by Sergey Lepilov
02/17/2009 | 06:13 PM
Aren’t you surprised that the manufacturers announce new CPU air-coolers remarkably regularly unlike cooling solutions for other system components? For example, I have always been curious to understand what was the goal for rolling out the new cooling solutions that cannot boast better features combination (such as efficiency, acoustics and price) than the already existing ones. I believe that it would be very hard to compete in this market segment without offering better key features than the already existing models. It is even harder to design an ideal cooler that could suit each and everyone in all aspects (I doubt we will ever see anything like that).
Despite this fact, the manufacturers continue to release their new cooling solutions. For example, today while we are discussing two brand spanking new coolers from Thermaltake and Scythe, the former is launching four coolers with new fans, while the latter has already released and starts selling two new solutions. Other well-known brands are also catching up. In other words, there is no stagnation in this market segment, whatsoever. But does it really make sense? – That’s a different question. Most of our regular readers already have a certain air cooler with sufficient efficiency, so it will take a lot to make them replace their piece with anything else. Our today’s review will give food for thought to many of you.
The new cooler from Thermaltake Technology comes in a large brightly decorated box that has a cut-out opening in the front revealing part of the cooler sitting in a clear plastic casing:
There is a small cooler photo on the front of the box and a tag promising 5-year warranty. 5 years is really cool, but I doubt that anyone will use this cooler for such a long time, because platforms get upgraded at least three times more frequently.
The back of the box is dedicated to describing the cooler key features, bears the schematic description of the airflow trajectories and has a few small photos of TMG IA1 components.
At the bottom of the plastic casing that has almost fallen apart on the way to our lab we found a small flat box with the following accessories:
One look at Thermaltake TMG IA1 is enough to remind us of ZEROtherm Nirvana NV120 Premium cooler. There is nothing surprising about it, actually, because the heatsink of the new Thermaltake solution as well as the design in general are very similar to those of ZEROtherm cooler:
Thermaltake TMG IA1 measures 140 x 97.4 x 160 mm and weighs 648g. These are pretty common size and weight for a contemporary tower-cooler.
The cooler heatsink sits on four copper heatpipes, each 6mm in diameter, that go through a copper base plate. The heatsink array consists of 51 aluminum plates:
The heatsink plates are spaced out at 2mm from one another. Each plate is 0.35mm thin. The sides of the heatsink are not covered with anything, which should ensure better cooling of the heatsink array, according to the manufacturer.
This I a pretty arguable statement, because if you cover the heatsink sides the cooler could turn out more efficient due to more economical use of the airflow created by the fan and concentrated in the center of the heatsink.
The heatpipes are slightly shifted inside the heatsink array:
Note that the side heatpipes are almost on the edge of the heatsink. Frankly speaking, I was a little puzzled by this implementation, because it means that part of the heatpipes will not work at its full potential. In other words, there is nowhere to transfer the heat to on that side.
Although we were a little concerned about the location of one of heatpipes in the heatsink array, the contact between the heatpipes and the heatsink plates is impeccable. We see that they are soldered together instead of being glued with thermal glue:
The heatpipes are also carefully soldered to the cooler base grooves, which is another pleasing observation:
The thinnest part of the heatsink base plate beneath the heatpipes measures 1.8mm. The base surface finish is absolutely stunning: it is just a tiny bit away from the mirror-shine:
However, Thermaltake TMG IA1 cooler we received couldn’t boast an impeccably even base. As you see from the thermal interface imprint, one of the corners of the base is bent. Nevertheless, we decided not to fix this issue, because the contact area between the cooler base and the CPU heat-spreader is still smaller than the base plate itself. In other words, that part of the base that contacts the CPU heat-spreader is even enough to ensure tight contact. Anyway, let this be the manufacturer’s concern.
The fan is attached to an aluminum stand that is screwed on to the top and bottom heatsink plates. This is what the heatsink looks like with the fan and its retention stand removed:
The heatsink plates are of petty complex shape, so it is very hard to calculate its effective surface without any graph paper at hand.
The 120-mm fan has 9 blades. It is attached to the stand with three screws. The fan uses a slide bearing with 30,000 hours or about 3.4 years MTBF.
The rotation speed of the fan may be adjusted with a small and not very handy regulator in the 1300-2100 RPM interval. The manufacturer claims that the maximum airflow is 70.3 CFM at maximum fan rotation speed. The minimum level of noise is claimed to be 20 dBA at the lowest fan rotation speed. The maximum static pressure is 2.51 mmH2O, current – 0.55A and power consumption about 6.6W. Moreover, the fan of this new cooler has blue LEDs in it.
The cooler installs very imply and intuitively on the supported platforms. If you want to install Thermaltake TMG IA1 onto Socket 754/939/940/AM2(+) mainboards, you should use a swing-clip with a lock that is inserted into special slits in the aluminum plate over above the cooler base:
In this case the cooler can only be installed in two different ways depending on the way they positioned the plastic retention frame that the clip catches on. The definite advantage of this retention is that you don’t have to remove the mainboard from the system case to get the cooler in place.
Even if you install the Thermaltake TMG IA1 cooler onto an Intel platform with LGA775 socket, the mainboard can stay where it is, because the cooler is fastened with common plastic push-pins:
Unfortunately, there was no retention kit for LGA1366 platforms included with this cooler. Hopefully, Thermaltake will fix that in the near future. I doubt that the retention kit will affect the cooler cost in a significant way, while the LGA1366 platform definitely picks up popularity.
The distance from the lower heatsink plate to the mainboard surface is 36mm; besides, the heatpipes are quite compact at the base, so Thermaltake TMG IA1 will be installed very easily. Although I have to admit that when we installed it onto a DFI LANPARTY DK X48-T2RS mainboard, the lowest heatsink plate touched the tall chipset heatsink on one side:
However, I have to stress that it just “touched” the heatsink; therefore it didn’t affect the secure contact between the cooler and the CPU heat-spreader as well as test results.
This is what this new solution looks like inside a system case:
And winding up this part of our today’s review, take a look at Thermaltake TMG IA1 in action:
It is especially beautiful in the dark.
The recommended price of Thermaltake TMG IA1 is around $59.99, which is a good price point compared against competing solutions with similar efficiency.
The second newcomer we are going to talk about today comes from the Japanese Scythe Company and was developed together with another well-known manufacturer – Quiet PC.
Scythe Kama Angle (SCANG-1000) cooler ships in a medium sized vertical box:
As usual, Scythe’s packaging is covered in all sorts of data in two languages: English and Japanese. The cooler’s technical specifications summed up in a table on one side f the box are given in six languages:
The cooler accessories are packed into a separate box and include the following items: three retention kits and corresponding screws, two wire clips for the fan, a pack of SilMORE thermal interface and a multi-lingual installation manual.
We have already tested quite a few air-coolers that surprised us with their shapes and designs. However, we have never seen anything like Scythe Kama Angle before. Take a look:
We see a very curiously shaped heatsink. In fact, t some of you it may look more like a combination of two heatsinks attached at a corner, and to some – like a single heatsink bent at a 90-degree angle:
Anyway, this is a very simple and efficient solution. I wonder why no one has ever tried to make anything like that before. Let me explain the advantages of this approach.
First of all, an angle heatsink like that allows using the fan inside the power supply unit as well as the fan on the case rear panel in the most efficient way. This is what it looks like schematically:
These “free” exhaust fans will make up for the additional fans on the outside of the heatsink, although you can still put them up if you wish as the design allows it:
Secondly, Scythe Kama Angle uses only four copper heatpipes 6mm in diameter that are curved on passing through the cooler base:
In other words, the contact area between the heatpipes and the base plate is bigger at a 90-degree angle than it would have been with the heatpipes going straight through. The grooves in the base plate that I like so much would have made this contact area even bigger, but Scythe engineers continue using flattened heatpipes instead. Moreover, the heatpipes aren’t soldered to the base: they are glued to it with special thermal glue.
The Scythe Kama Angle cooler measures 123 x 123 x 160 mm and weighs 755g with a fan attached to it.
The heatsink array consists of 60 aluminum plates spaced out at a 1.8mm distance from one another. Each plate is 0.4mm thin.
Scythe Kama Angle is equipped with a 120 x 120 x 25 mm fan from Slip Stream 120 series:
The fan rotation speed is controlled using pulse-width modulation (PWM) method in the interval from 324 to 1200 RPM. If you connect a four-pin fan connector to a three-pin plug on the board, the fan will be working at a constant maximum rotation speed of 1200RPM. The fan is claimed to create 14.4-68.5 CFM airflow at 6.4-24 dBA noise level. The fan is built with a slide bearing. The manufacturer didn’t mention its MTBF.
The fan is attached on the inside of the corner formed by the heatsink plates with two wire clips inserted into the special grooves on the heatsink array:
There are additional grooves for two more fans that can be attached to this heatsink, however, there are no extra wire clips for them included. I have to admit that I get pretty frustrated when the cooler makers try to save some bucks like that. Tell me, how much will another two wire clip sets cost? Three cents a piece? Five? Even ten! Why couldn’t they just throw them in and raise the cooler price by less than half a buck. Instead they offer you to purchase them separately…
The nickel-plated cooler base boasts remarkable finish quality and evenness:
There are three retention kits for different socket types. Before installation you have to attach the corresponding retention plate to the base of the cooler with four enclosed screws:
Everything here is simple and evident, so there is really no need to go into details. However, I have to complain about the missing LGA1366 retention (that is also available for purchase separately) and about the unreliable LGA775 retention mechanism that will not prevent the PCB from bending.
The cooler is very compact at the base. The distance from the mainboard surface to the lowest heatsink plate measures 40mm, so it will easily fit even on those mainboards that have a lot of heatsinks around the processor socket:
Although you normally don’t have to remove the mainboard from the system case to install a cooler with “push-pin” retention, it is not going to work for Scythe Kama Angle. The reason is fairly simple: the plastic tops of three pins out of four are located right beneath the heatsink, so it is pretty difficult to really push them in hard. And if you need to take the cooler off, it is absolutely impossible to turn and take them out when the mainboard is inside the case. So, it’s better to install this cooler when the mainboard is out of the system case.
This is what Scythe Kama Angle looks like inside the Ascot 6AR2-B system case:
This positioning seems to be most suitable for this cooler, because the 120-mm fan on the case rear panel and the 140-mm fan in the system power supply unit will help remove the hot air outside the case. I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that the cooler fan turned out 7mm taller than the top heatsink plate, because it hit against the chipset heatsink on one side and against the first memory DIMM – on the other. As a result, we lost quite a bit of the airflow at the top, which you could easily feel with your hand stretched out over that area. Maybe Scythe and Quiet PC engineers had to install the fan about 5mm deeper into the heatsink and use a simple shroud to cover the top heatsink triangle? These simple measures could make this cooler more compact and ensure more efficient distribution of the airflow.
In conclusion I have to mention that the new Scythe Kama Angle cooler is priced at $44 and is already available in retail.
The technical specifications and recommended retail price of the cooling solutions reviewed today are summed up in the table below:
We tested our today’s participants in two modes: in a closed system case and in an open testbed. In the former case the mainboard is set vertically and the “tower” coolers are turned horizontally, while in the latter case the mainboard sits horizontally on the desk and the coolers are installed vertically. Our testbed was identical for all coolers throughout the test session and featured the following configuration:
All tests were performed under Windows Vista Ultimate Edition x86 SP1. We used the following software during our test session:
So, the complete screenshot during the test session looks as follows:
I decided to replace the formerly used SpeedFan with RealTemp program that reports a 4°C lower
The stabilization period for the CPU temperature between the two test cycles was 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 or open testbed 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 stayed at 21-21.5°C.
The noise level of each cooler was measured after 1:00AM in a closed room about 20sq.m big using CENTER-321 electronic noise meter. The measurements were taken at 3cm, 1m and 3m distance from the noise source. During the acoustics tests all three 120-mm case fans were slowed down to ~720 RPM. In this mode the background noise from the system case measured at 1m distance didn’t exceed ~32.7 dBA, and the loudest fan was the 140-mm fan of the system power supply. When the system was completely powered off, our noise meter detected 30.8 dBA (the lowest on the charts is 30 dBA). The subjectively comfortable noise level is around 34~34 dBA.
Now let me say a few words about the today’s main competitor. They say that if this cooler had appeared 5 years ago, many well-known cooler manufacturers would have gone bankrupt by now. Well, it is ThermoLab BARAM:
We tested this super-cooler with two Scythe Slip Stream 120 fans in two modes: in quiet mode at 860 RPM and at maximum fan rotation speed of 1890 RPM. The fans were installed for air intake-exhaust. Of course, we didn’t touch the default Thermaltake TMG IA1 fan. However, Scythe Kama Angle was tested not only with the default fan, but also with a higher-speed Scythe Slip Stream 120 fan at 1890 RPM. The fan rotation speeds shown in the diagrams are the average readings reported by SpeedFan, and not the official claimed fan specifications.
Inside a closed system case using the “weakest” cooling system of the today’s testing participants we managed to overclock our 45 nm quad-core processor to 3.7 GHz (+23.3%). The nominal processor Vcore was increased to ~1.45 V in the mainboard BIOS (+26.1%):
The obtained results are given on the diagram below (the coolers are grouped according to the testing conditions and noise levels). Please take a closer look at it:
Note the results obtained in quiet mode, which is more important from a home user’s standpoint. The performance difference between Thermaltake TMG IA1 and Scythe Kama Angle is fairly small: 1°C inside a system case and 3°C I an open testbed in favor of a Scythe solution. However, the latter cooler falls only 2-4°C behind the super-cooler working with two fans. Moreover, it’s the cooler that has recently defeated Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme. Excellent results!
To be fair I have to add that at maximum fan rotation speed ThermoLab BARAM increases its win that adds up to 7°C. At a higher fan rotation speed both newcomers improve just slightly, by 2°C or maximum 3°C. Nevertheless, it was this particular mode that seemed to be most interesting for maximum overclocking experiments on an open testbed using today’s two best cooling solutions, namely – Scythe Kama Angle and ThermoLab BARAM. Here is what we got:
It turned out that the new Scythe cooler yielded only 10MHz in frequency and 3°C in peak temperature to one of the best air coolers out there. I have to stress once again: it was excellent performance.
The coolers are lined up according to their noise levels (low to high):
Looks like Scythe Kama Angle is the quieter of the two new solutions reviewed today. In idle mode its fan slows down to 400 RPM making the cooler almost completely noiseless. ThermoLab BARAM with two fans at 860 RPM follows shortly behind falling into the comfortable acoustic zone. Thermaltake TMG IA1 cooler also passes this milestone. As for the level of generated noise during maximum fan rotation speed, this operational mode is totally unacceptable for home use (in case of Scythe Kama Angle we are only talking about a faster Slip Stream 120mm fan).
It happens pretty rarely that two new CPU cooling solutions both demonstrate superb results in the same test session. The less efficient cooler of the two new solutions tested today, Thermaltake TMG IA1 lost only 5°C peak temperature to the super-cooler rival. While the best cooler, Scythe Kama Angle, yielded only 3°C and 10MHz in maximum processor frequency. Keeping in mind that these two new coolers are relatively inexpensive, have very simple installation, boast minimal dependence of their efficiency on the fan rotation speed, and generate little noise at minimal fan rotation speed, things may get really complicated in a little while.
Nevertheless, there are still a few things about these two coolers that I would like to comment on. Although both companies have very efficient thermal compound in their product range, the today’s new cooling solutions come bundled with SilMORE thermal grease. I don’t think that putting in a 1g pack of Thermaltake TG1/TG2 or Scythe Thermal Elixer will affect the cooler price. LGA775 retention that was inconvenient to use and unreliable, and also didn’t prevent the PCB from bending because of the cooler weight. Moreover, there was no LGA1366 kit bundled with the cooler.
So, Thermaltake TMG IA1 loses a few points for the uneven base surface and inconvenient fan rotation speed controller. As for Scythe Kama Angle, they used thermal glue instead of soldering technique, didn’t make any heatpipe grooves in the base plate, and didn’t provide enough fan retention wire clips. In my opinion, the latest cooler with soldered and non-flattened heatpipes lying in the special grooves of the base plate, with the triangle part of the cooler heatsink covered for better airflow organization and equipped with three regular fans, will be able to compete against ThermoLab BARAM in the most acute quiet mode… It is up to Scythe to decide if they are going to roll out the next Kama Angle revision any time soon, but at this point, the choice is totally yours.