by Ilya Gavrichenkov
08/07/2006 | 10:43 AM
Cooler manufacturers are in a panic, now that CPU developers have finally put a stress on such a characteristic of their products as heat dissipation. Pure performance is not the main argument in favor or against a particular CPU model anymore. It is the ratio of heat dissipation to performance that’s important. As a result, the next generation of CPUs from AMD and Intel won’t need as sophisticated cooling solutions as are employed in today’s top-end computers and a number of companies on the cooler market are going to lose some clients. It’s not quite clear what they will do next considering the changing market realities. Perhaps they will switch to cooling graphics cards, especially since it is the graphics card that seems to be ready to become the hottest component of the computer of the future.
But today we don’t want to talk about what will be as much as about what has already come to be. Not so long ago AMD transferred its Athlon 64 CPU series to the new Socket AM2 platform which, strangely enough, differs from the earlier one in having higher limits of power consumption and heat dissipation. Meanwhile, Intel is already touting the new revision of its 65nm core for processors with the NetBurst architecture which has improved electric and thermal characteristics (and yet another, even more economical, revision is coming up soon). There’s also little time left till the release of Intel’s new processor codenamed Conroe which will probably become one of the most economical CPUs of the last half-decade.
So, it looks like Intel is ahead of its competitor in optimizing the thermal and electric parameters of its products, although AMD also have plans to improve its CPU architecture accordingly. As we saw in our tests of the new Socket AM2 processors (for details see our article called Socket AM2 Platform: DDR2 SDRAM Support from AMD), the senior model Athlon 64 FX-62 has the highest heat dissipation of all present-day CPUs from both AMD and Intel. And unlike the Pentium XE series, this processor will remain on the market for some time because AMD cannot yet replace it with a more economical model that would have the same performance. So, the Athlon 64 FX-62, and other top-end processors for the Socket AM2 platform, may be the last object of interest for companies that offer advanced cooling solutions like monstrous coolers on heat pipes, liquid cooling systems or even phase-change coolers.
So, those manufacturers who are the quickest to adapt their solutions to Socket AM2 have the biggest chance to win. The new platform from AMD uses a new cooler fastening mechanism. There are now not two but four screw-holes around the socket, so cooler developers have to adjust their products accordingly. Some of the old cooling solutions don’t need any adaptation, though. It is those systems that used to be fastened on Socket 939 mainboards not with screws but with mechanisms that hitched to the standard retention frame. The position of the fastening tabs on Socket 939 and Socket AM2 is identical, so an update may not be necessary at all.
One such cooling system will be discussed in this review. It is Stingray STG-100 from Vantec. Although this system was released over a year ago, its smartly designed retention mechanism is fully compatible not only with LGA775 and Socket 939 platforms, but also with Socket AM2.
We are curious to see how this rather aged solution is going to do in new systems with AMD processors, especially since the Athlon 64 FX-62 is the hottest processor for today. Mainboard for this processor are based on the Nvidia nForce 590 SLI, which is currently the hottest of chipsets. These two factors just call for a test of a liquid-cooling system. So, you are reading a report of our using a Vantec Stingray STG-100 in a Socket AM2 system with an Athlon 64 FX-62 processor.
The Vantec Stingray STG-100 has been selling for long, but we haven’t yet had a chance to see what it’s like.
This liquid cooling system has two advantages which are especially important for inexperienced overclockers. First, the Vantec Stingray STG-100 is a “ready-to-fly” product – you’ll find everything necessary to assemble a complete cooling system in the box. Second, the standard package includes not only a CPU water-block, like in many other kits, but also three additional water-blocks: for the graphics card’s GPU and for the chipset’s North and South Bridges. So, the Vantec Stingray STG-100 is a complete liquid-cooling system that is ready to be used right out of the box without your having to purchase any accessories. This is good.
Here’s a list of what we found in the box:
So, this looks like quite an exhaustive list. The Vantec Stingray STG-100 kit includes everything necessary to transfer your whole computer to water cooling.
The accessories are sorted out into small boxes within the external box. This protects them from damage during transportation.
It’s the design of the water-blocks that largely determines the overall efficiency of a liquid-cooling system. So, let’s discuss them first.
The Vantec Stingray STG-100 includes four water-blocks: for the CPU, for the GPU on the graphics card, for the chipset’s North and South Bridges. The water-blocks have identical design and differ in size only.
The biggest is for the CPU. Its dimensions are 67x50x16mm and it can be mounted on any mainboard thanks to the clamping design of its fastening.
The package includes all the necessary spring-loaded plates that can be easily installed on a mainboard with any CPU socket.
The North Bridge water-block is much smaller: 37.5 x 37.5 x 23.5mm.
There are four threaded holes in the base of this water-block; you screw a frame into it and then secure it on the mainboard with the standard spring-loaded joint-pins.
There are frames in the kit for different mainboards, so you shouldn’t have troubles installing this water-block on products from different manufacturers.
The South Bridge water-block and its fastening are designed in a similar fashion. It is only smaller: 37.5 x 31.5 x 23.5mm.
The GPU water-block is a little different from the others. The fittings are placed on its side rather than on the top in order to position the pipes in a more optimal way inside the system case. This water-block is fastened to the graphics processor exactly as the chipset’s water-blocks. The only difference is that the frame is secured with three rather than four screws. As for its dimensions, this water-block is almost the same size as the North Bridge one: 37.5 x 37.5 x 22.5mm.
The four water-blocks are all made up of two pieces: a copper base with a few parallel ribs on the inside and an aluminum cap. These two pieces are held together with screws.
The CPU water-block is assembled in a different way, using non-separable rivets rather than screws. A rubber pad is placed between each water-block’s cap and base to avoid leakage. The separable design of the water-blocks calls for more caution on your part. You must make sure the system is waterproof before installing it into your computer.
The bases of the water-blocks are polished to a mirror shine.
The water-blocks look impressive thanks to their bi-metal design with a figured cap as well as to the nickel fittings screwed into this cap. Although the fittings are installed at the factory, you should anyway make sure there is no leakage there.
The pipes are put on the internal part of the fittings and are then secured externally with a nut. This ensures excellent reliability and durability of connection.
The pipes included into the Vantec Stingray STG-100 kit have an external diameter of 0.5” and an internal diameter of 3/8” (12.7 and 9.5mm, respectively).
The pump and the expansion tank are combined into a single unit in this liquid cooling system. They are installed on a single plastic base with four suction cups so that you could fix it on any horizontal surface (inside the computer case, for example) with some degree of reliability.
A Hydro Seltz L20 II pump is included into the kit. It is a widespread device which is powered from a 220VAC power source (a 100VAC version of the pump is included into the U.S. version of the Stingray STG-100). With such a high voltage, the pump outperforms most other solutions. Its performance is about 700 liters per hour and its head pressure is 1.35 meters. You should be aware that the pump consumes quite a lot of power (in comparison with other pumps) at 14W, but this is not much against the power consumption of today’s CPUs and graphics cards.
Since the pump is powered from the electricity mains, a special power cord is included with it. The cord is supposed to be connected inline with the PSU power cord. In other words, the pump is always alive, and you need to additionally connect it to any free fan connector on your mainboard so that the pump was turned on the moment you turn on your computer.
The noise level of the pump is moderate. It is not exactly silent, but its sound does not irritate. Its vibration is weak and is fully suppressed by the rubber feet.
The expansion tank placed nearby is a translucent plastic cylinder with a capacity of about 0.8 liters. The liquid in the tank is highlighted with blinking blue and red LEDs, so if you are prone to fits of dizziness, avoid putting this pump/tank thing within your view.
The tank is filled with liquid through the threaded cap. The hole you pour liquid in is about 65 millimeters in diameter, so you are unlikely to miss it even if your hands are shaking. In the worst case, you can use the included funnel, though.
The radiator from the Stingray STG-100 kit is similar to the radiators of many other off-the-shelf liquid cooling systems. This dual-pass aluminum radiator with a 120mm fan has long proved its worth in desktop computers.
The dimensions of the radiator are 202 x 136.6 x 52mm. A quiet 12V cooler (120x120x25mm) is installed on it; it rotates at a speed of about 1600rpm. The cooler is connected to the mainboard and reports speed to the hardware monitoring system.
The speed is low, so the fan is quiet. According to the specification, the level of noise from this fan is not higher than 26dB. The fan runs on frictionless bearings and boasts high reliability as a result.
The radiator and fan come already assembled into a single unit. The manufacturer implies that you hang it on the outside of the back panel of your system case. There are screw-holes in the radiator that allow fastening it instead of an 80, 92 or 120mm system fan.
The Vantec Stingray STG-100 is supplied in separate parts, so it’s up to you to assemble and install it in your computer. This procedure involves the following:
The kit includes all the necessary components, so you’ll only need a cross-head screwdriver and a knife for the pipes. This cutting up of the pipes may prove to be troublesome because you need six lengths of pipe to install the system in full (with all the water-blocks), and the manufacturer hasn’t provided any means to prevent the pipes from bending. It means you have to measure the pipes up very carefully.
Other operations can hardly be problematic. The pipes attach to the system components without difficulty; the water-blocks are easy to mount on the respective chips; the filling up of the system goes without problems.
The manufacturer recommends connecting the components in the following way: radiator – pump – CPU – GPU – North Bridge – South Bridge. The liquid you pour into the expansion tank easily goes through the whole system thanks to the high-performance pump. The Vantec Stingray STG-100 can take in about 1 liter of liquid in total.
A bottle with an ethylene glycol based liquid is included into the kit. There’s just enough of it for filling the system up just once. Vantec doesn’t disclose what exactly this coolant is made of, but we can tell you that it has an acid green color and shines in ultraviolet light.
In order to test the Stingray STG-100 we assembled a Socket AM2 platform on an ASUS M32N-SLI Deluxe mainboard (Nvidia nForce 590 SLI chipset) and an AMD Athlon 64 FX-62 processor, and we found some drawbacks of this liquid cooling system when we were installing it.
First, you need to remove the mainboard’s standard cooling system before you install the Stingray STG-100. It’s not difficult, but removing the heatsinks from the chipset also involves removing them from the CPU power circuit. So, the use of the Stingray STG-100 on the ASUS M32N-SLI Deluxe creates a problem – you have to take care about cooling the mainboard’s power elements. Although this mainboard has an eight-channel CPU voltage regulator, this regulator becomes hot at work. So, we had to use small heatsinks that were meant to cool memory chips on a graphics card.
The second problem is that on this mainboard, and on many other mainboards of this class for that matter, the chipset’s North Bridge is located in front of the PCI Express x16 slot. The mainboard comes with this Bridge covered with a low-profile heatsink which barely but allows installing a graphics card. But our putting a water-block on it made it impossible to install a long graphics card, i.e. the fastest and most advanced graphics card models for today.
We had to give up the idea of installing a fast graphics card due to one more reason, though. The GPU water-block included in the Vantec Stingray STG-100 kit cannot take heat off the graphics card’s memory chips, so you should only use it with graphics cards that do not require cooling of the memory. These are entry-level and mainstream cards that are generally short. So, in the end we decided to install an Nvidia GeForce 7300 GS into the test system.
And if you want to use a high-performance graphics card and a Vantec Stingray STG-100, you will probably have to use water for cooling only the CPU.
So, the Vantec Stingray STG-100 water-cooling system is impressive at first sight. It looks superb, is cleverly designed and well packed with accessories, and doesn’t need much skill from the user to get installed. Yet we can’t give you our final opinion about it without first checking it in practice.
So, we assembled a testbed using one of the hottest processors available, a Socket AM2 Athlon 64 FX-62 with a clock-rate of 2.8GHz. As we said above, the Stingray STG-100 can be easily installed on the newest mainboards with Socket AM2.
The testbed we assembled consisted of the following parts:
We tested the liquid cooling system at the default frequency of the CPU as well as in overclocked mode. In the latter mode we increased the CPU clock rate to 3075MHz with a voltage increase to 1.5V. Unfortunately, the Vantec Stingray STG-100 didn’t allow us to reach higher frequencies, which was somewhat disappointing because we had achieved the same clock rate with an air cooler. So, the STG-100 is not any more efficient than classic solutions in terms of the maximum achievable overclocking result.
The CPU temperature was being monitored with ASUS’ PC Probe II utility during the test.
The CPU was loaded by running the S&M utility which is surely the best tool for this purpose available today. We also ran the SuperPi benchmark to find what the CPU temperature would be under a high, but not extremely high, single-core load.
Testing a liquid cooling system is different from testing an air cooler. Old methods don’t work here. It takes quite a lot of time for the whole amount of liquid (there’s 1 liter of it in the STG-100) to warm up. It’s about 2-3 hours in this case. So, the temperature data given below were recorded after the system had worked for 3 hours in the specified mode.
The radiator of the Vantec Stingray STG-100 system is supposed to be placed outside the computer case, so the system transfers heat from the CPU and other components from the inside to the outside of the system case. It means that the type of the testbed (open or closed) may affect the test results a little. We performed our tests on an open testbed.
So, here are the results:
The Vantec Stingray STG-100 keeps the CPU real cool as you can see. Its noise characteristics are superb, too. Unlike many air coolers, this liquid cooling system works almost noiselessly. There is some very little noise from the pump and the external fan, but you can additionally reduce it by adjusting the pump performance.
Unfortunately, we cannot compare the results of the Vantec Stingray STG-100 with other liquid cooling solutions because there is currently a shortage of Socket AM2 compatible off-the-shelf liquid coolers. But we can offer you the results of a Z7U7414002 model cooler from AVC for comparison: the Athlon 64 FX-62 is 50°C hot with this cooler under normal load and 63°C hot under high load. When the processor is overclocked, these temperatures increase to 55°C and 75°C, respectively. So, water cooling is preferable in this case. The STG-100 liquid cooling system can ensure comfortable conditions for the CPU with high heat dissipation without worsening the user’s acoustic comfort.
The main conclusion we can draw from today’s tests is that it is possible to use old cooling systems on the new Socket AM2 platform. The smartly designed fastening mechanism makes the Vantec Stingray STG-100 compatible with new AMD processors. Moreover, the high efficiency this liquid-cooling system has showed on the new platform is indicative of its high quality and big reserve of performance which is not exhausted even today. Here are the pros and cons of this cooling solution in brief: