GTX 480 | Green Folding@Home
My normal posts on this site are all about how to do as much science as possible with Folding@Home, for the least amount of power. This is because I think disease research, while a noble and essential cause, shouldn’t be done without respecting the environment.
With that said, I think there is a use case for a power-hungry, inefficient Folding@Home computer. Namely, as a space heater for those in colder climates.
The logic is this: Running Folding@Home, or any other piece of software, makes your computer do work. Electricity flows through the circuits, flipping tiny silicon switches, and producing heat in the process. Ultimately all of the energy that flows into your computer comes back out as heat (well, a small amount comes out as light, or electromagnetic radiation, or noise, but all of those can and do get converted back into heat as they strike things in the room).
Have you ever noticed how running your gaming computer with the door to your room closed makes your feet nice and toasty in the winter? It’s the same idea. Here, one of my high-performance rigs (dual NVidia 980 Ti GPUs) is silently humming away, putting off about 500 watts of pleasant heat. My son is investigating:
My Folding@Home Space Heater Experiment
Folding@Home uses CPUs and GPUs to run molecular dynamic models to help research understand and fight diseases. You get the most points per day (PPD) by using cutting-edge hardware, but the Folding@Home Consortium and Stanford University openly encourage everyone to run the software on whatever they happen to have.
With this in mind, I started thinking about all the old hardware that is out there…CPUs and graphics cards that are destined for landfills because they are no longer fast enough to do any useful gaming or decode 4K video. People describe this type of hardware as “bricks” or “space heaters”–useful for nothing other than wasting power.
That gave me an idea…
It didn’t take me long to find a sweet deal on an nForce 680i-based system on eBay for $60 shipped (EVGA board with Nvidia n680i chipset, supporting three full-length PCI-E X16 slots). I swapped out the Core 2 Duo that this machine came with for a Core 2 Quad, and purchased four Fermi-based Nvidia graphics cards, plus a used 1300 Watt Seasonic 80+ Gold power supply. All of this was amazingly cheap. The beautiful Antec case was worth the $60 cost of the parts that came with it alone. Because I knew lots of power would be critical here, I spent most of the money on a high-end power supply (also used on eBay). Later on, I found that I needed to also upgrade the cooling (read: cut a hole in the side panel and strap on some more fans).
- Antec Mid-Tower Case + Corsair 520 Watt PSU, EVGA 680i motherboard, Core 2 Duo CPU, 4 GB Ram, CD Drives, and 4 Fans = $60
- 2x EVGA Nvidia GeForce GTX 480 graphics cards: $40
- 1 x EVGA NVidia GeForce GTX 580 Graphics Card: $50
- 1 x EVGA NVidia GeForce GeForce GTX 460 Graphics Card: $20
- 1 x PCI-E X1 to X16 Riser: $10
- 1 x Core 2 Quad Q6600 CPU (Socket 775) – $6
- 1 x Seasonic 1300 Watt 80+ Gold Modular Power Supply: $90
- 2 x Noctua 120 MM fans + custom aluminum bracket (for modifying side panel): $60
- 1 x Arctic Cooling Freezer Tower Cooler – $10
- 1 x Western Digital Black 640GB HDD – $10
Total Cost (Estimated): $356
This is the cost before I sold some of the parts I didn’t need (Core 2 Duo, Corsair PSU, etc).
Here is a shot of the final build. It took a bit of tweaking to get it to this point.
Used Parts Disclaimer!
Note that when dealing with used parts on eBay, it’s always good to do some basic service. For the GPUs in this build, I took them apart, cleaned them, applied fresh thermal paste (Arctic MX-4), and re-assembled. It was good that I did…these cards were pretty gross, and the decade-old thermal paste was dried on from years of use.
I mean, come on now, look at the dust cake on the second GTX 480! Clean your graphics cards, random eBay people!
Here’s how the 3 + 1 GPUs are set up. The two GTX 480s and the GTX 580 are on the mobo in the X16 slots. I remotely mounted the GTX 460 in the drive bay. I used blower-style (slot exhaust) cards on purpose here, because they exhaust 100% of the hot air outside the case. Open-fan style cards would have overheated instantly in this setup.
To keep costs down, I just used Ubuntu Linux as the operating system. I configured the machine for 4-slot GPU folding using proprietary Nvidia drivers. Although I ultimately control all of my remote Linux machines with TeamViewer, it is helpful to have a portable monitor and combo wireless keyboard/mouse for initial configuration and testing. In the shot below (of an earlier config), I learned a lot just trying the get the machine stable with 3 cards.
Initial Testing on the Space Heater (3 GPUs installed). This test showed me that I needed better CPU cooling (hence I chucked that stock Intel cooler)
I also did some thermal testing along the way to make sure things weren’t getting too hot. It turns out this testing was a bit misleading, because the system was running a lot cooler with the side panel off than with it on.
Some Thermal Camera Images During Initial Burn-In (3 GPUs, stock CPU cooler):
Now that’s some heat coming out of this beast! Thankfully, the upgraded 14-gauge power plug and my watt meter aren’t at risk of melting, although they are pretty warm.
Once I had the machine up and running with all four GPUs the final configuration, I found that it produced about 55-95K PPD on average (based on the work unit), with the following breakdown
- GTX 460: 10-20K PPD
- GTX 480: 20-30K PPD each
- GTX 580: 25-45 K PPD
Power consumption, as measured at the wall, ranged from 900 to 1000 watts with all 4 GPUs engaged. By turning different GPUs on and off, I could get varying levels of power (about 200 Watts idle. I typically ran it with one 580 and one 480 folding, for an average power consumption of about 600 watts).
After running the machine for a while, my room was nice and toasty, as expected!
One thing that I should mention was the effect of the two additional intake fans that I mounted in the side panel. Originally I did not have these, and the top graphics card in the stack was hitting 97 degrees C according to the onboard monitoring! After modding this custom side-intake into the case (found a nice fan bracket on Amazon, and put my dremel tool to good use), the temps went down quite a lot. I used fan grilles on the inside of the fans to keep internal cables out of them, and mesh filters on the outside to match the intake filters on the rest of the case.
The top card stays under 85 degrees C (with the fan at 50%). The middle card stays under 80 degrees C, and the bottom card runs at 60 degrees C. The GTX 460 mounted in the drive bay never goes over 60 degrees C, but it’s a less powerful card and is mounted on the other side of the case.
Here’s some more pictures of the modded side panel, along with a little cooling diagram I threw together:
PPD, Wattage, and Efficiency Comparison
I debated about putting these plots in here, because the point of this machine was not primarily to make points (pun intended), or to be efficient from a PPD/Watt perspective. The point of this machine was to replace the 1500 watt space heater I use in the winter to keep a room warm.
As you can see, the scientific production (PPD) on this machine, even with 4 GPUs, is not all that impressive in 2020, since the GPUs being used are ten years old. Similarly, the efficiency (PPD/Watt) is terrible. There’s no surprise there, since it averages just under 1000 watts of power consumption at the wall!
It is totally possible to build a (relatively) inexpensive desktop computer out of old, used parts to use as a space heater. If the primary goal is to make heat, then this might not be a bad idea (although at $350, it still costs way more than a $20 heater from Walmart). The obvious benefit is that this sort of space heater is actually doing something useful besides keeping you warm (in this case, helping scientists learn more about diseases thanks to Folding@Home).
Other benefits that I found were the remote control (TeamViewer), which lets me use my cellphone to turn GPUs on and off to vary the heat output. Also, I think running this machine for extended durations in its medium-high setting (700 watts or so) is much healthier for the electrical wiring in my house vs. the constant cycling on and off of a traditional 1500 watt space heater.
From an environmental standpoint, you can do much worse than using electric heat. In my case, electric space heaters make a lot of sense, especially at night. I can shut off the entire heating zone (my house only has two zones) to the upstairs and just keep the bedroom warm. This drastically reduces my fossil fuel usage (good old New England, where home heating oil is the primary method of keeping warm in the winter). Since my house has an 8.23 KW solar panel array on the roof, a lot of my electricity comes directly from the sun, making this electric heat solution even greener.
I would not recommend running a machine like this during the warmer months. If warm air is not wanted, all the waste heat from this machine will do nothing but rack up your power bill for relatively little science being done. If you want to run an efficient summer-time F@H rig that uses low power (so as to not fight your AC) , check out my article on the GTX 1660 and 1650.
In a future article, I plan to show how I actually saved on heating costs by running Folding@Home space heaters all last winter (with a total of seven Folding@Home desktops placed strategically throughout my house, so that I hardly had to burn any oil).
X58 Custom Gaming PC Build (8121980)
See what components went into this custom computer build:
Socket 1366 Core i7 Desktop Processors
Core™ i7-950 Quad-Core 3.06GHz, LGA1366, 4.8 GT/s QPI, 8MB L3 Cache, 45nm, 130W, EM64T EIST VT XD, Retail
NH-D14, Socket 1151/AM3+/FM2+, 169mm Height, 220W TDP, Copper/Aluminum, Retail CPU Cooler
AS5-3. 5G, 3.5g, 9 W/m.k, Grey Thermal Paste
Mild Overclocking, 10-20% Performance Increase
Liquid Cooling Solution
6GB (3 x 2GB) HyperX PC3-12800 DDR3 1600MHz CL9 (9-9-9-27) 1.65V SDRAM DIMM, Non-ECC
PCI Express x16 Video Card
600GB WD VelociRaptor™, SATA 6 Gb/s, 10000 RPM, 32MB cache
CRW-UINB, Internal, 3. 5″ Bay, 68-in-one, USB 2.0, Card Reader
HAF X w/ Window, No PSU, E-ATX, Black, Full Tower Case
Silent Pro Series M1000 1000W, 80 PLUS Bronze, Semi Modular, ATX Power Supply
Wire Management Solution
Standard Wiring with Precision Cable Routing and Tie-Down
GeForce GTX 480 versus Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus and Zalman VF3000F
Even after the release of new generation video cards, the old GeForce GTX 480 does not lose its relevance. Moreover, the lag behind the new flagship GeForce GTX 580 can be compensated by overclocking the old graphics accelerator. But before that, it would be nice to tame his ardent temper, because if the GeForce GTX 480 lost the title of the fastest single-chip video adapter, then it retained the title of the hottest and noisiest. The new solutions based on the GF110 came out a little more economical, and the stock cooler is more efficient, and the noise level is noticeably lower.
Let’s hope that our article, in which we have collected several coolers for the GeForce GTX 480, will help potential buyers decide, given that the relevance of these cooling systems will remain for a long time. The design of the GeForce GTX 580 and GeForce GTX 570 boards is the same as that of its predecessor, therefore, all these coolers are compatible with the new models. And if they can handle the GeForce GTX 480, then newcomer cooling will be an even easier task for them.
Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus
Let’s start with a cooler from Arctic Cooling. Accelero XTREME Plus is currently the most productive solution from this vendor. It has wide compatibility with all modern video cards. Many graphics card manufacturers choose this model for their top solutions — GeForce GTX 480 Ultra Charged TFC from Point of View, Sparkle Caliber 480X, Caliber X580 and others.
The cooler is supplied in a blister pack.
All technical data of the device are displayed on the reverse side.
Simple set includes:
- mounting frame;
- four screws with washers;
- plug on the rear panel of the case;
- power adapter for 12 and 7 volts;
- Arctic Cooling logo sticker;
Initially, the mounting frame is already screwed to the cooler, it is designed for installation on Radeon HD 5850/5870 video cards. For mounting on the GeForce GTX 480, the optional VR004 Kit includes:
- mounting frame for GeForce cards;
- two screws;
- tube with hot glue;
- 12 heatsinks for memory chips;
- four heatsinks for VRM elements.
And here is the cooler itself (with and without a pre-installed frame). Its dimensions are 290 x 104 x 56 mm, weight is 622 grams.
The radiator is covered with a plastic casing with three 92mm low profile fans (85mm blades). Fans consume 0.15 A each, their operating range is from 900 to 2000 rpm with a maximum air flow of up to 81 CFM.
Five heatpipes permeate two 18 and 66 fin side sections. The center section is a solid aluminum heatsink that covers the base of the cooler.
The tubes are securely fixed in the fitted grooves between the copper base and the aluminum heatsink. Reliable contact is provided by soldering.
Copper base smooth but not ground. Its area is slightly smaller than the cover area of the GF100 and GF110. There is no thermal paste in the kit, because the thermal interface is already applied to the base. Moreover, its area is even smaller than the base, and this is not enough for good contact with GeForce graphics processors.
It should also be noted that two heat pipes turned out to be shorter than the others, and a pair of extreme heatsink fins just dangle on them.
Accelero XTREME Plus looks pretty solid and inspires hope for good results. But he has a weak spot. More precisely, this is not a drawback of the cooler itself, but of additional heatsinks for power elements. High-quality cooling of these components is no less important than the cooling of the chip itself. In our testing of the Thermalright Spitfire and VRM-R5 on the Radeon HD 5850, we clearly saw a huge difference between simple small heatsinks and a more powerful heatpipe CO. And here is an even more powerful card and even greater currents. It was not necessary to fence something bulky, like Thermalright, you can take an example from Zalman VF3000F, which comes with a heatsink plate that covers the memory and power system. But the area of radiators from the VR004 kit is much smaller. In addition, they are installed on hot melt adhesive, and there is no additional clamping with screws.
Such radiators might have been enough to cool all the elements, if not for their irregular shape. The fact is that the heatsinks for the GPU power phases do not contact the lower microcircuits (circled in green in the bottom photo).
They are slightly lower than the transistors on which the heatsinks are glued. With the Zalman radiator, this is easily compensated by thermal paste — they squeezed it out a little more and that’s it. The base of the Thermalright VRM G2 heatsink has a special raised step that ensures full contact. But for Arctic Cooling, the opposite is true — the step in this place rises and a large gap forms between the radiator and the microcircuit.
We decided to test the performance of the card with this setting (but we don’t recommend you to experiment like that), and the card didn’t pass the test in Crysis Warhead even at 1500 rpm! The thermal pads from the Thermalright VRM G2 kit came to our aid. One such strip was cut into small squares, from which spacers were organized for microcircuits that did not come into contact with Arctic Cooling radiators. Gaskets folded from squares played the role of pillows for radiators, lifting them up. Therefore, after applying the hot melt adhesive, the radiators were pressed down with a load. And after the cooler was installed, small rubber washers were placed between it and the radiators, thanks to which Accelero XTREME Plus played the role of a “press” for VRM radiators, providing a reliable clamp.
At the same time, we tried to install a heatsink from the Zalman VF3000F kit on the video card, but the screws on the mounting frame rested against it, forming a small gap between the surface of the GF100 and the base of the cooler. And although it can be compensated with thermal paste, this is also far from the best option. In principle, a native radiator from the reference turbine can fit under the Accelero cooler, if it has a larger hole cut around the core (indicated by a green outline in the bottom photo). It’s just that you can’t assemble your own turbine back later …
As for installing the cooler itself, there are no difficulties here. The corresponding frame is screwed to the base, and on the back of the board it is fixed with four screws. No reinforcing plate is provided.
A feature of the cooler is the ability to connect fans directly to the corresponding connector on the video card. You can turn them on directly and to a 12 or 7 volt power supply through an adapter. For our tests, in order to control the speed, we connected the cooler to the Zalman Fan Mate 2 regulator through a makeshift adapter. By the way, the maximum speed turned out to be slightly less than stated — about 1930 rpm (data from the tachometer were taken with a direct connection to 12 V).
And finally, some photos of GeForce GTX 480 video card with Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus installed.
The last member of our comparison test. We recently got acquainted with this cooling system and compared its efficiency with the stock GeForce GTX 480 turbine. Now we can compare the efficiency of Zalman with other coolers for Fermi. Looking ahead, we note that it is not worth comparing the results obtained with data from the previous material — different testing conditions.
For a detailed overview, please refer to the relevant material. We will not repeat ourselves and simply describe the main features of the Zalman VF3000F.
Cooler dimensions 239x98x51 mm, weight 430 grams. Five copper heat pipes and a 112-fin heatsink. It is blown by a pair of 92-mm fans with green illumination. According to the declared data, their operating range is from 1400 to 3000 rpm (the maximum is actually more). The kit includes a manual fan speed controller Fan Mate 2.
Heatsink for power system components and memory chips included.
This cooler is smaller and shorter than the Accelero XTREME Plus. But with it, the GeForce GTX 480 also occupies three expansion slots.
It’s time to summarize and describe each of the tested coolers. The Thermalright Spitfire has been and continues to be the true flagship of graphics card cooling. Paired with a low-speed 140mm fan, it is able to maintain low temperatures even on an overclocked GeForce GTX 480. The performance of the cooler at the lowest speeds is similar to cooling systems from Arctic Cooling and Zalman, operating in noticeably noisier modes. But for this level of cooling, you will have to pay a lot more. For Spitfire, you need to purchase a mounting kit, a fan separately, and you can’t do without Thermalright VRM G2 either. Yes, and there are a lot of problems with placing such a giant inside the case — you need to select a processor cooler and a case for it. It turns out to be troublesome and expensive. Is it justified by the best performance? It’s up to you to decide.
The new Thermalright Shaman looks more attractive to the buyer. In terms of cooling efficiency, it is slightly inferior to the Spitfire, but the biggest advantage of the old flagship Thermalright comes under extreme loads in the Furmark at very low fan speeds. At 1000-1300 rpm in normal gaming mode, the coolers are almost equal. At the same time, Shaman cools the board better and additionally blows the VRM G2. With placement inside the case there are no such serious problems as the old model. In general, this is a more thoughtful and convenient solution. And even the cost of such a cooler will be slightly lower, since you won’t have to spend money on an additional mount and fan.
But it is worth remembering that the excellent performance of this model (and Spitfire included) would not have been possible without the Thermalright VRM G2. Together, they are the most efficient and quietest cooling for overclocked Fermi video cards. That’s why Thermalright Shaman and VRM G2 get our 2011 Editor’s Choice Award!
Our only recommendation for using the VRM G2 is to replace the standard thermal pads with thermal paste, and then you can safely overclock a GeForce GTX 480 or GeForce GTX 580.
It is also worth remembering that the final temperatures will depend on the location of the Shaman cooler inside the system unit. If the fan rests against some board or against the bottom wall of the case without ventilation holes, then all the advantages of such a powerful cooler will not manifest themselves in any way. So, if your case is cramped inside, it is better to look at more compact cooling systems and not throw money away in vain.
Impressions from the Arctic Cooling Accelero XTREME Plus are mixed. The efficiency of such a cooler is not bad. It can be seen that its potential is greater than that of Zalman VF3000F. But low-quality VRM cooling simply does not allow the video card to work at low fan speeds. To maintain stability, they have to be twisted almost to the maximum (when overclocking the GeForce GTX 480). And even then, if you organize some kind of thermal pads for microcircuits, with which the radiators do not initially come into contact. We categorically do not recommend connecting the cooler to a video card (namely, this is what the manufacturer provides when equipping their product with the appropriate connector). RPM will be automatically adjusted based on core temperature, according to the settings for a conventional stock turbine. This threatens to quickly overheat the components of the power system, as a result — extreme instability in operation and even the danger of damaging the video card.
Perhaps, when working in nominal value, everything is not as scary as we paint. And the above applies only to the GeForce GTX 480. Nevertheless, the VRM heatsinks from the VR004 kit are the real Achilles’ heel of the quite good Accelero XTREME Plus cooler. But there is a way out — you can use the radiator from the reference turbine, which will need to be slightly modified. If this is not a problem for you, then XTREME Plus is a good reason to save money, because its price tag is noticeably lower than the cost of Thermalright products.
Zalman VF3000F, although it turned out to be an outsider in terms of final temperatures, is still more attractive than the Arctic Cooling cooler in terms of consumer characteristics. He easily coped with the cooling of the overclocked video card at such low speeds that the Accelero XTREME Plus was no longer capable of. And all thanks to a good radiator, which is initially included in the kit and you don’t have to pay extra for it! It copes with its task much better than the radiators from the Arctic Cooling VR004 kit. Zalman also has a manual speed control, which is very convenient, and the green backlight will please fans of modding. You may not be able to reach the same frequencies with it as you would be possible with Thermalright Shaman and VRM G2, but you can easily overclock the GeForce GTX 480 so that both the noise is moderate and the temperatures remain acceptable. And the cost of such a purchase will be almost two times less! This is already a very strong argument, and Zalman VF3000F deservedly receives the award «Editor’s Choice: Best Buy»!
Test equipment was provided by the following companies:
- 1-Incom — G.Skill F3-12800CL8T-6GBRM memory;
- Arctic Cooling — Accelero XTREME Plus cooler;
- Eletek — Zalman VF3000F cooler;
- Inno3D — Inno3D GTX 480 video card;
- Intel — Intel Core i7-965 processor;
- Noctua — Noctua NT-h2 thermal paste;
- Thermalright — Thermalright Shaman, Spitfire, VRM G2 and Venomous X coolers;
- Syntex — Seasonic SS-850HT (S12D-850) power supply.
MSI RX 480 thermal paste replacement
In this video, we will completely disassemble the MSI RX 480 video card. Let’s take a look at the insides of the video card after two years of mining. Find out if there are any visual defects. Let’s look at the thermal paste itself, what happened to it during such a time of continuous operation. I will also talk about some of the nuances of checking the cooling system.
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