You are here

ZEROtherm Nirvana CPU Cooler

ZEROtherm Nirvana NV120 PWM

October 27, 2009 by Lawrence Lee

Product
ZEROtherm Nirvana NV120 PWM

CPU Cooler
Manufacturer
ZEROtherm
Street Price
US$40

Nirvana is the successor to ZEROtherm's earlier Zen
CPU cooler
. The Zen was a very proficient heatsink that had a great
mounting system and a reasonable price. It fell a few degrees short of achieving
elite status in our test arena, but a new and improved model might be able
to crack that barrier. It will not be easy as the market is
saturated with affordable high performance coolers.



The box.



The heatsink.

Nirvana retains many of the Zen's core design elements: Four heatpipes, thick,
tightly grouped fins with a "honeycomb" style pattern at the center,
and a translucent fan with blue LEDs. This heatsink is nickel-plated,
giving it a less generic appearance and protecting it from the oxidation. The fan
is also frameless, attached to a metal stand like a windmill — this will
undoubtedly affect acoustics. To catch any air spilling out from the
sides of the fan, the fins at the edges have been extended further outward.
Truth be told, at a glance it doesn't seem to have any feature or design element
to give it an edge over the Zen. We'll see if testing supports this impression.



The box contents include LGA775 and LGA1366 backplates. There is also
a "premium" version of the NV120 which includes a fan controller.


ZEROtherm Nirvana NV120 PWM: Key Features
(from the product
web page
)
Feature & Brief
Our Comment
Best Performance among 120mm air cooling
CPU coolers
To be determined.
Effective 8-line Heat pipe effect Technically 4 U-shaped heatpipes, but effectively they act like 8.
Honeycomb structure for optimized air flow.
More than 6,748 cm²

heat dissipation area
The honeycomb structure increases surface
area but also impedes airflow.
120mm fan for max.

air-flow (up to 60CFM)
Okay.
PWM Automatic Fan Speed Control As it should.
Ultra Low - Noise

Max 30 dBA at 1,800 rpm
We're more interested in the noise floor.
Polished NI-Plated

Copper Base
Wards off rust.
Support Latest Intel & AMD CPUs But not LGA1156.


ZEROtherm Nirvana NV120 PWM: Specifications
(from the product
web page
)
Dimensions 128 X 95 X 150 mm (5.04 X 3.74 X 5.83 inch)
Weight 638g (Without Components)
Material Base Pure Copper
Heat pipe Pure Copper
Fin Cr/Ni Plated Aluminum
Heat Dissipation Area 6,748 cm² (1,046 inch²)
Cooling Capacity
Over 150W
Fan Size 120x25 mm w/ 2 blue
LEDs
Fan Speed 900 ~ 1,800 rpm (± 10%) PWM Auto
Speed
Acoustic Noise Under 30 dBA (± 10%)
Bearing Type Long Life Bearing
Operating Voltage 5.0 ~ 13.8 VDC
Airflow Rate Max. 60 CFM
Compatibility List
Intel
Core™2 Extreme

Core™2 Quad

Core™2 Duo

Pentium D

Pentium 4
Socket-T (LGA775)



Support All Speeds (Models)
Core™ i7
Socket-B (LGA1366)

Support All Speeds (Models)
AMD Athlon64 FX

Athlon64 X2 / BE

Athlon64

Sempron

Opteron
Socket 939 / 940 / AM2



Support All

Speeds (Models)
Incompatibility List
Intel Socket 478, 771, 603, 604
AMD Socket 754, Socket F or Socket A

PHYSICAL DETAILS

The heatsink features 4 "U" shaped heatpipes in a straight, non-staggered
array and 44 fins cooled by a 111 mm diameter fan.



The fan is screwed to a metal frame with stands that hook onto the base.
This type of mounting tends to vibrate and makes the fan difficult
to replace. The ZEROtherm Zen had a regular fan with a box frame frame
hooked on with wire clips and the fan on the Butterfly series was attached
to a plastic spine that was very secure when mounted — both seem
superior to this design.



The curvature of the fan blades is fairly shallow; combined
with the absence of a frame, low static pressure is likely.
The sizable separation between the fan blades and the fins
makes things worse.




The fan is mounted to a metallic stand with tension clips unto the mounting
plate. The clips are similar to those employed by Scythe to install
mounting brackets on some of their heatsinks. They requires a lot
of force to disengage.



The fins on the outside edges are approximately 0.43 mm thick on average,
and are spaced a fairly tight 1.82 mm apart.




Viewed from the back. Like the Zen, the Nirvana's fins are shaped to create
"honeycomb" pattern at the center. This increases the amount
of surface area subject to direct airflow but it also increases impedance at the center.

BASE & INSTALLATION

The most critical aspect of installation is for the heatsink
to be securely mounted. The more firmly it is installed, the better the contact
between the heatsink's base and the CPU itself. It's also less likely to fall
off. Ease of installation is also important — a simple mounting scheme
means less time spent installing, and a reduced likelihood of screwing up.



The nickel-plating certainly gives the base a nice look, but
the finish leaves a lot to be desired. Machine marks are easily visible
and the ridges can be barely detected by touch alone.




Like the Zen 120, the Nirvana's mounting frames are installed underneath
the mounting plate, so the AMD frame can be rotated freely without interfering
with the heatpipes. It's a clever design we wish others
would adopt..




Intel installation requires the a backplate. The frame has removable
pegs with spring-loaded bolts — each peg has two holes, one
for LGA775. another for LGA1366. There are no holes for LGA1156, though an amateur machinist could easy drill them.




Mounted on our test board.

TESTING

Before thermal testing, we took some basic physical measurements.

ZEROtherm Nirvana NV120 PWM:

Approximate Physical Measurements
Weight
660 g

700 g with topside mounting hardware
Fin count 44
Fin thickness
0.43 mm
Fin spacing
1.83 mm
Vertical Clearance
46 mm (measured from the
motherboard PCB to the heatsink's bottom fin)
Horizontal Overhang
1 mm (measured from the
edge of the heatsink to the top edge of our test motherboard's PCB)


Comparison: Approximate Fin Thickness & Spacing
Heatsink
Fin Thickness
Fin Spacing
Scythe Ninja 2
0.39 mm
3.68 mm
Thermalright HR-01 Plus
0.45 mm
3.15 mm
Noctua NH-U12P
0.44 mm
2.63 mm
Noctua NH-C12P
0.47 mm
2.54 mm
Thermolab Baram
0.44 mm
2.52 mm
Prolimatech Megahalems
0.50 mm
2.00 mm
Xigmatek HDT-S1283
0.33 mm
1.96 mm
Scythe Kabuto & Zipang 2
0.34 mm
1.94 mm
Scythe Mugen-2
0.31 mm
1.89 mm
ZEROtherm Nirvana
0.43 mm
1.82 mm
Zerotherm Zen
0.37 mm
1.80 mm
Zalman CNPS10X Extreme
0.42 mm
1.50 mm
Thermalright Ultra-120
0.45 mm
1.42 mm

Testing was done according to our
unique heatsink testing methodology
, and the included fan was profiled
using our standard fan testing
methodology
. A quick summary of the components, tools, and procedures
follows below.

Key Components in Heatsink Test Platform

  • Intel
    Pentium D 950
    Presler core, C1 stepping. TDP of 95W; under our test
    load, it measures 78W including losses in the VRMs.
  • Asus P5Q-EM motherboard.
    A microATX board with integrated graphics and short solid-state capacitors
    around the CPU socket, and a diminutive northbridge heatsink for maximum compatibility.
  • Intel
    X25-M
    80GB 2.5" solid-state drive.
  • 1GB
    of Corsair XMS2
    DDR2 memory. 2 x 512MB PC2-8500.
  • FSP Zen 300W
    fanless power supply.
  • Arctic Silver
    Lumière
    : Special fast-curing thermal interface material, designed
    specifically for test labs.
  • Nexus 120 fan (part of our standard testing methodology; used when
    possible with heatsinks that fit 120x25mm fans)
Nexus 120mm fan measurements
Voltage
Speed
12V
1100 RPM
9V
890 RPM
7V
720 RPM
5V
530 RPM

Measurement and Analysis Tools

  • Seasonic
    Power Angel
    for measuring AC power at the wall to ensure that the
    heat output remains consistent.
  • Custom-built, four-channel variable DC power supply, used to regulate
    the fan speed during the test.
  • PC-based spectrum analyzer:
    SpectraPlus with ACO Pacific mic and M-Audio digital
    audio interfaces.
  • Anechoic chamber
    with ambient level of 11 dBA or lower
  • Various other tools for testing fans, as documented in our
    standard fan testing methodology
    .
  • SpeedFan, used to monitor the on-chip thermal sensor. This sensor is not
    calibrated, so results are not universally applicable.
  • CPUBurn
    P6
    , used to stress the CPU heavily, generating more heat than most
    real applications. Two instances are used to ensure that both cores are stressed.
  • Throttlewatch
    2.01
    , used to monitor the throttling feature of the CPU to determine
    when overheating occurs.

Load testing was accomplished using CPUBurn to stress the processor, and the
graph function in SpeedFan was used to make sure that the load temperature was
stable for at least ten minutes. The stock fan was tested at various voltages
to represent a good cross-section of its airflow and noise performance.

TEST RESULTS

Stock Fan Testing

Stock Fan Measurements
Voltage
Speed
12V
31 dBA
1930 RPM
10V
26 dBA
1580 RPM
9V
20 dBA
1180 RPM
8V
15 dBA
760 RPM
7V
14 dBA
550 RPM

Fan @ 12V: The noise generated is very buzzy, but the abundance of turbulence
masks a slight tone that can be heard in close proximity. Needless to say it's
far too loud at 31 dBA.

Fan @ 10V: At 10V there is a 5 dBA reduction in noise which is significant
but not enough to make it tolerable. Two distinct noises also emerge: A low-pitched
hum which is likely caused by vibration, and tonality in the fan's bearings/motor.

Fan @ 9V: At this level the fan noise becomes bearable. The lack of
turbulence from the fan brings focus to the humming mentioned earlier.

Fan @ 8V/7V: At 8V and below, the vibration and tonality make the fan
sound "wobbly." This effect is audible at 1m in an open testing environment
but would likely be masked inside a case where it would be essentially inaudible.



Tonality evident at ~800 Hz.

Cooling Results

ZEROtherm Nirvana
Fan Voltage
Temp
°C Rise
°C/W
12V
31 dBA
36°C
14
0.18
10V
26 dBA
38°C
16
0.21
9V
20 dBA
39°C
17
0.22
8V
15 dBA
44°C
22
0.28
7V
14 dBA
49°C
27
0.35
Load Temp: CPUBurn for ~10 mins.

°C Rise: Temperature rise above ambient (22°C) at load.

°C/W: based on the amount of heat dissipated by the CPU (measured
78W); lower is better.

The Nirvana performed well at high fan speeds with a thermal rise of 14°C
at 12V. Cooling suffered little when the fan speed was dialed back to 10V and
then 9V, despite a dramatic reduction in noise. When the fan finally entered
quiet territory at 8V, performance decreased by 5°C and then another 5°C
at 7V even though the SPL was barely affected. At low fan speeds heat dissipation
takes a nose dive. This is typical for heatsinks with tight fin spacing, but
the rate at which its effectiveness degrades is still quite rapid.

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 [email protected] 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.

* * *

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

* * *

Discuss this article in the
SPCR forums.

Sections: 

Google

www SPCR