How to upgrade your graphics card cooling
15th May 2011 | 11:00
Unlock the true power trapped inside your graphics card
Funny isn't it, how CPUs get all the cooling attention? There they are, sitting in blissful tranquillity beneath 8-inch heatsinks without a care in the world, while their GPU friends sat next to them sweat their bits off, desperately trying to keep up with Metro 2033.
What's more, it's much easier to overclock your graphics card than your CPU. No messing about with the BIOS, just load up MSI Afterburner, or whatever software is bundled with your drivers, and you can muck about with core and shader clocks, memory speeds and even those dreaded voltage settings.
Indeed, if you're overclocking with a view to higher gaming frame rates, you may well find a more stable performance increase from tweaking your graphics card's settings than either CPU or RAM. And yet for some reason, graphics cards rarely get any aftermarket loving.
A quick, cheap cooler upgrade can potentially halve idle and load temperatures, which in turn will give you massive headroom for overclocking.
Hey, don't give me that look. I'll prove it to you. I'm going to take the AMD Radeon HD 6970 and replace that sweaty black exterior with Arctic Cooling's Accelero XTREME Plus (£40 from www.lambda-tek.com).
With three 92mm fans pushing air away from five heatpipes and 92 fins, it's designed to give the current generation of AMD and Nvidia cards the super-chilled treatment they deserve. All it takes is a screwdriver, some thermal paste, and no one rubbing balloons tied to kittens wearing rubber soles on the plastic mat next to you.
Static damage is a bitch. Manufacturers don't really want you poking around in their silicone, so if you're worried about voiding warranties this might not be for you.
To be honest though, this procedure is very straightforward and if you've ever fitted a cooler to your CPU you're more than qualified to take it on. Dave was confident enough to let me try this on a 6870, and I've been destroying hardware all week.
The modded card works perfectly, though, and runs very quietly. We can't advocate this tweak enough.
Cool your graphics
1. Start by removing the existing cooling unit. They're pretty well bolted on, and it's not immediately apparent which of the labyrinth of screws to attack first. As a rule of thumb, target any tabs on the side of the card first. The office 6970 was happy to bare all once its tabs and input mountings were undone.
2. Once you've undressed the card, you'll obviously need to disconnect the fan's power cable from the board.
3. Keep all the loose screws in a bag – if anything goes wrong, you'll need to refit the parts.
We're in! Now it's time to remove the cradle from the top of the card (adding yet more screws to the handy bag) that's holding the cooler in place.
4. Removing the heatsink, you'll find a funky mess of thermal paste left behind. Clean this thoroughly with tissue paper.
Ok, soldier. Lay the new cooling unit flat on your work surface, fans at the bottom. Apply a small amount of thermal paste to the GPU.
5. You'll also need to peel off any adhesive from the memory modules. Place mini heatsinks on each of the memory chips.
6. Our Accelero Plus didn't have any included, so if you find yourself in a similar position, you'll need to pick some up at a decent electronics store. You're now looking at a card that vaguely resembles a 3DFX Voodoo 2, and probably feeling slightly worried.
Take a deep breath, you're halfway there. You'll need even less than the usual pea-sized CPU dosage, as the chip is much smaller. Now line the card up above the cooler so you can see the holes from the cradle you took off line up with the pins on the new cooler.
7. When it's nicely aligned, gently bring it down and screw it in place. You don't want to be sliding it around into place; you'll get thermal paste everywhere and foul up the connection. Those fans are going to need some power though, so plug the extruding cable into your GPU's 4-pin connector.
It might look a bit rough and ready, but this is now your fully functional, upgraded GPU. Bung it back into your PCI-e slot, attach the usual power connectors and check that all the fans are running.
8. Next, open a GPU monitoring program, like Afterburner, and check the temp at idle, and with a graphically demanding game running. You should see a dramatic decrease in temperature from your original card, which should lead to some serious overclocking.
We've overclocked the office HD 6970 as far as any software would allow, without any system freezes, blue screens or instability, and it still never ran anywhere near as hot as it used to with the stock cooler. Much quieter, to boot.
The figures speak for themselves, the £40 for the Accelero Plus kit halved our idle and load temps, and allowed us to thrash clock and memory speeds.
First published in PC Format Issue 252
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