Zalman 9300AT: Not me too, but me again

Cooling
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MP3 SOUND RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording system inside SPCR's own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

These recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the product sounds 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. 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 recording starts with 10 second intervals of room ambient, followed by 10 seconds of the actual product's noise at various levels. For the most realistic results, set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then don't change the volume setting again.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The CNPS9300 AT is basically a compact version of the CNPS9700 with few improvements, yet the performance is comparable. It would seem that Zalman's design is fundamentally a good one. If any other heatsink lost half its surface area, its cooling ability would probably be seriously compromised.

The mounting system for Intel motherboards is secure, and while the same cannot be said for AMD boards, the heatsink's weight is quite low, actually under the 450g maximum recommendation of both AMD and Intel, so it's not much of an issue. Unlike most AMD heatsinks, Zalman's mounting system allows the fan to blow in any direction.

Where Zalman continues to fail is in fan acoustics. It is much too loud. The vibration problem could have been a one-off due to bearing damage in transit, but that's just a conjecture. It seems to have less copper than their other CPU coolers, and it's cheaper, but $45-$50 is still too much for this level of performance and noise. There are many cheaper alternatives that outperform the CNPS9300 AT, in both cooling and noise. So where does the CNPS9300 AT fit in? It doesn't really — there's no situation where it would be the best choice.

Zalman seems set in their ways, continuing to use bad fans and expensive copper designs while the rest of the cooling world moves on. They were pioneers in low-noise computing, but today their innovations are few and far in between. We can only shrug and wait to see if Zalman slides further into mediocrity or rejuvenates itself in the coming months.

Zalman CNPS9300 AT
PROS

* Good, not great performance
* Low weight
* Secure LGA775 installation
* Rotatable AMD installation
CONS

* Very loud fan
* Bad vibration problem
* Expensive

Our thanks to Zalman Tech for the CNPS9300 AT heatsink sample.

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Discuss this review in the SPCR forums.



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