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Sub-$20 CPU Coolers: A Reader's Roundup

by Andrew Butitta ("dragoth")

Editor's Introduction

by Mike Chin

In mid-summer, "dragoth" sent me an email with the header "Any interest in reviewing some (donated) inexpensive CPU coolers?"

Long-time reader of the SPCR, big silent PC enthusiast.
Lately, I've been helping folks over at http://reddit.com/r/buildapc
put together PC builds. A question that invariably comes up these days
is: How can I make my new PC quiet without spending huge amounts of money.

I usually point folks to SPCR for advice on silencing their new PC, but the biggest debate usually centers around the CPU cooler: Is it possible to find a "silent" CPU cooler (ie: significantly quieter than the Intel / AMD stock coolers) for less than $20?

I thought I'd take the plunge and picked up a half-dozen cheap CPU coolers from Newegg, ranging in price from $8 (yes, really) to $17.

I've finished my testing and am currently writing up a long review post on them, but I have no objective way to measure how loud they actually are. If SPCR is interested, I'd be willing to ship the whole lot to you for review. There are some stinkers in there, for sure, but some surprises as well.

I'd like one of these coolers back for use in my home theater PC (a particular one; I don't want to say which one to avoid flavoring your review). The rest could be handled in the normal SPCR donated-hardware manner if you'd like.

My reply: Interesting idea. I'd like
to read your review. Knowing your conclusions won't affect our sonic analysis
in any way; the SLM and test gear readings don't get affected by what
I read. Do you want to send me an advance copy? I'd be interested in posting
your piece as a guest article, perhaps with measurements from our lab.
This would be a nice illustration of subjective/objective sound analysis.

The Upshot: After testing the chosen coolers, Andrew wrote up his review, then shipped all the samples to SPCR. We ran the fans on all of the coolers through ASUS Fan Expert 2, measuring them for Sound Pressure Level (SPL in dB, "A"-weighted at 1m distance) at the precise speeds dragoth did his testing. Recordings were also made at these fan speeds. All of this data was then incorporated into the review.

This is not a standard SPCR review. It does not follow our standard testing procedures, nor use our standard test equipment. So it's not possible to compare the results for these coolers with our standard review coolers. It is a reader's roundup with supporting acoustic test data from SPCR, collected with our usual high standards.

A quick scan of SPCR reviews shows that most of our reviewed
coolers are at least 2x, 3x or 4x the price of the ones chosen by Andrew;
they are in different leagues. SPCR has always focused on the best quiet
coolers, and in general, they tend to be the highest performance &
most costly.

Still, if you're seeking an effective and really inexpensive
cooler, Andrew's roundup should be quite useful. The 65W TDP of the Intel
C2D used for testing is no lower than that of CPUs used in current HTPC
systems, so the analysis here is quite relevant.

My thanks to Andrew B. for his effort and initiative in
the project.

* * *

Andrew Butitta is a 30-something computing
enthusiast living in Madison, WI. He's been tinkering with PC hardware
for over 20 years now -- his first PC was a hand-me-down 486 SX33 which
he eventually upgraded to an Am5x86 133 with a 2MB VLB video card and
16MB of RAM. Pressing individual VRAM chips into sockets will be a memory
he says he'll cherish forever.

His current PC is a very quiet (and very Noctua-filled) Silverstone
Fortress with an Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5 and nVidia GTX 770.

Andrew is a longtime reader of SPCR and a big fan of the push for
silent computing.

Prelude

One of the most frequent questions a PC builder asks is "How can I make my PC quiet without spending a ton of money?"

The answer invariably focuses on the CPU heatsink and fan, as the stock units included with Intel and AMD CPUs, while adequate, leave something to be desired on the noise front.

About a year ago, I had tried to quiet down my home theater PC with an Arctic Cooling Alpine GT rev.2. That experiment ended in disappointment with the GT's cooling power turning out to be rather lackluster unless the fan was turned up to such a degree as to make the stock cooler seem attractive once more.

When I offered this opinion on an online forum for new PC builders, an opposing viewpoint was raised: the Alpine GT has a number of good reviews, but if it wasn't a great cooler for that price, what was?

With that in mind, I decided to find out what the best cooler under $20 would actually be.

I purchased the following coolers from a major online computer parts reseller:

  • Arctic Cooling Alpine 11 Pro Rev. 2 - The Arctic Alpine 11 GT has a larger brother, and that's the Alpine 11 Pro. I was curious if the sins of the offspring originated in the father, so this $17 unit was the first cooler on the list.
  • Rosewill RCX-Z90-AL - At just $8 at the time of purchase, this was the least-expensive Socket 775 / 1156 / 1155 / 1150 cooler in the reseller's stock. I had to try it.
  • Gelid CC-Siberian-01 - $10 at the time of purchase, it was one of the cheapest coolers available on the site, lacked any substantial review presence online and used a promising-looking design.
  • SilenX EFZ-92HA2 - A fairly radical-looking cooler, especially for its $10 price, the SilenX had some minor review presence online, but nothing about how it performed with its fan undervolted for noise reduction, which was my major concern.
  • Zalman CNPS7000V (AL) - The originator of the SilenX's design, Zalman was the first to try the radial fin cooler back in the early 2000s. Zalman's made numerous versions of this cooler, some incorporating copper fins and some including heatpipes. This is the cheapest version of the CNPS coolers at $15.
  • Logisys MC2002GX / Deep Cool GAMMAXX 200 - This $15 tower cooler used a promising conventional U-shaped heatpipe design and was intriguing if only for its price.
  • Cooler Master Hyper T2 - This $17, twin-looped-heatpipe tower cooler carried a major brand name. I was curious to see how Cooler Master's lowest-end cooler performed against the competition.

I also had my two existing coolers to compare these units to:

  • Intel stock cooler for Conroe / Core2 Duo - I cleaned up and dusted off my old stock cooler with the intention of finding out if it could actually hold its own against some low-end competition.
  • Arctic Cooling Alpine 11 GT Rev.2 - The cooler that started it all. Even though I was ready to throw this cooler in a fire, I decided I should instead throw it into the review and let it burn itself up on its own merits.

An Introduction

Primarily, what I'm examining are classified today as "low-profile," "value," or "traditional" CPU coolers. But if you take a step back in time (say, to about 2002), you'll see that a number of these coolers can trace their origins to high-end coolers of an earlier time period. Take a look at the ThermalTake Golden Orb or Volcano 7 to see what I mean. They wouldn't look out-of-place in this roundup at all.

Why 2002, though? Well, in February of 2003, Cooler Master turned the CPU cooling world on its ear with the release of the Fujiyama. Well, not really, but that was the earliest mention I could find of a heatpipe desktop CPU cooler. In April of that year, CpuMate released their "Achilles" DIA-21500, possibly the great-granddaddy of today's modern tower heatsink with its side-mounted fan and u-shaped heatpipes.

As I mentioned, most of these coolers fall into the traditional cooler category, and accordingly, their performance is going to be somewhat lackluster. A few, as you'll see, try some rather innovative techniques to make up for their technological deficits, while others stick to the tried-and-true formula of "bigger is better."

Testing Rig

My chosen test rig was the machine that would be the final home of the winning cooler: my home theater PC. It's a custom-build rig in a slim mATX case with terrible cooling capabilities and an atrocious power supply. It currently houses a "Conroe" Core2 Duo E4600 running at stock speeds and voltages (2.4GHz and 1.4v) on a Foxconn 45CMX motherboard built around the venerable (read: old) Intel 945 chipset.

Test platform

"Holly," as I call this system (shout out to the Red Dwarf fans out there!), was pieced together over the last few years from low-cost or cast-off parts and has only recently been shoehorned into the role of "ultra-quiet media PC" -- a job that, at first, it didn't do well or easily. Several fan resistors, a little PSU surgery (replacing the stock PSU fan with a 92mm Noctua) and a new 120mm side fan later and things are finally looking pretty good for the little HTPC.

Here are the full system specs if you're interested:

TEST SYSTEM
CPU Intel Core 2 Duo "Conroe" Socket 775 (65W
TDP)
Motherboard Foxconn 45CMX
Chipset Intel 945
RAM 4 GB DDR2 667 (chipset consumes 800MB)
GPU HIS iSilence fanless Radeon HD 7750 1GB
HDD WD Caviar 160GB PATA/133 (7200 RPM)
Case Sentey SS2-2220 Slim mATX case
Power Supply Sentey 250W ATX12V unit included with case
OS: Windows 8.1 Pro
Network Generic WiFi G USB adapter

 

Test Methodology

I removed the motherboard from the case for my own sanity, to make swapping coolers with potentially-questionable mounting systems a little simpler.

I measured ambient air temperature using the built-in thermistor on the machine's case by placing it between 3 and 4 inches from the cooler's fan intake. I measured CPU temperature using SpeedFan's reading of the internal thermal diode on the Core2. These two temperatures were not the most accurate means of measuring temperature rise above ambient, but it was all I had at the time, and I did my best to make sure this test setup was the same with each cooler.

I used Noctua NT-H1 thermal paste for all coolers in the test. It's a high-grade paste and should avoid the inherent irregularities seen when testing with the pre-applied pastes that ship on these low-end coolers. I applied the same amount of paste to the CPU with each cooler, allowing it to spread over the CPU's heatspreader by the force of the cooler upon mating, as I've done for over a decade of PC building now.

Noctua thermal interface material

With the cooler mounted, I connected the fan to my Zalman FanMate 2 voltage-regulated fan controller and set the controller to maximum speed. I would then boot the system and have a good listen. Windows 8's fast boot feature made this task quite a bit less-arduous than it could've been, but it was still time-consuming.

With the system booted and the internal hard drive of the HTPC settled down, I took to characterizing the sound of the cooler's fan. I adjusted the speed, making sure to note relative sound properties between the lowest and highest speeds achievable on the FanMate. Then I'd try to make an estimation of the cooler's "quietness." This is where the testing became completely subjective. With the HTPC's hard drive running (but idle), I adjusted the fan speed down to the point where I had serious difficulty discerning fan noise over the hard drive.

At this point, I noted the RPMs necessary for "silence" (really, quiet) and let the system idle for five minutes before taking the ambient temperature and idle core temperature for "quiet" fanspeed. I then fired up FurMark's CPU Burner and let it run for ten minutes with the fan at this "silent" speed. After ten minutes, I measured the load CPU temperature for "quiet" and stopped FurMark.

Test programs

At this point I turned the fan up to maximum speed and noted the peak RPMs while I let the CPU cool for another five minutes before recording the core temperature once more, for maximum speed idle. I then fired up FurMark again and let it run for another 10 minutes before recording the core temperature reached for load at maximum fan speed.

Once I was satisfied with my test results (and made sure to note any changes in the cooler's fan sound since I'd turned it on), I stopped FurMark, let the system cool for a bit and shut the system down with Fast Shutdown, making sure the FanMate was again on maximum. I snapped pictures of the thermal paste spread on the cooler, cleaned everything up and repacked the cooler in its packaging before unpacking the next one.

In all, pretty basic testing procedures. I performed the testing in my basement, with all air-handling and laundry equipment (air conditioning, dehumidifier, washer and dryer) turned off for maximum quiet. I was able to complete this testing over the course of three days, in my free time.

Anyway, without further ado, let's get to the testing!

The Contestants

In this section, I'll walk through each cooler in detail, starting with the
two I already own.

Intel Stock Cooler (Conroe)

The first cooler in this roundup is one that many, many people reading this
will be familiar with. Looking eerily similar to ThermalTake's
CL-P0501
, the Intel cooler isn't really that bad on the face of things:
copper core, extruded aluminum fins, frameless fan, PWM control... It'd be a
revolutionary cooler if you took it back to 2002. :-)

Stock Intel cooler

The upside of aluminum extrusion is that the whole unit acts (thermally) as
a single piece of metal (which it is). When you mate two pieces of metal after
the fact, there will always be at least some thermal resistance, even if the
pieces are soldered or use thermal interface material (thermal paste).

The downside of extrusion is that you can't extrude fins that are particularly
thin without sophisticated heating and cooling techniques that most heatsink
manufacturers (admittedly low-end manufacturers in the grand scheme of things)
simply don't have access to.

The fins on the stock cooler are also smooth. This keeps the surface area of
the fins down, which will hurt cooling performance (more surface area = more
opportunities for heat to transfer from the fin to the air).

The cooler uses the ubiquitous "pushpin" design that is signature Intel. Love it or hate it, the reality is that most of the coolers at this price level are going to use simplistic mounting systems like this.

It installs easily enough, once you figure out that the arrows on the pushpins indicate which direction you should turn them to release the cooler, rather than install it (remember: righty-tighty, lefty-loosey!). The job of installing it is also made considerably easier by having the motherboard outside of the case, as positive engagement of the pushpins is much simpler to verify when the back of the board is visible. I recommend anchoring the pushpins in a star pattern (top-left, bottom-right, top-right, bottom-left) and ideally in pairs to ensure the most even force distribution possible.

Sound Characteristics

The Intel cooler at maximum speed produces a low-pitched hum, and the tightly-packed, thick aluminum fins generate a great deal of turbulence as air from the fan rushes over them. The result is a noticeable -- though not entirely unpleasant -- humming, whooshing sound. It's not especially loud, but it easily drowns out the hard drive at full speed.

Fortunately, the fan produces no surprises as the speed is turned down, and the humming and whooshing drop in intensity until about 800 RPMs, when they slip beneath the sound of the idling hard drive still installed in the HTPC's case.

Performance

Performance was... pretty bad. Temps were well controlled at idle whether the cooler was running flat-out or whispering. Load temps, on the other hand, while reasonably well-controlled at speed, were third worst at more tolerable noise levels.

Intel Stock Cooler (Conroe)
Quiet
Max
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
805
29°C
62°C
34.5°C
1630
28°C
52°C
24.5°C

Arctic Cooling Alpine 11 GT Rev. 2

Next up is a cooler that gets a lot of good press and is available for very
reasonable prices in large online retailers. Plus, it says "Arctic Cooling"
on it, that makes it great, right? Well...

The Alpine 11 GT is a conventional cooler. It's an extruded aluminum block,
solid on the bottom with straight, full-length radiator fins reaching for the
sky, and capped with a signature Arctic white frameless fan.

That fan is fairly small, and while it uses Arctic's characteristic upside-down
fan mounting, it lacks the expected rubber vibration-isolation system that usually
accompanies an Arctic cooler.

The cooler mounts using pushpins that are very similar to the ones we saw on
the Intel cooler. Arctic very thoughtfully cuts a portion of the cooler's bottom
plate to allow the heatsink to fit near close-mounted power capacitors, such
as those present on the 45CMX.

Sound Characteristics

The first thing you notice after turning this cooler on, especially after using the Intel cooler is how... loud it is. Disappointingly, at top speed, it's markedly louder than the Intel, with a higher-pitched tone and a strange blade harmonic that sounds like it's coming from anywhere but the cooler.

The fan quiets down nicely, though, and by 1100 RPMs has stepped politely into the background.

The entire cooler isn't obnoxious, but it's a shame it isn't quieter than the stock cooler. A lot to ask for, with a smaller, faster fan than the Intel cooler, but, c'mon, it's Arctic Cooling!

Performance

This noise would be acceptable if the cooler's performance were up to par, but it just isn't.

Before I get into the numbers, I want you to know that I'm not an Arctic Cooling hater. My proudest gaming machine (an overclocked Socket-A Athlon XP-M) was very successfully cooled by an Arctic Copper Silent 2 back in the day. I again went to Arctic for that machine's successor, using an Arctic Alpine 64 Pro to push an Athlon II X3 435 to well north of 3.25 GHz. So it was natural that I'd select Arctic for my home theater PC.

As it turns out, Arctic really should have just left this cooler on the drawing board.

Idle temps were higher than the Intel cooler, doubtless owing to the cooler being made entirely from aluminum, which isn't as efficient a conductor of heat as copper. Load temps, both at quiet and loud, were the worst of the bunch.

Arctic Cooling Alpine 11 GT Rev. 2
Quiet
Max
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
1080
30°C
69°C
42°C
2064
29°C
58°C
31°C

Fortunately for Arctic Cooling, the Alpine GT has a bigger brother.

Arctic Cooling Alpine 11 Pro Rev. 2

The Alpine 11 Pro Rev. 2 is pretty much the same cooler as the GT. There's
just more of it.

The heatsink is larger, there are more fins, the fan is larger and -- crucially
-- Arctic's signature rubber fan mounts return for the Alpine 11 Pro.





The Alpine 11 Pro uses a mounting bracket instead of pushpins, and won't be
the last cooler in this roundup to do so. In this case, mounting is easy enough
(though it took some small pliers for me to exert enough force on the bracket
pegs to secure them) and when the cooler itself is finally screwed down to the
bracket, the whole assembly is very secure.

Sound Characteristics

The Alpine 11 Pro lived up to the reputation of Arctic's previous coolers, delivering a pleasant midrange hum and accompanying "whoosh" from the considerable amount of air the frameless fan managed to move. It mercifully lacked the annoying harmonic of the GT, and was able to get impressively quiet at moderate speeds, allowing it to still move a decent amount of air while remaining masked by the hard drive's muffled hum.

Performance

Now this is an Arctic cooler. Performance was excellent, ahead of every other conventional cooler on this list at both quiet and fast fan speeds. Performance approaches the two heatpipe tower coolers at both fan speeds.

Arctic Cooling Alpine 11 Pro Rev. 2
Quiet
Max
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
1188
27°C
54°C
27°C
2109
24°C
48°C
21°C

Rosewill RCX-Z90-AL

The Rosewill RCX gets the dubious honor of being the cheapest cooler in this roundup. Were corners cut and sacrifices made to achieve an $8 cooler?

Right away, the first sacrifice becomes obvious: any and all R&D budget.
This cooler looks almost exactly like the Intel cooler (and the Thermaltake
it's based on). Aside from a frameless fan and adjustable pushpins, this is
basically the stock cooler.





Well, the Intel cooler did what it could with a copper core and aluminum fins.
Surely, at $8, we couldn't be so lucky with the Rosewill, could we?



No, we're not. Aluminum core, aluminum fins... this doesn't add up to promising performance potential.

Let's see how it did on the CPU.

Sound Characteristics

Oh man, I thought the Alpine GT was loud. Firing this sucker up full-speed yields a shocking amount of broadband wind noise. This cooler actually made me wish I had an SPL meter, just to demonstrate how much louder this cooler was than the rest of the batch. The fan quieted down significantly when reduced with the FanMate, but never quite dipped under the hard drive. There was a persistent low-frequency pulsation that, no matter how much I lowered the speed, kept me aware of the cooler's presence the whole time.

Performance

Fortunately, this cooler wasn't a complete repeat of the Alpine GT, and the noise actually pays off in cooling performance. Never underestimate a high-static-pressure heatsink fan.

Rosewill RCX-Z90-AL
Quiet
Max
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
1136
27°C
58°C
31°C
3027
25°C
48°C
21°C

SilenX Effizio EFZ-92HA2

The last two "conventional" coolers aren't really that conventional.

Now we're going to look at one of the more interesting coolers on the market
at any price, let alone the $10 I paid for it online: SilenX's crazy-looking
EFZ-92HA2.

The SilenX, like the Alpine 11 Pro, clips tightly to a separate bracket secured
to the motherboard with plastic pushpins. This makes it compatible with AMD
coolers, unlike the Rosewill and Alpine 11 GT.

Overall, the design seems to make sense: a metal block that wicks away heat from the CPU and conducts it out to an impressive array of fins arranged around a frameless fan. Seems logical, right?

The SilenX is thoughtfully sculpted to avoid interfering with motherboard components.
It's not as tall as the Intel cooler, but it is quite a bit wider, so this is
a welcome bit of engineering on SilenX's part.



So, then, what is this base made of? What futuristic heat-conducting material
is this cooler equipped with?

It's a $10 cooler, so it's 100% aluminum. However, most interesting is its
construction. Rather than being made from a solid block of metal to which many
fins are soldered, the Effizio is actually composed of 48 specially-shaped aluminum
fins that are clamped together at extreme pressure and naturally fan out in
the manner seen here.

The fins are very wavy, which is a promising nod towards cooling performance,
as more fin surface area and turbulence around those fins leads to better cooling
capability, in general.



The bottom appears to have then been machined flat. It's not particularly smooth,
but it should get the job done. I was very interested to see how this cooler
performed after seeing how it was constructed. Clamping multiple discrete cooling
fins together should work... there's no reason it wouldn't. But how well would
it work? Let's find out.

Sound Characteristics

The SilenX's Effizio frameless fan produces a pleasant-sounding higher-pitched hum at full speed, and the whoosh of turbulent air through the cooler's fins is very evident. Still, this is the quietest cooler in the roundup so far, and reducing the fan speed lead to a reduction in pitch of the fan hum from the top speed near 1800 RPM down through about 1200 RPM, when the intensity finally started to drop away. By about 1000 RPM, the cooler had dropped back into the background behind the harddrive's idle noise. I was extremely impressed by how quiet this cooler was at all speeds.

Performance

The SilenX turned in a solid performance, slotting in ahead of the stock cooler at "quiet" and just behind it at full speed.

SilenX Effizio EFZ-92HA2
Quiet
Max
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
980
27°C
58°C
32°C
1776
25°C
53°C
28°C

One caveat with this cooler, and the reason I'd hesitate to recommend it is
that unlike every other cooler in this roundup, the SilenX lacked a PWM-controlled
fan. If you've got a fan controller already (like my FanMate), it's a non-issue,
but with so many motherboards only able to control fan speeds through PWM, I'd
reserve this cooler for an advanced builder.

Zalman CNPS7000V (AL)

Hmm... This looks familiar, doesn't it?

This is the great-granddaddy of the SilenX cooler. The originator of the clamped-together-fins
design that the SilenX has copied.

Well, has the master been succeeded by the student? Let's take a closer look at the Computer Noise Prevention System 7000.



The Zalman and the SilenX are strikingly similar, but there are some differences.





The Zalman has more fins, but they lack the wavy profile of the SilenX. They
appear to be thinner, however.

The Zalman is slightly shorter than the SilenX, a boon for installing this
cooler into a cramped case.

However, the Zalman's fan impeller is made of gross acrylic. While it looks
great, hard acrylic usually amplifies the stator noise within the motor, making
the fan sound louder and higher-pitched than a fan made of softer plastics like
PET, PBT or even ABS.

Well, let's install this bad boy and see how it does.

Sound Characteristics

At full tilt, the Zalman turns in a disappointing performance, with a higher-pitched blade hum and whooshing air noise that's louder than the stock cooler.

At lower RPMs, however, the whooshing and whirring subside, and around 1200 RPMs, the fan noise finally slips beneath the noise floor of the HTPC's hard drive. Unfortunately, this is close to its minimum speed, so hopes for this cooler being supremely quiet while PWM controlled look grim.

The noise the cooler makes isn't entirely unpleasant, and it's quieter than the Alpine GT. The fan also doesn't present any surprises, and doesn't click at all during speed reduction.

Performance

All right, so it's not quiet at top speed, but it can get quiet, so how does it do when it's quieted down?

Zalman CNPS7000V (AL)
Quiet
Max
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
1134
24°C
54°C
30°C
2473
24°C
47°C
23°C

Gelid Solutions CC-Siberian-01

This is the other interesting cooler in this roundup. The Gelid Siberian is a seriously small, cross-platform HTPC cooler that I initially really, really liked. The fan looks serious and the fins have a cool dimpling on them that promises above-average cooling performance.

Unfortunately, it's promising more than it can deliver. In the detail shot,
you can see why. While the dimpling is a great touch, and really could make
this an impressive cooler, you can also see the bad part of the cooler's construction:
those dimpled cooling fins are simply pressed into a too-large aluminum heat
block.









Sound Characteristics

Initial impressions upon powering up the cooler are: "Wow, that's quieter than I thought it'd be" followed by "Oh no, it clicks!"

The fan produces a subdued humming noise, and there's a telltale whoosh of the air it's moving over those dimpled cooling fins. The worst part, however, is that the motor clicks. As fan speed is reduced, the humming and whooshing of the fan's blades subsides, only to be supplanted by the stupid clicking of the motor. Because of the intensity of the clicking noise from the motor, the "quiet" speed of this cooler was a ridiculously low 500RPMs. You can probably guess where this is going. That said, the Gelid's fan can slow to an impressive 230 RPM, but given the cooler's terrible performance at its "quiet" speed, I can't recommend this cooler at all.

Performance

Well, the Alpine GT has been dethroned. We have an even more terrible cooler.

Again, maybe with a better fan this could've been a contender. Who knows?

Gelid Solutions CC-Siberian-01
Quiet
Max
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
500
31°C
81°C
56°C
2100
28°C
57°C
32°C

Tower Coolers

The last two coolers in this comparison are two low-end tower coolers, the
Logisys MC2002GX / Deep Cool GAMMAXX 200 and the Cooler Master Hyper T2.

Both coolers are twin-heatpipe towers with 92mm PWM fans. Both coolers use
metal mounting hardware to mount to either AMD or Intel motherboards. Both coolers
use direct-contact heatpipes, a surprising feature for this price level. Finally,
both coolers use simple aluminum mounting blocks with short radiator fins on
them and fairly sparse vertical stacks of pressed-on aluminum cooling fins.

Some differences become apparent upon closer inspection, however. Differences
that could manifest in their performance numbers and in their general longevity.

The first difference of note is the two fan mounting schemes. The Logisys uses
a conventional, cheap spring-clip mount whereas the Cooler Master uses a nicer-looking
plastic fan bracket. However, the Cooler Master's fan is riveted into the fan
mount. That's right, it's not replaceable. I'm positive that this is to preserve
sales of their more-expensive heatpipe coolers. Another thing you notice right
away is the shape of the heatpipes. Heatpipes work best when there is a distinct
"hot" end and "cold" end. That's why you see the arrangement
you see in all of the high-end heatpipe coolers on the market: C-shaped or U-shaped
heatpipes that start at the CPU and end at the fin stack. The Cooler Master
uses two looped heatpipes, however, creating a much more impressive-looking
contact patch than the Logisys unit. If experience is any indicator, however,
the looped heatpipes of the Hyper T2 will not perform as well.

Without further ado, let's look at the last two coolers, starting with the Cooler Master.

Cooler Master Hyper T2

The Hyper T2, like the Gelid Siberian, includes slick, premium packaging and
really makes you feel like you're purchasing something special.

Mounting hardware is included in a separate box inside the package and there
are clear instructions. For Intel sockets, metal brackets with (guess what?)
pushpins are used to secure the cooler to the CPU. AMD mounting uses a clip
that hooks into the standard heatsink mounts on Socket FM2 / AMD3 motherboards.

The CM Hyper T2 is certainly attractive-looking, there's no doubt. The looped
heatpipes give it a distinct look, as well.

The bottom of the heatsink is covered by a nice sticker to prevent oxidation,
and the two looped heatpipes make for an impressive-looking contact patch.

Sound Characteristics

The Hyper T2 can make some noise. It's not as bad, subjectively, as the Alpine 11 GT, but it's not as good as the Alpine 11 Pro. There are some blade harmonics. In fact, most of the noise is impeller noise; the air going through the fins has a very straight, laminar path. Quieted down, the fan becomes very agreeable, and still moves a satisfactory amount of air at low speeds.

Performance

Now we're talking. This is a heatpipe cooler. Even at low fan speeds, the Cooler Master ties the Alpine for quiet load temperature. The idle temperatures are oddly high, but I'm going to chalk those up to the looped-heatpipe design more than anything else. The load temperatures are right on, and very good.

Cooler Master Hyper T2.
Quiet
Max
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
960
33°C
54°C
29°C
2368
32°C
50°C
25°C

Logisys MC2002GX / Deep Cool GAMMAXX 200

Now for the dark horse. The no-name, $15 tower heatpipe cooler. Is it worth
the money? A line has been drawn in the sand by the $17 Arctic Alpine 11 Pro
and $17 Cooler Master Hyper T2. Will the Logisys / Deep Cool cut it?

However, Arctic and Cooler Master have lucrative high-end cooler businesses to protect, though, while Logisys is a practically unknown brand. Deep Cool has zero presence in North America, and so has less to lose by trying to undercut the big names in cooler tech.

Let's take a closer look at the MC2002GX / GAMMAXX 200.

The Deep Cool comes packaged in a pretty standard shiny white box with some
components included separately within the packaging. Again, it's a cross-platform
cooler, with Intel and AMD mounting hardware.

I'm going to refer to it as the Deep Cool Gammaxx 200 from here on out, as
the only thing to clue you into it being a Logisys-imported product is a single
sticker on the packaging. All of the documentation, even the fins on the heatsink
itself (every single fin!) are branded Deep Cool. It's a Deep Cool.

It includes a very blue 92mm PWM fan. Looks pretty standard. Decent little
radiator fins on the heat block at the bottom of the cooler to catch stray heat
not absorbed by the heatpipes.

The fin stack is pretty skinny, and the fins are just pressed onto the heatpipes,
rather than being soldered. Of course, this is par for the course at the $15
price level. (Editor's note: Actually, this is the norm even
for $100 tower coolers
.) Notable features include the slightly wavy profile
of the cooling fins in the fin stack and the fact that the two heatpipes are
offset in the stack, unlike the Cooler Master's, which were inline.

The business end of the Gammaxx. I was surprised, honestly, to see two direct-contact
heatpipes on a cooler this cheap. This promises good things. I scraped off the
included (crappy) thermal compound and got to testing.

Sound Characteristics

There's a pronounced "whoosh" from this cooler at full tilt, accompanied by motor noise and some blade harmonics. It's noisy, but not as noisy as the Rosewill. The FanMate alone wouldn't get the fan down to a "silent" level, so I added a resistor to it to try and get it to a manageable speed. Turns out, the motor starts clicking below 1050 RPM. It starts slowly and increases in frequency as the fan is slowed more. Beyond irritating. I set the motor to the lowest speed I could get it to without clicking and ran the low-noise test that way. It was pretty darn quiet, but like the Rosewill, not quite silent.

Performance

Well, well. This is interesting. I had to double-check these numbers before I believed them. Looks like we have a new champ.

The "quiet" temperature is the most impressive, I feel, because if you were to slow the fan to this speed and stick the cooler inside your case, you'd never hear it. And you'd have no temperature problems, either. Very impressive.

Logisys MC2002GX / Deep Cool GAMMAXX 200
Quiet
Max
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
RPM
Idle
Load
Rise
1100
25°C
50°C
25°C
2143
25°C
45°C
20°C

Conclusions

The important points in graph form:

The data makes it look pretty clear. Anything but the Alpine GT and the Gelid
will get you good cooling performance (better than stock, at least), and as
we know from the testing, the Rosewill is loud enough to avoid.

My recommendations

You're free to buy any cooler you'd like, of course. I'd like to share some
thoughts on which coolers I feel really stood out in this comparison.

Best Cooler: Logisys Cool Gammaxx 200 - If you have the space in your
PC's case for a tower cooler, it's really hard to go wrong with the Logisys.
Yes, really. It's a good cooler let down by a mediocre fan, but because it'd
be so easy to replace it, you'd be crazy not to get it. As it is, if you need
serious cooling on a budget (say, for overclocking your FM2+ APU), you can't
get anything more powerful under $20.

Best Cooler for a Small Case: Arctic Cooling Alpine 11 Pro Rev. 2 - If
you can't quite fit a tower cooler (or you're not overclocking), the Alpine
11 Pro turns in impressive numbers while being very consistently quiet all around.

Best Low Profile Cooler: Zalman CNPS7000V (AL) - If you just don't have
the space for the Alpine 11 Pro, I would go with the Zalman. Despite the fan's
noise profile, it has PWM control and at quiet speeds cools as well or better
than most of the coolers here.

There you have it! Happy cooling!

SPCR MEASUREMENTS & ANALYSIS

The use of the Zalman Fanmate fan speed controller imposed a limit on
the top speed of all the tested fans. The maximum voltage/speed for each
fan was not the standard 12V, but something close to 11V. We've measured
10.8V in the past. The Fanmate has a ~1.2V DC loss when its control is
set to max. This means most of the coolers' fans can run a bit faster,
make a little more noise while doing so, and cool slightly better at top
speed.

The QUIET fan speeds listed here are somewhat arbitrary. They are the
speeds at which the coolers became quiet enough to be masked by the hard
drive and power supply noise in Andrew's system. This is a reasonable
marker for "quiet" for non-obsessive PC users seeking to reduce
noise. Most users would be pleased with the noise level of almost any
of the coolers at the QUIET test RPM, and most would be unhappy with the
MAX speed. It's possible that many would choose a heatsink/fan speed somewhere
between the two tested points.

As a group, the SPL at minimum speed falls in a tight group between 12.5
and 15.5 [email protected], a spread of just 3 dBA, which vindicates Andrew's subjective
"quiet" speed choices. Even the highest QUIET level (15.5 BA)
is very quiet, generally below ambient acoustic conditions in most places.
There's much higher noise variance at the MAX speeds, as the RPM itself
varied much more, from a low of 1630 to a high of over 3000. All in all,
Andrew's subjective comments on the sound are fairly well supported by
the SPL measurements (though you can also judge for yourself by listening
to the recordings described below).

Finally, recordings were made of all the coolers. These MP3s are linked
in the table below. Each recording consists of 7 seconds of silence in
SPCR's anechoic chamber (10~11 dBA), followed by 10 seconds at the QUIET
setting, and 10 seconds at the MAX setting. This allows you to judge the
noise qualitatively. Keep in mind that our hyper-sensitive microphone
& recording system lets you hear every detail and nuance of the noise,
and if you turn the volume of your player up, it will be very exaggerated.
The best way to listen is to use the first 7 seconds to set the volume
so that hiss becomes just audible, then back it down a touch to make it
inaudible. Then leave the volume setting untouched while listening to
all the MP3s.

DATA SUMMARY with SPCR Acoustic Measurements
Cooler / MP3 Recording
Slow
Fast†
Sound as heard by Andrew
RPM
Rise
SPL*
RPM
Rise
SPL*
Intel
Stock (Conroe)
805
34
13.6
1630
28
21.3
Moderate
Alpine
GT
1080
42
13.6
2064
29
27.2
Loud
Alpine
11 Pro
1188
27
15.4
2109
24
30.7
Quiet
Rosewill
Z90
1136
30
14.8
3027
25
41.2
V. Loud
SilenX
92HA2
980
32
14.4
1776
25
28.3
Quiet
Zalman
7000
1134
30
14.5
2473
24
33.6
Moderate
Gelid
Siberian
499
56
12.5
2109
32
25.5
Clicky
CM
Hyper T2
960
29
13.5
2368
25
33.3
Moderate
Logisys
MC2002GX
1100
25
14.3
2143
20
31.5
Moderate
*SPL = Sound Pressure Level measured in dB, A-weighted,
@ 1m distance.

†Note that all the fans were connected through a Zalman Fanmate
control, which has a slight voltage drop the maximum speed setting.
None of the fans are at 12V; it is closer to 11V. In the SPCR lab,
we found the fans run 200~300 RPM faster at 12V, and typically ~2
dBA louder.

There is no easy way to compare this data to SPCR CPU reviews, as we
use considerably hotter, completely different platforms, and a different
testing procedure. Even with different samples of the same core gear,
there would be differences in temperature sensors and actual power/thermal
characteristics. Having stated all that, Andrew's test platform is closest
to our small
heatsink test platform
.

* * *

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:

NZXT Kraken X31 & X41 Liquid CPU Coolers
Noctua NH-D15: Update to an Icon
Scythe Kotetsu CPU Cooler: A Compact King
be quiet! Shadow Rock Slim CPU Cooler
Thermalright HR-22 CPU Heatsink
Noctua NH-U14S Slim 140mm Tower Cooler

* * *

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