The standard coolers fitted to high-end graphics cards are notoriously poor, often with disappointing thermal performance at significantly raised noise levels. So replacing the cooler with an after-market model like the Zalman FS-V7 is quite common. But does this model live up to Zalman’s established reputation?
Zalman have been highly regarded for many years in the PC heatsink and fan design industry, producing classic CPU coolers like the CNPS7000 series and GPU fans like the VF700 and VF900. Many of their coolers are available in different materials and with or without LEDs but like the competitors they tend to focus their efforts on the now overly-common blue LEDs.
If you want to have a Red theme, like I mentioned in my Xilence red LED fan controller review, your choices are much more limited. In fact like the Xilence Fan controller I found that I had only one option and even that was fairly hard to track down. I eventually found what I was looking for at The Cooling Shop.
The first thing that strikes you about the Zalman FS-V7 is that it comes in a pretty large box considering the small size of the cooler. The outer package is cardboard and the inner is moulded plastic, a combination that keeps it all together well and also allows you to repackage the contents back in to it’s box at a later date if required. Useful if you change your mind a couple of years down the line and decide red is not you thing anymore, original boxes help ebay sales!
The box is fairly informative with specifications printed on the rear as follows:
- Dimensions : 91 (L) x 126.4 (W) x 30 (H) mm
- Weight : 270g
- Base Material : Copper
- Fan Dimensions : 80 (L) x 80 (W) x 15 (H) mm
- Bearing : 2 Ball Bearing Sets
- Speed : 2050 rpm ± 10% (Quiet Mode) or 3500 rpm ± 10% (Performance Mode)
- Noise : 23.7dB ± 10% (Quiet Mode) or 36dB ± 10% (Performance Mode)
There’s also a nice little diagram to show you the layout of the cooler and how it looks fitted to a graphics card. So far I’ve not had to mention ‘Fatal1ty’ in this review, but I’m afraid I do now as there’s also a small statement from Wendel himself (or his PR team) about how this cooler will help you too become a Pro-Gamer!?!
In the box you should find, the main heatsink and fan, a set of 8 mini heatsinks for the graphics card memory chips, a information/instruction leaflet and a box for all the bits and pieces. The bits and pieces box contains the necessary fittings (o-rings, screws etc), a tiny tube of CSL 850 thermal interface media and a fan control cable to activate ‘quiet mode’.
The FS-V7 fan is supplied with a 3pin plug of the same style as a standard PC case fan. This means that you cannot plug it directly into the graphics card where you no doubt unplugged the old one from.
This has it’s advantages and disadvantages, you can now plug into a spare motherboard header and potentially use fan control features to regulate the fan speed or more likely you could plug into a drive bay mounted manual fan controller. However, it will mean that you now have another cable to consider in your case’s cable management scheme and as this is an LED cooler, you’re likely to have a windowed case if choosing the FS-V7.
The cooler is one of the ‘flower’ type coolers that Zalman pioneered several years ago. The fan is embedded in the heatsink to aid the penetration of cool air into and through the the fins. This particular cooler has a copper base and aluminium fins, although the latter are coated in a red colour for aesthetic reasons. The heatsink appears to be well made and the base although showing some signs of the manufactuering process is pretty well finished for an off the shelf heatsink. However unlike some more modern designs there’s no use of heatpipes.
Obviously the first thing to do in the installation is to remove the existing cooler from the graphics card, this is usually pretty easy and involves just a couple of spring loaded screws, be careful not to loose any parts as you might want to revert back to this cooler in an emergency or if selling the card but keeping the cooler. From this point onwards the instructions cover the installation is detail and are very easy to follow. You start by cleaning the memory chips and then applying the little memory heatsinks, you won’t be able to do this when the main heatsink is fitted as it will get in the way. You may not need all the heatsinks depending on your particular card’s memory configuration.
After the memory heatsinks are fitted, you can move onto attaching the ‘nipples’ into the graphics card’s screw holes. This is done using the o-rings to help dampen any vibrations that might otherwise lead to additional noise. The bracket fits across two holes, so if your graphics card has a set of four like mine you have some fitting options with regard to orientation, use this to allow you to best position the fan cable for neat cable management in your case.
Making sure that you’ve fully cleaned the graphics chip you can then apply the thermal interface media (just a rice grain sized amount required) and then the heatsink itself. The heatsink screws down onto the nipples and there is also a bracket that screws onto the rear of the card to provide additional support. The rear bracket has been designed in a gun-metal grey and has ‘Fatal1ty’ imprinted on it, it actually looks pretty smart and provides an additional touch of class I think.
Apart from putting the card back into your PC and finding somewhere to plug the fan into, that’s the installation complete. It really is pretty simple and is applicable to almost all graphics cards, there are a few incompatible cards but these are listed on the Zalman website so you shouldn’t fall into that trap. I think the final installed cooler has a good look to it and I especially like the red coating of the heatsink fins and memory sinks, it matches nicely with my red themed PC.
I’ve fitted the cooler to my 7900GS as you can see in the pictures. You might remember the 7900GS from earlier articles such as the review that I wrote or the later article on overclocking it to 580/860. With new cooler fitted I hope to bring the temperatures down and potentially overclock it further maybe in conjunction with a voltage modification.
Performance and Noise
Lets start with the noise. On full speed mode the fan is definitely audible, it’s not a particularly annoying noise but you can definitely hear it above quiet or silent case fans etc. At slower speeds the fan operates at much lower noise levels and for the majority of PCs and PC users it will become inaudible at the 5V supplied by the adapter cable. It is certainly a major improvement on the 7900GS stock cooler supplied by XFX, which when forced to run at 100% by RivaTuner is unbelievably loud.
At the 100% speed the Zalman FS-V7 reduces the GPU core temperature significantly when compared to the stock cooler, reducing the hot 63°C to a much cooler 51°C. A reduction in temperature of 12°C is significant and all this coupled with a reduction in noise.
If the stock cooler is left to run at it’s standard self-adjusting speed then the temperature rises up to 76°C and the noise is similar to the FS-V7 at 100%, so comparing noise to noise the Zalman FS-V7 reduces the temperature by 25°C, a huge amount.
When the Zalman FS-V7 is turned down to it’s quiet mode of 5V the temperature only rises to 55°C. This is only an increase of 4°C for a significant gain in peace and quiet, it’s not especially annoying at full speed but it can definitely be heard whereas in the quiet mode it’s whisper quiet. It is worth noting however that the red LED is on the same power circuit as the fan and so reducing the fan speed will also reduce the LED brightness.
So lets look now at how it handles my overclocked 7900GS @ raised clocks of 580 (from 450) on the core and 860 (from 660) on the memory. The answer is ‘not a problem’, the temperature reached with that overclock applied to the GPU core and memory was only 4°C higher than without the overclock taking the temperature up to 55°C. This was with the fan set at full speed.
The final aspect of performance for a cooler like this is how does it look? Well the LED wasn’t as bright as I had expected but it does give off a nice glow that becomes a red circle due to the movement of the fan. In a red themed case with a variety of other red components and red lights, I feel it fits right in and contributes well. I’ve added a picture below to show it in action in my windowed red themed cube case, I think it looks good, you’ll have to make up your own minds.
So in conclusion, the Zalman FS-V7 is a competent cooler offering significant cooling benefit to graphics cards such as my 7900GS and I’m sure many others too. It is however based on an ageing design and it’s cooling ability will no doubt have been eclipsed by now by other coolers. However this is one of, if not the only red LED graphics card cooler. It also has a very low noise output if run at the slower speed, either on the supplied adapter cable or on an alternative fan controller.
Would I recommend it then? If you want it for a red theme then definitely. If you just want a really good GPU cooler then you might find better elsewhere but this still will hold its own and at ~£20 it’s not too expensive either.
Overall Score: 8/10