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 5.05.22.00 (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
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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
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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)
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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... Reply
  • dm0r - Tuesday, August 21, 2007 - link

    Great review Wesley, as aways. Reply

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