Three Budget CPU Coolers Reviewed

In our today’s review we are going to talk about the cooling efficiency and acoustic performance of three budget cooling solutions from such well-known makers as Cooler Master, Nexus and Scythe.

by Sergey Lepilov
07/12/2010 | 11:41 AM

We don’t often review entry-level CPU coolers. The last such review was published on our site over five months ago and even that product, the Igloo 5710 Plus Silent from GlacialTech, was not truly entry-level as it cost $34. Not all users want to spend over $35-40 for a non-reference cooler, especially as high cooling efficiency is only demanded by the small category of computer enthusiasts and overclockers. So, today we are going to target the larger user category by examining and testing three small and cheap air coolers priced at below $20. These products are manufactured by Cooler Master, Nexus and Scythe.

Cooler Master Hyper TX3 (RR-910-HTX3-GP)

 

The Hyper TX3 is the third version of the well-known low-end cooler from Cooler Master. The original Hyper TX came out in 2006 and was deservedly praised for its optimal price/performance ratio. In 2008 it was succeeded by the Hyper TX2 which became compatible with multiple platforms but did not bring any other improvements. And finally, in the second half of the last year Cooler Master released the third version Hyper TX and it is indeed much different from the two previous versions. Let’s take a look at it.

This cooler comes in a transparent blister pack with a paper insert inside.

 

It is accompanied with the following accessories:

The cooler seems to have the same design as before with three 6mm copper heat pipes and press-fitted aluminum fins.

 

 

The Hyper TX3 is almost the same size as its predecessors.

The cooler has become lighter by 12 grams and now weighs 470 grams. Its heatsink still consists of 42 aluminum fins which are 0.5 millimeters thick and 1.9 millimeters apart from each other.

 

 

The key innovation in the heatsink design is that the Hyper TX employs the direct-touch (or, as Cooler Master terms it, direct contact) technology.

One shortcoming of the implementation of this technology in the Hyper TX3 is immediately obvious: the distance between the heat pipes in the cooler’s base is as long as 6 millimeters! This is going to have a negative effect on the heat transfer between the cooler and the CPU. The aluminum piece transforming into the tiny heatsink cannot make up for that deficiency, so we cannot expect the Hyper TX3 to be a highly efficient product in its class. On the other hand, this is better than the base of the Hyper 101.

Another new feature of the Hyper TX3 compared to its two predecessors is its 92x92x25mm fan Blade Master 92 (R4-BM9S-28PK-R0).

The speed of the fan is PWM-controlled in a range of 800 to 2800 RPM. The airflow varies from 15.7 to 54.8 CFM and the noise from 17 to 35 dBA. The manufacturer claims the improved bearing of this fan will last for 40,000 hours. The max power consumption of the fan is slightly above 3 watts. The fan is secured on the heatsink with two stiff wire brackets. Another pair of such brackets is included into the box so that you could install a second fan to exhaust the air. The impeller and rotor are 84 and 32 millimeters in diameter, respectively. The cable is 305 millimeters long.

It is most simple and easy to install the Hyper TX3 on a CPU. You use standard plastic fasteners for LGA775/1156 mainboards and a retention clip for AMD mainboards. A step-by-step installation guide is available in 18 languages. The Hyper TX3 is not compatible with LGA1366 mainboards.

The Cooler Master Hyper TX3 comes at a recommended price of only $19.9.

Nexus LXM-8200

The Dutch company called Nexus has taken part in our tests already, so we know about its high-quality fans and not very successful coolers FLC-3000, XiR-2300 and XiR-3500. Recently, Nexus has announced new fans and a new cooler called VCT-9000, whihc we have also reveiwed. Right now, we are going to discuss the affordable LXM-8200.

The small product box is half-open from the face and one of the side panels, so you can see the fan and some of the cooler’s heatsink.

 

The picture on the box suggests that this cooler is going to be quiet. Inside the cardboard wrapper there is a plastic blister pack that envelops the cooler tightly. It comes with a 1g pack of SilMORE thermal grease.

The Nexus LXM-8200 is a tower-like cooler measuring 110x72x140 millimeters at 664 grams of weight. Notwithstanding the typical design, it has a rather original appearance.

 

 

There is a conspicuous pack of fins in the middle of the heatsink: 19 copper plates, 0.35 millimeters thick and 1.5 millimeters apart. The fins in the two other sections of the heatsink are placed at the same distance from each other but are made from aluminum (20 fins in each section).

The fins are press-fitted onto two copper heat pipes with a diameter of 8 millimeters which are soldered to the copper base. A 100mm 7-blade impeller is attached to one side of the heatsink.

 

It is rather odd for such a dense heatsink to be equipped with a frameless fan which is going to develop a lower status pressure than fans with frames. So, we suspect that the performance of the Nexus LXM-8200 will depend heavily on the speed of its fan. We’ll check this out shortly.

 

The heatsink fins are rectangular with rounded-off corners. They are somewhat indented on the fan’s side, probably to reduce the resistance to air flow and keep the cooler efficient at low fan speeds.

The heat pipes are soldered to the 2mm copper base. They are covered by an aluminum cap to which a steel fastening plate is attached.

The cooler’s base is finished rather roughly.

However, it is flat, which is more important than mirror-shine polish.

The fan installed on the Nexus LXM-8200 is manufactured by Evercool (the EC10025LL12EP-N model).

The impeller is 100 millimeters in diameter which is but slightly smaller than 120mm fans with frames. The speed is varied automatically through pulse-width modulation in a range of 700 to 1500 RPM. Thus, the Nexus LXM-8200 is going to be almost silent when the CPU load is low. The minimum noise of the fan is specified to be 17 dBA, which is indeed silent. The maximum noise is 25.5 dBA. Such parameters as static pressure, airflow and service life of the bearing are not specified. The fan is attached to the heatsink with two wire brackets. There are soft vibration-absorbing pads in the places of contact between the slim frame of the fan and the heatsink.

The Nexus LXM-8200 is compatible with LGA775 mainboards and is installed by means of four standard locks. Nexus offers the same model but with a different fastening mechanism for AMD processors. It is called AXM-8200. Both versions have a recommended price of $19.9.

Scythe Samurai ZZ (SCSMZ-2000)

The next cooler to be discussed is Scythe Samurai ZZ. It comes in a small box. There is a photo of the product on the front of the box and diverse information on the other sides.

 

Included with the cooler are three pairs of fasteners, an installation guide, and a 1g pack of stiff grey thermal grease SilMORE.

The Scythe Samurai ZZ is a modest-sized top-flow cooler with a 92mm fan.

 

The Samurai ZZ measures 94x122x94 millimeters. The rest of its dimensions are shown in the next illustrations.

 

It weighs 472 grams, which is not much for a modern cooler.

It has three copper heat pipes, 6 millimeters in diameter, going through the base. The pipes carry aluminum fins.

The fins are 47 in total. They are 0.35 millimeters thick and 1.7 millimeters apart. The Samurai ZZ features Fast-Phase Structure technology which means that the heatsink is large and very dense. Scythe engineers think that this can make a small heatsink more efficient.

The Samurai ZZ may seem to have six rather than three heat pipes if you take a look at its front or back.

 

Yet they are only three. They just go through the base in a semicircle and return back into the heatsink. The contact between the heat pipes and the nickel-plated copper plate of the base is ensured through soldering.

The fins seem to be press-fitted on the heat pipes because we couldn’t find any trace of thermal glue or solder there. A small aluminum heatsink is installed above the heat pipes. Its purpose is to take the heat off the top of the pipes in the base as well as to provide the basis for the cooler’s fasteners. There are grooves in the heatsink for that.

The heatsink is topped by a fan secured with two wire brackets.

 

The base of the Samurai ZZ is covered with a piece of polyethylene film with a warning that you must remove it prior to installing the cooler. The nickel-plated copper base is 2 millimeters thick. It is finished to a mirror shine and absolutely flat:

 

The Samurai ZZ is equipped with one 7-blade 92x92x25mm fan (SY9225SL12M-P) which is controlled through pulse-width modulation.

According to its specs, the fan’s speed varies from 300 to 2500 RPM. The airflow is 6.7 to 55.55 CFM while the noise is 7.2 to 31.07 dBA. The service life of the bearing is not declared but it should be a standard 30,000 hours. The power consumption of the fan is no higher than 2.1 watts.

The Samurai ZZ is equipped with V.T.M.S. (Versatile Tool-free Multiplatform System) which only requires the user to insert the appropriate pair of fasteners into the bottom heatsink to install the cooler on the CPU. The mainboard doesn’t have to be taken out of the system case for that.


Socket 478


Socket AM2/AM3


LGA 775/1156/1366

No tools are required, either. The cooler is compatible with all modern platforms. Thanks to the compact heatsink, the Scythe Samurai ZZ can be installed even on mainboards that have lots of components near the CPU socket.

 

The pipes and heatsink do not prevent you from orienting this cooler in any way you like except that you won’t be able to install it with the ends of the heat pipes facing down as they would press against the mainboard’s chipset. However, this orientation is not actually recommended by the manufacturer due to its low efficiency. We installed the Samurai ZZ with the ends of the heat pipes up.

The recommended price of this cooler is $19.9.

Technical Specifications and Recommended Pricing

Testbed and Methods

We are going to test the cooling efficiency of our today’s testing participants in a closed system case with the following configuration:

Processor overclocking was limited by the least efficient cooler of our today’s testing participants in its quiet mode. As a result, we managed to overclock our processor to 365 GHz. The nominal processor Vcore was increased to 1.45 V in the mainboard BIOS. The memory voltage was at 2.0 V and its frequency was around 1 GHz (5-5-5-12_2T timings). All other parameters available in the mainboard BIOS and connected with CPU or memory overclocking remained unchanged (set at Auto).

All tests were performed under Windows 7 Ultimate x64 operating system. We used the following software during our test session:

So, the complete screenshot during the test session looks as follows:

The CPU was loaded with two consecutive Linpack test runs with the settings as indicated above. The stabilization period for the CPU temperature between the two test cycles was about 8-10 minutes. We took the maximum temperature of the hottest CPU core for the results charts. Moreover, we will also provide a table with the temperature readings for all cores including their average values. The ambient temperature was checked next to the system case with an electronic thermometer with 0.1 °C precision that allows monitoring the temperature changes over the past 6 hours. The room temperature during our test session varied between 25.9-26.1 °C.

The noise level of each cooler was measured between 1:00 and 3:00 AM in a closed room about 20 m2 big using CENTER-321 electronic noise meter. The noise level for each cooler was tested outside the system case when the only noise sources in the lab were the cooler and its fan. The noise meter was installed on a tripod and was always at a 200 mm distance from the cooler fan rotor. The tested cooling systems were placed at the edge of the desk on a sheet of polyurethane foam. The lowest noise reading our noise meter device can register is 29.8 dBA and the subjectively comfortable noise level in these testing conditions was around 35 dBA and very low noise level – around 32 dBA. The fan(s) rotation speed was adjusted in the entire supported range using the new controller revision by changing the voltage with 0.5 V increment.

For the sake of comparison, we are going to include the results of Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus, as it is the next solution on the way from budget to more expensive ones (it is priced at $29 MSRP). This competitor was tested with its default fan – Blade Master 120. The Cooler Master Hyper TX3 tower cooler was tested not only with its default fan but also with two Thermalright TR-SL-92-1500 fans at 1560 RPM installed for air intake and exhaust respectively.

Let’s check out the obtained results now.

Performance

Acoustic Tests

The next diagram shows how much noise these coolers produce:

The Scythe Samurai ZZ turns to have the quietest fan among the tested coolers. However, its fan quickly becomes noisier at 1200 RPM and higher speeds and falls behind the Cooler Master Hyper TX3 in this respect. The latter is the loudest cooler at max speed. The Nexus LXM-8200 is a disappointment in this test. The picture on its box is far from true because the cooler’s 100mm fan is only quiet at speeds below 1000 RPM and comfortable at 1240 RPM. On the other hand, if you compare the coolers by the maximum noise they can produce, the Nexus will indeed be the winner. The 120mm fan of the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus is the noisiest overall.

Cooling Efficiency Tests

As you must have noticed, there are two dotted lines in the noise diagram that mark a very low and a comfortable level of noise. This helps us understand at what speeds the tested coolers produce the same amount of noise. Now we will test their performance at the same speeds as well as at the maximum speed of their fans. Let’s take a look at the results:

The Scythe Samurai ZZ is the least effective cooler irrespective of the noise level. This might have been expected as top-flow coolers find it hard to compete with tower models in ATX cases that don’t have side-panel fans. The Nexus is surprisingly in the lead at 1000 RPM. We can also note that the best of the cheap coolers is 4°C inferior to the mainstream Hyper 212 Plus.

The standings are roughly the same at the comfortable level of noise. The Nexus LXM-8200 looks best of all when working with its default fan. The two 8mm heat pipes and the copper fins in the middle of the heatsink react eagerly to the extra 250 RPM of the fan speed as compared to the minimum noise level. The Samurai ZZ is on the losing side again whereas the Hyper 212 Plus is 4°C better than the best of the low-end coolers.

At the maximum speed of the fans the difference between the inexpensive and the mainstream cooler is even smaller if we take the noisiest Cooler Master Hyper TX3 for comparison. Being the quietest model at full speed, the Nexus LXM-8200 takes second place among the low-end models. The Samurai ZZ is the worst cooler again, being 3°C worse than the Nexus.

Conclusion

First off, we want to make it clear that each of the tested entry-level coolers is going to be an excellent and, most importantly, inexpensive replacement for the boxed cooler of a modern processor, being some 15°C better in the quiet mode. Each of them is easy to install even for inexperienced users. Now, we’ll add a few words on each tested model.

The Cooler Master Hyper TX3 is a disappointment of this test session due to the poor implementation of the direct-touch technology. The distance between the heat pipes in the cooler base is as long as 6 millimeters and filled with aluminum, so there is no uniform and efficient heat transfer between the cooler heatsink and the CPU heat-spreader. Thus, this potentially best cooler proves to be but mediocre and cannot even claim that it is quiet. The good news is that the Hyper TX3 supports multiple platforms and can be easily installed on each of them. You can also attach a second fan to it.

The Nexus LXM-8200 is a more interesting model that was more effective than the Hyper TX3 in the quiet and comfortable modes which are the most important for the majority of users. However, we had expected this model to be better in terms of both: performance and noise. The Nexus LXM-8200 can only be installed on LGA775; if you’ve got an AMD processor, you should buy the AXM-8200 instead. Both models are being phased out now, giving way to the more advanced VCT-9000.

The Samurai ZZ doesn’t look good against the other tested coolers in terms of performance but it is the most compact and universal among them. Besides, its performance may improve greatly if you have a side-panel fan or vent holes opposite the CPU socket. For example, it cooled our CPU 6°C better when we simply removed the side panel of our testbed, even though our Hiper Osiris system case itself had proper ventilation.