ZEROtherm Nirvana CPU Cooler

Cooling
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COMPARABLES

Since the Nirvana fan is not easily replaceable, it cannot be easily compared to other 120mm fan heatsinks where our reference quiet fan was used. So we compared it with its own stock fan set to the same SPL levels as the reference fan. This is a patently unfair comparison, but it shows precisely how bad the stock Nirvana package is for quiet cooling.

°C rise Comparison: The Best of the Best
Heatsink
Nexus 120mm fan voltage / SPL @1m
12V
9V
7V
5V
16 dBA
13 dBA
12 dBA
11 dBA
Prolimatech Megahalems
10
14
17
20
Thermalright U120E
12
14
17
24
Thermalright HR-01+
13
15
16
20
Xigmatek HDT-S1283
13
15
18
22
Scythe Kabuto
13
15
19
26
Noctua NH-U12P
14
16
17
21
Zalman CNPS10X Extreme
14
17
21
26
Zerotherm Zen
15
16
19
24
Scythe Mugen-2
15
17
19
23
Thermalright U120
15
17
21
26
Noctua NH-C12P
16
18
21
26
Scythe Ninja 2
17
18
20
23
Thermolab Baram
18
20
22
25
ZEROtherm Nirvana
( 16 & 13 dBA@1m points extrapolated; see graph below)
21
32
-
-

The Nirvana has the look of a top-performer, but its fan is a loser. When we compare cooling results with its stock fan set to noise levels equivalent to those of our reference fan, the Nirvana trails the Thermolab Baram by only 3°C at 16 dBA. However when airflow is reduced further, its performance tanks, with the difference widening to double-digits. The main culprit is that stock custom fan.

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 segments of room ambiance, then the fan 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 ZEROtherm Nirvana NV120 PWM is a disappointment. Not only does it fail to match any of the top coolers we've tested in the past 2-3 years, it cannot even stand up to its own predecessor, the Zen FZ120. The noise of the fan is poor, made worse by the decision to mount it on a metal stand — this also makes replacing the fan problematic. And while the base is nickel-plated, its surface could certainly be a lot smoother. It's rare to see distinct ridges on a base without looking for them, let alone being able to actually detect them by touch. The only thing not made worse is the mounting system, which uses a backplate for Intel installations and a rotatable frame for AMD boards. This seems to be the Nirvana's one saving grace.

It is possible with with a much hotter CPU at full load, the cooling performance of the Nirvana at full fan speed could match some of the low noise kings we exalt. But that would be a very different target — maximum cooling, never mind the noise — than the one SPCR seeks: Best cooling with near-inaudible fan noise.

The main problem is the fan — and not just how it's mounted. Taking away the box frame results in a drop in pressure which the fan needs to efficiently push air through the tightly-spaced fins, especially through the "honeycomb" pattern at the center. The end result is a cooler that cannot compete with competitors in the same class, especially at low fan speeds. Despite having the dimensions of a high-performance tower heatsink, its cooling proficiency is clearly 2nd tier. It's difficult to recommend given the many available coolers that are cheaper, perform better and generate less noise. There are even a few smaller coolers with 92 mm fans that can give the Nirvana a run for its money. Sorry, Zerotherm, better luck next time!

ZEROtherm Nirvana NV120 PWM
PROS

* Good, not great performance
* AMD mount can be rotated
* Secure LGA775/1366 mount
CONS

* Loud fan with poor mounting design
* Base surface could be smoother
* No LGA1156 mounting frame
* Poor performance:size ratio

Our thanks to ZEROtherm for the Nirvana NV120 PWM heatsink sample.

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Articles of Related Interest

Smallish LGA775 Heatsink Roundup - Part 2
Scythe Top-Down Coolers: Kabuto vs. Zipang 2
LGA775 Low Profile Heatsink Roundup
Scythe Mugen-2 CPU Cooler
Scythe Katana 3: Same slant, new version
Zerotherm Zen FZ120 CPU Cooler

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Discuss this article in the SPCR forums.



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