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CoolerMaster Vortex Dream Heatsink/Fan

August 18, 2004 by Edward
Ng
with Mike Chin

Product
Cooler Master Vortex Dream HSF
Manufacturer
Cooler Master
MSRP
US$21.99

Today, we're taking a close look at Cooler Master's latest "budget enthusiast cooler," the Vortex Dream. (Editor's Note: Who dreams up these names anyway?!) Let's see how this extremely affordable HSF fares in SPCR's demanding HSF torture tests!

DATA FROM COOLERMASTER

FEATURES:

  • Uni-direction fin heatsink provides maximum heat dissipation area and cooling.
  • Adjustable speed control fan.
  • Ultra silent operation starting at 16dBA.
  • Compatible with both Intel Pentium 4 Socket 478 and AMD Socket 754/940
  • Low Profile! 50mm high only! Compact size!
  • One-set "Crab" design clip. Tool-Free, easy to install!

SUPPORT CPUs:

  • Intel Prescott 3.6G and high

    (Prescott FMB1.5)
  • AMD Athlon 64
  • AMD Athlon 64 FX-51/Opteron

SPECIFICATION:

  • Socket Type: Socket 478&Socket 754/940
  • Dimensions(H/S): 83x68.5x30mm
  • Fan Dimensions: 70x70x20
  • Fan Speed: 1800rpm to 4500rpm
  • Fan Airflow: 41.97CFM
  • Fan Air Pressure: 6.80 mm.H2O
  • Fan Noise: 16dBA to 35dBA
  • Voltage Rating: 12V
  • Heat Sink Material: Full Copper.
  • Connector: 3 pin
  • Weight: 512g

 

DESIGN

The Vortex Dream is a straightforward design, similar to Spire's CoolWave heatsink / fan: A heatsink formed from a single piece of copper with skived-fins and a 70mm fan on top. The 70 x 20 mm fan screws down to the heatsink together with the mounting clips.

While similar in design to the clips on the Spire CoolWave, the Vortex Dream's clips require more force to engage them. Another difference is that the Cooler Master has the user hook in the clips on one side, and then press down on the other side to secure the two.

(An aside from the Editor: There is a dismaying amount of eco-unfriendly plastic used in this retail package. Yes, it's a nice display package for retail stores, the trenches where battles for the consumer's attention are won and lost, but surely, CoolerMaster could be a wee bit more environmentally conscious! Now back to your regular programming...)



The primary press-down side of the clip frame. It takes a forceful push to lock it in.



Hook this side in first, then press down on the opposite side to engage the other two hooks.



Without the fan: It's all from a single piece of copper.

QUALITY and ACCESSORIES

Cooler Master ships the Vortex Dream with a pad of thermal interface material pre-applied. It was cleaned it off in preparation for Arctic Silver V. Doing this revealed a surface of excellent flatness and perfectly effective smoothness.



Vortex Dream contact surface, with the factory-applied thermal pad removed.

The cooler is designed for both P4 and K8 platforms, and include all necessary accessories for installation on either platform, as well as a couple nice add-ons for either front or back panel placement of the fan speed control dial, which is directly attached to the stock fan.



1. Vortex Dream cooler

2. 3.5" brushed aluminum drive bay faceplate for speed control knob

3. Expansion slot backplate for speed control knob

4. Fan speed control knob

5. Plastic, faux-chrome speed control knob garnish

6. Black, Philips-head screws for mounting 3.5" bay faceplate

7. Long, chrome, Philips-head screws for installing K8 mounting frame

8. K8 retention frame (for P4, cooler uses stock retention frame)

9. 1" square Cooler Master case sticker (not shown)

ASSEMBLY

Vortex Dream utilizes the stock retention bracket
on Socket 478 mainboards and includes a retention frame that must replace the stock one for K8 (Athlon 64). Once the thermal interface material is applied, the
rest of the installation job is tool-free. Slip the sink into the retention clip, with the narrow side down first, hooking in the clips on that side. Once the narrow side is hooked in, just press down on the wider side until the clips on this side click in and you're ready to roll. Don't try to perform the installation in your tower system while it's standing up; the amount of pressure necessary to clip the sink in is more than enough to force the tower over onto its side.

TEST PLATFORM & PROCEDURE

The test bed has changed slightly since my last review, with the power supply modified to use an 80mm Panaflo L1A for extremely low noise, and the 160GB Seagate 7200.7 replaced with a 40GB 7200.7. These changes reduce the test bed's noise level so I can perform listening tests more easily. I have also moved the test bed to a location with more consistent ambient temperatures.



Further evolved test bed: PSU and HDD are both quieter,

and stability of ambient temperatures has also improved.

Key Components in Socket
478 Test Bed

All testing was performed with the equipment in open-air rather than in an enclosure.

Intel Celeron 1.7
Willamette core -- Intel's official Thermal Design Power (TDP) spec is 63.5 Watts; the more realistic Maximum Power (MP) as calculated by CPUHeat & CPUMSR, is 79.8Watts.

VIA P4PB400 mainboard -- VIA P4X400 chipset, on-die CPU thermal diode
monitoring

eVGA GeForce2 MX400 PCI graphics adapter -- passively cooled (graciously
provided by forum member, Trodas)

Generic DDR SDRAM -- one stick, 256MB

Seagate ST340014A -- 7200rpm, 3.5", 40GB PATA HDD

SeaSonic Super Silencer 300 -- stock fan swapped for 80mm Panaflo L1A

Arctic Silver V thermal compound

CPUBurn load-induction software

Motherboard Monitor 5.3.7.0 system monitoring software

Extech True RMS MultiMeter 22-816 -- digital multimeter and thermal
probe utilized for monitoring ambient temperature and accurate setting of

Zalman FanMate adjustable inline fan speed controllers with speed-reading
passthrough feature (2; one set for 5V, one set for 7V)

All heatsinks were cleaned
and thermal interface material was allowed
to properly set by cycling between completely off and full load several
times for a minimum duration of 24 hours total.

All tests were run minimum
of 25 minutes to allow stabilization of temperatures, with 20 minute cool down
periods between test runs; they were run through three times to verify
accuracy; any differing results were averaged before showing up here.

All testing was conducted with
an ambient temperature of 23C. If the ambient climbed or dropped out of
this range, testing was immediately stopped and did not start again until
ambient returned to 23C. Ambient temperature was measured at a position
in front of and beneath the test bed several inches to ensure that test bed
heat did not factor into the readings.

  • Diode: The temperature of the Willamette core onboard diode, as reported by Motherboard
    Monitor. The temperature readings from the testbed have been calibrated to remove motherboard-induced reporting errors
  • Temp. Rise refers to the difference between the ambient temperature
    (23°C)
    and the temperature as reported.
  • °C/W refers to the rise in temperature (over ambient)
    for each watt of heat dissipated by the processor. The CPU power figures used for the calculations:
    • TDP (Thermal Design Power) = 63.5W
    • MP (Maximum Power) = 79.8W
  • Noise: Reported in dBA @ 1 meter as measured by Mike Chin on his heatsink/fan samples.

TEST RESULTS

Curiously, the voltage provided to the fan by its speed controller could not be accurately measured. There were two reasons:

1) The proximity of my hand near the fan wires or the rheostat itself causes the fan voltage to drop. The slowdown could be heard as a change in the pitch of the fan's noise and seen as a reduction in monitored RPM.

2) Applying the voltmeter's probe on the + contact also caused a drop in voltage.

So, the tests were performed with the stock speed control set at full speed in conjunction with a Zalman FanMate. (Two fanmates were used, actually: One set for 5V and the second set for 7V.) Also included are the results with a Panaflo 80L1A. Results for the similarly priced Spire CoolGate and the performance benchmark Zalman 7000A-Cu are included for comparison.

Test 1: Stock Fan at Various Voltages

Stock Fan w/Fanmate1 Controller
Fan Speed
Idle
Load
°C Rise
°C/W MP
°C/W TDP
Noise

(dBA/1m)
12V: 4600 RPM
29°C
44°C
21
0.26
0.33
48
7V: 3200 RPM
29°C
45°C
22
0.28
0.35
43
5V: 2600 RPM
29°C
46°C
23
0.29
0.36
34

At full power, the Vortex Dream's fan is blazing away at 4600 RPM. The fan is extremely noisy, measured at 48 dBA/1m on Mike Chin's sample. He says it is similar to the noise produced by the Scythe FC-50 stock fan at 12V. The performance is very good but the noise is totally unacceptable.

Interestingly, as the fan speed is slowed all the way down to 5V (to a speed just 56% of max), the cooling performance worsens by only 2°C while the noise drops by 14 dBA, or about 1.5 times quieter. All that huffing and puffing really doesn't amount to much: It's clear that with any given heatsink design, there is a certain optimum airflow level for high cooling-to-noise performance ratio. Beyond that point, additional airflow provides only marginal gains at the cost of major noise.

5V Comparisons

Since the noise performance is unacceptable at all but the 5V level, let's see how it compares at that voltage against some other heatsinks we've reviewed:

Comparison with Stock Fans at 5V
Heatsink
RPM
Load
°C Rise
°C/W MP
°C/W TDP
Noise

(dBA/1m)
Vortex Dream
2600
46°C
23
0.29
0.36
34
Spire CoolGate
1700
54°C
30
0.38
0.47
-
Zalman 7000A-Cu
1350
48°C
24
0.30
0.38
23

The fact that the Vortex Dream can nose past the excellent Zalman 7000 seems quite a feat... until you consider the noise. The Vortex Dream fan is spinning a lot faster and making more than twice the noise. A few SPCR members might be OK with this level of noise, and there are probably lots of overclockers who would think this inaudible, but for most people interested in a quiet PC, it is still too noisy.

With Built-in Control at Minimum

It turns out that simply turning the attached speed control to min (with it connected directly to the fan header on the motherboard) gives a voltage lower than the 5V min of the Fanmate, and it makes the fan spin slower and quieter: Mike measured 29 dBA/1m at this setting which is at least below the 30 dBA/1m level we define as quiet. (Editor's Note: It's still 12 dBA higher -- more than twice the noise -- than the 16 dBA claimed by CoolerMaster; did they put the sound level meter on the next floor?)

Then, in order to see how much quieter the fan could go, the built-in speed control was turned down while plugged into the Fanmate set to min. After some experimentation, it was determined that 1600 RPM was about the lowest speed at which a safe cooling performance could be obtained. The two results are tabulated below, along with a comparison against the Zalman 7000Cu at 5V.

Stock Fan at or lower than 2600 RPM (5V)
Heatsink
RPM
Load
°C Rise
°C/W MP
°C/W TDP
Noise

(dBA/1m)
VD - Fanmate1 at Min; Built-in Control at max (5V)
2600
46°C
23
0.29
0.36
34
VD - Built-in Control at Min
2350
48°C
23
0.31
0.39
29
VD - Built-in Control at 1 o'clock; Fanmate1 at Min
1600
56°C
33
0.41
0.52
22
Zalman 7000A-Cu at 5V
1350
48°C
24
0.30
0.38
23

As you can see in the table above, at roughly the same low noise level of 22-23 dBA/1m, the Vortex Dream is a hot 8°C behind the Zalman. The 33°C temp rise is at the limit of safe cooling for the CPU. The noise of the fan at this speed has some buzzing, humming and chuffing, but it's all at a low enough level that none of it is really consequential. It will be masked by other component noises or damped by the case.

Substituting a Reference Panaflo 80L1A

Our reference quiet fan is the Panaflo 80L1A. One of several Japanese-made Panaflo 80L1A samples generously contributed to my lab by online retailer Jab-Tech was tried on this HS. In order to install the 80mm Panaflo, it was necessary to use a 70-80mm adapter. It's the translucent blue plastic piece in the photo below.



The translucent plastic adaptor allows utilization of an 80mm fan on the Vortex Dream.

Vortex Dream with Panaflo 80LIA fan
Fan Voltage
Idle
Load
°C Rise
°C/W MP
°C/W TDP
Noise*

(dBA/1m)
12V
30°C
48°C
25
0.31
0.39
24
9V
31°C
54°C
31
0.39
0.49
19
7V
31°C
63°C
40
0.50
0.63
16~17
5V
Test stopped when CPU load temp reached 83°C.
????
* The noise of the Panaflo at <7V is so low that it requires extremely low ambient conditions; the 16 dBA low limit of the acoustic lab in summer is not low enough.

Performance is fine with the Panaflo at 12V. It is already much quieter and smoother than the stock fan at its minimum stock speed control setting. At 9V, the cooling performance is still quite acceptable, and the noise is below that of the stock fan at any usable speed (i.e., 1600 RPM). At 7V, it reached the marginal stage. (A temperature rise of 40°C is really not acceptable.) At 5V, it was obviously unusable.

Questions of practicality and cost come in here: With the 70-to-80mm adapter, fanmate1 and Panaflo fan, you can add a minimum of $15 to the $22 cost of the Vortex Dream. That puts the cost too close to better performing HSF to make it a really viable option. You'd be better off spending $37 on a HSF that performs better straight out of the box.

CONCLUSIONS

"Ultra silent," the Vortex Dream is not. The 70mm rifle bearing fan included with this cooler is much noisier than several earlier 80mm Cooler Master Rifle Bearing fans in my possession. The 80mm clear plastic LED models that I have had previous experience with; those fans were extremely smooth, with negligible mechanical noise, and run at low speeds that little or no cause air turbulence noise. The fan that comes with this cooler makes distinct ticking and buzzing noises at virtually any speed.

The only way to run the stock fan quiet enough is with the controller at minimum. However, the noise is still not great. Only when the fan can be fed a voltage substantially lower than 12V (5V with the Fanmate1) and the speed control turned down judiciously does the fan get quiet enough. Its cooling power at that point is marginal.

There are no simple quieter substitutes for the 70mm fan. 70mm fans are rare and we have yet to identify a good quiet one. The 80mm Panaflo L1A at 8~9V, with an adapter, makes for a decent balance of cooling and low noise, but with the total cost approaching $40, you might as well get a better HSF to start with. It's basically a decent HS and package hampered by a poor quality.

The Good

* Low cost.

* Light weight, low profile design should fit just about any motherboard.

* Tool-free mounting system is very handy.

*
Cools quite effectively.

The Bad

* Stock fan is not easy to replace.

* Too much force needed to secure the clip.

The Ugly

* Stock fan is very noisy, an extremely poor example of Rifle Bearing technology. This fan simply does not meet the demands for quiet computing.

Many thanks to Cooler Master for this Vortex Dream sample.

* * *

Discuss this article in the SPCR Forum.

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