Little Coolers for a Big Processor: AURAS TwinW, APACK ZEROtherm CF900 and Scythe Shuriken

Can inexpensive compact cooling solutions be of any use for an overclocking fan? How noisy and efficient are they? Our today’s review will introduce to you three compact solutions like that and check them out on a quad-core Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 processor.

by Sergey Lepilov
05/07/2008 | 08:21 PM

Have you ever thought that your system case takes up too much room, that it is too big and bulky and doesn’t fit into the room interior concept, and that it is too noisy as well? If you haven’t then your beloved wife or girlfriend may have reminded you a few times, and your son or daughter who just started walking is trying to open the front or the side panel of the notorious case, as it is too big to fit anywhere safe. If you have never had any of the above mentioned thoughts or problems, then this article is hardly for you.

 

All others may consider compact Mini- and Micro-ATX cases and their desktop modifications as a solution to all these problems, as they take less room than standard ATX systems. Today we are going to discuss three “baby” coolers for compact and barebone cases like that that should replace a standard cooling system for Intel processors. Is it possible to overclock processor with these mini-coolers and are they any better than a standard boxed cooling solution? Our article will answer all these questions for you.

AURAS TwinW (SMF-660)

Package and Accessories

AURAS TwinW (SMF-660) ships in a small box made of thick cardboard. The front is decorated with the cooler picture, while the other sides of the package are covered with cooler’s technical specifications and key features description:

At the bottom of the box there is a retention bracket for LGA 775 mainboards, a syringe with thermal compound, four retention screws and a brief installation manual:

Design and Functionality

The cooler is really very small, its heatsink fits completely under a 92mm fan. To be more exact, AURAS TwinW measures 92.5 x 82 x 107.4mm and weighs 401.5g:

The cooler is made of two heatsinks. Each consists of thin aluminum plates sitting on three copper heatpipes 6mm in diameter. There is a 92 x 25mm fan inserted between the two heatsinks:

 

 

The sides of both heatsinks are closed with bent edges of the heatsink plates. By the way, the heatsink plate arrays are of very interesting design: the plates are placed in a W-shape on two levels:

According to AURAS engineers, this plate profile reduces the generated noise and improves the cooling efficiency of their solution.

The second interesting peculiarity of this compact cooler is the heatpipes placement in the heatsink:

Note that on the photo above the heatpipes in the right part of the heatsink are grouped together, while in the left part they sit far apart. The manufacturer doesn’t explain this design peculiarity in any way. Therefore, we suppose that the heatpipes are groups t the side where the airflow comes in in order to reduce the resistance to this airflow (the air doesn’t really get sucked in at the fan core). The slits on the inside of the heatsinks may be serving the exact same purpose.

92-mm fan is inserted in-between the heatsinks from the top and is then fastened with four screws:

It is equipped with a four-pin cable and supports pulse-width modulation (PWM) fan rotation speed control mode. The fan rotation speed can be adjusted in the interval from 1200RPM to 2100RPM with the maximum airflow of 41.15CFM and 22dBA of noise. The MTBF of the sleeve bearing in the fan is not specified, but it can be easily replaced in case of failure.

The heatpipes are soldered to the copper plate in the base of the cooler:

Of course, no one will work on the grooves for the heatpipes in the cooler base for a low-cost solution like that, but the use of soldering instead of thermal glue at the contact spots is a good sign.

The copper base is not polished off to mirror shine, but is finished quite nicely:

The base surface is very even and a piece of plastic film protects it from accidental scratches and chipping.

Installation Tips

I don’t think we need to really go into details about the cooler installation process, because all you actually have to do is attach the retention bracket to the cooler base with four enclose screws…

… and then push the clips into the retention holes around he processor socket on the mainboard. As easy as ABC:

 

I would like to remind you that AURAS TwinW cannot be installed on any other platforms.

The miniature cooler is priced at $24.99.

APACK ZEROtherm CF900

Package and Accessories

The next cooler we are going to talk about is a compact solution from ZEROtherm Company. It comes in transparent plastic package:

 

Besides the cooler, it also contains four retention screws, thermal compound and a backplate for LGA 775 mainboards:

As you can imagine, these accessories indicate that this cooler cannot be installed on mainboards for AMD processors.

Design and Functionality

The cooler is of pretty simple design:

Four copper heatpipes, each 6mm in diameter, come from the copper base. They carry copper heatsink plates with 1.5~2mm gaps between them. The whole thing is cooled with a 95x25mm fan sitting on an aluminum retention bracket:

The cooler measures 100 x 94 x 77mm and weighs 562g. A few additional photos below will give a better idea of what it actually looks like:

 

 

Take a look at the cable that goes from the fan into the heatsink (upper left photo). It is a fan thermal diode, which is installed not at the cooler base, but closer to the lower part of the heatsink array, unfortunately. So, we assume that the fan will react a little later to the actual changes in the processor temperature. We are going to check it out during our test session. Here I would like to add that the fan rotation speed is claimed to be 800-2300RPM, according to the specifications. At this speed it officially generates from 18 to 27dBA of noise.

The heatpipes sit in special grooves in the cooler base and are soldered to it at the contact spots. The base is very even and is pretty nicely finished, although you can still see the machine traces on its surface:

 

Installation Tips

During the installation, the cooler is tightened to the backplate with four spring screws. It is pressed against the processor heat-spreader very firmly, so you shouldn’t worry about the secure contact: if the heat-spreader is even, everything will be perfect. However, APACK ZEROtherm CF900 installation does have a few disadvantages: limited compatibility with existing mainboards. The thing is that heatsinks on the mainboard chipset or power components of the voltage regulator circuitry may hit against the heatpipes coming out of the cooler base. For example, if you have an ASUS P5K Deluxe, then you can only install APACK ZEROtherm CF900 facing one way: with the heatpipe curve facing the memory modules:

 

Unfortunately, the cooler wouldn’t fit onto this board facing any other way. But if APACK ZEROtherm CF900 does fit onto your mainboard, the blue fan highlighting may make up for the above described drawback:

APACK ZEROtherm CF900 is currently priced at $39.99.

Scythe Shuriken (SCSK-1000)

The last one to participate in our today’s test session will be the new cooler from Scythe – Scythe Shuriken, which stands for the star-shaped dangerous samurai weapon.

Package and Accessories

The cooler comes in a small cardboard box, which is covered with tons of information in two languages written in tiny font:

 

Inside the box you can also find three retention kits for Socket 478, LGA 775 and contemporary AMD platforms. Besides, there is also a pack of thick gray SilMORE thermal compound and an installation guide:

Design and Functionality

Scythe Shuriken is only 64mm tall, which is just a little more than a common matchbox:

In fact, the cooler measures 105 x 116 x 64mm, which is a clear indication that it is intended for low-profile compact system cases.

The key feature of this newcomer is the use of Uneven Parallel Heatpipe technology. It determines a specific way of placing the heatpipes beneath the heatsink. Unlike Scythe ZIPANG, all three 6-mm heatpipes in this cooler are not piercing the heatsink array, but lie right beneath it:

This way only the top part of the heatpipes contacts the cooler heatsink, which will hardly have a positive effect on the overall cooler performance. The whole thing is cooled with a 100 x 100 x 12mm fan:

 

The fan rotation speed is adjusted automatically using PWM method and may vary from 650 to 2000RPM. If you are unhappy with the default fan for some reason, you may replace it with a standard 92-mm fan using the same Scythe Shuriken wire retention clips.

The copper plate I the base of the cooler where the heatpipes are soldered is covered with nickel alloy. Besides, it is polished pretty well:

The surface is very even, which we verified by checking the thermal compound imprint from the cooler base on the glass plate.

 

Installation Tips

The cooler can be installed onto any of the supported platforms without any special tools. All you need to do is insert the proper retention into the heatsink above the cooler base and then place Scythe Shuriken onto the CPU:

 

Socket 478

Socket 754/939/940/AM2

LGA 775

I don’t know about Socket 478 or Socket 754/939/940/AM2, but pushing the plastic retention spindles into the holes around the LGA 775 socket is a real pain. The thing is that the bottom of the cooler heatsink is very close to the spindle tops and it is rally hard to reach there. And together with the closely located heatsinks on the chipset and on the power elements of the voltage regulator circuitry it makes the installation really hard to accomplish. Removing the cooler from the mainboard is not any easier.

Nevertheless, if you managed to install this cooler, then it will look like this inside your system case:

 

I personally was very surprised that Scythe Shuriken MSRP is set at $32.80. It is extremely expensive for a cooler of that size.

Technical Specifications and Pricing

The technical specifications and MSRP of all cooling solutions we have just discussed are given in the table below:

Testbed and Methods

All today’s testing participants and their only competitor in this test session were tested 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:

Using the weakest cooling system of our today’s testing participants we managed to overclock our quad-core processor to 3.7GHz with the Vcore increased to 1.475V in the mainboard BIOS. The monitoring utilities reported the core voltage setting a little bit lower than what was set in the mainboard BIOS: around 1.44~1.46V. The system memory was working at 960MHz efficient frequency with 5-5-5-14_2T timings and 2.05V voltage.

All tests were performed under Windows XP Professional Edition SP2. SpeedFan 4.34 Beta 44 was used to monitor the temperature of the CPU, reading it directly from the CPU core sensor:

The mainboard’s automatic fan speed management feature was disabled for the time of the tests in the mainboard BIOS. The CPU thermal throttling was controlled with the new RightMark CPU Clock Utility version 2.35.0 supporting Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 processor.

The CPU was heated up with OCCT (OverClock Checking Tool) version 2.0.0a in a 23-minute test with maximum CPU utilization, during which the system remained idle in the first and last 4 minutes of the test:

I performed at least two cycles of tests 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. The maximum temperature of the hottest CPU core of the four in the two test cycles was considered the final result (if the difference was no bigger than 1°C – otherwise the test was performed at least once again). Despite the stabilization period, the result of the second test cycle was usually 0.5-1°C higher.

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 24.5 ~ 25°C. It is used as a staring point on the 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 according to our traditional method described in the previous articles with the help of an electronic noise meter – CENTER-321. The subjectively comfortable noise level was considered 34.5dBA and is marked with a dotted line in the diagram. The ambient noise from the system case without the CPU cooler didn’t exceed 33.2dBA when measured at 1m distance.

It doesn’t make any sense to compare the today’s testing participants against any of the high-performance cooling solutions that is why their competitor in our today’s test session will be the common boxed cooler that comes bundled with Intel processors (not a new low-profile one, but a standard one). The fan rotation speed of this cooling solution is PWM controlled and varies from 2340 RPM to 3520 RPM under maximum workload.

Cooling Efficiency and Acoustic Performance

Cooling Efficiency Tests

The results are given on the chart below:

First of all I would like to say that all three testing participants proved more efficient than a regular boxed cooler that comes bundled with Intel processors. However, even in a well ventilated system case the overclocked quad-core Intel processor heated up quite a lot. We can only guess what will happen inside a compact system case where these coolers are supposed to be used. Although on the other hand, no one installs overclocked quad-core processors into systems like that anyway, so it is really pleasing to see that these small compact coolers cope with overclocked processors.

Now let’s see how these coolers compare with one another. Of course, APACK ZEROtherm CF900 turned out the most efficient cooler of the three, even though the thermal diode placed so uselessly didn’t let the fan reach its full speed and it was late to react to actual processor temperature increase. Four heatpipes soldered to the base and copper heatsink plates put this cooling system ahead of the competitors in terms of cooling efficiency. The next best one is AURAS TwinW, and the Japanese Scythe Shuriken took the last place. Unfortunately, this solution failed to demonstrate high cooling efficiency, however, it is the most low-profile and the only really universal cooler.

Acoustic Tests

We measured the level of noise generated by our today’s testing participants from a 3cm, 1m and 3m distance. The results are given on the diagram below:

Regarding the acoustic measurements, I would like to explain that AURAS TwinW turned out so noisy at the lowest fan rotation speed because of the resonance from aluminum heatsink plates, which practically jingled even at 1200RPM. Very unpleasant, shrewd sound gets even louder as the CPU temperature rises and at 2100RPM becomes unbearable. However, the boxed Intel cooler is even noisier.

Conclusion

Our today’s test session showed that small compact coolers can also cope with overclocked processors including powerful quad-core ones. The only question here is in what case and what working conditions they will be used, because it will affect the processor overclocking potential directly. We have demonstrated their potential in an open testbed and inside a well ventilated ATX system case. Everything else depends on your personal needs and working conditions.

And if we had to choose between the three coolers discussed in our today’s review, then APACK ZEROtherm CF900 definitely wins from both: cooling efficiency as well as acoustic performance standpoints. But you should remember that this cooler is not compatible with all mainboards out there. Less efficient AURAS TwinW, unfortunately, is too noisy, while the expensive and universal Scythe Shuriken is too weak for an overclocked CPU. However, all three coolers proved indisputable quieter and more efficient than the standard boxed cooler from Intel, which means that they coped with their today’s task quite well.