Today, we get a chance to review an Arctic branded cooler, the Accelero S3 Passive. As the name states, this cooler does not come with any fans, so it would be dead silent. Arctic overcomes forced air movement cooling by using a large heatsink surface and heatpipes to get heat away from the core. Clearly, something like this isn’t made for high end GPUs, but something in the mid-range area it is said to handle without a worry. I strapped the unit on the recently reviewed MSI GTX 960 Gaming, a solid mid-range performer, to see how it does. Read on for more details!
Specifications and Features
Listed below are the specifications sourced from the Arctic website for the Accelero S3 cooler. The S3 has a cooling capacity of up to 135W while passive (no fan) and up to 200W with its Turbo Module, or what us common folk would call a fan. The S3 uses a total of four 6mm copper heatpipes that penetrate 32 sparsely situated aluminum fins to help get the heat away from the GPU core. The S3 measures a bit over 5″ tall, 9″ wide, 8.5″ in length, and is 1.6″ wide, so its a beefy unit. You will likely not be fitting this in a small form factor case, such as a HTPC, which curiously enough to me seems like a major demographic for silent operation it is excluding with its size.
As far as compatibility goes, there are a slew of cards it fits from both AMD and NVIDIA. Be sure to check the chart before buying for proper fitment. Also make sure the TDP on the card is under the 135W listed limit if you’re planning to run it passive and that your case has adequate airflow regardless.
|Arctic Accelero S3 Passive Graphics Card Cooler Specifications|
|Cooling Capacity||Up to 135W Passive|
Up to 200W with Turbo Module (fan)
|Heatsink||Heatpipes: x4 6mm|
Aluminum Fins: x 32 (Thickness: 0.4 mm)
|Noise Level||0 Sone ( 0 dB)|
|Dimensions||Heatsink – H: 5.31 in./135 mm, W: 1.65 in./42 mm, L: 9.05 in./230 mm|
Back plate – H: 3.85 in./98 mm, W: .9 in./23 mm, L: 8.58 in./218 mm
Heatsink: 410 g
Back Plate Heatsink: 305 g
R9 280**, 270**(X**), R7 265**, 260(X*), 250(X), 240, HD8950**, 8870**,8760* ,8740, 7870**(XT**,GHz**), 7850*, 7790*, 7770*(GHz*), 7750, 7730,6950**, 6870**, 6850*, 6790**, 6770*, 6750, 6670(LP), 6570, 5850**, 5830**,5770*, 5750, 5670, 5550(OEM), 4890**, 4870**, 4850*, 4830*, 4770, 4730,4670, 4650, 4550, 4350(LP), 3870*, 3850, 3690, 3650, 3470, 3450
GTX 960, 760**, 750(Ti), 680**, 670**, 660(Ti**), 650(Ti*,Ti boost**), 560**(Ti**,SE**),,550 Ti*, 465**, 460**(SE**), GTS 450*, 250**, 240(OEM)*, GT 640, 630, 440,340, 330, 320, 240, 220
* recommended with properly ventilated case only
** recommended with S3 Turbo Module
|Shipping Information||Item #: DCACO-V830001-GBA01|
From the Arctic website, there are a couple of points they want to make sure we know about the Accelero S3. The first is that it is high end passive cooling. Due to its patented heatsink design you should be able to cool up to a R7 260x or GTX 660 both of which have power targets around 115W. To help with that effort, they have a heatsink that goes on the backside of the PCB to help with cooling the VRM and vRAM. It takes some of the heat soak out of the PCB, which can lower ‘service life of other components dramatically’. Complete silence is the name of the game here for cards around that 100W value. Four copper heatpipes and 32 fins in the large array help make this all possible.
What good would the cooler be if it could only fit on a select few cards right? Arctic shows compatibility to over 50 AMD cards and 27 NVIDIA cards spanning a couple of generations. Chances are, this unit should work on your mid-range card. As always, be sure to confirm compatibility before making your purchase!
Last, one of the gripes I had about the previous versions of their coolers is the fact they they used a thermal glue as the medium between the heatsink and the IC’s. This time around, they listened to the people and used a thick thermal pad. This thermal pad will not leave any residue, and of course, is not permanent. So, you can RMA your card if needed or revert back to stock for whatever reason.
Retail Packaging and Product
Our first glimpse of the Accelero S3 will be the retail packaging. Arctic’s theme is white on a nice chilly looking blue for the most part. On the front we see a picture of the cooler and back plate along with the mention of its nice long six year warranty. Flipping the box around it shows some details and features of the product, such as its back plate, what it does under a thermal camera (love those pictures!), and touting its high compatibility across video cards.
The bottom shows high level features in different languages while the top goes into a few specifications. On the sides we don’t see much except the Arctic name along with their Carbon Neutral footprint, which is always a good thing for the planet we currently reside on.
When opening up the box, you are greeted by a myriad of parts used to attach to the many different GPUs it is compatible with. The heatsink and back plate are hidden under the cardboard partition.
Our first glimpse of the main heatsink shows exactly what was described above with its copper base plate and four 6mm copper heatpipes that make their way through the sparse 32 fin array. There is black plastic surrounding the heatsink to help with the overall aesthetics of the product. Again, this unit is pretty big. It is easily taller than all video cards, so you need to make sure you have the space in your case to fit it. This, in a vertical orientation, will not fit in a lot of HTPC cases, that is for sure. As mentioned earlier, that is curious considering that is a large demographic that wants silence. However, with the wattage the Accelero S3 can dissipate, it’s made to play with better cards in the first place, so chances are you will not be looking to get this in a ITX sized case or one that has a ‘receiver’ type form factor anyway.
Next up is the back plate. With the included thick thermal pads, this actually has a function outside of structural rigidity and takes heat off the VRM and memory from the backside, which help keeps other components running cooler and minimizes heat soak through the PCB. The bottom finish is a brushed aluminum. Arctic ships a thin plastic sheet that sits on the PCB between it and the back plate. This prevents shorting by metal to metal contact. There is a bit of custom cutting needed to fit your card, but it is very easy to do with a basic Exacto knife.
Arctic provides instructions on how to get things ready to mount on your card. It will vary by brand and generation as to which mounting brackets, spacers/washers that are needed, so make sure you look it over before just slapping on parts so you can do it once (read: not like I guessed!). Since the card I am using is the MSI GTX 960 Gaming 2G and its 120W TDP, I used the larger mounts to fit the screw orientation on the GTX 960’s PCB. To replace the mounting brackets is very simple, two Phillips head screws is all. Once the proper bracket is on, use the threaded studs by screwing them into the correct holes for your card. You are now done with the heatsink for now!
Next up, you need to prepare the backside of the PCB. This is done by using the included thermal pad (blue) and cutting it to fit in the hot spots. Typically this is on the memory ICs and behind the VRM area. I have an extra one placed in the 10 o’clock position to help with the ‘balance’ of the back plate. This will minimize the chance of it touching the PCB and helps with good contact on the rest of the target areas (per Arctic’s instructions anyway). Again, the plastic sheet prevents any shorting, so make sure its cut properly and there is no chance of PCB contact. It is at this point you need to cut the plastic sheet around your thermal pad placement. There is a black pad placed directly behind the GPU core to help get heat away from that area too, but it appears its more for spacing than heat transfer.
Once you have that completed, its time to make the Oreo cookie that is this setup. The easiest way I found to do this was to place the front heatsink flat with the studs pointing up. I then slid the video card onto the studs and slid the back plate on top of it. Once that is completed, you then need to use four metal pieces on top of the studs so you can screw it down and get tension/pressure on both sides. Tighten them down in a corner to corner method as described in the instructions.
Below is a picture of the card with the Accelero S3 attached! I told you it was big, ehh?!!
Below are some pictures of the completed product plugged in to my test system. As you can see it sticks up a couple of inches over the PCB. The next thing I wanted to mention in the second picture is how much it sticks out past the PCB… almost an inch. You can see from the picture that because of this protrusion, I was unable to use my top PCI-E slot on this particular motherboard and had to use PCI-E slot 2. This isn’t a big deal, but it is something to be aware of when planning your build with this product or upgrading to it.
Overall, it was a pretty straightforward installation. It took me around 20 minutes to get things right. A more skilled hand, or one that read the details in the directions could probably do it in around 15 minutes total.
So first off, to read this graph and get any relevant information out of it, we have to understand how exactly we compared these two very unlike things, particularly in the airflow department. Although the graph says simply, ‘default fan’ and 75% fan, here is how things actually break down…
Although this is a passive cooler, some case airflow is needed. I tested this Accelero S3 in an open air test bench, which for all intents and purposes, offers ZERO airflow. I found this out when running the GTX 960 at stock speeds when the temperatures went up to 92 °C on the GPU core. So to simulate case airflow as best I could, I took out a low powered fan, a Sharkoon to be exact, that offers a maximum of 33 CFM airflow at 1000RPM. That thing moves VERY little air even at 100%, let me tell you! What I did was set it to the lowest speed I could that would keep running, just to have some minor air movement around the heatsink. This brought things back to levels I would have expected below. So here is a key to help:
- Default Fan = Default fan curve on GTX 960 (fan doesn’t turn on until 59C). About 40% on the Sharkoon.
- 75% Fan = 75% on the GTX 960, and the Sharkoon at 100% simulating a case with superior airflow.
- Overclocked speeds = 1304MHz base clock and 1468 MHz actual boost clock at 1.25v.
- Open air test bench, 23C ambient, using Unigine Valley @ 1080p Ultra with 4x AA.
I did not strap the fan to the heatsink, but merely pointed the fan in that direction from about a foot away. Not very scientific indeed, but this should still give a good estimate for inside a case performance versus a more unrealistic no airflow situation like you see on an open test bench. When I strapped a fan on, the temps dropped even more (to the tune of 5-10 °C in most cases). Anyway, here are the results!
At idle, this cooler does a better job than the Twin Frozr V (TFV moving forward) does. This is actually a great head to head comparison because both fans are also off making the TFV passive as well. Without ANY airflow on an open air test bench, under load the 120W GTX 960 managed to hit a toasty 92 °C. A bit too warm for my tastes, that is for sure. We could not get any data without using a fan on the stock Twin Frozr V solution due to its fans ramping up at 59 °C.
When run at stock speeds, we see the S3 getting up to around 78 °C, which with minimal typical case airflow, isn’t bad. When we crank the Sharkoon up for all its worth, which is not much at all, temperatures do drop to 63 °C. Both temperatures are quite reasonable. While the TFV beats it out, you would expect anything with fans and significantly more airflow to do so… but, as quiet as the TFV was, absolutely silent it was not!
So, we overclocked things to 1304 MHz base clock, which translated to 1468 MHz actual sustained boost clock with the voltage being bumped to 1.25v. Surprisingly, we only rose to 82 °C load with minimal airflow and 65 °C with good airflow. Not too shabby at all! As I said earlier, if you actually strap a fan to the cooler to get active cooling, temps drop a fair amount more.
Arctic has brought to the table their latest version of a passive cooling solution, dubbed the Accelero S3. We have shown above that it can do its job with just a bit of airflow across its heatsink/fin array, which most cases have. If you want to use a more powerful card like a GTX 960 (~120W TDP stock), you should use this in a case with good airflow and you will not have any worries. Does it beat out a better than reference cooler like the Twin Frozr that came with the MSI card? No, it sure didn’t, but it certainly is not supposed to either as this is meant to be a passive and quiet solution, and it certainly beats out anything with a fan in that department.
Being a passive solution, one would immediately think quiet and you would not be mistaken. Adding this cooler into your case will only lower sound levels by removing the stock solution on your card. But to that end, when we think quiet, a lot may think HTPC or small form factor. But, due to the large size of the heatsink and its abilities, fitting it into anything smaller than a mATX case, and even those, may post a challenge to get this thing inside.
Pricing on this unit comes in at $54.95 through Arctic themselves. In looking around at their other products, this falls in line being a fan-less solution as the rest of their products, which are made to cool cards with higher TDP outputs and therefore have included fans. If you would like to add a fan to the S3, their turbo module can be purchased for an additional $10.99. $55 may seem like a lot for an aftermarket cooler, but considering the landscape of passive cooling solutions and no noise, it isn’t really out of the ordinary.
Wrapping things up, the Arctic Accelero S3 passive GPU cooler has been Overclockers.com approved! Arctic brought to the table a silent solution, that when fan-less can cool up to 135W load with good case airflow, and it does just that. Strap a fan on it, and you can cool most of the cards on the market and likely have less noise in the process. If you are looking for an absolutely silent solution to cool your sub 135W video card, look no further than the Accelero S3.
– Joe Shields (Earthdog)