Zalman VF3000A Review

RHKCommander959 - 2010-10-24 22:12:44 in VGA Cooling
Category: VGA Cooling
Reviewed by: RHKCommander959   
Reviewed on: November 21, 2010
Price: $TBD


Zalman has been a popular name in aftermarket cooling solutions for over a decade now. Its best known products are aimed at processor cooling, but the company also provides quiet power supplies, water cooling systems, chipset and graphic card cooling solutions. The latter is what we're looking at today with the VF3000A, a heat sink kit for AMD Radeon 5800 series graphics cards. Zalman's products usually aim to reduce noise and/or temperatures, and with the VF3000A, both goals are targeted thanks to manually adjustable fan speeds through a single knob that controls a pair of 92mm fans that sit atop a finned heat pipe structure with five heat pipes. Aftermarket heat sinks such as this are generally bought to reduce video card operational noise or temperatures to a much more comfortable level, and since some manufacturers are now allowing the installation of aftermarket heat sinks, you no longer have to worry about voiding their warranty in those cases.


Closer Look:

The box is primarily black, red, grey, and white with a rather mechanical look. The top has a rope handle and the front has a window to show off most of the top of the heat sink. The top of the front shows its purpose and model number - VGA Dual Fan Cooler VF3000A. At the bottom, the compatible graphic cards are listed - AMD Radeon HD 5870/5850/5830. At the bottom right is the website to get more information. Rotating to the back shows several angles of the heat sink and accompanying parts. The highlighted features include high performance heat pipes with a large dissipation area, quiet design from the flow structure for maximum cooling at the low noise level, peripheral cooling capabilities where the fans can cool items nearby since air is circulated all around the heat sink rather than directed outside of the case, high performance thermal grease ZM-STG2M included, and the Fan Mate 2 speed controller capable of adjusting the noise/cooling performance of both fans at the twist of a knob. Underneath the features is a shorthand list of specifications about the heat sink and fans, and below that is the UPC and RoHS compliance information.










The sides continue the box art and are similar to the front with the VGA Dual Fan Cooler labeling. The top has a black rope handle to make carrying easier, although the package is small enough that it isn't too necessary. The top has the Zalman logo with "Cool Innovations" underneath it. Opening the top reveals the components needed to install the heat sink properly and successfully - two instruction booklets, the Fan Mate 2 fan controller module and wiring, and the numerous memory and other heat sinks and mounting gear sit above the heat sink separated by a cardboard tray.



The Fan Mate 2 is a two-part system where a normal 3-pin fan header plugs into the motherboard for signal while a second 3-pin male connection hooks into the video card fans that are wired together. A 6-pin connection joins the input and output together at the fan controller. The two connections are joined together, but easily peeled apart. When together the length is around two feet. A bag contains all the secondary heat sinks and mounting equipment, along with the thermal grease. One user manual gives a very basic rundown on how to install the kit on an AMD 5830, while a larger manual gives instructions for the 5870/5850s.



The bag contains seven normal memory heat sinks, one combined memory IC and FET heat sink, both of which use double-sided tape to adhere, and another larger FET heat sink for the rear of the cards, which uses two to three pushpins to hold it to the card, depending on which one is chosen. A large piece of double-sided tape is included to mount the Fan Mate 2 onto the system chassis and the same goes for the case badge. Most of the rest of the parts are for installing the main heat sink itself. The heat sink is protected by a two-piece, form-fitted shell that snaps at six locations to keep it clean and safe, while also maintaining visibility through the window on the package.



With everything unpacked, it is time to dissect the heat sink to get a good look at its qualities, then on to reassemble it and install it on an AMD Radeon HD 5870 for testing!

Closer Look:

Zalman has aimed to satisfy both sound and thermal performance enthusiasts alike with the VF3000A designed for AMD HD Radeon 5800-series graphics cards. The heat sink is surrounded by a decorative fan shroud that is fittingly anodized red in color as AMD is colloquially referred to as the red team. The shiny silvery areas use a rippled effect that I've seen on other computer hardware, such as chipset covers from Gigabyte and on some Crucial and G.Skill memory heat spreaders, to name a few. The heat sink is comprised of a two-part copper base that sandwiches five copper heat pipes. These heat pipes are slid into aluminum fins to conduct heat away from the GPU core. Some companies solder the fins to the heat pipes for better thermal conduction, but using the sliding method is a bit cheaper. Two blue LED 92mm fans blow air over the heat sink and only require a single fan header connection or they can be controlled directly with the included Fan Mate 2 device. The base of the heat sink is highly polished, although not perfectly smooth, as some slight ripple effect can be seen, possibly from machining. The base has twelve different holes for the mounting hardware, meaning that the main heat sink is also capable of mounting to other graphics cards, although the included heat sinks likely won't be enough for a full installation.















The red housing is mainly decoration, although it does serve as a shroud to help direct air through the heat fins. The shroud is held up away from the impellers by two bolts on each end and the twelve tabs located in the middle. Four clips help to hold the fan shroud to the heat sink as well. The shroud does not barricade the impellers from cables or anything else likely to come nearby during fan operation. A 3-pin fan cable sneaks out the back of the heat sink, which can be plugged into a fan controller such as the included Fan Mate 2, or plugged directly into the motherboard. Both ends of the heat sink look the same, except one end has three heat pipes poking out versus two on the other. Two screws adorn each side to help hold the fan shroud to the heat sink.



The fan shroud is a simple piece of metal that has been punched and stamped, then folded to make the form. It is very light weight and fragile. The main purpose of it would be to focus the fan air into the heat fins, although with the ventilation holes, the air won't be fully directed through. Both of the fans are attached to the heat sink using a long black frame with clips at both ends and in the middle. The frame stretches the whole length of the heat sink and has both fans attached to it. All the heat fins have a pair of holes punched into them to accept the clip-on fan frame, along with grooves at both sides for the shroud to clip onto and holes for the screws. Both fans are wired together and are rated for 12VDC 0.30A each with the EBR bearing type. The dimensions are also given in the part number: 92mm diameter 12mm height.




Installing the heat sink required no tools after the 5870 was stripped down. Everything on the Zalman VF3000A can be done by hand without tools. The end of the heat sink hangs over the end of the PCB slightly, but not enough to be bothersome. Some users may have trouble fitting such a large heat sink solution into their systems, so plan ahead to make sure that there is sufficient room to fit the heat sink into the system and that there are enough open expansion slots.



Now that it is installed, it is time to test the VF3000A heat sink!


Heatsink Specifications:
239(L) x 98(W) x 51(H)mm
Fin material
Pure Aluminum
Base material
Pure Copper
Heatpipe material
Pure Copper


Fan Specifications:
92(L) x 92(W) x 15(H) mm
Bearing Type
EBR Bearing
Silent Mode 1,300rpm ± 10%
Normal Mode 2,500rpm ± 10%
Noise Level
Silent Mode 18dBA ± 10%
Normal Mode 32dBA ± 10%


All information courtesy of Zalman @


To test the graphics card heat sinks, I ran two batteries of tests: idle and load for the stock heat sink, Sapphire Vapor-X heat sink, Zalman VF3000A at minimum and maximum speeds, and ProlimaTech MK-13 heat sink without a fan, with a single low CFM fan, single high CFM 38mm wide fan, and dual low CFM fans. Both the stock and Vapor-X heat sinks were left on auto for one iteration and then set for 100% fan speed on another to get the best case scenario possible for those heat sinks. Furmark was used to get the load numbers after a 15-minute run, between runs a cool down was allowed to let temperatures settle back down. GPU-Z was used to monitor the temperatures.


Testing Setup:






The Zalman heat sink performed amazingly, coming in with the best idle and load temperatures. The next closest heat sink was the ProlimaTech MK-13, which chased behind a couple degrees. The worst temperatures were from automated fan speeds, especially from the reference heat sink, as well as passive cooling on the ProlimaTech heat sink. At low settings, the VF3000A was inaudible over the rest of the system, while at full speed it was barely audible over everything else. Great temperatures and low operational noise are a powerful combination!


The Zalman VF3000A was a breeze to install, operated quietly, and provided the best temperatures out of all the cooling solutions tested. The Fan Mate 2 gets a little warm since it is basically just a variable resistor in a nice package, but it worked flawlessly nonetheless. The only odd thing that comes to mind is the blue LEDs in a red heat sink - blue is very common, but it seems odd. The tool-less installation is another great feature - the only time a tool is needed is to take the old heat sink off. Installation is extremely easy, as it is basically just putting on four thumb screws and taped heat sinks. The packaging looked good and was clean and orderly. All needed accessories were included with some extras, although Zalman could have added some additional spare parts. The size of the heat sink is massive, although this is neither a pro nor a con as long as proper homework is done before using this heat sink. It will stick slightly past a 5870 in length and requires three expansion slots. The base is almost perfectly smooth, and is highly polished for a good heat transfer, which shows attention to detail from Zalman.

There aren't any real cons with the VF3000A heat sink, as everything worked perfectly. The only gripes that can be had really are nitpicks, such as the blue LEDs and perhaps the lack of spare parts, as the only spares included are two of one type of washers, and enough thermal paste to reapply in the event that you mess up the first time. Other than these minor nitpicks, everything worked fantastically - the memory heat sinks attached easilyy and held very strongly, temperatures were the lowest achieved in the charts so far, and the sound level was hardly audible at maximum fan speed, which is a great accomplishment, especially when compared to the extremely loud blower motor on the reference 5870 graphics card design. The only other thing I would mention is to make sure that your 5800-series AMD card is a reference 5830/5850/5870 design, otherwise the FET heat sinks in the kit may not work completely out of the box.

NVIDIA versions of the VF3000 exist, as well as separate FET heat sinks to add support for older AMD cards for those interested in this heat sink, but don't have a 5800-series card. With this product, users can achieve a very simple upgrade in cooling efficiency as well as decrease operating noise drastically!