Thermalright XP-120: 1st 120mm fan CPU heatsink

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The underside of the XP-120.

The finish on the base of the XP-120 is very smooth, showing virtually no machining marks, but it is not polished to a high shine. The base itself is a 1/4" thick plate of flat copper, 2.000" x 1.600" with the aluminum fins soldered directly to it. The fins directly above the base are sharply slanted, presumably to keep the lower portion of the XP-120 safely clear of the manufacturers "keep out" area for compatibility with most motherboards. Starting at a point about 1.700" above the surface of the motherboard, the fins make a near-90° bend and expand out to an area of 3.800" x 4.950". This allows maximum fin area for the best possible cooling (and a place to mount a 120mm fan!) while also allowing as much clearance for the components of the motherboard, including caps, NB heatsinks and sticks of memory. While Thermalright has tried to make the XP-120 fit as many motherboards as possible, potential users are well-advised to check Thermalright's Motherboard Compatibility charts for P4 and AMD motherboards.

Mounted. Note the clearance in the "keep out" area. Some boards have clearance issues with the curved portion of the heatpipes.

So where do the heatpipes fit into this equation? Basically, a heat pipe consists of a tube which is filled with a low boiling point liquid. As heat is generated by the CPU and transferred into the base of the heatsink, the liquid absorbs this heat and boils into a vapor forcing it to move up the heatpipe. As it moves further up the tube into the cooling fins, it begins to dissipate the accumulated heat. As it gives off this heat, the material condenses back into a liquid and flows down to the base to repeat the cycle over and over. The giant fins of the XP-120 give enough room for five heatpipes in the cooling circuit, compared to three heatpipes in the SP-94 and SP-97. This increases the cooling capacity of the XP-120 over its smaller cousins.

In their news release about the XP120, Thermalright makes two interesting claims:

  • Our Heatpipe construction was redesigned to eliminate any gravity effect and to unleash the capability of the XP-120's performance to operate at 100% in any direction you mount it. The directional aspect of heatpipe performance has been noted in Thermaliright's SP-94 and SP-97, which specificy one or more positions as being less than ideal for cooling. That they have addressed this issue is a good thing.
  • XP-120 is also the first Thermalright product to work well with either suck/blow fan orientation, resulting in less than 1°C in performance [difference] when tested at Thermalright's in-house lab with a 110 W heat source. In the past, Thermalright HS have performed better with the fan blowing down. The change means ducting the CPU heat to an exhaust vent or fan on the back panel is a viable option.


At the top of the fins we find the typical ledge provided by Thermalright to position the fan onto the heatsink. The XP-120 has only one set of ledges as it is designed to work with only a 120mm size fan. The fan is retained by Thermalright's proprietary system of spring-steel clips, but with a slight twist. Instead of providing several different sizes of clips and alternative mounting positions on the fins themselves, they have opted to use one size set of clips that clip onto the fan at the top of the lower flange. The earlier style of clips were designed to clip onto the top of the fan itself, necessitating different clips for fans of different thickness. With the fan clip of the XP-120, you can mount a fan of any thickness as long as the fan has open corner flanges.

There's the catch: This mounting system will not work with fans that have closed corner flanges like the Nexus or Globe fans, both top contenders for the coveted "Quietest 120mm fan" title. More about this later.

Also included with the XP-120 is a set of stick-on blue silicon rubber strips. These are designed to be stuck onto the outside edge of the fins just inboard of the ledges so the fan will sit on top of them and be somewhat decoupled from the heatsink itself.

The base of the XP-120 comes with a set of spring-steel mounting clips attached. These clips mount the heatsink directly to the standard Intel heatsink retention frame.

While I didn't use it myself, the HS retention frame for the AMD A64 is a pretty slick piece of work. It replaces the stock AMD retention frame and is fitted with supplied bolts. The XP-120 (with its Intel-based clipping mechanism) snap right onto the retention frame. As a nice bonus, this retention frame will allow any standard clip-on S478 heatsink to be used on a K8 board. Maybe some e-mails and postcards to Thermalright would entice them to offer this bracket separately.

Also included in the package is a generous size syringe of commonly used white thermal grease, which I elected not to use. For this test, as with all my heatsink tests, I used Arctic Silver's Ceramique for ease of application and nonconductive properties.

For the first time that I'm aware of, Thermalright has actually included an instruction sheet along with the heatsink. One side has P4 directions, the other has K8 directions. Both sides are well illustrated, but the parts-list and descriptions are a bit difficult to understand, at least for someone of my advanced years.

The packaging itself deserves mention. The XP-120 comes packed in Thermalright's typical sturdy-but-bland cardboard box. Inside however, the contents are lovingly protected by a formfitting piece of closed cell foam. It adds up to quite a bit of protection for the somewhat fragile contents. I'd challenge any shipping company to damage this little puppy!

As with the other Thermalright heatsinks, no fan is provided with the XP-120 but they recommend using the good 'ol Panaflo L1A. With Thermalright's innovative mounting system, many different brands of 120mm fans can be used on the XP-120, from mild to wild. For this test, I'll use not only the recommended L1A, but several other types of 120mm fans that are well known for their very low noise. For SilentPCReview, it's not lower CPU temperature at any price, but how quietly you can cool your CPU.

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