Arctic Cooling Alpine HSF: A New Budget King?

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COMPARISON

We were somewhat hesitant to attempt a comparison with the Alpine. After all, it does not boast to be an excellent performer; it boasts that it is good enough, and also quiet. We were pretty sure that any realistic comparison would show the Alpine getting its pants thrashed off, and a quick look at the data we had on hand confirmed it.

However, the odd results at 5V and 7V made us take a closer look. Our testing showed that the Alpine was not capable of cooling our test processor at this level, but there are certainly processors out there that it could. That made us curious. How does the Alpine stack up at the "no noise" level around ~17 dBA@1m? The results surprised us.

"No Noise" Comparison at ~17 dBA@1m
Heatsink/Fan
Noise
(SPL - dBA@1m)
Fan Voltage
Load Temp
°C Rise
°C/W MP
Arctic Cooling Alpine 64
<17
5V
65°C
42
0.42
Spire Verticool II SP601B3 with Nexus 80 mm Fan
~17
7V
69°C
48
0.48
Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro
<17
7V
throttle
N/A
N/A
Scythe Ninja with Nexus 120mm Fan
<17
5V
50°C
28
0.28
Thermalright XP-120 with Nexus 120mm Fan
<17
5V
68°C
47
0.47
Stock Intel Heatsink
20
7V
throttle
N/A
N/A

The results are certainly surprising. The only heatsink fan combination to outperform the Alpine was the Scythe Ninja with a Nexus 120mm fan — at a four times the Alpine's cost. Every other heatsink we've tested on the new test bed had a higher temperature rise than the Alpine, including the fabulous Thermalright XP-120 and Arctic Cooling's own Freezer 7 Pro.

The results are difficult to explain, and it is tempting to write them off as an anomaly. It's difficult to say how significant a 4°C difference is when the CPU is about to overheat. Nevertheless, the results suggest that the Alpine could be a good choice in a system with a cooler CPU and extremely low airflow.

NOISE RECORDINGS IN MP3 FORMAT

Alpine 64: 5V-7V-9V-12V, 5s Ambient between levels: One Meter, One Foot

Comparative:

Scythe Mine with Stock fan: 5V-7V-9V-12V, 5s Ambient between levels: One Meter, One Foot

Reference 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 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 Alpine is exactly as Arctic Cooling describes it: A low-end cooler that isn't likely to outperform any of the competition, but quiet and good enough for many modest systems. It's pretty clear that even our lowly Intel 520 processor is a bit much for it, which pretty much counts out any of Intel's current desktop processors — if the way you use your PC is to push the processor to 100% load constantly, which is not likely for most users. Looking around the corner to Core 2 Duo and 35W parts from AMD, the Alpine could be a budget-minded silencer's best friend.

Here's why: Pretty much any aftermarket heatsink should be able to handle a 35W processor; the legacy of the Prescott has ensured that heatsinks are now designed to handle processors four times hotter than that. With performance per watt all the rage, there should be many more processors that run cooler soon.

The Alpine is reasonably quiet out of the box, although if your processor is like the 100W space heater that we call a test rig, other heatsinks are quieter. But, with the fan turned down, the Alpine can be silent — if your processor is cool enough. And, chances are, there will be quite a few processors that the Alpine can cool at minimum speed — especially if the results of our "No Noise" comparison are anything to judge by. It's too bad that the "TC" (Thermally Controlled) feature of the previous budget AC coolers was not retained for this series, as it would obviate the need for an external controller of any kind. On the other hand, so many motherboards come with at least some kind of built in fan controller than can be adjusted from the BIOS.

Only time and lots of user reports well tell whether our low-airflow test results are anomalous. But, if you have a cool processor and US$15 to spare, it's worth a shot.

Pros

* Quiet fan
* Very Inexpensive
* "Good Enough" for a low end system
* Good low airflow performance?
* Light Weight
Cons

* Not for overclockers, and can't handle hot processors
* Counterintuitive installation
* Sample variance in fan noise?
* Multiple models are confusing

Much thanks to Arctic Cooling for the Alpine 7 & 64 samples.

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Articles of Related Interest

Recommended Heatsinks
Spire Verticool II SP601B3 tower heatsink
Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro
Arctic Cooling Super Silent 4 Ultra TC Heatsink/Fan

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