CPU Cooling Test Configuration

The standard test bed for cooling tests is the EVGA NVIDIA 680i SLI motherboard. This is primarily based on the consistent test results on this board and the NVIDIA Monitor temperature measurement utility, which is part of the nTune program.

NVIDIA Monitor has a drop-down pane for temperature measurement which reports CPU, System, and GPU measurement. At this point reviews will concentrate on CPU temperature. In addition to the real-time temperature measurement, NVIDIA Monitor also has a logging feature which can record temperature in a file in standard increments (we selected every 4 seconds). This allows recording of temperatures during testing, which can then be reviewed when the stress tests are completed. There is also the handy reference of speeds and voltages in the top pane to confirm setup.

NVIDIA Monitor was compared to test results from the Intel TAT (Thermal Analysis Tool). Intel TAT CPU portions do function properly on the EVGA 680i motherboard, but the chipset-specific features do not operate as they should. Idle temperatures in TAT were in line with measured idle temps with NVIDIA Monitor. The CPU stress testing with TAT pushing both cores showed TAT stress temps at 80% CPU usage roughly corresponded to temps reported in our real-world gaming benchmark.

Other components in the cooling test bed are generally the same as those used in our motherboard and memory test bed:

Cooling Performance Test Configuration
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo X6800
(x2, 2.93GHz, 4MB Unified Cache)
RAM 2x1GB Corsair Dominator PC2-8888 (DDR2-1111)
Hard Drive Hitachi 250GB SATA2 enabled (16MB Buffer)
Video Card 1 x EVGA 7900GTX - All Standard Tests
Platform Drivers NVIDIA 9.53
NVIDIA nTune (1/16/2007)
Video Drivers NVIDIA 93.71
CPU Cooling 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 OCZ PowerStream 520W
Motherboards EVGA nForce 680i SLI (NVIDIA 680i)
Operating System Windows XP Professional SP2
BIOS Award P26 (1/12/2007)

All cooling tests are run with the components mounted in a 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. We do not use auxiliary fans in the test cooling case, except for the Northbridge fan attached to the 680i for overclocking. Room temperature is measured before beginning the cooler tests and is maintained in the 20 to 22C (68 to 72F) range for all testing.

Thermalright provides a small tube of premium thermal grease with the Ultima-90. However, for consistency of test results we used our 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.

We test the stock Intel cooler at standard X6800 speed, measuring the CPU temperature at idle and while the CPU is being stressed. The CPU is stressed by running continuous loops of the Far Cry River demo. The same tests are repeated at the highest stable overclock we can achieve with the stock cooler. Stable in this case means the ability to handle our Far Cry looping for at least 30 minutes. The same benchmarks are then run on the cooler under test at stock, highest stock cooler OC speed (3.73GHz), and the highest OC that can 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.

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. Noise levels are measured with the case on its side using a C.E.M. DT-8850 Sound Level meter. This meter allows accurate sound level measurements from 35bdB to 130dB with a resolution of 0.1dB and an accuracy of 1.5dB. 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 of 36.4dB. Procedures for measuring cooling system noise are described on page five, which reports measured noise results comparing the stock Intel cooler and recently tested CPU coolers to the Thermalright Ultima-90.

Thermalright Ultima-90 Cooling at Stock Speed


View All Comments

  • Wesley Fink - Monday, August 20, 2007 - link

    The performance of the stock Intel Retail cooler also needs to be put in perspective. In our testing the Intel Retail HSF is stable to 3.73GHz at 1.50V. That translates into about 137W with an X6800 CPU.

    While early Intel Retail 775 coolers were very noisy, stock coolers since late Presller and through Core2 have been very quiet, as you can see in our noise measurements in reviews.

    With a stock cooler performing this well, we think a cooler HAS to provide performance better than Intel Stock to persuade you to buy it. We could argue using your logic that the difference between the Intel stock of 3.73GHz and the top 3.94GHz is only 200 megahertz and so it is minor. The wattage difference, however, is between 137W and 166W, which is a significant difference in the ability of coolers to dssipate heat.
  • ssiu - Monday, August 20, 2007 - link

    I have a serious question regarding this. 3.73Ghz is perfectly fine with me and I don't care for another 200Mhz. The louder noise of stock cooler is also okay with me. So that leaves the temperature difference of 71C for stock cooler versus (43C for Ultra-120 eXtreme, 47C for Ultima-90, 59C for NinjaB, 62C for Infinity, etc.) Does the stock cooler's higher temperature make the CPU die prematurely? Or is it a case of "the CPU is designed to withstand 71C; at 3.73Ghz, 71C may make it last 5 years instead of 10 years at 43C, but even at 71C it will become obsolete (too slow) before it will die"?
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, August 20, 2007 - link

    Intel shows a maximum recommended temp of 60.4C at 75W (stock) for the X6800 in their thermal design document at ftp://download.intel.com/design/processor/datashts...">ftp://download.intel.com/design/processor/datashts... However, 3.83 Ghz is about 137W and we really don't know the recommendations at these higher frequencies since they represent overclocks.

    It would seem reasonable to aim for lower than the max recommended temperature at stock speed if you are aiming for longevity of the CPU. That cahart can be found on p.85 of the Intel PDF linked above.
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, August 20, 2007 - link

    Correction - 3.73GHz at 1.5V is about 135W - which is the max stable speed with the Intel stock HSF. Sorry for the typo. Reply
  • Jedi2155 - Monday, August 20, 2007 - link

    To Coolerman:

    I had the Tuniq 120 for about 6 months on my E6600 setup, and although it was a great cooler and signifcantly cheaper than the Ultra 120 Extreme, it just isn't as good when all things are considered (size, noise levels, fan options) and the Ultra 120 extreme is worth the price difference IMO. The size made installation ever so much easier than the Tuniq and improvement in cooling (even with a cheap $7 thermaltake fan) was significant (went from 80 C Intel TAT to around 70 C).

    I definitely think that you should recategorize the coolers, but instead of temperature, how about price range or probably best category SIZE.

    I've had a number of issues during builds for friends, where the a certain cooler wouldn't fit (like a Tuniq 120 or the Ultra 120 Extreme) fit inside a case without significant modification (with a pair of pliers and remove a good section of the case).

    That should help us decide better than just pure temperatures and overclock speed.
  • CZroe - Monday, August 20, 2007 - link

    I think that sorting by value/prices is a bad idea. Have you looked for the actual prices? Anandtech's reported suggested prices and "actual" market prices have been FAR lower than I've been able to find in each cooler that interested me. I eventually just settled on the Ultra-120 Extreme and the same fan from Newegg and paid FAR too much.

    Perhaps the observed difference is because they keep getting price results for similar models (which complicated my own searching) or the only places that still carry some of these still have them because they always overcharged.

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