it.
There is a dedicated heatsink provided for the MOSFETs in the primary VRM section, and it is also designed specifically for the ATI reference card. On my non-reference board, the mounting holes on the red-anodized aluminum extrusion didn't line up, the overall size was too large, it interfered with other components, and it probably would have shorted out some of the surface-mount components in the area. I ended up substituting some low-profile forged copper memory ramsink parts from Enzotech, which fit perfectly on the four small DrMOS devices on this card. The PowerColor PCS+ is a second-generation card, so I expected some inconsistencies, and fortunately I was able to work around them. The installation instruction from Zalman recommend running without this heatsink on HD 5830 cards; most of them follow this second-generation design, since ATI did not issue a reference card for the 5830. There was no way I was going to stress test an overclocked HD 5870 without some serious cooling on the VRM section, though.
Everything that is needed to install the cooler is included, plus a FAN MATE 2 controller which can be mounted inside the case, or on the outside. The ZM-STG2M Super Thermal Grease that is supplied won an "A" rating in the Benchmark Reviews 80-way Thermal Interface Material Performance Test, so naturally I used it for all testing. It was only 0.5 C off from the very best performing TIM in the test, which is bordering on an insignificant difference. It has a moderate viscosity and was easy to work with. The foil packaging was just as easy to use as the syringe applicators that many of the TIM compounds come in, and it was a simple matter to tape up the opening once I was done using it. The plastic thumb nuts have metal threads molded in them, and I really like them for a number of reasons. As any mechanic can tell you, it's easier to slide the card down onto protruding studs than it is to line up a hole in the board with a similar hole in the mounting plate. The Zalman method is much easier, especially since there is a tiny blob of TIM on one of the surfaces that you're trying not to smear in any one direction during assembly. Secondly, it is very easy and natural to use both hands together to tighten two thumbnuts on opposite corners at exactly the same time, rather than doing the X-pattern - ¼ turn method, one screw at a time.
Speaking of assembly tips... Now that we've seen everything there is to see in the VF3000A kit, let's see how it all fits together.