There is no doubt that the top heatpipe tower air coolers perform very well. Test results have shown the best heatpipe designs with side facing fans have cooled processors better than any air cooling design. These top heatpipe towers also outperform the entry level water cooling systems we have tested.

Why then is it important to test smaller coolers and hybrid designs? The biggest reason is the size of the heatpipe tower coolers. While they will fit most of today's motherboards, the top heatpipe towers are heavy and bulky. This creates concerns in mounting the coolers, and long-term questions about whether a side-hanging weight in a tower case is really good for your motherboard. Manufacturers have addressed the mounting and weight issues in many different ways, but the fact remains that for some users something smaller would be better.

This was clearly demonstrated with the tremendous success of the Thermalright Ultima-90 as our review found this smaller, lighter cooler performed about as well as the best full-size heatpipe towers. When mounted with a 120mm fan, the Ultima-90 is a top performer and user comments and sales figures show this is appealing to many buyers.

Finally, as reasonable as the top heatpipe towers are, some readers don't want to lay out $50 to $70 for a top air cooler. They would be happier at the $30 to $40 price range with perhaps a minimal loss of performance. Not everyone wants to run their CPU at the top edge of performance and they would welcome a smaller but still effective cooler that meets their needs.

The smaller cooler presents something of a dilemma for buyers who value silence above all else. Review after review shows the large cooling fans used on the top heatpipe towers can generally move enough air for effective cooling while still maintaining a slow speed and low noise levels. The smaller and cheaper coolers generally use smaller fans at higher RPMs which generally creates higher noise. This conundrum that smaller equals noisier is a constant frustration for fans of ultra low noise coolers.


This time around two new air coolers are going through the tests in our new cooling testbed. As you can see they may be similar in price, but the coolers are quite different in size. The OCZ Vendetta is very small and almost looks lost next to the Scythe Kama Cross with a 120mm fan mounted. These are the first air coolers tested in the new cooling testbed, so we also retested a few previous coolers and will report results with CoreTemp instead of NVIDIA Monitor.


OCZ has just introduced the OCZ Vendetta. This small cooler, based on a Xigmatek design, looks like a shrunken version of the top side-fan heatpipe towers with a few innovations in the shape and turbulence characteristics of the stacked fins. The best way to understand the size reduction is that the Vendetta uses a 92mm fan instead of the 120mm used on full-size heatpipe towers.


The Scythe Kama Cross takes a completely unique approach to a mid-priced cooler design. It is not really smaller than other heatpipe towers, but it does combine components in a slightly different way. The Kama Cross twists heat pipes in an X configuration with a top mounted fan. The idea is to combine the best of the down-facing-fan coolers with the proven cooling abilities of the side fan by mounting fins at 45°. The shipping fan is a 100mm fan, but Kama Cross is also predrilled to mount a 120mm instead. Whether this hybrid approach really works or not will be determined on the test bench.

Smaller and cheaper cooling towers are a great idea - as long as they work. No one expects that they will perform quite as well as the top designs or they would be priced accordingly. However, the real question is how little you have to give up with these mid-priced designs? Are they a good cooling value?

Scythe Kama Cross
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  • Wesley Fink - Monday, October 01, 2007 - link

    There is only one game available that may possibly perform better with a quad CPU. Our original thinking was that we would wait to move to quad testing until games are launched that give us a reason to buy a quad-core - somewhere in the future.

    However, the point is well-taken that quads do generate more heat than dual-core processors, so we will be doing a comparison in the next few weeks on a range of coolers tested on a quad-core CPU.
    Reply
  • Acanthus - Monday, October 01, 2007 - link

    That is fantastic, not all of us buy quads for gaming :D

    I have one for encoding.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, October 02, 2007 - link

    same here, though it would be nice if Premiere would make use of more than one core. Reply
  • Spacecomber - Monday, October 01, 2007 - link

    The graphs and the discussion of them seemed out of synch, especially on page 5. It's as if the chart being discussed didn't get included or the discussion is meant for another section.

    Anyway, I got confused at that point, just looked at the graphs, and drew my own conclusions from there on. ;-)
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, October 01, 2007 - link

    The Intel Retail results on p.5 had not been updated for CoreTemp results. That has now been updated. Hopefully the commentary now matches the graphs. Reply
  • Spacecomber - Monday, October 01, 2007 - link

    Yup, the previous bar for the intel heatsink said something like 41 deg, which left me scratching my head.

    The discussion of how the cooling scaled with higher clock speeds also seemed out of place on that page, since there is no graphical representation of that until you get to page 7. Perhaps you were just making those comments paranthetically on page 5, but I wasn't clear why it was being discussed where all the results being graphically presented were for default clock speeds.
    Reply
  • FrankThoughts - Monday, October 01, 2007 - link

    ...that took one look at the Scythe "I'm an X! Isn't that AWESOME!" design and immediately figured performance was going to suck? Repeat after me: gimmicky cooler designs do NOT work well! Just look at the first image of the cooler: all the closely packed fins, lots of gap between the fan and the fins, and you can already guess that most of the air so going to go around the fins rather than through them.

    Maybe a plastic shroud around the HSF would have helped, but even then a large amount of air would just go through the center gap. This is one of those designs that looks nifty but has some bassackwards thermodynamic "theory" at its core.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, October 02, 2007 - link

    I'm just surprised they let something out that sucks this bad. If the performance were at least a little better than stock some might buy it for the looks, but this performance is just embarrassing to Scythe. Reply
  • puffpio - Monday, October 01, 2007 - link

    I agree
    You can immediately look at it and see that the air the fan blows is going to go AROUND the heat sink...basic fluid dynamics..path of least resistance

    But also w/ the OCZ cooler, they cut out some heat sink fins to make a curve shape...so you loose thermal capacity and gain aesthetics?

    Someone needs to design an enthusiast heat sink and fan that consulted a thermal and aerodynamic engineer...perhaps tapping into the skill set of people who design car radiators..
    Reply
  • KazenoKoe - Wednesday, October 03, 2007 - link

    I would like to know how the Scythe cooler performs with 2 smaller fans, one for each heatsink, instead of one fan at an odd angle. Reply

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