Silent Cooling Performance and Absolute Performance

Testing cases is in some ways much simpler than testing coolers, and a large part of that is because outside of an integrated fan controller, there's really not as much variability in the case's stock performance. Coolers, on the other hand, immediately benefit from the motherboard's fan control, and that has to be taken into account. They also have a more direct effect on the CPU's overall thermal performance. That means we need to break down the results into more useful metrics.

The first one is for silent performance. As a noise cap, I've chosen 33dB. Any coolers or settings that resulted in idle or load noise above 33dB have been pruned from the chart.

Cooling Performance (Sub-33dB Coolers)

While every cooler I've tested today makes an appearance on this chart, the closed loop liquid coolers unfortunately have a clear advantage here. These are all quality units using excellent fans, though, and I'm keen to point out that you have to go to a 240mm or 280mm radiator before the closed loop units take a decisive lead. Generally speaking, you can get close to a 120mm or 140mm closed loop's cooling potential in an air cooler with comparable noise levels.

I'm keen to point out that Cooler Master's inexpensive Hyper 212 EVO actually does put in a pretty good showing here. Users on a budget would do well to note that it actually beats SilverStone's much larger Heligon HE01 when the Heligon's fan isn't cranked up.

With silent cooling broken down, let's take a look at the absolute maximum performance that can be gleaned from the coolers we've tested so far.

Maximum Cooling Performance

As it turns out, the closed loop coolers have a bit more headroom left in them compared to the majority of the air coolers tested. Our top performing trio is pretty much neck and neck for thermal performance, and even the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO is able to get awfully close to them. If you want high end air performance, you can definitely have it at a good price.

Acoustic Performance, Maximum Cooling

Of our big winners, though, Noctua and be quiet!'s solutions prove to be the quietest. SilverStone's Heligon may be able to produce comparable thermals, but that 38mm thick fan has to do an awful lot of grunt work to get there.

Performance Results Conclusions, Part 1: Noctua and SilverStone
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  • kmmatney - Saturday, March 16, 2013 - link

    The test setup was fine to me, and all coolers are measured under the same conditions, which is what is really important. I have an 212 EVO cooling a Core i5 running at 4.3 Ghz. I can't stand any noise, so only have a single case fan, running very slow. I've been thinking about moving my single exhaust fan to be an intake to get positive pressure. Reply
  • Egg - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    What about a test bench? I can see where Dustin is coming from regarding not wanting the case fans to affect the test result. Reply
  • JeBarr - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    quote " the NH-L12 stands to impress as potentially the most powerful downward-flow cooler on the market."

    Correction: Noctua NH-C14 or Phanteks PH-TC14CS hold that title.

    Thanks again Dustin for another fine air cooler review. Keep 'em comin'!
    Reply
  • rhx123 - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    I have a NH-L9i and I pretty much got it as a stock cooler replacement, my temps were fine on a i5-3470 but the noise was not.

    I have a huge phobia of of a large chunk of metal damaging my machine when I move it, but for a multiplier-locked CPU getting a closed loop would be mad.

    The NH-L9i is very quiet on idle, and more importantly the fan doesn't have an obvious tonality like some fans do.
    Reply
  • jrs77 - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    The CM Hyper 212 Evo is still the best cooler, when you take it's price into account. Additionally you can make it even better with a $15-fan like the Akasa Apache PWM, which outperforms the stock-fan in both: noise and airflow. And even with an additional fan you're still paying less then for the other bigger coolers.

    The AIO-liquid coolers are not really that impressive imho. I've had a Corsair H50 and H60 and an intel AIO-liquid cooler and allthough they showed better temps, the pumps and fans were loud and made irritating high-pitched noises. Not to mention that I had to RMA both Corsair-coolers (the H50 even twice) because the pump made rattling noises.
    Also, for the money of them you can get a very good aircooler, performing just as well, especially if you're not overclocking. With regards to that, you should test a Prolimatech Genesis with two silent 140mm fans sometime.
    Reply
  • A5 - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    To be fair, the H50 and H60 are the two cheapest CLCs on the market. If one is going that route, this testing shows the larger CLCs to be the ones to look at. The "cheap" ones don't really perform appreciably better than the CM 212 EVO and cost 50+% more. Reply
  • HisDivineOrder - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    Pumps fail. That's enough for me right there to stay air. Sure, fans fail, too, but with a CLC you have the fans AND the pump at risk of failure. With air cooling, it's just the fan.

    The difference between those coolers--air and water--is so small so as to be insignificant in day to day usage. The only reason someone should go for water cooling is if they want to break some speed records, but CLC should stay out of mainstream, every day systems.

    Imo.
    Reply
  • Rick83 - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    Is there an error in the noise chart?
    How can the PWM L9i be louder than the 100% L9i?
    Especially, as in the text it doesn't say so.
    Would be great if you could fix that.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    Thanks for finally reviewing a Coolermaster 212 series unit; because their ubiquity gives lots of people a known reference point to compare performance with.

    Could you add a YateLoon fan to your next fan roundup for the same purpose since they're one of the most popular budget 120mm fans?
    Reply
  • Beenthere - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - link

    Dustin - Again you display a strange and absurd POV on HSFs...

    "...and if for whatever reason a closed loop cooler isn't on your list..."

    Why would any technically astute consumer have a CLC on their "list" of desirable CPU coolers when CLCs are inferior in every typical CPU cooling metric used by consumers, including thermal efficiency, noise, cost and reliability. If you ignore all of the obvious reasons to not buy a CLC and just buy one because you want one or don't know any better, that is fine but no one with a technical clue would buy or recommend a CLC based on merit.
    Reply

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