Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/6531/arctic-cooling-accelero-hybrid-vga-cooler-review-not-for-the-faint-of-heart

Introducing the Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid

Traditionally in the desktop space, the next step after high quality air cooling has been high quality liquid cooling, usually centered around custom designed cooling loops that cost a pretty penny in equipment. The industry has met this desire halfway by producing closed loop liquid coolers for the CPU not unlike the ones we tested recently, but interestingly the real power monster in most enthusiast desktops has needed to be served by reference coolers and sometimes exotic custom solutions offered by partners. Any type of liquid cooling has continued to be the province of the more extreme enthusiast.

Arctic Cooling changes some of that today with the Accelero Hybrid. Aftermarket VGA coolers aren't totally uncommon, but generally they're harder to build and market due to the more specific needs of cooling a graphics card. You have to cool the GPU, the video memory, and the voltage regulation, and the layouts of these parts varies from vendor to vendor and card to card. The Accelero Hybrid includes a 120mm radiator courtesy of Asetek, a cooling shroud for board components, and enough tiny parts to choke all but the heartiest of housecats. At $169, it also costs a pretty penny. Is it worth the effort, the money, and the risk?

I'll make an admission: I've been putting off reviewing the Accelero Hybrid for a little while. I'm not new to replacing the cooler on a graphics card, but the Hybrid is something much more involved. A visit to NewEgg or even to other sites that have reviews of it will tell you it's pretty difficult to actually install, and the idea of possibly bricking my GeForce GTX 680 wasn't a particularly pleasant one. At the same time, the promises Arctic Cooling make of the Accelero Hybrid's performance border on outlandish and even more interesting, judging from other reviews, the Hybrid seems to live up to those promises.

Source: Arctic Cooling

While it's reasonable to expect the Accelero Hybrid to produce excellent performance, it's also easy to be skeptical. The RAM and VRM cooling is no doubt totally serviceable, but I've seen this particular Asetek radiator have a hard time keeping an overclocked Intel Core i7-2700K running under 70C. How am I supposed to believe it'll handle a potentially overclocked GPU pushing 200W or more and do so under 60C or even 50C? The only way to find out for sure is to test it.

Installation, Part 1

Of course, in order to actually test the Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid, we must first install it. I had on hand a bone stock, reference NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680, a card which is in my opinion the perfect candidate. The GTX 680's stock cooler isn't bad, but it can get a little noisy if you start overclocking the card at all, and it's not as robust as the cooler on the venerable GTX 580. To be fair, that card had a much higher TDP than the GTX 680 does.

The first step was just getting the existing cooler off of the GTX 680, and NVIDIA doesn't make it easy. The 680's cooling comes in three pieces: the outer shroud, the heatsink, and the baseplate. The shroud is easy enough to remove, secured with a total of six Phillips head screws. Disconnecting the radial fan requires removing another internal Phillips head screw with a precision screwdriver, and then the heatsink comes off by removing four more Phillips head screws from the rear of the card. Of course, the baseplate itself isn't so kind: there are fourteen T6 Torx head screws on the rear of the card that must be removed, along with an additional three Phillips head screws attached to the I/O shield.

With the original cooling system removed, you'll need to clean the thermal paste off of the GPU die, and Arctic Cooling recommends using an eraser to gently remove any residue that may be on the RAM and VRM dies. After doing so you'll want to safely set aside the video card, as we now need to work on one of the two major parts of the Accelero Hybrid: the shroud. The plastic shroud has kind of a goofy shape and doesn't feel particularly sturdy, and I kind of wish Arctic Cooling had gone with a bit more staid and practical of a design. In the above photo, in the ring to the left of the 80mm fan are three circular rubber pads which have to be applied. These dampen vibration from the waterblock.

And above is the waterblock installed into the shroud. This is an involved process, unfortunately. The easy part is getting the waterblock into the shroud and wrapping the tubing around the plastic wedges inside. There are three channels for the tubes to go through; the orientation in the image is for the GTX 680, while other cards would shift both tubes down a channel. The waterblock is screwed into place, and then the tubes are held in place by metal washers mounted into the shroud.

The four clear spacers covering the mounting points of the waterblock have to have adhesive applied to their backs, and they're all roughly the size of a Grape Nut. This requires a ridiculous amount of precision, and I hope your hands are steadier than mine. Arctic Cooling could've done us all a huge solid by including these spacers pre-adhered like the rubber pads used to cushion the waterblock instead of making us remove tiny circles of double-sided adhesive. You also have to refer to their included table to see which spacers to use, as certain cards require 1.5mm spacers (like the GTX 680) while others require 4mm spacers. From there, you'll have to connect the power plug off of the waterblock to a header inside the shroud located just above the block.

Installation, Part 2

Congratulations! You've assembled the shroud on the Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid. You're halfway to a quieter, frostier graphics card. Now it's time to run the risk of somehow damaging or even frying your gaming hardware. It's time to install the heatsinks.

Arctic Cooling includes a thermal glue for applying the RAM and VRM heatsinks that is, make no mistake, a glue. That means that once you've gone down this road, there's no turning back for you and your card. Those heatsinks are there to stay, and if you want to go back to air cooling you'll probably have to buy an aftermarket cooler from Arctic. I initially tried to use thermal tape for this so that I wouldn't be locked in, but found that while it might have sufficed for testing, it wasn't going to be a long term solution. Figuring "in for a penny, in for a pound," I used the thermal glue. As far as I can tell, the glue Arctic Cooling includes is nonconductive, and it'd have to be, since it's so thick that it's difficult not to let a little strand here or there touch the PCB.

Arctic Cooling includes a wide variety of heatsinks for use with your card. The glue has a minimum one hour curing time, and a little dab will definitely do you. Once you've let the glue cure, though, it's good to go and definitely reliable. You'll want to cover the RAM and all the VRM circuitry, as VRMs can run ridiculously hot on high end video cards. There's also insulation tape included to make sure the heatsinks don't touch anything they're not supposed to and thus cause a short, but if you're careful you won't need it; I didn't.

Interestingly, putting the whole card together isn't actually as difficult as everything else is, just a little fiddly. There's a black foam pad you want to install behind the GPU die on the back of the card so the backplate doesn't come into contact with any circuitry. From there, Arctic Cooling suggests spreading the included MX-4 thermal paste onto the waterblock and pressing the combined block and shroud into place.

The fiddly part comes in when you have to line up the backplate with four spacers above the mounting holes in the PCB and then get the screws to go through the backplate, the spacers (which are not adhered to the PCB), the PCB, and into the waterblock. I found the easiest way to do this was to gingerly place the spacers on the back of the card, put the screws through the appropriate holes in the backplate, then carefully lower the backplate into the spacers, which you can then slide to push the screws through the PCB, and eventually line up with the waterblock. Screw everything in, and you're actually pretty close to done.

The power cable for the shroud connects easily enough to the PCB, and then there's a single molex lead that comes out of the shroud. This is going to wind up providing the additional power needed to drive the pump. Arctic Cooling also includes a PWM-driven 120mm fan that attaches to the radiator (the PWM lead actually connects to the shroud as well), and from there it's really up to you where you want to install it inside your case.

Of course, when you're done you think to yourself "oh, that wasn't so bad," but the reality is that Arctic probably could've done more to make this a much easier process. All of the spacers should've already come with adhesive attached to them, the insulation tape is finicky, and good-quality thermal tape or adhesive for the heatsinks would've been appreciated. The glue definitely does the trick and seems to transfer heat exceptionally well, but the permanence of it makes me antsy. I also feel like the shroud didn't need to be so unusually shaped; there's no card it's ever going to look good on, though the 80mm fan apparently does wonders for cooling the PCB components.

Testing Methodology

Testing something like the Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid is kind of tricky. I'm not fond of using an open testbed for a product that is never going to see the outside of your case, so I appropriated the testbed used for the radiator roundup (and radiator fan roundup) with a couple of minor changes for my own edification.

Fan and Radiator Testing Configuration
CPU Intel Core i7-2700K overclocked to 4.4GHz @ 1.4V
Motherboard Zotac Z77-ITX WiFi
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 2GB GDDR5
at stock speed (1008MHz core/6GHz memory, 100% Power Target)
at overclocked speed (1108MHz core/6.2GHz memory, 132% Power Target)
Memory 2x4GB Corsair Value Select DDR3-1333
Drives Kingston SSDNow V+ 100 64GB SSD
CPU Cooler Corsair H100i with dual 120mm Noctua fans
Power Supply Corsair CX430
Enclosure BitFenix Shinobi XL Window

The i7-2700K was left overclocked, but for the purposes of our testing that doesn't make too much difference as it won't be pushed very hard at any point. The H100i is undoubtedly going to be the source of some consternation, especially since I've customized it with Noctua fans. The Noctuas are more efficient and quieter than the stock fans included with the H100i, and I was also curious to see just how well the Accelero Hybrid would handle occupying similar space with the H100i. It handled it well, as you'll see.

I needed a case that could produce adequate airflow, handle all of the different cooling systems without much trouble, and did not include any sound dampening features. You might be surprised at just how difficult that was to find, but BitFenix came to the rescue and sent over a Shinobi XL. BitFenix's enclosure didn't get the best review when I tested it, but it's actually ideal for this testbed. I removed every case fan but the front intake, which I ran at 5V to prevent it from affecting acoustics while still providing adequate airflow.

My experience with the GeForce GTX 680 has taught me that while at stock speeds the cooler is capable of running fairly quietly and effiiciently, once an overclock is applied it starts to buckle and can get a little obnoxious. I felt like a mild overclock would be the perfect test to see just how much better the Accelero Hybrid could perform.

Thermal and acoustic test cycles were done the same way as our case reviews. First, the system is left powered and idle for fifteen minutes. At this point the sound level is tested, room ambient temperature is recorded, and idle temperatures are recorded. Then I run EVGA's OC Scanner X (Furry Test) for 15 minutes.

Thank You!

Before moving on, we'd like to thank the following vendors for providing us with the hardware used in our roundup.

  • Thank you to iBuyPower for providing us with the Intel Core i7-2700K.
  • Thank you to Zotac for providing us with the Z77-ITX WiFi motherboard.
  • Thank you to Kingston for providing us with the SSDNow V+ 100 SSD.
  • Thank you to Corsair for providing us with the CX430 power supply and H100i.
  • Thank you to BitFenix for providing us with the Shinobi XL Window enclosure.

Performance Results

Of course, for the Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid, the proof is in the testing. Once I was satisfied that I hadn't bricked the GeForce GTX 680 during assembly, I went about testing it in eVGA's OC Scanner X software. I've actually been pretty happy with OC Scanner X in personal use, and it generates enough heat to give the coolers a good workout.

I will say that what I found in testing, while not necessarily unexpected, was still pretty impressive.

Ambient temperature during testing was ~21C.

Idle Temperatures

Unsurprisingly, idle temperatures are pretty impressively low for both cooling systems, but already the Accelero Hybrid is able to produce a substantially better result well outside of the margin of error.

Load Temperatures

Once a load is applied to the card, though, all bets are off. The Accelero Hybrid blows past the reference cooler, producing a massive reduction in thermals. Keep this in mind, I'm going to come back to it later.

Load Noise

Since the reference cooler and Accelero Hybrid both idle below the 30dB floor of our sound meter, idle noise results aren't listed. What's impressive is that the Hybrid is almost dead silent under load, regardless of the increased pressure applied to the cooling system. So while the reference cooler gets louder the harder you push the card, the Hybrid seems to have plenty of thermal headroom to spare.

Using the Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid on the GTX 680 has also revealed another interesting wrinkle. While overclocking on the GTX 680 is mostly limited by the Power Target, the reference cooler definitely introduces some thermal limitations. I've seen the GPU clock of the 680 take a step back and begin to throttle a little once it goes north of 70C, but because the Accelero Hybrid has so much thermal headroom, that throttling almost never happens. With the fan control manually maxed out at 85%, I registered a noise level of just 31.3dB in testing, but have actually been able to push the 680 north of 1.3GHz. The stable 6.6GHz clock on the GDDR5 has been consistent between the reference cooler and the Hybrid, but the added headroom for the GPU has allowed me to move past the ~1.2GHz I was able to attain on the stock cooling.

As I've been writing this review, I've actually been steadily testing overclocking on the GTX 680 plus Hybrid by incrementing the GPU Offset +10MHz, running it through OC Scanner X for fifteen minutes (and accepting no artifacts), then benchmarking it in 3DMark 11's Extreme test. This is by no means a thorough stability test, but it's a decent way to poke around the edges of the card's tolerances. I can't imagine how much hotter and louder it would be running with the reference cooler, but with the Hybrid at 85% it's peaking at 63C. That's at 1.3GHz, sustained load.

Conclusion: Expensive, Difficult, Potentially Worth It

My experiences with the Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid have revealed a product that's not unlike a powerful weapon. The end result of having the Hybrid installed on a GeForce GTX 680 is almost something that must be seen to be believed, and I imagine the AMD Radeon HD 7970 version is just as impressive (if not possibly even more vital given the GHz Edition's notorious noise level). At the same time, the Accelero Hybrid is really, really not for amateurs.

Creating something like the Accelero Hybrid is an uphill battle from the word "go." There isn't a whole lot that can really be done about that; they could produce a broad variety of individual packages for each card type, but that's not cost effective for them, and the Accelero Hybrid is expensive enough as it is. Assembling this kind of product was just going to be fiddly.

The problem is that I still feel like it could've been made at least a little simpler. The shroud itself feels chintzy, and the awkward shape and size isn't particularly attractive and oftentimes feels like it's even in the way a bit when doing assembly. Parts of this process could have been handled before the product shipped: all of the spacers could've been on adhesive sheets, the rubber pads could've been preinstalled in the shroud (and the shroud itself could've had spots that properly fit the spacers), and I have to wonder if they couldn't have even just built the shroud and waterblock as one single large piece. The instructions are for the most part detailed, but they aren't perfect, and more detail and care would've helped.

And then there's that price I keep mentioning. The Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid sells for a not inconsiderable $169 ($149 for the 7970 version), so they abuse your wallet, your time, and your fingers. With so much stacked against it, it's hard to fathom why you'd actually go through all the hassle. That is, until you actually see it in action.

What Arctic Cooling is asking for the Accelero Hybrid is an awful lot, but you actually do get quite a bit in the process. For the GTX 680 at least, the Accelero Hybrid is a substantial improvement. Thermals drop close to the 30C that Arctic Cooling advertises, which is tremendous, and the Hybrid is slightly audible at its worst. The card runs much quieter, much cooler, and because of this, the GTX 680 at least can actually gain a little bit of performance headroom. So you're looking at $169 and a couple of hours of work in exchange for a substantial amount of upside.

The price and difficulty of assembly rule out an Editor's Choice award, and this product is most definitely not for everyone regardless, but if you have the experience, time, patience, and funds required, there's a strong case to be made for making this upgrade.

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