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Intel Core i7 / LGA1366 CPU Cooler Roundup

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AkG

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Mid-Speed Fan Performance Results

Mid-Speed Fan Performance Results


2.6GHz




The very first thing which pops out in this chart is that while Zalman allows their fan reduce its speed down to 1300 rpm….it should never be adjusted that low….ever. The stock fan equipped Zalman gets its but handed to it by even the underwhelming Tuniq Tower 120 Extreme. Speaking of the Tower 120, it is still down in the basement without any hope whatsoever. It seems that both the Spire and Cogage also rely on their high speed fans for high performance since they suffer as well. Granted, they are entry level units but both are marketed towards enthusiasts.

Moving on up we come to the Zalman CNPS10X equipped with the NF-P12 and once again all we can say is we are under-whelmed by its showing. This cooler really needs a high speed fan to get good results. We know it is capable of greatness but one thing is for certain: results like this are anything but best in class.

While we knew from previous experience that the ProlimaTech coolers were not going to be a great performers at this CPU speed as they aren’t built for lower heat scenarios. Heck, the Kingwin XT1264 comes within a hair of matching those very expensive coolers which is actually pretty impressive for Kingwin’s budget heatsink.


3.4GHz




Once we bump up the speed, things come a bit more in line with what we were expecting. The Mega Shadow and its brother slug it out for first place and it also seems that the Zalman cooler equipped with the NF-P12 has decided to enter the fray with a respectable showing. We are coming to see that Zalman fan may be able to slow itself way, way down but doing so kicks the living hell out of its performance abilities.

Once again the Tuniq proves itself to be totally limited due to its anemic fan being sandwiched between two massive performance robbing fin arrays. We also see the Kingwin’s early good run has come to an early demise as it seems that the lackluster base is once again the albatross around its neck, and we really do wonder what a good lapping job would do to its performance. This of course is no excuse as you should not have to do anything besides mounting it properly to get the very best from any CPU cooling solution. Damn crying shame is all we have to say.


3.8GHz




As expected the Tuniq, Cogage, Spire and Kingwin are all back in the basement once again fighting tooth and nail with one another for last place. All four are classic examples of coolers needing high speed fans to compete with the best of the best.

Also as expected the huge ProlimaTech coolers are still fighting for top spot but even though the Zalman’s stock fan numbers are less than stellar, when equipped with a good fan, things improve quite a bit.
 
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AkG

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Low Speed / Dual Fan Performance Results

Low Speed Fan Performance Results



2.6GHz




Since the stock Zalman fan can not go as low as 900rpms we were not be able to compare it to the ULNA equipped NF-P12s numbers. However, when equipped with the P12, its results are surprising and impressive as it ties the ProlimaTech brothers for a three way second place finish.

It seems the party is still going strong in the basement as the Cogage, Tuniq, Spire and Kingwin all post somewhat poor results when compared to products which have been out for far longer. However, on the plus side all of these budget coolers are still better than the stocker cooler Intel provides.


3.4GHz




Interestingly the Mega Shadow does pull slightly ahead of its older brother the Megahalems to secure first place here. Also of note is the Zalman CNPS10X does fall off the pace a bit since it seems to be nearing its thermal limits with a low speed fan installed. Besides these small differences the other four coolers are still going strong closer to the bottom of the charts, though to be completely fair and balanced the Tuniq and Kingwin do post much better results than the other two coolers.

Unfortunately, the final set of results at 3.8Ghz won't be posted for the simple reason that every one of the coolers failed to meet our minimum criteria for temperatures as outlined in our Methodology section.


Dual Fan Performance Results




As expected, the ProlimaTech Mega Shadow kicks some major butt. It is simply the best air based, dual fan cooling solution we have had the privilege to review. What is actually more interesting to us is the numbers the Cogage True Spirit posted. It really is almost as good as its bigger brother and that is impressive. Of course, it would have been a heck of a lot more impressive if this was back when the TRUE cooler reigned supreme.
 
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AkG

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Sound Level Testing

Sound Level Testing


While everyone "hears" noise differently there is one easy way to remove all subjectivness and easily compare different fans: use a sound level meter. This way you can easily compare the various fans noise envelopes without us colouring the results and see what fans fit within your personal comfort level. Of course, we will endeavor to try and explain the various results (which are taken at a 30 inch distance) to help you our readers get an even better understanding of how loud a cooler's stock fan is, but even if you discount our personal opinions, the fact remains numbers don't lie. All fans are tested with both voltage regulation / PWM turned off.



To our way of thinking, the Scythe S-Flex G 1900RPM fan (when on a 212+) is about as loud as we would want in a system, and anything above this level is not only going to be noticeable but has pretty good chance of being annoying. It is with this reasoning that we have very few qualms saying that the Kingwin is loud and while 9.4 decibels does not sound like much (pardon the pun) the decibel scale is logarithmic. This means about every three additional decibels is a doubling of the power or intensity (i.e. doubles perceived noise levels). This fan is easily the “standout” of this graph and we don't mean that in a good way.

To our way of thinking the real standout of this graph is the ZeroTherm Nirvana’s fan which rotates over 2.5 times faster than the NF-P12 with ULNA adapter but doesn't put out too much more noise. This amazing fan is going faster than the ones on the Zalman, Cogage, Spire or Tuniq products which are all significantly louder.

Even though both the Tuniq and Scythe S-Flex G fans are fluid dynamic bearing units there is a massive difference between the two. High noise is simply the cost of doing business when you need high performance and can’t increase the size of the fan nor thickness like we see with the confined space between the Extreme 120's cooling fins.

The Zalman fan is loud, there is no denying it but the noise it does produce is easier to ignore than most and given the speed at which it rotates, we were actually impressed with it when going full speed. It is also interesting to note the amazing range the Zalman fan has, with everything from whisper quiet (a match for the Noctua NF-P12-1300 fan at 900RPM) at the low range to loud when the performance is needed.

On first glance, the Cogage fan produces fairly decent numbers. However, when you realize how slow it is moving in comparison to the Scythe S-Flex 1900RPM, it is not exactly all that impressive. All in all, fairly mediocre results is the best way we would describe it.

There is no getting around the fact that the Spire fan is loud and unlike some others in the chart, it has a pretty good excuse for being so: it’s damn fast. As we said before; Spire needed to get a 120mm fan up to speeds exceeding 2000RPM in order to push air through its oddball fin layout and increased noise is the cost of doing so. The only saving grace of this fan is the sleeve bearing it uses. Sleeve bearings are fairly quiet and the noise this one makes is not bad considering the levels it is running at. More importantly, the kind of noise it creates is fairly easy to ignore, no matter what the chart says.
 
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AkG

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Value

Value


The term “Value” is such an amorphous term that it truly has different meanings for different people. For some a CPU cooler is only as good as it over-clocking potential, for others it is how quiet it does its job; for others still it’s how effective it is for its cost. We here at HWC try to provide as many answers as possible for the term “Value”. Hopefully by this point in the review people looking at OC potential or loudness levels will have a fairly good idea of what its Value is. For the “best bang for the buck” crowd we have included a chart below showing how much each 1°C less costs when compared to Intel’s FREE stock cooler. No consideration has been made for noise levels, “looks” or any other extraneous factors; this is just raw performance vs. monetary cost. For any cooler which performs worse than the Intel stock cooler a rating of “FAIL” will be given. For any cooler which has a “Value” of more than $10 per 1°C a rating of “FAIL” will be used in the graph but the chart will list its actual “Value”.

All prices are based on either their MSRP (if no e-tailer prices were available at review time) or the online price they sold for at the time of their review. If a CPU cooler does not include a fan the price of a Scythe S-Flex 1200RPM has been included ($12).

To make it as easy as possible for you to modify this ratio we have also included the various coolers temperature difference so if you do come across one of them on sale you can easily modify its “Value” rating. We here at HWC are in no way saying this is the definitive answer to “Value”, rather it should be considered another tool to help you make your final decision. After all something is only as “valuable” as what you consider it to be.


Please Note: This chart has be calculated based upon the differences between Intel stock cooler’s average load at its highest OC on a 920 @ 3.42GHz versus various after market coolers average load temperatures (in their stock configuration with stock TIM) also on a 920 @ 3.42GHz.






Since the Mega Shadow is still not yet available here in Canada the price reflects an estimated MSRP and we would not be overly surprised if its final price here in Canada is slightly less. Honestly though, this cooler is never going to be a great bang for your buck product; it is among the best of the best and as such demands a premium. Consider it the air cooler equivalent of an Aston Martin Vanquish and then ask yourself if it makes sense that it costs more than a Honda Accord.

Speaking of works of art, our favorite among the bunch has to be the Nirvana 120 since it performs extremely well in all of the tests while not costing an arm and a leg. Beauty, price and silence are golden and when you can combine this with performance, you get one heck of a cooler.

We have to say that we are surprised at the Cogage TRUE Spirit’s value. It may not perform up to the same levels as some of the other coolers in this roundup but its price allows it to really shine in the grand scheme of things. Also noteworthy is the fact that both the Spire and Kingwin units also easily broke the two dollar barrier (i.e. are high water mark for what constitutes a great value). They may have their flaws but just like the TRUE Spirit, their respective prices makes them good choices if you are looking for decent performance without spending more than double for extreme performance.

While the HDT coolers’ great value came as no surprise, the Tuniq Tower 120 Extreme’s posting such decent numbers is surprising. This is a big cooler and is also an expensive one so it should be handicapped in the “value” category. However, we should remember that its performance in other tests with lower fan speeds do tend to work against it.
 
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AkG

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Conclusions; Cogage & Kingwin

Conclusions



Cogage True Spirit


I should go without saying that we were hoping for a lot more from the Cogage Spirit considering how the pedigree of its forefathers.. When we tested this cooler and the dust settled it was impressively close to matching the once-mighty Thermalright TRUE which would have been impressive…if this was two years ago. In the terms of modern CPU cooling solutions, the TRUE isn’t what we would consider King of the Hill anymore but the fact that the much cheaper Spirit nearly equaled it at some points was mildly impressive. The fan isn’t anything to write home about either.

When compared against other coolers in its price range the Spirit also seems to come up a bit short as well. Besides there being better products out there for your money one of the main problems we have with Cogage’s product is the fact that it will only mount onto an Intel i7 / 1366 system. Not only is this a slap in the face to a once-again growing AMD market but the fact that it doesn’t support Intel’s 775 or newer 1156 standards is just mind boggling. We are sure there will be additional mounting brackets available sometime in the future but who in their right mind would buy a budget cooler and then pony up the money for mounting hardware that should have been included in the first place? All in all, this lack of compatibility reeks of cost cutting in a horribly obvious way.

Honestly, the only saving grace of this cooler is the fact you can find it for a fairly reasonable price and this combined with its TRUE heritage do make a convincing argument in its favor. To this end, we may not like it but we do have to respect its capabilities when compared to lower-end heatsinks.

The final nail in the coffin comes from the fact that there are better-performing alternatives which come standard with many more mounting options and some of them even beat the Spirit in terms of cost.


Pros:

- Near TRUE performance levels at most thermal loads
- Quick installation
- Dual fan capable design
- Good value for its cost


Cons:

- Not anywhere near best in class performance
- Fast but sub-optimal push-pin installation
- Can only mount on Intel 1366 CPUs
- Mediocre fan
- Only enough brackets to mount one fan



Kingwin XT-1264


Considering the hopes we had for it, the Kingwin XT-1264 is a real heartbreaker. On the one hand it is an amalgamation of some great coolers and really does have the potential to be even greater than the sum of its parts. Sadly, this is not the case and if it was not for its high performance fan it would have done even worse in the testing phase.

This cooler is simply handicapped by last generation levels of base finishing. It should have efficiency to spare but it seems to be saddled with a base that most other manufacturers perfected more than a year ago. The real key to an HDT’s success is actually having good contact with the CPU and perfectly polished base really is the key and in the past we have seen manufactures (like Cooler Master) bring some high quality HDT bases to the market.

In many ways the performance of the Kingwin XT isn’t bad per se and if you do find it for a reasonable price you will be happy with the results. We were just expecting more from it considering the size advantage it has over some other HDT-based heatsinks that have been on the market for a while. Honestly though, its inability to mount dual fans is the final nail in its coffin as far as we are concerned.

With that being said, if you are looking for a CPU cooling solution and don’t plan to overclock (and don’t mind swapping out the fan for a quieter one) this cooler does have a glimmer of potential as the value numbers do speak favorably for it.


Pros:

- Quick installation
- HDT base
- Fast AMD installation
- High performance fan
- Reasonable price


Cons:

- Speed of installation comes at the cost of performance
- Fan is loud
- Better products for less money abound in this market
- Sub optimal performance results when using a 1300RPM fan
- Looks, acts and feel like a last-gen product
 
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AkG

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Conclusions; ProlimaTech & Spire

Conclusions



ProlimaTech Mega Shadow Deluxe Edition


After performance numbers like this monster posted what can you say but...wow. It really is a great cooler and it really does work wonderfully at a wide range of fan speeds. The only issue we have here is that the Mega Shadow seems to be nothing more than a gussied-up Megahalems with a fancy new all black look. Is this a bad thing per say? Not at all. We were just hoping to see something more from ProlimaTech, especially considering this product sports a brand new name. Yes, it has a revised and thankfully simplified mounting system but that’s about it.

To be totally honest this is not entirely fair to the Mega Shadow since it truly is gorgeous to look at and has the ability to cool off overclocked i7 CPUs like no one’s business. It is also great to see that its improved backplate is compatible with 775, i7 and i5 (unlike the Megahalems which is 775 and i7 only) but there is still no AMD lovin’ here. Compared to these other redeeming qualities, the fact that the Shadow ships with four wire fan clips may not seem like a big deal but to us it is. The ability to mount a pair of 120mm fans allows the Mega Shadow to increase its performance by leaps and bounds even with a pair of lower speed fans.

The only limiting factor that this cooler has is its somewhat extreme price tag. Hopefully as time goes by it will come down from its presently stratospheric level so it will be more appealing to a wider range of consumers but we sort of like the exclusivity the price brings. The Mega Shadow really is the best of the best and with its enhanced mounting abilities we think it deserves to not only our Damn Good award to also be crowned our new king of the air coolers. If you are willing to pay for the best, then this is where the buck stops.


Pros:

- Best in class cooling performance
- Dual fan capable
- Multi-socket Intel mounting abilities
- Easy installation
- Gorgeous looks


Cons:

- Price
- No fan included





Spire TherMax 2


When all is said and done, the TherMax 2 is a good cooler for mild to moderate overclocking and many people will find it to be a decent choice. It really is not stellar at any speed but is not a terrible choice either. Honestly, with a bit of work on Spire's end with regards to the quality of the base and the inclusion of a backplate-based mounting setup, the TherMax series could be a real contender.

Unfortunately, a lot of that performance came from the fact that Spire needed to use an extremely noisy fan to push air through the oddly shaped fin array. When the fan was changed out for one with a less noticeable acoustical footprint, the TherMax 2 was still a lot better than stock cooling solution but it began to suffer a bit. It really is only when you get down into the ultra low range with 900RPM fans that things really take a turn for the worse. As long as you stick with a more typical 1300 – 1500 RPM range most people will be more than satisfied with the results.

In the end this would not be the first cooler we would chose for most situations but with its broad compatibility range and decent results it would be far from the last cooler we go with. There are however, better choices out there if budget is first and foremost in your mind.

Pros:

- Reasonable price
- Decent cooling performance at lower heat loads
- Very good value (up to moderate heat loads)


Cons:

- Not a great choice for low noise situations
- Only able to mount one fan
- AMD type mounting setup for Intel systems
- Very loud fan
 
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AkG

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Conclusions; Tuniq, Zalman & ZeroTherm

Conclusions



Tuniq Tower 120 Extreme


We have to admit that we had high hopes for this cooler as the name Tuniq has an enviable reputation among heatsink manufacturers. Unfortunately, we feel that their 120 Extreme doesn’t live up to that reputation and is in fact trying to ride the coattails of that reputation for all its worth. It’s not a bad cooler per say at lower heat loads but considering its gargantuan size, we should be singing its praises from the rooftops rather than focusing on low thermal numbers. More importantly, you don’t buy a huge cooler like this one is unless you plan on some heavy weight overclocking and this is where the results of the Tuniq Tower are at their worst.

The key to its failure is twofold. First of all, the poor fan’s location between two thick fin arrays means it has to work extremely hard to suck in fresh air and then push it out so the fins are adequately cooled. It just can’t accomplish this due to its size and static pressure envelope. It was also horribly loud. The other issue is the folks at Tuniq tried to make use of an HDT base and used large 8mm and smaller 6mm heatpipes. The only problem is that the two of the three 8mm pipes are on the outer edge of the base and even on the rather larger i7 they were only half covered by the CPU. For all intents and purposes the main cooling comes from the smaller dual 6mm heatpipes and the centrally located 8mm. This means the few heatpipes in direct contact with the CPU IHS just can’t move away the heat fast enough and become a bottleneck.

As stands this cooler is trying to be too many things and doesn’t end up doing any of them particularly well. If the 120 Extreme had shipped with a slower fan which was dead silent you would have an excellent silent PC cooler on your hands (and also lowered expectations of its cooling abilities). Conversely, if it came equipped with a 120x120x38mmhigh performance fan, then we may have ended up loving its overall performance. Let’s be honest: Tuniq almost pulled it off and if the base had been properly set up they may just have done it. Unfortunately, we can talk all day about what this product could have done but that doesn’t hide the fact that there are simply better, smaller, quieter options out there for the same (or even less) monetary investment.


Pros:

- Interesting good looks
- Magnetic FDB fan included
- Fairly good value (at moderate heat loads)


Cons:

- Loud fan
- Price
- Less than stellar performance
- Ridiculous installation procedure
- Less than optimal base configuration



Zalman CNPS10X Extreme


To us the CNPS10X Extreme poses a bit of a quandary for us. On the one hand we really dislike the oddball mounting setup and find it be fit for the garbage at best. On the other hand it really does have efficiency to burn due to great engineering allowing it to overcome most of its handicaps. When push comes to shove, it really is an excellent cooler. Is it the best of the best? No, it isn’t but in nearly every test it was near the top of our charts while offering some really interesting features we quickly came to love.

Speaking of interesting features, this Zalman heatsink comes with a built-in fan controller that was a total joy to use and was actually user friendly. It was actually hard going back to a standard motherboard-controlled heatsink fan after tweaking the one included with the 10X. To make matters even better, the controller is hooked up to a multi-talented fan that can perform decently across a surprisingly large range of speeds. Is it the best fan at all its speeds? No, it isn’t. It can go down as far as 1000RPMs but even at 1300RPMs it is less than optimal at cooling this monster cooler but at least you have the ability to control it in the palm of your hand.

This may sound like a ringing endorsement but this is not a perfect world and the CNPS10X has one of the most backwards mounting setups we have seen in a long while. We wanted to see backplates for both Intel i7 and i5 systems but we only got one for the older 775 mount. Luckily, you only (hopefully) have to install it once and then enjoy all the other benefits it has to offer.

As it stands, the reason why we like this cooler so much is because it really does suit many people’s needs. While it may not be the best in all situations it is very good in nearly every situation we threw at it. This coupled with some great features allows us to award the Zalman CNPS10X Extreme our Damn Innovative award. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for a new heatsink…assuming you can afford its price tag.


Pros:

- Impressive performance
- Very adaptable to numerous situations and noise levels
- Impressively versatile fan


Con:

- No backplate for i5 or i7 (but does have one for 775)
- Price
- Cannot mount a second fan
- Fan only at its best when going full throttle
- Very loud at maximum speed


<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Air_Cooling/roundup/di.png" border="0" alt="" />




ZeroTherm Nirvana


Out of all the coolers we have looked at recently this one really stands out as unique. We knew of ZeroTherm’s stellar reputation for not only making great cooling products but also making functional works of art and when we think back on this cooler the name “Nirvana” is very fitting.

Everything from its beautiful (in our opinion) yet highly functional good looks, to its easy installation procedure is a lot like watching a work of art in progress. If this was just another pretty face we would not be so kind right now but with its impressively low noise envelope which is backed up by good performance totally won us over. Considering it performed extremely well while not breaking the bank like some other products, we believe it packs just the right mix of all the elements we are looking for in a modern heatsink.

No matter how much we can laud the Nirvana, we would like to have seen a more conventional fan being used or at the very least a way to mount a conventional fan. As it stands this is a great cooler that will serve a variety of consumer niches very well. For this reason and the fact that it impressed us over and over again in not only the cooling department but the value arena we are proud to present the ZeroTherm Nirvana 120 with our highest accolades: the Dam Good and the Damn Good Value awards.


Pros:

- Beautiful looking
- Very good performance
- Quiet fan
- Good price for performance ratio


Cons:

- Fan is a proprietary design which cannot be easily swapped out
- Beauty is in the eye of the beholder


 
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