Zalman CNPS11X Performa CPU Cooler Review

Today we are going to talk about a very lightweight and relatively compact cooler from the Korean Zalman Company.

by Sergey Lepilov
12/22/2011 | 07:28 AM

It looks like the South Korean Zalman Tech Co., Ltd. decided to launch new processor coolers not once every six months or once per quarter, but every single month. Just recently we witnessed excellent performance of the new Zalman CNPS12X and today we will already be talking about the latest Zalman CNPS11X Performa. No matter what reasons hide behind this zeal, potential buyers will undoubtedly benefit a lot even if the improvement in cooling efficiency and acoustic performance will remain minimal. Zalman CNPS11X Performa is particularly interesting to us because it is positioned for the mainstream segment with the MSRP set not to exceed $40. In this aspect this coolers becomes a very attractive product for many users out there. And very soon we are going to find out how attractive it will be in terms of cooling efficiency and noise.

Package and Accessories

 

A box of average size is made of thick cardboard and is designed in bright colors and vivid style. The front of the box has the name of the cooler frames in a flame-styled letter “X”:

The back and sides of the package offer a ton of additional information about the cooler, its technical specifications, bundled accessories and supported processor types:

  

The cooler inside the cardboard box is sealed in clear plastic blister, which provides additional protection against possible transportation mishaps:

On top of it you will find bundled accessories sealed in individual plastic baggies:

Zalman CNPA11X Performa is made in South Korea. Its MSRP is set at $39 and it comes with a 1-year manufacturer warranty.

Design and Functionality

Our regular readers will easily see Zalman CNPS11X Extreme in the new CNPS11X Performa: we once again see a V-shaped heatsink pierced with two strict rows of heatpipes:

 

 

However, the Performa modification looks much simpler than the Extreme, because it doesn’t have the nickel-plating, the logo-shaped top plastic cover on the heatsink or a modding cooling fan with LED lighting. We clearly see all the inevitable consequences of the price reduction.

The cooler is 154x135x80 mm in size and weighs 450 grams, which is 150 grams less than the Extreme version.

  

The cooler heatsink is a closed contour that consists of two heatsink arrays, top and bottom covers and a fan:

 

When South Korean engineers designed their CNPS11X Performa cooler, they were obviously trying to use the entire airflow created with maximum efficiency and guarantee minimal resistance on its way.

Each heatsink array consists of 53 aluminum fins, each 0.35 mm thick, pressed against the heatpipes 1.7 mm away from one another:

The declared effective heatsink surface size is pretty modest for a contemporary tower cooler and is claimed to be only 6,000cm2 (1,600 cm2 smaller than by the Extreme model). The cooler’s thermal resistance shouldn’t exceed 0.092 °C/W.

Unlike Zalman CNPS11X Extreme, the new Performa boasts one interesting peculiarity in the bottom part of the heatsink, namely, parallel slits in the lowest heatsink plate with the flaps bent downwards:

As you may have easily guessed they are supposed to direct the airflow towards the heatsinks on the voltage regulator components around the processor socket, and the best thing about it is that this particular solution really works well (you can feel a pretty serious airflow at the bottom of the cooler). It may seem just a common plate with bent flaps, but Zalman came up with a special name for this technology – FCG (FET Cooling Guide), where FET stands for Field-Effect Transistor.

There are four copper heatpipes 6 mm in diameter, which pierce each heatsink array evenly through:

Zalman use their own unique composite heatpipes, i.e. each heatpipes like that is as efficient as 1.5 regular heatpipes.

The cooler base is built using Zalman’s DTH direct contact technology – Direct Touch Heatpipe:

Unfortunately, they do not use the new and improved W-DTH technology (Whole-Direct Touch Heatpipes), which we saw in the flagship Zalman CNPS12X, but the regular one with 1.5 mm aluminum inserts between the heatpipes in the base. As a result, the thermal paste imprint left by our test processor indicated significant dead zones in the contact area:

 

Moreover, one of the central heatpipes of our particular Zalman CNPS11X Performa unit was curved in and only its very edges actually touched the CPU. So, the cooler gets a definite “unsatisfactory” mark for the base quality this time.

Zalman CNPS11X Performa is equipped with one seven-blade 120 mm fan with PWM support:

The fan rotation speed can be automatically adjusted in the interval between 1000 and 1600 RPM with the noise level between 16 and 26 dBA. As usual, Zalman doesn’t indicate the airflow and the static pressure specs, unfortunately.

The fan stator is 42 mm in diameter and is covered with a sticker reading “ZP1225ALL (Z11P-PWM)”. It also indicates that there is a long life slide bearing inside:

The numeric meaning of this is the following: 50,000 hours or 5.7 years of non-stop operation. The maximum fan power consumption shouldn’t exceed 2.4 W. however, our measurements showed that at its maximum rotation speed the fan consumed only 1.6 W and started up at 4.7 V.

The fan is attached to the heatsink with a pair of wire clips:

There are no vibration-absorbing pads of any kind between the fan and the heatsink. There I also no way to install a second fan. A true budget solution in all respects.

Compatibility and Installation

The installation procedure for Zalman CNPS11X Performa doesn’t really differ from that for CNPS10X Performa or the new CNPS12X. For all supported platforms you will need to remove the mainboard from the system case first. The first step is to place the plastic caps with threaded metal bushes on the backplate ends and stick the cardboard pad to the center of the backplate:

In the meanwhile you have to attach a pair of steel retention panels corresponding to your socket type to the cooler base:

Next you apply a layer of thermal paste and set the cooler onto the CPU. Tighten the screws evenly on all four sides using the bundled L-shaped key:

I have to point out that this retention provides superior secure hold – the retention legs bend seriously under pressure.

After that you attach the fan, which, actually, doesn’t block any of the DIMM slots, and connect it to the power and monitoring connector:

The clearance between the lowest heatsink fin and the PCB is 35 mm and the fan hangs another 10 mm lower, but since this cooler is extremely compact, it doesn’t cause any compatibility issues in the area around the processor socket:

 

Zalman CNPS11X Performa looks very appealing and doesn’t take too much space inside a system case:

The cooler efficiency proved independent on the way it is positioned on top of the CPU that is why during our test session it was installed with the major airflow from the fan directed towards the back panel of our system case.

Technical Specifications and Recommended Pricing

Testbed and Testing Methodology

We performed all cooler tests inside a closed system case. Here is our testbed configuration:

We overclocked our six-core processor (with its default non-lapped heat-spreader) with the multiplier set at 25x and “Load-Line Calibration” (Level 2) enabled to 4.3 GHz. The nominal processor Vcore was increased to 1.3875 V in the mainboard BIOS:

Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading technologies were disabled during our test session. The memory voltage was at 1.5 V and its frequency was 1.38 GHz with 7-7-7-16_1T timings (Extreme profile). All other parameters available in the mainboard BIOS and related to CPU or memory overclocking remained unchanged.

All tests were performed under Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1 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 CST 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 hourly monitoring of the temperature changes over the past 6 hours. The room temperature during our test session varied between 25.0-25.2°C.

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 150 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 36 dBA (do not mix it up with low noise level). The fan(s) rotation speed was adjusted in the entire supported range using our in-house controller by changing the voltage with 0.5 V increment.

We are going to compare Zalman CNPS11X Performa against Thermalright HR-02 Macho ($39.95) tested with one default Thermalright TY-140 fan:

 

The rotation speed of all fans was adjusted using the same special controller in their entire supported range in 200 RPM increments and with ±10 RPM precision.

Now let’s check out the obtained results.

Cooling Efficiency Tests

The results of our cooling efficiency tests are summed up in the diagram and table below:

No wonder happened: Zalman CNPS11X Performa yielded to Thermalright HR-02 Macho in the entire operational range of its cooling fan. At the maximum speed of 1620 RPM the newcomer is just as efficient as Macho at 800-1000 RPM, which is, undoubtedly, a much quieter mode. At lower fan speeds CNPS11X Performa loses up to 6°C to Macho under peak load, but we can’t help mentioning that the cooling efficiency of the new Zalman cooler is not as sensitive to the rotation speed of its fan as the efficiency of other tower coolers or at least Zalman CNPS11X Extreme. At the same time, we should note that at 800 RPM of its default fan Zalman CNPS11X Performa copes just fine with an overclocked six-core CPU, which hottest core temperature never exceeded 88°C. It is a very good result, provided the cooler will be quiet at this fan speed.

During our maximum CPU overclocking tests under Zalman CNPS11X Performa we managed to maintain stability at up to 4.425 GHz frequency with 1.4375 V Vcore and 92°C peak temperature:


Zalman CNPS11X Performa (1620 RPM)

And this is what the new Zalman CNPS11X Performa looks like in our summary table and diagram*:


* - The peak temperature of the hottest CPU core is posted on the diagram
taking into account the difference from the current ambient temperature
and is brought down to 25°C.

It is remarkable that during such overclocking (4.3 GHz at 1.3875 V Vcore) the new Zalman cooler manages to pass its direct predecessor – Zalman CNPS10X Performa, at a lower fan speed and lower noise level. However, we shouldn’t forget that CNPS10X Performa can accommodate a second fan, while the CNPS11X Performa doesn’t allow it. Moreover, in our maximum CPU overclocking rating Zalman CNPS11X Performa comes after the 10th model:

Nevertheless, overclocking to 4.425 GHz at 1.4375 V core voltage is a good achievement for a cooler that weighs only 450 grams and costs only $39.

Acoustic Performance

We measured the noise from our testing participants in the entire supported speed range of their fans following the methodology described above. The results are summed up on the following graph:

Despite the fact that the noise curve of the Zalman CNPS11X Performa is very close to the noise curve of the Thermalright HR-02 Macho cooler, we have to point out that its fan was unstable and was occasionally howling at different speeds, which you can clearly see from the non-linear shape of the graph. The fan howls in its entire rotation speed range: louder at one speed and quieter at another, but this howling is constant and never ending. We can’t call it acoustically comfortable even at the lowest rotation speed. It is a serious flaw for the new cooler and may be a determinative factor for many potential buyers.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, Zalman CNPS11X Performa didn’t impress us with its superior efficiency and low level of noise. For the most part, it has only three advantages: small weight, low price and universal design combined with super-easy installation. However, these features are definitely not enough to guarantee marketing success for this product in the overwhelming versatility of quality choices available today. To win a contemporary cooler has to deliver good efficiency at a low level of noise, and to our regret Zalman CNPS11X Performa doesn’t have it. The cooler heatsink base is in desperate need of improvement and possibly implementation of advanced W-DTH (Whole-Direct Touch Heatpipe) technology without aluminum inserts between the heatpipes, just like by the flagship Zalman CNPS12X. It also needs a fifth heatpipe and could use a quieter fan. In this case Zalman CNPS11X Performa could become really nice. And in the meanwhile it is just a lightweight and universal mainstream product.