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Zalman's ZM80A-HP passive GPU cooler

The sounds of silence
— 12:00 AM on February 13, 2003

Manufacturer Zalman
Model ZM80A-HP
Price (street) US$31
Availability Now

NVIDIA'S GEFORCE FX has made it painfully clear that there's more to a graphics card than its performance in 3D games and benchmark suites. The noise levels generated by NVIDIA's Dustbuster cooling system reportedly vary from mildly annoying to completely unbearable depending on background noise. There has to be a better way.

In fact, there is. Zalman's ZM80A-HP graphics chip cooler hasn't been validated for use with NVIDIA's upcoming GeForce FX, but the ZM80A-HP is a completely passive cooling solution for today's top commercially available graphics cards. Without moving parts, the ZM80A-HP promises to be impervious to fan failure and completely silent. It looks pretty slick, too.

Is the ZM80A-HP a worthy graphics chip cooler for an enthusiast's high-end graphics card? Join me as I examine the ZM80A-HP's impact on system noise levels and its ability to dissipate the heat generated by stock and overclocked graphics cards from ATI and NVIDIA.

The cooler
Passive cooling solutions are usually pretty simple affairs, but the ZM80A-HP is quite a bit more intricate than even most active cooling systems. What's in the box?

A heat pipe to connect two massive heat sinks

First, the big stuff. Zalman's ZM80A-HP uses two massive passive heat sinks to radiate heat away from the graphics chip. A U-shaped copper heat pipe connects the two heat sinks, helping to share the cooling load between the two.

Two mounting blocks for different GPU bolt patterns

The copper heat pipe gets sandwiched between the passive heat sinks. Zalman includes two different block sets to accommodate mounting hole patterns on GeForce4 and Radeon 9x00-based graphics cards, and users may be able to install the ZM80A-HP on future graphics cards, as well.

Both the mounting blocks and passive heat sinks have grooved channels to sandwich tightly the copper heat pipe, which is long enough to accommodate even NVIDIA's behemoth GeForce4 Ti 4600.

They even include a screwdriver!

Zalman includes all sorts of screws, nuts, and washers with the ZM80A-HP in addition to a tube of thermal compound. They even include extra thermal grease and a set of spare screws should a thick, shag carpet ingest one of the tiny screws. As if that weren't enough, Zalman also throws in a screwdriver. Everything a user would need for installation is right in the box.