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Thermalright T-Rad² Video Card Cooler Review

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SKYMTL

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Thermalright T-Rad² Video Card Cooler Review




Manufacture Product Page: Ultimate CPU Cooling Solutions! USA
Model Number: T-Rad
Availability: Now
Price: Approx $60
Warranty: 1 year


Like most of you out there, I have a love / hate relationship with stock coolers on video cards. Some are amazingly quiet but don’t cool the fire-breathing core off as well as any self-respecting enthusiast would want while others sound like dust busters and still don’t get the job done. Finding that perfect combination of near-silence and acceptable cooling is a lesson in futility if you are looking to stick with a stock heatsink but luckily, there are other options out there for us.

Companies like Thermalright, Arctic Cooling, Coolink, Noctua and many others have made it their business to cater to people who think stock coolers are for sissies. They all offer their own take on what a high performance air cooler should look like but if there is one company out there that causes people to take notice with a new release, it is Thermalright. Thermalright has long been known for producing some of the best (and most expensive) air cooling solutions available on the market but do not extensively expand their line-up like some others. Their designs for products like the HR-series of GPU coolers and tower-style Ultra CPU cooler have stood the test of time since after years of market exposure, they are still considered among the best of the best. While their products may not be cheap, they have always shown a quality of construction far above their immediate competition while cooling your GPU or CPU off like no one’s business.

This all leads us to the subject of this review: the Thermalright T-Rad². For the last few years Thermalright’s video card cooling products were centered around the gargantuan HR-series of heatsinks which offered incredible performance but had an Achilles Heel: their size. In order to achieve their performance, coolers like the HR-03 relied on an upright design which made attaching a fan and running a second video card in SLI or Crossfire all but impossible. Enter the T-Rad² which is slim enough to have a standard 120mm or two 92mm fans installed on it without demolishing your dreams of a dual card setup.

It seems like Thermalright has hit the nail on the head with this heatsink since everywhere we look, people are asking for slimmer aftermarket coolers to fit their HTPCs or SLI / Crossfire configurations without having to resort to water cooling. However, pricing may become an issue for some of you considering the T-Rad² will be retailing for around $60 when it is released here in Canada. That makes it nearly twice the price of the Arctic Cooling S1 and the same price as the HR-03 GT. Quality construction and great performance doesn’t come cheap folks and if this heatsink can live up to our expectations of a Thermalright product, it may be exactly what many of us are looking for.

 
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SKYMTL

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Specifications & GPU Compatibility

Specifications





GPU Compatibility







 
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SKYMTL

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories



The Thermalright T-Rad² comes in the now-typical brown box packaging of countless other Thermalright products before it. People who are in the market for a great cooler really don’t care what the packaging looks like; it is what’s inside that counts.


The heatsink itself is lovingly cradled in the firm grip of cardboard inserts in order to protect it from any shipping issues which may arise. What struck us as a bit interesting is the fact that unlike nearly every other Thermalright heatsink we have seen, the T-Rad² is not additionally wrapped in plastic to prevent scratching to its nickel-plated finish.


The accessories are standard fare with the usual mounting hardware, installation instructions, sticker and tube of thermal compound. Even though we won’t be using it in our tests, the thermal compound included here is a full tube of Thermalright’s The Chill Factor which normally retails for about $7. This is a far cry from the usual pre-applied thermal compound we are used to seeing on many competitors’ products and is definitely welcome here. Especially considering you are dishing out the better part of sixty bucks for the T-Rad² to begin with.
 
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SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the Thermalright T-Rad²

A Closer Look at the Thermalright T-Rad²



The first thing you will likely notice once the T-Rad² is unpackaged is how amazingly slim it is when compared to other heatsinks. Instead of using a large amount of vertical fin surface like with the HR-03, the fins are placed in a more horizontal fashion. Another thing you will probably see is the welcome addition of actual holes for the fan mounting instead of Thermalright’s usual clumsy wire mounts. More on this later since the wires still make a comeback…


At the heart of this beast lies six huge nickel plated heatpipes which are used to conduct the heat produce by the core towards the fins where it will be dispersed by the fan(s). This seems to be a pretty amazing space saving design but only testing will tell us if it can compete against some of the big names in the industry.


Around the T-Rad²’s fins there is a small lip of aluminum that houses the fan mounting holes and pulls double duty as a means to ensure the rigidity of the unit. There are mounting holes for either a pair of 92mm fans or a single 120mm fan.

When you really get up close and personal with any Thermalright product, you will see the kind of attention to detail that goes into every aspect of construction. The cooling fins are perfectly spaced, the aluminum is blemish free…we could go on and on but without a doubt, this product is immaculate. Thermalright also uses a patented welding process to ensure perfect contact between each of the heatpipes and the aluminum fins they touch which means excellent heat transfer.


Each of the heatpipes is capped off at the end after running the entire length of the cooler. What is interesting to see is the fact that one of the heatpipes is pushed off to the right-hand side (on the photos above) which should more evenly disperse the heat over the entire surface of the T-Rad². This in theory should improve the heatsink’s cooling efficiency.




When compared to the extremely popular HR-03 GT, the ThermalrightT-Rad² is extremely compact vertically but it is quite a bit longer as well. It is a well known fact that the HR-series takes up to four expansion slots when installed with a standard-height 92mm fan and the T-Rad² has been introduced to rectify that situation. Overall, when a standard-height 120mm or pair of 92mm fans are installed on Thermalright’s new cooler the total height comes to less than the HR-03 GT does without a fan.


The base of this heatsink looks much like nearly every other Thermalright cooler we have reviewed: good but not great. It is perfectly flat and polished quite well but it still shows some minor tooling marks.
 
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SKYMTL

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Installation

Installation


The installation process for the ThermalrightT-Rad² is straightforward and can be completed in less than 15 minutes including the removal of the stock heatsink. This is easily accomplished due to the well-written instructions which don’t gloss over anything other than the fan installation.

In this section we will go over how this heatsink can be installed on a HD 4870 512MB along with any issues we encountered. As you will see in the benchmark section, we also installed it on a 9800 GTX but since the installation is identical (other than the locations of the VRM heatsinks) we didn’t want to repeat ourselves too much.


Once the stock heatsink is removed and you have cleaned both the core and the memory ICs, it is time to install the ramsinks Thermalright includes. This is easily done since unlike some of their competitors (*cough* Arctic Cooling *cough*) Thermalright has provided some great thermal tape on their heatsinks so there is no danger of them falling off the ram chips and VRM modules.


The next step is to attach the four screws to the corners of the T-Rad²’s base and install the soft rubber standoffs to the PCB around the core. These standoffs have a mild adhesive on one side so they stay in place when you flip the card over to finish installation. They also act as a buffer zone between the metal of the heatsink and the card itself so there is no damage to the PCB once everything is tightened down.


What you will then have to do is apply a small amount of thermal compound to the GPU core which will be evenly dispersed when pressure is applied to the core through the tightening of the T-Rad². It is then a simple matter of sliding the screws through the holes surrounding the GPU core and then flipping the card over so you can apply the bolts.


Hard plastic washers are then installed and the bolts installed on all four corners. These bolts should be gradually tightened one at a time at opposite corners so there is even pressure on the core. Do not over-tighten these bolts since you can damage your card.

The installation is now mostly complete so let’s take a look at the final result.
 
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SKYMTL

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Completed Heatsink Installation

Completed Heatsink Installation



Without a doubt, the T-Rad² looks amazing once it is installed and it perfectly fits the length of the reference HD 4870 we installed it onto. However, the most amazing thing about it can be seen in the photo below…


Considering the cooling potential this product is supposed to have, it takes up very little vertical space even though it is slightly higher than a single-slot cooler. Even though it stays so close to the PCB, it is able to clear all of the capacitors, VRMs and the single PCI-E power connector.


We have mentioned before that Thermalright has always paid attention of the smallest details and this fact can be seen by how well they make use of every millimeter of useable space. The heatpipes come within a hair’s breath of the DVI connectors on the HD 4870 but don’t make contact no matter how much the heatsink is tightened down.
 
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SKYMTL

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Fan Installation

Fan Installation


Thermalright has designed the T-Rad² in a way that it is able to use either a pair of 92mm fans or a single 120mm fan. Let’s tackle the 92mm fan installation first.


To install a 92mm fan you have to line it up with the corresponding holes on the T-Rad² and ensure that it is pushing air through the fins instead of drawing air out. It is then a simple matter of installing and tightening the included screws on all the corners. It is great to see Thermalright including actual screws instead of their usual (sometimes annoying) fan clips but the clips make a comeback as you will see later.


A 120mm fan is installed in much the same way as the 92mm versions but it is centered on the T-Rad² instead of being pushed off to the sides. Two screws have to first be installed much in the same way as we saw with the 92mm fan.


Since this type of fan is quite large when compared to the heatsink, Thermalright has included some fan clips to make sure the fan stays snug up against the fins. The clips are easily installed between the fins and can then be secured to the fan.


We really have to give Thermalright credit since they have foreseen that there are two types of fans on the market; both of which you can see above. One of them is has open corner so shorter screws can be used with it (there are nine provided in the package) while other fans have closed corners which necessitates the use of the longer M3 27mm screws. Unfortunately, with the included screws, you can’t install a fan which is thicker than 25mm but that still covers the most popular fans on the market.
 
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SKYMTL

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Motherboard Installation

Motherboard Installation


As we have already mentioned, one of the main appeals of the Thermalright T-Rad² is the fact that it can be used in a Crossfire or SLI system. However, there are some very minor caveats with trying to install two cards with this heatsink installed; one of them being that there are limitations to which motherboards are compatible with running two cards and the T-Rad².

Before you go buying this cooler thinking you can use it in a dual card configuration, check out Thermalright’s list of compatible motherboards here: T-Rad2 VGA Cooler Compatibility


Image courtesy of Thermalright

Since the list above isn’t complete by a long shot, according to Thermalright all you have to make sure of is that you have a minimum of two PCI slots between your PCI-E 16x slots. If you do, T-Rad² will fit with a 25mm thick fan installed. On the other hand, if you use a thinner 15mm fan, you will have no problem at all but good luck finding those in 92mm or 120mm versions.


We installed this whole setup onto an ASUS P5E Deluxe including a 120mm x 25mm fan and as you can see, it fit without a problem as long as there were the two PCI / PCI-E slots between the slots you are using for the graphics cards.


Even though fitment isn’t a problem, the fan on the Thermalright heatsink comes very, very close to the bottom card. This could starve it of fresh air which would in turn slightly increase the temperatures of the core. All things considered, it is great to see a high performance heatsink with the ability to fit snugly into a multi GPU setup.
 
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SKYMTL

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Performance Testing Methodology

Performance Testing Methodology

System used:

System Used

Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Extreme QX9770 @ 3.852Ghz
Memory: G.Skill 2x 2GB DDR2-1000 @ 1052Mhz DDR
Motherboard: ASUS P5E Deluxe
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Hitachi Deskstar 320GB SATAII
Power Supply: Corsair HX1000W
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate x64 SP1
Case: Gigabyte 3D Aurora 570
Case Cooling: 3x Noctua NF-S12-1200 fans @1200rpm (1 intake, 2 exhaust)

Graphics Cards:
EVGA 9800 GTX
Palit HD 4870 512MB

Coolers Used:

Stock Cooler @ default fan speed profile
Thermalright T-Rad w/ Yate Loon 120mm @ 1200RPM
Arctic Cooling S1 Rev. 2 w/ Yate Loon 120mm @ 1200RPM
Thermalright HR-03 GT w/ Zalman 92mm fan @ 1600RPM



We have installed the Thermalright HR-03 GT on our both the 9800 GTX and HD 4870 cards and then installed the whole setup into a Gigabyte Aurora 570 case. All of the stock results are taken with the stock cooler in its default fan speed profile. All coolers (including the stock heatsink) were installed with Arctic Cooling MX-2 thermal compound. All of the tests were conducted with the side panel of the case closed.

The room where the test was conducted was kept at a steady 21.4°C (+/- 0.3°C) for the beginning of each test. Since we want to replicate real-world conditions, the temperature of the room was allowed to climb as the 30 minute tests were run. Before every subsequent test was run, the room was allowed to cool off to its original 21.4°C temperature.

For all of the performance tests we used Rivatuner's temperature logging feature to log the GPU temperature throughout each of the 30 minute tests.

All load tests were conducted by running a 30 minute loop of 3DMark 06’s Batch Size Test with 32,768 triangles. This test puts a constant and high load on the GPU and represents a worst-case scenario for any graphics card.

The results you see represent the best results of three seperate mounts for each heatsink.


 
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SKYMTL

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9800 GTX Performance Benchmarks

9800 GTX Performance Benchmarks


Idle Temperatures



Load Temperatures



Load Temperatures


When installed on a 9800 GTX, the T-Rad² does extremely well by lowering the idle temperatures by a little over 20°C even though it can’t equal the performance of the HR-03 GT with a 92mm fan installed. Meanwhile, load temperatures are equally impressive for such a compact GPU cooler but it seems the T-Rad² can’t put up with the increased heat load as well as its larger brother.

The final overclock test shows that the stock cooler ensures load temperatures never rise above 72°C while the GPU core temperature difference between the T-Rad² and the HR-03 GT continues to grow. Even thought the 9°C gap between the Thermalright products may look like a lot on paper, it didn’t affect overclocking in any way. It is important to look at these results in context to the stock cooler's performance and in this case, the T-Rad² pays for itself in spades.

Something to also remember is that the T-Rad² is equipped with a 120mm fan spinning at a relatively pedestrian 1200RPMs while the HR-03 GT is equipped with a 1600RPM Zalman. We chose the 1200RPM Yate Loon due to the fact that it is and extremely popular 120mm fan and (we believe) users are more likely to appreciate its near-silent operation. On the other hand, the 92mm fan has a much larger acoustical footprint but as we can see it also provides very good performance.
 
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