|Zalman VF3000A VGA Cooler|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Cooling|
|Written by Bruce Normann|
|Friday, 10 September 2010|
Page 8 of 8
VGA Cooler Final Thoughts
The race for maximum power dissipation has been going on between CPUs and GPUs for some time now. For awhile, we all needed to cool our memory sticks, but with DDR3 DRAM that seems to have subsided a bit. The problem is that the form factor for video cards has never really been updated to reflect the massive power requirements of modern top-dog GPUs. Aside from going from single-slot to double-slot coolers, the rest of the environment hasn't changed much. Think about all the ventilation capacity which is available in the vicinity of the CPU, that's used to effectively remove all the heat dissipated there. There has always been a rear-mounted fan, and a large number of gaming cases now add a top-mounted exhaust fan, which instantly takes away the hot air from the CPU cooler. Some setups have enough airflow in this area, that they don't even need a fan mounted directly on the CPU cooler.
Now, think about where the graphics card is, and how much directed airflow is happening in that area. Look at that narrow I/O plate on the back panel and compare the tiny vents on there, competing for real estate with three or four video connectors, with the 120mm, 140mm, and 200mm diameter fans pulling air straight from the CPU cooler. And here's the kicker: for every VGA cooler that's on the market, there are probably fifty CPU coolers, and there's another fifty waiting to be released the next year. Oh, and what's the number one factor for gaming performance, the computing power of your graphics card? How backwards can you get? Your graphics card is living in the pits while the CPU is lounging in the cool breeze on the top bunk. It's no wonder that there is such diversity in GPU cooler designs; the engineers have an impossible task and they're throwing out every design idea they can think of, hoping one will be the magic bullet. If it wasn't so much fun to watch, it'd be depressing...
Zalman VF3000A Conclusion
The Zalman VF3000A performed well in temperature tests, equaling the PowerColor and ASUS V2 cooling solutions. Both of these cards got high marks as OEM attempts at improving upon the reference design, and the Zalman easily beat both of them when fan speeds were low. At full fan speed, the ASUS cooled down the GPU about 4C lower, but at a horrible cost in noise. The Zalman excelled in the noise department, both in volume and tone. While I didn't have a reference cooler to test with, my prior experience with them says that they are going to behave much like the ASUS cooler, i.e. capable, but noisy. I am planning to keep this unit running at 100% fan speed all day and night, because there is absolutely no reason not to. It's that quiet! I know some folks are hyper sensitive to fan noise, so the FAN MATE 2 fan controller that's included might be a welcome addition, but I personally don't need it.
There's no doubt that some thought went into the appearance of the VF3000 series, and for each model that is optimized for a particular series of graphics cards. Hence, the red anodized fan shroud for the VF3000A, which is destined for ATI products only. Just because I prefer a more industrial chic style of design, doesn't mean that this is not an attractive product. I know the copper is going to oxidize faster than any form of nickel plating, but I'm pleased that Zalman chose to stay with bare copper for the mounting base and heatpipes. I hate the idea of paying for plating that actually hurts performance. The LED fans are a nice touch, and overall, I have to say that it looked right at home in my AMD system, the one with the red-anodized Lian Li case.
Construction is one of Zalman's strong points as a company, their products always seem to be well made, with a lot of attention to detail. It drives me crazy when I take something apart and find mangled screw threads, but it gives me joy when every single thread starts true and runs down precisely, without a hitch. The mirror finish on the GPU mounting block is also impressive, and I appreciate the full copper construction of the block.
Functionality is a mixed bag only because I didn't use this cooler on a reference design card. I couldn't use the supplied heatsink for the VRM section, and I wasn't going to let those MOSFETs drive themselves to an early death, so I had to improvise. I can't really mark a product down because I used it in an application it wasn't designed for, though. With a little bit of effort in the accessory kit, the VF3000 could be made a bit more universal, and I hope Zalman takes up the opportunity to make the ATI edition work just as well for the Gen. 2 cards as it does for the reference design.
Value is always a tough proposition for VGA coolers. I mean, the card already comes with a cooler, and you have to take that off, throw it away, and then spend an extra sum of money to make it better? It breaks my frugal heart. But... if I had a hot-running Radeon HD 5870 reference card, I would surf over to Newegg, put in an order for this cooler, and spend the $54.99 gladly. Of course, there are always other retailers that might be selling this VGA cooler for less.
The reduction in noise, the cooler temps in the VRM section, and the possibility that I may just be saving my $400 video card from sudden death, would force me to pull the trigger and purchase an aftermarket cooler. It's a tougher call for some of the second generation HD 58xx cards, as many of them have had their weaknesses exorcised by the AIB partners and their design teams. Helping in the value equation is the fact that this is a turnkey solution, everything you need is included. Some competitive products come without fans, for instance. On the flip side, I'm sitting here wondering how this cooler would perform with some bigger, high flow fans on it.
I bought my first Zalman cooler about two years ago because I couldn't stand the grinding noise that my brand new 8600GT graphics card was making. It was just a side benefit that it reduced my GPU temps, even at the lowest fan speeds. At full speed, it was still quieter than the OEM cooler, which was from a very well respected vendor, BTW. Here I am with the same situation again; the overwhelming advantage that the Zalman VF3000A brings to the table is the ability to provide top tier cooling with less noise. I know it's out of character, but I would like to see a no-holds-barred edition with bigger fans, just to see how much untapped potential this heatpipe-fin arrangement has.
+ Very quiet design
- Wider than standard dual-slot coolers
Final Score: 8.90 out of 10.
Quality Recognition: Benchmark Reviews Silver Tachometer Award.
Questions? Comments? Benchmark Reviews really wants your feedback. We invite you to leave your remarks in our Discussion Forum.