There have been several coolers that have topped our air cooling benchmarks in recent months, and all of the best coolers have several things in common. The best are all based on heatpipe tower designs, they all feature side-blowing 120mm fans (and sometimes two 120mm fans in a push-pull configuration), and they are all relatively heavy and huge. It certainly appears that if you needed to dissipate more than 150W from your overclocked CPU that you clearly need a big and heavy cooler.

It has always been interesting to note that Thermalright competes exceptionally well using a slightly smaller cooler - just as wide but not nearly so deep as others. This reached the height of efficiency in the top-performing Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme, which is our current performance leader. The eXtreme is the same size as the very competitive Ultra-120, but it manages better performance with the careful design and placement of six heatpipes in the same Ultra-120 design.

We were reminded of this again in our last review of the smaller ZEROtherm BTF90, which uses a smaller 92mm fan and is selling for a lower price than the best. The BTF90 competes very well with the top coolers with very low noise. It isn't the most effective at cooling in our competition, but it's certainly a good choice without too much compromise in performance at the top.

Apparently Thermalright has been thinking in the same vein. We recently received a shipment from Asia containing a new Thermalright model, which they call the Ultima-90. The design is very similar to other Thermalright heatpipe towers, only as you might expect it comes in a slightly smaller package.

At first glance you may mistake the Ultima-90 for the current Ultra-90, which comes in both 775 and AMD versions. If you look closely, however, you will see that the Ultima-90 has six heatpipes instead of the four seen in the Ultra-90 design. Thermalright calls the design six heatpipes since it is six fully looped heatpipes. Other makers might refer to this as a 12-pipe design, since there are 12 riser pipes.

We shrugged our shoulders when we first saw the Ultima-90, since we assumed the size reduction would drop the Ultima-90 to another performance category. Thermalright then told us that in their testing the Ultima-90 could outperform many full-size 120mm heatpipe towers. That certainly piqued our interest. There is also the fan factor, since the high-end Thermalrights do not ship with a fan. The Ultima-90 provides two sets of fan clips.

One will mount 120mm fans on the small Ultima-90.

A second set of clips mounts a standard 92mm fan.

Since the Ultima-90 carries the same heatpipe setup as the top-performing Ultra-120 eXtreme and mounts 92mm and 120mm fans, our test configuration needs to look at the Ultima-92 with both a 120mm fan and a 92mm fan. How does the smaller and cheaper ($49.95 retail) Ultima-90 compete with the top guns in these two configurations?

Thermalright Ultima-90
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  • Rick1 - Sunday, August 26, 2007 - link

    In a couple of post above the questions are asked Why run one of these coolers

    My answer is simple
    Quiet and cool running system

    The only fan I hear is the One installed in the hard drive compartment of this P182B case
    ( cooling 4 drives. 2x raptors and 2x Barracuda 7200.10 SATA 3.0Gb/s 500-GB )

    With 2 fans S-Flex blowing in and the stock two exhaust fans
    This Q6600 runs at 32Cto35C and has never gone over 48C under a full load

    I was never able to get the stock H/S below 50C on warm days
  • jnk - Thursday, October 18, 2007 - link

    question for the reviewer:

    when you reviewed the ultima-90, when mounted were you able to twist it? I recently bought one and i can twist it even while its locked and the screws are tight. I emailed thermalright about it and they that its normal.
  • Patvs - Saturday, August 25, 2007 - link

    This is the best CPU cooler review on the net! I have one question though.
    In the Noise Level test, some coolers are tested with low and high RPM settings.
    For example the Tuniq Tower 120 @1000 RPM and @2100 RPM. However the Thermaltake Big Typhoon VX is only tested @2000 RPM.

    Is the HIGH RPM setting always used for the Temperature Tests (IDLE and LOAD)?? Or do you use the LOW RPM setting as default for the temperature tests? *confused* If HIGH: it shows the Tuniq is really quiet at LOW RPM, but you show its cooler potential in temperature in HIGH RPM? How does it cool at LOW RPM? (or if LOW: how much does the temperature decrease if the cooler is at HIGH RPM) Also I would love to see a test with TWO fans hooked up to some of these coolers in the future.
  • Patvs - Saturday, August 25, 2007 - link

    Edit: You state you use stock speed RPM settings for the temperature tests.
    So why use 2000 RPM for the Big Typhoon VX? Isn't its stock speed 1300 RPM. (it is for the Big Typhoon non-VX version without the fan controller)
  • muddocktor - Wednesday, August 22, 2007 - link

    As always, a good heatsink review by you, Wesley. But I have a question about the Thermalright samples that you all get for review. Do you receive these directly from Thermalright or are they procured from an authorized reseller such as Sidewinder Computers or Newegg from actual shipping production? The reason I ask is that while I find the engineering and design of Thermalright's heatsinks to be top-notch, I have personally found that their base finish to be spotty. I own or have owned 2 XP90's, an XP90-C, SI 120, Ultra 120, and an Ultra 120 eXtreme (all bought at retail except the SI 120, which was bought used) and of those the only ones that had a half decent base finish that was usable as-is were the XP90-C and SI 120. The others either had a fairly poor base finish with visible machining marks left in them and in the case of the U-120, an absolutely horrible base finish with a ridge left on one side of the base. The XP-90's also had very concave bases too. All saw improved to much improved performance after giving the base a lap job. If you are getting your review samples directly from Thermalright instead of from a vendor that handles their heatsinks, I am sure that the samples you receive are thoroughly checked for finish before sending them out to you and aren't truly representative of what is actually going out for sale through normal channels. It would be interesting to see if you could get some samples from someone online that didn't know they were going to Anandtech (to minimize the chance of cherry picking the heatsinks) and do a consistency review showing differences (or lack of) in performance of production line Thermalright heatsinks.

    Also, I have heard the thing Thermalright has put out about the concaveness of their bases being engineered into their design and don't buy that a bit. I think that is just something the salesmen have thought up to cover inconsistencies in the base finish from their manufacturer and my experience (so far) has proved out for me at least that a lapped, flat base works better on both LGA775 and socket 939 systems. Other than the base finish though, I find that Thermalright makes the best overall line of premium aircooling equipment on the market.
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, August 22, 2007 - link

    We first tested the Ultima-90 with a pre-production cooler. Results were then verified with a Retail cooler from a stocking retailer. Where there have been questions about items being "hand-picked" we often verify results with a retail sample.

    In the case of the Ultima-90 the performance of the Thermalright-supplied Ultima-90 and the one off the Retail shelf were exactly the same.
  • muddocktor - Sunday, September 2, 2007 - link

    Thank you for the answer answer on your samples you test, Wesley. I guess I just have bad luck in the base finishes I get on the Thermalright heatsinks I buy then. But since I know how to lap the base anyways it's no big problem for me. Thermalright does make some truly excellent products for cooling highly overclocked cpus.
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, September 3, 2007 - link

    Thermalright is not alone in advocating convex bases. Swiftech has moved from promoting flat, mirror-finish bases to convex bases with a finish not as good. They call them their bow base and claim 2 to 4C better performance with the "bow".

    Engineers have found that the convex base (fat center) mates tighter in the area of the CPU under the cap. Also Intel manufactures caps that are not flat by design - conncave, convex, and wave designs are all used in certain processors. Research shows the convex cooler base mates best with any of these 3 Intel cap types.

    The point is this is not a marketing story, as you will see as we go into water-cooling in more detail. Lapping a convex base Thermalright can DROP performance by 2 to 4C.
  • customcoms - Friday, August 24, 2007 - link

    Any chance you guys will be reviewing an Ultra-90? The reason I ask is because silicon valley computers often has these heatsinks in stock and on sale for $15...that seems like a great bargain to me especially when the bigger brothers, the Ultra-120 and 120 eXtreme, retail for upwards of $50. I would really like to know if spending the extra money for an Ultima-90 or Ultra-120 is even worth the performance increase...
  • dm0r - Tuesday, August 21, 2007 - link

    Great review Wesley, as aways.

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