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

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The XP-120 heatsink in this review was mounted on my standard P4 motherboard. Assembly was fairly straightforward, but not as easy as Thermalright's instructions suggest.

My normal heatsink reviews are conducted with the reference motherboard sitting on a piece of antistatic foam, which makes it real easy to mount the heatsink itself. Since Thermalright has designed the XP-120 for ease of mounting, without having to remove the board from the case, I figured I'd put their claim to the test, so I installed my test motherboard into an SLK3700 case. Yes, the XP-120 is mounted with a simple set of snap-on clips, but the massive size of the heatsink itself looked like mounting it wouldn't be that easy. The clips are completely covered by the fins on the one side, and mostly blocked by the heatpipes on the other side, leaving nearly no access when trying to snap them over the retention bracket.

My motherboard is not on Thermalright's Compatibility List so it was with some degree of trepidation that I attempted to mount it. A little trial fitting showed that it would clear any hardware so I went ahead and mounted it. It ended up clearing all potential obstructions with room to spare, including the massive aluminum NB heatsink on this motherboard. It would only fit one way however. If I turn it 180°, the heatpipes interfere with the Vreg caps on the board.

Thermalright's directions say to slip the hooks opposite the heatpipes into the retention bracket (presumably while tilting the heatsink itself) and then "using the hooks as a leverage point, gently push the heatsink down onto the CPU". So far, so good. You're supposed to finish off by using a small screwdriver to "hook the clips into the hole on the retention bracket". This is where it gets hairy.

Due to the proximity of the heatpipes, it's next to impossible to hook the blade of a normal screwdriver into the clips. The ideal tool for this would be a screwdriver with its end bent at about a 30° angle. Barring this, you just have to pry hard, push and pray. I finally got it but I would highly recommend removing the motherboard from the case to gain easier access to the clips. I later removed the board from the case and found it much easier to mount the heatsink.

The rest was easy. I applied the TIM to the IHS, clipped the heatsink onto the retention bracket , stuck the blue rubber vibration damper strips onto the fins and clipped my trusty L1A Panaflo onto the top of the heatsink. After that I plugged to fan into the power cable and was ready to go. If it wasn't for the fiddly clips, it would take about 2 minutes to accomplish this task.

The installed HSF. Notice how the fans clips snap into the lower flange of the fan.


So, the heatsink is mounted and ready to start testing. Excited as a kid before Christmas, I rummaged through my spare fan boxes and came up with a selection of various "quiet" 120mm fans to use. The fans I used for this test included:

  • Thermalright recommended Panaflo FBL12G12L1A;
  • My reference "quiet" 120mm fan, the OEM Panaflo FBK12G12LH;
  • The plastic Evercool EC12025M12C; and last, but not least,
  • A promising newcomer, the Globe S1202512L-3M.

The test fans.

The two Panaflos are each 38mm thick while all the rest are the "standard" 25mm thick. Due to Thermalright's revised clip mounting method, all of these fans were mountable with the same set of clips... except for the Globe fans. The Globe fans have solid corner supports without open flanges for the Thermalright clips to snap into. This is also the case with several other of the quieter 120mm fans, such as the Nexus "Real Silent" fan.

There is a fairly easy way around this impediment. I modified the flange of the Globe fans so that I could use them with the XP-120. I used my Dremel tool with a 1" diameter grinding stone to grind away all the plastic in the area between the flanges. Total time was about 10 minutes per fan. I've heard of others using a small coping saw to cut away the extra plastic. Either way, it's not too big of a deal, and certainly not enough of a obstacle to keep a silent PC freak from coming closer to that ultimate goal of Audio Nirvana. (Editor's Note: The plastic can probably be cut with any number of manual or power tools.)

Modified Globe fan on left, original solid corner on right.

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