SPCR's Updated 2012 Small CPU Heatsink Test Platform

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SPCR's Updated 2012 Small CPU Heatsink Test Platform

June 5, 2012 by Lawrence Lee

From time to time we here at SPCR toy with the idea of updating older test platforms with new hardware despite the extra time and effort required to retest previously reviewed components. Generally, we avoid the practice unless things break down or there are overwhelming reasons to enact a change, like if the hardware is no longer representative of what is used by the majority of the community.

Old AMD small heatsink test platform.

Our small CPU heatsink testbed is such a platform, consisting of an Athlon II X4 630 installed on a 785G chipset motherboard. Though there was nothing physically wrong with this setup and the power draw is still appropriate for more compact coolers, AMD has been more or less been on the sidelines as the mini-ITX motherboard form factor rises in popularity. The superb energy efficiency of Intel's recent processors has resulted in several manufacturers churning out Intel mini-ITX boards, first for LGA1156 and now for LGA1155, while only a handful of AMD AM3/FM1 models are available today. With Intel being the overwhelmingly dominant choice for small motherboards in small cases requiring small heatsinks, shifting our small CPU heatsink test platform to Sandy or Ivy Bridge was an easy decision. We are still happy with testing heatsinks in an open test environment to rule out external factors like case layout and system airflow.

New Intel LGA1155 small heatsink test platform.

For the CPU, we opted for the Intel Core i5-2400, a quad core Sandy Bridge chip with a moderate TDP of 95W. One advantage it has over the X4 630 is its higher throttling temperature; the processor reduces in frequency at approximately 100°C, about 25°C higher than the Athlon II on the old platform, allowing us to collect results for less capable coolers at low fan speeds (even though it is not advisable to run it like this for long durations). A dual core 65W Core i3-2100 was considered but as its power draw is considerably lower, we figured that better heatsinks would be bottlenecked, making it difficult to determine superior performance.

Screenshot: Intel Desktop Utilities.

For the motherboard, we chose the Intel DP67BG which has temperature sensors for the memory and VRM area, often lacking in most motherboards. This will give us an idea of how well each heatsink cools the components surrounding the CPU socket. It's also equipped with multiple controllable fan headers so we can finely adjust the fan speeds of temperamental PWM fans that don't react well to voltage control.

A multimeter is used to measure the current passing through the EPS12V/AUX12V connector to determine the power pulled from the CPU.

While the Core i5-2400 is a 95W chip, at stock settings, the CPU and motherboard together have an overall power consumption ~25W lower than our old Athlon II X4 platform at full CPU load. Tapping the EPS12V/AUX12V +12V line using a shunt resistor, we found the CPU was only pulling 60~65W (it also draws some power from the main ATX12V plug as well). This in itself isn't significant, but conditions inside a SFF case with limited airflow are more thermally demanding than out in the open, so it was decided that the power draw should be increased through overclocking/overvolting to compensate.

CPU screenshot: Core i5-2400 at 3.6 GHz, 1.300V.

After trying several different settings, we settled for a Turbo Boost multiplier of 36x and a CPU voltage of 1.300V. Overclocked, the draw on the AUX12V line varies between 77W and 83W depending how hot the VRMs get — this depends on the cooling effect of the CPU cooler under test, of course — while the entire system consumes 130~136W AC measured at the wall.

Fan controller.

Aside from the hardware changes, the rest of our test setup and methodology remains mostly unchanged. Fan speeds are adjusted using a custom built external voltage controller with a multimeter measuring the voltage to ensure precise control. 3-pin/4-pin fans are connected to an adapter with a separated RPM sensor header that is connected to the motherboard to report the fan speed, though we also have a Tachometer and Stroboscope at our disposal.

To christen our new test platform, we re-tested four past favorites, the Noctua NH-L12, Scythe Big Shuriken, Scythe Samurai ZZ, and Scythe Kozuti.

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