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Thermaltake Frio CPU Cooler Review

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AkG

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It certainly has been a long while since we looked at a Thermaltake CPU cooling solution yet you our readers specifically requested that we look at another, newly released one: The Frio. Considering the buzz surrounding this particular heatsink, it is understandable why such a big deal is being made of its entry onto the scene, especially when you considering the quality (or lack thereof) of Thermaltake’s past coolers.

In the past two years many things have changed in the air cooling marketplace. We have seen contenders (and pretenders) to the throne come and go along with once-great companies fall from grace. This has also led to newcomers swooping in from nowhere in order to carve out their own chunk of the aftermarket cooling pie. It seems that Thermaltake is poised to try and regain their past glories (as they were one of the very first companies to create truly wonderful aftermarket CPU coolers) with the advent of the Frio.

Even though the Frio it is still a new product, it is actually widely available in retailer and e-tailers alike throughout North America. We have seen the Frio go for as little as a $58, which is on the high end of the mid-range but considering it comes with two fans, it is actually fairly reasonably priced.

Reasonably priced or not, this cooler does have some stiff competition so it is going to be interesting to see if this cooler has what it takes to be a winner. With that first and foremost in our minds, lets get this review started!


 
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Specifications

Specifications













 
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A Closer Look at the Thermaltake Frio

A Closer Look at the Thermaltake Frio



The box the Frio comes in is on the large side and was certainly a shock when we received it. This certainly is a good thing, as just by looking at it you know that Thermaltake has taken serious step to protecting its serious cargo.


When you do open up the top flap and look inside you actually cant see all that much. This is for the simple reason that Thermaltake opted for a two part low density foam protection scheme. In a nut shell the Frio resides in the center of a two part form fitting foam cocoon which not only absorbs blunt force trauma but will help keep the Frio safe from any accidentally cuts that do pierce the outer cardboard skin.

The list of accessories is very complete. You get a small tube of TIM, an instruction pamphlet, mounting hardware for Intel 775, 1156 and1366 systems along with AMD systems. There is also a second fan included which is a great addition. All in all, this is an excellent list of swag and we have absolutely no complaints about the accessories.


Believe it or not, the Frio is quite large but it doesn’t weigh as much as you would think it should based on its footprint. The reason for this is simple: this unit has a LOT of plastic on it with large shrouds on both sides of the fin array. On the positive side the red and black plastic cowling certainly does give the Frio a unique appearance and does help it stand out from a sea of metal only air coolers.


In a nut shell this cooler’s plastic sheaths are an integral part of the overall fin array face design. By making them as thick as they are, they not only allow for fan mounting but also help direct airflow. Much like a fan shroud on a water cooling radiator is used to remove the dead zone in front of a fan hub, the small gap between the fan and the fin array’s face allows for more air to hit the face of the cooler. What this means is the static pressure of this fin array is lower because of these plastic fan shrouds.
 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the Thermaltake Frio pg.2

A Closer Look at the Frio Cont'd



By removing all that plastic cladding we can see that the Frio has a complex angled fin array. In addition, rather then being flat pieces of aluminum each and every fin has four main folds. The overall theory behind the fin design is actually very similar to that of a TRUE, albeit only in that it uses multiple angles to reduce static pressure of the fin array face. Interestingly, not all the fins are laid flat on top of one another; rather they are stacked in such a way that each of the individual fins left side starts higher up on the left cluster of heat pipes then the right cluster.


The heatpipes are of the large 8mm variety (and not the more common 6mm type) which have been nickel platted and can suck up copious amounts of heat. The only down side to using 8mm is that you can’t fit as many in the same amount of space as you can with smaller 6mm pipes. However, we’d take less of these larger heatpipes than more of the smaller ones.


As you can see in the above photo the five massive U-shaped heatpipes have been staggered so as to allow for a more free flowing design. However, since they are placed one behind another, the benefits of staggering them are pretty much lost.

Meanwhile, the Frio’s copper, nickel-plated, base is finished adequately with only some minor tool marks remaining. We would classify this as above average but seeing an almost mirror-like shine definitely bodes well for thermal conductivity.
 
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AkG

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Included Fan Under the Microscope

Included Fan Under the Microscope



The fans which accompany the Frio are identical units made by Power Logic and are labelled PLA12025S12HH-LV. These 120mm, seven bladed sleeve bearing fans are each rated to spin from a moderate 1200rpms all the way up to a whopping 2500rpms.

At its top rated speed each can move about 101.6 cubic feet of air per minute and do so with a most impressive 4.2 mm of static pressure. Needless to say, Thermaltake has chosen two real beasts.


The most interesting feature of these fans (besides the fact that you get two of them) is not their amazingly high static pressure, nor their speed but rather it is the small rheostat that each comes equipped with. These small rheostats are removable as they are attached via a simple two pin Molex plug, which snakes along side the regular wires. This in a nut shell means you can manual optimize the speeds of these fans and not need rely on your motherboard to get it right. The only issue here is that each fan has its own controller which does complicated things a bit. However, the sleeved cables are definitely a nice addition.



Installing the second fan is actually quite easy since it is done with small anti vibration mounts which are applied directly to the shroud. These mounts aren’t proprietary and even the standard brown ones which accompany Noctua fans will work in their place.
 
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AkG

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Intel Installation

Intel Installation



In the past two years we have seen a rapid increase in the quality and ease of installation that accompanies even the mot value orientated products, so having anything less then an extremely pain free and hassle free installation is not acceptable. To our way of thinking nothing will take the bloom of a rose faster then a piss poor installation procedure. Luckily, the Thermaltake Frio is not as bad as some unworthy coolers we have looked at in the past, but it certainly doesn’t have what we would call an easy installation process.


Next up you have to choose and install the mounting arms based on your installation. Screwing in these is quite easy but each arm has two particularly small screws that are easy to strip, so we recommend taking your time.

At this point, we can say that this is where the installation really goes from your typical easy installation into a quirky more hassle prone one. We say this as the next thing you need to do is mount the MOTHERBOARD to the Frio, rather then mount the Frio to the motherboard. When done properly, the four long ends of the retaining bolts will stick up and through the mounting holes surrounding your CPU.

Next up comes installing the backplate which is a lesson in futility due to Thermaltake’s choice of small nuts with extremely fine threads to securely attach the Frio, motherboard and backplate together. You will need to perform a serious balancing act if you want to properly install everything and this isn’t easy at all.


While the installation process may be maddeningly frustrating, the result is a secure heatsink that applies excellent pressure to the CPU.


Moving onto the list of potential mounting issues you will most likely run into, we can honestly say that the only real issue you need worry about is the height of your motherboard’s passive heatsinks. This is big cooler which comes with two fans so it does have what you would call a large footprint. If your motherboard’s heatsinks are even slightly above average height you may not be able to mount the second fan to the Frio. In fact, if your Northbridge heatsink is overly tall you may not even be able to mount the whole setup in the more typical East/West orientation. On the positive side, memory clearance is absolutely perfect.
 
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AkG

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AMD Installation

AMD Installation



AMD motherboard installation of the Frio basically follows the same path as it does on the Intel side of things. The only real difference is the fact that you have to use different retention brackets and slightly modified pass-through bolts. We’re not sure why you have to do this but it is very easy as these bolts have different sized threads on each half so it is impossible to mount them improperly.

With all four secured and in place, you then gently lay one of the proper washers on top of each of these retaining bolts. You then once again have to do the same balancing act followed by an encore presentation of the fumble finger shuffle to get those itty bitty nuts secured.


All in all the AMD installation is no more difficult than the Intel if a bit more involved with a few extra required steps. It seems that the Frio was truly designed from the ground up to be socket agnostic as it not only mounts on both AMD and Intel systems but you can also mount it in the typical East / West orientation on both.


With even two fans attached to the Frio, we can say that there really aren’t all that many potential issues to worry about. As with many other big coolers out there, you will have to pay attention to the RAM you chose as the Frio does overhang the first slot of many AMD motherboards. As you can see, even slightly above average height ram is going to cause issues, but as long as your ram is the same height or less then our Mushkin kit, you will have no issues with the Frio.

 
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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 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.


Fans Used

120mm:
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.


Low Speed:

900RPM with a Noctua NF-P12-1300 with ULNA adapter. To be more precise our specific fan runs at 930RPMs. 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 low speed test and BOTH sets of performance results will be included.


Moderate Speed:

1300RPM Noctua NF-P12-1300 with NO adapters used. To be more precise our specific fan runs at 1326RPMs. 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 moderate speed test and BOTH sets of performance results will be included.


High Speed:

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 Fans*:

Dual NF-P12-1300s

*Dual fans only used if the cooler comes with the necessary mounting hardware.


92mm Fan:

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.


Fan Notes:

- 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.


Environment:

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.


Testbed:



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.


Mounting Orientation:

Only the typical East / West (aka forward / back) orientation will be used.


Temperature Recording:

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.


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:


Processor: Intel i7 920

Motherboard: Gigabyte X58-UD3R

Memory: 6GB Aneon Xtune DDR3-1600

Graphics card: EVGA 7300GT passive

Hard Drive: 1x WD 320GB single platter

Power Supply: Topower Powerbird 900W


Special thanks to Direct Canada for their support and supplying the i7 920 CPU.

Special thanks to Gigabyte for their support and supplying the i7 motherboard.
 
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AkG

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Stock Fan Performance Results

Stock Fan Performance Results


2.6GHz

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Air_Cooling/Frio/stock_26.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

Since the Frio comes with an amazingly fast fan, it really didn’t come as any surprise that it came in first place here. If had done anything but come in first, we would have been concerned. Just be aware that there is a significant trade-off when it comes to noise.


3.42GHz

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Air_Cooling/Frio/stock_34.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

Once again the only cooler which even comes close the Frio is the Titan Fenrir and even its fan is “only” running at 2200rpm. We doubt we are going to learn anything about this cooler until we start comparing all the products with the same fan.


3.8GHz

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Air_Cooling/Frio/stock_38.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

Once again that beast of a fan is totally obscuring any insights into how good (or bad) the Frio is. At this point all we can say is that we really like the fan it comes with as it may be loud and fast, but it actually is as loud as you would expect a 2500rpm fan to be.
 
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High Speed Fan Performance Results

High Speed Fan Performance Results


Here we will be comparing three different setups on this heatsink: the stock fan at max, the stock fan at around the same speed as the Scythe S-Flex and finally the Scythe S-Flex installed directly to the Frio.

2.6GHz

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Air_Cooling/Frio/scythe_26.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

The Frio really does seem to have some great engineering built into it. This is only the second solid base, single tower designed cooler that we have seen which can give HDT coolers a real run for their money at lower heat outputs. Also noteworthy is the fact that the stock fan actually performs better then the Scythe S-Flex “G” does when both are running at about the same speed. If that doesn’t impress you, not much will.


3.42GHz

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Air_Cooling/Frio/scythe_34.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

With the heat turned up the Frio is still in second place and is actually closing the gap between it and the Titan Fenrir. Of course the flipside of this equation is that the mighty Prolimatech is waking up and looks like it is going to blow past the Frio when the heat is turned way up.


3.8GHz

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Air_Cooling/Frio/scythe_38.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

Well one thing is for certain, this cooler loves high speed, high static pressure fans. This makes perfect sense as it comes with two fans which are down right amazing in both their speed but also static pressure abilities. Sadly, even with a really good fan the Frio is unable to beat the Titan Fenrir and has fallen all the way down the charts to fourth place. This actually is a very respectable showing as it is within striking distance of not only the Titan Fenrir, but also the Thermalright Venomous X and even the (to a lesser extent) mighty Prolimatech. With competition this strong a fourth place finish is actually a very respectable placing.
 
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