by Sergey Lepilov
01/28/2010 | 02:18 PM
As you probably know, tuning is the process of modifying a car to improve its characteristics or appearance. It allows to achieve a higher output power from the engine, make the aerodynamics of the car more efficient or just make the car look special and unique. What you probably don’t know, CPU coolers can be tuned as well. The only difference is that this kind of tuning is done by the manufacturer of the cooler rather than by a third party. The manufacturer adjusts its cooler design by introducing small changes in order to increase performance or reduce the manufacturing cost. Sometimes such changes are only limited to the product’s exterior design and do not affect its noise level or price.
This review is about three coolers that have undergone such modification and the effect it has had on them: Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme revision C, Cogage Arrow and Zalman CNPS10X Flex.
The Ultra-120 eXtreme enjoys a cult following. This cooler has been manufactured since the distant year of 2006 and has always remained the same, except for new fasteners, a fan that is now included into the box, and such cosmetic changes as revised packaging. Throughout this long period of time, the Ultra-120 eXtreme has kept a leading position in terms of performance, being only inferior to the Thermalright IFX-14 which was introduced later as well as to a few models from other brands that were introduced in the last year. The unique nature of this product is emphasized by the fact that it was released in an all-copper version (as a limited edition at a very immodest price). The new revision of this cooler seems to be the last one as it has got a successor called Thermalright Venomous X. We’ll discuss it in an upcoming report. Right now, let’s see what innovations are implemented in the C revision of the Ultra-120 eXtreme.
The packaging has not been modified. It is a red “brick” of robust cardboard with pieces of foam rubber inside. The product revision is indicated on the top of the box, so you cannot confuse it with an older version. Included with the cooler’s heatsink are fastener kits for all modern platforms, an installation guide, two wire brackets with two silicone strips to attach a fan, a key, and Thermalright’s thermal grease called The Chill Factor.
It is hard to spot any changes in the Ultra-120 eXtreme C at first sight. It still measures 132x63x161 millimeters, weighs 790 grams, and consists of six nickel-plated copper heat pipes, 6 millimeters in diameter, that go through the nickel-plated copper base and carry a lot of aluminum plates.
There are now 48 plates rather than 52 as on the earlier versions of the cooler. They are 0.5 millimeters thick as opposed to the older versions’ 0.4-0.45 millimeters and the distance between them is increased from 1.8 to 2 millimeters. This shows Thermalright’s desire to make the heatsink less dependent on the speed of the fan(s), retaining the same performance at medium and high speeds and boosting it at low speeds. On the other hand, the reduced number of plates means a reduced total heat dissipation area, so the resulting effect is hard to predict.
One more new feature of the new cooler’s heatsink is the arrow-shaped cutout in the center of the plates.
Thermalright’s engineers say that this cutout is meant to make the air flow inside the heatsink more turbulent to cool the plates more effectively. We have already seen similar solutions in heatsinks from other manufacturers. So, these are actually all the changes we could find in the heatsink of the new revision Ultra-120 eXtreme.
Like before, the cooler has a slightly convex base.
This is confirmed by the footprint our Core i7-920 processor makes on it:
There is no fan in the Ultra-120 eXtreme kit, which is normal for Thermalright’s products. You only get two wire braces for attaching one fan to the heatsink.
Oddly enough, the kit includes only one pair of such braces although the heatsink is designed in such a way that you can mount two 120mm fans on it. This kind of saving does not do any credit to the developer. The installation procedure has not changed while the recommended price of this product is $59.
We have already tested one cooler from Cogage, a daughter brand of Thermalright Inc., and now we will discuss the Arrow model. This cooler is supplied in a rather large cardboard box with a picture of the product on the face side and a list of its features and specs on the other sides.
In the box you will find three sets of fasteners for LGA775/1156/1366 mainboards, wire braces for fans, The Chill Factor thermal grease, a key with screws, a sticker, and three installation guides.
One glance at the photo on the cooler’s box is enough to realize that the Cogage Arrow is nothing else but a tuned Thermalright IFX-14. Any doubts you might have about that will vanish as soon as you take the thing out of the box.
What has been affected by the tuning? Not much, actually. The shape of the heatsink plates has been changed. There are now two plates (one in each section) more than in the Thermalright IFX-14 for a total of 110 (55x2) plates. Their thickness has increased from 0.25 to 0.35-0.4 millimeters and the distance between the fins has increased from 1.5 to 1.8-1.9 millimeters. The two sections are placed 38 millimeters apart. The plates are still press-fitted on four nickel-plated copper heat pipes, 8 millimeters in diameter, which are soldered to a copper base, coated with a thin layer of nickel alloy. No other changes have been found in the Cogage Arrow in comparison with the Thermalright IFX-14.
The cooler’s base is convex, as in almost all products from Thermalright.
This is proved by the irregular footprint on the CPU’s heat-spreader:
As opposed to the Thermalright IFX-14, the Cogage Arrow is shipped with a cute 120x120x25mm fan.
The fan speed is PWM-controlled in a range of 1000 to 1800 RPM. Unfortunately, the fan’s specs do not list its noise level, airflow and static pressure. The service life of its bearing is not indicated, either. But judging by the marking, it is an ordinary slide bearing with a typical service life of 30,000 hours. The rotor’s diameter is 40 millimeters; the cable is 405 millimeters long.
The included fan can be fastened between the heatsink sections by means of two wire brackets. It contacts the heatsink through vibration-absorbing strips.
There are as many as six wire brackets in the Cogage Arrow kit. Two of them are designed in such a way as to be used with either 120mm or 140mm fans. The cooler is installed on a CPU in the same way as the Thermalright IFX-14 except that it has fasteners for LGA1156 mainboards. The Cogage Arrow is not compatible with AMD processors.
The installation guide and the official Cogage website do not indicate the best way to orient the cooler on a CPU and inside a system case but Thermalright’s specialists suggest that the Arrow is going to be the most effective if its pipes are parallel to the graphics card (or perpendicular to the system memory modules). We tested the cooler in both positions:
And we found out that the cooler had a small advantage (1.5-2C°) if installed as recommended by Thermalright (as in the left photo). But considering the convex base and the system fan available in our testbed, we guess this difference won’t show up in all configurations.
The Cogage Arrow is manufactured in Taiwan and comes at a recommended retail price of $65.
The next tuned cooler is Zalman’s third version of CNPS10X. WE have already reviewed the other two: Zalman CNPS10X Extreme and the less noisy Zalman CNPS10X Quiet.
The Flex is shipped in a compact cardboard box with a picture of its heatsink on the face side and a description of its key features on the back.
The Zalman CNPS10X Flex kit contains all components necessary to install the cooler on any modern platform:
There is no fan in the kit, which is the flexibility of choice provided by the Flex. The user can choose the model and number of fans to use. The heatsink itself hardly differs from the two previous models in the CNPS10X series.
There are five copper heat pipes, 6 millimeters in diameter, soldered to the grooves of a copper base. The pipes carry 53 aluminum plates (133x74 millimeters large and 0.5 millimeters thick) placed at a distance of 1.8 millimeters from each other. The Extreme version of the cooler has 56 plates, 0.45 millimeters thick and placed 1.7 millimeters apart. The Quiet version has 45 plates, 0.45 millimeters thick and 2.4 millimeters apart. Thus, the Flex heatsink is something in between the Extreme and Quiet versions of Zalman’s CNPS10X. The central pack of 17 fins is anodized to match the cooler’s black plastic cap.
The small aluminum piece above the pipes can be easily removed, giving you the view of the grooves in the copper base and of the drops of solder at the places of contact.
As you can see in the photos, Zalman’s soldering is neat and high quality while the cooler’s sole is perfectly flat and polished off.
The cooler’s copper base measures 40x38 millimeters. It is no less than 2 millimeters thick under the heat pipes.
Like its predecessors, the Zalman CNPS10X Flex is compatible with all modern platforms, including LGA1156. The fasteners have been changed, though. Instead of flimsy plastic frames with clamping bars, we now have a versatile back-plate with movable ends and steel plates attached to the cooler’s base.
We guess this fastening is simpler, smaller but no less reliable than before. The only thing we may wish is that the fastening brackets were more rigid (thicker) and did not deform that much as you are screwing the cooler up to the CPU.
To install fan(s) on the heatsink, the Zalman CNPS10X Flex kit includes four soft strips with a gluey side and four wire brackets.
The installation guide does not say anything about the best way to orient the cooler, but we had better results with this orientation:
The cooler looks just as cute without the top plastic cap as with it, but we guess the heatsink would perform better if it had a few fins more instead of the cap. Such fins would be right in the way of the airflow from the fan(s). The Zalman CNPS10X Flex is manufactured in Korea and costs a mere $49, which is a low price for this brand.
We are going to test the cooling efficiency of our today’s testing participants and their competitors in the following testbed:
During this test session we managed to overclock our 45nm quad-core processor (with polished heat-spreader) with the multiplier set at 21x and “Load-Line Calibration” enabled to 3.97 GHz using the weakest cooler of the testing participants. The nominal processor Vcore was increased to 1.35 V in the mainboard BIOS.
The memory voltage was at 1.62 V and its frequency was around 1.5 GHz (7-7-7-14_1T timings). All other parameters available in the mainboard BIOS and connected with CPU or memory overclocking remained unchanged (set to Auto).
All tests were performed under Windows 7 RTM 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 processor core of the four for the results charts. 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. During our test session room temperature was at 24.8-25.2 °C.
For comparison purposes we also included the results for the following solutions: Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme-1366 RT, Thermalright IFX-14, Zalman CNPS10X Quiet and Alpenföhn Nordwand:
Besides, we also included the best tower-cooler out there – Noctua NH-D14:
The latter was tested with two 140 mm Noctua NF-P14 fans. Besides, Noctua NH-D14, like all other testing participants, was also tested with one and two 120 mm Thermalright TR-FDB fans in three speed modes: in quiet mode at 800 RPM, moderate mode at 1200 RPM and at maximum rotation speed of 1600 RPM. The fan rotation speeds were set with the help of our controller with ±10 RPM accuracy.
There are quite a few coolers in this review, so we have to display their results in two diagrams. The first diagram shows how they perform with a single Thermalright TR-FDB fan.
Let’s compare the ordinary and tuned versions of the coolers with one fan first. Under peak CPU load the Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme revision C is 4°C, 3°C and 1°C more effective than its cousin in quiet, medium-speed, and 1600 RPM mode. These are expected results since the new revision has a less dense pack of heatsink plates with interior perforation and thus can cool the CPU more effectively at low and medium speeds of the fan. At a high speed of the single fan the new and old coolers are similar in performance.
The next pair are the Cogage Arrow and the Thermalright IFX-14. When equipped with one fan, these two-tower products cannot compete with the new Ultra-120 eXtreme because they are meant for two or even three fans. The Cogage Arrow and the Thermalright IFX-14 have similar results, differing no more than 1°C.
The Zalman CNPS10X Quiet and Zalman CNPS10X Flex put up a tough fight here. The Quiet version of the cooler is 3°C more effective in the quiet mode (800 RPM), but the Flex is 1°C better at 1200 RPM thanks to the larger heatsink area (8200 against 6817 square centimeters). The Flex enjoys an even bigger advantage at 1600 RPM – 2°C.
The Noctua NH-D14 is in the lead in the quiet mode at 800 RPM, keeping the CPU colder by 2°C compared to the other coolers. Its advantage is only 1°C at 1200 RPM, though. At 1600 RPM the NH-D14 is challenged by the Arrow and the new Thermalright. Again, these are the results of the coolers with one fan. Now let’s see what we have with two Thermalright TR-FDB fans (one for intake and the other for exhaust).
So, do we have any changes in the pairs of nearly identical coolers? With a second fan set to exhaust the air from the heatsink, the ordinary Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme gets closer to the new revision. The difference is 2°C in the quiet mode and 1°C at 1200 RPM. The two models deliver identical results at 1600 RPM. This might have been expected, considering the design of the two revisions.
The Thermalright IFX-14 and Cogage Arrow are still similar in their efficiency. The Arrow has a barely visible advantage at the medium and maximum speeds. As for Zalman’s solutions, the Quiet version is more effective at 800 RPM while the Flex is somewhat better at the medium speed and at 1600 RPM. We don’t have anything new to say about the Alpenföhn Nordwand. You can check the complete results table below:
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
And what about the Noctua NH-D14? This Austrian super-cooler is 1°C more effective than the other tested products in the quiet mode with the two 120mm fans working at 800 RPM. At the medium speed of 1200 RPM it is overtaken by the Cogage Arrow. And at the maximum speed of 1600 RPM the Noctua NH-D14 is also overtaken by the new Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme. So, the Noctua NH-D14 doesn’t enjoy an overwhelming advantage here. Therefore, let’s check out these three best coolers at reaching the highest CPU frequency with two Thermalright TR-FDB fans at 800 and 1600 RPM. The quiet mode comes first:
Although we achieved similar results with all these coolers, the Noctua NH-D14 is 3°C more effective than the Cogage Arrow and 2°C more effective than the Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme C. But we should also consider the difference in CPU voltage. For example, the overclocked CPU was not stable in the quiet mode with the Cogage Arrow, which has the densest pack of heatsink fins, if we increased its voltage whereas the Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme C allowed to overclock the CPU with an increased voltage.
Now, let’s see how the coolers cope with the overclocked CPU at 1600 RPM.
The results are even closer when the coolers are tested with two fans at 1600 RPM. The three leaders do not differ in terms of peak CPU temperature although the Noctua makes the CPU stable at a higher frequency: 20 MHz higher than with the Cogage and 40 MHz higher than with the Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme C.
There are no low-performance coolers in this test session. All the tested models are an excellent choice for cooling overclocked CPUs. The tuning of the coolers has generally been useful. For example, the Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme works more effectively in quiet mode. The Cogage Arrow is somewhat better than the Thermalright IFX-14 and is overall as effective as the Noctua NH-D14. The Zalman CNPS10X Flex outperforms the CNPS10X Quiet at medium and maximum fan speed.
As a result of our today's test session, we are proud to award Cogage Arrow cooler with our Recommended Buy title as a high-qulity product with superb cooling efficiency:
Judging by these results and the cooling systems that have been released over the past year and a half, the performance of CPU coolers is growing up at a very slow rate. The limitations in the way of heatsink dimensions and the heat-conducting properties of materials prevent the manufacturers from delivering a product that would be far superior to the existing models. That’s why we see old products being offered under a new dressing while the stuffing remains largely the same. Anyway, our today’s tests suggest that the Noctua NH-D14 is not an unrivalled leader anymore and that a high-performance cooler can cost you a mere $50.