Roundup: 15 affordable coolers - BeHardware
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Written by Marc Prieur

Published on March 23, 2011

URL: http://www.behardware.com/art/lire/824/


Page 1

Introduction



Although processors are supplied with box coolers, these coolers are pretty basic and donít generally cool a high end processor in load in silence. So donít even think about overclocking in such circumstances!

If you want a quiet configuration in load or a system that allows you to overclock (and why not both!), you need to acquire an additional cooler. The best options are of course very effective but also expensive but there are many solutions available at between Ä15 and Ä30. We have selected fifteen for this report:


- Akasa X4
- Arctic Cooling Freezer 13
- Arctic Cooling Freezer 7
- Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus
- Cooler Master Hyper TX3
- Corsair A50
- Evercool Transformer 3
- Gelid Tranquillo
- Scythe Big Shuriken
- Scythe Katana III
- Spire CoolGate 10
- Thermaltake Contact 29
- Xigmatek Gaia SD1283
- Xigmatek Loki SD963
- Zalman CNPS 5X

For comparison purposes we have also included a more expensive model, the Noctua NH-UB9, as well as the cooler that Intel supplies with its LGA1155 Core i7 processors.
Towers and heatpipes across the board
In a comparison of coolers from 2003, only three models out of twenty used a heatpipe system and there were no tower coolers. In a cooler roundup two years later 1/3 of the solutions tested were tower coolers.

Things have developed further since then and almost all the coolers tested here use heatpipes. Heatpipes contain a liquid which is vaporised under the effect of the heat and therefore rises up before being cooled back into liquid form and falling back down within the pipe. This method transports the heat away from its source more effectively than simple thermal conduction.

The popularity of tower coolers comes from the fact that they are more efficient as they extend the available cooling area. The placement of these coolers so as to favour the extraction of air from the back of the casing also helps to optimise overall airflow. Of course, you need to have a big enough casing to house such a cooler.


Page 2
PWM, installation

PWM fan or not?
Over the last few years the PWM or Pulse With Modulation style control has become more and more common for fans. This type of fan is easy to recognise as they donít use a 3 wires standard connector but a 4 wires one.

A standard DC fan with three wires is supplied with 12V and you simply reduce this to reduce its rotation speed. The PWM is quite different because you stay at 12V but a series of very fast stop/start signals are sent to the fan via the fourth wire. The frequency of these signals regulates the fan speed, generally resulting in more precise and immediate control.

Connecteur PWM 4 fils

These advantages are nevertheless pretty limited in practice and PWM mainly just simplifies motherboard handling of fans Ė simpler integration of circuits than for standard DC regulation. As most motherboards have abandonned regulation by DC fans in favour of PWM, fan manufacturers have generally followed the market. Only Noctua and Corsair still use a standard DC power supply.
Simple installation or not?
The coolers in this comparison are generally easy to install. You do nevertheless need a bit of patience with those that require you to install a support plate at the back of the motherboard.

If you donít have a casing that gives access to the back of the motherboard, youíll also have to uninstall the motherboard before you can position the cooler. This can be a bit demotivating so you should definitely check this out before purchase if you think it might discourage you from changing the cooler.

Fixation Intel ŗ gauche, AMD ŗ droite

While it does require a bit more time to mount, fixing the cooler with a plate at the back has the advantage of being more solid than standard AMD and Intel retention mechanisms. As the PC is a pretty sedentary animal, this isnít a big problem but with a standard AMD or Intel cooler donít forget to transport the machine in horizontal position so that the cooler doesnít come unstuck and damage any other components. If youíre using a parcels firm we recommend you take such a cooler out before shipping.


Page 3
Orientation, memory

Optimal orientation
On an Intel platform, itís up to the user to choose the orientation of the fan. Youíre generally advised to direct the flow of air towards the back of the casing rather than towards the top because most of the time the power supply is placed at the top, except in casings where itís underneath. There is however generally an extractor fan at the back.


On the AMD platform you have no choice. If you use motherboard mounting brackets, the flow of air will generally be directed towards the top of the casing where the power supply is generally positioned. In higher end casings the power supply is placed at the bottom and thereís also an extractor fan at the top.

Directing the flow of air towards the power supply isnít a great idea as this heats it up a bit, though it isnít a disastrous solution. Three of the coolers are an exception to this rule and direct the air towards the back of the casing on AM3, using standard mounting brackets: the Cooler Master Hyper TX3, Scythe Katana III and Zalman CNPS 5X.

Other coolers require you to uninstall the standard AMD brackets on the motherboard and use proprietary ones instead, in which case you can sometimes orientate the airflow towards the back of the casing. This is what happens with the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus and the Xigmatek Gaia SD1283 and Loki SD963. In spite of the fact that it has a proprietary mounting bracket, the Noctua NH-U9B still directs the flow of air towards the top of the casing.
Cooler orientation and memory
Itís important to note that the orientation of the cooler can have an impact on whether or not you can use memory modules accompanied by large radiators. The fan can fit above standard memory, which we measured at between 30 to 35 mm from the socket depending on the model, while with some radiators the memory can extend to as much as 50mm.


Looking at the distance that separates the centre of the cooler from the extremity of the fan, on our Intel DP67BG test motherboard, when this distance is beyond around 51mm the fan passes above the first DIMM and when beyond 59mm it passes above the first two DIMMs. On an AM3 motherboard such as the M4A889GTD PRO/USB3, you gain an extra 1mm which can sometimes make all the difference.

Not many coolers go beyond this limit however: the Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro Rev.2, the Noctua NH-U9B and the Scythe Big Shuriken all do. In this case, the simplest thing is of course to use standard memory modules, but when the cooler is mounted with the flow of air towards the top of the casing, it is possible to use the second DIMM with a bigger memory module on the Arctics and Noctuas, something worth taking into account on purchase!


Page 4
Test protocol

Test protocol
We took two separate readings to evaluate the various cooling systems covered in this report.

First of all we took temperature readings to measure cooling capacity. For this we used a Core i7-2600K CPU loaded with Prime95. The temperatures at idle werenít taken as they arenít particularly representative given the low consumption levels of such a processor in idle: pretty much any cooler can dissipate ten or so watts quietly. This CPU was used in three configurations:

- At the base clock with energy consumption measured at 77 watts by the ATX12V
- Overclocked to 4.5 GHz and 1.35V, with energy consumption of 134 watts
- Overclocked to 4.8 GHz and 1.45V, with energy consumption of 175 watts

All the fans were tested with DC at four different voltages: 5V, 7V, 9V and 12V. Four gradings are given:

- N/A: The fan isnít working at this voltage
- Failure: Cooling insufficient, the CPU throttles power
-Temperature in red: Above 74.5įC (temperature obtained in load on an i7-2600K with a box cooler)
-Temperature in black: Temperature reading given

A few explanations follow: During a failure, the cooler doesnít manage to maintain the temperature of at least one of the cores under 95įC. The CPU then lowers its clock in an attempt to maintain temperatures at a level that wonít be damaging.


The temperature reading given corresponds to the average temperature of the four cores as reported by HWMonitor. The tests were not carried out in a casing. The room temperature was 22.5įC. For a temperature reading to be considered as acceptable, we leave ourselves a leeway of around 20įC, which corresponds to the temperature obtained using the Intel box cooler at 12V on a 2600K at its base clock: 74.5įC.


Noise levels were measured with a Cirrus Optimus CR152A Class 2 sonometer, which can measure levels as low as 21 dBA, the lowest level permitted by the room used for testing. This is the first time weíve used this high end sonometer. Up until now we were using more standard sonometers that permitted us to measure down to levels of between 30 and 35 dBA. Weíre planning to roll out usage of this type of sonometer in our other tests so as to be able to publish results that are comparable from one domain tested to another.

The cooler was placed on the ground with the sonometer 50cm away and raised up 25cm to take the reading. The solutions measured at between 21 and 22 dBA can be considered as quiet. Up to 25 dBA and the cooling is discreet. Between 25 and 30 dBA can be seen as standard. Between 30 and 35 dBA is starting to get noisy and between 35 and 40 dBA is very noisy. Beyond 40 dBA can be considered as difficult to put up with for a computer, though this is of course subjective.


Page 5
Akasa X4 test

Akasa X4 AK-968

The Akasa X4 is a standard tower cooler with three copper heatpipes that lead into a copper base that comes into contact with the processor. The fins are cooled by a 92mm PWM fan. It comes with an installation manual and a sachet of thermal paste.
Installation
Itís easiest to mount on an Intel platform as official Intel clips are used. You simply position them according to the motherboard (LGA 775, 1155/1156 or LGA1366), press them in and hey presto! On an AMD platform you have to take the pre-installed Intel brackets off. Unscrew the four screws to do this and then youíll be able to use the standard AMD clips.

Optimal orientation means memory bars with large radiators canít be used on the first slot on our test LGA 1155 and AM3 motherboards, though they can be on the second.
Results

While itís quiet at 5V, the Akasa X4 unfortunately doesnít have sufficient cooling power for the Core i7-2600K. At 7V itís no longer quiet but remains contained. For a standard overclocking of the CPU, you need to take the fan up to 12V but noise levels are then far too high.
Assessment
Though not one of the most affordable solutions, the Akasa X4 only gives average thermal performance overall. A model to be avoided.


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Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro Rev test 2

Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro Rev. 2

The Arctic Freezer 7 Pro Rev.2 has three copper heatpipes and a copper base. The heatpipes are in contact with aluminium fins which are cooled by a 92mm PWM fan. Thereís a multilingual, illustrative installation manual. Thereís a thermal pad right above the cooler.
Mounting
On the Intel platform, first of all youíll need to install the 775/115x/1366 mounting bracket on the motherboard which can then be fixed to the cooler with a couple of screws. Then you just clip the fan to the radiator. Itís just as simple for AMD platforms. All you have to do is screw on the socket AM2/AM3 brackets and then clip the fan on.

Optimal orientation of the cooler meant we couldnít use memory bars with large radiators on the first two slots on our test LGA 1155 motherboard. With an AM3 motherboard this is the case on just one slot.
Results

The Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro Rev. 2 doesnít have the perforamnce to keep an i7-2600K at a good temperature in silence. You have to set it at 7V and noise levels then go up to 27.8 dBA, which is clearly audible. With the overclocked processors temperatures were unfortunately too high.
Assessment
Designed to be quiet, the Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro Rev. 2 doesnít manage to combine this with optimal thermal performance. It will be more at ease with a less demanding processor. Better to go for the larger Arctic, the Freezer 13.


Page 7
Arctic Cooling Freezer 13 test

Arctic Cooling Freezer 13

A step up from the Freezer 7 Pro Rev.2, the Freezer 13 has 4 instead of 3 heatpipes and a larger heat dissipation area. The fan used is still a 92mm PWM, with a thermal pad and multilingual manual. At 712g, this is the heaviest cooler in this comparison, even heavier than those using 120mm fans.
Installation
On the Intel platform, first of all youíll need to install the 775/115x/1366 mounting bracket to the motherboard which can then be fixed to the cooler with a couple of screws. Then you just clip the fan to the radiator. Itís just as simple for AMD platforms. All you have to do is screw on the socket AM2/AM3 brackets and then clip the fan on.

Optimal orientation of the cooler allowed us to use memory bars with large radiators on all slots on our test Intel motherboard. On the AM3 motherboard however, only standard height bars can be used on the first slot while the radiator passes slightly above the second DIMM but at a height of 5cm, which is sufficient.
Results

Here the Core i7-2600K can be cooled quietly in load as of 5V at which we measured it at 22.1 dBA. The fan even starts at 3V, which means noise levels can be reduced even further for the most sensitive ears. When the CPU is overclocked things are a little more complicated as the fan needs to run at 9V to cool the processor at 4.5 GHz and then the Freezer 13 is noisy. At the 4.8 GHz overclocking the Freezer 13 doesnít have sufficient thermal performance, even at 12V.
Assessment
In contrast to the Freezer 7, the Freezer 13 does allow you to cool a processor such as the i7-2600K quietly, even in load. It can even be used if youíre overclocking your processor, as long as youíre willing to put up with a bit of noise in load. Itís small and easy to install and is a good choice with high manufacture quality and, among other things, a completely inaudible fan motor.


Page 8
Cooler Master Hyper TX3 test

Cooler Master Hyper TX3

The CoolerMaster Hyper TX3 is one of the rare coolers in this report not to be LGA 1366 compatible. Its spec is nevertheless on a par with other coolers that are, as it has three heatpipes which are in direct contact with the processor. The fins are cooled by a 92mm PWM fan. It comes with a multilingual installation guide and a tube of thermal paste.
Installation
On Intel platforms itís mounted with the usual clip system that you need to fix to the radiator with eight screws. With an AMD processor a screwdriver isnít required and you use a bar with standard brackets around the socket. Then the fan is fixed using metal bars.

Optimal orientation means memory bars with large radiators canít be used on the first slot on our test LGA 1155 motherboard, though they can be on the second. In spite of the fact that it is mounted with the same orientation on the AM3 motherboard, no DIMM was affected on our card with the gap from the centre of the CPU to the 1st DIMM 51mm against 50mm on the Intel motherboard.
Results

A nice surprise here as although the Hyper TX3 needs to run at 7V to cool the Core i7-2600K, the noise levels measured at this voltage are almost inexistant. Unfortunately the motor noise is higher than the noise of the airflow, which isnít as nice to the ear. You have to go up to 9V when the processor is overclocked to 4.5 GHz and the TX3 is then fairly noisy. The TX3 doesnít manage to cool the CPU at the higher overclocking.
Assessment
The Hyper TX3 cools the Core i7-2600K in load without getting too noisy and can be found at under Ä20, making it excellent value for money. The mediocre build quality of the fan and the fact that the motor is audible even at lower speeds is however regrettable.


Page 9
Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus test

Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus

The CoolerMaster Hyper 212 Plus is one of seven solutions in this report that uses a 120mm fan. This extends the cooling area and also, in theory at least, gives more effective fan cooling. With no fewer than four heatpipes, it comes with a multilingual installation guide and a tube of thermal paste.
Installation
CoolerMaster have gone for a mounting system that requires the placement of a plate under the motherboard. This system is the most secure for large coolers but with most casings youíll need to uninstall the motherboard from an existing bracket, which lengthens installation time. Once this multi platform plate has been fixed on, you screw the cooler onto it. Then the fan is fixed using metal bars.

Optimal orientation means memory bars with large radiators canít be used on the first slot on our test LGA 1155 motherboard, though they can be on the second. In spite of the fact that it is mounted with the same orientation on the AM3 motherboard, no DIMM was affected on our card with the gap from the centre of the CPU to the 1st DIMM 51mm against 50mm on the Intel motherboard.
Results

Like the TX3, the 212 Plus cools the 2600K well at 7V and hardly makes any noise doing so. Once again however you can hear the motor noise which isnít very pleasant. It still cools the 4.5 GHz overclocking at 9V though the noise levels go up to 29.5 dBA, noticeable but still reasonable. You wonít be able to overclock up to 4.8 GHz with this cooler however.
Assessment
Like the TX3, the Hyper 212 Plus offers an excellent cooling to cost ratio. Unfortunately they also both have the same faults, namely poorer quality fan build and the fact that the motor is audible, something that may well get worse after several weeks of usage.


Page 10
Corsair Air Series A50 test

Corsair Air Series A50 - CAFA50

Well-known for its memory and power supplies, Corsair has also been producing coolers for a few years. The Corsair A50 uses a radiator with three heatpipes in direct contact with the processor. Itís cooled by a 120mm fan which doesnít have PWM type regulation so you have to make sure your motherboard can regulate a DC fan or opt for a rheobus. In addition to a very well-explained manual, it comes with a tube of thermal paste and a fan-slowing resistor that brings 12V down to around 9.6V.
Installation
Installation is different depending on whether youíre using an AMD or Intel platform. On an Intel platform, you need to use a support plate at the back of the motherboard, while on AMD platforms you only need a clip system. Then the fan is fixed simply using a clip.

Optimal orientation means memory bars with large radiators canít be used on the first slot on our test LGA 1155 motherboard, though they can be on the second. On an AM3 motherboard however the first two DIMMs canít be used unless you force things, something we donít advise you to do.
Results

The Corsair A50 was tested twice, with and without the fan-slowing resistor. Without this, the A50 isnít even quiet at 5V which is a bit of a shame. It does however cool effectively and is even able to cool the i7-2600K overclocked at 4.5 GHz at 5V. It canít cope with the 4.8 GHz overclocking however. With the fan-slowing resistor and at 5V, the 2600K can be cooled quietly though not completely silently.
Assessment
Itís worth using the Corsair A50 with the fan-slowing resistor all the time as the impact on cooling is a lot less than the noise reduction. The Corsair A50 gives an excellent compromise between cooling performance and noise levels and is in our top three. We should say that although the Corsair A50 is available at Ä30, this is because Corsair is getting rid of its stock. The initial launch price was Ä45.


Page 11
Evercool Transformer 3 test

Evercool Transformer 3

The Evercool Transformer 3 has three copper heatpipes that are in direct contact with the processor. It has a 120mm PWM fan to cool the aluminium fins. It comes with a tube of thermal paste and a manual in English.
Installation
On an AMD platform, it is fairly simple to install as standard AMD clips are used. Things are more complicated on Intel platforms because you have to place the screws in the bracket holes from the back of the motherboard, which may mean you have to remove it from the casing first. When it comes to the cooler, the bracket used in conjunction with the screws is already pre-installed for LGA775/115x and needs to be moved for LGA1366 and removed for AMD motherboards. Everything is then screwed together before the fan is mounted with fairly fragile plastic brackets that you can really only mount once (they become insecure if you try and uninstall and then install them again).

Optimal orientation means memory bars with large radiators canít be used on the first slot on our test LGA 1155 motherboard, though they can be on the second. On an AM3 motherboard however the first two DIMMs canít be used.
Results

At 5V, the Evercool Transformer 3 is very quiet though not silent and does enough to cool the 2600K. Once you overclock up to 4.5 GHz however, you need to increase the Transformer 3 to 12V and though the temperature levels remain fairly high the fan is then very noisy. The Transformer 3 wonít keep the processor at an acceptable temperature when itís clocked at 4.8 GHz.
Assessment
The Evercool Transformer 3 does okay but, with average thermal performance, doesnít stand out from the rest. Other solutions offer a better noise to cooling ratio.


Page 12
Gelid Tranquillo test

Gelid Tranquillo

With 4 heatpipes, the Gelid Tranquillo is sized for high performance. It comes with a 120 PWM fan and weighs no less than 668g, which makes it the second heaviest cooler in the report after the Freezer 13. In the box youíll find a multilingual installation guide and a tube of thermal paste.
Installation
There are different support plates for the various Intel sockets. You then fit the appropriate bracket to the cooler (again according to whether youíre using LGA775 or 1366/115x) before screwing it all on and mounting the cooler with metal bars. Itís easier to mount on AMD motherboards as you screw the mounting clips onto the cooler and use the standard clips available on AMD motherboards.

Optimal orientation means memory bars with large radiators canít be used on the first slot on our test LGA 1155 motherboard, though they can be on the second. On an AM3 motherboard however the first two DIMMs canít be used unless you force things, something we donít advise you to do.
Results

The Tranquillo doesnít start up at 5V. At 7V noise levels are low (23 dBA) though there is a slight motor sound. At the 4.5 GHz overclocking, you have to run the Tranquillo at 9V for sufficient cooling and noise levels are still tolerable. Even at 12V and its higher noise levels, the processor heats up too much at the 4.8 GHz overclocking.
Assessment
The Gelid Tranquillo offers a very good cooling/noise ratio. Though the motor noise is louder than on the Thermaltake Contact 29 and Corsair A50, which means we prefer them slightly, the three solutions offer similar thermal performance.


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Intel Box test

Intel Box

Weíve included the Intel box cooler thatís supplied with its box CPUs (including the i7-2600K) in the report as a reference. This solution hasnít really changed over the last few years. It consists of a copper core surrounded by aluminium fins, all cooled by an 80 mm fan. The fan is quite compact and is supplied with a thermal pad.
Installation
Nothing so simple as to mount this cooler. You just clip it into the holes provided on the motherboards. Very compact, it doesnít impact on the installation of memory at all.
Results

Only at 12V will it cool the Core i7-2600K in load sufficiently, but noise levels are then rather high. Donít even think about using such a cooler to cool an overclocked i7-2600K.
Assessment
Itís hard to look down your nose at a cooler that comes with the processor. It does what you ask of it and can even be quiet in idle though certainly not in load with powerful processors. It has the worst cooling/noise ratio in the report.


Page 14
Noctua NH-U9B SE2 test

Noctua NH-UB9 SE2

Like the Intel box cooler, weíve included the Noctua NH-UB9 in the report for reference purposes as itís a good deal more expensive than the others chosen for comparison. In spite of this, Noctua ďonlyĒ has a model for 92mm fans, of which there are two in the special edition currently on sale. The NH-UB9 comes with a guide as well as a tube of thermal paste and two fan-slowing resistors for the 92mm fans (not PMW). The first, the LNA, gives a voltage of 8.5V from the 12V setting, while the second, the ULNA, turns the 12V into a 6.6V. Apart from these resistors, you need to make sure your motherboard can regulate a DC fan or go for a rheobus.

Installation
Whether on the AMD or Intel platform, the cooler is mounted using a plate at the back of the motherboard, which can require you to remove the motherboard before you put the plate into place depending on your casing. After this you screw the system to the radiator before assembling all the elements. The fans are then mounted on simple metal bars but Noctua supplies an anti-vibration system that you place between these bars and the radiator.

Optimal orientation of the cooler meant we couldnít use memory bars with large radiators on the first two slots on our test LGA 1155 motherboard. On the AM3 motherboard, only the first DIMM was affected.
Results

There are no fewer than six possible configurations as Noctua supplies two fans that can be set up in three different ways (standard, LNA, ULNA).

The LNA and ULNA fan-slowing resistors are not worth bothering with if you have a motherboard or a rheobus that allows you to control the fans corectly as at 5V in standard mode the cooler is already silent, with no motor noise. It will cool the Core i7-2600K in load at this speed, whereas with the LNA the CPU is only sufficiently cooled at 9V and with the ULNA only at 12V. It can only cool the processor sufficiently at the 4.5 GHz overclocking at 12V without the fan-slowing resistor but it is then very noisy.

Using a second fan improves this state of affairs as you can then use the cooler in standard mode at 9V. The CPU then heats up to 70.8įC at 33.1 dBA, compared to 74.5įC at 38.1 dBA with one fan at 12V, which is considerably better!
Assessment
Thereís a high price to pay for the sort of high quality manufacture and support you get on the Noctua. In pure cooling terms the NH-UB9 is outdone by solutions that are up to twice as cheap. It can nevertheless cool the i7-2600K in load in silence, with an inaudible fan motor and the Noctua after sales service which has got into the habit of supplying free mounting kits when new sockets come out.


Page 15
Scythe Big Shuriken test

Scythe Big Shuriken

The Scythe Big Shuriken is one of those rare survivors from a previous era, a high end cooler that isnít in tower format! Although tower coolers do benefit from a better natural flow of air in the casing, their height can be a disadvantage in some casings for which the Big Shurken is a perfect fit. With three heatpipes, it has a 120mm PWM fan and comes with a multilingual installation manual and a sachet of thermal paste.
Installation
The Big Shuriken uses standard Intel and AMD mounting clips and therefore, at least in theory, you wonít have to take the motherboard out to fit it. It is however rather big and access to the clips isnít necessarily easy, which can require some acrobatics if the PC has already been assembled. Once youíve got the cooler in the right position though, installation is easy and fast. Whatever the orientation, you wonít be able to use memory with big radiators with the Big Shuriken.
Results

The Big Shuriken fan doesnít run at 5V. At 7V itís quiet but doesnít cool the Core i7-2600K sufficiently in load. It does at 9V but unfortunately at the price of higher noise levels, with the fan responding too fast to the increase in voltage. You wonít be able to use this fan when the processor is overclocked however.
Assessment
As the only cooler in the comparison that isnít in a tower format the Big Shuriken canít compete in pure performance terms. Its format does give it an advantage in some casings however though itís not always easy to install (or uninstall!).


Page 16
Scythe Katana 3 test

Scythe Katana 3

The Scythe Katana III stands out from the other tower coolers in this report in its resemblance to the tower of Pisa! As is often the case, it uses a three heatpipe system cooled by fins ventilated by a 92mm PWM fan. It comes with a multilingual installation guide and a sachet of thermal paste.
Installation
The Katana III is easy to mount as it uses the official bracket systems, whether on socket 775/115x/1366 or AM2/AM3 or even socket 478! The various clips are simply inserted on the side of the base with no screwing required.

Optimal orientation means memory bars with large radiators canít be used on the first slot on our test LGA 1155 and AM3 motherboards, though they can be on the second.
Results

Cooling a Core i7-2600K is easily within the capacities of this cooler and it does so quietly. To cool the CPU overclocked to 4.5 GHz you do however need to run it at 12V and noise levels then go up to 45.1 dBA, which is much too noisy to be tolerable! In spite of these noise levels, the Scythe Katana 3 canít correctly cool the 2600K overclocked to 4.8 GHz.
Assessment
The Katana III doesnít compare particularly well to the competition and we advise you to avoid this model.



Page 17
Spire CoolGate 10 test

Spire CoolGate 10

The Spire CoolGate 10 is in a standard design based on three heatpipes. A nickel plated copper base is in contact with the CPU and dissipates the heat via aluminium fins cooled by a 92mm DC fan. You therefore need to make sure your motherboard can regulate a DC fan or opt for a rheobus. It comes with a manual in English and a tube of thermal paste.
Installation
On the Intel platform you have to screw on a mounting system that uses standard clips. You wonít need your screwdriver with AM2/AM3 motherboards either as a metal bar is used to jimmy the standard AMD mounting bracket in.

Optimal orientation means memory bars with large radiators canít be used on the first slot on our test LGA 1155 motherboard, though they can be on the second. On an AM3 motherboard none of the DIMMs are affected.
Results

5V is enough to cool the Core i7-2600K. Although not silent, the CoolGate 10 is quiet at this voltage. You canít cool the processor with the Spire CoolGate 10 once itís overclocked, in spite of the fact that the fan gets very noisy.
Assessment
Even when you increase the speed of the fan, its thermal performance remains rather average. It isnít particularly cheap for all that and we therefore recommend you to look elsewhere.


Page 18
Thermaltake Contac 29 test

Thermaltake Contac 29

The ThermalTake Contac 29 uses three heatpipes like most of the coolers in this comparison. The heatpipes come into direct contact with the processor and it uses a 120mm PWM fan. It comes with a multilingual guide and a tube of thermal paste.
Installation
In spite of the fact that the Contac 29 has a 120mm fan it uses standard Intel clips and brackets screwed onto the cooler. On AMD motherboards a standard system is also used and you donít even need a screwdriver to fix it on. The fan is mounted using plastic clips.

Optimal orientation allows the use of memory bars with large radiators whatever the memory slot used on our test LGA 1155 motherboard. On AM3 motherboards, one DIMM is under the cooler and therefore only a standard memory bar can be used.
Results

Even at 5V, the C29 isnít completely silent though it does remain quiet. However it does give excellent thermal performance. At the 4.5 GHz overclocking of the Core i7-2600K you need to run it at 7V and the noise levels are then standard. Though itís stable outside the casing, the cooler doesnít keep the CPU sufficiently cool at the 4.8 GHz overclocking.
Assessment
The Contac 29 pleasantly surprised us and is in our top three. While quite compact for a 120mm model, it offers a very good cooling/noise ratio. Its motor is slightly noisier than the Corsair A50 motor but it uses standard brackets and the motherboard doesnít need to be uninstalled.

Note that the version tested here is soon likely to be replaced by a ďBackPanel EditionĒ with identical performance but using a mounting bracket at the back of the motherboard on Intel platforms.


Page 19
Xigmatek Gaia SD1283 test

Xigmatek Gaia SD1283

The Xigmatek Gaia SD1283 is in the standard design based on three heatpipes. They are in direct contact with the CPU and the aluminium fins are cooled by a 120mm PWM fan. The fan doesnít run at under 9V, which reduces its range. The cooler comes with a multilingual installation guide and a sachet of thermal paste.
Installation
Itís mounted using a support plate at the back of the motherboard, which requires you to remove the motherboard except when youíre using a specific case. Depending on the platform, you screw the AMD or Intel mounting brackets to the radiator before screwing everything on. The fan is mounted using plastic brackets.

Optimal orientation means memory bars with large radiators canít be used on the first slot on our test LGA 1155 motherboard unless you force them, which we donít advise you to do, though they can be on the second. In spite of the fact that itís mounted with the same orientation on the AM3 motherboard, no DIMM was affected on our card with the gap from the centre of the CPU to the 1st DIMM 51mm against 50mm on the Intel motherboard.
Results

The Xigmatek Gaia SD1283 cools the Core i7-2600K well at 9V and remains quiet in doing so. Moving up to 12V has a significant impact on noise levels (up 14.2 dBA) and only reduces the CPU temperature by 7.3įC. The Gaia SD1283 doesnít cool an overclocked i7-2600K correctly at this setting.
Assessment
The reduced operating range of the fan combined with an average to high cooling/noise ratio means this fan isnít a particularly good bet.


Page 20
Xigmatek Loki SD963 test

Xigmatek Loki SD963

While the Loki SD963 uses a three heatpipe system like the Gaia SD1283, the Loki is a more compact cooler as the fan is only a 92mm PWM. Here the fan runs as of 5V. It comes with a multilingual installation guide and a sachet of thermal paste.
Installation
Like the bigger Xigmatik Gaia SD1283, you need to use a support plate placed at the back of the motherboard. This doesnít seem to us to be justified given the standard weight of the cooler and it makes installation more difficult without really adding much. After installing the plate and screwing on the cooler mounting brackets, you fit the cooler into place and then mount the fans with plastic clips.

Optimal orientation allows the use of memory bars with large radiators whatever the memory slot used on our test LGA 1155 and AM3 motherboards.
Results

Although the fan runs quietly at 5V and 7V, it doesnít then cool the Core i7-2600K sufficiently in load. You need to move up to 9V and the fan then makes more noise. You can cool the CPU overclocked at 4.5 GHz at 12V but your ears will suffer.
Assessment
A cooler this size doesnít really require such a complex mounting system and the results werenít all that convincing. The Xigmatek Loki SD963 is a model to be avoided.


Page 21
Zalman CNPS 5X test

Zalman CNPS 5X

Zalman are famous for their quiet products and here they have produced an affordable cooler, the CNPS 5X. In tower format, it uses three heatpipes as usual. Theyíre in direct contact with the processor and are cooled via aluminium fins and a 92mm PWM fan. The fan comes pre-installed and is kind of sunk into the fins. The CNPS 5X comes with a multilingual installation guide and a small packet of thermal compound.
Installation
Installation on the AMD platform is simple as the AMD mounting bracket is used. Things arenít much more complicated on the Intel platform but you do need to fix a support bracket first using the holes on the motherboard designed for socket 775/1156 before installing the cooler. The CNPS 5X is not however compatible with socket 1366. Itís very compact and doesnít impact on the installation of memory.
Results

At 5V this Zalman is quiet but doesnít cool the Core i7-2600K sufficiently in load. You have to increase the voltage to 7V but unfortunately the fan speed then increases rapidly and is already very noisy at this voltage. It can cool the CPU overclocked to 4.5 GHz at 12V but noise levels are then intolerable.
Assessment
The Zalman CNPS 5X is a compact cooler and canít sufficiently cool a high end processor quietly. Fan speed has to be increased a good deal to obtain decent thermal performance and then the Zalman becomes overly noisy, betraying the brandís reputation somewhat.


Page 22
Overall results

Overall results
While weíve detailed the performance of each individual cooler, itís now time to give you a performance overview. It is however difficult to do this simply because we need to give a combined assessment of temperatures obtained and noise levels generated. Separate temperature and noise level graphs wonít do the trick.

What weíve done is represent the statistics in the form of a graph with noise as measured by our sonometer along the X axis and processor temperatures on the Y axis.

Of course, with so much data to represent, the graph isnít necessarily all that legible, especially because of the size restrictions imposed by our website. They are fully visible in actual size if you click on the smaller size graph.


Letís start with the results obtained with the Core i7-2600K in load. The best solutions cool the CPU to under 75įC with noise levels under 25 dB (A). The quietest solution is then the Noctua NH-U9B which cools the CPU to 70.8įC at 21 dBA, while the Gelid Tranquillo is the most efficient in comparison to noise with the CPU temperature at 55.5įC for a noise reading of 23 dBA. Just behind are the Thermaltake Contac 29, the Corsair A50 with fan-slowing resistor and the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus. Other solutions offer something in between the silence achieved by the Noctua and the effective cooling afforded by these others: these are the CoolerMaster Hyper TX3, Scythe Katana III, Xigmatek Gaia SD1283 and Arctic Cooling Freezer 13.


When the processor is overclocked at 4.5 GHz with a voltage of 1.35V, the energy consumption of the processor increases by 74% according to our readings on the ATX12V. In load it is then impossible to cool such a CPU in silence and only the most effective models can maintain it at under 75įC without getting any louder than 30 dB(A): this is the case with the Corsair A50 with or without the fan-slowing resistor (27.9 Ė 28 dBA and 72.8 Ė 73.3 įC), Gelid Tranquillo (29.2 dBA and 70.5įC), CoolerMaster Hyper 212 Plus (29.5 dBA and 70įC) and Thermaltake Contac 29 (29.5 dBA and 71.8įC).


When you overclock the CPU to 4.8 GHz and 1.45V, energy consumption increases by another 30%, with a total increase of 127% on the initial clock and voltage. Even if you put noise level constraints to one side, the temperature readings we took were too high. Only the Corsair A50 can take the CPU under 80įC - 79.5įC with a noise reading of 38.7 dBA and 78.3įC for 45.7 dBA, which is still too high given that the tests were carried out outside the casing at a room temperature of 22.5įC. For this sort of overclocking, a very high end cooler is required, perhaps even with watercooling to increase the dissipation area.


Page 23
Conclusion

Conclusion
At the end of this roundup, four models stand out from the rest:

- The Corsair A50
- The Thermaltake Contac 29
- The Artctic Cooling Freezer 13
- The Scythe Big Shuriken


The first two of these, along with the Gelid Tranquillo and Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus are the only coolers on sale at under Ä30 which cool our Core i7-2600K overclocked at 4.5 GHz without making too much noise, which is a pretty good performance even if they arenít completely inaudible. We should say here that we have voluntarily placed the bar quite high in terms of judging a cooler as quiet and many of you wonít hear them at all in your machines as the noise will be masked by other fans in the machine.

Still looking at noise levels, we note that the Thermaltake motor is a little louder than the Corsair motor at low speeds. We prefer the Corsair, as long as it is combined with a system for regulating it in the absence of PWM. We advise you to use the fan-slowing resistor as it allows you to limit noise levels without impacting too much on cooling performance. Note that while the Corsair A50 can be found at under Ä30 this is because Corsair is getting to the last of its stocks. The initial launch price was Ä45.

The Thermaltake Contac 29 is easy to install as it doesnít require the use of a support plate under the motherboard on the Intel platform, whereas the Corsair does. The Contac 29 is also more compact as it sits over 1 DIMM on AMD platforms and 0 on Intel, against 2 and 1 respectively for the A50. Note that the version tested here is soon likely to be replaced by the "BackPanel Edition" which offers identical performance but uses a mounting bracket at the back of the motherboard on Intel platforms.

Although not in our top four, the Gelid Tranquillo affords slightly better thermal performance than the Corsair A50 and TT Contac 29 at equivalent noise levels but the difference is just 2-3įC which isnít very significant. However the noise of its motor is a little louder at low rotation speeds. Best sellers because of their lower pricing, the CoolerMaster Hyper 212 Plus and Hyper TX3 give unbeatable cooling value. The fans are of poor build quality however and the motors the noisiest in the report.

Only Arctic Cooling are marketing products on which motor noise canít be heard when it comes to the sub Ä30 range and this is why the Freezer 13 makes our top four. We expected to see at least one very quiet model and this is a real positive that Freezer 13 shares with the Noctua NH-U9B, included here as a reference. Those who like total silence will be able to use it under 5V (it starts up as of 3V!). Of course it will struggle to cool a 2600K CPU in full load at this voltage but in idle or with a less demanding CPU this wonít be a problem.

The Big Shuriken from Scythe stands out for its reduced height which will facilitate its integration in slimline configurations. Indeed, tower coolers are not universal and itís nice to have this alternative even if it doesnít afford the same level of thermal performance.

Is there any point spending a bit more? On sale at under Ä50, compared to Ä30 for the competing solutions in this roundup, the Noctua NH-U9B SE2 is clearly not as effective as it could be in terms of cooling. Itís difficult for 92mm fan solutions (even with a double fan) to compete with 120mm fans. In practice it canít cool the 2600K overclocked to 4.5 GHz at under 33.1 dBA with its 2x92mm fans at 9V. With 2x92mm fans at 5V, it can however cool the 2600K in load quietly (0.5 dBA less than the Freezer 13 at comparable temperatures). This isnít much when you think it costs Ä20 more! Like the Freezer 13, it is nevertheless very well made, whether in terms of the radiator itself or the fans which are completely inaudible at low rotation speeds (no motor sounds).

The only thing that justifies this difference in price at the end of the day is the excellent support service, with Noctua alone in supplying mounting brackets free to users on request for new sockets should there be any incompatibility. When you think about how much the cooler costs initially however, itís a bit misleading to call the after sales service free! If youíre going to pay a bit more, youíd be better off going for an even higher end solution so as to be able to cool a highly overclocked processor that dissipates over 170 watts, something that the models reviewed fail to do.


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