ConclusionAt 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 €30 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 aren’t 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 won’t 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 €30 this is because Corsair is getting to the last of its stocks. The initial launch price was €45.
The Thermaltake Contac 29 is easy to install as it doesn’t 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 2-3°C which isn’t 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 can’t be heard when it comes to the sub €30 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 won’t 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 it’s nice to have this alternative even if it doesn’t afford the same level of thermal performance.
Is there any point spending a bit more? On sale at under €50, compared to €30 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. It’s difficult for 92mm fan solutions (even with a double fan) to compete with 120mm fans. In practice it can’t 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 isn’t much when you think it costs €20 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, it’s a bit misleading to call the after sales service free! If you’re going to pay a bit more, you’d 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.