Recommended Heatsinks

Cooling | Reference|Recommended
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Update History
Dec 13, 2010 Minor corrections, added Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev. C
July 10, 2010 Minor corrections, added Scythe Samurai ZZ & Grand Kama Cross
May 20, 2010 Complete overhaul.
June 1, 2009 Prolima Megahalems, Scythe Ninja 2, Thermolab Baram added. A few older models retired.
June 24, 2008 Zerotherm Zen and Noctua NH-C12P added. Zalman Reserator1 removed.
June 9, 2008 Thermalright HR-01 Plus, four Xigmatek models, and Scythe Zipang added.
March 22, 2008 Ninja demoted one point.
Jan 16, 2008 Long overdue update, many additions and retirements. New ones on the lists in light blue/violet.
Aug 21, 2006 A handful of new coolers added.
Jan 29, 2006 First update in a year, much needed, many changes.
Jan 23, 2005 Added several new models.
Sept 22, 2004 Added Thermalright XP-120, Scythe NCU-2000
Aug 25, 2004 Complete overhaul of recommended HS tables, many new models added, some retired. Ranking system changed to make use of full 1-10 range.
Aug 7, 2003 Zalman 7000 Cu/AlCu, Scythe Kamakaze & Arctic Cooling SS 4 Pro TC added. All coolers for current CPU combined into one table -- too many multi-platform models made for much repetition.
June 17, 2003 Arctic Cooling SS Pro TC added; Swiftech MCX models downgraded - recent testing shows very good performance with high (read: noisy) airflow but mediocre cooling with low airflow. There are better choices for less money for quiet cooling. Rankings reshuffled a bit based on recent work.
Feb 24, 2003 Thermalright SLK-900U and Zalman ZM80A added
Dec 3, 2002 Zalman 6500al-cu and Thermalright AX478 added; other changes to P4 list based on P4 HS roundup.
Oct 29, 2002 Changes to Socket-A list based on Socket-A HS roundup
July 17, 2002 First published.

CPU heatsinks are usually packaged and marketed with a fan, which explains the rise of the moniker HSF, heatsink fan. Most hardware web sites test the HSF as an integrated unit. For SPCR, this is not an ideal way to do things, mainly because almost all fans supplied with HS are too loud. If we had to test and use them in stock form, we would recommend less than 1% of all the HSF on the market.

Our approach to apprasiing heatsinks is summarized below. For full details, please read the article about SPCR's 2010 Heatsink Testing Platform. For full HSF reviews, please check in the Cooling section.

We consider the heatsink and mounting system together as a unit. The heatsink's intrinsic cooling power is determined mainly by its radiating surface area, the heat transfer coefficient of its materials, the spacing and number of fins, the geometry, the smoothness and flatness of the CPU contact surface, and overall mass. The mounting system is mentioned because it is critical in maintaining the all-important contact between CPU and heatsink. The amount of pressure brought to bear on the interface also affects cooling. Some clips are poor; others are integrated wonderfully into the heatsink. Increasingly, the overall mass is becoming important as HS get bigger, taller and heavier: The cantilever effect in any tower case can put tremendous stress on the vertically mounted motherboard.

We assess the cooling power of the heatsink with a quiet reference fan at 5, 7 and 12V. There are three reference fans, an 80x25mm, a 92x25mm and a 120x25mm. Occasionally we also try 9V. By testing the heatsinks this way, we remove the advantage of powerful noisy fans, which represents the common cheap, brute-force method of cooling. (The reviews also show results with the stock fan at normal voltage.) There are exceptions with units that are designed with the specific fan as part and parcel of the package, sometimes built right into the HS.

Our rankings represent the cooling performance of the listed heatsinks in quiet, low airflow mode. You'll note there is no noise rating. That's because the noise is totally dependent on the fan chosen and the voltage applied to the fan. See the explanation for Q in the guide to the list below for more information. A list of Recommended Fans is also maintained and updated periodically.

Note that a HSF represents only one component of effective CPU cooling. The influences on CPU temperature include the overall heat generated in the case, case ventilation airflow, ambient temperature, software applications, and the overall way in which the system is used. The temperature rise above ambient, which tells us how many degrees above the ambient temperature the CPU is allowed to rise by the particular heatsink, is a specification that tries to elminate these other influences.

Finally, heatsinks come and go faster than just about any peripheral PC product. We don't expect to keep up with everything available. Remember, we're only interested in well-designed heatsinks that cool well with low noise.

CAVEAT: Ranking heatsinks for noise and cooling performance together accurately is very difficult. We've done our best based on all the available evidence, but because heatsink performance is affected by other components and factors, your results will vary and may differ.

GUIDE TO THE LISTS

Current recommended CPU heatsinks are listed in the table below. On the next page are heatsinks for older slot-CPUs, VGA Cards and Chipsets, and Retired models.

Make / Model: Manufacturer and model number

Q: Simply stands for quality, with 10 at the top and 1 at the bottom. It is our assessment of the heatsink's overall design, cooling performance and build quality.

  • A perfect 10 is reserved for, well, perfection. We don't believe it can be achieved.
  • A rank of 1 is good enough fanless for VIA C3 in a reasonably well ventilated case. A rank number followed by a ? indicates we have not fully verified the assessment.
  • The + sign is used where a product has a slight edge over others in the same numeric rank.
  • With a heatsink rated at 6 or better, you can cool any current CPU even dramatically overclocked if you use a powerful enough (and noisy) fan or adequately cool most current CPUs with minimum fan noise.
  • What we are rating is the intrinsic cooling power of the HS. How you choose to use that cooling power is up to you.

CPU: The CPU socket the HS is designed for

A
AMD socket A for Duron, K7, XP and MP
AM2
AMD; replaces 754, 939
AM3
Latest AMD; similar to AM2 but uses 4 bolts.
K8
AMD K8 for Athlon 64, Opteron (socket 754, 940, 939 )
370
Intel socket 370 for P3, Celeron and VIA C3
775
Intel socket 775 for P4, Pentium D, Core 2
1156
Intel i3/i5
1366
Intel i7
478
Intel P4 and new Celeron - 478 pins
423
Intel P4 original - 423 pins
S-1
Slot 1 for P2, P3 and Celerons
S-A
Slot A for early AMD K7

Comments: The Q rating is incomplete without these comments. The date of the entry or update is given at the end of the comment.

$: Average market price found online time of entry or update, or if not widely available, the manufacturer's suggested price, in US $. MSP is marked with an asterisk (*) following the price. Shipping and taxes are not included. DO NOT COUNT ON THE PRICE CITED HERE! It is impossible to keep this up to date without automating the updates, which at this time is not really feasible or desirable. Please use the SPCR Shopping Engine.

Source: All the recent additions to the lists are based on our own reviews, but in the past, a few recommendations were based on other sources of information.

Reviewed: Link to SPCR review.

F: First-hand knowledge gleaned by Silent PC Review staff.

R: Recommended by respected contributors and other associates.

O: Other manufacturer's info and reviews of other web sites

Items in darker blue boxes are new entries.

WARNING about VRM COOLING

Motherboard makers generally assume a certain level of "spillover" airflow from the heatsink fan across the voltage regulator module (VRM) components that are placed around the CPU socket. These components include capacitors, power transistors and inductors (coils). When the CPU fan speed is reduced to minimal levels in order to achieve low noise, cooling for the CPU may be perfectly adequate with a good heatsink, but the VRM components may be prone to overheating, which can impair electrical efficiency and reduce component life.

Tall tower (or high rise) heatsinks with fans that blow air parallel to the motherboard rather than down at it are more likely to cause VRM component cooling problems — even when the fan is not run at minimal speed, bcause the airflow is sometimes blocked by the fins from reaching the sufrace of the motherboard. When the fans on such heatsinks are slowed to minimum speed, VRM cooling can suffer quite a bit.

Users should be aware of this potential issue and ensure some additional airflow from at least one case exhaust fan in most systems, especially those with high power CPUs. The quality, efficiency and intrinsic cooling of VRMs varies substantially from motherboard to motherboard, however.



LARGE CPU HEATSINKS (mostly tower w/ 12cm or larger fan)
Make / Model
Q
CPU
Comments
$
Source
Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev. C
9.5
AMD, 775, 1156, 1366
Latest version of a classic matches or exceeds cooling performance of all others with lower or higher airflow and allows rotated mounting on AMD boards.
65~70
Noctua NH-D14
9.5
775, 1366, AMD
Huge dual-tower heatsink with excellent universal mounting system. Two fans (12 & 14 cm) included with speed adjusting resistors; noisier than ideal but not bad. May 2010.
90
Prolima Megahalems
9.5
1156, 1366, AM2*
Big innovative tower heatsink performs great with minimal airflow fan. An excellent high tension mounting system for Intel boards. AM2 hardware is optional. No fan, costly. June09.
60~70
Prolima Armageddon
9
1156, 1366, AM2*
Excellent performance, same mounting system as Megahalems, resized fin stack to accommodate a 14cm fan that's not included. Fan clips work but are not versatile. It may leave more room for RAM than the Megahalems. AM2 hardware is optional. May 2010.
60~70
Scythe Mugen 2
9
All AMD, 775, 1366
Features design improvements over original Mugen, ships with a quiet 120mm PWM fan, and mounts using a simple bolt-thru installation procedure - a first for Scythe. Multiple fans can also be accommodated. With two fans, quiet cooling is amazing.
35-40
Thermalright HR-01 Plus
9
AM2, 775
Updated version of HR-01 with six heatpipes instead of four, and 120mm fan clips works exceptionally well with very low airflow. Not super heavy, same mounting mechanism as U120. HR-01X variant with different hardware allows free rotation of mounting position on AM2 for correct fan position. June/08.
50~55
Xigmatek HDT-S1283
9
AM2, 775
A tower configuration, 3 U-shaped heatpipes, a 120mm fan and "direct touch heatpipes" in the base combine for exceptional performance in this modestly priced heatsink. The stock 4-pin PWM fan is decent at minimum speed; replace it with a super-quiet one for great low airflow performance. June/08.
35~40
Cogage TRUE Spirit 1366
9
1366
Slightly smaller than earlier Ultra-120 and U120 eXtreme, it still managed to edge them on our 1366 test platform. Fan is reasonably quiet though not a champ. Good value. May 2010.
40
Zalman CNPS10X Quiet
9
AMD, 775, 1156, 1366
Performance similar to Cogage True Spirit. Its fan is pretty quiet, especially with speed reduced using supplied Fanmate2 controller. AMD clip is a bit anemic. May 2010
55~60
Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme
9
AM2, 775, 1366*
Bigger version of U-120 with six heatpipes instead of four, the U120E beats all other HS tested thus far. Any 120mm fan works. Same mounting mechanism as U120. Jan/08. *Several different versions with different mounting sets.
55~65
Noctua NH-U12P
9
478, AM2, 775, 1366*
Large tower heatsink with 120mm unusual fan. With lower airflow, it's competitive. Easily rotated for best airflow configuration. Excellent mounting systems.*1366 version only compatible with i7 boards. June09
~60
Coolermaster Hyper 212 Plus
8.5
K8, 775, 1156, 1366
Tall tower heatpipe heatsink offers excellent performance and value. Clever universal mounting system. Fan is not quiet but replacement cost acceptable at the price. May 2010.
30
Titan Fenrir
8.5
K8, 775, 1366
Big tower heatpipe heatsink with high impedance fin stack and a not-great fan still provides very good performance. Cannot be rotated on K8 socket, and will point up (to PSU) in most cases. May 2010.
50
Thermalright U120 Rev. A
8.5
K8, 775, 1366
Huge tower heatpipe heatsink just edges the Ninja for cooling.Works great with a Nexus 120 fan. Heavy, cannot be rotated 90 degrees on K8 socket. Check on AM2 clip. Now Rev. A - June09.
45~50
Apack ZeroTherm Zen FZ120
8.5
AM2, 775
Another huge tower heatpipe heatsink. Secure and easy to use spring-loaded bolt mounting system for 775; can rotate for fan airflow directionality on AMD boards. Excellent performance. Fan noisy at full speed but quiet when slowed. June/08.
40~50
Scythe Kabuto
8
K8, 775, 1156, 1366
Very tall, blow-down design with a quiet 120mm fan for very quiet, excellent performance. The usual relative weakness of Scythe mounting. Jan/08.
30
Scythe Grand Kama Cross
8
All AMD & Intel
Very large, unique design with good 140mm PWM fan provides best cooling performance of all top-down coolers. July 2010
~45
Scythe Mugen (Infinity)
7.5
478, K8, AM2, 775
Huge tower heatpipe heatsink with both tightly and loosely spaced fins, one of the biggest in the enthusiast PC cooling market today. The stock fan is pretty quiet, the performance is better higher airflow than lower. Decent mounting clips. Jan/08.
45~50
Scythe Ninja 2
7.5
K8, 775
Big tower heatpipe heatsink with loosely spaced fins once tops on our list, but tests 775 push-pin mounting forces a markdown. Still a v. good performer, esp w/ low airflow, and good value w/ quiet fan. June09
~40
Scythe Andy Samurai Master
7.5
478, K8, AM2, 775
A gigantic blow-down heatsink that performs well with its stock 120mm fan, althought it more optimized for best cooling with high airflow (noisier) rather than lower airflow (quieter) fans. Jan/08.
~35
Scythe Zipang
7.5
AM2, 775
Huge, fairly light, blow-down, asymmetrical design uses 6 loop-around heatpipes and a super quiet 140mm fan for very quiet, excellent performance. A bit more airflow would have been useful. Jan/08.
45~55

MID-SIZE CPU HEATSINKS (mostly not tower or 8/9cm fan tower)
Make / Model
Q
CPU
Comments
$
Source
Noctua NH-C12P
7.5
AM2, 775
Carefully designed and manufactured top-down cooler with unusual features. All joints soldered for maximum heat transfer throughout, excellent spring-loaded bolt-through mounting. Unusual fan has high turbulence noise at 12V, but when used with supplied speed reduction adapters, works silently. High price might be the only quibble. June/08.
~65
Xigmatek HDT-D1284
7.5
AM2, 775
Fairly light, blow-down 120mm fan design with four heatpipes offers good performance about on par with Asus Triton 75. PWM fan is noisier than it has to be except at min speed. June/08.
40~45
Xigmatek HDT-S964
7.5
AM2, 775
A tower configuration, 3 U-shaped heatpipes, and "direct touch heatpipes" in the base combine for excellent performance in this modestly priced heatsink. The stock 4-pin PWM fan is OK at minimum speed; replace it with a super-quiet one for great low airflow performance. June/08.
~33
Thermalright SI-128
7.5
AM2, 775
Large area of aluminum fins only connected via four heatpipes to a minimalist base. It's bigger than the earlier XP120 but easier to mount. The latest version (not reviewed) uses bolt-through mounting for both 775 and AM2. A very good performer. Jan/08.
~45
Scythe Ninja Mini
7.5
478, K8, AM2, 775
A shorter version of the Ninja, designed to fit in lower profile cases such as the Antec NSK2480/Fusion, in which it can run fanless with most systems due to close proximity of case fans. More even spacing of heatpipes than the original helps performance, which is excellent for the size. Stock 80x25mm fan is pretty quiet. We don't like the 775 mounting hardware much but it works. Jan/08.
~35
Asus Triton 75
7.5
AM2, 775
This fairly light, blow-down, Thermalright-derivative lookalike offers excellent performance with any 120mm fan of your choice. Socket 775 mounting is not fun but it works. Excellent pricing. Jan/08.
~35
Scythe Samurai ZZ
7.5
All AMD & Intel
Modest size/price top-down cooler with 92mm PWM fan that's OK at lower speed. Very good low airflow performance. July 2010.
~35
Cooler Master Geminii S
7.0
AMD, 775
Five heatpipes, decently quiet 120x25mm fan, decent mounting and good performance. It will fit in some lower profile cases. May 2010.
30~40
Arctic Cooling Alpine 7 Pro
5.0
775
Basically a quiet replacement for a stock Intel cooler. It's cheap, way quieter than the stock Intel cooler, but doesn't offer better cooling. May 2010.
~15
LOW PROFILE CPU HEATSINKS
Make / Model
Q
CPU
Comments
$
Source
Scythe Big Shuriken
7
AM2, 775
Very low profile, 4 heatpipes, and a super sling 113mm diameter fan combine to provide very good cooling. Installation is painful, but among low profile coolers, this is about the best we've found. May 2010.
30~40
Nexus LOW-7000
7
775
Similar in performance to the Big Shuriken but with a 120x25mm fan that's definitely not as quiet, and way more pricey than it should be. But it may fit where the SBS does not. (The Cooljag Falcon 2 appears to be identical and $15 cheaper.) May 2010.
55

See next page: Coolers for VGA Cards and Chipsets, older slot-CPUs, and Retired Models.


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