It seems to me that not too long ago I can remember clocking the snot out of my ATI X800 series cards. Soon after very limited clocking, I realized that the stock "boomerang" cooler on my X800 GTO wasn't going to do the job. So off to the forums I went for advice. At the time I was directed to the VF-700 and VF-900 cooler from Zalman. Now, I can remember that there was a pretty significant drop in temperatures with my first VF-700 that ran me about $30. A bit later I got my hands on an X850 XTPE and learned how to voltmod. What came next was the need for a better cooling solution, so I opted to get a VF-900 for around the $50 mark. The cooler was good, but still not what I was looking for.
Typically after that I ended up water cooling most of my cards until I disassembled my loop and retired it for a bit. Since then I just clocked things a bit with the stock coolers with no real thoughts or concerns for aftermarket cooling. The last GPU cooler I tested here was sort of a failure and I had no real desire to use it on my own machine. So back to stock air cooling I went.
Today ZEROtherm has quite the task on their hands, they get to allow a slightly disgruntled reviewer sample one of their GPU cooling solutions. This in no way means I won't give them a fair shake, but they are up against a guy who isn't bothered to run components a little warm on stock cooling. ZEROtherm has sent me the CoolMaxx 2000 GPU cooler to test. Let's see if they can convert a stock cooler user to want to keep their cooler on one of my dedicated folding cards.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
There are a lot of things to cover with the CoolMaxx 2000, so let's dive right in. I referred to the Zalman coolers, which this CoolMaxx is larger than both of them, while weighing in at a relatively light 225 grams. Heat is transferred from the die into the plated, copper base. From there it travels out of the base through either one of the single pipes or the "U" shaped pipe then runs on the outside. These four pipes bend around 180 degrees and enter the fins section. All the fins are plated to match the coating on the copper base and pipes, but these pressed on fins are aluminum based. Speaking of aluminum, the eight RAM sinks are also aluminum that has been anodized green.
Cooling of the CoolMaxx 2000 is handled by an 80mm fan. This fan is listed at 20 CFM on ZEROtherm's website, 29 CFM on the box, and even up to 56 CFM in Newegg's specs list. With the sound levels advertised from ZEROtherm at 30dBA, I'm guessing the fan is 30 CFM, minimum. We shall see either way just how well this fan can do at removing the heat from a test card I know runs a bit warm.
Looking around the vastness of the "interwebs", I had no issue locating the CoolMaxx 2000 at many e-tailers; some better known than others, but widely available all the same. Cruising down the Google shopping listings, I ran across the ZEROtherm GPU cooler at various prices. In the middle of that pricing was where the CoolMaxx 2000 could be had for the price of $54.99 plus shipping from Newegg. With the way the economy was and in many ways still is, $55 for a GPU cooler, if it performs well, is money well spent in my opinion. I spent that much years ago for a cooler I'm sure didn't have the knowledge behind it that the past four years has developed. Let's see if ZEROtherm can convince me that I need to rethink my approach to GPU cooling in the future.
ZEROtherm puts out an eye catching, purplish package to house their new GPU cooler, the CoolMaxx 2000. That purplish colouring hides the ghosted image of the actual cooler. A bit more boldly, there are seven features shown for this cooler.
Here, ZEROtherm addresses the innovative design, the manual speed control, heatpipes, fan and the fact it can be used on both ATI and NVIDIA GPU's.
The rear of the CoolMaxx 2000's packaging lists a specifications chart, which differs slightly from the website, and a compatibility list. The compatibility list is small, but this cooler will fit any cooler with 75.4mm diagonal spacing. To the right, ZEROtherm shows what else is enclosed in the accessory box inside.
This side of the packaging is a bit more on the boring side, not too much to discuss other than bar codes.
Opening the outer package, I found this white box inner. Don't get too frustrated when trying to pull this out, but I will tell you, it is snugly held into place by friction and vacuum. However, I prevailed, and with a bit of brute force, this is what I saw. The cooler is allowed to move around a bit in shipping, but I found it does no damage to the cooler itself. The thick part at the bottom of the white box is where the hardware and accessories are housed.
The ZEROtherm CoolMaxx 2000 GPU Cooler
Removing the CoolMaxx from the box, we can get a better look at the basic design and concept. The four pipe ends come from the base and are snugly bent, then bend again before they carry their heat into the 52 fins. While everything is plated for a unified look, the pipes are copper and the fins are aluminum.
Flipping the CoolMaxx over, we get a better idea of how this works. The mounting legs are fixed to the base from the factory and are very solid. Centering the mounting legs is the plated copper base. The heat runs from the base to the pipes and into the fins as I mentioned, but this angle shows the "heart" of the CoolMaxx 2000; the variable speed, 80mm fan.
Orienting the cooler flat on the table allows you to view the cooler as the motherboard would see it. A couple things to note; the pipes are oriented in a slanted "X" fashion, the fins are scalloped for additional eye appeal and as you can see, the fan is wired through the fins to keep wiring tidy and safe.
This is the view most users of ATX cases are going to see, only upside down. From here we see the ZEROtherm and VGA Cooler stamps in the fins and the center mounted fan with its two screws (to remove for maintenance). The fan does show from this side, but that allows for an easy glance to check the fan for motion.
Once we get a little closer to the base, it is easier to see that the corners are rounded, but the majority of the center is relatively flat. I say relatively, as there are many hills and valleys on this base that the plating doesn't completely level out. I wouldn't consider the surface to be bad, but I just can't say it's level.
Accessories and Documentation
The accessories at this point are what I would expect to come with the majority of the $50 range GPU coolers. You get eight, self-sticking, RAM sinks, a set of six washers to use on the motherboard holes (to aid against accidental grounding), and lastly a little syringe of ZEROtherm thermal compound. That leaves us the baggie in the back. This holds four double-sided bits of foam tape to mount the speed controller and the four Phillip's head screws that hold the CoolMaxx 2000 to your card.
This is the fan controller that you can use optionally. While you can connect the CoolMaxx directly to the motherboard, and possibly use software to control the fan's speed, ZEROtherm ships this handy little treat. This fan controller can limit the voltage from 5 - 11V and allows for almost forty inches of the 3-pin adapter cable. That should allow you to hide the controller anywhere you desire for easy access.
There is a pretty comprehensive set of multi-lingual instructions. Not only are there well laid out drawings so you don't need really to read the words, but if you do run into issues the text is written in simple terms and takes you all the way through the CoolMaxx 2000's installation.
Installation and Finished Product
The victim! This is my EVGA 9800GTX which for folding purposes I flashed it with a GTS 250 BIOS from another vendor. Yes, it is the lazy way out, but the overclock was stock with the 250's BIOS over the vanilla 9800GTX. Screenshots to follow will show up as a GTS 250. I wanted to clear up any confusion before I continue.
I got a little ahead of my camera while I was removing the stock cooler and doing a bit of cleaning so it was pretty for the images. I have already cleaned the die and the RAM IC's with multiple passes of 90% alcohol. I had already stuck on the RAM sinks before I realized I didn't have an image at this point.
Continuing on with the CoolMaxx's installation, it was fairly simple to get where I am here. Simply put a drop of ZEROtherm's compound on the clean die, add the washers to the die side of the PCB, around the mounting holes, and screw it down. The CoolMaxx 2000 fits very securely to the 9800 GTX and causes no "bow" or "warp" of the PCB.
Overall the CoolMaxx 2000 is fairly short, and as you can see there is nothing sent to cool the power management end of the PCB. For the 9800 GTX, that isn't an issue, but I can see now why the GTX 260 and up are not listed. They can get quite hot if not cooled correctly. From this angle you can see one other thing that may come into play with you cooler purchase, the CoolMaxx does block the path of SLI bridges; I would assume it may impede with Crossfire as well.
The CoolMaxx is plenty clear of any major motherboard components, at least while testing on my DFI LP P45 JR. The heatpipes are plenty clear of the slots and caps. Something to note here, there is a wire clip set into the fins that hold the 3-pin connector and wire out of harm's way. While it is short, and may not make it to your GPU fan header, you can plug it directly into a PSU or use the controller they sent with it.
This last image was to point out two things. First, I was impressed with the room under the CoolMaxx, it allows plenty of room for any caps and the RAM sinks. The second point is that if you look, the CoolMaxx 2000 doesn't take up any more thickness than the stock dual slot cooler.
Testing and Results
As I said, the screen shots would turn up to say I was running a GTS 250, and by swapping the BIOS, essentially I am. As you can see, the BIOS swap was to increase the card to a safe overclock for F@H. Since the BIOS is set to run with a pretty good overclock, I'm just running the tests with these clock settings. There isn't going to be a typical idle and load test, just the one run, which I will consider an overclocked state for the sake of typing.
The test I chose to torture the coolers was Ozone3D's Furmark. Testing was run in stability mode for twenty minutes, both with the stock cooler and the ZEROtherm. At this point I just click Go and wait for the results.
Here is the stock cooler controlled by the BIOS. I had what I thought was a warm card by these readings, idling at 64° and loading fully after twenty minutes at a maximum of 82°. Rather warm in my opinion, no matter what cooler we are discussing.
Just for the sake of argument, I set the fan on the CoolMaxx 2000 as low as it goes, so I was only sending five volts to the fan. Even so, I was surprised to see that the results were near stock cooling performance levels at load, but I got over ten degrees at idle drop in temperature. This had me excited to see what the CoolMaxx can do at full go.
The last run I did was with the fan controller turned to the highest it will allow, about eleven volts. Not only did I drop yet another four degrees at idle, the CoolMaxx 2000 bests the stock cooler by just under a full twenty degrees. What an improvement over my stock cooler!
Just to keep things simple for comparison, this chart is for easy reference head to head, stock versus the CoolMaxx, but also both fan settings. I couldn't really include a sound chart. With the system I was testing on was built "open air" and the CPU and PSU fans were both louder than the ZEROtherm CoolMaxx 2000 at its highest setting. In this instance it wouldn't be fair to record and report the sound levels of everything but the ZEROtherm.
When I first pulled this cooler out of the box and saw its smaller size, I was thinking this cooler might be a bit underpowered to be able to handle my 9800 GTX. Boy was I surprised. Almost a 20 degree difference at load and the same at idle, there isn't anything I can knock the CoolMaxx 2000 for in the performance department. This cooler has made me think twice before judging a GPU cooler by its size.
Performance aside, I have to look at it from both sides. As a buyer, I would prefer extra sinks to cool components as I see fit, aside from the RAM sinks supplied. I'm a fan of bonuses just like the next guy, and here ZEROtherm includes a very nice fan controller. I would, however, liked to have had a bit more wire on the fan itself, so I could possibly have connected it directly to my motherboard's headers, but the configuration of my DFI wouldn't allow for such a setup. The last issue I see is that this cooler will not evacuate the air from inside the chassis, so your results may vary dependant on case cooling.
In the end I was left with a kick ass cooler that dropped my temperatures more than I had even hoped for. Along with great performance, you get a stealth inspired design, blackened plating and an eye catching cooler that doesn't require more than a stock dual slot cooler. For all this form and function, you will need to empty your wallet of a bit of hard earned cash. The CoolMaxx 2000 from ZEROtherm can be had at a cost of $54.99 plus shipping at Newegg. I remember paying as much for my VF-900 coolers when they were new, so the price is where I would expect it to be for the performance one receives. If your card is on the compatibility list, or matches the diagonal measurement, I strongly suggest you look intently at the CoolMaxx 2000 from ZEROtherm on your next hunt for a GPU cooling solution. Consider me converted!