Cooler Testing Revisited

Until recently we haven't been very aggressive in testing CPU cooling methods. I'd been busy with notebooks, desktops, cases, and peripherals, but good and consistent writers are hard to come by in this industry, and eventually I couldn't say no. Tentatively, I gave it the old college try, starting with two radiator fan roundups and then doing multiple liquid cooling roundups. Interestingly, it was when more conventional air cooling popped up on my radar that things got complicated.

The cooling testbed was and is solid. We use a 200mm BitFenix Spectre Pro that's throttled to 5V as an intake, and that's in the front of a BitFenix Shinobi XL enclosure, a case which is almost perfect for our needs. The low speed on the Spectre Pro allows for intake of cool air without negatively affecting noise testing, and for closed loop liquid cooling, this is fine. Where things get more dicey is when you introduce an air cooler into the testbed, because as a couple of you rightfully pointed out, without an exhaust fan to direct air, air coolers suffer tremendously performance wise. To be certain I took our original testbed, added a 140mm Noctua fan with a low noise adaptor, and mounted it to the rear exhaust of the Shinobi XL. Even with a minimally powered exhaust fan, the differences in performance were pronounced. Since this is the situation air coolers will typically find themselves in, I'm now using that exhaust fan for testing air coolers. Closed loop coolers continue to do without.

There was one other wrinkle with the existing testbed: our motherboard just wasn't especially stable, and if it crashed, it was difficult to get it to post again. Recently, this became easy to remedy: the micro-ATX board I was originally using for case testing was retired in favor of a full ATX board. Switching over to the Gigabyte GA-Z68MX-UD2H-B3 meant having a more reliable and more fearsome overclock on the Intel Core i7-2700K. Now the chip runs hotter, the socket lines up correctly with the hole in the case's motherboard tray, and it's more stable overall.

Of course all of these changes mean one important thing: a lot of coolers needed to be retested under these more stressful (but also sometimes more ideal) conditions. To be sure, the previous roundups are still useful for comparing products in their individual categories, but now liquid coolers aren't the juggernauts they used to be. Out of the coolers we've already tested, I selected ten to be revisited: five air coolers and five closed loop liquid coolers.

Coinciding with these revisions is our evaluation of Cooler Master's Seidon 240M closed loop cooler along with two new tower coolers from Noctua, the NH-U12S and NH-U14S, both of which were designed to create clearance for memory modules with tall heatsinks. The Seidon 240M is noteworthy because it's not directly sourced from Asetek or CoolIT Systems as many of these products are, and uses a proprietary waterblock design that theoretically improves overall cooling performance.

The Cooler Master Seidon 240M
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  • Rogerdodge1 - Friday, April 26, 2013 - link

    are these really the delta temps in Celsius above room temp? if they are then even at a room temp of 21.11C (70 F) you have gone way beyond the temp spec on the processor(72.6C at the heat spreader) with several of your air coolers....even if these are absolute temps Celsius some of the air coolers are dangerously close to max temp. I understand pushing the overclock to test the coolers, but subjecting the chip to those temps is bound to kill it a lot quicker. i suppose if this is all you use it for it doesn't matter much, but damn i would hate to do that to a chip i paid for. Reply
  • Bobs_Your_Uncle - Friday, April 26, 2013 - link

    I've remained extremely intrigued with both the design & the potential efficacy of a prototyped cooler noted within Anandtech ( http://forums.anandtech.com/showthread.php?t=21782... ) & elsewhere ( http://www.tomshardware.com/news/cpu-cooler-sandia... --- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWQZNXEKkaU ). It's been quite some time since initially publicized & I wonder if you might know where to research for an update on it's status?

    While the concept has many possible applications, the thought of it's implementation for PC component cooling is enough to excite one into debilitating nervous ticks. (Well, maybe it's not quite that exciting, but ..... I'm still interested on where it is in development!)
    Reply
  • politbureau - Friday, April 26, 2013 - link

    Hey Dustin, where's the H110? I understand you'd like to limit the test to 'current' coolers, but the H110 is still readily avaialable at retail, and it seems coutnerproductive not to include what should be the top performaing CLC is this roundup... Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, April 26, 2013 - link

    The H110 and Kraken X60 are almost the exact same product, just different fans (understanding that Corsairs fans are superior) and different control (the Kraken X60 uses USB and software, the H110 relies entirely upon your motherboard). But they're the same Asetek radiator and I suspect the same pump. Reply
  • Guspaz - Friday, April 26, 2013 - link

    I recently tried to replace my Shuttle's 92mm fan with a Noctua NF-B9 PWM, which was a very disappointing experience. Yes, it was quiet, but it also spins extremely slowly at max speed, with a low static pressure and a very low airflow. The end result was an increase in CPU load temperatures of 40 degrees (celcius) or so, which is pretty damned massive. Since the CPU fan in a Shuttle doubles as the case fan (the CPU has a heatplate which connects via heatpipes to a large heatsink on the rear of the case, onto which a 92mm fan blows air through it, cooling the CPU and exhausting air from the case at the same time).

    The problem is that the stock fan, while decently quiet up until 35-40% speed, has this point around 40% speed where it very quickly gets very loud (motor noise, not airflow noise). Some research showed that there are only a tiny handful of fans on the market that spin anywhere near as fast (Delta had one, that's about it), and they're a tad pricey to buy on a "hope it's quieter at medium speeds".

    Is it really so much to ask for a fan that is quiet at lower speeds, but can still spin fast (loud if required)? I don't care how loud the thing is at max speed, because if I'm gaming I've got headphones on anyhow. But during normal use (or while trying to sleep) the occasional CPU spike pushes it just past the 40% mark and even the 5% speed bump causes an audible revving.
    Reply
  • epoon2 - Friday, April 26, 2013 - link

    to your point on quiet at lower speeds, but can still spin fast (loud if required) -

    It would be more expensive, and the fan may be larger, and the original target audience would flock because their original wish was getting a quiet fan at all times.
    Reply
  • FH123 - Sunday, April 28, 2013 - link

    I'm a bit out of the game, but I think the Noctua fans that only have 6 blades, spaced quite far apart, have a reputation for low air pressure and don't work well when the CPU heat sink has lots of closely spaced fins. I also use a Noctua fan (see below), but it's a model with more blades and more closely spaced ones.

    In general I agree with you. Fans that run at low speeds by default are a silly marketing phenomenon, which are only useful when you don't have a fan controller, no motherboard fan headers or can't get to grips with the freely available Speedfan program. What you really want is a fan that will still actuate and won't stall at low speeds (say 600RPM), but can ramp up to (much) higher speeds, if needed.

    Another phenomenon I find with my own fan / case combination is that there are certain speeds where the fan noise takes on a distinct and annoying pitch. I don't think it's motor whine, but perhaps some sort of whistling effect produced by the fan holes in the case. This happens at 1,300RPM and around 1,050RPM for me, but neither at 900RPM nor 1,200RPM. I therefore find it very important to be able to regulate the fan speed.
    Reply
  • StitchExperimen - Sunday, April 28, 2013 - link

    I would like to see the replacement of fans with 9 blade fans and see if a lower rpm and higher air flow makes a difference. I took two 9 blade fans in push pull on a Corsair 80i on a i7 3770 because the stock fan noise was so loud/bad. Possibly with this is what I used in push pull from newegg >>> COUGAR CF-V12HPB Vortex Hydro-Dynamic-Bearing (Fluid) 300,000 Hours 12CM Silent Cooling Fan with Pulse Width Modulation (Black) Reply
  • FH123 - Sunday, April 28, 2013 - link

    Are there any fan ducts still on the market? I built my PC years ago using a Thermalright HR-01 with the optional fan duct that connects the heatsink to the rear 120mm case fan. This arrangement seems to work very well, which perhaps ties in with your observation that the case fan is very important for air coolers. Fan ducts also seem to be common in commercial designs from the likes of Dell. I don't even use a CPU fan, only the case fan.

    If it's of any interest, my system is built in an Antec Solo case, optimised for low noise. The only fans are the rear case fan, the power supply fan (at the top of the case) and the GPU fan (ATI 5850 radial fan). There is no front intake fan. The Q9650 CPU has a mild overclock from 3 to 3.6GHz, while remaining at stock voltage. The case fan, at 1,200RPM, keeps the CPU within 45 to 50C over ambient during a Prime stress test. It runs at merely 900RPM during lighter loads.
    Reply
  • flemeister - Sunday, April 28, 2013 - link

    You can easily make your own with cardboard and tape. I've found a three-sided duct to be the best for connecting a CPU heatsink to a rear fan (with the open side facing the motherboard). It still pulls plenty of air through the CPU heatsink, but also allows air to be pulled over the motherboard VRMs. Reply

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