Case Study: Air Cooling Inside an NCASE M1

MeltedCactus

Caliper Novice
Original poster
May 7, 2017
23
19
Case Study: Air Cooling Inside an NCASE M1


After posting a picture of my new M1 build on Reddit I immediately got feedback on my CPU cooler orientation and my case fan placement. I totally expected this, but the passion and logic behind a lot of the comments inspired me to do some digging.

For those of you unfamiliar with the NCASE M1 let me just give you the relevant information as it pertains to this issue. It’s a small form factor (SFF) chassis and has limited fan mounting options. The case has the ability to mount two 120mm fans at the bottom, two 120mm fans on the side in the upper portion of the case, and also a single rear 92mm fan.

After lots of research and looking at other M1 builds I decided to air cool mine. I also decided to go with a popular layout I kept seeing for M1 air cooled builds. This layout is as follows.

First off, it utilizes an aftermarket GPU cooler design. By that I mean a non-blower style card. This is usually not recommended in SFF builds, but blower style cards can be quite loud so I decided to go the aftermarket route. Directly under the GPU are placed two 120mm intake fans at the bottom of the chassis. Then, the CPU cooler is in a vertical layout with a 92mm fan on either end for a push/pull setup from bottom to top.

The thought process behind this layout is that you will intake fresh air from the bottom of the case and force the hot air out the top. Makes sense, right? In addition, the intake fans at the bottom are thought to help keep the GPU cooler and therefore limit the speed of the fans on the card. This can help with noise due to the fact that the GPU fans are arguably the loudest fans in the build. Below is a breakdown of the system and the test scenario.

System:
Motherboard: ASUS Strix Z270i Gaming
CPU: i7 7700K
CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-U9S (Dual 92mm Fans)
Case Fans: Dual Noctua 120mm Slim Fans
GPU: EVGA 1080Ti SC2

This was going to be a pretty simple test focused on thermals, but required a few fan and CPU cooler layout variations to truly figure out which layout was king. To conduct my test I utilized the Aida64 System Stability Test with the option to stress the GPU turned on as well. The CPU and GPU are running at stock settings. All fans are running on the default PWM setup. Ambient room temperature was 22C. I then ran the test for one hour 3 times with each layout and took the average. With the test scenario laid out, let's take a look at my results.


Layout 1: Initial layout with a bottom to top airflow style setup.

Idle CPU: 33C
Idle GPU: 30C

CPU Package High: 77C
CPU Package Average: 68C
GPU Diode High: 66C
GPU Diode Average: 61C

Average CPU Fan RPM during test was around 1800
Average Case Fan RPM during test was around 1600


Layout 2: I Changed the CPU cooler to a horizontal orientation pulling air from front to back.

The logic for this orientation versus my initial layout is as follows. In the argument against Layout 1 they typically bring up the fact that the GPU is blocking the fresh air from the bottom intake fans. This I can understand and see their point. However, the initial thought was to cool the GPU without having the GPU fans turn on. Another argument against Layout 1 is that by the time the CPU cooler gets to the air coming from the bottom it is already substantially heated up by the GPU. This means the air going through the CPU cooler fin stack is not as cool and therefore leading to warmer CPU temps. So, the idea with this layout is to pull fresh air from the front of the case and pass it out the rear. It is important to note the M1 does not allow for front mounted case fans. The upper front portion of the case in this test is the most open part of the case. Let's take a look at the results of Layout 2.

Idle CPU: 31C
Idle GPU: 28C

CPU Package High: 69C
CPU Package Average: 66C
GPU Diode High: 70C
GPU Diode Average: 64C

Average CPU Fan RPM during test was around 1800
Average Case Fan RPM during test was around 1600


Layout 3: I kept the CPU cooler in the horizontal position, but also added a single 120mm slim side upper front intake fan along with a 92mm slim rear exhaust fan.

This was really my take on the ultimate air cooled setup for the M1. The horizontal CPU cooler orientation in Layout 2 was going to stay because the temperature decrease was so big compared to Layout 1 even though the GPU temps did go up slightly. However, I thought the gains to the CPU temps outweighed the slight GPU temp increase I saw.

I now decided to add an additional 120mm side upper front intake in the hopes of bringing more fresh air into the upper portion of the case. I figured this would allow the CPU cooler fans to pull cooler air from the front portion of the case unlike Layout 2 which is pulling stale warmer air from the front part of the case. I also decided added a rear 92mm exhaust fan just to aide in removing air out the back.

While I didn't see the drastic change like I did from Layout 1 to Layout 2 I did notice a few things. Firstly, the RPMs of all PWM fans were down by about 100-200 RPMs. This allows for a slightly quieter build. Secondly, while I didn't put the numbers in the results, I did notice the motherboard temperature to be mucher cooler. While stuffing six fans inside an M1 was not easy, it sure was a lot of fun and well worth it. Just be prepared to have a few splitters and low noise adapters.

Idle CPU: 30C
Idle GPU: 28C

CPU Package High: 68C
CPU Package Average: 65C
GPU Diode High: 69C
GPU Diode Average: 63C

Average CPU Fan RPM during test was around 1600
Average Case Fan RPM during test was around 1500

(Note: Both the side intake and rear exhaust fans are using the 1100 RPM low noise adapters while the other fans are all PWM)

All in all I hope this helps future air cooled M1 builders. Again, this wasn't super scientific, but I figured it at least gives you a better idea of the most ideal layout for this type of M1 build. I would be super curious to see what kind of temps I could get with a blower style card.

Thanks for reading,

MeltedCactus
 
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Wolf_LikeMe

Caliper Novice
Mar 23, 2017
29
15
This is a brilliant resource to have, thanks for the time you put in.

Have you tested how your GPU runs without the two fans beneath it?
Another strange layout i read somewhere was intake from the back and possibly flip the PSU to use as an exhaust.
 

MeltedCactus

Caliper Novice
Original poster
May 7, 2017
23
19
This is a brilliant resource to have, thanks for the time you put in.

Have you tested how your GPU runs without the two fans beneath it?
Another strange layout i read somewhere was intake from the back and possibly flip the PSU to use as an exhaust.
Thanks man, I appreciate it.

I have not tested thermals without the bottom fans. I would think the GPU fans would be able to bring in some fresh air from the bottom by themselves, but not sure if they would spin any faster causing a potentially louder setup.

Hmmm wow, that's an interesting setup. I may have to try that some weekend and test thermals.
 

Wolf_LikeMe

Caliper Novice
Mar 23, 2017
29
15
Thanks man, I appreciate it.

I have not tested thermals without the bottom fans. I would think the GPU fans would be able to bring in some fresh air from the bottom by themselves, but not sure if they would spin any faster causing a potentially louder setup.

Hmmm wow, that's an interesting setup. I may have to try that some weekend and test thermals.
I am in two minds over the GPU cooling;
The bottom fans can help by drawing in ambient air and supplying the GPU with cooler air. This is well accepted and makes sense and of course it is mostly the cooler air since air speed will only be controlled by the slowest moving fan. The issue from this is turbulence, this could stop the GPU fans from moving air through the heatsink efficiently.

This is why the arctic accelero is probably the most effective way to cool (ontop of the fact that it is a larger heatsink).

When I finally get my paws on an ASRock am4 board I'll join you in this testing and when I get some free time I'll look into a few other things such as venting the air etc.

The problem is that there are so many variations of GPUs there isn't really a one solution for all.
 

MeltedCactus

Caliper Novice
Original poster
May 7, 2017
23
19
I am in two minds over the GPU cooling;
The bottom fans can help by drawing in ambient air and supplying the GPU with cooler air. This is well accepted and makes sense and of course it is mostly the cooler air since air speed will only be controlled by the slowest moving fan. The issue from this is turbulence, this could stop the GPU fans from moving air through the heatsink efficiently.

This is why the arctic accelero is probably the most effective way to cool (ontop of the fact that it is a larger heatsink).

When I finally get my paws on an ASRock am4 board I'll join you in this testing and when I get some free time I'll look into a few other things such as venting the air etc.

The problem is that there are so many variations of GPUs there isn't really a one solution for all.
Yeah, those are some really good thoughts. I look forward to seeing what kind of results you get! Go Ryzen! Unfortunately, I didn't have the patience to wait for a nice ITX AM4 board. I was not sold on the Biostar board at all so I just went with the 7700K. I can tell you that if AMD keeps this up I will be joining team red next time.
 

Wolf_LikeMe

Caliper Novice
Mar 23, 2017
29
15
I have nearly bought intel parts a couple of times now but I've managed to keep myself distracted. The Booster board seemed a little slim on specs but they made a good move in getting out there first.
 

DookMyugen

Case Bender
May 16, 2017
2
0
I wonder what's the result if you place an HDD on the upper top right bracket instead of an intake fan.
Great job on the research!
 

Wolf_LikeMe

Caliper Novice
Mar 23, 2017
29
15
Likely an increase in CPU temps as you will have lingering air from the GPU and nothing other than it supplying the CPU Cooler.
 

bawjaws

Cable Smoosher
Jul 15, 2017
11
6
Hey, I just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to do this testing and report your results.

My personal experience (although I don't have any figures to hand to back things up) was that using bottom intake fans actually made very little difference to GPU temperatures: to be fair, I was using 25mm fans rather than slim ones, but I think the issue with the M1 is threefold: the venting on the bottom of the case isn't brilliant in terms of allowing airflow, there isn't sufficient clearance underneath the case floor to allow good airflow (at least using the standard height feet), and the clearance between the fans and the GPU isn't great enough (even with 15mm fans I think it's still too close). In my experience, I didn't notice any real difference in temperatures but the noise, and noise profile, was worse - probably due to turbulence. As has been said earlier, however, I think it will depend very much on your exact GPU model - I was using a blower-style GPU, and an old one at that (660 Ti), so perhaps more open coolers would work better with bottom intake fans.

I'm really interested in the difference between horizontal and vertical orientation for the NH-U9S: mine is currently blowing bottom-to-top (with two NF-A9 PWMs, both using low noise adaptors), but after reading your results I think I'll give it a try front-to-back instead. Like you, I have a side intake (a full-width NF-S12A PWM, again with LNA) and that definitely helps with temperatures of both the CPU and motherboard, whilst also keeping the noise levels down. I'm also not entirely convinced that having two fans on the U9S and a rear exhaust is going to make a huge difference - I'd be tempted to try moving the second fan from the heatsink to the rear fan mount instead and seeing how that affected things. I'm a bit of a believer in less being more when it comes to fans - I only really want to add extra fans if I'm certain that it's going to help reduce temperatures or noise.

At some point I'll swap the orientation of my U9S and report back with my findings: it's just tricky finding the time to tinker with things these days!
 
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MeltedCactus

Caliper Novice
Original poster
May 7, 2017
23
19
Good afternoon,

I just wanted to give an update about my build as it pertains to CPU temperatures. After doing this research and spending a lot of time maximizing the airflow in the case to reduce temps on both the CPU and GPU there wasn't much left to be done with fan and fan placement. Other than going to a liquid cooler, this was pretty much going to be my best air cooled optimized setup. However, there was still one last thing to try.

As most of you are aware the 7700K is a notoriously warm running chip. I poked around the internet and watched several Youtube videos about de-lidding the chip. I was extremely hesitant as I was nervous I'd break the chip and be out $300. Then I found videos where a lot of people were using a delid tool. It looked too easy and I couldn't believe it. The results were tremendous CPU temperature drops.

Finally, after spending hours watching 7700K delid tutorial videos I finally took the plunge and ordered a Rockitcool delid tool. I used it a few weeks ago and it was so simple I still can't believe it. It has also knocked down my CPU temps during load by about 10-15C at stock voltage. It's now a lot cooler and quieter when I game and stream on my rig. I would highly recommend that if you have a 7700K and would like to keep temps as low as possible in a SFF build that you seriously look into delidding.

TLDR
If you have a Kaby Lake processor I highly recommend you delid it for some serious temperature gains. I've seen 10-15C cooler temps under load because of it. Now I have a much cooler and quieter PC.
 

BadTyke

What's an ITX?
Apr 22, 2017
1
0
Hey! I'm really looking forward to building (first time) a new mini itx system using the NCase M1 Air Cooled version and your layout 3 seems to the best version! How are the audio levels at stock or OC? Anything higher than 30-40 dBA? Thanks for this amazing guide btw

Edit* What PSU are you using?
 
Last edited:

MeltedCactus

Caliper Novice
Original poster
May 7, 2017
23
19
Hey! I'm really looking forward to building (first time) a new mini itx system using the NCase M1 Air Cooled version and your layout 3 seems to the best version! How are the audio levels at stock or OC? Anything higher than 30-40 dBA? Thanks for this amazing guide btw

Edit* What PSU are you using?
Hey! Thanks for the compliments. I never measured the noise level, but that is something I can do for you. I believe there is an iPhone app for that. I'm sure it isn't exactly accurate, but should give you a good idea. It is louder than my previous build, but that was in an NZXT H440 case. I tend to wear headphones when I'm on the PC because it's pretty much used strictly for gaming/streaming and when my headphones are on there really isn't much noise to speak of. Idle seems to stay near silent, while gaming will get the GPU fans spinning pretty good and that is when it becomes the loudest. If I had to guess it's probably on the high 30's low 40's range, but I will check for you. Again, I usually have headphones on during my gaming/streaming sessions so noise hasn't been an issue thus far.

I'm using the SilverStone SX600-G. It seems to be a nice little PSU and have no complaints so far. I might eventually get custom length cables just to help clean up the inside, but other than that it's great.

Good luck in your build and please share it with us when it's complete.
 

Hazyard

Case Bender
Aug 7, 2017
2
4
I have an Ncase M1 aswell and ran some quick stress tests to see the temps.

For reference below is my specs:

Ncase M1
R7 1700 (stock)
Cryorig C1 (with a Corsair ML120 Pro)
2 x 8 GB Corsair LPX @ 3200
GTX950
2 x ML120 as intake
1 x Noctua NF-B9 PWM as exhaust

The fans curves have been set using the ASrock auto fan tuning in the BIOS. They are basically silent, if I get time latter I will do another test with them set to performance.

So the temps on the mobo and the Anc, AUX1/2 actually went down under load. I'm guessing this is because of the fan curve. If anyone has a better way I can see the VRM temps let me know and I'll give it another go.

CPU
ilde: 32.8C
Load: 64.3C

 

MarcParis

Shrink Way Wielder
Apr 1, 2016
2,575
1,819
Thanks for initial feedback from @MeltedCactus . Best setup seems rational...after, i still don't recognize gtx 1080 ti temperature, except if it's at 1080p and even..:)

I have an Ncase M1 aswell and ran some quick stress tests to see the temps.

For reference below is my specs:

Ncase M1
R7 1700 (stock)
Cryorig C1 (with a Corsair ML120 Pro)
2 x 8 GB Corsair LPX @ 3200
GTX950
2 x ML120 as intake
1 x Noctua NF-B9 PWM as exhaust

The fans curves have been set using the ASrock auto fan tuning in the BIOS. They are basically silent, if I get time latter I will do another test with them set to performance.

So the temps on the mobo and the Anc, AUX1/2 actually went down under load. I'm guessing this is because of the fan curve. If anyone has a better way I can see the VRM temps let me know and I'll give it another go.

CPU
ilde: 32.8C
Load: 64.3C

Thanks for review.
Beware of your >100°c temperature on motherboard. I hope it's just hwinfo bug
 
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ak3nji

Chassis Packer
Aug 21, 2017
15
15
Hi Everyone,

I saw this post and wanted to ask for some advice in regards to my setup.

I have a few concerns and would be interested in hearing your feedback. Thanks in advance.

So I have built my first SFF PC, check link if you want to know parts (Incoming Vega 56 in the mail).

As such, I took a very big interest in this thread as i wanted to make sure i get the best airflow performance i can, as i will be running high temps.


3 x Noctua P12 fans, 2 at the bottom and 1 for side intake.

2 x NF-A9 pwm's, 1 connected to CPU Cooler and other for rear exhaust.

The ASRock mobo only has 3 fan connectors, 1 obviously for CPU cooler and the other 2 for the Chassis.

I have the 2 A9's connected to the CPU 4 pin with a splitter. I have the lone side intake on CHA 1 and the 2 bottom fans connected to the CHA 2 via another splitter.

I currently have none of them using LNA or ULNA.

So my question would be;

  • Should i use the ULNA or LNA for any of the fans? if so, which ones? (i'd love the case to be as silent as possible, but totally understand my choice in GPU and CPU may need higher fan speeds)

  • Are the bottom fans too close to the GPU? I will be replacing with a Vega 56 GPU (blower).
 

MeltedCactus

Caliper Novice
Original poster
May 7, 2017
23
19
Hi Everyone,

I saw this post and wanted to ask for some advice in regards to my setup.

I have a few concerns and would be interested in hearing your feedback. Thanks in advance.

So I have built my first SFF PC, check link if you want to know parts (Incoming Vega 56 in the mail).

As such, I took a very big interest in this thread as i wanted to make sure i get the best airflow performance i can, as i will be running high temps.


3 x Noctua P12 fans, 2 at the bottom and 1 for side intake.

2 x NF-A9 pwm's, 1 connected to CPU Cooler and other for rear exhaust.

The ASRock mobo only has 3 fan connectors, 1 obviously for CPU cooler and the other 2 for the Chassis.

I have the 2 A9's connected to the CPU 4 pin with a splitter. I have the lone side intake on CHA 1 and the 2 bottom fans connected to the CHA 2 via another splitter.

I currently have none of them using LNA or ULNA.

So my question would be;

  • Should i use the ULNA or LNA for any of the fans? if so, which ones? (i'd love the case to be as silent as possible, but totally understand my choice in GPU and CPU may need higher fan speeds)

  • Are the bottom fans too close to the GPU? I will be replacing with a Vega 56 GPU (blower).
Hey man! The build looks awesome! I'm super curious to hear what kind of temps you get with Ryzen and Vega. Now, in regards to your two questions I will give my personal thoughts and my experience with my M1 build.

1. I would say use the low noise adapters on the chassis fans, but not the ULNAs. I also wouldn't want to compromise cooling on the CPU cooler by limiting RPMs for those fans so leave those without. In my personal experience the GPU fans are going to be your loudest bit of the whole build. I would recommend just dialing in a GPU fan curve you are comfortable with that keeps it at a comfortable temp, but also doesn't spin your fans up too much. I currently have my Ti at a stock fan curve and it doesn't get above 67C in a real workload. I could most likely slow the fans down and be comfortable with a 72-74C temp on the GPU.

2. Your fans are fine under there. They might not seem like they are doing much, but forcing any cool fresh air into the GPU is a good thing. If you go to about 4:30 into the video below this guy discusses the benefits of these fans and he sees 4 degree cooler temps on his GPU.


I hope this helps!

Cactus (check me out on Twitch as well if you're a fellow streamer!) twitch.tv/meltedcactus86
 

exostrata

What's an ITX?
Aug 30, 2017
1
1
Cactus,
Thank you kindly for creating this thread and doing all of the leg work. Awesome research, good sir. I'm hoping you can help me with my Ncase build. I know you focused on air cooling but I'm having temperatures issues with my 1080 TI FE inside this case. My CPU is doing great and normally doesn't go above 50-55c during load. Here is my current build information.

Project Sombra
CPU Intel i7-7700K 4.2GHZ
Mobo: Asus Strix z270i
GPU: Nvidia 1080 Ti Founders edition
Ram: Corsair Vengence LED (2x8)
CPU Cooler: Corsair h75
AIO Fan: Gentle Typhoon 2150 PWM 120mm Fan (intake)
Rear Fan: Noctua Redux NF-B9 1600 PWM 92mm (exhaust)
Bottom Fan: Corsair ML120 Pro (intake)
Storage: Samsung 960 Evo m.2 250GB
2nd Storage: Crucial MX300 525GB SSD
PSU: Corsair SF600
OS: Windows 10 Home

My idle temps usually range between 30-33c which isn't bad for a blower style card inside this SFF. The other day I was playing Mass Effect Andromeda on Ultra settings using a Gsync, 2560 x1440P rez with 144hz refresh. My GP hit a temp of 90c and hovered between 86-88. I use MSI Afterburner to manage the fan curves. On this particular day I had reduced fan power between 55-65 becsuse the noise was unbearable. About 30 minutes in that's when I noticed the temp. Even at 70 percent fan curve the temps idle at around 83-84.

Is my issue the placemen of the fans and how they're setup? Any help would be greatly appreciated!
 
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MeltedCactus

Caliper Novice
Original poster
May 7, 2017
23
19
Cactus,
Thank you kindly for creating this thread and doing all of the leg work. Awesome research, good sir. I'm hoping you can help me with my Ncase build. I know you focused on air cooling but I'm having temperatures issues with my 1080 TI FE inside this case. My CPU is doing great and normally doesn't go above 50-55c during load. Here is my current build information.

Project Sombra
CPU
Intel i7-7700K 4.2GHZ
Mobo: Asus Strix z270i
GPU: Nvidia 1080 Ti Founders edition
Ram: Corsair Vengence LED (2x8)
CPU Cooler: Corsair h75
AIO Fan: Gentle Typhoon 2150 PWM 120mm Fan (intake)
Rear Fan: Noctua Redux NF-B9 1600 PWM 92mm (exhaust)
Bottom Fan: Corsair ML120 Pro (intake)
Storage: Samsung 960 Evo m.2 250GB
2nd Storage: Crucial MX300 525GB SSD
PSU: Corsair SF600
OS: Windows 10 Home

My idle temps usually range between 30-33c which isn't bad for a blower style card inside this SFF. The other day I was playing Mass Effect Andromeda on Ultra settings using a Gsync, 2560 x1440P rez with 144hz refresh. My GP hit a temp of 90c and hovered between 86-88. I use MSI Afterburner to manage the fan curves. On this particular day I had reduced fan power between 55-65 becsuse the noise was unbearable. About 30 minutes in that's when I noticed the temp. Even at 70 percent fan curve the temps idle at around 83-84.

Is my issue the placemen of the fans and how they're setup? Any help would be greatly appreciated!
Hey man! Damn, that certainly sounds a little toasty in there. The fan placement sounds pretty spot on. I know in a demanding game like that the GPU is going to work pretty hard. Honestly, 83C under load playing that game at 1440p isn't that bad in my honest opinion, but then you're going to hear the fan a lot more to keep it at that temp. Which is annoying, so I understand your issue there. The only thing I could think of trying to change is maybe your PSU orientation. Rather than pulling fresh air in you could swap it to pull hot air out. Also, what is clearance like underneath the system? I put some little felt pads on my cases feet to raise it another few cm. It probably doesn't help all that much, but getting more airflow from below is always a good thing. I hope you figure it out sir. Unfortunately, I'm not super familiar with FE cards, but my general knowledge and understanding is that they tend to run a little louder and hotter than the other style of cards. Hopefully someone else in this thread might have a similar setup that can help. Please keep us posted on what you find.
 

ak3nji

Chassis Packer
Aug 21, 2017
15
15
Hey man! The build looks awesome! I'm super curious to hear what kind of temps you get with Ryzen and Vega. Now, in regards to your two questions I will give my personal thoughts and my experience with my M1 build.

1. I would say use the low noise adapters on the chassis fans, but not the ULNAs. I also wouldn't want to compromise cooling on the CPU cooler by limiting RPMs for those fans so leave those without. In my personal experience the GPU fans are going to be your loudest bit of the whole build. I would recommend just dialing in a GPU fan curve you are comfortable with that keeps it at a comfortable temp, but also doesn't spin your fans up too much. I currently have my Ti at a stock fan curve and it doesn't get above 67C in a real workload. I could most likely slow the fans down and be comfortable with a 72-74C temp on the GPU.

2. Your fans are fine under there. They might not seem like they are doing much, but forcing any cool fresh air into the GPU is a good thing. If you go to about 4:30 into the video below this guy discusses the benefits of these fans and he sees 4 degree cooler temps on his GPU.


I hope this helps!

Cactus (check me out on Twitch as well if you're a fellow streamer!) twitch.tv/meltedcactus86
Hey mate,

I've installed everything, went off without a hitch... Well my M2 drive disappeared for a while there, was a bit worried, but it's working again now. Phew!

Thanks for the tips, I think it's done now and I will hopefully not have to open it again.


Have yet to run a game or a benchmark yet, but I've already switched the GPU to power saving mode.

I'm not very savvy with these AMD tools Wattman and Ryzen Master... But from what I can see my idle temperatures are apparently;

CPU - Fluctuates between 30-40C
GPU - 27C

I'm just playing PUBG with Ultra settings and AA and the temps are;

CPU - not sure why but it says it's still 40C...somehow i don't believe that.
GPU - 73C

To be honest I don't find this GPU to be that loud...