nMedia Icetank: More than a Cute Name?

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COMPARISON

The midrange market for heatsinks is quite crowded, so it is worth looking at how the Icetank stacks up against the competition. The comparison uses our quiet reference fan, so it is biased towards heatsinks that perform well under low airflow conditions. This is a useful bias, since a quiet system inevitably means low airflow.

Midrange Heatsinks, °C Rise with Nexus 92mm fan
Fan Voltage
nMedia Icetank
Scythe Katana
LS Cable SHS-X500
Noctua NH-U9
12V
24°C
27°C
24°C
24°C
9V
29°C
29°C
28°C
26°C
7V
35°C
33°C
34°C
31°C
5V
48°C
42°C
>55°C
36°C

For such an expensive heatsink, the Icetank does quite poorly in the low airflow comparison. It is outperformed by the much cheaper Scythe Katana, and equaled by the bargain-basement SHS-X500. It is soundly thrashed by the only heatsink in its price range, the Noctua NH-U9. With high end heatsinks from Zalman, Thermalright, and Scythe thrown into the mix, things would look even worse.

Things would be better for the Icetank if the stock fan was used. As mentioned before, the Icetank outperforms any other 92mm fan heatsink we've tested with the stock fan at full speed. When it has enough airflow, the Icetank is a winner. Unfortunately, direct comparisons using the stock fans can be misleading because fans vary so much in terms of noise and airflow. For example, even though the Icetank outperforms the Noctua NH-U9 at full speed, the Noctua is 6 dBA@1m quieter. The same goes for the Katana and the SHS-X500, both of which have quieter fans than the Icetank.

NOISE RECORDINGS

nMedia Icetank:

MP3: nMedia Icetank with Stock fan: 5V-7V-9V-12V, 5s ambient between levels: One Meter, One Foot

Comparative:

MP3: Nexus 92mm fan: 5V-7V-9V-12V, 5s ambient between levels: One Meter, One Foot

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made with a high resolution, studio quality, digital recording system and are intended to represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review. Two recordings of each noise level were made, one from a distance of one meter, and another from one foot (30 cm) away.

The one meter recording is intended to give you an idea of how the subject of this review sound in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. For best results, set your volume control so that the ambient noise is just barely audible. Be aware that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn't hear it from one meter, chances are we couldn't record it either!

The one foot recording is designed to bring out the fine details of the noise. Use this recording with caution! Although more detailed, it may not represent how the subject sounds in actual use. It is best to listen to this recording after you have listened to the one meter recording.

More details about how we make these recordings can be found in our short article: Audio Recording Methods Revised.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

The effectiveness of the Icetank depends greatly on the fan that it is used with. With the stock fan, it is capable of outperforming every other heatsink in its class, and it is a good cooler even with the stock fan at 5V. Unfortunately, the stock fan is noisy and undervolts poorly, which means that many people will want to replace it with a better one if low noise is a priority.

When our favorite low noise 92mm fan was used, the Icetank fell behind heatsinks that are both cheaper and smaller. This indicates that the Icetank is not a good performer with low airflow; its excellent performance at full speed requires all the air it can get. The Icetank is best used with a medium speed fan that undervolts well. It is more at home in a quiet high performance system rather than one where silence is the priority.

The best things about the Icetank are universal compatibility (including AM2!) and easy installation. The mounting system is very easy to use, ideal for a drop-in replacement, since it doesn't require removing the motherboard.

So long as it has enough airflow, the Icetank is clearly more than a cute name. And, even if it can't beat other heatsink with low airflow, it does have one advantage: It's shorter than the tower heatsinks that outperform it. Given that nMedia is aiming squarely at the HTPC market, that's an important attribute. Where space is at a premium, the Icetank may well be the best choice.

Pros

* Easy to install
* Supports AM2
* Excellent performance with enough airflow
* Fan controller included
* Lower profile than a tower heatsink

Cons

* Poor low-airflow performance
* Insecure mounting system
* Poor noise quality
* Quality control on the finish of the base

Much thanks to nMedia for the Icetank sample.

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