LGA775 Low Profile Heatsink Roundup

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Intel LGA775 Low Profile Heatsink Round-up

July 25, 2009 by Lawrence Lee

Stock heatsink/fans that shipped with desktop processors were among the key catalysts that brought SPCR into existence. Their loud, nasty sounding fans were easily the biggest noise complaint among PC owners, at least until graphics cards became so powerful that they too required fans. Not only were they bad to begin with, heat and dust accumulation would inevitably take their toll on the bearings, and over time, they would get progressively noisier. By comparison, today's stock CPU coolers are much improved — they can actually keep the temperature reasonable (at least at idle) without sounding like jet engines.

Still there are much better, relatively inexpensive alternatives on the market, and for quiet or silent PC, the stock cooler is typically the first component thrown aside. However, in some cases, a better, quieter cooler that fits can be difficult to find. Thin is in, interest in low profile cases is on the rise, especially in light of the new popularity of the mini-ITX form factor. By "low profile", we generally mean cases that are only tall enough to accommodate low profile (half-height) expansion cards. Typically these cases have no more than 8 cm of heatsink clearance and sometimes substantially less if the enclosure in question is designed with a component (e.g. power supply) overhanging the CPU socket.

Everyone knows that the best CPU coolers are usually the largest, and they have no hope of fitting into a smaller form factor case. Low profile cases almost always allow just enough room for the stock heatsink, which becomes the defacto choice — it's hard to find a short, quiet CPU cooler. With that in mind, we collected some smaller heatsinks and pitted them against one another and against some of Intel's stock coolers. Represented today are PWM models from Arctic Cooling, Thermolab, and Scythe. Let's meet the candidates.


Clockwise from left: Thermolab Micro Silencer, Thermolab Nano Silencer, Arctic Cooling Alpine 7 GT, stock Intel cooler, and Scythe Big Shuriken in center.


Intel Q9550 Stock Cooler (E0 stepping)

Intel's cooler running 45 nm retail boxed processors ship with a very short stock heatsink, about 4.5 cm tall. Like the rest of the Core 2 line, the dual core versions have coolers constructed entirely of aluminum while the quad core models have copper cores. Our sample comes from a quad core Q9550 purchased in May 2009.


The Q9550 heatsink is cooled by a 1.68W fan with a diameter of 79 mm.



The mechanical design of the fins is slightly reminiscent of a spiral. The surface area of each fin increases toward the outside edge, as it splits into two. The pushpins are part of the fan assembly. (Note: Gray patches on the base are pre-applied TIM.


Fan Measurements
Voltage
Speed
SPL@1m
12V
1880 RPM
26 dBA
9V
1290 RPM
18 dBA
7.8V
1110 RPM
15 dBA
7.5V
880 RPM
14 dBA

The acoustics of the Q9550's PWM fan are fairly typical for Intel stock heatsinks. At higher speeds, it is buzzy with a high-pitched hum. As the speed is decreased the pitch of the hum lowers and a brushing sound becomes more evident (it sounds like something soft is pressing against the fan blades). The heatsink features a fan made by Foxconn which is very sensitive to voltage control under 9V. It is moderately loud at 12V and quickly becomes quiet below 10V, although its acoustic character is unpleasant.



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