NZXT has built a bracket that you can use with self contained water coolers on quite a few graphics cards. The best test case though is obviously the Radeon R9 290 and 290X.
When the Radeon R9 290 and R9 290X first launched last year, they were plagued by issues of overheating and variable clock speeds. We looked at the situation several times over the course of a couple months and AMD tried to address the problem with newer drivers. These drivers did help stabilize clock speeds (and thus performance) of the reference built R9 290 and R9 290X cards but caused noise levels to increase as well.
The real solution was the release of custom cooled versions of the R9 290 and R9 290X from AMD partners like ASUS, MSI and others. The ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II model for example, ran cooler, quieter and more consistently than any of the numerous reference models we had our hands on.
But what about all those buyers that are still purchasing, or have already purchased, reference style R9 290 and 290X cards? Replacing the cooler on the card is the best choice and thanks to our friends at NZXT we have a unique solution that combines standard self contained water coolers meant for CPUs with a custom built GPU bracket.
Our quick test will utilize one of the reference R9 290 cards AMD sent along at launch and two specific NZXT products. The Kraken X40 is a standard CPU self contained water cooler that sells for $100 on Amazon.com. For our purposes though we are going to team it up with the Kraken G10, a $30 GPU-specific bracket that allows you to use the X40 (and other water coolers) on the Radeon R9 290.
Inside the box of the G10 you'll find an 80mm fan, a back plate, the bracket to attach the cooler to the GPU and all necessary installation hardware. The G10 will support a wide range of GPUs, though they are targeted towards the reference designs of each:
NVIDIA : GTX 780 Ti, 780, 770, 760, Titan, 680, 670, 660Ti, 660, 580, 570, 560Ti, 560, 560SE
AMD : R9 290X, 290, 280X*, 280*, 270X, 270 HD7970*, 7950*, 7870, 7850, 6970, 6950, 6870, 6850, 6790, 6770, 5870, 5850, 5830
That is pretty impressive but NZXT will caution you that custom designed boards may interfere.
The installation process begins by removing the original cooler which in this case just means a lot of small screws. Be careful when removing the screws on the actual heatsink retention bracket and alternate between screws to take it off evenly.
As horrible as it is, you should still keep the R9 290 reference cooler in tact and around in case you need to replace it.
The first step for putting together the new cooler is to attach the fan to the red G10 bracket as it will be responsible for cooling the power delivery hardware that will no longer have a heatsink on it. These foam stand offs help to remove vibration noise.
The back plate has three difference openings for different GPU designs. You'll have to slot in the screws and then add the rubber grommets to keep them in place during installation.
Place the back plate on the rear of the GPU keeping the mounting screws in place.
This shot shows those screws coming through the top of the R9 290 PCB.
Getting the X40 cooler installed was kind of a pain in a few ways, but the process is pretty straight forward in theory. The Kraken X40 uses the "teeth" method for retention and the G10 bracket should work just fine with other coolers you may already own that use the same installation methods. That includes Corsair and others.
At four places around the water block you find sets of three holes like this, used to attach the mounting screws. For the best fit you'll want to match the correct hole with what is listed in the manual for your GPU.
Getting the four nuts on the screws through the bracket takes some patience but you can see in the video that it wasn't all the difficult. Screw them down tightly, in an alternating fashion, to keep the water block on the GPU. Be sure to apply thermal paste to the GPU before screwing it down!! Even though the lettering won't match up, you'll want to put the fluid outlets at the top of the card to better help with installation and cable management.
You can fold the tubes down to fit between the top of the fan and the top of the bracket to keep it organized.
With the bracket installed you'll need to attach the power cables for the PWM fan, the fan on the radiator of the X40 and prepare for installation into your system. You'll be able to mount the radiator and fan anywhere in your case that you would have placed it when using it on a CPU – as long as the tubing reaches.
Now that we have it installed, let's take a look at how it changes the performance and noise characteristics of our Radeon R9 290.