Arctic Cooling Alpine HSF: A New Budget King?

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FAN DETAILS

The fan is built into a plastic module that includes plastic tabs that hook onto the heatsink, mounting clips that attach to the motherboard, and rubber grommets that reduce the vibration that is transmitted to the heatsink. The fans on the two heatsink variants look identical, and, despite the specifications on the web site, both are rated for 0.20 A.

The fan module pops off the base of the heatsink easily by lifting the tabs, although there is really no reason to do so, since there is no easy way to replace the fan. Besides, swapping the fan on a $15 heatsink does not make sense — quiet fans from popular brands cost as much as the whole HSF.


The fan is built into a plastic module that also secures the heatsink to the motherboard.

The rubber grommets feel soft enough to be effective, and they are identical to the ones found on the Freezer 7 Pro. We are pleased to see a manufacturer paying attention to the details of noise reduction.


Rubber grommets isolate the fan from the frame.


A four pin header for the Alpine 7, and a three pin for the Alpine 64.

Although they look more or less identical, the two fans are very different beasts. The Alpine 7 comes with a four-pin PWM fan that is designed to work with the fan controllers stipulated by Intel on new boards for Intel-processors. It exhibits the same nonlinear relationship between input voltage and rotation speed as the four-pin fan included with the Freezer 7 Pro. It is basically unusable below 9V (although it kept running all the way down to 5V).

The Alpine 64 has a more traditional three-pin fan that reflects the style of fan found on AMD-compatible motherboards. Enthusiasts may prefer this type of fan because they are easier to control, but it's difficult to call this an advantage since the Alpine is hardly targeted at enthusiasts. For regular users, the four pin fan is just as functional.

This difference in the included fan is the real reason why Arctic Cooling has decided to produce separate versions of the Alpine. Although there is nothing to prevent the PWM fan on the Alpine 7 from spinning when powered by a three-pin header, the fan will not be controlled correctly without a four-pin header. Given how important fan control can be for minimizing noise, it makes sense to sell different versions for Intel and AMD-based systems.

Arctic Cooling Alpine Fan Comparison
Fan Model
Fan Voltage
Noise
Alpine 7
12V
28 dBA@1m
11V
24 dBA@1m
10V
19 dBA@1m
<9V
<17 dBA@1m
Alpine 64
12V
27 dBA@1m
9V
23 dBA@1m
7V
19 dBA@1m
5V
<17 dBA@1m

The noise profiles above illustrate the difference between the two fans. Although both fans had approximately the same range of adjustment, the range for the Alpine 7 was compressed into the top three volts of adjustment. Changing the voltage below 9V had very little impact on fan speed and no impact at all on noise, as the fan was already effectively silent.

Both fans were reasonably quiet even at full speed, although still a little on the loud side for an extremely low noise system. Both are likely to benefit from a motherboard that can control the fan speed as needed.

One oddity was that the quality of the two fans was not the same. For some reason, our sample of the Alpine 7 sounded much smoother than our sample of the Alpine 64, which had a distinct buzz that was missing from the Alpine 7. It's not clear whether this difference is inherent to the fans themselves, or if the Alpine 64 was simply damaged in transit.

One big contrast between the Alpine and Arctic Cooling's earlier budget models is built in thermal control. The old ones had it, designated by the letters TC at the end of the model designation. The Alpine does not. It means that the new Alpine cannot be as quiet as the old models, right out of the box. In our testing of the Arctic Cooling Super Silent 4 Ultra TC, we found that on the P4-2.8 478 Northwood test platform, the fan ran so slowly and quietly with the system in idle that it was immeasurable (at the ~17 dBA room ambient) from a meter away. This is relevant, because the way most people use most desktop PCs, idle is the predominant power state of the processor >90% of the time that it is powered on.

INSTALLATION

Installation was simple. Not surprisingly, the Alpine 64 was easier to install, since it did not require a separate mounting bracket. Installing the bracket on a Socket 775 system is a potentially time-consuming task, since it requires access to the back of the motherboard. In a new system, this is not an issue, since the bracket can be installed before the motherboard is put in the case, but users who are upgrading will need to remove the motherboard from the case.


The Alpine 7 and all the applicable hardware.

To install the heatsink, you don't just press down on each clip in the way that heatsinks are usually installed. Instead, each clip hangs from a screw in the frame of the fan, and must be lowered by loosening the screw. Once the clips are low enough, they slip around the plastic knuckle on the retention bracket (on the motherboard), and the screws are tightened to apply tension. Just how far to turn the screws is a judgment call. A few people, as usual, will probably go too far.

The system worked well, and it had the advantage of allowing the heatsink to stay flat against the processor during the whole installation. Spring-loaded clips often require rocking the heatsink back and forth as it is put under tension.


This is not a spring-loaded clip; it is attached to a screw in the frame that raises and lowers it.


Just to show it mounted on an AMD AM2 socket motherboard.

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