"Extreme" Video Card Cooling on an "Extreme" Budget

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What started as an OCF Benching Team forum goof, and then morphed into a MythBuster’s style mystery, turned into the following laugh filled, sub-zero experiment. The proper way, if there is such a thing, to take a GPU to sub-zero temps is with a purchased or custom built DICE/LN2 GPU pot. There are many fine examples of such pots readily available on the internet. The problem is that most of them can be a fairly expensive purchase for the average fellow who just dumped all his money into new hardware, or the average bencher who just killed half of his. So the quest emerges…

What is the cheapest way to get a video card into the sub-zero range?

Sure, you could wait until winter and move things out to the garage provided you live in a climate that has winter. Will it be colder? Sure. Will it be sub-zero? Probably not. Obviously LN2 is out of the question. It’s expensive, hard to contain, and downright dangerous if misused. So what are we left with? Dry ice, also known as DICE. It’s as cheap as $1.00 a pound, easily accessible, safe, and can potentially get you into the -70 °C range! Now we just have to figure out how to get the dry ice in contact with our GPU long enough to run some benchmarks.

Got a sandwich bag and some spare time?

Then you are all set for GPU DICE cooling on the cheap!

For this low budget experiment we will not be using the Nvidia GTX 480.  I think the Ati HD4550 is a better candidate.

For this low budget experiment we will not be using the Nvidia GTX 480. I think the ATI HD4550 is a better candidate.

The first step is to remove the heatsink and clean things up a little.

The first step is to remove the heatsink and clean things up a little.

After cleaning things up we cut a hole in the sandwich bag just a bit bigger than the GPU. Then we place the heatsink in the sandwich bag! Tasty!

After cleaning things up we cut a hole in the sandwich bag just a bit bigger than the GPU. Then we place the heatsink in the sandwich bag! Tasty!

Next we mount the heatsink back on the video card, bag and all. Just make sure the bag didn't slide in between the die and the heatsink. The tape is there merely to keep the baggy

Next we mount the heatsink back on the video card, bag and all. Just make sure the bag didn't slide in between the die and the heatsink.

Just for clarification, the heatsink is in the bag, the card is not.

Just for clarification, the heatsink is in the bag, the card is not.

There are better ways to insulate a card for sub-zero operation, not knowing how well this was going to work I merely covered it liberally with Vaseline. The card lived.

There are better ways to insulate a card for sub-zero operation, not knowing how well this was going to work I merely covered it liberally with Vaseline. The card lived.

X58A-UD7 prepped for a cold card. Vaseline isn't a bad idea here either.

X58A-UD7 prepped for a cold card. Vaseline isn't a bad idea here either.

Ati HD4550 installed, hopefully you can see how the baggy is intended to hold DICE now.

ATI HD4550 installed, hopefully you can see how the baggy is intended to hold DICE now.

Close up side view. The paper towel is there to catch and ice chunks that may form on the outside of the baggy as I have obviously not insulated it properly. We're on a budget people!

Close up side view. The paper towel is there to catch any ice chunks that may form on the outside of the baggy as I have obviously not insulated it properly. We're on a budget people!

Above view. As you can see I have left enough room in the baggy for a nice scoop of DICE.

Above view. As you can see I have left enough room in the baggy for a nice scoop of DICE.

Time to fire it up! Just dropped some DICE into the CPU pot. It is a Koolance V2 in case you were curious.

Time to fire it up! Just dropped some DICE into the CPU pot. It is a Koolance V2 in case you were curious.

Finally we have added some DICE to the "GPU pot." As with any DICE adventures, smaller chunks are always better.

Finally we have added some DICE to the "GPU pot." As with any DICE adventures, smaller chunks are always better.

Things are working slightly better than expected! The picture isn't that clear, but if you look closely you can see a frost patch growing on the backside of the die. Glad I put on the Vaseline now!

Things are working slightly better than expected! The picture isn't that clear, but if you look closely you can see a frost patch growing on the backside of the die. Glad I put on the Vaseline now!

Cooling things down.  Right now the GPU is at -28c, CPU at -69c.

Cooling things down. Right now the GPU is at -28 °C, CPU at -69 °C.

Top view. (I know that's not crushed DICE in the CPU pot, I'm lazy and the Koolance is a great pot.

Top view. (I know that's not crushed DICE in the CPU pot, I'm lazy and the Koolance is a great pot.

Benching Vantage! i7 920 at 4.725mhz, Ram at 1800mhz 7-8-7-24, 4550 at 780mhz on the core and 900mhz on the memory! Unfortunately it's still going 1-4 FPS.  The CPU tests actually moved faster.

Benching Vantage! i7 920 at 4.725 MHz, RAM at 1800 MHz 7-8-7-24, 4550 GPU at 780 MHz on the core and 900 MHz on the memory! Unfortunately it's still going 1-4 FPS. The CPU tests actually moved faster.

The aftermath. It's always best to shut down and remove things before they thaw out and start dripping all over. Frozen water isn't conductive, regular water...well you get the idea.

The aftermath. It's always best to shut down and remove things before they thaw out and start dripping all over. Frozen water isn't conductive, regular water...well you get the idea.

Now you can see the frosty spot better! Poor little 4550 had no idea what it was in for today.

Now you can see the frosty spot better! Poor little 4550 had no idea what it was in for today.

And that is the cheap way to take your video card sub-zero.

-30 °C for the price of a sandwich bag, some tape, and a scoop of DICE!

I’m betting that you are wondering where all the sweet scores are? Me too. This particular card honestly didn’t bench a great deal better at -30 °C verses 50 °C where it normally operates at, much to my dismay. As a matter of fact this might have been my best run: 1470 marks in Vantage. I’m really hoping the i7 at 4.7 GHz didn’t bottleneck it.

You might think that I have absolutely nothing to show for this foray into sub-zero cooling, but you would be wrong. What we have gained in sub-zero sandwich bag  DICE pot fabrication techniques far outweighs any elite scores or gold medals. Plus, this was a whole lot of fun! I hope you agree.

Disclaimer: No ATI 4550s were harmed in the making of this article. This was a bad idea, under no circumstances should any reasonable person ever attempt something this insanely foolish. If you need help or advice trying, feel free to post below.

– xoke

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Discussion
  1. hokiealumnus
    Well done first article! Glad your poor 4550 survived. :attn:

    Thanks! It was a lot of fun. I hope everyone gets a good chuckle out of it! I think comical relief may be my future foray, as my clocking skills ain't so leet. :D
    hahahah soo cool :)
    Congrats! I have the same 4550 I use it in one of my download-dedicated computer that work 24/7 veryyy silently... I think they call that SCREEN COOLING... yea... whatever that means.
    Arghhhh... Now I will have to do that and I will burn my 4550 for sure.
    Voidn
    Thats...freaking...hilarious! Too bad you didn't get any extra clocks while cold.

    Yea...had I know that it would have actually worked...I would have come up with a volt mod before hand, lol. Still, it was an absolute hoot!
    I might have a more serious article coming soon in regards to GPU cooling. :thup:
    Now to do this on a CPU! Should save some money and get the more economical extra-thin no-ziplock sandwhich-size bags =D
    just kidding... but do you think this would actually ever yield sub-zero temps on a higher TDP card? Say... a 4830? :santa:
    Dooms101
    Now to do this on a CPU! Should save some money and get the more economical extra-thin no-ziplock sandwhich-size bags =D
    just kidding... but do you think this would actually ever yield sub-zero temps on a higher TDP card? Say... a 4830? :santa:

    It would work on anything...just have to make the components in question bigger. I have seen a True 120 zip tied (who was that OCF member?) to high end GPU. If one was so bold they could do something like that and stick the whole thing in a bag...would need a bigger sandwich bag though. :D
    xokeman
    True 120 zip tied (who was that OCF member?)

    it was a Venomous X and it was matt5, paparomiro recently recreated it on a 580 with a True :D
    m0r7if3r
    it was a Venomous X and it was matt5, paparomiro recently recreated it on a 580 with a True :D

    Where is that pic...makes me lol every time I see it! :rofl:
    Now how the hell do you manage to get a TRUE to fit in that orientation on a GPU? And does this work on cpu blocks? I've always wanted to get a CPU cold but those pots are expensive... Plus I don't know where you get dry ice at anyways.
    hahaha that is sooo cool. I thought about doing this with a friend's left over Phenom 9950BE stock heatpipe cooler and a 9800GT, I just couldn't figure out how to mount it =(