Prolimatech are a name that we're all familiar with now thanks to their excellent Megahalems CPU cooler. It was probably the first cooler than genuinely replaced the TRUE as the default weapon of choice and rightly won awards here, there and pretty much everywhere.
Since then it has been superceded in cooling capacity by the enormous Noctua NH-D14, but it's still the go-to 120mm cooler.
Of course when we found out Prolimatech were doing a VGA cooler that looked like a huge version of the Megahalems we were gagging to get out hands on it.
VGA cards have got faster and hotter as time has moved on with them almost making up their own version of Moore's Law in that for every doubling of speed there will also be a doubling of heat despite size of heatsinks remaining the same.
So what do you do if you don't want to be able to roast a chicken inside your case whilst playing a game? Why a third-party cooler of course and the MK-13 is one such beasty. So let's take a look at it shall we.
Packaging and Compatibility
Normally here we'll run our table of features and technical specifications. VGA coolers are simplistic things though and all we want to know is what it is compatible with. Thankfully the packaging supplies this information so it's as good a time as any to get a look.
The MK-13 comes in a sturdy box that definitely has all the hallmarks of an enthusiast product. Whereas lots of hardware uses the box to sell itself strongly to the shoppers as they pass, enthusiast products tend to be far more simplistic both because the average person wont attempt to swap their graphics cooler, and also because they tend to know what they're looking for.
The box is a flip top style with lots of foam packaging keeping the cooler secure in it's journey home.
As you can see from the side of the box the MK-13 is compatible with just about every graphics card you could ever hope to use. Prolimatechs website also says that they've tested it with the GTX470 and GTX480 and it is capable of being mounted on those although they don't recommend overclocking.
Let's pull the contents out then and see what we have to play with.
The MK-13 Up Close
Inspiration for the MK-13 is clear right from the off. We have six monster heat-pipes and a wealth of fins.
Speaking of the fins they're actually fairly tightly packed together.
There is a real quality to the build of the MK-13. No sharp edges or bent corners, everything is of an extremely close tolerance and the heat-pipes themselves are especially attractive.
Here we have the mounting kit, which we'll cover in the next couple of pages as we go through the installation procedure. One of the best factors is that Prolimatech provide you with spares of almost everything you're likely to need. So often you get exactly the right amount of screws, it's nice to get one or two extra.
The sticker covering the heat-plate gave us quite a chuckle. Although entirely unintentional "Warning Made In China" definitely raised a few smiles.
Installation of a VGA cooler is something that causes a raised heart-beat in even the most stalwart of us. One of the many things we pride ourselves on here at OC3D is that we're enthusiasts just like you, and so rather than just install it how we know it should go we thought we'd walk you through it with us, following the instructions to the letter. After all just because we've done this a few times, most people wont have and so having clear and precise instructions is vital.
For our installation we'll be using an ATI HD5870.
Straight away we have a slight issue as according to the pamphlet that accompanies the MK-13 the first thing to do is attach the heatsink. Clearly this will make installing the RAM and VRM heatsinks problematic so let's re-arrange things to how they clearly should go.
The VRM heatsink for the ATI 5xxx cards is the fairly standard "sticky bottom and screw" affair. Peeling the tape off and placing it upon the VRMs you can see just to the right of the heatsink in this shot it was a simple matter of screwing it tight.
There isn't a shortage of surface area and the black anodised heatsink certainly will offset nicely with the nickel of the main MK-13 itself.
The RAM sinks, of which there are more than enough, attach just using the sticky, without any screws. The instructions are staggeringly unclear about where exactly to put them, but it's worth noting that four at the top of the shot here are actually too low. The bottom edge needs to match to the bottom edge of the chip otherwise the main heatsink wont fit.
The MK-13 itself is mounted using the standard cross-brace and four sprung-loaded screws that are common with these type of things.
Lay the heatsink flat, place the card on top and screw them in in the same manner you would the head of an engine. Start with opposite corners to ensure alignment then insert the other two screws. Gradually tighten each one moving around them until it's locked in place.
Here it is in all its glory. The screws holding it in place protrude much further than the ones of the stock heatsink. Otherwise it's certainly an attractive heatsink although leaving the rather untidy ends of the card exposed is both aesthetically undesirable and once again rears the "hot air exhausted into case" problem most third-party cooling has.
The cooler itself doesn't actually come with any fans at all, allowing you to use any of your choice. However Prolimatech have employed a very strange method of attaching the fans to the card.
Rather than have them attached to the MK-13 itself they are bolted to a bar that is bolted to a bracket that takes up a PCI slot in your case.
Firstly insert a PCI bracket similar to the blanking plates you get in the back of your case. Lightly screw it in. Then place a further plate on the outside and screw the two together. This is fiercely fiddly. The external bracket doesn't fit neatly at all in our ACTS 840. But nonetheless with a bit of swearing it's in.
Next you mount the fans, in this case two Xigmateks, to a bar, and screw the bar onto the bracket. Tighten it all up and Robert is your mothers brother. Here we find the first big flaw in the whole arrangement.
Apart from the bar barely reaching half-way along the second fan as you can see in the picture below, the manual indicates (as much as it indicates anything) that the fans start at the left and then just get screwed in where you have room. Not true. They need to be screwed into big open slots like you find on CD drives.
Then, with the fans in place you bolt the bar to the bracket you installed above. Actually to be truthful with one of the fans in place and the other one wobbling about because it's only mounted with one screw you go to screw the bar to the bracket then realise that it's impossible because the edge of your case gets in the way. So you curse and swear a bit and finally get it installed.
It's Not All Roses
Now that sounds like a fairly pain free procedure. Oh I wish that it were. Let's start with those scarily large screws we used to affix the MK-13 to the board. As you can see here they are actually so big they foul the not-very-large chipset heatsink on our Gigabyte P55-UD4. So it can't be installed in a system with either a large chipset heatsink or a lack of room above the first PCI-e slot.
Of course if you've got a few motherboards laying around that wont be an issue. Size however most definitely is. Here is the Prolimatech MK-13 on our test bench for "ease of photography" reasons. On the right we have the card, a ATI HD5870. This comes with a dual-slot backplate to fit the dual DVI outs. We also have the MK-13 affixed in all it's highly polished glory. Next along is the black bar which you affix the fans to, either two in the standard placings like we have here, or you can use the L-Shaped fan bracket to put two horizontally so they blow air down across the card.
This doesn't work either because 120mm fans tend to foul the cooler. It's not like we're using a massive over-sized number either. Just a standard 120mm tower cooler than you'll find in most rigs. Indeed it's the exact type of cooler on which Prolimatech made their name.
Finally we have our two fans. One of which is fixed firmly and blows air onto the heatsink, and the other is flapping about and blows air in the general direction of the card, and the case, and any sundry items you may have. So if you're counting at home this is a four slot cooling solution. FOUR. We have ZERO free PCI slots. None whatsoever. This isn't a mATX board either.
As if to make matters even more enjoyable, when we moved the card amongst our various motherboards attempting to find one that it would fit into without fouling the chipset heatsink, the RAM sinks fell off. We were really gentle too.
Testing and Conclusion
Following a prolonged period of finding a motherboard to suit and aligning our cooling lengthways rather than vertically it was time for the testing. After such a lengthy and frustrating installation period this really needs to deliver the goods.
Testing was done with a 3D Mark Vantage High run to simulate average GPU usage in a gaming environment. Fans used we two Xigmatek XLF-F1253 attached to a fan controller and run at 50% as is standard for OC3D. Vertical describes the fans mounted as in the photographs and as per normal coolers. Horizontal refers to fans across the card as you'd find in a side-panel fan.
It's certainly an improvement. Is it enough to rescue the MK-13?
No. No it's not.
There is so much to like about the Prolimatech MK-13. It looks fantastic with a gorgeous combination of nickel fins, large heat-pipes and black heatsinks. The ends are highly polished as you can see in the shot adorning the top of every page. Build quality is outstanding and everything fits together with a crispness that comes from a well engineered product.
It's almost the perfect product for a slack review site to be truthful. You could show the box, mount the cooler to your card, take a couple of photographs and right up to that point it's brilliant and worthy of whatever award your site gives out.
However the rest of it is beset with too many issues to overlook. The odd little foible is allowable because nothing is perfect, but when it gets in the way of the usability of the hardware you really start to take a close look at everything.
The instructions are abysmal. Truly woeful. If we compare it to a much simpler to install multi-format item like the Corsair H50, that came with separate instructions for every CPU socket in exceptionally clear wording and images that left no doubt whatsoever what should go where, in what order. By contrast the MK-13 is two sides of a bit of paper with a few very vague illustrations and none of the installation order is correct. If you were doing this "by the book" you'd end up with a graphics card minus a cooler gathering dust or, even worse, one without heatsinks on either the RAM or, if you're an ATI customer, the VRM.
Fan installation is by far the worst element though. The bar that holds the fans in place is far too short to comfortably allow the installation of two 120mm fans. The most irritating aspect is that Prolimatech clearly know this because they provide cable-ties (!) and mention that you might need them in the instructions. Cable ties. On a £50 product that doesn't come with fans supplied. Not good enough.
I could go on about how the PCI bracket to attach the fan bar to is either too large or too small, but certainly not the right size. How the cross-bar screws are so long that it really limits the motherboards you can install it into. How Prolimatech laughingly claim you can install TWO of these in a dual card system. But really it only needs to be installed once.
So let's pretend we've got it installed swimmingly. Is it cooler than the stock cooler? Well yes as you can see it definitely trims the temperatures down on our HD5870. The 5870 isn't known as being a particularly hot card though. Really the target market for this would be the GTX480 or similar, but when Prolimatech state that you should avoid overclocking when using it, you start to wonder what exactly it's for. It's not as if the use of two 120mm fans is quieter than the reference fan either.
Beyond all that though, far and away the single biggest design flaw is that this is a four slot cooler. Even the largest of cases haven't got more than 7 or 8 PCI slots and certainly only eATX motherboards might possibly give one spare PCI slot. So forget running SLI, or having a PhysX card, or a sound card, or.. well pretty much anything other than one graphics card with a cooler the size of Wales on it.
All in all the Prolimatech MK-13 is like Jordan. Nice to look at from a distance but up close the flaws shine and in the end it's not much good for anything.
Thanks to Caseking for providing the MK-13 for review. Discuss in our forums