By: Devin Chollak
November 4, 2011
Brakes are to cars as coolers are to computers. They aren't the selling point of the product, but you sure miss them when they aren't working. When it comes to cooling solutions for computer components, there are always a number of features that they have in common. This includes copper metal for conductivity, fans for airflow, and aluminum fins to prevent it from weighing a ton. Of course, those are only the basics; it's the other features and variations that really determine the quality and effectiveness of the cooler. Arctic Cooling has provided the Accelero Extreme Plus II for us to review at APH Networks. Just like CPU coolers, the stock VGA coolers provided with most graphics cards are simply not acceptable for overclocking; in fact, it is barely acceptable for even normal usage sometimes. I'm sure everyone is familiar with the roaring fan of their graphics card while playing games. As I found with my own computer, the graphics card was by far the loudest component, and my computer case could not contain the sound of the infernal. The name Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus II is far too long to say out loud. Why can it not just simply be called the ACAXP2? I guess the only one who can really answer that question is Arctic Cooling themselves. Of course, the reason you are here, is to see if this mouthful of cooling can really make graphics card feel like it is being served on ice. Read on below to find out more.
With snow just nipping at our heels, the
XTREME cold Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus II arrived at our Calgary offices all the way from Hong Kong. First taking a ride with Hong Kong Post, the Accelero XTREME Plus II was then transferred over to Canada Post. In your typical shipping box, the VGA cooler was generously wrapped with packaging tape. As you can see in the image above, it arrived intact and ready for the frosty Canadian mornings. The shipping box is about the size of a football, which initially had me worried, because I felt the cooler might have been quite a bit larger than I had originally anticipated. Fortunately, the box dimensions were a little bit misleading, as for when I peered inside, the product package wasn't very large. Moving on, let's see what this product's packaging looks like.
The first thing you will notice is the color choice for the product package is XTREMELY chilling. I certainly can appreciate when product packaging designers come up with something that actually represents the product itself. Not only that, but you can also see no room was wasted on in this area. Tightly sealed in a plastic container, it allows for Arctic Cooling to minimize space, and consequently, maximize efficiency. When it comes to the way it is carried out, there is one particular thing I dislike about it: The minimalistic amount of information presented on the product's packaging. Looking only at the front, I can tell you that the Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus II comes with a VR cooling set, it's 27 degrees cooler, and six times quieter. Not that I am expecting the full technical specifications on the front, but a bit more specific information would have been handy. On the other hand, I really like the fact that you get the best image of the product possible -- the product itself sitting behind clear plastic. Now for those who are interested, here is a copy of the full technical specifications, as obtained from the manufacturer's website:
Max. Cooling Capacity: 300 Watts
Heatpipe: Ø 6 mm x 5
Heatsink Material: Aluminum fins x 83, thickness 0.3 mm
Fan (mm): 92 mm, 900 - 2,000 RPM (controlled by PWM) x 3 fans
Bearing: Fluid Dynamic Bearing
Noise Level: 0.5 Sone
Dimensions (Product): 288 (L) x 103 (W) x 50 (H) mm
Dimensions (Packaging): 292 (L) x 110 (W) x 60 (H) mm
Net Weight: 615 g
Limited Warranty: 6 years
Heatsink: 31 pcs
Screw (M2): 4 pcs
Washer: 4 pcs
Spacer (3.0 mm): 4 pcs
Spacer (4.5 mm): 4 pcs
Adhesive Tape: 1 pc
Thermal Pad: 3 pcs
G-1 Thermal Glue (2.0 g Grey Compound): 1 bag
G-1 Thermal Glue (2.0 g White Compound): 1 bag
Mixing Wand: 1 pc
4-Pin Fan Power Adapter: 1 pc
VGA Bracket: 1 pc
Gross Weight: 0.9 kg
Flipping the plastic cover off of the Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus II, the inside held my view of the compact and efficient package design as mentioned earlier. With the VGA cooler resting on top, the other components and pieces were stored away below in a very effective way. All of the other parts were separated with a plastic tray, and the smallest pieces were additionally packaged in tiny plastic bags. I guess you could say Arctic Cooling went to the XTREME when packaging this VGA cooler. The only real downside to this was the fact the aluminum fins of the Accelero XTREME Plus II ended up getting bent on the corners from the lack of protection. They can be bent back effortlessly, but it is still a bit disappointing to know that there is minimal protection while it is on the way to a customer.
When you look at all the parts, you would be surprised at how many of them you are not even going to use. While it is advantageous to provide a single set of parts to cover a wide range of graphics cards, it ends up costing more to the consumer, because of the large number of extra parts you have to pay for. The benefit is that you can sell the same product to many different customers with different requirements. The installation manual is an example of why it is a bad idea to try and reach out to as many different customers as possible. First of all, it is extremely generic, and provides no advice to the user about which parts to use, and where to use them. Now, most enthusiasts won't really need to refer to the installation manual. However, there are certainly a number of people interested in an aftermarket VGA cooler who aren't very tech savvy. I'm thinking of gamers in particular -- many only know the basics of their computer hardware. The fact the instructions only provide hints leaves a huge amount of guessing room for end-users. This can be a major disappointment, and possibly XTREMELY frustrating, which really means they will probably never want to buy another Arctic Cooling VGA cooler if they run into a lot of trouble installing one. I'll sum up the installation manual as the "jack of all trades, master of none".
In all honesty, how can a cooler with three fans not look a little bit XTREME? The Accelero XTREME Plus II is very beastly to behold at first glance. The three 92mm fans, as well as the heatsink, are larger than most graphic cards. With the cooler measuring in at 288mm width, 103mm depth, and 50mm in height, you better hope your chassis can actually hold it. Weighing in at 615g, it is certainly not something to take lightly, but it really isn't that much different than the typical "brick" that comes with most graphics cards these days. I'm not sure what it is about the design, but for some reason, the cooler doesn't look very huge. I find that very odd, considering how massive the cooler is when I'm holding it; however, once I place it down, it doesn't seem to be big. I guess I'm just used to using massive things.
It is easy to think a cooler with three fans would be loud as well. Of course, sometimes things that seem logically sound, are actually quite far from the truth. The best part about the fans are the adjustable speeds, which allows you to have them running high when gaming and low during non-demanding times. With a 900 to 2000 rpm operating range, I'm sure you can tell that these fans offer maximum flexibility over the control of cooling on your graphics card. Let us not forget the fact the fan's bearing is a fluid dynamic bearing, which should allow for long lasting and near silent operation. The heatsink itself consists of 83 aluminum fins; each with a thickness of 0.3mm. Combine this with five 6mm copper heatpipes, and you have yourself the Accelero XTREME Plus II. Oh, did I mention the 6 year limited warranty as well? The bottom line here is you get a really nice piece of hardware, but it doesn't come cheap either. Retailing for about $100 at press time, this puts this cooler at the top bracket for air-based VGA cooling solutions.
When looking closely at the heatsink itself, you notice that the base contact is made out of copper. A layer of thermal paste has already been pre-applied for you. Understandably, this does provide the best thermal conductivity when you purchase the cooler. Unfortunately, bare copper isn't the best material to put here, because it will degrade over time from corrosion. This is typically why on high-end coolers the processor contact is plated with a very thin layer of nickel. You compromise slightly on thermal conductivity to improve durability and reliability down the road. This leaves me wondering about the 6 year warranty, but it looks like they really only offer spare parts, and not a full product replacement. On the other hand, after 6 years, I highly doubt I'll be using the same VGA cooler anyway, haha. Meanwhile, even though the main focus is the graphics processing unit, it wouldn't be right to neglect the other components as well, particularly the VRAM. The Accelero XTREME Plus II provides 12 heatsinks for your graphics card's memory, and a number of additional heatsinks for other components. These little heatsinks appear to be made completely out of aluminum. On the plus side, this makes the weight of these heatsinks almost negligible, but they are not the most optimal for thermal dissipation. As it really would be a compromise to go with another type of material for these heatsinks, so I'm in agreement with the choice made by Arctic Cooling.
One particular noble aspect of the Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus II is the distribution of the heatpipes. The heatpipes are spaced evenly through the aluminum fins; this is exactly what you would expect for an XTREME cooler. Naturally, one of the most crucial aspects of any heatsink is how the spacing on the fins is done. If they are too close together, you will end up with a significant amount of air resistance, which not only reduces the ability to dissipate heat, but also increases the noise level of the cooler. If they are too far apart, then you will not get enough surface area to dissipate heat. Upon close inspection of the fins, you find that they are spaced out very evenly, and with a good of room in between. This will improve aerodynamics. On the other hand, the leading edges of the fins that are adjacent to the fans happen to be completely flat. This isn't optimal for airflow and acoustics, as a curved edge would provide better aerodynamics, which comes down to the simple fact that even this cooler still has room for improvement. Now that we have covered the basics of the cooler, it is time to look at the installation process.
I must go back to the "jack of all trades, master of none" comment I have mentioned earlier. The installation manual itself only provides the most basic instructions for installation, which is great for people how don't need to look at it, other than for a few tips. As I have mentioned earlier, this product is orientated more towards hardware enthusiasts than your average gamer, so I can't put up too much of an argument here. However, that isn't an excuse for not providing a more informative installation manual to end users. If a customer decided that this VGA cooler looks amazing and wants to buy it, well they better hope to be reasonably tech savvy, because you are otherwise on your own. I should also advise anyone installing this VGA cooler that the RAM heatsinks are suggested to have their thermal glue sit for five hours before use. Now, I'm sure you can cut that short by a couple hours; however, I wouldn't recommend it, since you will only have one shot at applying the thermal glue to the auxiliary component coolers. Now with the warnings and issues aside, let's go over the installation process.
First thing that needs to be done is to remove your old VGA cooler from the graphics card. This isn't typically a difficult process, but generally, the stock VGA cooler likes to stick to the card's board after all the screws have been removed. After gently prying the two apart, I got to enjoy the low quality, cheap, mass production thermal paste provided by AMD. It is always unfortunate I can typically expect seeing this when it comes to stock parts. After spending a bit of time cleaning off all the components, I referred to the installation manual. Essentially. it told me it was a good idea to put on the mounting bracket on first. This so I can have an idea of how much space is available for the RAM heatsinks. I'll give them credit for that suggestion, as once the bracket was mounted, I had very little room to spare for the heatsinks. If I decided to mount the heatsinks prior to putting on the mounting bracket. I most certainly would have had a very bad day.
As I stated above, it is suggested to have the thermal glue for the RAM/component heatsinks to settle for five hours. Naturally, I took the suggestion, and ended up leaving it overnight. The end result was as expected, each heatsink was securely attached, and it left me pretty confident that they would remain attached during use. It should be noted that the thermal glue can only be done in one shot, as Arctic Cooling only provides a single packet of the ingredients to mix. If you screw up, you will probably have to order more to finish up the job. This is, of course, after a reasonable amount of cursing and swearing. On the bright side, they do provide you with more than sufficient thermal glue, so you will not have to worry about running out. Once the heatsinks were finished, it was simply a matter of reattaching the main heatsink to the mounting bracket, and them screwing it down to the graphics card. The thermal paste for the graphics processor is already pre-applied, so you do not need to apply any additional thermal paste. If you feel you have better thermal paste, you can always remove the stuff already there, and apply your own.
Mounting the main heatsink is a bit difficult, as the spacers for the screws will easily slide off. I have always hoped manufacturers would use the spacers you can screw on, but this tends to be very rare. It would have made this final stage significantly easier. Once I had the heatsink screwed in tightly, I noticed I only had a few millimeters of space left to plug in the heatsink's fan to the graphics card. I almost considered just using the power adapter and plugging it directly into my power supply, but the graphics card was able to bend just enough for me to slip it in. Next was putting my Radeon HD 6950 and cooler back into my computer case. Typically, this is the easiest part of the job, but whoever that designed this VGA cooler overlooked the need for you to plug in the PCIe power cables. The power plugs were not given adequate clearance for the clips, which resulted in having to break them off to simple plug in the power cables. I was irritated by that, and for a very good reason. This whole installation process and installation manual makes me question if Arctic Cooling actually tried to install this cooler on any graphics cards other than the GTX 480 and 580. Why the GTX 480/580? Well, those two cards happen to have more detailed installation instructions, whereas every other card is out of luck. This is especially true for AMD graphics cards, which has a very different layout. I would strongly suggest Arctic Cooling spend some time going over the installation process on an AMD Radeon HD 6950 and 6970. In summary, the installation wasn't XTREME LY challenging, but there is ample room for improvement. A good start would be a revised installation manual that covers more details of various graphic cards, spacers that I can screw on so they don't slide of during installation, and better consideration of where the power cables need to connect to the graphics card.
The test setup as follows:
CPU: Intel Core i7 920 @ 3.6GHz (Overclocked, Hyper-Threading enabled)
CPU Cooling: Thermaltake Frio OCK
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5
Graphics: ASUS Radeon HD 6950 2GB (Reflashed to 6970)
Memory: Corsair XMS3 PC3-10666 6x2GB
Chassis: Sentey Arvina GS-6400B
Power: Corsair HX1000W
Sound: Integrated (Motherboard)
Optical Drive: Samsung SH-S223Q 22X DVD Writer
Storage: Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1TB; Samsung Spinpoint F1 1TB
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1
- Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus II
- AMD Stock Reference
To ensure a controlled environment, the test machine was kept in the same location at a constant room temperature of approximately 22c. Each test was performed with the fan speed fixed at 70%. The graphics card was left at "stock" 6970 settings of 880MHz clock and 1375MHz for memory. The idle test results were recorded after the system had been idle for 45 minutes to ensure that the temperature was stable. For the load tests, the system was running FurMark's Burn In test until the temperature flattened out after 10 minutes. FurMark settings were 1920x1080 with 8X MSAA, dynamic background, Burn-In, and Post FX. The final temperature readings were taken from GPU-Z once it was deemed stable.
Looking at the above graph, you can clearly see that the Accelero XTREME Plus II did not even have a competition. It looks almost like the Intel Core i7-2600K against an AMD FX-8150 in some of the benchmarks I've seen. The AMD stock cooler sat idle at 58c, while the Arctic Cooling cooler was resting at a cool 45c. A 13c difference between the two is pretty good for Arctic Cooling's camp. I also would like to point out that the Accelero XTREME Plus II was quieter than my case fans, whereas the AMD stock cooler was roaring well above any other sound in my computer. However, just like when you are comparing cars, you rarely are interested in what they do when they are idling. Let's take a look at the load tests.
First off, yes the Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus II was cooler under full load than when the AMD stock cooler was idle. I guess that is what happens when you compare a Ferrari to a Hyundai. The AMD stock cooler was running at a scorching hot 102c under load, and the roaring fan proved almost useless against the onslaught of raging heat from the Radeon HD "6970". On the other hand, the Accelero XTREME Plus II was running comfortable at 57c, and could clearly operate at a much lower fan speed -- and more likely than not, still run colder than the stock cooler. I know these results are expected, but the significance of the difference makes me question why AMD designs such a low quality cooler for such an expensive piece of hardware.
Ranking the Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus II on the standardized APH noise perception scale, with 0.0 being silent and 10.0 being the loudest, the fans running at 70% would be rated at 2.5 out of 10. However, when running at 20% fan speed, the VGA cooler would be rated at 1.0 out of 10 in my personal opinion. Finally, as I'm sure many are curious, at 100% fan speed the cooler would be rated at 3.5 out of 10. Loudness is subjective to the observer, and varies with each individual, but a VGA cooler that makes almost no sound when running at the lowest fan speed is just downright impressive. That's not to mention it still runs colder than the AMD stock cooler, this is clearly not even a fair fight, haha.
In terms of performance, the Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus II is an absolute all-star champion. There is no doubt in my mind that this VGA cooler can handle almost anything I throw at it without even breaking a sweat. This is very reassuring, and to top that off, it will do it without sounding like a jet fighter in the background. However, is it worth the retail value of $100 at press time? I'm not full convinced on the price tag, but if you have the money, I would highly recommend this cooler. There are certainly a number of rough parts during the installation process, which was only amplified for anyone that is not very tech savvy. On the contrary, chances are that if you are buying this product, you are probably fairly tech savvy. I would say this is definitely an area that could be improved to attract more customers, because to be fair, it really makes that $100 look far too steep. Additionally, cutting down on the number of unused parts and reducing the final price of the product would increase the likelihood of consumers wanting this VGA cooler. It's the good old supply and demand thing. Lastly, the base contact shouldn't just be bare copper, as the performance will decline over time due to corrosion. Instead, it should have a nickel plated core to prevent that from occurring; especially considering the huge gap in cooling performance, a slight rise in temperature to dramatically increase the longevity of the final product will definitely go a long way. There is certainly huge potential here, and the Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus II is certainly what many would call an XTREME product.
Arctic Cooling provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
APH Renewal Award | APH Review Focus Summary:
8/10 means Definitely a very good product with drawbacks that aren't likely going to matter to the end user.
7/10 means Great product with many advantages and certain insignificant drawbacks; but should be considered before purchasing.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 7.3/10
Please note that the APH Numeric Rating system is based off our proprietary guidelines in the Review Focus, and should not be compared to other sites.
If you want to accelerate your gaming experience to XTREME levels, the Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus II is your new best friend.
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