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Thermaltake Blue Orb

by Drew Dunn

You don't have to be an overclocker to appreciate some of the recent products from Thermaltake. We've looked at their Golden Orb on this site and we'll be reviewing the Super Orb soon.

The Blue Orb is a departure from the traditional heatsink/fan combo because it is designed not for cooling processors but for auxiliary components, like graphics processors and chipsets.

Should you be worried about special cooling for your chipset or graphics card? That's a definite maybe. If you're running a new, high performance video card such as a GeForce or Radeon, or if your processor is overclocked, you might want to be interested in some auxiliary cooling.

Thermaltake's Blue Orb looks a whole lot like the familiar Golden Orb, but it's much shorter and, of course, blue. According to the back of the bubble pack that it came in, the Orb features a 4600 RPM fan that can move 15 CFM of air. The package contains the Blue Orb, some thermal paste, a double sided piece of thermal tape, a power adapter and a couple of pegs to attach the Orb to the device you want to cool.

The Blue Orb can get power from a motherboard header and includes a tach wire for reporting speed. If the somewhat short power cable won't reach a motherboard header, an adapter allows you to get power from a standard drive connector, although you will lose the speed reporting ability.

If you take a look at many graphics cards that already have heat sinks, as well as most motherboards, you'll see a couple of holes on the diagonal next to the chip. Usually the installed heat sink is attached with a couple of plastic posts to the holes. The Blue Orb can also use the holes, assuming that the dimensions are correct. I found that the i815e chipset that I was going to cool was too big for the Orb to use the holes in the motherboard. That's why Thermaltake included the double sided thermal tape.

The i815e chipset that I wanted to cool is on an Abit SA6-R motherboard. The board has a PIII-933 processor and generally runs pretty toasty. Unfortunately, the small, green, Intel-installed heat sink is slightly larger than the Blue Orb. That meant that the little accessory posts that came with the Orb wouldn't work. No problem, I thought, the little square piece of thermal tape was ready to go. Except that it wouldn't hold the orb onto the heat sink. In fact, it really didn't seem to have any stick to it at all. So I abandoned that idea.

Instead, I elected to go after a GeForce2 GTS video card. This particular card is made by Hercules, the 3D Prophet II GTS. It's also a very cool blue, matching the Blue Orb nicely. A quick measurement showed that the Orb would fit on the card perfectly.

Now, the Blue Orb is substantially larger than the stock heat sink/fan that came with the Hercules card. It sticks out far enough from the card that the PCI slot immediately below the AGP slot was unusable. In my case, though, the computer wasn't full of hardware, so that wasn't much of a loss, but you might want to be sure that you have room in your system before you pursue something like this.

I made a couple of measurements of the graphics processor with the original Hercules heatsink/fan unit installed. After running Quake III for about 15 minutes, I felt that the card was probably as hot as it would get. I measured the temperature of the GPU using a thermocouple attached to a Wavetek model 23XT meter. The meter measured a toasty 45C on the chip.

Next, I removed the heatsink/fan from the card. I was kind of surprised that there didn't seem to be any thermal material between the heatsink and the chip. I fixed that by spreading a very thin layer of the paste that came with the Blue Orb onto the chip. Then I attached the Orb to the card and plugged everything back into the system.

After another 15 minutes of a Quake III fragfest, the system was up to temperature. The meter showed a clear difference. The processor's temperature with the Blue Orb installed was down to 35C. That's a significant decrease.

Overclocking the processor from the stock 200MHz to a rock stable 230MHz caused the temperature to increase by a mere two degrees. That's excellent performance, in my opinion. The card worked flawlessly for well over an hour, until I got tired of playing the game.

The fan on the heatsink moved a noticeable amount of air and it was very quiet.

My final impression of the Blue Orb is that it is an effective option for cooling parts of your computer that you might not otherwise consider cooling. I was disappointed in the performance of the thermal tape, but since I'm not a fan of tape, I don't consider that a big negative. I would suggest that if you need an alternative to the included mounting posts that you head for your local electronics store and get some thermal epoxy instead. The positives of the Blue Orb are that it works very well, is easy to install with the supplied posts and it looks very cool. And for about $12.00, it's a pretty cheap way to keep an expensive video card running cool.

Our thanks to Heatsink Factory for supplying the sample.


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