Arctic Cooling Alpine HSF: A New Budget King?

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TESTING

As time goes on, fewer and fewer heatsinks continue to support Socket 478, which is rapidly fading into the history. This is the case with the Alpine, which does not fit on our standard heatsink testing rig.

Instead, our Socket 775 test bench was used. This is the same system was used to test the Freezer 7 Pro. Details of the system are outlined below. So far, only four heatsinks have been tested on this system: The Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro, the Spire Verticool II, the Scythe Ninja, and the Thermalright XP-120. No other heatsinks we have tested are directly comparable with the Alpine. The Pentium 520 used in this test is cooler than most of Intel's desktop processors on the market today, but it is still 15-20W hotter than the P4-2.8 Northwood used in our socket 478 HS testing platform. On the other hand, it is also hotter than most AMD processor on the market. This situation will change in the near future when Intel its Core 2 chips become available in the market, but for now the Intel 520 processor represents a good median for CPU heat.


On the test bench...

Test Platform

Measurement & Analysis Tools

Noise measurements were made with the fan powered from the lab DC power supply with everything else turned off to ensure minimal ambient noise. Airflow measurements for this heatsink were not made due to the difficulty of measuring the stock fan accurately.

For this review, the Alpine 64 was mounted using the hardware for the Alpine 7 because it is more likely to yield useful results using our standard tests at 12V, 9V, 7V, and 5V. The Alpine 7 does not have substantially different airflow, and should perform more or less equally at a given noise level. See the section on fans for more details.

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.

The ambient conditions during testing were 16 dBA and 23°C.

TEST RESULTS

Arctic Cooling Alpine 64 with Stock fan
Fan Voltage
Temp
°C Rise
°C/W MP
°C/W TDP
Noise
(dBA@1m)
12V
53°C
30
0.30
0.36
27
9V
58°C
35
0.35
0.42
23
7V
63°C
40
0.40
0.48
19
5V
65°C
42
0.42
0.50
<17
Load Temp: CPUBurn for ~20 mins.
°C Rise: Temperature rise above ambient at load.
°C/W MP / TDP: Temperature rise over ambient per Watt of CPU heat, based on CPU's Maximum Power (100W) or Thermal Design Power (84W) rating (lower is better)
Noise: SPL measured in dBA@1m distance with high accuracy B & K SLM

Fan @ 12V: If this was not a $15 heatsink, we'd consider the performance at 12V to be terrible. Within the confines of a case where the ambient temperature is at least 30°C, the Alpine would just barely be able to handle our Intel 520. But, just barely is good enough; no one should try to build a budget quiet system using a 100W processor, so the Alpine probably capable of doing what it is supposed to. Arctic Cooling does not suggest the Alpine for use with Pentium 4 chips above the 650 (3.4 GHz) or Pentium D chips above the 940 (3.2 GHz).

From a noise perspective, the answer is the same: Good enough. At full tilt, 27 dBA@1m is acceptable, if not silent. Chances are, the Alpine would not run at full tilt often; low-end processors are rarely used for intensive computing, so examining the thermal performance with the CPU at full tilt does not represent the way the Alpine will typically be used.

Despite all of the careful damping and the unusual design of the frame, the noise character was not pleasant. It is best described as a rapid clicking or ticking that varies with the speed of the fan. As noted in the fan section above, the Alpine 7 did not exhibit this clicking, causing us to speculate that this particular sample may have had a bad bearing. Fan bearings are easily damaged in transit; a sharp shock can cause enough bearing damage to increase the noise audibly. Aside from the clicking, the fan sounded like a normal low speed fan: Mostly motor hum and a small amount of wind noise.

Fan @ 9V: Given that performance was marginal at 12V, it is no surprise that it was simply not good enough at 9V — at least where our test processor is concerned. We can extrapolate that on our older test bench, which uses a 79W (MP) Northwood 2.8 GHz processor, would have reached 51°C — marginal but still just enough for that system.

The noise level dropped significantly at 9V, reducing the hum to a low growl and cutting out most of the airflow noise. However, the rapid clicking remained prominent. If anything, it was even more noticeable, since the other sources of noise had dropped away.

Fan @ 7V & 5V: Below 7V, the Alpine 64 should be nearly inaudible in most systems. The clicking remained just barely audible even at 5V, but it was so quiet that any amount of system noise (from hard drives, for example) is likely to cover it. The Alpine 7, running at roughly the same speed (9V), could not be heard at all from one meter.

This is the level of noise that can be expected on a cool processor at idle. It's quite possible that the Alpine could be run this quietly on one of AMD's new 35W processors, but most other processors will need a faster fan speed under load.

It was surprising that, as hot as the system got, the processor never had to throttle to keep temperatures down — even at 5V. In fact, the difference in temperature between 7V and 5V was just 2°C — the opposite of what we expected. This result is even more shocking when you consider that the stock Intel heatsink (the one that Arctic Cooling says outperforms the Alpine at 12V) caused the processor to throttle when the noise level was 20 dBA@1m. It seems the Alpine does quite well with low airflow.

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