To ensure that the results from one review to another are not only reproducible but actually pertinent to this review, the Testing Methodology will be the same throughout all reviews used. If something does change we will be sure to make a special note of it and explain why this change was done and more importantly why things had to be changed or altered.
Thermal Paste and Application Methods:
Arctic Cooling MX-2 thermal paste was used for all coolers during these tests unless otherwise noted.
For all non HDT coolers, application of thermal paste was in accordance with the TIM manufacturer’s instructions; and while not necessary, the TIM was allowed to cure for 24 hours under moderate to high loads (with periods of low loads) prior to testing.
For all 3 pipe HDT coolers two lines of TIM is applied to the two centre metal posts and for all 4 pipe HDTS three (smaller) lines of TIM are applied to the metal posts. This method has been found to provide significantly better coverage than the more typical methods.
For all CPU Cooling Solutions which do not come with their own fan, a Noctua NF-P12-1300 and a Scythe S-Flex “G” 1900RPM fan will be used if it accepts 120mm fans. With these two fans we are able to simulate different fan speed conditions as indicated below.
1900RPM Scythe S-Flex “G”. To be more precise our specific fan runs at 1860RPMs. Any stock fan which comes with the ability of being controlled by means other than the motherboard (e.g. remote fan speed controller, potentiometer, rheostat, etc) will be set to this speed during the High speed test and BOTH sets of performance results will be included.
Dual & Triple Fans*:
Two or Three 1900RPM Scythe S-Flex “G”
*Dual fans only used if the cooler comes with the necessary mounting hardware.
If the cooler being tested accepts 140mm fans, NZXT FX 140LB fans will be used.
If the cooler being tested only accepts 92mm fans, a Noctua NF-B9-1600 will be used.
If the given CPU cooling solution comes with a stock fan we will also include its numbers in the closest of the main tests BUT we will also include our standard fan results in that particular tests.
- If a heatsink cannot mount an aftermarket fan, we will be only including the stock fan results. However, if the stock fan speed can be precisely controlled by means other than the motherboard BIOS (an included remote fan speed controller, potentiometer, rheostat, etc), the cooler will be tested at different fan speeds.
- For dual fan results ALL coolers capable of mounting two fans (and come with the necessary hardware) will be tested with two NF-P12s and the Dual Fan graph will contain data for other such dual capable fan coolers.
We feel that the combination of multiple speeds and multiple fans will allow us to give you our readers clear and precise idea of the capabilities of a given unit, in an accurate comparison. It will also help eliminate the occasional “zinger” such as when a manufacturer includes an extremely high-speed fan in order to possibly offset poor heat sink thermal performance.
All comparison testing was done on an open bench with a constant ambient temperature of 24°C. If at any time the room temperature increased or decreased by more than 1°C, testing was halted until the temperature constant was re-established.
Unlike our previous methodology which used an open bench setup with a horizontally orientated motherboard, our new open bench is a modified Tech Station with a twist.
It has been modified so that the motherboard is in a more typical vertical orientation as it would be when installed in a case.
This has been done by the simple expedient of drilling out the bumper pads and threading long bolts (typically used for mounting fans to water cooling radiators) up through the top base of the tech station. Then by simply threading the bolts up through the motherboard we can then secure said motherboard to the tech station. Rubber mounts followed by a nut ensures that nothing moves. When the motherboard has been secured we simply tip the tech station on its side and using weights on the lower “legs” to keep it from tipping over we end up with a vertical orientated motherboard which is safe and secure yet still an open, controlled benching environment.
Only the typical East / West (aka forward / back) orientation will be used.
Recorded temps were as reported via the Real Temp plug-in for the RivaTuner monitor program.
Max and Average load temps are based on 15 minutes of running Prime95 “small fft” and are taken directly from RivaTuner’s built in capabilities.
The maximum temperatures will be the highest recorded temp displayed for any of the cores during the 15 minute test. While RivaTuner will display each core's average temperature it does not easily show the average of ALL the cores. To this end we will be simply taking the average of all the cores adding them together and then dividing by the number of cores.
If during any test temperatures of 90°C or more are displayed in RivaTuner (for any core) for more than 10 consecutive seconds the testing will be halted and that test run will be considered a "fail".
Idle temperatures are the lowest recorded temperature during idle period as recorded by the RealTemp Rivatuner monitoring program.
All CPU throttling technology was disabled in the BIOS; as was all CPU fan speed control. In addition, Turbo Mode was disabled and Hyperthreading was enabled.
All tests are run a minimum of three times and only the best results are represented.
Maximum voltage used is 1.35 volts.
Charts & Graphs:
Due to clutter and confusion we now will only be including the best of the best. We understand that “best” does mean different things to different people, to this end we will only be including what we feel are the best representatives of the main price ranges. These main prices ranges approximately are Intel OEM (free), $30, $40, $50, $60, and unlimited. Please keep in mind that prices are variable and while we have done our best to pick what we feel best represents a given price range there can and will be some overlap as these price ranges are not set in stone (with the exception being the Intel OEM cooler). To further help clarify a given cooler’s performance we will also be including a seventh CPU cooling solution, a cooling solution which irregardless of price best exemplifies what a good “all round” dual fan capable cooler should be. For the time being this last will be the TRUE Black. After each published cooler review we will re-evaluate the coolers being included in the charts and based on the value or performance may swap out a cooler for a cooler that was just reviewed.
This way you will not only know how it compares to the Intel stock unit and the best Damn Good Value coolers but also the best of the best Damn Good coolers out there. In grand total there will only be 8 coolers represented in a graph. However, if the review is a “round up” review this limitation will be extended to include all coolers in that review plus the above 7 cooling solutions. We will endeavour to keep the number as low as possible while still giving an accurate picture of the performance of all coolers being reviewed.
Each chart will include the Maximum or “peak” temperature we recorded, the average temperature and the idle temperature.
No passive results will be shown UNLESS manufacturer claims the ability to passively cool a processor. If a manufacturer claims passive capabilities we will include the performance numbers in the charts. The only exception to this is if the review is a “review roundup” and to keep the charts from becoming confusing we may not do so.
Sound Pressure Testing:
To give a more accurate and less of a personal opinion on the noise level of the stock fan which accompanies the heatsink, we have included a new section for sound pressure testing. These tests are done in our open case setup outlined above with the meter positioned 30 inches away from the cooler and mounted on a tripod. To ensure the background noise does not skew the results all tests will start by recording the ambient noise of the room. Only when it meets our standards will the testing commence.
To ensure that no external noise unduly skews the results, the GPU used will be a passively cooled unit and the only active fan will be the one on the cooler while the PSU and HDD are isolated away from the immediate area.
These tests are run late at night when no other people or animals are awake and thus unable to influence the results.
All fans are run at their maximum speed with no voltage or PWM control being used during the sound pressure tests.
The sound pressure meter used is a DT-805 which has been professionally calibrated and NIST certified. We will record the highest levels obtained with said meter and record it as our result. The test will be 15 minutes long and will be run while the fan is running full speed via a Molex connector and the CPU cores are under a full load via Prime 95 Small FFT.
Please note: The Scythe S-Flex G and Noctua NF-P12-1300 (at 1300 and 900rpms) numbers are taken when mounted to a Cooler Master Hyper 212+. We feel that it would be extremely unfair and unrealistic to include noise rating for these after market fans if they were NOT mounted onto a cooler. They are included to help give some sense of proportion to the charts and allow you to more easily compare a stock fan against a known quantity.
Complete Test System:
Cooler Master HAF-X
Intel i7 920(Intel)
6GB Mushkin Silverline Stiletto DDR3-1600
EVGA GeForce GT 240
1x 240GB Intel 520 SSD
Topower Powerbird 900W
Special thanks to Gigabyte for their support and supplying the i7 motherboard.