by Sergey Lepilov
10/02/2007 | 10:56 AM
It is a widespread opinion among overclockers that the potential of air cooling for CPUs has almost been exhausted by now, and I personally agree with that. It is two years ago that the Zalman CNPS9700 LED and Scythe Infinity were released – we found them very efficient and proclaimed them super-coolers (for details see our article called SuperCoolers Return: Zalman CNPS9700 LED and Scythe Infinity). And one year before their release we had tested the Thermaltake Big Typhoon, which proved but slightly inferior to the Scythe Infinity in our subsequent tests. Thus, two years ago we had (and have now as the VX revision) a cooler whose performance is comparable to top-end coolers of today. By the way, the Scythe Ninja, an even older product, is not much weaker, either. I won’t talk about typhoons and samurais today, though.
What has happened in the area of air cooling in the year that passed since the release of the Scythe Infinity? There have appeared such products as ASUS Silent Knight, Enzotech Ultra-X, Cooler Master GeminII, Thermaltake MaxOrb and Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme. There were others, perhaps less efficient but noteworthy, products, yet there was no real breakthrough. I can only single out the Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme as a cooler that combines high performance with low noise, but this cooler does not has a great advantage over its opponents in terms of CPU temperature or maximum CPU frequency you can achieve with it. Moreover, new air coolers announced by the manufacturers for a Q4 release do not impress with their design or specs.
Interestingly, there is no stagnation on the market of air coolers. Not only new products but new brands are emerging on a regular basis (like the recently tested coolers from Auras or Floston). Now that the heat dissipation of modern CPUs has ceased to grow further, the manufacturers try to attract the customer with factors other than sheer performance such as original exterior, various types of highlighting, compact size or reduced weight, and low price. After all, not all PC users want to have maximum performance and lowest noise while almost everyone wants to have an original product he could show off to his friends.
Cooler Master, a leader of the market, doesn’t stay aloof from the market trends and introduces a new cooler called Sphere. It’s going to be the subject of this review.
The new cooler uses a different type of packaging than Cooler Master’s traditional transparent plastic boxes. It comes in a cardboard box with cut-outs in the face and back sides.
The box is black with white text. Everything is stern and serious here.
There is a minimum of useful information on the box. You can only learn that there is a “stylish and elegant cooler with blue highlighting” inside. Additionally there is a scheme of airflows and a list of supported CPUs.
Inside the cardboard wrapper there is the cooler itself in a tightly fitting plastic jacket.
A small pack with accessories can be found at the bottom of the package:
From left to right and from top to bottom:
You can note there is no fan speed controller in the box. It is a drawback of the described cooler.
The Sphere represents a further development of the concept previously embodied in the Mars cooler we tested earlier but the “sphere” is designed more cleverly here. Take a look at it:
The cooler’s orb-like heatsink measures 132x113mm at 684g of weight. It consists of copper ribs that hang on four copper heat pipes (6mm in diameter) that go out of the copper base:
There are 50 ribs on each pair of pipes, and the pipes themselves are placed in two tiers in the heatsink.
The whole arrangement is topped with a plastic piece embellished with a Cooler Master logotype:
A 66x68mm blower is installed inside the copper orb:
The originally shaped fastening screws prevented me from taking the top plastic piece off the heatsink to examine the blower. I did make a couple of photos, though:
The fan speed is constant and specified to be 2200rpm at 22dBA of noise. The cooler is also equipped with four blue LEDs that are sure to attract a modder.
According to the scheme below, the blower is sucking the air in from above and below and exhausting it sideways through the heatsink ribs, cooling them and the pipes:
Nothing should prevent the cooler from taking the air from above, but I do have great doubts about its ability to take the air in from below. It is clear even from the airflow scheme that the air that the Sphere takes in from below is going to be the same hot air that the blower exhausts. So, I guess the cooler won’t cool the mainboard’s near-socket space properly. I’ll check this out shortly, though.
The cooler’s base is protected with a piece of polyethylene film. Its finish quality is good.
Although it doesn’t have the polish typical of coolers from Titan and Zalman, the base of the copper plate is finished quite well. The base is also perfectly flat as I made sure by viewing the trace of thermal grease on glass.
The pipes are soldered to the base and covered from above with a metallic bar:
The bar is surely not copper, but painted a similar color. It serves to ensure proper contact between the pipes and the cooler’s base as it is fastened from the reverse side with two screws.
You have to take your mainboard out of the system case to install the cooler on any of the supported CPU sockets. But you have to secure an appropriate mounting plate on the cooler’s base first:
Take note of the fastening mechanism for Socket 754/939/940/AM2. There are holes in the plate for less resistance to the air flowing towards the mainboard’s surface, and there are eight holes in it instead of four. As a result, this mounting plate can be secured in two positions of the cooler, making it possible to orient the cooler freely on the CPU socket despite the typical limitations of sockets for K8 processors. On the other hand, the orientation inside the system case doesn’t matter much for a cooler designed like the Sphere.
You insert four or two screws, depending on the fastening type (Socket 754/939/940 and Socket AM2, respectively), into the feet of the mounting plate. Before you begin to install the cooler, you should stick rubber spacers to the screws. They protect the mainboard from scratches as you are tightening the screws.
Then you apply some thermal grease on the CPU and fasten the cooler by means of nuts and key from the reverse side of the mainboard:
You must use the included back-plate for Socket 754/939/940/AM2 mainboards. There is no back-plate for LGA775 and you have to use plastic spacers instead. The LGA775 mainboard bends a little after the installation of the cooler.
Installed on an LGA775 mainboard, the Cooler Master Sphere looks like that:
The cooler is compact at the bottom and won’t interfere with the mainboard’s near-socket components.
The blue highlighting makes this cooler even more impressive:
The highlighting is not too intensive, though. If you’ve got highlighted 120mm system fans, as I do, the Sphere may get lost on such a background.
The specifications and pricing of the new cooler from Cooler Master are listed in the following table:
The Cooler Master Sphere and its opponent were tested on an open testbed as well as in a system case with the following configuration:
The CPU was overclocked to its maximum frequency on the weakest of the tested coolers. The resulting frequency was 3140MHz at a core voltage of 1.4V.
All tests are performed in Windows XP Professional Edition Service Pack 2. SpeedFan 4.32 is used to monitor the temperature of the CPU, reading it from the CPU sensor. The CPU is heated up by means of OverClock Checking Tool version 1.1.0 in a 24-minute test during which the system remains idle in the first and last 4 minutes.
The mainboard’s automatic fan speed management (Q-Fan technology) is disabled for the time of the tests. The thermal throttling of the Intel Core 2 Duo processor is controlled with RightMark CPU Clock Utility version 2.25. Our CPU begins to skip clock cycles on reaching a temperature of 82°C and higher.
I perform at least two cycles of tests and wait for 20 minutes for the temperature to stabilize during each test cycle. The maximum temperature of the hottest CPU core in the two test cycles is considered as the final result (if the difference is not bigger than 1°C – otherwise the test is performed once again). Despite the stabilization period, the result of the second cycle is usually 0.5-1°C higher.
The ambient temperature was monitored by means of an electric thermometer and remained at 22.0°C during the tests (marked with a vertical red line in the diagrams). The fan rotation speeds are shown in the diagrams as reported by SpeedFan.
The noise level of each cooler was measured according to our traditional method. The subjectively comfortable level of 36dBA is marked with a dash line in the diagram; the ambient noise from the system case, without the CPU cooler, was about 34dBA.
The new orb-like cooler will be opposed by the well-known Cooler Master Hyper TX working at a constant 1890rpm speed. The recommended price of the latter is almost two times lower at $21 but I didn’t take price as an evaluation criterion for this test session. I’ll explain why in the conclusion.
The following diagram shows the temperature of the overclocked quad-core CPU with each cooler:
And the next diagram shows the maximum CPU frequency I achieved with each cooler:
And this diagram shows how much noise each cooler produces:
I did not analyze the data in the previous section because it’s all clear even for an inexperienced user who does not know much about air coolers. The new spherical cooler is not meant for overclocking and delivers average performance. Yet it is also clear that the Cooler Master Sphere is going to cope with any modern CPU working in its default mode. Enthusiasts who are into overclocking and want to have a product from Cooler Master should instead buy the twice cheaper Hyper TX (I added it into the tests so that overclockers wouldn’t criticize Cooler Master too much – I personally respect this firm).
The Sphere can be viewed from a different aspect, however. It is a very original thing. It is going to amaze your friends with its appearance and please your young ones with its fascinating blue highlighting. Choosing from among a Thermalright SI-128, XIGMATEK HDT-S1283 and Cooler Master Sphere standing next to each other on the table my young daughter would always go for the latter one, for example. So, if you’ve got a transparent system case (or a case with a transparent side panel), if you are not that much into overclocking, if the noise from your PC is always drowned in the crying of your toddler, and if you are ready to part with $50, the Cooler Master Sphere can be your choice. To everyone else I recommend to wait for our next report on air coolers. There will be something to choose from in it.