Moving over to reviewing for TweakTown has lead me into a lot of firsts and this is no exception. SilenX has sent over a sample to our labs to be tested and this time I will try my skills at a comprehensive VGA cooler review.
SilenX has been around for quite some time. Based in California since 1995, the company was started up by a bunch of engineer hobbyists who were looking to find a quiet solution to cooling. Along with their hobbyist tinkering, comes a bunch of design and engineering knowledge as well. From what I can see so far with what they have shipped me, SilenX is wrapping their minds around almost every angle of this cooler. SilenX also has an extensive line of aftermarket PC products that are worth taking a look at. With the attention to detail this cooler has, I can bet they put the same thought into all their products.
Today we are looking at the SilenX IXtrema Pro IXG-80HA2 and IXG-3F2 optional fans, the latest in a large selection of SilenX products. The IXG-80HA2 is able to run passively, but the packaging does show where SilenX advises the use of the IXG-3F2 with most applications. At first glance this cooler appears large enough to take a good heat load from a GPU and the optional 80mm fan kit should do a good job of evacuating the heat from the fins.
It's time for me to get some images and remove my card from my PC so we can get down to business. I have already run my stock cooler benches, so I am left with the task of striping my ZOTAC 9800GTX bare and installing this SilenX solution to see exactly what the IXG-80HA2 with IXG-3F2 fan kit can do in comparison. Let's have a more detailed look at this process.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
The SilenX IXtrema Pro IXG-80HA2 is a long GPU cooler measuring in at just over 228mm long. This cooler is no slouch in the weight category either, weighing in at 365g. SilenX uses a set of five copper heat pipes to transfer heat to the all aluminum fins. Something I haven't seen listed on most coolers I review is the total surface area being in many manufacturers cooler specs. SilenX proudly displays that the IXG-80HA2 has 2800cm of surface area!
SilenX offers an optional fan kit that you can purchase to accompany your IXG-80HA2 and that is the IGX-3F2 three piece fan kit. On SilenX's website they show these fans to be displayed with blue LED lit fans. The kit I received for testing was not lit with LED's at all. These 80mm fans are quite capable with up to 33 CFM per fan and they can be as quiet as 8 dBA under the lowest setting of operation. These fans clip into place in three various positions, depending on your specific needs. I will explain more on the fans a bit later.
SilenX says that they will retail at a price of $59.95 USD for the heat sink and $24.95 USD for the optional fan kit. With both pieces being needed in 99% of installations, this makes the combo one of the most expensive solutions to opt to buy. With the cooler not actually being on shelves at this time, the pricing may change and of course will vary from e-tailer to e-tailer.
The IXG-80HA2 ships in a brilliant red faded to black packaging with a big cut-away to expose the entire cooler. This packaging is a snug fit and gets the cooler to your door in one piece. Something to note at the top left of the cooler; you can see the fin is bent as the packaging is that snug. Nothing to worry about as just a slight tweak on the fin straightens it right out.
The red is carried to the back with the fan motif on this side using the brightest reds. They have also included a window on this side, so you may look at the contact area prior to purchase as well. Below this is where SilenX chose to add their specifications and compatibility information.
When you first open the box you are greeted with the hardware, heat sinks, and instructions.
Once the hardware and the cardboard separator bits were removed, the blister pack is easily slid out to reveal this. From this view you can see that there are other bits included in this packaging other than just the cooler itself.
Flipping the packaging around, we can see that the extra bit is a heat sink plate to use with some of the installation possibilities. Also, you can get an idea of how this cooler is laid out.
The SilenX iXtrema Pro IXG-80HA2
With the IXG-80HA2 set flat on the table, you can start to see some of the additional features this cooler has. A few things to note are the serrated fin tops to aide in airflow. Then there is the dimpled fins themselves working on a similar principle to golf ball dimples. Lastly is the five copper heat pipes that may be carrying the heat out of you GPU.
The reverse side of the IXG-80HA2 allows you to see how the pipes are caressed inside of the aluminum base. With the pipes not blocking the view you can notice two things. One is that SilenX stamps every fin the same with the texture and the logo. The second being that there are little punched rectangles near the serrated edge of the fins where the fan clips will mount in later.
The working end of the cooler is all assembled then milled as one piece, making both the copper pipes and the aluminum mount the same level. The base is flat in both directions and there is very little deviation against a razors edge. Worth a look while we are here are the mounting options. SilenX has made three different holes for setting the hardware to make this a more universally applied cooler.
As you can see, SilenX does a nice job milling the base to a consistent finish. Personally I prefer a little more polish to my base, but as stated above, they do at least make sure it's true and flat.
This is just another shot of the IXG-80HA2 to help show off the features I have gone over. I also really like the pattern that this cooler provided at this angle.
Accessories and Documentation
Included inside the box top of the IXG-80HA2 comes the heat sinks as well as other hardware. You can see SilenX has made the GTX2xx series card voltage section heat sink as well as a separate heat sink for their chipsets. To the right, the IXG-80HA2 also comes with fourteen RAMsinks. These can also be used to cool vital components on the PCB's that the plate heat sinks don't cover for various other installations.
Onto the rest of the included goodies. In the top left is the GTX2xx series chipset protector socket. Under that in red and to the right in black tape form, five of each, are the washers. One set for above the PCB and one for below. The left bag labelled "Long Bolt" has the taller version of the mounting pins. At the top of that is three foam pads used to set on some RAM IC's, depending on installation. The second bag contains a shorter set of the long bolts and the spring tensioned screws for mounting. The small strip of foam pads here is for placing on the bottom of the GTX2xx rear heat sink to keep the sharp edges of the heat sink off the PCB itself. SilenX also includes a decent sized tube of thermal grease. Last but not least are the black push-pins for mounting the GTX2xx heat sinks to the card.
SilenX does a great job with the instructions for mounting the IXG-80HA2 to just about any card on the market. Clearly labelled is a parts list and a diagram of which mounting holes apply to which card you want to apply this cooler to. The step by step instructions are clear and pretty simple to follow. Just be sure to read it completely prior to applying the heat sinks, as issues may arise in the installation later if you don't pay close attention.
The SilenX iXtrema Pro IXG-3F2 optional fan kit
SilenX ships the optional fan kit, the IXG-3F2, in a plastic blister pack that exposes the fans to their buyers. As you can see, the IXG-3F2 comes as a three piece, 80mm set of fans. The 18 dBA that is noted is per fan at maximum RPM. SilenX has also included the specifications and compatibility listing on the fans as well. One thing that I see off the get go is that SilenX has no stickers on their fans that are displayed on their website. The Fans shown on site are also LED, which I do believe this set is not.
From the back of the box you can see the back of the fans and a sneak peak at the included goodies at the bottom as well.
After removing the fans from the snap together blister pack, this leaves just three fans and some extra wiring that is included along with the IXG-3F2.
You can see here that each fan has its own short 3-pin power lead. From the bottom the three tabs that lock the fan to the cooler are more easily seen. The small rectangular holes by the serrated edges I was on about earlier is where these three clips lock into place on the cooler. SilenX finishes off the fan mounting with a hard plastic tail to route the wire under to avoid any fan blade meets wiring mishaps.
The IXG-3F2 comes with a handy assortment of wiring. There is mainly the three way splitter for getting power to all three fans if needed in your installation. To the left and right of this are varying degrees of resistance built in to the wire, so you may lower the fan speeds from full without one, to adding one inline and lowering the overall voltage to the fan in two different stages. Every connection is 3-pin just like any fan header on a motherboard would supply.
There were no instructions provided with the fans, but I think this set up is pretty self-explanatory. The fans could go on either way, depending on how you're choosing to power this set-up. When you get them lined up with the punched holes in the fins, just press gently until you hear them click into place.
One thing I did run into was that the fans are not easily removed. They are locked on with all three tabs and are near impossible to remove without feeling like you are seriously going to damage either the product or yourself while doing so. Just as a word of advice, be sure you have the fans set the way you want them for the duration, as they aren't easily changed later on.
The Card, Prep and Installation
Here we have our victim, my ZOTAC 9800GTX. Nothing too fancy here, but it's enough to put a good test on the IXG-80HA2 and IXG 3F2 combo.
This side of the 9800GTX gives you a good idea of the amount of screws that need to be removed to take the stock cooler off. Not only do you have to get all the ones seen on the PCB, but there are a couple of screws hiding on the bracket as well. Careful removing the stock cooler, the fan lead is really short. You may need a pair of needle nosed pliers to aide in disconnecting it.
Fast forward through some tedious unscrewing and cleaning leaves me at this stage. The stock cooler has been removed along with the thermal grease NVIDIA supplies on their GPU's. Also be sure to take your time with the cleaning; it has been my experience that good preparation is essential to getting the RAM sinks to stay on for the duration of ownership. Lack of doing so will leave you disappointed as the sinks fall off later under normal use.
After carefully reading through the instructions once, I prepped my card with placing the heat sinks and foam pads as directed. Note the two outer IC's are covered in foam. This is to allow the cooler to extend where it needs to be without clashing with a RAM sink. You can see I covered the voltage regulation and other vital components as well, as the GTX2xx plate obviously isn't designed for this application.
From here we continue the preparations, this time installing the bolts used to pass through the PCB in the correct location of the base. Then, just slip a red washer into place to protect the PCB from abrasion.
Something to note is that I used the large bolts to aide in imagery, but I switched to the smaller versions for the installation as directed to use.
The black tape style washers are made to stick down to the top of the PCB, again to avoid abrasions from the springs on the screws from possibly doing any other sort of damage as well.
This is the result from my contact test. As you can see, there is contact of the TIM on only the center three pipes with naked core style GPU's. For a five pipe contact pattern you will need a card that has an IHS on it like the G80 series 8800 cards.
Fast forward a little more and we have the IXG-80HA2 installed on my 9800GTX. Something to note is at this point I noticed just a slight bit of flex starting to happen to the PCB, so I stopped screwing the mounting screws at this point and continued on.
Here is a shot of why SilenX says to put the foam pads on those two IC's. The way the pipes exit the base would otherwise make the clearance needed from a heat sink to clear impossible to fit under the base. You can easily see also the flex that is placed on this card from the IXG-80HA2.
As this angle plainly shows, the IXG-80HA2 is no joke when it comes to overall size. The IXG-80HA2 is almost as long as the 9800GTX and does a nice job of leaving a good amount of room for mounting the fans in one fan, two fan, or three fan configurations. One last thing that needs to be pointed out is that the pipe nearest where you connect the SLI bridges is slightly in the way. This will lead the buyer to possibly needing longer, flexible SLI bridges as well.
The same image here, just this time I have installed all three 80mm fans to give another perspective of how the IXG-80HA2 functions in full form. Notice that the card is well divided by these fans; one dead centre and one on either end to keep all the components cooler and address direct cooling on both heat sink plates supplied for the GTX2xx cards.
Idle temperatures were attained by reading GPU-Z 0.3.1, EVGA Precision Tool as well as checking a third time with EVEREST Ultimate. After a restart of the PC, I allowed around ten to fifteen minutes for the PC to get sorted and allow the cooler time to stabilize. Load testing was done with the use of oZone3D.net's FurMark build 1.6.0 to stress the cards for a 20 minute testing cycle. Temperatures were again taken with the three previously mentioned applications.
It's worth mentioning is that all three programs when tested showed the same exact temperature with no variation between the three. Keeping the room at a constant ambient temperature is a little tough to do, but all of my testing was done with a 25 -26 Celsius environment, with slight fluctuations. I did, however, let the room stabilize before running the next testing series.
You can see I ran a series of testing here to give a better idea of its potential. I based all temperature comparisons off of the stock BIOS and fans ability to cool as to the IXG-80HA2. The ZOTAC stock cooler with stock GPU clocks of 675 / 1100 / 1688 (Core/Mem/Shaders) did an average job of cooling, idling at 60 and loading at 81 Celsius. SilenX shows that my 9800GTX is recommended to run on one fan, but I continued to test it with all three fan solutions.
As you can see, the cooler responds well to the addition of extra fans, finishing out with the coolest temperatures being attained with the three fan application. This set-up left me with an idle temperature of 38 and loading at 67 Celsius. Lastly, these numbers were recorded using the fans running at max flow and RPM's. These are the best results I was able to achieve at these settings.
This time I let the 9800GTX loose on just the core and shaders, keeping the RAM at the same speed as my vRAM doesn't overclock that well anyways. The overclocked settings were set at 750 / 1100 / 1876 (Core/Mem/Shaders). As you can see, the stock cooler BIOS kept the cooler within a few degrees of the non-overclocked temperatures, but I did like the improvements the multi-fan setups on the IXG-80HA2 offers.
While my best load temps were recorded during the dual fan setup, the tri-fan setup kept a lower idle temperature of 38 Celsius while loading two degrees higher than the dual fan setup at 77 Celsius. I can only attribute these findings to possible turbulence caused on this specific card with the tri-fans running at full speed.
I couldn't really get an audio reading on the fans with our dB meter, as the case I happened to have it in wasn't the most conducive case to getting the near silent atmosphere needed to get correct figures. I will say this; the fans are definitely audible, but not in any way what I would consider loud. With the addition of more fans as per your needs for your application, the noise does of course become a bit more noticeable. Again, testing of the fans efficiency to cool was done so the voltage was as good as it could be to supply these fans with everything they needed to do their job. I did not place the resisters inline during testing, but did just to see if they functioned. They do slow the fans down in two different steps, but this also lowers the coolers ability to do its job as well.
The SilenX iXtrema Pro IXG-80HA2 is a great well thought out cooling solution. It does a nice job of keeping temperatures lower than my stock cooler and with considerably less noise to the room at a loaded state. In order for my stock fan to keep those temperatures I would need to over-ride the BIOS ramping and set the fan manually to 100% fan speed. I'm sure we all know the noise associated with a stock, dual slot cooler at 100% and the SilenX offers a cure for that with this IXG-80HA2.
All things considered, I do like the cooler, but there are a few issues that need to be addressed in my opinion. First off, what is the deal with the fans? Are they supposed to be LED, or are they not LED? - I couldn't get an answer from SilenX on this, but they did answer me on my next issue.
SilenX supplies the thick foam pads to keep the pipes isolated from adding heat to the RAM IC's that it goes over (see image 1 below). These pads are so thick that the installation of the IXG-80HA2 becomes a bit touchy. I saw the flex these pads were creating and I stopped applying pressure with the screws and installed the card to test it out. The temperatures skyrocketed to 107 Celsius with the tri-fan setup! - I had to continue adding pressure with the screws to get the temperatures in a safe range, which added a lot of stress to the PCB (see image 2 below).
SilenX claims they are aware of the situation and have had another report of the same issue on this exact model of card and are currently working on a solution. The last thing I want to address is the fan clips themselves. As I stated in the review, while these clips are certainly secure in their design, you really risk damage to the cooler if you try to remove them. I actually tore away a bit of the aluminum tab above where the fan locks into place when changing my fan configuration.
All things considered, the IXG-80HA2 and IXG-3F2 optional fans do make a good combination cooling solution. With the projected pricing of almost $75 U.S. dollars to get both pieces of this puzzle to your door, it is a bit on the expensive side. Being this is the only cooler I had to test other than the stock solution leaves me a bit unsure of how this cooler performs compared to other, cheaper solutions. I do have to say it does do the job I set it out to do, performing both cooler and quieter than my stock cooling solution. I really think SilenX is on the right track with their cooling ideas, but I can't honestly say it warrants the asking price. Would I buy it? - I might buy it for another card, but I would really like to see it hit the retail market at less than what is projected.
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