Installing an Arctic Cooling NV Silencer 5 on a GeForce 6600GT AGP

Around 2004/2005, The GeForce 6600GT AGP was a very nice graphics card, good performance for a good price. However, practically all of the standard coolers on this card have the same flaw: they emulate vacuum cleaners, coffee grinders or hair dryers. Also, as far as I know none of these cards use a temperature sensor to throttle the fan, so the noise is continuous from boot till shut-down.
I have the XFX card, with the second version of the cooler. The first version was identical to nVidia's reference design. The second version was supposed to perform better. But it certainly wasn't designed to cut down the noise too. Instead of the monolithic reference cooler, it consists of a smaller cooler that covers the GPU core and a separate heatsink on the HSI chip. The first thing I did when hearing the noise, was to remove the useless decoration from the cooler, which consists of a separate piece of shiny metal with the XFX logo. It's very close to the fan, so the little metal bars of the logo cause extra noise, like the tail of a helicopter does every time the rotor blades pass it (OK, it's not that bad, but you get the point). I also used this opportunity to sand the fairly rough copper base of the cooler, and apply some better thermal paste (Arctic Silver Céramique). And because I found the cooler's push-down springs a bit weak, I stretched them to increase their force. The effect was: slightly less noise and a pretty nice drop in temperatures. So people who want an easy improvement in cooling performance and don't care much about the noise, can stop here.

However, after a while the hair dryer sound started to annoy again. Apparently, the only option was to install a Zalman VF700(Cu or AlCu), which is the only silent cooler that fits this card. However, my neighbor has a Zalman VF700 installed on his 6600GT, and I'm not too impressed. It still seems to make a sound that's definitely audible above the other fans. Stasis also has a cooler specifically designed for the 6600GT AGP, but it's hard to get where I live, and I don't know how silent it is.
I was impressed with the reviews I read about the Arctic Cooling Silencers. They aren't just silent, but also very performant, and they blow the hot air directly out of the case through a PCI port. That's especially interesting for my custom Black Box case, because it has a very exotic lay-out which makes every extra air exhaust a welcome addition. Unfortunately there is no Arctic Silencer for the 6600GT AGP, only for the PCI-express model. On a forum I read about someone who said it would be possible to install an NV Silencer 5 on the AGP version, and almost tried it, but eventually decided to go for the Zalman instead. So I thought: why not try it myself? And so I did!

How I did it

You can click the images to view larger versions in a separate window.

Mind that the temperatures are all under idle (after the PC has been fully warmed up with some gaming), and were measured in Linux, where apparently the GPU temperature is reported about 6° lower than in Windows. But we're only interested in temperature differences anyway.

  CPU Motherboard HD GPU
Before, room 19.5° 44°C 33°C 34°C 44°C
After, room 20.5° 44°C 32°C 30°C 39°C
After, normalized to 19.5° 43°C 31°C 29°C 38°C

So, the GPU's temperature dropped by a nice 6°C. Not super-spectacular, apparently my modified standard cooler with vacuum cleaner ambitions wasn't bad on the performance front. But on the noise front, the improvement is huge! I can't hear the Silencer at all next to the other fans in the case. Some nice side-effects: the HD dropped by 5°C, which can be explained by the exotic arrangement of components in the Black Box case. The HD is positioned right above the main air intake holes, and the extra airflow caused by the Silencer causes more air to flow past the HD. The motherboard temperature has also dropped slightly, which proves AC's claim that sending the exhaust air directly out of the case helps reducing the case temperature.

Conclusion

The hard work was well worth it. Nevertheless, if you're now so enthousiastic that you think of doing the same, I would still recommend to go for the Zalman instead. The only valid reasons to take this crazier approach are:

  1. you also have a cramped custom case like mine that can benefit from the Silencer's extra exhaust;
  2. you really know how to pull this off — mind that even with all the pictures and details I didn't even tell half of the story;
  3. you are able to work very precisely and are familiar with all the required tools.

The steps I had to take to mount the Silencer on my 6600GT AGP also make it understandable why Arctic Cooling hasn't yet made a specific model, and likely never will. The design of the card is too different from most other graphics cards. If you look at the diagrams on the AS site, you'll see that all Silencers are based on the same reference design: two types of plastic casings with different copper/alu sinks, which are designed to fit multiple card types. This is what allows AS to make these things at competitive prices. A Silencer for the 6600GT AGP would only fit this specific card, and would need to have a custom heatsink and custom plastic casing design. Moreover, the 6600GT AGP is not a big part of the market and won't stay for long. Therefore, creating a custom Silencer just for this card is not commercially viable.

©2005 Dr. Lex