Intel LGA1366 Stock Cooler: Good Enough?

Cooling
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MP3 SOUND RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording system inside SPCR's own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

These recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the product sounds in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. Be aware that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn't hear it from one meter, chances are we couldn't record it either!

The recording starts with 5~10 second segments of room ambiance, then the fan at various levels. For the most realistic results, set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then don't change the volume setting again.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Intel Core i7-920 stock heatsink has the ability to run fairly quiet at lower fan speeds, and with proper PWM control and an enclosure muffling it, should only be noticed by the most nimble-eared. On load however, it cannot sustain reasonable temperatures without ramping up to close to full speed. In our case, we had to stop testing once the fan was undervolted below 10V (21~22 dBA@1m) as the CPU came close to failing due to heat. It performs terribly and with undesirable levels of noise, making it a fitting example of the "just good enough" stock cooler.

We were surprised to see how well the Intel Core i7-980X stock heatsink performed. Sure, it's a tower heatpipe cooler much larger than the i7-920 heatsink, but with tightly packed fins and a frameless fan with a big hub, we weren't expecting the level of cooling proficiency it displayed. At high fan speeds, it cooled very well, but howled like a banshee. At low fan speeds it sounded worse than the average fan, but delivered very good thermal results, more or less matching the Scythe Ninja Mini at equivalent noise levels. However, given the acoustic quality of the Intel stock fan, we would say the Ninja Mini is a step ahead. The i7-980X cooler also put a pretty good beating on the Scythe Samurai ZZ, holding a 10°C lead over it at the 15 dBA level.

From what we can tell, the 10 cm stock fan is essential to the i7-980X cooler's strong performance — it fared significantly worse with our reference 92 mm fan. The stock fan sounds terrible though and is begging to be replaced with say a 10 cm Scythe Slip Stream. The thumbscrew and backplate mounting system may also give it an edge as its main competition uses pushpins for installation. Whatever the reason(s), the fact this stock heatsink is competitive with smaller aftermarket US$30+ coolers is impressive, though we would be remiss not to point out that it currently only ships with the Core i7-980X — a close to US$1000 processor! Hopefully Intel plans on improving the fan acoustics and including this cooler with their more affordable hex-core processors in the future.

Our thanks to Intel for the stock heatsink samples.

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