Sound Level Measurements: Which Heatsink is Quietest?
Because most fans used with videocards are fairly quiet we're omitting the fan noise recordings for this segment of heatsinks. Instead, FrostyTech will emphasize its reliance on cold hard facts when evaluating different thermal solutions by providing the following noise level measurements taken with a digital sound level meter in a noise-proof chamber.
With the Zalman FC-ZV9 heatsink running at its stock 3600RPM speed, the cooler really can't be heard outside the case (51.9 dBA). The Zalman Fan Mate 2 we can reduce the fan impeller speed to just 1650RPM, thus decreasing the FC-ZV9's fan noise to 40 dBA.
FrostyTech typically eschews real world testing for synthetic thermal test platforms; repeatability is more controllable, and parameters like thermal load can be specified from the start by selecting appropriate resistive heater components.
However, when it comes to videocard heatsinks it has proven a challenge to design a suitable platform which will accommodate the wide variety of mounting styles, GPU core dimensions, and VGA heatsinks out there.... Videocard heatsinks react strongly to the internal case environments, and when front/back thermal solutions start to be considered the equation gets rather complicated.
Thus for the time being, FrostyTech will be conducting its VGA heatsink tests with an actual videocard. Temperatures will be recorded with the computer system at idle on the desktop, and when stressed with 3DMark06 where the peak temperature will be noted. The parameters of equipment set up and instrumentation are noted below. The reference heatsink is a stock Albatron FX5900 copper GPU cooler which is pictured at left (no model numbers are available).
There are not a lot of VGA heatsinks in this comparison, but what we've tested thus far gives a good indication of where the Zalman FC-ZV9 stands. The FC-ZV9 heatsink posts a 3DMark06 system stressed maximum rise above ambient temperature of 11.5°C, with 51.9 dBA noise (fan speed 3600RPM). With the FC-ZV9's 80mm fan spinning at full speed we see an idle temperature of about 4°C above ambient - idle being when the videocard is just displaying the WindowsXP desktop.
For quieter operation the Zalman Fan Mate 2 is used to reduce the fan speed of the FC-ZV9 to about 1650RPM, thus dropping noise levels to at best 40.0 dBA. In this situation the recorded temperature from the back of the graphics card increases to 14.5°C above ambient under the 3Dmark06 stressed parameter. At idle, the temperature hovers around 8.1°C above ambient.
The stock FX5900 GPU heatsink does no better than 25.7°C above ambient, with 48 dBA noise, under the same conditions.
The Zalman FC-ZV9 videocard heatsink takes a unit approach to GPU cooling, both in materials and thermal design. From our real-world test results it's clear the FC-ZV9 provides better temperature and acoustic results than the stock FX5900 videocard heatsink will. Given the set of data we have to draw conclusions from, I think we can safely say that the Zalman FC-ZV9 heatpipe-based videocard GPU heatsink certainly offers a competitive advantage to GPU cooling.
For more reviews on the latest heatsinks and cooling solutions, rely on FrostyTech's inventory of 350+ heatsink reviews. Here are a few other articles that you might enjoy as well...
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