Physical Examination

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Physical Aspects

When I first picked up the Asus Radeon 9800XT, I noticed that it was very orange (not that orange is a bad color 😉 and very heavy! Having lapped more than my fair share of copper heatsinks in my day, I knew judging by the weight, something on this card was made of copper. But judging by the two different colors on the card’s cooler, it was hard to tell if it was the base that was copper or the fins. This was something I was going to have to investigate (examined later).

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There is a 4-pin molex connector on the top of the card and is positioned at the top-right corner of the card. This is good news for those Radeon 9700 Pro owners who wanted to put ramsinks on their card but couldn’t because of the power connector. When you flip over the card, you see a large heatspreader covering about 50% of the surface. The material is the same as the base of the cooler on the front of the card. Hopefully this means it’s copper and we will find out soon enough.

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There is a word of caution here. The ATI Rage Theater chip is located on the backside of the card and is slightly taller than the heatspreader. So when you’re handling this card, be careful not to set the card down on anything that may damage this chip!

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Cooling the Asus Radeon 9800XT

For those of you who don’t care much about the cooler, you can skip over this section. I selfishly include such excruciating review of videocard heatsinks because I’m fascinated by the design. It’s a blend of physics, engineering, and aesthetics. It’s also the most identifiable part of a videocard manufactured by any given vendor.

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Note: All performance data was gathered before disassembling the videocard…. just in case I kill something taking off the heatsink. 😉

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Threaded pins with springs are used to mount
the cooler on the Asus Radeon 9800XT/TVD.

The cooler itself has two fans and is held in place with four threaded pins with springs. This is a superior way of fastening the cooler to the card as the threads ensure a snug fit while the springs prevent too much force exerted onto the card (similar to how some waterblocks and heatsinks mount onto motherboards). Looking back at the MSI FX5600 review we published here, I made a comment about the poor push-pin mounting hardware and how it didn’t exert enough pressure to push the heatsink flush to the GPU… here Asus exceeded the requirement not by using threaded pins, but also by using springs.

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Good impressions left by the thermal paste on the front of the card (left), and on the back of the card (right).

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Good impressions left by the thermal paste on the cooler (left), and on the back heatspreader (right).

Taking off the top cooler, we can see that there’s a fair amount of thermal paste and the impressions left on the base of the cooler show there was proper contact with all the RAM modules and with the GPU. The bolt & spring mounting hardware probably helped ensure proper contact. The same story goes for the heatspreader on the back of the card – sufficient paste with good contact.

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Copper base (left), aluminum fins (right)

Having removed the cooler from the card, now it’s time to figure out what material it is made out of by taking some 150 grit sandpaper. By sanding, we can see that the base is made of copper as shown by the picture on the left, whereas the fins are just anodized aluminum as seen on the right. The heatspreader on the back is also made of copper. Unlike the MSI FX5600 and Ti4800SE that had copper fins and aluminum base, Asus did it right by putting copper as the base since it is a better heat conductor.

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The whole cooler itself appears to be made from 5 pieces: base, fins, fans, plastic bevel, and what appears to be a heatpipe. The copper “S” you see on the base of the cooler appears to be glued in place and passes under the fins at each RAM module. Curious. Also none of the precision screwdrivers I have were successful at disassembling the cooler. It would appear Asus did not want inquisitive users to be taking apart their contraption. This may be important as it’ll make cleaning/dusting the cooler a little harder.

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Above is a close-up of the base of the cooler where it makes contact with a RAM module. There is a gap between the fins and the base where the base is extruded. This could compromise the heat conductivity and the efficiency of the fins because they’re not flush the underlying copper. It may be worth while to squeeze some thermal paste into this gap and see if the RAM temperatures drop.

Physical Installation

Below is a comparison of the size of NVIDIA’s latest top-end card, the FX5950 Ultra compared to the size of the Asus Radeon 9800XT. We can see that the Radeon 9800XT takes up only 7.5 inches in your case and 1 slot compared to the 8.5″ and 2 slots for the NVIDIA reference design.

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The length becomes important when you install the card. As we can see by the picture on the left, the FX5950 Ultra is a hair from touching the RAM clips and forces the IDE cable around the end of the card making things too tight. The Asus Radeon 9800XT, on the other hand, clears all the RAM clips and gives enough room for the IDE cable to reach the IDE headers below the slot. Hopefully the Asus Radeon 9800XT should not pose any major problems to those of you with smaller cases.

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Though my experience with installing the Radeon 9800XT was much better than the FX5950 Ultra or FX5700 Ultra, not everything was perfect. When it came time to remove the card I found that the fins from the heatsink actually blocked off the retention clip to the AGP slot! Because of this, I had to blindly work my fingers below the card (you can’t see the clip) and try to flip the clip with my fingernail. Sometimes I was afraid that the thing I was pressing was a capacitor instead of the clip. This is really tough work if you have a crowded case, large fingers, or have motherboard components in the way. If necessary, I suggest that you cut/break off 2 fins from the heatsink to make your life easier and possibly safer.

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