Conclusion
 
Our industry seems to be one filled with superlatives. Each new product name sounds as if it came through a marketing group looking for another name that signifies the top, the best, the super-duper whatever. After a while, you become numb to what names really mean since the performance reality is often quite different from the incredible performance promised by most product names.

Even in that environment, using the name Nirvana takes guts. Fortunately for ZEROtherm, the performance of the Nirvana NV120 is deserving of its name. For silence purists, however, the Nirvana is not as successful. Its best performance is achieved at the expense of noise that will be too high for many, although silence can be achieved by turning down the fan speed with the included fan controller. The problem of course is silent operation still pays a performance price, and there are several other coolers tested that strike a better balance between silence and performance.
 
That does not change in any way the fact that the ZEROtherm Nirvana belongs on the short list of top performing coolers. It is in the same league as the top Thermalright offerings, the Tuniq Tower, and the Scythe Infinity with push-pull fans. In fact, at a street price of around $45 the Nirvana is also one of the best values in the top-performing air cooler category.

The ZEROtherm Nirvana shines as an incredibly efficient cooler for users who will not overclock to extreme levels. In this environment, users can dial down the fan to low speed and the cooler can still provide some of the best cooling ever measured in our cooler tests.

At the top of the cooler pyramid the Nirvana still competes very well in both performance and silence by running the fan at around 2000RPM. However, performance here is a compromise. The Nirvana at 2000RPM falls slightly behind  several top coolers that are as quiet as or quieter than the 2000RPM Nirvana. At the lowest fan speed the Nirvana is effectively silent, but overclocking tops out at around 3.78 GHz, which is quite a compromise from the top performance at high fan speeds.

What all of this is saying is that the ZEROtherm is an incredibly flexible cooler. With the fan cranked up it can compete with the best in cooling performance, and with the fan cranked down it can compete with the quietest solutions you can buy. Unfortunately it can't do both exceptionally well at the same time. With a non-upgradeable fan what we measured is what you get and that is certainly very good performance. However, to really top our performance charts ZEROtherm needs to improve the noise levels of the integrated fan. Output is great and competitive, but noise levels need some improvement.

The ZEROtherm Nirvana NV120 belongs in the list of top air coolers. It can compete with anything available and it is a great value. However, it can't do both performance and low noise at the same time as well as some of its competitors. Having said that, the Nirvana is still one of the best air coolers you can buy and it is selling at a very fair price.
Overclocking and Performance Scaling
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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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