Review: CoolerMaster Ultra Vortex HSF

Cooling
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TESTING

The core of the test system is very similar to that used in the past:

  • Intel P4-2.8A The Thermal Design Power of this P4-2.8 (533 MHz bus) is 68.4 or 69.7W depending on the version. As the CPU is a demo model without normal markings, it's not clear which version it is, so we'll round the number off to ~69W. The Maximum Power, as calculated by CPUHeat & CPUMSR, is 79W.
  • Intel D845PEBT2 motherboard - Intel 845PE Chipset; on-die CPU thermal diode monitoring
  • Panaflo FBA08A12L1A 80mm DC fan
  • nVidia GF400MX VGA card (AGP)
  • OCZ DDRAM PC-3700, 512 MB
  • Seagate Barracuda IV 40G 1-platter drive (in Smart Drive from Silicon Acoustics)
  • Enermax UC-A8FATR4 multifunction monitor/fan controller w/ thermal sensors
  • Seasonic Super Tornado 300 (Rev. A1)
  • Zalman Multi-Connector (ZM-MC1) and Fanmate1 voltage controller
  • Arctic Silver Ceramique Thermal Compound
  • Two-level plywood platform with foam damping feet. Motherboard on top; most other components below. Eases heatsink changes and setup.
  • CPUBurn processor stress software
  • Intel Active Monitor and Motherboard Monitor software to show CPU temperature

The ambient temperature in the test lab was 20°C. Ambient noise in the lab was ~20 dBA. Maximum load temperatures were recorded ~20 minutes into a CPU stress test with CPUBurn.

NOTE: It may interest you to know that the unadjusted temperature measurements of this heatsink testing platform comes within 0.6°C accuracy according to the calibration procedure described in the recent Calibrate Your CPU Temp Reporting article.

TEST RESULTS 1: WITH STOCK FAN The voltage provided to the fan by its speed controller could not be measured. So, the tests were performed with the stock speed control set at various positions. Note that the dBA figures in the right column are also links to MP3 sound files. (In Windows, right-mouse button click, save, then open to play in Media Player.)

CoolerMaster Ultra Vortex with Stock Fan
Speed Knob
Fan RPM
CFM
Load Temp
°C Rise
°C/W MP
°C/W TDP
dBA/1m & MP3 files
Max
3000
60
37°C
17
0.22
0.20
+20%
1700
26
41°C
21
0.27
0.30
Min
1260
17
45°C
25
0.32
0.36

Speed Knob: Position of fan speed control knob
Fan RPM: As monitored by the motherboard, reported by MBM5
CFM: Measured in free air with digital anemometer (+/- 10%)
Load = CPUBurn for ~20 mins
°C Rise = Temperature rise above ambient at load
°C/W MP / TDP: Temperature rise per Watt, based on Maximum Power or Thermal Design Power rating of CPU
dBA/1m: SPL measured with high accuracy B & K SLM at 1 meter
MP3 file: High resolution recording of fan on HS at 3" distance. Note that it is preferable to save these sound files to your hard drive, and then play them.

The Ultra Vortex in stock form is a very effective cooler, directly comparable to the Zalman 7000. A quick comparison against the 7000 test results on the same platform at the same temperature shows virtually identical CPU temperature results.

While the two products are matched in cooling performance, there is a big difference in their acoustic performance. The fan on the Ultra Vortex is far too loud at maximum speed, with a host of annoying aspects in its sound signature. Even at minimum speed, the buzzing, resonant quality is simply too distracting for it to be accepted by SPCR enthusiasts. The MP3 files below (linked to the dBA/1m figures in the last column on the right) let you hear this noise for yourself.

Here's the comparative data on the Zalman 7000:

Zalman 7000-cu with Stock Fan
Fan Voltage
Fan RPM
CFM*
Load Temp
°C Rise
°C/W MP
°C/W TDP
dBA/1m & MP3 files
12V
2500
23
37°C
17
0.22
0.20
7V
1700
15
42°C
22
0.28
0.32
5V
1300
11
45°C
25
0.32
0.36

Fan Voltage: Both 7V and 5V obtained via Fanmate1 supplied with Z7000
Fan RPM: As monitored by the motherboard, reported by MBM5
CFM: Measured on HS with digital anemometer. *Note: These figures are probably low; they would be higher if the fan was in free air.
Load = CPUBurn for ~20 mins
°C Rise = Temperature rise above ambient at load
°C/W MP / TDP: Temperature rise per Watt, based on Maximum Power or Thermal Design Power rating of CPU
dBA/1m: SPL measured with high accuracy B & K SLM at 1 meter
MP3 file: High resolution recording of fan on HS at 3" distance. Note that it is preferable to save these sound files to your hard drive, and then play them.

It's easy to see and hear how much quieter and smoother the Zalman 7000 fan is in comparison to the fan on the Ultra Vortex.

TEST RESULTS 2: WITH PANAFLO 80L FAN

Since the noise performance is unacceptable with the stock fan, let's see how it performs with our reference Panaflo 80L. A 92mm fan would have been more appropriate, but it so happens that the mounting points on the HS mate perfectly with a standard 80mm fan's mounting holes, which makes it an easy mod for most users. Suffice it to say a 92mm fan spinning at similar speed would provide slightly better cooling performance.


Panaflo 80L fits perfectly on mounting nubs.

CoolerMaster Ultra Vortex with Panaflo 80L fan
Fan Voltage
Fan RPM
CFM
Load Temp
°C Rise
°C/W MP
°C/W TDP
dBA/1m & MP3 files
12V
1900
24
44°C
24
0.30
0.34
9V
1700
18
47°C
27
0.34
0.39
7V
1260
12
51°C
31
0.39
0.45

Speed Knob: Position of fan speed control knob
Fan RPM: As monitored by the motherboard, reported by MBM5
CFM: Measured in free air with digital anemometer (+/- 10%)
Load = CPUBurn for ~20 mins
°C Rise = Temperature rise above ambient at load
°C/W MP / TDP: Temperature rise per Watt, based on Maximum Power or Thermal Design Power rating of CPU
dBA/1m: SPL measured with high accuracy B & K SLM at 1 meter
MP3 file: High resolution recording of fan on HS at 3" distance. Note that it is preferable to save these sound files to your hard drive, and then play them.

Surprisingly, the Ultra Vortex performs quite well with a Panaflo 80L. The noise is naturally very quiet and smooth especially at the lower voltages, and even at 7V, the cooling power of the combination is plenty good enough for the test system even in a low airflow case where the ambient temps could be 15°C higher.

For your download convenience, here are all the MP3 sound files from above in one table.

Ultra Vortex @ max

Ultra Vortex @ ~7V

Ultra Vortex @ min

Zalman 7000 @ 12V

Zalman 7000 @ 7V

Zalman 7000 @ 5V

Panaflo 80L on HS @ 12V

Panaflo 80L on HS @ 9V

Panaflo 80L on HS @ 7V

SPCR MP3s: HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made with a high resolution studio quality digital recording system. The microphone is 3" from the edge of the fan frame at a 45° angle, facing the intake side of the fan to avoid direct wind noise. The ambient noise during all recordings is 20 dBA or lower.

A quick and simple way to use these recordings for valid listening comparisons is to play the quietest recording (Panaflo 80L at 7V) on only one speaker (or headphones) and set the volume so it is just barely audible a meter away. You must also turn off any special sound effects, and set equalizer / tone controls to neutral or flat. Don't touch the volume setting afterwards, and use the same one speaker when you listen to any of the other files; that will be reasonably close to the actual recorded sound levels.

For full details on how to calibrate your sound system to get the most valid listening comparison, please see the yellow text box entitled Listen to the Fans on page 3 of the article SPCR's Test / Sound Lab: A Short Tour.

CONCLUSIONS

The CoolerMaster Ultra Vortex provides excellent CPU cooling performance in its stock form. Its performance is good enough to compare favorably with the excellent Zalman 7000 series, which are among the small handful of HSF we recommend regularly. Such positive comments cannot be made for acoustic performance.

Although the package shouts Ultra Silent, the integrated fan is far from quiet. The fine details of "rifle bearing" technology are not clear to me, but after my experience with this fan and the rifle bearing fan that came with the previously reviewed Cooler Master Vortex Dream, I think they should have named it machine gun bearing for the noise that it makes. The noise measurements and the sound recordings should make it abundantly clear how unacceptable this fan is for the silent PC enthusiast.

There is no way to run the stock fan quietly enough. When the speed control is turned down all the way, not only does the bearing and commutator switching noises become plainly audible, the flimsy clear plastic used in both the fan and the mounting frame add to the noise by vibrating in a nasty way. It may seem like hammering the point unnecessarily, but how in the world 16 dB can claimed is beyond me: The lowest noise level we measured (31 dBA/1m) is close to the highest claimed (33 dB). (Perhaps CM techs positioned their SLM microphone in another room?)

Happily, the very quiet Panaflo 80L and an external voltage controller mate well with the Ultra Vortex, and the combination provides good cooling performance with very low noise. At this point, however, the total cost rises up too high against its most obvious competition, the Zalman 7000. It's another very good HS package by CoolerMaster that shows a healthy degree of creativity and thoughtful design -- but it's utterly crippled for the quiet seeker by a miserable quality fan, and not helped by the challenges posed fir its installation.

The Good

* Very good cooling performance.
* Compatibility with both P4 and A64 motherboards.
* Built-in fan speed controller and nice front / back panel mounts for it.
* Fan easily replaced with quiet 80mm fan; can experiment with blow / suck configurations.

The Bad

* A bit too heavy.
* May not fit all P4 boards due to protruding A64 mounting pods. (Vice versa for K8 boards?)
* Lousy clear plastic vibrates all the time and becomes really annoying at low speed.
* Installation is tedious, esp. with screws that go in from the underside of the motherboard.
* Compatibility with some motherboards may be an issue.

The Ugly

* Stock fan is terribly noisy at any speed. It meets the needs of quiet computing only when turned off.

Many thanks to Cooler Master for this Ultra Vortex sample.

* * *

Discuss this article in the SPCR Forum.



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