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Thermalright XP-120: 1st 120mm fan CPU heatsink

Sept 13, 2004 by Ralf
Hutter

Product
Thermalright
XP-120
Heatsink
Manufacturer
Thermalright,
Inc
Price
US$49.95

Thermalright has become one of the top contenders
in
the high performance heatsink market in the past two years. They made a nice splash with their beautiful,
all copper SLK series of coolers, then followed it up with their SP-94, one
of the first heatpipe coolers and certainly the most successful. The SP-94
has been a top contender for King of P4 Coolers for the past year and
their SP-97 is a top cooler for AMD CPUs. Their
heatpipe technology, while perhaps not optimally executed, seems to give
another level of cooling ability to the standard Thermalright heatsink design.

The engineers at Thermalright have not been
resting on their laurels. Intel's newest P4 core, the Prescott,
forces system builders to deal with over 100 watts of heat output for the first
time. Thermalright designed the XP-120 to be a Prescott Cooler. They've
taken the well-proven heatpipe-equipped SP-94/97
design and re-engineered it for use with a 120mm fan. To my knowledge, this
is the first commercially available CPU heatsink to feature a 120mm fan.

The XP-120 differs from its predecessors in that the large fins
are made of aluminum instead of copper. They are soldered onto a nickel-plated
solid copper base. The large, hybrid copper/aluminum XP-120 comes in at a
light 370 grams compared to the 590 gram weight of the all-copper SP-94. The
low weight allows the standard plastic Intel retention mechanism to be used. The heavier all-copper heatsinks use bolt-through mounting, necessitating the removal of the motherboard from
the case for installation.

They've also designed a plastic mounting bracket
for K8 AMD boards. This bracket mimics the Intel retention bracket
design so the XP-120 can be attached to K8 boards in the same manner as it attaches
to the Intel bracket. It is, indeed, a cross-platform HS.



XP-120 in all its glory.



Thermalright's typical sturdy and unassuming packaging.



Package contents: Heatsink, AMD retention bracket, mounting hardware,
manual and thermal compound.

SPECIFICATIONS

Compatibility:

AMD: Athlon 64 FX 3200+ (socket 939/940) / Athlon 64 3200+ (socket
754) and above

Intel: Pentium-4 socket 478 3.2 GHz and above

Dimensions: L110 x W125 x H63 (mm) Fin only, without fan

Weight: 370g (heat sink only)

Recommended Fan: Panaflo FBA12G12L1A

FEATURES

  • Multiple heatpipes for well spread heat around aluminum fins
  • Aluminum fins soldered to nickel plated copper base to make effective contact
  • Light weight and easy installation
  • Compatibility across multiple platforms (socket 478/754/939/940)

DESIGN



The underside of the XP-120.

The finish on the base of the XP-120 is very smooth, showing virtually no machining
marks, but it is not polished to a high shine. The base itself is a 1/4" thick
plate of flat copper, 2.000" x 1.600" with the aluminum fins soldered directly
to it. The fins directly above the base are sharply slanted, presumably to keep
the lower portion of the XP-120 safely clear of the manufacturers "keep out"
area for compatibility with most motherboards. Starting at a point about 1.700"
above the surface of the motherboard, the fins make a near-90° bend and
expand out to an area of 3.800" x 4.950". This allows maximum fin area for the
best possible cooling (and a place to mount a 120mm fan!) while also allowing
as much clearance for the components of the motherboard, including caps, NB
heatsinks and sticks of memory. While Thermalright has tried to make the XP-120
fit as many motherboards as possible, potential users are well-advised to check
Thermalright's Motherboard Compatibility charts for
P4
and AMD
motherboards.



Mounted. Note the clearance in the "keep out" area. Some boards
have clearance issues with the curved portion of the heatpipes.

So where do the heatpipes fit into this equation? Basically, a heat pipe consists
of a tube which is filled with a low boiling point liquid. As heat is generated
by the CPU and transferred into the base of the heatsink, the liquid absorbs
this heat and boils into a vapor forcing it to move up the heatpipe. As it moves
further up the tube into the cooling fins, it begins to dissipate
the accumulated heat. As it gives off this heat, the material condenses back
into a liquid and flows down to the base to repeat the cycle over and over. The
giant fins of the XP-120 give enough room for five heatpipes in the cooling
circuit, compared to three heatpipes in the SP-94 and SP-97. This
increases the cooling capacity of the XP-120 over its smaller cousins.

In their news release about the XP120, Thermalright makes two interesting claims:

  • Our Heatpipe construction was redesigned to eliminate any gravity effect and to unleash the capability of the XP-120's performance to operate at 100% in any direction you mount it. The directional aspect of heatpipe performance has been noted in Thermaliright's SP-94 and SP-97, which specificy one or more positions as being less than ideal for cooling. That they have addressed this issue is a good thing.
  • XP-120 is also the first Thermalright product to work well with either suck/blow fan orientation, resulting in less than 1°C in performance [difference] when tested at Thermalright's in-house lab with a 110 W heat source. In the past, Thermalright HS have performed better with the fan blowing down. The change means ducting the CPU heat to an exhaust vent or fan on the back panel is a viable option.

FAN MOUNTING

At the top of the fins we find the typical ledge provided by Thermalright to
position the fan onto the heatsink. The XP-120 has only one set of
ledges as it is designed to work with only a 120mm size fan. The fan is retained
by Thermalright's proprietary system of spring-steel clips, but with a slight
twist. Instead of providing several different sizes of clips and alternative
mounting positions on the fins themselves, they have opted to use one size set
of clips that clip onto the fan at the top of the lower flange. The earlier
style of clips were designed to clip onto the top of the fan itself, necessitating
different clips for fans of different thickness. With
the fan clip of the XP-120, you can mount a fan of any thickness as long as the fan has open corner flanges.

There's the catch: This mounting system will not
work with fans that have closed corner flanges like the
Nexus or Globe fans, both top contenders
for the coveted "Quietest 120mm fan" title. More about this later.

Also included with the XP-120
is a set of stick-on blue silicon rubber strips. These are designed to be stuck
onto the outside edge of the fins just inboard of the ledges so the fan will
sit on top of them and be somewhat decoupled from the heatsink itself.

The base of the XP-120 comes with a set of spring-steel mounting clips attached. These clips mount the heatsink directly to the standard
Intel heatsink retention frame.

While I didn't use it myself, the HS retention frame for the AMD A64 is a pretty slick piece
of work. It replaces the stock AMD
retention frame and is fitted with supplied bolts. The XP-120 (with
its Intel-based clipping mechanism) snap right onto the retention frame. As a nice
bonus, this retention frame will allow any standard clip-on S478 heatsink to
be used on a K8 board. Maybe some e-mails and postcards
to Thermalright would entice them to offer this bracket separately.

Also included in the package is a generous size syringe of commonly used white thermal grease, which I elected not to use. For this
test, as with all my heatsink tests, I used Arctic Silver's Ceramique
for ease of application and nonconductive properties.

For the first time that I'm aware of, Thermalright has actually included an
instruction sheet along with the heatsink. One side has P4 directions, the other
has K8 directions. Both sides are well illustrated, but the parts-list and descriptions
are a bit difficult to understand, at least for someone of my advanced years.

The packaging itself deserves mention. The XP-120 comes packed in Thermalright's
typical sturdy-but-bland cardboard box. Inside however, the contents are lovingly
protected by a formfitting piece of closed cell foam. It
adds up to quite a bit of protection for the somewhat fragile contents. I'd
challenge any shipping company to damage this little puppy!

As with the other Thermalright heatsinks, no fan is provided with the XP-120
but they recommend using the good 'ol Panaflo L1A. With Thermalright's innovative
mounting system, many different brands of 120mm fans can be used on the XP-120,
from mild to wild. For this test, I'll use not only the recommended L1A, but
several other types of 120mm fans that are well known for their very low noise.
For SilentPCReview, it's not lower CPU temperature at any price, but how quietly you can cool your CPU.

INSTALLATION

The XP-120 heatsink in this review was mounted on my standard P4 motherboard.
Assembly was fairly straightforward, but not as easy as Thermalright's instructions suggest.

My normal heatsink reviews are conducted with the reference motherboard sitting
on a piece of antistatic foam, which makes it real easy to mount the heatsink
itself. Since Thermalright has designed the XP-120 for ease of mounting, without
having to remove the board from the case, I figured I'd put their claim to the
test, so I installed my test motherboard into an SLK3700 case. Yes, the XP-120
is mounted with a simple set of snap-on clips, but the massive size of the heatsink
itself looked like mounting it wouldn't be that easy. The clips are completely covered
by the fins on the one side, and mostly blocked by the heatpipes on the other
side, leaving nearly no access when trying to snap them over the
retention bracket.

My motherboard is not on Thermalright's Compatibility
List so it was with some degree of trepidation that I attempted to mount it.
A little trial fitting showed that it would clear any hardware so
I went ahead and mounted it. It ended up clearing all potential obstructions
with room to spare, including the massive aluminum NB heatsink on
this motherboard. It would only fit one way however. If I turn it 180°,
the heatpipes interfere with the Vreg caps on the board.

Thermalright's directions say to slip the hooks opposite the heatpipes into
the retention bracket (presumably while tilting the heatsink itself) and then
"using the hooks as a leverage point, gently push the heatsink down onto
the CPU"
. So far, so good. You're supposed to finish off by using a small
screwdriver to "hook the clips into the hole on the retention bracket".
This is where it gets hairy.

Due to the proximity of the heatpipes,
it's next to impossible to hook the blade of a normal screwdriver into the clips.
The ideal tool for this would be a screwdriver with its end bent at about a 30° angle. Barring this, you just have
to pry hard, push and pray. I finally got it but I would highly recommend
removing the motherboard from the case to gain easier access to the clips. I
later removed the board from the case and found it much easier to mount the
heatsink.

The rest was
easy. I applied the TIM to the IHS, clipped the heatsink onto the retention
bracket , stuck the blue rubber vibration damper strips onto the fins and
clipped my trusty L1A Panaflo onto the top of the heatsink. After that I plugged
to fan into the power cable and was ready to go. If it wasn't for the fiddly
clips, it would take about 2 minutes to accomplish this task.



The installed HSF. Notice how the fans clips snap into the lower
flange of the fan.

TEST FANS

So, the heatsink is mounted and ready to start testing. Excited as a kid before
Christmas, I rummaged through my spare fan boxes and came up with a selection
of various "quiet" 120mm fans to use. The fans I used for this test
included:

  • Thermalright recommended Panaflo FBL12G12L1A;
  • My reference "quiet"
    120mm fan, the OEM Panaflo FBK12G12LH;
  • The plastic Evercool EC12025M12C; and
    last, but not least,
  • A promising newcomer, the Globe S1202512L-3M.



The test fans.

The
two Panaflos are each 38mm thick while all the rest are the "standard"
25mm thick. Due to Thermalright's revised clip mounting method, all of these
fans were mountable with the same set of clips... except for the Globe fans.
The Globe fans have solid corner supports without
open flanges for the Thermalright clips to snap into. This is also the case
with several other of the quieter 120mm fans, such as the Nexus "Real Silent" fan.

There is a fairly easy way around this impediment. I modified the flange of
the Globe fans so that I could use them with the XP-120. I used my Dremel tool
with a 1" diameter grinding stone to grind away all the plastic in the area
between the flanges. Total time was about 10 minutes per fan. I've heard of
others using a small coping saw to cut away the extra plastic. Either way, it's
not too big of a deal, and certainly not enough of a obstacle to keep a silent
PC freak from coming closer to that ultimate goal of Audio Nirvana. (Editor's
Note:
The plastic can probably be cut with any number of manual or
power tools.)



Modified Globe fan on left, original solid corner on right.

ON THE TEST BENCH

Not ever having seen or used any other 120mm heatsink, I compared the XP-120
to my sort-of-reference Zalman
7000AlCu
heatsink. I used the same processor that I've been using in all
my heatsink tests, a Pentium 4, 2.4C. It may not put out as much heat as
a new Prescott, but using this processor will allow me to directly compare the
performance of the new XP-120 against all the other P4 heatsinks
that I've tested during the past year.

I was not able to test the XP-120 in full accordance with
the standard SPCR
testing method
, which calls for the HS to be used with SPCR Reference 80mm Panaflo
L1A.
Nothing but 120mm fans will fit. I decided to
test several different types of "quiet" 120mm fans on the XP-120,
to get a good feel for its performance.



Ye Olde Test Setup.

HS TEST PLATFORM & PROCEDURE

The P4 HS test platform is an open system not enclosed in a case.

Intel P4-2.4C Northwood core - Maximum power is 66.2W.

Intel 875PBZ motherboard - Intel 875P Chipset; on-die CPU
thermal diode monitoring

ATI Radeon 7500 passively cooled video card (AGP)

Mushkin PC3200 Level II - 2 x 512MB DDRAM

Seagate 80GB Barracuda IV hard drive

Seasonic SuperSilencer 300W (rev A1) PSU modded with 5V Panaflo
M1A

Arctic Silver Ceramique Thermal Compound

Two-level metal platform with rubber damping feet. Motherboard on top; other
components below.

CPUBurn processor stress software

Motherboard Monitor 5.3.4.0 software to track CPU temperature
and fan speed

Each heatsink was cleaned and installed on the test system as per the
manufacturer's and Arctic Silver's instructions. Prime95 was then run for
8 hours to verify system stability and cure the Ceramique. The system was
then shut down and not restarted until the next morning when the actual
testing was done. The system was allowed to cool between tests for 30 minutes.
Each test was run for 30 minutes even though all temperatures generally
stabilized within 15 to 20 minutes.

Each heatsink was retested three times on consecutive mornings to check
to the consistency of the results. All results were within 1-2°C of
each other and the average readings are included in the charts.

Ambient temperature was measured at 71-72°F (22°C) over the entire
series of tests. No tests were run unless the ambient temperature was at
that reference level.

* All temperatures in degrees Celsius.

* Diode: Reading from P4-2.4C CPU diode via Motherboard Monitor.

* Temp Rise refers to the difference between ambient temperature and the
diode reading. .

* °C/W refers to the °C of temperature rise per watt of heat dissipated
by the CPU.

RESULTS

I tested the heatsink with each of the fans at 12V, 7V and 5V, blowing down on to the heatsink as well as up.

At 12 Volts, all the fans cooled spectacularly
well, but all were too noisy for serious consideration by SPCR readers. The
Evercool was the loudest, followed by the L1A Panaflo, then the OEM Panaflo
with the Globe coming in as the quietest. None of them were particularly obnoxious
at 12V, especially when compared to a comparable 80mm or 92mm at that same voltage.
All fans were initially tested by mounting them in the typical "blowing-down-on-the-heatsink"
orientation but when I was finished I decided to retest all of them mounted
in the "sucking-up" orientation. All cooled virtually the same in
either orientation. All fans on the XP-120 also performed better than the standard
Zalman 7000AlCu, from 3°C to 7°C. All the 120mm fans were a bit quieter
at 12V than the 92mm Zalman fan at 12V. The Zalman fan had a higher tone to
it's whine as well as more wind noise.

12
Volt Results
Heatsink
Airflow Direction
Idle
Load
°C
rise
°C/W
MP
°C/W
TDP
Panaflo L1A
up
26°C
36°C
14
0.19
0.21
down
25°C
36°C
14
0.19
0.21
OEM Panaflo
up
26°C
37°C
15
0.20
0.23
down
24°C
36°C
14
0.19
0.21
Evercool
up
26°C
35°C
13
0.17
0.20
down
23°C
33°C
11
0.15
0.17
Globe
up
26°C
35°C
13
0.17
0.20
down
25°C
36°C
14
0.19
0.21
Zalman 7000AlCu
down
24°C
40°C
18
0.24
0.27
°C rise refers to the rise in temperature over the
ambient at load.


°C/W - TDP calculations:
Intel's TDP of 66W was used.

°C/W - MP calculations: CPU
Heat& CPUMSR Projects'
estimate of 75W was used.

AT 7 Volts, all the fans cooled great, in either orientation,
with the Evercool performing the best, but it was also the noisiest. The L1A had a bit more whine and clicking noise than its OEM cousin,
and the Globe was by far the quietest with very little whine or wind noise and
just the slightest touch of clicking. At 7V the Zalman drew closer in
performance to the larger fans, but was still louder than the bigger fans.

7
Volt Results
Heatsink
Airflow Direction
Idle
Load
°C
rise
°C/W
MP
°C/W
TDP
Panaflo L1A
up
26°C
38°C
16
0.21
0.24
down
25°C
37°C
15
0.20
0.23
OEM Panaflo
up
26°C
39°C
17
0.23
0.26
down
24°C
38°C
16
0.21
0.24
Evercool
up
26°C
37°C
15
0.20
0.23
down
25°C
37°C
15
0.20
0.23
Globe
up
26°C
39°C
17
0.23
0.26
down
26°C
40°C
18
0.24
0.27
Zalman 7000AlCu
down
24°C
41°C
19
0.25
0.29

AT 5 Volts, all the fans were pretty darn quiet,
probably quiet enough to satisfy most hard-core silent PC enthusiasts. Acoustically,
the Globe was the clear winner at 5V. It was noticeably quieter than the other
three fans, certainly the quietest 120mm fan I've ever heard. It had only
the barest clicking sound, and only if my ears are closer than about 6"
to the fan. It also had almost no air turbulence noise. The cooling ability of the XP-120
with the fans running at 5V was very impressive, especially considering the
ultra-low noise. The Zalman 7000 fan was also very quiet at 5V, perhaps a bit
quieter than any of the 120mm fans other than the Globe.

Note that the Globe fan cooled 4°C better blowing up
than blowing down. This was the only time that a meaningful difference
appeared with change of airflow direction. 41°C at full load with such a quiet
fan is very impressive. The fact that it does it in the blow up direction
is a nice bonus. This configuration is great for experimenting with a CPU duct,
vented directly out the rear of the case, a lá Dell.

5
Volt Results
Heatsink
Airflow Direction
Idle
Load
°C
rise
°C/W
MP
°C/W
TDP
Panaflo L1A
up
27°C
40°C
18
0.24
0.27
down
25°C
39°C
17
0.23
0.26
OEM Panaflo
up
26°C
41°C
19
0.25
0.29
down
26°C
40°C
18
0.24
0.27
Evercool
up
27°C
38°C
16
0.21
0.24
down
26°C
39°C
17
0.23
0.26
Globe
up
27°C
41°C
19
0.24
0.29
down
27°C
45°C
23
0.31
0.35
Zalman 7000AlCu
down
26°C
45°C
23
0.31
0.35

Thermalright rates the XP-120 to "P4, S478, 3.2Ghz and above",
but I only tested it with the (relatively) moderate output of the 2.4C processor.
We can however, use the "°C/W" numbers to extrapolate the theoretical performance
of the XP-120 to any other P4 processor, including the 100+ watt P4 3.4GHz Prescott.
According to Intel's "TDP" specs, the 3.4 Prescott puts out 103W. The
higher "MP" power rating for the 3.4Ghz Prescott is 115 watts so we'll
use those numbers to calculate the estimated maximum CPU temperature for a 3.4E
running 2x CPUBurn:

Extrapolated XP-120 + Panaflo L1A temps for a 103W,
3.4GHz Prescott using TDP power rating
Fan Voltage
C/W
°C rise
load
12 volts
0.21
22
44°C
7 volts
0.23
24
46°C
5 volts
0.26
27
49°C
Extrapolated XP-120 + Panaflo L1A temps for a 115W,
3.4GHz Prescott using MP power rating
Fan Voltage
C/W
°C rise
load
12 volts
0.19
22
44°C
7 volts
0.20
23
45°C
5 volts
0.23
26
48°C

Wow. Depending on how much faith you have in these calculations, it looks like
the XP-120 + Panaflo L1A combination is easily beefy enough to cool the toasty
P4 Prescotts, even running at a very quiet 5V setting. This is most impressive,
certainly the best performance I've ever seen from a heatsink. One thing to
notice is that the performance of the heatsink hardly changes from 12V to 5V.
Apparently the heatpipes cool very well even with the airflow of these various
fans at 5V. (Editor's Note: Keep in mind that even at 5V, these 120mm
fans move more air than any quiet 80mm fan at double the RPM; they also generally
have more low frequency noise than 80mm fans.)

VERTICAL VS. HORIZONTAL

Finally, the HS test platform was positioned vertically (as it would be in a tower case) to verify Thermalright's claim that positioning has no effect on performance. The results are essentially identical, so users can rest assured that Thermalright is telling it straight on this one.



Positioned vertically as in a tower case.

Vertical Config, Globe Fan blowing up at 5
Volts
Position
Idle
Load
°C
rise
Horizontal
27°C
41°C
19
Vertical
27-28°C
41-42°C
19-20

FINAL THOUGHTS AND CONCLUSIONS:

I'll say it again: Wow! Thermalright has hit one out of the
park with the XP-120. It outperforms any heatsink I've ever used by a
big margin. It is especially impressive running fans at a near-silent 5 volt
setting. This would be the perfect air-cooled heatsink except for clearance
issues with a few motherboards. That's not unexpected, considering the massive
size. I suppose the $50 retail price might seem a little steep, but the sheer
performance of the XP-120 justifies its price. The XP-120 gets two thumbs up!

PROS

* Superb performance with modest airflow

* Can easily cool today's hottest CPUs

* Light weight

* P4 version uses existing mounting hardware

* Compatible with A64

CONS

* Won't fit on all boards

* Clip mechanism a bit fiddly

Much thanks to Thermalright,
Inc
for the opportunity to review the XP-120.

* * *

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