Noctua / Coolink Tower Heatsinks

Cooling
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TESTING


On the test bench...

Test Platform

  • 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.
  • AOpen AX4GE Max motherboard - Intel 845GE Chipset; built-in VGA. The on-die CPU thermal diode monitoring system reads 2°C too high, so all readings are compensated up by this amount.
  • OCZ DDRAM PC-3200, 512 MB
  • Seagate Barracuda IV 40G 1-platter drive (in Smart Drive)
  • Seasonic Super Tornado 300 (Rev. A1)
  • Arctic Silver Ceramique Thermal Compound
  • Nexus Real Silent 120mm fan
  • Two-level plywood platform with foam damping feet. Motherboard on top; most other components below. Eases heatsink changes and setup.

Measurement & Analysis Tools

  • CPUBurn processor stress software
  • SpeedFan version 4.25 software to show CPU temperature
  • A custom-built fan controller that allows us to dial in exactly what voltage is powering the fan
  • B&K model 1613 sound level meter

Conditions

  • Noise and airflow measurements were made with the fan powered from the fan controller while the rest of the system was off to ensure that system noise did not skew the measurements.
  • The heatsinks were tested both with the stock fans from Coolink and our standard reference fans, both Nexus models.
  • Airflow measurements were made while the fans were mounted on the heatsink; because of the higher impedance, the measured aflow rate is lower than in free air.
  • Load testing was accomplished using CPUBurn to stress the processor, and the graph function in SpeedFan was used to make sure that the load temperature was stable for at least ten minutes.
  • Every fan was tested at four voltages: 5V, 7V, 9V, and 12V, representing a full cross-section of the fan's airflow and noise performance.
  • The ambient conditions during testing were 16 dBA and 21°C.

TEST RESULTS

Noctua NH-U12 / Coolink U8-120-1600

Noctua NH-U12 / Coolink U8-120-1600
Fan Voltage
Airspeed
Load Temp
°C Rise
°C/W MP
°C/W TDP
Noise
Stock Fan (Coolink X12-1600)
12V
43 CFM
39°C
18
0.23
0.26
31 dBA@1m
9V
33 CFM
41°C
20
0.25
0.29
26 dBA@1m
7V
24 CFM
42°C
21
0.27
0.30
22 dBA@1m
5V
15 CFM
45°C
24
0.30
0.35
20 dBA@1m
Reference Fan (Nexus 120mm)
12V
28 CFM
42°C
21
0.27
0.30
22 dBA@1m
9V
21 CFM
43°C
22
0.28
0.32
19 dBA@1m
7V
16 CFM
43°C
22
0.28
0.32
~17 dBA@1m
5V
9 CFM
46°C
25
0.32
0.36
<16 dBA@1m
Airflow: Measured in Cubic Feet per Minute mounted on the HS
Load Temp:
CPUBurn for ~20 mins.
°C Rise: Temperature rise above ambient at load.
°C/W MP / TDP: Temperature rise per Watt, based on CPU's Maximum Power (79W)
or Thermal Design Power (69W) rating (lower is better)
Noise: SPL measured in dBA/1m distance with high accuracy B & K SLM

The stock fan included with the large, 120mm heatsink spins much faster (and thus much louder) than really necessary. The difference in temperature between the stock fan at full speed and our slow reference Nexus spinning at 5V is only 7°C. That's a fivefold increase in airflow for only a 25% increase in cooling efficiency. When the two fans are compared at full speed, the difference is even less: A mere 3°C.

This big Noctua / Coolink is an excellent low-airflow performer — perfect for use in a quiet computer. If its performance is anything to go by, it probably has some potential for passive cooling, which may be why the Noctua version does not ship with a fan.

If you do decide to go with a fan (and most people will want to do this — passive cooling is not for casual users), our recommendation is to skip the fan included in the Coolink package — it's not very good. In fact, it sounds worse than it measures. The brittle plastic frame has a tendency to resonate and amplify the motor noise. The noise character has three components: A rough buzz, a resonant tone somewhere in the middle frequencies, and a lot of air turbulence. Even when the noise level measures 20 dBA@1m, the quality of noise is still poor. A good fan that measures 20 dBA@1m is sometimes inaudible in our test lab, but the Coolink was very noticeable even at this SPL. In fact, it remained audible even when the heater furnace turned on and the ambient noise level increased to nearly 30 dBA@1m.

Noctua NH-U9 / Coolink U8-92-1900

Noctua NH-U9 / Coolink U8-92-1900
Fan Voltage
Airspeed
Load Temp
°C Rise
°C/W MP
°C/W TDP
Noise
Stock Fan (Coolink X9-1900)
12V
25 CFM
41°C
20
0.25
0.29
29 dBA@1m
9V
20 CFM
43°C
22
0.28
0.32
24 dBA@1m
7V
15 CFM
45°C
24
0.30
0.35
21 dBA@1m
5V
10 CFM
49°C
28
0.35
0.41
18 dBA@1m
Reference Fan (Nexus 92mm)
12V
22 CFM
45°C
24
0.30
0.35
23 dBA@1m
9V
16 CFM
47°C
26
0.33
0.38
19 dBA@1m
7V
11 CFM
52°C
31
0.39
0.45
~16 dBA@1m
5V
6 CFM
57°C
36
0.46
0.52
<16 dBA@1m

Airflow: Measured in Cubic Feet per Minute mounted on the HS
Load Temp:
CPUBurn for ~20 mins.
°C Rise: Temperature rise above ambient at load.
°C/W MP / TDP: Temperature rise per Watt, based on CPU's Maximum Power (79W)
or Thermal Design Power (69W) rating (lower is better)
Noise: SPL measured in dBA@1m distance with high accuracy B & K SLM

The 92mm version proved to be almost as good a performer as the larger model, although it didn't quite do as well when starved for airflow. When the airflow was above ~20 CFM, the thermal results were very close to the bigger model. Below this threshold, cooling performance dropped more quickly, but keep in mind that the slowest 92mm fans do not blow as much air as the slowest 120mm fans.

Just because it doesn't do as well with low airflow hardly makes it a loser though. At 7V, the Nexus was blowing just 11 CFM and making well under 20 dBA@1m of noise, but cooling was still acceptable, with a 31°C rise — good enough for many of the cooler CPUs on the market.

A caution about airflow measurements: For some reason the measured airflow for the 92mm Coolink and Nexus fans did not correlate very well to the thermal performance. In fact, the airflow results for the Nexus fan are almost certainly too high; this was confirmed both subjectively and by comparing the results from this test to past measurements on other heatsinks. Nevertheless, the results remained the same even after a second round of airflow (and thermal) testing, so we've reported what we measured. We can't explain the results; all we can do is make our best guess at which measurements are incorrect.

The 92mm Coolink fan sounded similar to its bigger brother. It exhibited the same unpleasant noise traits, and tended to sound louder than it measured. However, the level of noise was acceptable at 7V, when the fan was spinning slowly enough that the noise level could be expected to disappear in most systems. Performance was still acceptable at this level, so some users may be satisfied with this fan.

COOLINK FAN COMPARISON

As mentioned, Coolink sent us samples of several other fans that they sell, all of which are slower and quieter than the fans included with the heatsinks. The excellent low airflow performance makes one wonder why Coolink included the fast fan. The noise and airflow measurements below show that Coolink could have achieved a much better noise to cooling ratio simply by using one of their slower fans.

Three other fans were tested: Two 92mm fans rated at 1500 RPM and 1100 RPM, and a 120mm fan rated at 1200 RPM. The stock fans spin at 1900 RPM (92mm) and 1600 RPM (120mm). The only Coolink fan that we did not test is an 800 RPM / 120mm model.

Coolink Fans
Fan Model
Voltage
Airspeed
Noise Level
X12-1600
120mm
Stock Fan
12V
43 CFM
31 dBA@1m
9V
33 CFM
26 dBA@1m
7V
24 CFM
22 dBA@1m
5V
15 CFM
20 dBA@1m
X12-1200
120mm
12V
27 CFM
23 dBA@1m
9V
19 CFM
21 dBA@1m
7V
12 CFM
19 dBA@1m
5V
5 CFM
<18 dBA@1m
X9-1900
92mm
Stock Fan
12V
25 CFM
29 dBA@1m
9V
20 CFM
24 dBA@1m
7V
15 CFM
21 dBA@1m
5V
10 CFM
18 dBA@1m
X9-1500
92mm
12V
19 CFM
24 dBA@1m
9V
15 CFM
20 dBA@1m
7V
11 CFM
~19 dBA@1m
5V
6 CFM
<18 dBA@1m
X9-1100
92mm
12V
14 CFM
20 dBA@1m
9V
9 CFM
19 dBA@1m
7V
6 CFM
<17 dBA@1m
5V
N/A (Doesn't Start)

All of these Coolink fans have the same basic frame and motor; the only difference is the speed they spin at. For this reason, they all exhibited the same noise character: Generally rough and resonant, especially at higher speeds. However, because the additional fans were all lower speed than the fans included with the heatsink, they tended to sound better.

As a rough and ready rule, moving down a single speed grade tended to have the same effect of dropping by one voltage step. For example, the X9-1500 at 12V sounded pretty much the same as the X9-1900 at 9V.

On the whole, the poor noise quality became irrelevant when the noise level dipped to ~20 dBA@1m or below. Below this level, the fans simply weren't spinning fast enough to be much of a bother. This was also the level where the resonant overtone disappeared.

The two "medium" speed fans — the X12-1200 and the X9-1500 — were remarkably similar to our two reference Nexus fans in both airflow and measured noise level. There is no question that the Nexus fans sounded better subjectively at higher speeds, but at lower speeds they seemed quite similar.

The X9-1100 deserves special mention for being very, very quiet, even at the stock voltage. No other 92mm fans that we know of can boast such a low noise level at 12V: 20 dBA@1m is very unusual. For this reason, it deserves a recommendation as a fan that can be used in a quiet system without requiring modification. In fact, undervolting this fan is a bad idea; the improvement in noise level does not justify the loss of airflow.

After looking at all of these numbers, it seems very clear that Coolink should have included their medium speed fans (X12-1200 and X9-1500) with the heatsinks instead of their high speed fans. The acoustic benefit to such a decision would have been substantial for the minimal loss in cooling efficiency.

It is not hard to guess why Coolink did not include a quieter fan. While a 2-3°C drop in cooling efficiency does not matter much in practical terms, the overclockers and gamers who represent the bulk of the high end CPU cooler market are trained by most hardware review web sites to revere the lowest temperatures. A 2-3°C difference is enough for some reviewers to claim that product A "blows away" product B. On the other hand, few review sites pay such close attention to noise; so sacrificing a little acoustic performance for that extra 2-3°C of cooling is a realistic marketing move.



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