CPU Cooling Test Configuration

All tests use our new cooling test bed. This consists of a Rosewill R604-P-SL case sold by Newegg without a power supply. The Rosewill is typical of a moderately priced mid-tower case our readers might own. We chose this case because it is a Newegg top seller and includes a variable front intake louver and a quiet 120mm exhaust fan at the rear of the case. The case is also screw-less with components held in place by plastic holders instead of metal-to-metal connections. This appears to reduce case vibration and noise.

The power supply is a Corsair HX620W, which has proven in benchmarks to be an exceptionally quiet unit. The HX620W features a variable speed exhaust fan and a down-facing intake fan mounted just above the CPU space in the case. To eliminate the video card as a source of noise we have moved to a fanless card. Since we will move to Vista and DX10 in the very near future, the test bed runs an MSI NX8600 GTS that supports DX10 and cools with heatsinks and heatpipes. The reduced noise power supply and fanless video card have the potential to dramatically lower system noise in the test bed.

The motherboard is the ASUS P5K Deluxe. This P35 chipset motherboard has exhibited outstanding overclocking capabilities in our testing. It can also mount the newest 1333 FSB Intel Core processors and can handle our existing high-speed DDR2 memory. The P5K3 uses heatsinks and heatpipes to cool board components so all motherboard cooling is passive. There are no active cooling fans to generate unwanted noise during testing.

The 120mm exhaust fan mounted to the rear of the case is below the system noise floor. We run that fan during performance and overclocking tests. However, system noise can be cumulative, so we turn off the exhaust fan during noise testing.

Cooling Performance Test Configuration
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo X6800
(Dual-core 2.93GHz, 4MB Unified Cache)
RAM 2x1GB Corsair Dominator PC2-8888 (DDR2-1111)
Hard Drive(s) Hitachi 250GB SATA2 enabled (16MB Buffer)
Video Card MSI NX8600GTS (fanless) - All Standard Tests
Intel TAT Version 2.05.2006.0427
CoreTemp Version 0.95
Video Drivers NVIDIA 163.71
CPU Cooling ZEROtherm Nirvana NV120
Cooler Master Hyper 212
OCZ Vendetta
Scythe Kama Cross
Swiftech H2O-120 Compact
Corsair Nautilus 500
Thermalright Ultima-90
ZEROtherm BTF90
Xigmatek AIO (AIO-S800P)
Evercool Silver Knight
Enzotech Ultra-X
3RSystem iCEAGE
Thermaltake Big Typhoon VX
Thermaltake MaxOrb
Scythe Andy Samurai Master
Cooler Master Gemini II
Noctua NH-U12F
Asus Silent Square Pro
Scythe Ninja Plus Rev. B
OCZ Vindicator
Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme
Thermalright Ultra 120
Scythe Infinity
Zalman CNS9700
Zalman CNS9500
Cooler Master Hyper 6+
Vigor Monsoon II Lite
Thermalright MST-9775
Scythe Katana
Tuniq Tower 120
Intel Stock HSF for X6800
Power Supply Corsair HX620W
Motherboards Asus P5K Deluxe (Intel P35)
Operating System Windows XP Professional SP2
BIOS Asus AMI 0501 (06/26/2007)

We run all cooling tests with the components mounted in the standard mid-tower case. The idle and stress temperature tests are run with the case closed and standing as it would in most home setups. Room temperature is measured before beginning the cooler tests and is maintained in the 20 to 22C (68F to 72F) range for all testing.

For consistency of test results, we use a standard premium silver-colored thermal compound. In our experience, the thermal compound used makes little to no difference in cooling test results. This is particularly true now that processors ship with a large manufacturer-installed heatspreader. Our current test procedure uses this standard high-quality silver-colored thermal paste for all cooler reviews.

For comparison, we first tested the stock Intel air cooler at standard X6800 speeds and measured the CPU temperature at idle. We then stress the CPU by running continuous loops of the Far Cry River demo. We repeat the same tests at the highest stable overclock we could achieve with the stock cooler. "Stable" in this case is the ability to handle our Far Cry looping for at least 30 minutes without crashing.

The same benchmarks are then run on the review cooler(s) at stock speed, 3.33GHz (10x333) at stock voltage, highest stock cooler OC speed (3.73GHz), and the highest OC that could be achieved in the same setup with the cooler being tested. This allows measurement of the cooling efficiency of the test unit compared to stock and the improvement in overclocking capabilities, if any, from using the test cooler.

We compare cooling results with a representative sample of air and water-cooling results measured with CoreTemp. TAT provides a similar core measurement, but test results with CoreTemp are more consistent over a wide range of test conditions than the results reported by TAT. We retested previously reviewed coolers with CoreTemp under idle and load conditions. In benchmarks where the new test bed makes no apparent difference, like maximum overclock, we include results for all coolers tested since beginning cooling reviews in early 2007.

Noise Levels

In addition to cooling efficiency and overclocking abilities, users shopping for CPU cooling solutions may also be interested in the noise levels of the cooling devices they are considering. We measure noise levels with the case on its side using a C.E.M. DT-8850 Sound Level meter. This meter allows accurate sound level measurements from 35b dB to 130 dB with a resolution of 0.1 dB and an accuracy of 1.5 dB. This is sufficient for our needs in these tests, as measurement starts at the level of a relatively quiet room. Our own test room, with all computers and fans turned off, has a room noise level that has been reduced slightly to 35.0 dB(A) compared to the previous 36.4 dB(A). With the new test bed, the system noise at idle is 36.5 dB(A) at 24" and 37.8 dB(A) at 6". This is better than our previous system noise floor of 38.3 dB(A) at 24". The noise reduction at the 6" distance is dramatically lower than the previous test bed floor of 47 dB(A).

Specifications and Installation Cooling at Stock Speed
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  • Syzygies - Tuesday, March 11, 2008 - link

    It's odd that AnandTech cooler reviews control other conditions to "average" (using fans as shipped in an average case, not decked out with optional fans) even while determining the maximum overclock, given that the AnandTech articles on overclocking are hands down the deepest overclocking articles on the web.

    I'm unwilling to go to water or more extreme cooling methods, but I've tried to get everything right "on air", e.g. 6 Scythe SFF21F fans in an Antec P182 case, two of the fans in "push-pull" configuration on a Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme cpu cooler. (This required making harnesses from daisy-chained cable ties for the second fan, as the U120E only accepts one set of fan clips.) My Q6600 G0 Quad Core was stable at 3.6 Ghz but I didn't like the 67 C core temps at full load for 24/7 use, so I backed off to 3.2 Ghz, 60-62 C core temps at full load, which is cooler than my laptop. Lapping is in my near future, but not water.

    These results are typical, and I am typical of a reader who studies the overclocking articles. So why assume "average joe" for the cooler articles? That's not your audience. The interesting comparison is against an U120E with two fans, or a Scythe Ninja with four fans. The question is "What's possible on air these days?" under ideal conditions. If I can get $1000 performance out of a $250 cpu for 24/7 use, the cost of the cooler and fans is not a significant factor.
    Reply
  • Number1 - Friday, February 22, 2008 - link

    I tried to purchase this unit but my local and favorite online store did not carry it. I ended up buying the Thermalright 120 extreme and I am happy with it. Good thing because there are significant problems the zerotherm unit. Another review site called it the hardware killer.

    Tom's Harware:

    http://www.tomshardware.com/2008/02/20/cpu_cooler_...">http://www.tomshardware.com/2008/02/20/cpu_cooler_...

    Zerotherm appalled us with its newest cooler product, the Nirvana NV120. We feel obligated to point out the dangers and risks that are associated with using this cooler. If you are not very careful when installing it, you can easily damage or even destroy your PC components.

    The backplate, which is mounted in the back of the motherboard, is covered with a transparent adhesive foil. When removing the protective sticker from the backplate, it is far too easy to accidentally pull off this adhesive film too. As a result, the bare metal will press against the reverse side of the CPU socket, creating a short circuit that can destroy your entire motherboard. In the worst case, this can even affect other components as well.

    Another reason we had to fail this cooler is that it, too, suffers from the already well-known problem with metal shavings. When you attach the cooler by fastening the screws, metal shavings can fall from the screws and springs and fall into the hardware of your PC - again causing a short circuit. This is not a new problem, but one that we've mentioned in previous reviews.

    When running at its highest fan speed, the Nirvana NV120 achieves good cooling performance, able to cool the quad-core CPU to 65°C. However, it is unbearably loud at this setting. At its lowest speed, the CPU temperature rises to 74°C and the cooler is completely inaudible. Its noise level increases when the fan speed is raised by more than 33%. Thus, only the lowest fan speed will allow you to work without the cooler's noise becoming an annoyance.

    Reply
  • BSMonitor - Saturday, January 26, 2008 - link

    Thanks for the awesome review... Picked one up on newegg for $35. Smooth installation. Dropped Prime95 temps from 66-67 C with stock cooler down to 44 C with this puppy...

    ASUS P5W DH Deluxe Motherboard here. Fits nice and neat. Just clears the northbridge heatsink.
    Reply
  • Rocket321 - Saturday, January 19, 2008 - link

    I'd like to know how it compares to the Tuniq tower, especially with current pricing they are very close.

    Also, anyone know if either of these coolers have a problem fitting in the Antec solo case?
    Reply
  • BOLt - Friday, January 18, 2008 - link

    nice review but you said the same thing several times on the last and second-to-last pages. your quantitative analysis was superb, by the way. Reply
  • piasabird - Thursday, January 17, 2008 - link

    How does the CPU cooler compare to something like this:

    COOLER MASTER ICT-D925R-GP 95mm Rifle CPU Cooler - Retail

    This particular model is rather small and compact, but only costs about $12.00.

    I just built a Quad with a Q6600 and I was not happy with the stock cooler assembly. It feels like you are going to break the motherboard attaching it. If I build another computer it will be with something like this. I dont feel like I can trust the Mickey Mouse mounting technique that Intel came up with. Having a back mounting plate seems like a more desirable option.
    Reply
  • chick0n - Thursday, January 17, 2008 - link

    Seriously, this is my first Aftermarket coolers, cuz I was thinking, stock cooler should be enough for me. Not like I overclock or anything right?

    Oh, forgot to mention, I got ASUS's Megatasking board, Yep the L1N64. Dual Athlon Fx-70. I got only 1 Cooler cuz my case cant fit 2 (its gonna hit the harddrive)

    Stock cooler is about 50-52 celsius when idle, and 62-70 under full load.

    With this cooler(the 120mm fan one), idle drop down to about 30-32 !!!! and its about 40-ish under full load !!!

    I was like WOW ... thats a huge drop in temp. :) I turn it up to highest and its still not noisy, hell even my 8800 GTX's fan sound louder.

    This is a Great cooler, But only if your motherboard and case can fit.
    Reply
  • mustardman - Thursday, January 17, 2008 - link

    I've always had a problem with the noise level sections of these articles. They really give no useful information other than the item being reviewed is quieter than the test system or louder.

    I want to know if the item will add any noise to my system. What if I have a completely passively cooled system and therefore completely quiet. How much noise will this device add? What if my system is 25db? How much noise will this device add?

    Maybe I'm missing something. But, for me, to say it adds no noise to our 38db system means very little.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, January 17, 2008 - link

    Our current system sound floor is 36.5 dBa at 24" from the test system and 37.8 dBa at 6". You can compare this to the above noise charts and see that our test environment is VERY quiet, considering the PS is running a fan.

    I hop this answers what 36.5 bDa sound level actually means, when combined with the noise level charts above.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, January 17, 2008 - link

    From a University article on Sound levels:

    Some Examples of Typical Noise Levels in dBA
    Sound Level
    in dBA Example
    200 200 meters from Saturn V rocket at liftoff.
    160 Peak level at ear of a person firing a 30-30 rifle.
    140 25 meters from jet aircraft.
    120 Submarine engine room. On stage at a rock concert.
    100 Noisy factory. Jackhammer (unsilenced).
    90 7 meters from large diesel truck.
    85 Upper limit of comfort.
    80 1 meter from ringing alarm clock. Conversation is difficult. After a 1-hour exposure, thought is difficult and the stomach contracts.
    75 Railroad carriage. Normal conversation not possible. Consensus of experts is that sound levels below 75 dBA "are unlikely to cause permanent hearing damage."
    70 Small car at 30 mph; 3 meters from a vacuum cleaner.
    65 1 meter from normal conversation. Busy office. About half the people in a large sample will have difficulty sleeping.
    55 Recommended upper limit for large open offices, restaurants, gymnasiums, swimming pools.
    45 Recommended upper limit for homes, hotels, laboratories, libraries, private offices, court rooms.
    40 Quiet office. Recommended upper limit for classrooms, churches, motion picture theaters (without the film soundtrack).
    35 Quiet bedroom.
    25 Countryside on windless day, away from traffic.
    Reply

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