PC tuning, part 1: GPU cooler

Due to recent Starcraft 2 beta release, I started playing 3D games more often (almost daily, I must say). However, one problem appeared: my graphics card was overheating. I measured the temperature and it was going up to 110 degrees, then the game was slowing down making it hard to play.

I did some research on the GeForce 8800 GTS I am using and it turned out that:
1/ I am running those cards way too hot, even when idling.
2/ They tend to overheat, especially when they don’t have enough airflow.

As I have quite a dense environment with two GPUs, the overheating was understandable.

After some gooling, I found a custom cooler ZEROtherm Hurricane HC92 Cu 8800 to provide the best cooling results, but it was quite loud. I read some reviews of other 3rd-party coolers and they weren’t that effective, so I got the Zerotherm. Just notice, it will consume 2 additional PCI slots below you GPU, be prepared for that.

It came in a nice box, with installation manual (with miniature images, so I downloaded the PDF version to see them better) and all the required stuff. Unfortunately, I also got a dried-out thermal grease, so had to buy a new one in a nearby store.

The whole operation took around 1 hour. Here’s the toolset (thanks to my girlfriend for having the nail polish remover)

First step is to remove the OEM cooler from the card. There’s a lot of screws for that, also at the end you have to detach it from the GPU with some force Once you feel it moves on the GPU surface freely, it means it’s kept only by the thermal grease and you can pull it off safely. Then you get some alcohol- or acetone-based fluid and clean off the old grease from card. The results should look like this:

Then you stick all the small heatsinks onto memory chips, NVIO (with extra help from two plastic mounting legs) and FETs. The manual says here

Do not apply excessive force until the adhesive tape of the memory heat sink is completely attached.

which got me a bit confused, whether shall I apply excessive force after it’s attached or not. I decided not to try braking my card in half, but left the heatsinks movable a bit. They didn’t fall off, so I guess it’s OK.

Then you mount the central module with heat pipes and fan. Just remember to remove the transparent sticky tape from the copper base. I forgot to do it and had to remove the module again and add some more thermal grease. At least I realized before starting the card up!

Then you just need to mount the card back into your PC, find some space around it and you’re done!

There’s also a wired fan speed controller, which you need to place somewhere. I put it on top of my DVD recorder, so it’s accessible without opening the case, and not spoiling the looks.

So, how does it work?

Idle temperature fell down from around 75 degrees to 60. During gaming it’s between 75 (on maximum fan speed) and 90 (on lowest fan speed).

However, what’s more important – the binary result is “it worked”. I can now play games at maximum details and the card doesn’t overheat. I don’t really care if it’s 5 degrees higher or lower, I do care if I can use my card at full performance. Yes, I can – so this was a good investment.

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