Noctua / Coolink Tower Heatsinks

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COOLINK FANS & FAN CONTROLLER

Like Thermalright and some other high end HS brands, Noctua does not ship with a fan. It is up to the user to select one; not an onerous task for most SPCR regulars. Coolink, on the other hand, includes both a fan and a fan controller to reduce the speed and noise of the included fan. Coolink also supplies a PCI slot cover that allows the controller to be accessible without opening the computer. The overall effect is quite professional, and adds a lot to the value of the heatsink.


The fan controller, disassembled.

The fan controller comes in four separate parts:

  • A four-pin Molex to three-pin fan adapter that provides the controller with a safe +12V source
  • A 100 ohm potentiometer that reduces the input voltage (the electronic heart of the controller)
  • A PCI bracket
  • A brushed aluminum knob

Assembling the controller is quite straightforward: The adapter is plugged into a free Molex connector from the power supply, the potentiometer is plugged into the adapter, and the fan is plugged into the potentiometer. The hardest part is aligning the knob: It takes a few tries to match the notch on the knob with the L–H dial on the bracket. The control turns with a smooth tension, and the voltage changes linearly through the range of adjustment.


Fully assembled, at minimum output.

The fan controller was tested with the two Coolink fans that came with the 120mm and 92mm models. The precise range of voltage adjustment depends on the fan used, but most fans should be within a volt of the models we tested. The controller was tested in three positions: Low (minimum voltage), High (maximum voltage) and Medium (knob centered).

COOLINK FAN CONTROLLER: Voltage Adjustment Range
Fan
Low
Medium
High
Coolink X12-1600 (120mm)
6.2V
8.1V
11.7V
Coolink X9-1900 (92mm)
6.7V
8.5V
11.5V


Dual ball bearings and a rated top speed of 1600 RPM.

The fans themselves look exotic, with clear green blades in a fully transparent frame. The plastic used to make the frame is very light and brittle, and they feel quite fragile. On the other hand, the low weight means that less weight is added to the heatsink when the fan is installed, which causes less stress on the mounting mechanism.

The OEM for the fans is unknown, but they are listed as dual ball-bearing models, and have fairly low current ratings, which suggests that they are low speed models. The 120mm model is rated for 0.18A and 1600 RPM, while the 92mm model is rated 0.10A and 1900 RPM.

Coolink also sells the fans individually. The stock fans are the fastest spinning models for their size that Coolink sells. According to the product pages for the fans, Coolink sells 80mm and 92mm fans with a top speed of just 1100 RPM, and 120mm fans rated at 800 RPM. Coolink was kind enough to send us samples of these as well, so we will test them later with the fans included with the heatsinks.

The fan is installed with two wire clips that slot into the side of the heatsink. The clips hook into the screw holes on the fan frame and are perfectly secure when attached. However, because the clips attach to the near edge of the frame, fans with closed corners (like some of the Nexus models) are not compatible with the clips. This is similar to the problem with the clips for the Thermalright XP-120, and we outlined a solution to the problem in our review of that heatsink.


Fans with closed corners need to be modified for use with the included clips.

The Noctua seems to be designed for a very wide range of airflow conditions. For the hardcore overclockers who want to suck every last drop of performance out of the heatsink, two extra fan clips are included so that an extra fan can be added in a push-pull configuration. But silencing fanatics also get their due: Two adhesive silicone strips are included to provide some vibration damping between the frame of the fan and the heatsink itself. This is a surprising, though welcome, addition to the package; applying damping material to the heatsink fan is fairly uncommon even among SPCR regulars.

INSTALLATION


Mounting hardware for K8 systems on the far left, Socket 478 in the middle, and Socket 775 on the right.
Also included is thermal interface material,
four fan clips, and two silicone isolation strips.

A large bag of hardware is included in the box. It contains an enormous amount of mounting hardware, two thirds of which will not be used. This is what happens when a company wants "universal" mounting, but insists on a unique installation system for every socket type. To make matters confusing, some of the hardware is shared between different sockets. For example, the two Intel sockets share a part that closely resembles yet isn't quite the same as the equivalent part for K8 systems.

Noctua should have done a better job here. Either they should have reduced the number of parts for each socket and made them clearly different from each other, or they should have bagged each mounting system separately. As it stands, there are three different types of standoff screws, two different types of brackets for the mainboard, and two different types of brackets for the heatsink. All of these can be accidentally substituted for each other, opening up many possibilities for frustrated users who may end up damaging their system trying to get things installed. User beware!

After you've sorted out which hardware you need, the next task is to assemble everything. First, the stock retention bracket (for sockets that have one) must be removed; the Noctua comes with its own mounting system. AMD systems may use the stock baseplate, but Intel systems (like our test bed) require that a custom baseplate be installed.


Intel systems must use two metal brackets as a base to secure these heatsink.

With the mainboard ready to go, preparing the heatsink is next. No matter which platform you're using, you need to screw two brackets on to the side of the heatsink. The precise brackets needed are platform-specific, so it pays to be careful.

The way the brackets are screwed on is very poorly thought out. The most intuitive way of installing them is on the bottom side of the heatsink, where they nestle neatly into slight indentations in the base of the heatsink. Although it is possible to install the brackets in this way, it is not the correct way and it will not place the heatsink under tension when installed.


The correct way of installing the brackets:
The brackets go on the
TOP side of the base, screwed in from the bottom.

The correct method is to screw the brackets to the top side of the base, so that the heads of the screws are accessible from the bottom of the heatsink. This places the brackets at the correct height above the mounting hardware on the mainboard, which ensures that proper contact tension between the heatsink and the CPU heatspreader is maintained.

The final step of installation is to screw the heatsink onto the motherboard. For this task, two spring-loaded standoff screws are used. It is worth reiterating that the proper screws are different for every socket type, and it is possible to install the heatsink incorrectly if the wrong screws are used. The screws are threaded through the brackets on the heatsink into the mounting hardware on the motherboard. The screws should be tightened until they stop turning, at which point the springs will keep the heatsink under tension. The pre-loaded springs are the best part of the mounting system, as they make it impossible for the user to overtighten the screws and place unnecessary stress on the motherboard and CPU die. When it's installed, the heatsink is quite secure and probably safe to transport short distances by car or by hand. Shipping as freight is not recommended, however, without extreme caution.

FAN DIRECTIONALITY

Due to the nature of the installation hardware, the heatsink can only be installed in one orientation — which may not be the right one for optimal system airflow. For example, I have purloined one of the review samples for use in my personal system, but the way it fits on my motherboard has the fan blowing towards the top of the case, not the back, as preferred. Our test bench system also required that the heatsink be installed in this way. Only Socket 775 systems, with the square pattern of mounting holes, allow the heatsink to be installed in any orientation.

For all heatsinks whose fan blows across the motherboard rather than down at it (i.e., almost all "tower" heatsinks), the ideal direction for the airflow is towards the back of the case where the heat can be easily evacuated by the case fan. If the CPU heatsink fan blows towards the PSU, the PSU can become unnecessarily hot, often increasing the speed and noise of its internal fan, and reducing the overall life of the PSU.

Another possible problem is that the larger model is very wide (124mm), which may mean that the heatsink extends beyond the top edge of the motherboard in some configurations. Noctua is obviously aware of the problem, as they note that "the gap required between the upper edge of the mainboard and the power supply in the case is (depending on the position of the CPU socket on the mainboard) up to 25mm." Many motherboard, case and PSU combinations will not provide a one-inch gap.



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