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

Cooling
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The Contestants

In this section, I'll walk through each cooler in detail, starting with the two I already own.

Intel Stock Cooler (Conroe)

The first cooler in this roundup is one that many, many people reading this will be familiar with. Looking eerily similar to ThermalTake's CL-P0501, the Intel cooler isn't really that bad on the face of things: copper core, extruded aluminum fins, frameless fan, PWM control... It'd be a revolutionary cooler if you took it back to 2002. :-)

Stock Intel cooler

The upside of aluminum extrusion is that the whole unit acts (thermally) as a single piece of metal (which it is). When you mate two pieces of metal after the fact, there will always be at least some thermal resistance, even if the pieces are soldered or use thermal interface material (thermal paste).

The downside of extrusion is that you can't extrude fins that are particularly thin without sophisticated heating and cooling techniques that most heatsink manufacturers (admittedly low-end manufacturers in the grand scheme of things) simply don't have access to.

The fins on the stock cooler are also smooth. This keeps the surface area of the fins down, which will hurt cooling performance (more surface area = more opportunities for heat to transfer from the fin to the air).

The cooler uses the ubiquitous "pushpin" design that is signature Intel. Love it or hate it, the reality is that most of the coolers at this price level are going to use simplistic mounting systems like this.

It installs easily enough, once you figure out that the arrows on the pushpins indicate which direction you should turn them to release the cooler, rather than install it (remember: righty-tighty, lefty-loosey!). The job of installing it is also made considerably easier by having the motherboard outside of the case, as positive engagement of the pushpins is much simpler to verify when the back of the board is visible. I recommend anchoring the pushpins in a star pattern (top-left, bottom-right, top-right, bottom-left) and ideally in pairs to ensure the most even force distribution possible.

Sound Characteristics

The Intel cooler at maximum speed produces a low-pitched hum, and the tightly-packed, thick aluminum fins generate a great deal of turbulence as air from the fan rushes over them. The result is a noticeable -- though not entirely unpleasant -- humming, whooshing sound. It's not especially loud, but it easily drowns out the hard drive at full speed.

Fortunately, the fan produces no surprises as the speed is turned down, and the humming and whooshing drop in intensity until about 800 RPMs, when they slip beneath the sound of the idling hard drive still installed in the HTPC's case.

Performance

Performance was... pretty bad. Temps were well controlled at idle whether the cooler was running flat-out or whispering. Load temps, on the other hand, while reasonably well-controlled at speed, were third worst at more tolerable noise levels.

Intel Stock Cooler (Conroe)
Quiet
Max
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
805
29°C
62°C
34.5°C
1630
28°C
52°C
24.5°C


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