Thermaltake Frio CPU Cooler Review

One of the largest cooling solutions manufacturers tried to take over the leadership in this market. Find out from the new review how successful this attempt is.

by Sergey Lepilov
05/11/2010 | 11:46 AM

Practically every manufacturer of processor air-coolers needs to have a flagship product that could successfully compete against the competitors. This is a matter of prestige, branding, recognition and market success, even when we are talking about the coolers from the same maker. For example, these coolers are (click the links to check out our reviews): Thermalright IFX-14, Zalman CNPS10X series, Scythe Mugen 2, Cooler Master V10 and Cooler Master V8, Coolink Corator DS, Noctua NH-D14, Alpenföhn Nordwand, Asus Triton 88, Xigmatek Thor’s Hammer, Tuniq Tower 120 Extreme, etc.

 

And now imagine that a company selling more coolers than anyone else in the world, doesn’t have a flagship product like that. No matter how paradoxical it is, but since the times of Big Typhoon Thermaltake Technology Co., Ltd. hasn’t had a decent super-cooler yet. At this point Thermaltake offers semi-budget ISGC series with low cooling efficiency, image-setting V14Pro and SpinQ VT, inexpensive Silent 1156 and even an individual low-end sub-brand called TMG including corresponding mainstream coolers. But as for a super-cooler, there is simply none!

Finally, Thermaltake felt ready to resolve this shortcoming by announcing a new cooler called Frío (that means “cold” or “frost”) with pretty ambitious characteristics. For example, they claimed in the pre-launch announcements that the new cooler can cope with processors running as hot as 220 W! This sounds very impressive, so let’s not wait any longer and check out the new cooling product from Thermaltake.

Package and Accessories

The new cooler is shipped in a large solid-looking box made of thick cardboard. There is a picture of Frío on the front of the box next to the tag claiming that it supports 220 W processors. A little below there are three icons describing the key peculiarities of the cooler:

 

These peculiarities are all described in detail on the back of the box. There are detailed cooler specifications on one of the sides.

We should give Thermaltake due credit for the quality of its cooler packaging. The cooler is securely protected at the top and bottom with panels of polyurethane foam. There are a smaller box with accessories and an additional cooling fan on both sides of the cooler.

 

Thanks to this packaging, Frío can feel perfectly safe during all sorts of transportation mishaps.

Inside the small accessories box you can find two backplates, four pairs of steel retention brackets, screws and washers, Thermaltake thermal compound, four silicone mounts for the second fan, installation instructions and a warranty slip:

It is very convenient that every component is sealed into an individual plastic bag marked with a letter. It makes the cooler assembly and installation a lot easier. However, we are going to talk about it in the corresponding section of our review later today. At this time we would only like to add that Thermaltake Frío is made in China and is priced at $59.90 MSRP. The manufacturer provides 1 year warranty with this product.

Design and Functionality

Once you take Thermaltake Frío out of the box, the first thing you notice is its weight and massive looks. It feels like a heavy metal brick with plastic details on the sides:

 

 

At the same time, Frío size is comparable with that of other manufacturers’ tower coolers. It measures 139 x 118 x 165 mm, and with only one fan it will measure 98 mm wide:

The new cooler weighs a little over a kilo – 1042 g.

Thermaltake Frío is a tower cooler that consists of a copper base, five copper nickel-plated heatpipes 8 mm in diameter, aluminum heatsink plates sitting on these heatpipes, two plastic frames with fans and a decorative top cover:

 

Rep plastic pipes on top of the cooler are a purely decorative element adding a modding look to Thermaltake Frío cooler.

 

All plastic components of the cooler are attached with clips, so that can be easily removed. As a result, we can take a real close look at the heatsink:

It consists of 48 aluminum plates measuring 130x57 mm. each plate is 0.5 mm thick and they are spaced out at 1.8-1.9 mm from one another. The heatsink plates are soldered to the heatpipes, which are also soldered to the base. I would also like to point out that we found no special optimizations of Thermaltake Frío heatsink that could lower the airflow resistance or increase the heat transfer. The calculated effective heatsink size is quite large and makes 7,840 cm2, although it is not a record for a cooler of this type. The edges of the heatsink plates are very sharp, so be careful if you decide to take the cooler apart.

The heatpipes inside the heatsink array are arranged in staggered order:

As a result, they could fit all thick 8 mm heatpipes into a pretty narrow 57 mm heatsink and achieve more even heat distribution over the plates. As I have already said, the heatpipes are soldered to the cooler base plate. The thinnest part of the base beneath the heatpipes measures 2.4 mm.

The base of Thermaltake Frío cooler is exceptionally even, but it could have been finished nicer:

You can clearly see radial machine marks, which you can also feel to the touch. It is pretty strange for Thermaltake, because all their previous coolers had mirror-shining base plates. Well, most importantly it is very even, as you can see from the thermal compound imprint:

Thermaltake Frío is equipped with two 120x120x25 mm fans with black frame and white seven-blade impeller:

The fan blades are very curves and get wider towards the ends. The impeller is 113 mm in diameter with a 41 mm rotor. The fan comes with a 250 mm cable. The rotation speed of each fan is regulated with a small variator installed right on the fan cable. The supported rotation speed range of the cooling fans from 1250 to 2500 (!) RPM indicates clearly that Frío is targeted for computer enthusiasts, who consider noise to be secondary. At their maximum speed each fan creates 101.6 CFM airflow and generates 43 dBA of noise. The noise at the lowest fan rotation speed makes 23 dBA.

 

Judging by the rotor sticker, the original maker of the fans is Power Logic Company, but we couldn’t find a model number PLA12025S12HH-LV anywhere in their product catalogue. The fans use an improved slide bearing with increased to 50,000 hours MTBF. The claimed fan startup voltage is 6 V, and each fan should consume no more than 6 W of power.

The fans are attached to the retention frames with two plastic brackets that catch on to the side heatsink plates with the clips:

However, the fans do not actually touch the plastic frames because they are sort of “hanging” on silicone mounts:

 

As a result, there are fewer vibrations transferred from the fan to the heatsink and there is less noise (due to the shift towards more acoustically comfortable zone). Besides, the plastic frame and mounts keep the fans a little farther away from the heatsink. The fans do not have any LEDs.

Compatibility and Installation Tips

Thermaltake Frío is compatible with all contemporary desktop platforms. The installation procedure is described in detail in the manual. As for us, we are going to dwell only on a few key aspects of it today.

We have already mentioned earlier that each cooler accessory is sealed into an individual plastic bag marked with a letter. You can find the same letter marking in the manual:

If you make sure to follow the marking exactly, then the entire installation process will be quick and painless:

 

The only difficulty is probably the need to tighten the retention screws from the bottom side of the mainboard PCB rather than front, as you would normally do in most cases. However, this problem could be easily resolved is we turn the cooler upside down and try installing the mainboard on top of the cooler, and not the other way around: the cooler on top of the mainboard.

First you have to attach a pair of steel retention brackets for the appropriate processor socket to the base of the cooler:

There are threaded spindles in the ends of the brackets. You have to out rubber rings onto them, as they will protect the mainboard PCB:

After that turn the cooler upside down, put the mainboard on top, set the backplate and tighten the screw-nuts over it:

The distance from the lowest heatsink plate to the contact surface of the cooler is 38 mm. add another 4-5 mm for the processor socket with the CPU in it. The available 42-43 mm may seem just enough to ensure that Thermaltake Frío cooler doesn’t interfere with the tall heatsinks over the mainboard voltage regulator components (the cooler is pretty wide – 139 mm). However, the plastic frames for the fans hang by 7 mm off the sides of the heatsink, and this is where some mainboards may experience compatibility issues. Nevertheless, we didn’t have any problems during the installation of Thermaltake Frío on our Asus P6T Deluxe:

 

There is no mention anywhere on the official web-site or in the user manual of the preferred cooler position on the CPU and inside the system case. We checked out the cooler efficiency with the heatsink turned perpendicular to the memory DIMM slots as well as parallel to them. This is what the new Thermaltake cooler looks like inside the system case with only one fan and no plastic top:

Thermaltake Frío looks larger and bulkier with two fans, of course:

Nevertheless, we didn’t have any problems trying to fit it in nicely on the mainboard and inside the system case.

Technical Specifications and Recommended Pricing

 

Testbed and Methods

We are going to test the cooling efficiency of the new Thermaltake Frío and its today’s competitors in the following testbed (the side panel of the system case has been removed):

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 quad-core processor (with polished heat-spreader) with the multiplier set at 21x and “Load-Line Calibration” enabled to 3.9 GHz. The nominal processor Vcore was increased to 1.35 V in the mainboard BIOS.

Besides, we manually set the following voltages in the mainboard BIOS:

The memory voltage was at 1.64 V and its frequency was around 1.49 GHz (7-7-7-14_1T timings). All other parameters available in the mainboard BIOS and connected with CPU or memory overclocking remained unchanged.

All tests were performed under Windows 7 Ultimate 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 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. It was pretty warm already, but the AC wasn’t working yet, so the room temperature during our test session was pretty high and varied between 27.9-28.3 °C. Well, looks like it is going to be a bit more challenging for the testing participants.

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 34 dBA (do not mix it up with low noise level). 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.

We are going to compare Thermaltake Frío against Zalman CNPS10X Performa, which detailed review will be posted shortly. Besides its default fan, the Zalman cooler was also tested with two Frío’s fans. Moreover, we will also include the results of the ultimate winner and our today’s performance leader – Noctua NH-D14 equipped with two Noctua NF-P14 fans:

The super-cooler was tested in two fan modes: at maximum rotation speed of 1230 RPM and in quiet mode at 800 RPM.

Cooling Efficiency and Acoustic Performance

Cooling Efficiency Tests

Before we evaluate the freezing potential of Thermaltake Frío cooler, let’s check out the dependence of its heatsink cooling efficiency on the rotation speed of the default fan and the number of fans:


Click to enlarge

Our tests showed that the cooling efficiency of Thermaltake Frío is highly dependent on the rotation speed of the default fans and the number of fans involved. The temperature drops most aggressively in the interval between 800 and 1400 RPM. Note that the maximum temperature graph drops down almost identically in case of one and two fans. Of course, with two fans attached Thermaltake Frío cools the CPU better and this value varies between 2-4°C depending on the fan(s) speed. If Frío is equipped with one fan only, then the CPU temperature can start going down even in the interval between 1600 and 2000 RPM; and with two fans the heatsink gets “saturated” 400 RPM sooner. Nevertheless, if you are trying to squeeze all the juices out of your processor, then you can shave off another 2°C off the CPu temperature by speeding the fans up to 2500 RPM.

The results of our comparative testing are available on the diagram as well as in the following table:

I have to admit that the results of Thermaltake Frío are not too impressive. The new cooler working with one default fan at minimal rotation speed (according to the specs) of 1250 RPM manages to yield to a lighter and cheaper Zalman CNPS10X Performa with the default fan at the minimal speed of 1100 RPM. And that all is despite the fact that the heatpipes of the Zalman cooler are only 6 mm in diameter instead of 8 mm as by Frío. The heatsinks of these two coolers are of the same effective size, they have identical plate thickness and gaps between the plates, but Thermaltake is nevertheless losing. Frío is also defeated by Zalman CNPS10X Performa during the tests with two fans in two different speed modes. Although the difference in this case is minor (1-3°C), Zalman is still ahead of the new Thermaltake cooler.

As for the comparison between Thermaltake  and Zalman CNPS10X Performa against Noctua NH-D14, they have to make quite a bit of noise in order to catch up with the today’s cooling king. Amazingly, but even with two fans working at 2500 RPM Frío can’t outperform Noctua NH-D14 with a pair of 140 mm fans working at the moderate speed of 1230 RPM. As for the Zalman cooler, it managed to succeed and leave Thermaltake Frío 2°C behind.

Besides the comparative test session, we also checked out maximum CPU overclocking with Thermaltake Frío cooler when it was running with two default fans at the minimal speed of 1250 RPM and maximum speed of 2500 RPM:


Thermaltake Frio (2x1250 RPM)


Thermaltake Frio (2x2500 RPM)

As we can see, Thermaltake product with its fans at minimal rotation speed can cope with a quad-core CPU overclocked to 3970 MHz at 1.3625 V Vcore when the peak temperature of the hottest core reaches 87°C. Not bad, but still far from the record. At maximum fan speed the CPU remains stable at 4030 MHz with 1.375 V Vcore and 79°C on the hottest core. I would also like to add that during the same overclocking, Noctua NH-D14 with two fans working at 1230 RPM doesn’t allow the CPU to exceed 76°C temperature.

I would like to remind you that the room temperature during this test session was very high: +28°C.

Acoustic Tests

The graph below shows the noise generated by our today’s testing participants:


Click to enlarge

We noticed during the cooling efficiency tests already, that the default fans of Thermaltake Frío cooler are of exceptionally high quality. The results of our noise tests proved this point. As we see, Frío fan turned out the quietest of all three coolers. This fan works at a subjectively comfortable noise level up to 1250 RPM, and at 950-1000 RPM it can be considered very quiet. Thermaltake Frío has no parasitic overtones and crackling sounds, jingling of the heatsink plates or squeaking of the plastic fan frames. There is also no non-linearity of the noise levels variation upon the change in fan rotation speed, like the one we see by the default fan of the Zalman CNPS10X Performa cooler, for instance. Overall, we have every right to conclude that the new Thermaltake cooler boasts very high-quality well-balanced fans.

The graph for Thermaltake Frío with two fans is exactly the same because our current measuring technique doesn’t allow us to register the acoustic of the double-fan configuration correctly, because the noise meter we use doesn’t read the noise from the second fan installed on the back of the cooler heatsink. However, in my personal opinion, the noise doesn’t increase that much when we add a second fan to the Thermaltake Frío.

Conclusion

So, has Thermaltake managed to create a true super-cooler? It s difficult to answer this question definitively. On the one hand, Thermaltake Frío is a really highly efficient cooling system that can cope with decently overclocked quad-core processors just fine. But frankly speaking, I am sure many of you have expected way more from a cooler featuring five 8 mm heatpipes, thick heatsink plates with a significant effective surface size, soldering in the contact spots, two powerful fans and screw-on retention with extremely secure contact. In this case it is really hard to name the exact reasons for the today’s defeat from a more technologically modest and less expensive Zalman CNPS10X Performa cooler. Maybe Thermaltake engineers should give it more thought and make sure that they eliminate the issue that prevents Frío from competing successfully against the top solutions from other manufacturers. Otherwise, this cooler will just be one of the many, but not one of the best, which we wish were the case here.

We would like to give Thermaltake due credit for providing the Frío with high-quality fans with extremely low noise. Inconvenient rotation speed regulators and the need to use two mainboard fan connectors are just a small issue. Some modding fans who simply can’t find their computer in the dark unless something is glowing inside may complain that there are no LEDs, but we do not consider this a drawback for sure. The cooler is totally universal and comes with secure screw-on retention mechanism – these are Frío’s indisputable advantages. I only wish it were 4-5°C more efficient…