Microcool NorthPole XE Whisper heatsink/fan

Cooling
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INSTALLATION

The NorthPole XE can be mounted in one of three ways, depending on what kind of chip it is meant to cool. The basic mounting procedure is the same for all three, but each differs slightly in the exact hardware it requires. Microcool has a well-illustrated installation guide on their web site, but no such documentation came with our samples. Telling the difference between the various parts can be quite a challenge! Mounting hardware is included for

  • AOpen's Pentium M based motherboards (compatibility with other manufacturers is unknown, but probably possible)
  • AMD-based northbridge chips that mount through holes in the motherboard
  • Intel-based northbridge chip that mount through hooks on the surface of the motherboard

No matter which version you require, the basic parts are the same: Two brackets are attached to the top of the heatsink, and two mounting posts are attached to the motherboard. Installation is as simple as slipping the heatsink between the mounting posts, making sure the brackets are in place, and screwing down a nut to secure it in place.

The tricky part is getting the parts right. For some reason, each different mounting system has its own mounting brackets, even though the Pentium M bracket could probably accommodate all three with only minor modifications. The real difference is the mounting posts, which must connect to the motherboard in exactly the right way, and be just the right height to maintain the correct tension.

Mounting Posts ? Pentium M and AMD Boards

Most motherboards require mounting the posts through the board itself. A easy to tighten thumbnut makes the installation a breeze, and two plastic washers make sure that the metal post doesn't cause any short-circuits. The posts for the Pentium M are 4 mm longer than the basic posts to account for the height of the CPU socket, but the mounting procedure for a northbridge is otherwise exactly the same.


The two washers sandwich the motherboard, and the thumbnut keeps things in place...


...like so.

Mounting Posts ? Intel Northbridge

A different kind of mounting post is needed for boards that have hooks instead of holes for mounting the northbridge heatsink. In this case, there is a metal sleeve that fits loosely over the hook on the motherboard. The mounting post is secured with a single screw as shown in the illustration below. Even when properly installed, the posts do not quite stand straight, and can easily be moved from side to side by hand.


A single screw holds the post loosely in place.

Offset Pads

To prevent damage to the chip, Microcool provides four soft foam pads that can be applied to the base of the heatsink to take pressure off the edges of the chip. Unfortunately, they proved to be too thick, and caused performance issues later on. So long as the system will be stationary most of the time, we recommend leaving them aside.


The good: Offset pads protect the CPU die;
The bad: They interfere with cooling performance.

Getting it under Tension

Next, two brackets are screwed on to opposite corners of the heatsink. This is quite straightforward, but make sure you're using the correct brackets for your mounting system!

The final step is to position the heatsink between the mounting posts and screw everything in place. This is also quite straightforward, but there are a number of potential trip points.

As mentioned, it is very important to use the correct parts. Use the wrong mounting posts, and the tension will either be too much or too little. Use the wrong brackets, and the mounting posts may not be straight.

It is also very important to use a plastic washer between the bracket and the spring that keeps things under tension. I learned this the hard way: Without the washer the spring can slip through the bracket, releasing the tension on the heatsink.


Correct: Washer separates the bracket from the spring.


Incorrect: Without washer, spring slips through bracket, releasing tension between heatsink and chip.


The springs are fully compressed when correctly installed.



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