Fix your dead or noisy video card fan.

Recently I had the opportunity to take apart and fix a pair of AMD HD 5870 reference cards. I didn’t have to take them both apart, and I only needed to fix a noisy fan on one of them. A noisy fan is usually due to the grease or oil drying out in the ball bearing chamber of the card. This card gave me a good 4 years of service before it started making noise. Although after fixing the fan of one the cards, I noticed how quiet it got and that it’s temperatures and fan speed were lower than before. So I decided to do the same to the second card.

I’d say that a pair of these cards, provided you have at least 16GB of RAM in your computer, is still relevant in the PC gaming space. Why 16 GB of RAM, well these come only equipped with 1GB or DDR5 memory or VRAM, and that is not enough to get to Ultra settings on most games, so instead on certain software the system will use your computers RAM to fill what it cant fit in the VRAM in short. Note that RAM is much slower than VRAM and there may be some frame drops going this route. So two of these are capable of achieving the Ultra definition setting in most games @ 1920 x 1080 resolution and 60 frames per second. So I decided to ship these two cards to a buddy of mine, but first I had to lube them up

Here is what a reference 5870 from AMD looks like. All AMD reference cards are built in a similar fashion and this process is applicable to them.

 SAPPHIRE HD 5870 1GB GDDR5 PCIE (Game Edition)

 

Here are the materials that were used to tune up the cards, jewellers screwdriver set, a pair of pliers, thermal paste, a mixture of water, vinegar, and lime juice, alcohol works as well and so does cologne as it’s alcohol based, and 3 in 1 all purpose oil. Optionally a can of air might help to get the dust out of the fan and heat sink fins.

If you want to test your cards temperatures and fan speed prior to this, install Furmark, it will allow you to stress test the card (Burn-in) and capture the metrics. So for the 5870 as for many of the reference cards flip it over to the fan opening is facing down and remove the marked screws. The ones in red are a different size than the ones in green. There are also two screws on the port face.

Once you’ve removed the screws, and lifted the back plate and the bracket in the middle carefully separate the PCB from the heat sink and fan assembly. Slowly and with care start prying the PCB from the fan and sink assembly at the sides, closest to the port plate. Keep prying with your fingers while moving towards the other end. Be careful not to separate the PCB from the assembly with too much force as on the other end the fan is connected to the PCB and you don’t want to rip out the connector.

Note that the only thing holding the PCB to the heat sink assembly is the dried thermal paste. It should not take a lot of force to pry it away, but you should still take great heed and care while doing this as not to damage any of the transistors or resistors, etc. Otherwise you’ll need to bust out the soldering iron. Also be careful pulling the PCB apart because on the opposite side to the port plate is the fan connector, you should pry the PCB about a centimetre away from the assembly then fold it open as seen in the image above, so you can detach the connector from the PCB. You should rest the PCB on a non static towel or mat after this. Be careful with the thermal stickers on the cooling unit, unless you have spares make sure you keep them in tact.

Next we’re going to take apart the fan and heat sink assembly so we can clean it and lube the fan. Remove the screws circled in red, at this point you may also want to remove the screws circled in green, those belong to the fan. Note that if you do remove the ones marked in green, be careful removing the plastic housing and make sure the fan doesn’t go flying out.

 

 

See that circular sticker on the bottom side of the fan, usually underneath it is an opening and access to the bearing chamber. With normal fans you should be able to heat it up with a blow dryer and peel it back to expose the opening and be able to put in 3-5 drops of all purpose oil. Well it’s not the case with these reference cards, these have that part sealed off. Our only option it to pop the motor out and put the oil in through the top. In order to do that you need to wedge in 3 screwdrivers between the corners of the triangular plastic piece that is attached to the motor and the fan. It should be a snug fit. Once you have done so apply equal downward pressure on the ends of all 3 screwdrivers, and once you hear a loud pop, stop. Now lift and remove the motor from the fan. Now you can add 3-5 drops of all purpose oil into the bearing chamber, try to only get it in the chamber. Once you have done so, push the motor and fan back together until you hear a snap. Spin the fan while holding the motor for a minute or two so that the oil circulates in the chamber.

Below is a video demonstrating the removal and separation process of the motor from the fan.

 

The oiling of the bearings and removal of the dust, made a huge difference in both cards. I was able to knock off about 4 degrees in temperature and 4% in fan speed in both. Also to note one of the cards started running silently again.

Happy gaming!

UPDATE 2016/03/09: I have since used this method a couple times. I bought an R9 290X off eBay and 2 out of 3 fans wouldn’t spin. Using the above method I brought them back to life and have been using the card for over a year without hiccups.

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Things to understand about unRAID and XEN.

There seems to be a little misconception about the target audience for unRAID and XEN, so I think I’ll take a couple minutes and clarify.

unRAID is primarily aimed at the entry to mid level as far as difficulty is concerned. Also you need some technical know how and the capability to trouble shoot. This is not a Western Digital DUO or equivalent, it is not plug and play. This software is aimed at the DIY crowd, having said this you don’t need a lot of technical ability as there is a lot of documentation out there for unRAID and the community is one of the best I have ever had the privilege to be a part of. Also to note that unRAID 6 is in beta right now and as of yet it does not have any plugins written for it, much like version 4 and 5 the finished product will have these. If you do not want to use XEN, in the final product you won’t have to. Right now however since it is in beta if you want application on version 6 you need to run them in a VM such as Ubuntu and Arch Linux. unRAID can be run on very inexpensive hardware, and it can be scaled as required by the user. Some users run unRAID on Atom processors with 4GB of RAM. If you do this don’t expect stellar performance.

This is not FreeNAS. I found FreeNAS to be flaky at best, and the hardware requirements for that OS are very particular. ZFS has some nice features and it protects your data really well, however it requires ECC RAM and quite a bit of it too. Cost of FreeNAS can be greater than unRAID. I say “Can be..”, because you can throw any hardware at unRAID, be it low end or high end it really doesn’t matter. So in the end unRAID scales better and one can start out with cheap hardware, then slowly upgrade. Also with unRAID and XEN now you can have features such as the ones offered in ZFS to protect your critical data, it is just a matter of you willing to put the work in.

Each disk in the unRAID array is independent, two disks crashing will not bring down your entire array only the disks that crashed. The array is designed only for parity. Parity is used by unRAID to protect against data loss. If a drive in the array fails, the data on the other drives can be combined with the parity data to reconstruct the missing data.In general, a parity process is designed to detect a single bit change across a given set of bits, by setting the value of an added bit such that a summation across that set of bits is forced to a known value. The added bit is known as a parity bit.

Digital data is stored as a 1 or a 0. So, for example:

  • If you have 4 drives with bit values 1,1,1,1 the parity will be 0 (1+1+1+1+0=even).
  • If the bit values are 1,0,0,0 the parity will be 1 (1+0+0+0+1=even).

In unRAID, the parity bits are stored on a parity drive independent of the data drives. This parity bit works across the set of bits in the same relative bit position on each drive. So the 57th bit of the parity drive is the parity bit for the 57th bit of all of the data drives. A parity check of the 57th bit position therefore adds up all of the 57th bits of every drive including the parity drive, and checking to see total is an EVEN number. If the value returned is not EVEN, then the parity bit is toggled so that the parity check WILL return an EVEN number. unRAID uses ‘even parity’, which simply means that the summation process (using a mathematical operation called ‘exclusive OR’ or ‘XOR’) across that set of bits must return a value that is an EVEN number.

XEN hypervisor is a lot more difficult to use than any other, IMO. However the benefits of the hypervisor outweigh the effort necessary to get XEN going. If you do not need a hypervisor go with unRAID 5 or 4, the license is transferable to version 6. Why XEN? XEN is capable of running a Windows VM that you can game on, provided you have the necessary hardware and are running a HVM. So it is very robust and powerful.