Review of the Thermal Grizzly Carbonaut: It works, but it's not better

Thermal Grizzly Carbonaut is a carbon thermal pad intended to replace thermal paste between processor or graphics card and its heatsink.

Thermal pads sound nice in theory and not too long ago there was some hype around IC Graphite thermal pads. There is no mess, no danger of dropping some thermal paste into the cpu socket or some other sensitive area. And the Carbonaut pad promises to not get old, unlike thermal paste, which you have to replace after a while.

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The Carbonaut pads can be bought in multiple sizes, e.g. 31×25 mm fitting for a RTX 2080 Ti. But since the RX 580 with its ~17×13 mm gpu die is not a target size yet I had to cut it to its proper size. I bought the bigger TR4 edition to be able to test the pad in two scenarios: First on the processor, then on the graphics card. The processor is an Intel Core i5-5675C, a perfect scenario for the pad: The i5 runs cool and is not overclocked, the used Corsair H90 AIO cooler quite powerful. If the Carbonaut pad does not work here it would be basically useless. The graphics card is a Radeon RX 580 with the Rajintek Morpheus II cooler reviewed earlier, it’s a more extreme scenario in terms of heat to handle and complicatedness of installation. Both used a cheap thermal paste in the tests before applying the pad – because that’s the real competition here, not more expensive high end thermal paste targeting overclockers.

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The Carbonaut pad arrived in a plastic bag like the ones Thermal Grizzly uses to send out their thermal paste. A small manual explains the installation (have it in the correct size, place it between thing to cool and heatsink, take care to not cause a short, it’s reuseable), the pad itself is inside a second cover. Mine was not installed properly in there, but at least that picture (the first used in this review) shows well how slim it actually is. At that point I was skeptical: Can something so flimsy actually be installed without breaking it?

The Processor test

Cutting the pad proved indeed to be difficult. It is easy to cut the very lightweight canvas-like surface, that’s not the issue. But sizing it properly, putting it on the processor without letting it touch remains of thermal paste and then not having a way to set size markers turned out to be a complicated process. The result of my throwback to Kindergarden was fine though, without wasting too much material I got the size about right, the whole integrated heatspreader (ihs) got covered.

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Before the installation, with the cheap thermal paste, the processor did already run fine. In a 10 minute stress test (under Linux with s-tui) it showed this heat profile:

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59°C, a stable 3.5 GHz, which is the multi core max load of that processor. At the end you can see ~30 seconds of idle time, when the temperature moved down very fast.

With the Carbonaut pad installed not much changed:

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57°C, again a stable 3.5 GHz and the temperature moved equally fast up and down.

That’s a success! To match the performance of (albeit cheap) thermal paste was not at all excpected for the Carbonaut pad, because historically, those pads always were so much worse. But in this scenario this new kind of thermal pad worked perfectly fine. It was harder to install than thermal paste, but had I bought it precut in the size of this processor that first step would have been much easier.

The Graphics card test

The RX 580 with the Morpheus aftermarket cooler was a different story and it started with the installation. It was just much more difficult. On top of the annoying first step of having to cut the very delicate fabric, the screws to connect the heatsink to the gpu go into the back of the gpu. So you have to place the thermal pad, place the heatsink on top of it, move it 180°, maybe add the second backplate and during all of that not move the heatsink/gpu at all – because if you do, you have no idea whether the thermal pad still covers the gpu die, and in the worst case even this might happen:

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Because of the force applied during the installation the pad ripped apart, which I noticed since I had to repeat the installation because a smaller heatsink glued to the VRM fell off.

That’s really not nice, because you can’t be sure that the pad is placed properly. Unlike in the processor scenario, where good performance confirmed that. Because performance just was not great either.

The cheap thermal paste was already not perfect. During a benchmark of Witcher 3 the gpu reached a high temperature very fast, though in this short test it did not throttle:

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With the pad temps at first looked great:

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But after some time throttling was observable and the temperature did not stay that good:

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Now, sure: Air flow is very important here and it’s possible that’s the main issue. But it’s just not a success. In this scenario, the Carbonaut pad primarily proved too hard to install and only secondary did not reach the performance I was hoping for; I’ll confirm at a later date whether that expectation was reasonable and edit this review accordingly.

The idea of never having to replace the thermal interface again is very appealing especially for the graphics card, where high usage and high temps are not kind to thermal paste longevity. Instead of getting that I now can’t even be sure whether the thermal pad installed was not damaged during the installation. Frankly, good thermal paste would be way better here. Performance should be better, some pastes would handle the heat fine for a long time and the installation is a lot easier.

Conclusion

Thermal Grizzly Carbonaut works and it can be a valid option for PC builders. But its usefulness really depends on the scenario. I’d only recommend it if:

  1. it comes in the size of the processor ihs/gpu die,
  2. good thermal paste is not already applied,
  3. the heatsink can be installed without having to turn the gpu around,
  4. what you want to use it on does not produce too much heat.

And those are a lot of requirements. Too many. The default sizes, made for two types of gpus (RTX 2080, RTX 2080 Ti), modern Intel and AMD Threadripper processors might just not cover what you want to cool with it and I really recommend against cutting it to the size you need manually. It’s just not worth it if you could use thermal paste instead. Which you’d also get if you really want to overlock or if the installation process of your cooler is complicated, like with basically all gpu air coolers.

But if you check all the boxes above the Carbonaut gives you a heat interface that does indeed work and that does not dry out. That’s nice and might be worth the price for you.

You can hack two Wraith Stealth together to get one better cooler!

Blogger chunger over at Studio 939 shared a cool hack today showing how to combine two Wraith coolers. If you ever asked yourself whether it is possible and has a positive effect on cooling performance, please go check out his article. But the answer is yes!

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The DIY expert argues that while even a cheaper cooler like the 212 Evo will cool better than his construction, Wraith Stealth coolers come with the processor, so after some PC upgrades (maybe by people around you that ended up using a different cooler than the provided) it is quite possible that you come into possession of multiple of them. So it is useful to know your second one is not completely useless.

To make the hack work he had to use a dremel and remove the mounting bracket of one of the coolers. He also drilled holes to make longer screws fit into both of the coolers at once, into the mounting holes originally meant to just connect the fan to the heatsink. So they line up like this:

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In the end apply thermal paste between the heatsinks and connect the two together while adding the fan to the top:

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And it actually provides better cooling than just one single Wraith Stealth cooler. But go check out the original article to see how much, and for an explanation of the details.

Maybe it is not the easiest of hacks, at least you need to have a bit of equipment and some knowledge how to use it. But nonetheless I think it is really cool that the hack actually works. And maybe it can be improved with a few design iterations?

All photos kindly provided by chunger

onli,

Clearing a path through the Ryzen 3000 Motherboard Chaos

Which motherboard do you pick if you want a new Ryzen 3000 processor? And which motherboards should the pc-kombo recommender suggest in optimized PC builds? Let’s decide on a strategy.

What’s on the market?

Ryzen 3000 is the third generation of Ryzen processors, the same amount of motherboard generations is available.

The first generation (e.g. Ryzen 5 1600) released alongside of boards for its AM4 socket with the A320, B350 and X370 chipsets. A320 is the low end option, locked and not very attractive. B350 and X370 are unlocked and of better quality. The AM4 platform is pretty special in that its high end chipset is unnecessary for most, the B series is too good and contains everything most users need, thus B350 sold very well.

The second generation of Ryzen (e.g. Ryzen 5 2600) was supported by the older boards, but (like now) they needed a BIOS update to run on them. New B450 and X470 boards ran them out of the box. Same situation as before: B450 was good enough for most, it had almost the same feature set.

The third generation boards (for e.g. Ryzen 5 3600) are out now, but only the X570 chipset is released yet. And they are more expensive than X370 and X470 boards have been. Instead of ~100€ for a B450 board you can now easily pay ~200€. The boards with the chipset have additional active cooling for the VRM, targeting overclockability for the 12 core Ryzen 9 3900, and are typically better equipped in terms of ethernet, USB and M.2 slots.

Which boards support Ryzen 3000 in general?

All boards but those with A320 chipset do support Ryzen 3000. It’s part of the promise AMD made, of supporting the AM4 socket till 2020. But that does not mean you can just plug the newest processor in and it will work: You do need a BIOS update for the new processors to work.

I have an old AM4 board. Can I really upgrade to Ryzen 3000?

The older boards (apart from those with A320 chipset!) support the new Ryzen processors just fine, surprisingly even the Ryzen 9 3900X. If you want to be sure search for user reports whether it worked in practice also on your model, and go to the manufacturer page to check the CPU support list. The new Ryzen processors should be listed and a BIOS update be available. Don’t forget to apply that BIOS update before installing the new processor!

Which board should I buy for a new PC build?

Boards with the X570 chipset are the easiest option. They got released at the same time as Ryzen 3000 and come with a BIOS supporting the new processors out of the box. The few reviews released so far show that the X570 boards are very good. Cheaper models like the ASRock X570 Phantom Gaming 4 and Gigabyte X570 Gaming X did get no professional reviews yet, but are likely to be the most reasonable options.

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But there are also at least two drawbacks. First is the price: X570 is way more expensive than the prior generation of X470 or B450 boards. Second is the VRM fan, which is not only an additional noise source, the proprietary designs are also bound to break early and be hard to replace.

Still, if you do not mind the higher price, X570 is the best option. Also when getting a lower end chips like the Ryzen 5 3600 you will profit from not having to update the BIOS, when getting the Ryzen 9 3900X the board will take the higher load without breaking a sweat.

Your second option is to get boards with the B350, X370 or B450 chipset and an USB BIOS Flash option (surprisingly no X470 board seems to support that feature). Those boards listed here support updating the BIOS without a working processor, just by preparing an USB stick. There are not many of them, but the list includes some popular models like the MSI B450 Tomahawk. If you buy it and the BIOS is not updated yet you can easily update the BIOS and you will end up with a working system, without having to borrow a processor somewhere else.

Your last option is to just wing it. Get a cheap B350 or B450 board and rely on its BIOS already being updated. If not, just return it – or buy the cheapest available processor that works without needing an update on all of these boards, which should almost always be the A6-9500 (for B350, B450, X370 and X470) or the Athlon 200GE (for B450 and X470). You can then return it or sell it when you do not need it anymore.

In the coming weeks and months all the old stock resting in warehouses will be sold and the new boards will come into circulation with a current BIOS already installed. So this strategy will become easier in the future, organizing an update processor less often necessary.

How can I get help with this?

Our motherboard list has a filter for that USB Bios flash option. You can use that to select a board available in your country that supports upgrading the BIOS easily. That way you can select a cheaper board without the big risk of losing a lot of time getting the right BIOS version on the board. Also, when creating a build with the recommender, if it selects a Ryzen 3000 processor it will by default always select a board with that BIOS flash feature, as long as they are cheaper than X570 boards.

Faster than Navi: RTX Super reaches good Result in Meta Benchmark

The two Nvida GeForce RTX Super gpus reviewed recently got listed in shops today. In Germany at least they are not properly in stock yet, but they can now be ordered in advance. Prices vary, the RTX 2070 Super ranges from 529€ to 649€, the RTX 2060 Super from 419€ to 519€. Prices in the US are similar, $499 to $629 and $369 to $469 (before taxes) respectively.

That’s more expensive than the AMD alternatives released this weekend, Radeon RX 5700 and Radeon RX 5700 XT. Good for Nvidia that the Super cards are faster:

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Please check this comparison page to see which games and reviews went into that rating.

The GeForce RTX 2070 Super is a bit slower than a GeForce RTX 2080, but faster than a Radeon RX 5700 XT, the RTX 2060 Super is a tiny bit faster than a Radeon RX 5700.

Current prices and availability are a convincing argument for the Radeon cards here, despite the slightly lower performance. But the comparably bad cooler on the reference model (with partner cards now announced for mid August) are less convincing, the Nvidia cards are more attractive partner cards with proper cooling.

Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT - Benchmark Review

Yesterday AMD not only released the Ryzen 3000 series, the company also released two new graphics cards. I guess they didn’t want to make the life of reviewers too easy.

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Those two cards are:

  1. The Radeon RX 5700 XT, with a launch price of $399/420€, a boost clock of 1905 MHz and 225W TDP.
  2. The Radeon RX 5700, with a launch price of $350/370€, a boost clock of 1725 MHz and 180W TDP.

And to everyone’s big surprise those cards are actually good and priced competitively.

Why is that surprising? It’s because of AMD’s recent track record with gpu launches. Over the last years the company had a dual strategy: Releasing iterations of the Radeon HD 7800/7900 cards (that were high end in 2012) and at the same time placing new experiments on the market. The first part of that strategy worked somewhat: The current iteration of the Radeon HD line is the Radeon RX 500 series, and the RX 570 and RX 580 are great cards – at the lower end of the market up to 200 bucks. While the second iteration, R9 290X, was still a high end card, its current version – the RX 590 – sits at position 17 of the meta benchmark. Nvidia’s stronger cards play in a different league.

At the same time the experiments and efforts to place a card at that level failed. Fury still tackled the high end (at that time defined by the GTX 980 Ti), but was a bit behind. It took a while till a successor was released. Vega was hyped a lot, but suffered from high energy usage, being loud at load and being unavailable during the crypto bubble. And finally the recent Radeon VII was slower than cheaper alternatives by Nvidia.

Despite that history the Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT look great:

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Please check this comparison page to see which games and reviews went into that rating.

In the meta benchmark, the Radeon RX 5700 XT reaches the 5th position, right below the way more expensive Radeon VII. And the smaller Radeon RX 5700 follows two positions below, above Vega 64, GTX 1080 an RTX 2060. That’s especially nice because of their energy usage: Yes, those are with 225W and 180W still energy hungry cards, but their competition does not need less to reach their performance. The RTX 2080 is also at a TDP of 225W, the Vega 64 is at 300W(!), the (slower) RTX 2060 still at 160W.

Missing in that benchmark are the RTX Super cards. They are not in there because they are not released yet. But benchmarks are out, and it’s clear the RTX 2060 Super is at the performance level of a RTX 2070 and the RTX 2070 Super a bit below a RTX 2080. Which in effect means the RX 5700 and RX 5700 XT are still competitive, in absolute performance and price/performance.

One drawback is the cooler. Till now only a reference version is available, and the blower style cooler gets loud under load. It seems to be better than at the Vega release, but it is still not ideal. Partner cards should fix that in August.