It ain’t pretty, but it works

If you read MyBroadband regularly, you will know two things:

  • We once bought an Ethereum mining rig.
  • We once dismantled said Ethereum mining rig for its graphics cards.

I scored two Aorus RX 580 4GB cards from the rig, and one was put to work in my gaming PC at home.

The other lay dormant in my cupboard, and while its sibling collected kills, it collected dust.

The reason for this was that one of the fans on the card’s stock cooler was broken. After thousands of hours running at full speed in the rig, it was spinning skew and making a racket – and would not get back into place.


The start

After threatening to fix it for years, it was finally time to repair the card and put it into action.

It would not be an easy task. Below is photo essay of its journey.


This is what the card looked like. No visible damage, but trust me, the fan was not happy when it spun.

RX 580


After taking the cooler off and trying to fix the fan with advice from the Internet, I gave up. It was bust.

Stock cooler


If you have never taken a cooler off a graphics card, this is what it looks like – a big heatsink with cooling pipes which extract heat from the GPU chip and VRAM below.

No cooler

No cooler


The problem

The plan was to buy a replacement fan for the stock GPU cooler, but after searching locally they were nowhere to be found.

The only readily-available options would have to be imported from China or the US, and they were very expensive. This led to more research on the topic, which revealed that replacement GPU fans are not the way to go when fixing an old graphics card.

Instead, a common fix was to buy PC case fans – as in your standard 120mm fans – and strap them to the graphics card with cable ties.

In certain cases, the replacing of the stock cooler with PC case fans improved performance.


The next step was to buy two large and powerful case fans. I went with a pair of Deepcool 120mm fans for the price of R120 from Takealot.

First fans


I also purchased a fan hub for R65, in case the case fans would not:

  • A – reach my motherboard’s fan power sockets.
  • B – fit the fan connectors on the graphics card.

Fab hub


The fan hub was a good choice, as the connectors which came with the Deepcool fans – a small 3-pin, and a molex with two pins – did not fit into the fan power sockets on the graphics card.

Further reading also showed that the card power sockets may not pack enough juice to run standard case fans.

Fan connector


Armed with cable ties, it was time to mount the new fans.

Two cable ties were joined together, and looped through the fan’s screw holes, while another two cable ties were placed over the middle of the fan.

After creating large loops, the fan was placed on the heatsink and the cable ties looped around the card – tightened against its backplate when in position. The second fan’s ties went through its screw holes.

Cooler

Cooler


Another problem

It all looked so good. The card’s PCB was not crushed, the heatsink was intact, and the fans looked ready to do some serious cooling.

When it came time to place the card in my machine’s PCIe slot, however, it would not fit.

The fans were too big, in width and depth.

They threatened the motherboard’s secondary PCIe slot and various capacitors and other components when I attempted to clip it in.

After several minutes and multiple attempts, the card would not slide in.

It was time to try different fans.


New fans

Even further reading (this was a lot more reading than I expected) showed that when it comes to strapping PC case fans to a graphics card, the Noctua NF-A9x14 Premium Quiet Fan was the way to go.

I could only find them locally at one online retailer – but after ordering them, I received a mail saying they were out of stock.

Amazon in the US, however, did not disappoint – and I had soon ordered two of the Noctua fans for $30 in total. After shipping and VAT, the total was around R700.


The fans came in a fancy box with sound-dampening screws and a booklet which explained why they were the best for silent cooling.

New fans


As you can see, the low-profile Noctua fans (92 x 92 x 14 mm) were much smaller than the Deepcool units.

Comparison


The fans’s screw slots were quite close to crucial parts of the card, though – including the motherboard connection and the rear part of the heatsink.

After trying to attach the card by looping the cable ties through the screw slots as with the previous fan, I bent several fins on the heatsink (the fins are quite delicate and bend easily) and was obstructing the motherboard connector.

I then went for a single loop – two cable ties joined together for each fan – around the middle of the fan and through gaps between the heatsink and the card’s PCB.

GPU cooler

Silent cooling


The only thing left was to test the card: firstly to see if it would run, and secondly to see how it would perform against another Radeon RX 580 with a stock cooler.

Each card was placed in my gaming PC and put to work.

Case

Case


The test

The first test was a success. With the “custom cooling” card installed, the PC started up and all worked fine.

Next, both the stock card and the custom card ran a Hitman 2 benchmark.

For the benchmark, the following settings were in place:

  • 2,560 x 1,440 resolution.
  • Level of detail, texture quality, shadow quality, and reflection quality – all on high.
  • Texture filtering on Anisotropic 4x.
  • Motion blur and dynamic sharpening on medium.
  • The test level was Miami.

The gaming PC was running Windows 10 and was fitted with an AMD Ryzen 1600X, 500GB SATA SSD, and 16GB DDR4 2,667MHz RAM.

The benchmark was run several times on each card to ensure the results were consistent, and at the end of each test Hitman 2 provided an average frames per second result as a performance measurement.

HWMonitor was also used to monitor the GPUs’ temperature, with the peak temperature per card noted during each benchmark.

The results are detailed below.

Cards Hitman 2 Benchmark Max GPU Temperature
Stock RX 580 45.40 fps 71 Celsius
Stock RX 580 45.86 fps 71 Celsius
Stock RX 580 45.95 fps 71 Celsius
Custom RX 580 42.09 fps 86 Celsius
Custom RX 580 40.03 fps 87 Celsius
Custom RX 580 43.02 fps 87 Celsius

It worked

While the stock cooler easily outperformed the custom solution in terms of frames per second and temperature, slapping two case fans on a graphics card had worked – and the RX 580 had gone from a shelf-dweller to gaming again.

Now read: We want you – Win a R25,000 gaming PC

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It ain’t pretty, but it works