With the HR-03 GTX and fan sticking out the front of the card it takes up the adjacent three PCI slots, which definitely rules out using it in any kind of SLI configuration, unless you're willing to buck Thermalright's recommendation and hang one off the back. But then it's likely to be in the way of the CPU cooler. This practically limits the HR-03 GTX to a single-card cooling solution.
I am using the EVGA Precision software to test and monitor the GTX 260 video card. The card has a power save feature whereby it will reduce the GPU/RAM clock speeds to a very low 300/100 and power consumption to 1.03v when idle in 2D mode. Any type of graphical activity in 2D mode such as web browsing, picture viewing, etc. will cause the clocks to return to their original value. During testing I recorded the core temperature both at "true" idle at 300/100 and 1.03v and also at what might be described as "2D load", although this is represented as "idle" temp in the graphs at the respective higher clock settings.
Two different clock speeds were used with the card, the stock 576/999 and the max stable 738/1242. To achieve this overclock the BIOS was modified to use 1.18v rather than the factory 1.12v setting. I used the Folding@Home GPU client to generate 100% utilization for load testing. I also ran the fan at varying speeds to give an idea of typical performance vs. maximum performance.
With the GTX 260 cooler at idle the fan runs at the minimum 40% value. For load testing I manually increased this to 70%, which is what I would consider the limit of normal noise tolerance. At 100% fan speed temperatures are much improved, at the cost of running what sounds like a hair dryer inside your case. If left at the auto setting, the fan will slowly increase speed from 40% and typically work its way into the 50-60% range under load. Of course this would result in higher temps however I opted to statically set the fan speed to 70% for comparison.
Upon installing the HR-03 GTX idle temperatures are immediately improved across the board, by 6° C in power save and 10° C at normal "idle". Load temperatures still seem to be somewhat high, considering what was achievable using the stock cooler and fan run at 100%. However keep in mind the dual 80mm fans used on the HR-03 are practically silent at 7v and only about as loud as the stock fan at 70% when run at the full 12v. So comparing the equivalent performance-per-noise factor, the HR-03 with dual 80mm fans keeps the GPU around 5-6° C cooler at load than the stock HSF.
Following completion of this review I decided to remove the HR-03 GTX from my video card and try reinstalling it with the heatsink mounted over the rear of the card rather than sticking out the front. Between the extra width of the heatsink and fans added to the front of the card it extends nearly to the edge of the motherboard, and in many cases very near the bottom or side panel, potentially blocking airflow. This installation method is not recommended by Thermalright, so please take that into consideration when installing your HR-03 GTX.
With the HR-03 GTX on the opposite side of the card I noticed an immediate cooling benefit to the motherboard chipset heatsink. Thermalright warns that without this ancillary airflow over the passive VRM and HSI heatsinks on the front of the card that overheating could occur, however I kept close tabs on these and judging by feel alone they do not get very hot. If I had to estimate a temp I would say probably in the 40-50° C range for the VRM sink and even cooler for the HSI, it barely got warm at all.
With better airflow to the fans I observed a significant improvement to GPU temps amounting to 8-10° C difference at load compared to the front mount position! This widens the performance gap between the stock cooling and HR-03 GTX to 13-16° C total at load, bringing the GTX much more in line with what we've seen previously from the GT revision cooler.
Thermalright has come through once again for owners of the latest GT200 core nVidia cards, the GTX 260 and 280. Although close to six months since the cards release, late is better than never, and considering that no other manufacturer that I am aware of has released an aftermarket air-cooled solution for these cards I'd say that puts them in a pretty favorable position. Component quality is typical Thermalright, which is to say very good, the installation is straight forward and all the needed hardware, other than a fan, is included. There was one issue I ran into which is the lack of a single RAM sink for the GTX 260 cards. Since the 260 and 280 cards differ by 128Mb, the 260 series is missing two 64Mb chips, one from both front and back side of my EVGA. I suspect other manufacturers cards are similar.
Although removing the stock cooling capsule is a bit of a PITA, and care must be taken to prevent damaging the clips that hold the halves together, installation of the HR-03 GTX is simple by comparison. About the toughest thing you'll encounter is peeling the backing from the thermal tape on the RAM sinks, but a sharp knife makes catching the paper edge much easier. There may be some height restrictions in smaller cases such as my Mountain Mods H2gO, where a 120mm fan will not fit under the top panel, however with a little ingenuity this obstacle is overcome and two 80mm fans fit very nicely side-by-side on the HR-03. A bit of string or some zip ties will easily hold them in place.
I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed initially in the performance of the HR-03 GTX. While it did in fact yield better performance with less noise compared to the stock solution, the temperature difference was only around 5-6° C. Compared to the nearly 20° C improvement seen with the HR-03 GT this might seem poor, however I did take into consideration that the GT200 series stock cooling solution is inherently much better than the single-slot cooler on the 8800GT used for that review. Additionally, once I flipped the GTX around, positioning the fins over the back side of the card where the fans had access to better airflow, temps improved even further. A total 13-16° C improvement over the stock cooling based on load temperatures, and all while at a much more acceptable noise level.
I found the HR-03 GTX readily available online in the $50-$60 range, which is no more than what the HR-03 GT cost at its release. For those GTX 260/280 owners looking for an aftermarket cooling solution and can't or don't want to go liquid cooling, the Thermalright HR-03 GTX offers a definite improvement over the factory cooling and depending on what fan you choose, less noise as well. It has earned the OCIA.net Seal of Approval.