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Thermalright TRUE Black 120 CPU Cooler Review

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AkG

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Thermalright TRUE Black 120 CPU Cooler Review




Manufacturer Product Page: Ultimate CPU Cooling Solutions! USA
Part Number: TRUE BLACK 120
Availability: NOW
Price: Click Here to Compare Prices
Warranty: 1 year



It really is a great time to be a computer enthusiast and we truly are blessed with a bountiful harvest of options these days. Heck, when you take a good look at the shear number of potential CPU cooling solutions available to us right now, the numbers are down right mind boggling. For numerous years it was difficult to find a good air cooler and you really had to look far and wide for one which was the right match for you and what you wanted to do with your computer (e.g. max OC, low noise, LAN Parties, etc.); whereas today, consumers have a veritable cornucopia of options to chose from. Now the largest problem has become wading through all the options to find “the right one”.

This is great for consumers but it less than ideal for manufacturers as they struggle to get brand recognition and brand loyalty in a very cut throat and finicky market. However, there are some air coolers (for example) which transcend this white noise of options and stand head and shoulders above the crowd. These options are so well known that just their names are enough information for the average enthusiast to convey to others and also nicely sum up what they are using their system for.

You really know you have made it in the industry when enthusiasts don’t even have to use the full title of your product, rather a simple acronym is good enough. These are the crème de la crème of the industry. Some people call them “Superior” others “King of the Air Cooles”; amongst these relatively few coolers stands one that truly does have instant name recognition. All your average computer enthusiast has to say is “TRUE” and everyone instantly knows what they are talking about. They know the Thermalright Ultimate Extreme 120 is what the person means and that person has a serious piece of kit.

The forerunner of the TRUE was the Ultra 120 and, amazingly enough, was only released in 2006. While it was a very good cooler in its own right it wasn’t until it underwent a metamorphosis similar to that of lowly caterpillar turning into a Monarch butterfly that it really got a name for itself. When the TRUE emerged from the dead husk of the Ultra 120 a legend was born. Reviewers and customers alike darn near instantly recognized it as the premier cooler of its day. While its grasp upon the title of king of the Coolers is getting tenuous (at best), it still is a great cooler.

As with all things, CPU cooling solutions have a “circle of life” and today we will be looking at the continuation of the TRUE line: the “TRUE Black”. The TRUE Black is not a major refinement upon the TRUE line, as it is the same design as the regular TRUE, but it is more of a Special Edition than a true successor. This all-black model is all about looks and taking the striking design of the TRUE and making it bark at the moon. Of course, it should also be a perfect specimen of the TRUE model and we will address this and any other details which make the TRUE Black worthy of the name TRUE.

The TRUE Black is widely available from various e-tailers and retailers throughout the country so finding one should not be a problem….but justifying the cost of $80 (plus the cost of a good fan…or two) could potentially be a sticking point for many consumers. However, by the end of this review we should be able to help you answer this issue and of course answer the biggest question of them all: is the TRUE still a viable option or has its time come and gone? I for one am looking forward to finding out!


 
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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications



 
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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories



When we first laid eyes on this glossy black box we had to check and make sure that it was actually a Thermalright box. This is because the normal Thermalright package is notorious for its drab and plain looks. As we have said before, Thermalright has always made a statement by going with a plain cardboard box which has no details and no writing besides the model of the unit (and “THERMALRIGHT”) printed on it. This all black box may be different than it brethren in color but it is still the same epitome of testosterone laden marketing. Unlike the other models which are saying “we don’t need to advertise ‘cause we are so damn good”, this box takes the exact opposite approach and is the perfect distillation of a primal roar we have ever had the pleasure to see!


This box speaks louder than anything mere words could say and it truly does bypass the rational part of your brain and instead speaks directly to our primordial lizard brain. If this box had been around when caveman walked the earth it would have been worshiped as a totem of some long forgotten dark god.


When you open up the box and cautiously peek inside (much like a youngster would look in their closet for the boogeyman) you are greeted to a classic Thermalright packaging scheme. It may be bland and boring in comparison to the ultra flashy (for Thermalright) exterior box, but it is never the less one of the best and most protective schemes on the market today. The nearly the full interior of the box is taken up with a solid chunk of medium density Styrofoam. This Styrofoam has been form fitted to the TRUE Black so it embraces and cocoon it in a loving protective embrace which can take a heck of lot of abuse before passing any onto its precious cargo.


To ensure this foam protector can not slide around the rest of the interior is filled up with the accessory box which contains a down right bountiful list of goodies.

The full list of goodies is as follows: backplates for Intel 775 and AMD 939/AM2 based systems, mounting screws to secure the TRUE Black to its backplate (once again two different ones are included, one for 775 the other for 939/AM2), two sets of fan mounting brackets (up from the usual one which the standard TRUE ships with), four anti-vibration rubber strips (two per side / fan), a tube of Chill Factor 2 TIM (also upgraded from the original Chill Factor which ships with the original TRUE) and two detailed installation instruction pamphlets which uses both written and pictographic instructions to show you how to properly install the TRUE Black and its fan(s).

Even better than complete list of accessories is the quality of these accessories; it appears Thermalright spared no expense with this CPU cooling solution and it really does show.

All in all this really is an amazing piece of kit which leaves you feeling like you are getting your money’s worth. Irregardless of price, we were left a downright amazing first impression and we could not find anything to fault besides the associated sticker shock. This is a very impressive feat in its own right as this is not a cheap unit and is in fact down right expensive, yet somehow Thermalright pulls it off. Maybe it’s the because this kit exudes enough self confidence and quality to overcome even Mr. Stevie J’s / Apple reality distortion field. However, no matter how good a first impression, it is only a first impression; so it better be able to walk the talk as good as it can talk the talk, or many customers are going to be down right angry at spending close on a hundred bucks for a cooler!
 
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AkG

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Heatsink Construction & Design

Heatsink Construction & Design



Before we get into any great detail about the design or even the construction of this unit we should address the color of the TRUE Black Edition. Thermalright classifies this unit as “nickel plated black” and it really is a nice rich black finish. Coming from a gunsmithing / competitive shooting background (small bore & large bore rifle and handgun, with a touch of shotgun for fun) I instantly recognized this as a high quality “bluing job” and not some cheap paint job. If I was to hazard a guess I would say this was a hot dip bluing process and not cold bluing as it doesn’t have the feel of a cheap cold blue job.

Either way the result is an ultra thin layer of chemically corroded / altered metal (aka coloured “rust”) which protects the unit from the elements. The chemically corrosive bath used to obtain this reaction varies from manufacturer to manufacturer but most chemical composites which result in a black color usually contain either molybdenum disulfide or black oxide in the chemical stew (I would guess Molybdenum rather than Black Oxide as Molybdenum usually results in a more grayish black color, rather than a deep dark black…or at least it has in my experience). To put it bluntly this is not a cheap process and can be considered an extremely expensive undertaking. If Thermalright had wanted to go the “cheap” route they could have called it the TRUE BLUE and used much more cheaper chemical baths to get a handsome looking blue cooler but they didn’t, they wanted the best and this commitment to quality really shows.

However, once you get over the different colour you begin the realize this really is just a TRUE 120 which has had a fancy chemical bath. This is not a bad thing as the TRUE is still a really well engineered piece of kit! If you have never handled a TRUE before, its hard to describe how sturdy and solid it feels in you hand. To put this CPU cooling solution in perspective, it is 132mm wide, 160.5mm high and a nice, deep 63.44mm. More importantly than its regal stature is the fact it weighs over 700grams…without a fan attached. The downside to this big, bad and macho feeling is…well its heavy as a log and has been know to “bow” motherboards overtime.


To further clarify the design of this cooler, we would be remiss if we did not mention the heatpipes. As with all high end tower coolers it’s heatpipes is what makes this cooler so good. The TRUE BLACK uses 6 large U shaped heatpipes, three of which start at the left top end, head down through the base (where they are soldered to the base and thus are able to pick up a huge amount of heat) and then climb back up to terminate the right end of the top. The other three heatpipes follow this same route but from right to left.

Not only did Thermalright choose to use 6 heatpipes, they also chose to stagger them at the bottom and how they penetrate up through the cooling fins. When seen from above this staggered effect gives the heatpipes a diamond shape. This ingenious bit of engineering means the air from the fan hits each and every heatpipe equally so there is no (relatively) inefficient dead spots where the heatpipes are competing for cooling.


When it comes to engineering, Thermalright’s team did not miss a trick. Not only did they set up the heatpipes to get the most efficient cooling, the cooling fins of the unit are also engineered to decrease static pressure and actually encourage air to flow through them rather than around. When you take a close look at the fins, you realize how complex a design this deceptively simple face has. Just like most tower coolers, Thermalright has made the face (both sides actually) concave, and while many do this Thermalright takes it to a whole new level by angling half the face (the right side) down and the other half up.

This makes perfect sense as the air which enters the heatsink is being pushed in from rotational blades (i.e. a fan) so the air is actually moving in a circular motion, which means straight fins are actually at an angle to this air movement (so some air will have a tendency to “bounce” rather that enter). This bouncing cause air turbulence which in turn increases the static pressure (as even more pressure is required to push this swirling air through the fins); so by angling the front face up and down the fins are properly angled to direct the air into fins. Its sounds simple on paper but it makes for a very complicated face with half the fins bent up and the other half bent down on one side and the exact opposite on the other side! This of course helps explain the cost of the unit as the forming requires more tools and thus costs more to produce.

Underneath their blackened surface lies nickel plated aluminum. This combination makes for a very strong fin which can radiate a lot of air per square inch; and when you take into consideration the fact there is 52 of these fins you can begin to appreciate the vast amount of thermal energy this unit can dump into the air.


As you can see, the base is quite mirror-like but has numerous tool marks showing. These tool marks which can’t easily be seen unless the light is just right are not deep per say, but are deep enough to be felt with your fingernail. More importantly than the lack of polishing was when we did our “razor blade” test the center of the base was found to be slightly peaked (i.e. the base is slightly convex in shape with the top of the curve in the center of the base), in testing it was found TIM liked going towards the corners and away from the center. It is certainly not the best base we have seen and given the price point of this unit is was disappointing; though in all honesty anything less than perfection would have been disappointing as this should be perfectly polished and perfectly flat to justify its high price point.

Please note: Thermalright has purposely designed the TRUE / TRUE Black to not have a perfectly flat base. We understand the logic behind this move so while the base is not perfect we will not be holding it against them as it is not a "manufacturering defect" per say.

Overall, the TRUE Black seems to be a prduct which has had a lot of time, money and experience poured lovingly into. Unfortunately, we were expecting a bit more than just a fancy color job and Thermalright really should have taken the time to fix the base issue which has been a known issue with the TRUE for awhile now. We know they have it in them as the numerous Ultima 90s we have personally used in the past all came with much better bases than this.
 
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AkG

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Installation

Installation



As with the majority of high performance CPU cooling solutions, the installation process starts with you first removing your motherboard from the case but this should be considered par for the course by now. Once you have the motherboard outside the case you simply place the backplate underneath the motherboard so its four already installed mounting sockets slide through their perspective holes in the motherboard. When they are in position you can gently lay the motherboard back down and install the TRUE black.

As a side note, it is much easier if you just hand tighten two opposite corners screws in place so the backplate doesn’t fall out of position as you are laying the motherboard down. Trust us, this might not sound like such a big deal but it can be a royal pain if you don’t take our advice.


Unlike a lot of other coolers on the market, the TRUE Black does not need any washers to be installed on the top side or have any secure mounting points for that matter. What you simply have to do is place a small amount if TIM on the CPU, slip the moveable X shaped bracket between the top of the TRUE’s base and the bottom of the fin assembly and then scissor it open to its full extension.

When this minor but oh so necessary step is completed you then just gently lay the TRUE Black into position and screw in the four spring loaded mounting screws (two at a time, doing opposite corners). We like to twist/rotate the cooler a few degrees left and right to help the TIM seating process along but this is not strictly “necessary”. We also recommend taking your time and doing one full turn on two of the screws followed by one full turn on the other two (so as to keep the pressure even) when tightening the mounting screws.

After you have finished tightening all four of the screws as much as they will let you (don’t worry you can’t over tighten them) you then just have to install the fan(s).


Before you mount the fan you of course have to peel off and stick two small (yet long) strips of anti-vibration rubber to the face of the cooler. This is a tried and true method of dampening fan vibrations and it works very well. Of course once those strips are in place you place your fan in the proper position and using two of the included wires, mount the fan to the cooler.


At this point you can repeat this process and mount a second fan or you can leave it as is and start enjoying your new all black CPU cooler beastie (after plugging in the fan(s) of course!).
 
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AkG

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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


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 it had to be changed or altered.

Any all CPU Cooling Solutions which do not come with their own fan, a Noctua NF-P12-1300 will be used.

Except where noted all comparison testing was done on an open bench with an ambient temperature of 20c. Recorded temps were as reported via CoreTemp's "Temp Log". Average load temps were taken after 15 minutes of running Prime95 v25.4 “small fft” and are taken directly from CoreTemp’s temperature text file. Excel was used to average the results of all cores. Idle temps were taken 15 minutes after Load testing ceased. Motherboard temperatures were recorded using SpeedFan. All CPU throttling technology was disabled in the BIOS; however all CPU fan speed control was not disabled. Since the Noctua fan is not PWM capable fan speed control was set to Voltage only.

Arctic Cooling MX-2 thermal paste was used for all coolers during these tests unless otherwise noted. Application of thermal paste for the TRUE Black was in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions; and while not necessary, the TIM was allowed to cure for 48 hours under moderate to high loads (with periods of low loads) prior to testing.

All tests were run a minimum of 4 times and only best results are represented.

Please Note: When viewing the results of the Q6600 and the e4600 please understand that in this instance the quad @ 1.45 volts actually is a cooler running chip than the relatively bad overclocker chip e4600 used. This is usually not the way it works but due to the variable nature of overclocking we happened to get a "good" quad and a bad "dual"; in that the quad is a good cool running chip when extra voltage is applied where as the dual heats up very quickly as extra voltage is applied. It would not surprise us if 1.4 volts is significantly shortening the life of the dual e4600 and that it will die a lot earlier than the quad q6600.

Please Note: To keep the motherboard chipsets from overheating a single 40mm Scythe Ultra Kaze was used, but they were orientated in such a way as to not interfere with nor help the CPU cooler (i.e. it was basically on top of the South Bridge and pointed down). The 120mm Scythe E on the side of the open test bench was unplugged during temperature testing.

Notes about Overclocking:

For q6600’s I consider 1.45 volts to be the most that I would seriously consider for a moderate-to-long term overclock.

For e4600’s I consider 1.4 volts to be the most that I would seriously consider for a moderate-to-long term overclock.

Yes you can go much higher but the longevity of the CPU is then called into question. Just as importantly the CPU should average out at LESS than 65c as this is also what I consider the safest, maximum long term overclocking temp. For the purposes of these tests I was willing to overlook temperatures as long as they averaged below 70c and did not peak over 75c. If 75c was displayed for more than 10seconds in CoreTemp all testing was stopped and that test run was considered a fail.

With these two general guidelines I overclocked both systems until either one (or both) of these "rules" was needed to be broken to continue.

Overclocking was accomplished by increasing FSB speed and then Vcore (only if necessary).

Before testing for idle and max temperatures Orthos was run for 1 hour to make sure that it was stable at a given overclock and voltage. If both finished with no errors SuperPi set to 32m was run twice. After the stability testing was accomplished the given system was allowed to sit idle for 30minutes before starting the official tests. IF both of the above stated guidelines were not broken then testing continued with an increased overclock. These steps were then repeated until 1 or both of the general guidelines were broken.

As they have no bearing on these tests the RAM’s voltage and timings are not recorded, the RAM was set to run at or as close to as possible PC-6400 speeds by running various CPU : memory dividers. Please do not consider this a full “how to” review on overclocking or “safe guidelines” for overclocking nor even an indicator on how well a given CPU will overclock. IF you are interested in OC’ing your system, and use these guidelines we at HWC take no responsibility for the results. Bad Things can happen if you are not careful.


Complete Test System:

Processor: Q6600 & E4600
Motherboard: Gigabyte p35 DS4
Memory: 4GB Mushkin HP2 PC6400
Graphics card: XFX 7200gt 128mb
Hard Drives: 1x Western Digital Se16 320GB (single platter)
Power Supply: Seasonic S12 600W
 
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AkG

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E4600 Performance Results

E4600 Performance Results



Idle Temperatures

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Air_Cooling/TRUE_BLACK/e4600_idle24.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Air_Cooling/TRUE_BLACK/e4600_idle32.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Air_Cooling/TRUE_BLACK/e4600_idle35.jpg" border="0" alt="" />​

As expected the TRUE Black is not a great performer when it comes to idle temperatures. That thick base takes time to pass on its heat to the heatpipes making the process very inefficient at lower temps. Of course, great idle temps are all well and fine but as we have said in the past it is the average load temps which makes (and breaks) a great CPU cooling solution.


Average Load Temperatures

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Air_Cooling/TRUE_BLACK/e4600_load24.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Air_Cooling/TRUE_BLACK/e4600_load32.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Air_Cooling/TRUE_BLACK/e4600_load35.jpg" border="0" alt="" />​

This level of performance here is much better than the idle temperatures it posted. It appears this cooler has been optimized for heavy thermal loads as its really only start to shine when this relatively cool running e4600 is heavily overclocked (and becomes anything but a cool running chip!).
 
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AkG

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Q6600 Performance Results

Q6600 Performance Results



Idle Temperatures






While its idle performance is better on the quad it still is only good enough to for this wee beastie to finish fourth. This is certainly not terrible and just as we saw with the dual as the overclock (and thermal load) increased so did its performance. It will be very interesting to see what the TRUE Black does when the heat is truly on!


Average Load Temperatures






This is awfully impressive, considering our top 3 coolers only differ by less than 2°C. As for the TRUE Black, it may be based on older technology when compared to Direct Touch Heatpipe technology but this (relatively) old war horse still has a lot of fight left in it. Where this bad boy can accept two fans vs. the single fan only for the Xigmatek & OCZ Vendetta 2 it should be interesting to see what happens when we put a second fan on it and let her rip!
 
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SKYMTL

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Dual Fan Results

Dual Fan Setup
Since the TRUE Black can with enough wire brackets and its results were so good with one fan we are itching to see what it can do with two; and since we just happened to have a second NF-P12 laying around….




Very, very impressive numbers indeed. What these numbers tell us is this CPU cooling solution really shines when you add in a second fan. On most CPU cooling solutions we would caveat these results by saying adding a second $12-$20 fan is not economically viable, but in this instance economics has nothing to do with buying the TRUE Black!
 
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AkG

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Value

Value


The term “Value” is such an amorphous term which it truly has different meanings for different people. For some a CPU cooler is only as good as it overclocking 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 F 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.


E4600 Cooling Value

Please Note: This chart has be calculated based upon the differences between Intel stock cooler’s average load at its highest OC on a e4600 @3.2GHz versus various after market coolers average load temperatures (in their stock configuration with MX-2 TIM) also on a e4600 @ 3.2GHz.




Funny enough this is not the worst value cooler we have ever reviewed! Who would have thought a nearly hundred dollar CPU cooling solution would beat much cheaper units in the “Value” department, but is does. It may not be a great value, but its not exactly bad either!


Q6600 Cooling Value

Please Note: This chart has be calculated based upon the differences between Intel stock cooler’s average load at its highest OC on a Q6600 @3.0GHz versus various after market coolers average load temperatures (in their stock configuration with stock TIM) also on a Q6600 @ 3.0GHz.




As expected the TRUE Black Edition is not a great value, but when we are talking about a $80 cooler which doesn’t even come with a fan, terms like “Value” become non issues (and a lot like asking a Hummer salesman what its fuel consumption is like). Lets face it, no one is going to buy this cooler because it’s a great deal, its all about great performance and great looks.
 
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