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Tech Tips: $5 VGA Cooler

Tech Tips: $5 VGA Cooler

Why you should consider it: Because a $5 VGA cooler that works is a good thing.


burnin_sinks

Mediaman’s Tech Tips: The 5 dollar VGA cooler

A video card gets hot, hot, hot! Ram heatsinks on a performance video card can get 150 degrees Fahrenheit hot. The large fan and heatsink assemblies on the graphics processor chip can get equally as hot; around 130 degrees Fahrenheit. PC enthusiasts know heat is the enemy of PC stability and successful overclocking. Sure a VGA cooler could be the answer for $25-$35 USD (plus taxes, shipping and handling) but we set out to build our own for under $5.

The hot-headed component is an ATI 9800 PRO 256 MB video card.

ws_card

There are two troublesome areas. The first are the heatsinks atop the memory chips.

ws_ram_heatsinks

These little guys can get uncomfortably warm after less than a few minutes…even at idle.

cu_ram_heatsinks

The other hot zone is the GPU heatsink.

mcu_gpu_heatsink

It has active cooling but still can have a tough battle fending off the heat radiating from the 16 ram heatinks that surround it on both sides of the PCB.

Down in VGA hell

It get’s pretty toasty down in VGA hell. A Digital Doc 5 thermistors were inserted on either side of the GPU core in the space between the heatsink and the PCB. Thermistors were also located in physical contact with two of the RAM heatsinks on the opposite side to the PCB from the GPU core. The average was taken after 30 minutes PC idle in a 24.4 degree Celsius room. “Load” peak was determined after 3 consecutive runs of the DOOM III timedemo at 1600×1200 Ultra Quality settings.

Location Idle Temperature (Celsius) Load Temperature (Celsius)
RAM Heatsink 65.3 Celsius 72.6 Celsius
GPU Heatsink 51.3 Celsius 55.5 Celsius

OUCH! The RAM heatsinks top out at 72.6 degrees Celsius. That’s over 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember that the boiling point of water is 100 degrees Celsius or 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Ram heatsinks are nearly hot enough to fry an egg.

Testing the theory

The test was to set a 60x60x10mm. fan directly on the “back” of the VGA card. The fan put out approximately 15 CFM at 25 dBA.

fan_on_card

The system was sealed back up and 30 minutes passed. The new numbers were impressively optimistic.

Location Idle Temperature (Celsius) Load Temperature (Celsius)
RAM Heatsink 39.3 Celsius 45.3 Celsius
GPU Heatsink 47.9 Celsius 53.9 Celsius

The temperature around the RAM heatsinks plummeted over 25 degrees Celsius while the GPU heatink area showed just shy of a 4 degree Celsius drop. Quite simply the fan had an incredibly positive affect on the RAM heatsink temperature.

Is the temperature drop worth prying $25-$35 USD (plus taxes, shipping and handling) from my grimy mitts to pay for a VGA cooler?

Where there’s a will…there’s something cheaper

Off to Home Depot. It always starts like that but this time we came off cheap. A grand total of a whopping $4.94 was spent. Making a VGA cooler requires one piece of .093″ plexiglas.

plexi

It’s blue due to the protective plastic film either side. Second to the project is one tube of glue.

cu_glue

Check your boxes and drawers because any good PC enthusiast always has a fan laying about. Any fan will do but we’ll get to what pitfalls await based on fan size. The fan for this project is 60 x 60 x 10mm. and puts out approximately 15 CFM at 25 dBA. It’s “silent” for all intents and purposes.

fan

A ruler, set of pliers and an X-ACTO knife will also be required.

Measure fifteen times…cut once

Measuring is something to be done repeatedly in order to get it right. Begin by measuring the length from the PCI slot to the inner edge of the RAM and then the back edge of the card. Do this with the card INSTALLED in the PC.

measure_pci_ram

Measure the distance from the PCB to the bottom of the RAM lifters and grab the distance from the top of the RAM heatsinks to the bottom of the RAM lifters.

measure_card_ram

measure_ram_ram

Measure the height of the ram from the MOTHERBOARD PCB to the top (forward) edge of the system RAM.

measure_height_ram

These are important measurements and here’s why. A “box lid” of sorts is being built out of plexiglas. This will set atop the video card and the fan will be mounted to that. The combined height of the homemade VGA cooler “box lid” and fan may exceed the space between the PCB of the video card and the system RAM. A lot of problems will be solved knowing where that trouble area is. If the cooling “box lid” and fan total a height greater than the space between the VGA PCB and the system ram then the fan must be positioned closer to the PCI slots so it clears the area directly under the system RAM.

Remove the VGA card from the PC.

ws_card

Measure the length and width of the VGA card.

measure_length_card

measure_width_card

It’s important to visualize how the homemade VGA cooler is going to be assembled. The cooling tunnel has a top and sides. Are the sides going to be glued UNDER the top or to the SIDES of the top piece? This matters as gluing the sides of the tunnel to the SIDE of the top piece increases the overall width.

Gluing the sides UNDER the top piece will not increase the width of the top piece measurement.

assembly_under

Gluing the sides to the SIDE of the top piece will increase the overall width by the thickness of the plexiglas.

assembly_sides

So measure the VGA card width and allow for the width of the plexiglas. if you are gluing it to the sides of the top piece.

Cutting plexi isn’t difficult. Score the plexiglas. with the knife and do so in several passes. Don’t lean on the knife and try to do it in one swipe. Score the plexi 8-10 times being very careful to score the same line and not let the knife wander away thus ruining part of the plexi with a scratch.

tools_on_plexi

The plexi won’t cut. It is scored.

score_line

Use a pair of pliers to gently and gradually snap the plastic along the score mark. Perhaps use a cloth around the plexi to prevent the jaws of the pliers from scratching the surface.

pliers_snap

Plexi doesn’t snap as easily as glass or ceramic tile so don’t be worried if a mistake is made. The 3 dollar piece of 8×10 plexi bought for this mod is enough to do two ghetto VGA coolers. The following image shows mistakes happen. I snapped too quickly without working the entire line.

bad_snap

Eventually there will be four pieces. A top piece the length and width of the VGA card you want to cover, two long sides and one end cap. Remember to allow for the width of the two long sides with the end cap measurement.

The main piece or top piece looks like the following image.

cut_main_piece

Sit it on top of the VGA card to have an eyeball at things. Put the fan on top of it to begin determining the best position.

position_fan_on_plexi

Remember it was necessary to take many measurements? If the sides of the cooling tunnel, which their width will become the cooling tunnel’s height, and the height of than exceed the distance between the PCB of the VGA and the system RAM…then you’ll want to know about it.

measure_fan_on_plexi

That’s why you measured from the PCI slot to the inner edge of the system fan. In the test project the distance was 160 mm. The fan cannot be placed further than that mark. If it is placed further back then the VGA cooling unit will come in contact with the “bottom” edge of the system RAM. It won’t fit.

Use a felt marker to trace the inside circumference of the fan once it’s been properly positioned.

mark_fan_hole

The gaps in the circle are the fan struts. Those with a hole saw that has the required circumference simply need cut a hole. Then place the fan back over the hole and drill through the screw holes of the fan down through the plexi for the four mounting screw holes.

Those without a hole saw will be forced to be inventive to drill out the fan hole. I did so by drilling series of holes around the circle with a small sized drill bit. It looked a bit messy compared to a hole saw but it worked nonetheless.

ws_hole_cut

cu_hole_cut

Like to see just how bad a cut job it really was? Here’s the centre. The hole was cleaned up with a round file.

hole_centre

Now time to glue everything together. The glue chosen is contact cement. Both pieces need a bead of glue. Allow 10-15 minutes to dry to a tacky state THEN assemble.

glue

GLUE TIP: Use masking tape along the pieces to prevent the glue from running amuck. Tape what you don’t want glue on.

masking_tape_pre_glue

The following image has what happens If masking tape isn’t used.

bad_glue_job

From the first measurement to final piece took 1 hour.

ws_finished_cooler

It is like a box lid except one end is left open. This end is nearest the PCI slot to vent the warm air. The fan sits atop the lid drawing air from the PC case interior and blowing it down onto the VGA card. The air is then pushed out through the open PCI slot above the video card.

Installation

Installation is relatively straight forward. First the VGA card should be already installed and the PCI cover removed on the slot above the VGA card.

ws_no_vga_cooler

Sit the ghetto VGA cooler on the video card and plug it in.

ws_installed

Installation is done. Sorry that it doesn’t get more complex than that.

Things to think about

The plexiglas. may have a slight warp to it. Heat the plexi using a hair dryer and put it between two flat pieces of plywood to try to take some of the warp out of the plexi. Warped plexi can result in a “less than perfect fit”. Note the slight gap on the left side between the VGA PCB and the bottom edge of the VGA cooler.

vga_cooler_gap

Measure the length of the VGA card very carefully with the card installed. Careful measurement will prevent cutting the plexi too long and thus a bit of an overhang occurs.

gap_at_end_of_vga

This homemade unit merely sits on top of the VGA card and has no clamps or screws. It’s just the beginning though and there’s still leftover plexi. That’s what modding is all about. Overall even a quick job results in a pretty good homemade VGA cooler.

ws_cooler_on_vga

Lastly be careful of glue and finger prints. Glue on fingers will mark the plexiglas. and it will not wipe off.

A cold day in VGA hell

The ghetto VGA cooler costing a whopping 5 bucks did it’s job. The over 25 degree Celsius temperature drop around the VGA RAM sinks was maintained even after 2 hours of idle in a 23.1 degree Celsius room.

Location Idle Temperature (Celsius) Load Temperature (Celsius)
RAM Heatsink 39.5 Celsius 46.2 Celsius
GPU Heatsink 46.4 Celsius 53.1 Celsius

It’s enough to bring icicles to a normally toasty video card. (Yes those blue things are icicles.)

ws_icy_cooler

As a final note there may be some question of the lack of pre and post overclocking numbers. Overclocking is an art and every system has its nuances. There are many far better at it than this author. Overclockers know there own systems. They know cooler temperatures can result in better overclocks. This tech tips is another tool and for the readers to get the best from their own systems.

Our thanks to…well…5 bucks in my pocket and nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon.

Comments

  1. Thrax
    Thrax Ghetto Hardware v2.
  2. Geeky1
    Geeky1 That is soooooooo not ghetto. If it were cardboard, it'd be ghetto. Either way, it's sweet. :p
  3. Shorty
    Shorty ahahaha.. wicked ;D
  4. Unregistered
    Unregistered what about the ram on the other side of the board
  5. primesuspect
    primesuspect Totally sweet, Doug.

    /me gets out a fiver and heads to Home Depot
  6. MediaMan
    MediaMan
    what about the ram on the other side of the board


    Give me another Sunday afternoon and I'll have that figured out for you. I still have plexi left over and another fan. Modding supposed to be fun...especially for 5 bucks.
  7. Unregistered
    Unregistered Why not just get an old pci card that you don't need, cut a hole in it and mount
    your fan?
  8. CyrixInstead
    CyrixInstead Good guide!!

    ~Cyrix
  9. Shorty
    Shorty
    Why not just get an old pci card that you don't need, cut a hole in it and mount
    your fan?
    But where is the fun in that ;)
  10. Unregistered
    Unregistered what if you had it suck cold air from the pci slot and vent the hot air up using the fan. It seems like it would be much more efficient to pull the hot air up then to force it out the back of the case.
  11. Thrax
    Thrax It's not so much about creating a turbulent airflow over the GPU, it's more about removing the dead air pockets that reside over almost the entire PCI/AGP region. It's just the way most ATX cases work. Even if no "Cool air" is being drawn in, there's still tremendous benefit from circulating the warm air away from the GPU.
  12. MediaMan
    MediaMan Now this is what it's all about. Now you're thinking like a modder. I suggest heading down to the nearest Home Depot, pick up that 3 buck 8x10 sheet of plexi and create one on your own.

    I know that I'm going to revise my simple mockup to see if I can get more elaborate and keep it under $5. Glad the article got you thinking!

    :)
  13. Unregistered
    Unregistered Just super glue some fans on both sides of the card!
  14. Geeky1
    Geeky1 Doesn't cyanoacrylate do nasty things to solder masks? :hrm:
  15. Medlock
    Medlock
    Geeky1 wrote:
    Doesn't cyanoacrylate do nasty things to solder masks?
    .........

    I really should learn to expect these things. :shakehead

    Let's see. dictionary.com says... "An adhesive substance with an acrylate base that is used in industry and medicine."

    Do hospitals use super glue? :eek:
  16. MediaMan
    MediaMan Plastic...plexi...glue worked the same way in either case. If Geeky starts quoting off chemical equations I think he's been sniffing the glue instead. ;D
  17. Geeky1
    Geeky1 That's contact cement tho. Which I don't think is cyanoacrylate. But then maybe they call super glue "contact cement" up there.

    What I wanna know is what superglue does to solder masks. For some strange reason, I seem to remember reading or hearing somewhere or something that they don't get along well.
  18. MediaMan
    MediaMan I think what Geeky's getting at is "will the fumes from 'super glue' (cyanoacrylate) break down the solder or PCB material?"

    Have I got that correct?

    A CSI Miami trick is that super glue fumes will adhere to surface areas such and can reveal fingerprints. Place the object in a sealed space with an open amount of super glue..wait...fingerprints will be revealed.

    In a PC there is constant air movement. The super glue will have dried thus no fumes. To the best of my knowledge there will be no harm. I have read nothing about the dangers of cyanoacrylate around solder masks.
  19. Geeky1
    Geeky1 Almost, but I'm not talking about the fumes. You ever left a nasty solvent like Goof Off on say, ABS plastic before?

    It does things. Very Bad things. Like melting the plastic. Cyanoacrylate (or superglue, whichever you prefer) is not a nice cocktail of chemicals. I was simply wondering whether putting superglue on a PCB would cause any harm to the PCB while it's drying.

    For some reason, i seem to remember that the two don't mix very well. Oh well. Maybe my memory is just going. (Don't say it Prime, I'm downloading it now... :rolleyes: ;))

    Oh, and that thing on CSI isn't just a movie trick. ;)
  20. MediaMan
    MediaMan
    Geeky1 wrote:
    Maybe my memory is just going. (Don't say it Prime, I'm downloading it now... :rolleyes: ;))


    20 second "huh? time before I got that one. Varrrry good....Varrrrrry good. :)
  21. Unregistered
    Unregistered why not use Epoxy?
  22. shwaip
    shwaip
    why not use Epoxy?

    hard to take off if you want to switch cooling systems...and depending on how large the heatsink you attach is, you may rip the gpu off the card.
  23. RADA
    RADA OFF TOPIC ALERT!!! ;D
    TheGr81 wrote:
    .........


    Do hospitals use super glue? :eek:

    They sure do Gr8. They use a milder form of "super glue" in place of stitches all the time.

    1. Seals wound against infection

    2. Less scarring that stitches.
  24. Sledgehammer70
    Sledgehammer70 dude this gives me ideas for a new cooling soultion :)
  25. Smoochee
    Smoochee Well instead of leaving that slot open why dont you glue the plexi to the piece of metal that slides into the slot. It would help hold it in place,
  26. Sonorous
    Sonorous 3 years later? lolwut?

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