Sub-$20 CPU Coolers: A Reader's Roundup

Cooling
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Conclusions

The important points in graph form:

The data makes it look pretty clear. Anything but the Alpine GT and the Gelid will get you good cooling performance (better than stock, at least), and as we know from the testing, the Rosewill is loud enough to avoid.

My recommendations

You're free to buy any cooler you'd like, of course. I'd like to share some thoughts on which coolers I feel really stood out in this comparison.

Best Cooler: Logisys Cool Gammaxx 200 - If you have the space in your PC's case for a tower cooler, it's really hard to go wrong with the Logisys. Yes, really. It's a good cooler let down by a mediocre fan, but because it'd be so easy to replace it, you'd be crazy not to get it. As it is, if you need serious cooling on a budget (say, for overclocking your FM2+ APU), you can't get anything more powerful under $20.

Best Cooler for a Small Case: Arctic Cooling Alpine 11 Pro Rev. 2 - If you can't quite fit a tower cooler (or you're not overclocking), the Alpine 11 Pro turns in impressive numbers while being very consistently quiet all around.

Best Low Profile Cooler: Zalman CNPS7000V (AL) - If you just don't have the space for the Alpine 11 Pro, I would go with the Zalman. Despite the fan's noise profile, it has PWM control and at quiet speeds cools as well or better than most of the coolers here.

There you have it! Happy cooling!

SPCR MEASUREMENTS & ANALYSIS

The use of the Zalman Fanmate fan speed controller imposed a limit on the top speed of all the tested fans. The maximum voltage/speed for each fan was not the standard 12V, but something close to 11V. We've measured 10.8V in the past. The Fanmate has a ~1.2V DC loss when its control is set to max. This means most of the coolers' fans can run a bit faster, make a little more noise while doing so, and cool slightly better at top speed.

The QUIET fan speeds listed here are somewhat arbitrary. They are the speeds at which the coolers became quiet enough to be masked by the hard drive and power supply noise in Andrew's system. This is a reasonable marker for "quiet" for non-obsessive PC users seeking to reduce noise. Most users would be pleased with the noise level of almost any of the coolers at the QUIET test RPM, and most would be unhappy with the MAX speed. It's possible that many would choose a heatsink/fan speed somewhere between the two tested points.

As a group, the SPL at minimum speed falls in a tight group between 12.5 and 15.5 [email protected], a spread of just 3 dBA, which vindicates Andrew's subjective "quiet" speed choices. Even the highest QUIET level (15.5 BA) is very quiet, generally below ambient acoustic conditions in most places. There's much higher noise variance at the MAX speeds, as the RPM itself varied much more, from a low of 1630 to a high of over 3000. All in all, Andrew's subjective comments on the sound are fairly well supported by the SPL measurements (though you can also judge for yourself by listening to the recordings described below).

Finally, recordings were made of all the coolers. These MP3s are linked in the table below. Each recording consists of 7 seconds of silence in SPCR's anechoic chamber (10~11 dBA), followed by 10 seconds at the QUIET setting, and 10 seconds at the MAX setting. This allows you to judge the noise qualitatively. Keep in mind that our hyper-sensitive microphone & recording system lets you hear every detail and nuance of the noise, and if you turn the volume of your player up, it will be very exaggerated. The best way to listen is to use the first 7 seconds to set the volume so that hiss becomes just audible, then back it down a touch to make it inaudible. Then leave the volume setting untouched while listening to all the MP3s.

DATA SUMMARY with SPCR Acoustic Measurements
Cooler / MP3 Recording
Slow
Fast†
Sound as heard by Andrew
RPM
Rise
SPL*
RPM
Rise
SPL*
Intel Stock (Conroe)
805
34
13.6
1630
28
21.3
Moderate
Alpine GT
1080
42
13.6
2064
29
27.2
Loud
Alpine 11 Pro
1188
27
15.4
2109
24
30.7
Quiet
Rosewill Z90
1136
30
14.8
3027
25
41.2
V. Loud
SilenX 92HA2
980
32
14.4
1776
25
28.3
Quiet
Zalman 7000
1134
30
14.5
2473
24
33.6
Moderate
Gelid Siberian
499
56
12.5
2109
32
25.5
Clicky
CM Hyper T2
960
29
13.5
2368
25
33.3
Moderate
Logisys MC2002GX
1100
25
14.3
2143
20
31.5
Moderate
*SPL = Sound Pressure Level measured in dB, A-weighted, @ 1m distance.
†Note that all the fans were connected through a Zalman Fanmate control, which has a slight voltage drop the maximum speed setting. None of the fans are at 12V; it is closer to 11V. In the SPCR lab, we found the fans run 200~300 RPM faster at 12V, and typically ~2 dBA louder.

There is no easy way to compare this data to SPCR CPU reviews, as we use considerably hotter, completely different platforms, and a different testing procedure. Even with different samples of the same core gear, there would be differences in temperature sensors and actual power/thermal characteristics. Having stated all that, Andrew's test platform is closest to our small heatsink test platform.

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SPCR Articles of Related Interest:

NZXT Kraken X31 & X41 Liquid CPU Coolers
Noctua NH-D15: Update to an Icon
Scythe Kotetsu CPU Cooler: A Compact King
be quiet! Shadow Rock Slim CPU Cooler
Thermalright HR-22 CPU Heatsink
Noctua NH-U14S Slim 140mm Tower Cooler

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Discuss this article in the SPCR forums.



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