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GeForce 8800 GTS/GTX Cooler Comparison

Date: January 31, 2008
Author(s): Greg King

We take a look at two aftermarket alternatives to the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS/GTX’s stock cooler, the VF1000 LED from Zalman and the Hurricane HC92 from ZEROTherm. See which one took top honors in our testing!



Introduction


So you have an older 8800 GTS or GTX. If your timing is like mine, you might have even gone out and picked one up less than a month before NVIDIA dropped its exceptional 8800 GT. As frustrating as that was, I have yet to find anything wrong with the original card and even on my 24” monitor, I have had little problem running most of my favorite games at the monitor’s native resolution of 1920×1200.

What I am getting at is that even though a product refresh has taken place, the older 8800 series of cards are still more than capable of running most anything that you throw at them. Pair them up in SLI and you’re looking at even better performance.

With all that in mind, when they were still THE cards to get, the older 8800s were selling as fast as any model in recent history so I know there are a few of you out there with one. If you’re looking to get a little more mileage out of your cards, the easiest solution would be to upgrade the cooler. Offering better performance and often at a lower volume, an aftermarket cooler can more often than not remedy a noisy PC as well as provide a bit more head room when it comes to overclocking.

In the spirit of all things fair, we have a set of coolers on the bench and our end goal is to find the best cooler for your money. To kick things off, our cooler battle royale starts with industry giant and mainstay of enthusiasts everywhere, Zalman. Taking on the giant is a relative newcomer to the cooling industry, ZEROtherm. Building a name for themselves on the success of an odd piece of butterfly shaped cooling goodness, ZEROtherm has steadily produced great products and has managed to keep pricing as low as possible as well, making their products a smart choice when looking to upgrade their system’s cooling capacity. For those go-getters out there, check out Rory’s review of the excellent Nirvana NV120.

Zalman on the other hand has been grooming their already spectacular air cooler portfolio for years now and has even branched out into other areas such as cases and water cooling kits. Not ones to rest on their past success, they have even used their engineer’s creativity and expertise to branch out into 3D displays and gaming mice. The representatives of each camp include more copper than a small home and both incorporate moderately sized fans. For Zalman, we have the VF1000 LED copper heat pipe cooler and are pairing it with the ZM-RHS88 memory cooler. In the other corner we have the Hurricane HC92 Cu 8800.

With a slightly larger fan, the Hurricane might best the Zalman in sheer performance, but only our testing will indicate which cooler outperforms the other.



Zalman VF1000, ZM-HRS88

Without further delay, our comparison starts with the established industry veteran, Zalman and its VF1000 LED cooler.

Zalman VF1000

Forgoing typical Zalman design, the circular coolers of the past have been push aside with a more standard, yet space hogging, full card design. This design allows four separate heat pipes to run from the base of the cooler and fan out symmetrically through the thin copper fins. With an adequately sized 80mm fan sitting in the middle, the Zalman cooler will push air downward through the fins as well as across whatever you use to cool the memory chips be it the included blue RAM sinks or in our case, the ZM-RHS88. The fan also glows a brilliant blue when in operation and while doing so, takes up your standard 2 PCI slots in your motherboard.

As mentioned earlier, there are four copper heat pipes running from the base of the cooler and up through the fins, two on either side. Also on this side of the card is the power cable for the fan. This is a standard 3 pin cable that can be plugged directly into a motherboard or into the included Zalman fan mate variable speed controller.

Turning the cooler over, we can see an almost perfect finish on the copper base. While the latest design fad of direct heat pipe cooling is absent here, the smooth finish to the base should provide more than enough surface area to pass the heat from the GPU onto the pipes and sub sequentially, into the fins. As you can see, the fan screw sitting on top of the base is reflected quite well. Kudos to Zalman for their attention to detail… not an area they have ever been suspect at.

Surrounding the base of the VF1000 LED are four arms with four separate threaded holes in them. These allow the cooler to be installed on virtually all 8800 and prior video cards. Simply attach the provided posts to the holes that apply to your card and your good to go. It’s simply that easy but more on installation later.

Coming with the VF1000 are a handful of accessories, not uncommon but appreciated none the less. Included is mounting hardware, thumb screws for added installation ease as well as Zalman’s own blue RAM sinks. These sinks have been around forever and have been favorites of many in the water cooling crowd. We would normally use these in testing but Zalman sent along their ZM-RHS88 memory sinks instead. Also thrown in for good measure is a fan mate. Zalman has been manufacturing their own speed controllers for a long time now and the addition of this little piece will help control fan noise as well as allow the user to up the speed should additional cooling be needed. The fan will max out at a respectable 2,500 RPMs (+/- 10% according to Zalman themselves).

ZM-RMS88

Moving onto the memory cooler, the ZM-RMS88, we can see that it’s all an aluminum, 2 piece set that will sit on top of the onboard memory, VRM and HSI chip. As the design of the GTS and GTX cards differ slightly, there are two different sinks for each of the different cards. All of this comes in a well designed foam casing that is more than adequate to keep each and every part safe.

The main unit itself will sit on top of the memory and the HSI chip and is designed with room for the VF1000 to sit directly on top. There are multiple aluminum posts sticking up over the heat sources to help suck the heat away from the card and into your PC chassis.

On the back of the cooler there is pre applied thermal tape, eliminating the need to grease up each chip that you need to keep cool. If I can give you any advice at all it’s this… please do not forget to remove the plastic backing on the thermal tape as this is a great way to completely FUBAR your card. Have fun explaining that to the RMA department.

For the voltage regulator modules, there are two separate pieces representing the two separate designs of the GTS and the GTX. With each piece clearly stamped, make sure you choose the correct piece and apply it to your card. There are also thermal pads on the bottom of these pieces and the same approach applies, please remove the plastic backing before installation.

Now that we have seen the Zalman cooler, let’s take a closer look at the APACK ZEROtherm Hurricane HC92 Cu 8800.



APACK ZEROtherm Hurricane HC92 Cu 8800

Taking a similar approach to their Hurricane cooler, ZEROtherm has built a GPU cooler that runs the entire length of the card. Also similar, the ZEROtherm also has a fan that blows downward, through the large copper fins and across the included green RAM sinks. Surrounding the Hurricane is a large grey plastic shroud that tunnels the air flow down and out but can be removed should a little extra cooling be what you’re looking for. One can also remove the housing and the fan for completely passive cooling. You’ll not want to do this for the higher end card but for those of you using lower powered cards for a media center or such will appreciate this extra feature.

The Hurricane HC92 Cu 8800 uses the same style that the Zalman uses with four heat pipes coming out from the base of the cooler and separating out to either side. The length of the all copper fins is less than the Zalman cooler but what they lack in length, they more than make up for in height. This should help out a little as there is more surface area directly below the larger 92mm fan.

Flipping the Hurricane over, we can see the full size of the fins that the four copper heat pipes run through. Another similarity of the two coolers being tested is the power cable for both. Like the Zalman, the Hurricane uses a three pin connector that can be connected directly to your motherboard if you choose to do so or you can piggy back the included fan speed controller onto the cooler’s fan.

The base of the ZEROtherm is comparable to the Zalman’s in finish quality which is a testament to the commitment that ZEROtherm has for their products. I know the picture does not reflect such a finish and the smudge on the left hand side of the base is the editor’s fault (insert lack of professionalism jokes here}. We can also see that the Hurricane comes with multiple threaded mounting holes on the arms that stick out from the corners of the base. While not as compatible with as many cards as the Zalman, the Hurricane covers most all relevant cards that anyone might still be using.

Bundled with the Hurricane, ZEROtherm has included all the hardware to get you going, a small bag of RAM sinks, including a HSI chipset cooler that use the push pin mounts, the before mentioned fan controller, a bit of thermal paste and a manual. One thing to notice is that the sinks are green. While this might appeal too many out there, I personally find this choice of color god awful. Personal opinions aside, there are plenty of sinks and come with pre applied thermal tape on their backside.

Next, let’s look at the installation processes for the two coolers.



Installation


Starting out with a stock EVGA Superclocked 8800 GTS 320MB card, it should be mentioned that I enjoyed the look and feel of the stock cooler but as with anything in the enthusiast segment, the shinier, the better. I don’t know if that exactly applies to everyone but it sure as hell seems that way sometimes.

Not content with anything stock, or at least for review purposes, we start out with the Zalman cooler and its memory cooling mate. The first thing we must do is remove the stock cooker and clean off the GPU and all other chips that will be cooled by the Zalman pair.

To remove the residue left by the stock cooler, I use Isopropyl Alcohol. This is readily available at any Wal-Mart or similar stores and has come in handy more time than I can recall. You could spend money on liquids designed to clean just such residue but I have had absolutely no problems at all with the el cheapo brand alcohol. Simply put a bit in a shot glass and get your Q-tips ready. That’s all you need.

Anyway, for the Zalman, the first thing you will want to do is install the ZM-RHS88 memory cooler onto the card. Remember, and I can’t stress this enough, to remove the plastic backing on the thermal pads. They simply peel off and when removed, you can place the memory cooler on the card, sticking it in place.

Also remember to apply your favorite thermal paste before you install the memory sink. I learned this after placing the ZM-RHS88 down onto the card… woops. Once everything is in place, you’re ready to install the VF1000.

Installation of the cooler itself was quite simple. With the provided posts, all that is needed is to make sure you have them placed in the correct holes. For the 8800 line of cards, the posts go in the outermost holes. When the main cooler is installed, it sits directly above the memory sinks with little clearance to spare. Installation as a whole took less than 20 minutes and that was with me taking pictures along the way so I’d imagine that an undocumented installation could easily be achieved in 15 minutes or less. The overall end product is a great looking one.

The silver memory cooler goes well with the shiny copper finish of the VF1000 itself. One thing to note is that these two cooler add a considerable amount of weight to the card itself so make sure you have them securely anchored with the PCI bracket screw. The weight isn’t of much concern from an overall health of the card perspective, but it does way a significant amount more than the stock cooler. Overall, the installation experience of the Zalman VF1000 and ZM-RHS88 was one of ease and no problems were encountered. Good job Zalman.

Moving onto the ZEROtherm Hurricane, installation should be as methodical as the Zalman install. Using basically the same approach as its rival, the ZEROtherm lacks the extra memory cooler and instead uses the included RAM sinks. Starting with a blank board, we once again cleaned the chips and started on our way. Placing the sinks on the chips was made easy with the double sided thermal tape already placed on the pieces themselves. The one exception was the chipset cooler which used push pins along with the thermal tape to keep it securely in place. Once on the card, the green sinks that I previously referred to as “god awful” suddenly look quite nice on the green PCB backed card. With all 15 in place, including the VRMs and chipset, it’s not time to install the cooler itself.

All that is needed to install the Hurricane is to, like the Zalman, is to attach the install posts into the correct holes and run them through the mounting holes on the 8800 itself. Once through, secure them with the provided thumb screws, placing the tension springs between the card and the screws, and you have installed your brand new, semi ugly Hurricane cooler. One thing to note is that the Hurricane will take up 3 PCI slots in your case. This virtually eliminates an SLI setup if you must run both
cards with this cooler.

Onward to testing!



Testing and Performance


Once the coolers are installed, there really isn’t much to testing the performance of each company’s product. The first thing is to establish a constant set of conditions and once established, we do our best to make sure the testing environment does not change between tests. To push the cards, we used the tried and true GPU stress testing program RTHDRIBL. While this is simply an acronym for real-time high dynamic range image based lighting, any attempt at all to pronounce this will instantly give others the impression that you are drunk so we will simply refer to it as “that GPU stress test.”

RTHDRIBL is run on each card for a total of 45 minutes on an open bench testing platform. The program is maximized to full screen, giving the testing resolution of 1920×1112 according to the program itself. It should be noted that the ambient room temperature was held at a constant 70 degrees Fahrenheit (plus or minus 1 degree). The hardware used was:

As you can see, the performance of both coolers completely embarrassed the stock cooling option. This is represented by differences as much as 12°C degrees when idle and 10°C degrees when load. It should be noted that fan speed was not controlled though the motherboard but rather through the fan controllers that were included with each cooler. When we note low and high, it is referring to the fan speeds of the coolers. To get to each setting we simply turned the fan controllers either all the way up or all the way down. There isn’t an exact science to this method.

There really isn’t anything to it at all come to think of it. Regardless, we achieved what we were after and while both coolers performed admirably, the top prize for overall cooling performance clearly goes to the ZEROtherm Hurricane. In our testing, the Hurricane bested the Zalman by as much as 4 degrees. While nothing ground breaking, the numbers speak for themselves. Out of the two coolers tested, the ZEROtherm won on all performance related fronts.



Final Thoughts


In our testing, the ZEROtherm Hurricane proved to clearly be the better choice if overall cooling performance is what you’re looking for. We would like to point out that there are two other uses for the ZEROtherm as well. As we mentioned earlier in the review, you can remove the shroud of the cooler and run it for what we were told is the best performing option. You can also remove everything; fan included, and run it as a passive cooler for cards that don’t necessarily require active cooling. However, we only tested the card as it came to us stock but from reading around online, you can expect to drop a degree or two here and there if you run the Hurricane completely balls to the wall.

That said, the Hurricane is certainly not without its downsides as well. The thing is loud when turned all the way up and it’s not a whining loud, it’s a vibrate our case because the fan is absolutely ripping through the air loud. When set on silent, the cooler performs reasonably well and is virtually silent but when on loud, look out, it earns the title of Hurricane. Also, it’s large… three slot cooling solution large. If you are pressed for space, this cooler might not be for you. While a single slot air cooling solution for the 8800 series of cards does not exist at the moment (yeah, I know that the 8800 GTs originally shipped with single slot coolers but we are talking GTS card here), you can find many dual slot coolers that will serve your needs well. That leads us into the Zalman offering.

The VF1000 looks great and performs just as well. The all copper design adds a bit of sophistication to the overall look of the cooler without a plastic shroud to detract from the overall look of the unit. The Zalman was at a bit of a disadvantage from the get go simply because it has a smaller fan and lower rotational speed when maxed out. Even still, it performed quite well and would live up to almost anyone’s expectations.

All in all, it’s difficult to declare a clear cut winner as both performed quite well but if I had to choose one strictly on performance, and I know that’s all you care about, the ZEROtherm wins hands down. On an aesthetic front, the Zalman hands the ZEROtherm its rear. You would be hard pressed to find a better looking cooler for you 8800 than the VF1000 paired with the ZM-RHS88..

Taking price into consideration is an important factor too. If you were going to purchase just the coolers, they both can be found for roughly the same price of $50 (US) but looking around might bag you the ZEROtherm for $40. Factor in the ZM-RHS88, which will run you somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 dollars and you’re looking at a total Zalman cooling solution running you around $75 dollars. That’s a lot of money no matter how you look at it.

At the end of the day, both coolers are walking away with a score of 9 out of 10. They both cool the 8800 GTS extremely well and only a few degrees separate the two. If you choose the ZEROtherm with its larger fan and high RPMs you’re going to win. If you choose the Zalman with its classy looks and smaller fan, you’re going to win. Seeing how the ZEROtherm performed better than the Zalman, it will be rewarded as such with an editor’s choice award. Congrats to both coolers as they are fine examples of what a product can be when a company put a little bit of time into the R&D.

Zalman VF1000LED/ZM-RHS88

ZEROTherm Hurricane HX92 Cu 8800


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02/01/08 Addendum: Scores were incorrect when posted and didn’t reflect the scores mentioned in the article. This has been fixed.


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