Articles: Cooling

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Testbed and Methods

We tested the new coolers and their competitor in two modes: in an open testbed when the mainboard sits horizontally on the desk and the coolers are installed vertically, and in a closed testbed with the mainboard in vertical position.

Our testbed was identical for all coolers and featured the following configuration:

  • Mainboard: DFI LANPARTY DK X48-T2RS (Intel X48), LGA 775, BIOS 08/29/2008
  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 (3.0GHz, 1.25V, 2x6MB L2 cache, 4x333MHz FSB, Yorkfield, C0)
  • Thermal interface: Gelid GC1
  • Graphics card: ZOTAC GeForce GTX 260 AMP2! Edition GDDR3 896 MB / 448 bit, 650/1400/2100 MHz*
  • Memory:
    • 2 x 1024MB DDR2 Corsair Dominator TWIN2X2048-9136C5D (1142MHz / 5-5-5-18 / 2.1V);
    • 2 x 1024MB DDR2 CSXO-XAC-1200-2GB-KIT DIABLO (1200MHz / 5-5-5-16 / 2.4V).
  • Disk subsystem: Western Digital VelociRaptor (SATA-II, 300GB storage capacity, 10,000RPM, 16MB cache, NCQ)
  • HDD silencer and cooler: Scythe Quiet Drive 3.5”
  • Optical drive: Samsung SH-S183L SATA-II DVD RAM & DVD±R/RW & CD±RW
  • System case: ASUS ASCOT 6AR2-B Black&Silver (ATX) with 120mm ~960RPM Scythe Slip Stream 120 fans for air intake and exhaust (the fans are installed on silicon spindles), and the same 120mm ~960RPM fan on the side panel
  • Control and monitoring panel: Zalman ZM-MFC2
  • Power supply: Thermaltake Toughpower 1500W W0218 (with a default 130 mm fan)
  • Monitor: 24" BenQ FP241W (Wide LCD, 1920 x 1200 / 60 Hz)

* - some photographs have been taken with Radeon HD 4870 graphics card installed; however, the tests have been performed with GeForce GTX 260.

All tests were performed under Windows Vista Ultimate Edition x86 SP1. SpeedFan 4.36 beta 15 was used to monitor the temperature of the CPU and mainboard chipset, reading it directly from the CPU core sensor and to monitor the rotation speed of the cooler fans:

The mainboard’s automatic fan speed management feature as well as CPU power-saving technologies were disabled for the time of the tests in the mainboard BIOS. The CPU thermal throttling was controlled with the RightMark CPU Clock Utility version 2.35.0:

The CPU was heated up in two modes. First we used Linpack 32-bit with convenient LinX shell version 0.4.9 to heat up the CPU to its maximum. We manually set the RAM capacity at 1850MB and recorded 15 runs.

Since we ran the test twice with 20-minute idle period between the runs for the system to cool down and temperatures to stabilize, the relatively short actual testing period was quite enough for the maximum processor temperature to become stable.

Since Linpack loads the CPU in a unique way (very high load), we also performed additional tests with more reasonable load in a popular Far Cry 2 game. We ran the built-in benchmark in “Ranch Long” mode three times with “Very High” settings (DirectX 10) in 1280 x 1024 resolution:

According to the benchmark results, the average frame rate was at 93~95 fps. I replaced Unreal Tournament 3 with Far Cry 2 in my tests because Far Cry 2 loads the CPU more, which gives us higher temperature of processor cores.

I performed at least two cycles of tests in both test modes and waited for approximately 20 minutes for the temperature inside the system case to stabilize during each test cycle. The stabilization period in an open testbed took about half the time. Despite the stabilization period, the result of the second test cycle was usually 0.5-1°C higher. We took the maximum temperature of the hottest processor core after two test cycles for the results charts (if the difference was no bigger than 1°C – otherwise the test was performed at least once again).

The ambient temperature was checked next to the system case with an electronic thermometer that allows monitoring the temperature changes over the past 6 hours. During our test session room temperatures varied between 23.5~24.0°C. It is used as a starting point on the temperature diagrams. Note that the fan rotation speeds as shown in the diagrams are the average readings reported by SpeedFan, and not the official claimed fan specifications.

The noise level of each cooler was measured after 1:00AM in a closed room about 20sq.m big using CENTER-321 electronic noise meter. The measurements were taken at 3cm, 1m and 3m distance from the noise source. During the acoustics tests all three 120-mm case fans were slowed down to ~700 RPM. In this mode the background noise from the system case measured at 1m distance didn’t exceed ~32.8 dBA, and the loudest fan was the 140-mm fan of the system power supply. When the system was completely powered off, our noise meter detected 30.8 dBA (the lowest on the charts is 30 dBA. The subjectively comfortable noise level is around 34~34.5 dBA.

For the reference purposes we also included the results for Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme ($60) tower cooler equipped with a PWM fan from Xigmatek HDT-S1284 rotating at 860~1460 RPM:

Moreover, all coolers except the small Xigmatek HDT-SD964 were also tested with a 140 x25 mm Scythe Kaze Maru fan ($20) working at its maximum rotation speed of ~1830 RPM:

We didn’t install the second additional fan onto Xigmatek HDT-SD964, because I didn’t have it available at the time of tests, and the 80-mm fans that I did have, simply couldn’t be installed onto its heatsink the regular way. 

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