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Written by Olin Coles   
Friday, 12 March 2010
Table of Contents: Page Index
Best CPU Cooler Performance Intel/AMD Q1-2010
Thermally Conductive Element Reference
3R-System IceAge Prima Boss-II
Cogage Arrow CPU Cooler
Coolink Corator-DS Heatsink
CyberPowerPC XtremeGear HP-1216B
Dynatron Genius-G950 Heatsink
Intel DBX-B Advanced Thermal Solution
Noctua NH-D14 140mm Cooler
ProlimaTech Armageddon Heatsink
Thermalright Venomous-X Heatsink
Thermaltake Contac-29 CLP0568
Xigmatek Balder SD1283 Cooler
Zalman CNPS10X-Performa Cooler
Zalman CNPS10X-Quiet Cooler
CPU-Cooler Preparations
Heatsink Test Methodology
AMD X4-965: Stock Cooling Fan
AMD X4-965: High-Output Fan
Intel 980X: Stock Cooling Fan
Intel 980X: High-Output Fan
Enthusiast Fan Comparison
CPU Cooler Final Thoughts
Best CPU Cooler Conclusion

Contact Surface Preparation

Processor and CPU cooler surfaces are not perfectly smooth and flat surfaces, and although some surfaces appear polished to the naked eye, under a microscope the imperfections become clearly visible. As a result, when two objects are pressed together, contact is only made between a finite number of points separated by relatively large gaps. Since the actual contact area is reduced by these gaps, they create additional resistance for the transfer of thermal energy (heat). The gasses/fluids filling these gaps may largely influence the total heat flow across the surface, and then have an adverse affect on cooling performance as a result.

Surface Finish Impact

CPU coolers primarily depend on two heat transfer methods: conduction and convection. This being the case, we'll concentrate our attention towards the topic of conduction as it relates to the mating surfaces between a heat source (the processor) and cooler. Because of their density, metals are the best conductors of thermal energy. As density decreases so does conduction, which relegates fluids to be naturally less conductive. So ideally the less fluid between metals, the better heat will transfer between them. Even less conductive than fluid is air, which then also means that you want even less of this between surfaces than fluid. Ultimately, the perfectly flat and well-polished surface is going to be preferred over the rougher and less even surface which required more TIM (fluid) to fill the gaps.

This is important to keep in mind, as the mounting surface of your average processor is relatively flat and smooth but not perfect. Even more important is the surface of your particular CPU cooler, which might range from a polished mirror finish to the absurdly rough or the more complex (such as Heat-Pipe Direct Touch). Surfaces with a mirror finish can always be shined up a little brighter, and rough surfaces can be wet-sanded (lapped) down smooth and later polished, but Heat-pipe Direct Touch coolers require some extra attention.

To sum up this topic of surface finish and its impact on cooling, science teaches us that a smooth flat mating surface is the most ideal for CPU coolers. It is critically important to remove the presence of air from between the surfaces, and that using only enough Thermal Interface Material to fill-in the rough surface pits is going to provide the best results. In a perfect environment, your processor would mate together with the cooler and compress metal on metal with no thermal paste at all; but we don't live in perfect world and current manufacturing technology cannot provide for this ideal environment.

Mounting Pressure

Probably one of the most overlooked and disregarded factors involved with properly mounting the cooler onto any processor is the amount of contact pressure applied between the mating surfaces. Compression will often times reduce the amount of thermal compound needed between the cooler and processor, and allow a much larger metal to metal contact area which is more efficient than having fluid weaken the thermal conductance. The greater the contact pressure between elements, the better it will conduct thermal (heat) energy.

Unfortunately, it is often times not possible to get optimal pressure onto the CPU simply because of poor mounting designs used by the cooler manufacturers. Most enthusiasts shriek at the thought of using the push-pin style clips found on Intel's stock LGA775 thermal cooling solution. Although this mounting system is acceptable, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Generally speaking, you do not want an excessive amount of pressure onto the processor as damage may result. In some cases, such as Heat-pipe Direct Touch technology, the exposed copper rod has been pressed into the metal mounting base and then leveled flat by a grinder. Because of the copper rod walls are made considerably thinner by this process, using a bolt-through mounting system could actually cause heat-pipe rod warping. Improper installation not withstanding, it is more ideal to have a very strong mounting system such as those which use a back plate behind the motherboard and a spring-loaded fastening system for tightening. The Noctua NH-U12P is an excellent example of such a design.

In all of the tests which follow, it is important to note that our experiments focus on the spread pattern of thermal paste under acceptable pressure thresholds using either a push-pin style mounting system or spring-loaded clip system. In most situations your results will be different than our own, since higher compression would result in a larger spread pattern and less thermal paste used. The lesson learned here is that high compression between the two contact surfaces is better, so long as the elements can handle the added pressure without damaging the components.

Thermal Paste Application

The entire reason for using Thermal Interface Material is to compensate for flaws in the surface and a lack of high-pressure contact between heat source and cooler, so the sections above are more critical to good performance than the application of TIM itself. This section offers a condensed version of our Best Thermal Paste Application Methods article.

After publishing our Thermal Interface Material articles, many enthusiasts argued that by spreading out the TIM with a latex glove (or finger cover) was not the best way to distribute the interface material. Most answers from both the professional reviewer industry as well as enthusiast community claim that you should use a single drop "about the size of a pea". Well, we tried that advice, and it turns out that maybe the community isn't as keen as they thought. The example image below is of a few frozen peas beside a small BB size drop of OCZ Freeze TIM. The image beside it is of the same cooler two hours later after we completed testing. If there was ever any real advice that applies to every situation, it would be that thermal paste isn't meant to separate the two surfaces but rather fill the microscopic pits where metal to metal contact isn't possible.

TIM_Before_Spread.jpgTIM_After_Spread.jpg

After discussing this topic with real industry experts who are much more informed of the process, they offered some specific advice that didn't appear to be a "one size fits all" answer:

  1. CPU Cooling products which operate below the ambient room temperature (some Peltier and Thermo-electric coolers for example) should not use silicon-based materials because condensation may occur and accelerate compound separation.
  2. All "white" style TIM's exhibit compound breakdown over time due to their thin viscosity and ceramic base (usually beryllium oxide, aluminum nitride and oxide, zinc oxide, and silicon dioxide). These interface materials should not be used from older "stale" stock without first mixing the material very well.
  3. Thicker carbon and metal-based (usually aluminum-oxide) TIM's may benefit from several thermal cycles to establish a "cure" period which allows expanding and contracting surfaces to smooth out any inconsistencies and further level the material.

The more we researched this subject, the more we discovered that because there are so many different cooling solutions on the market it becomes impossible to give generalized advice to specific situations. Despite this, there is one single principle that holds true in every condition: Under perfect conditions the contact surfaces between the processor and cooler would be perfectly flat and not contain any microscopic pits, which would allow direct contact of metal on metal without any need for Thermal Interface Material. But since we don't have perfectly flat surfaces, Thermal Material must fill the tiny imperfections. Still, there's one rule to recognize: less is more.

Heatpipe Directional Orientation

Heat-pipe technology uses several methods to wick the cooling liquid away from the cold condensing end and return back towards the heated evaporative end. Sintered heatpipe rods help overcome Earth's gravitational pull and can return most fluid to its source, but the directional orientation of heatpipe rods can make a significant difference to overall cooling performance. For the purpose of this article, all CPU-coolers have been orientated so that heatpipes span from front-to-rear with fans exhausting upward and not top-to-bottom with fans blowing towards the rear of the computer case. This removes much of the gravitational climb necessary for heatpipe fluid working to return to the heatsink base. In one specific example, the horizontally-mounted ProlimaTech Megahalems heatsink cooled to a temperature 3° better than when it was positioned vertically. While this difference may not be considered much to some people, hardcore enthusiasts will want to use every technique possible to reach the highest overclock possible.



 

Comments 

 
# Is your final "Best" suitable?Rod 2010-03-14 03:52
The best cooler you have chosen, is that the best for a Desktop case or tower case or is there no difference in mobo orientation (Horiz/Vert) ??
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# RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Intel/AMD Q1-2010Olin Coles 2010-03-14 08:07
All of these coolers were tested in the tower case, with the heatpipes spanning vertically from front to back and exhaust blowing towards the top of the case.

HTPC/Desktop cases which rest horizontally and position the heatsink upright will have slightly better results.
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# RE: RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Intel/AMD Q1-2010Dr_b_ 2010-04-01 14:09
I Was wondering if you had any pictures showing the orientation. For example, you had a push fan on the lower side of the heatsink, pushing air up through the heatsink towards the top of the case ( i guess because heat rises and why fight that) but don't you lose any direct air flow blowing down on the cards/nb?
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# Fan orientationOlin Coles 2010-04-01 14:26
In our tests the fan was attached to the bottom of the heatsink, and pushes air from the bottom of the cast to the top. If two fans were ever used, it simply adds a second fan for a push and pull effect.
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# RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Intel/AMD Q1-2010Stuart 2010-03-20 04:29
Delta T - Degrees C/W ?
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# Is that a question?Olin Coles 2010-03-20 10:23
I see the question mark, but what exactly are you asking?
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# too heavyBrody k 2010-03-20 15:57
I've heard reports of people claiming that these larger heatsink wil. l eventually bend your mobo resulting in your 1st dimm to lose contact. you can reseat the ram and support the cooler im sure. any comment?
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# Cogage Arrow heatsinkChris H. 2010-03-23 15:17
I looks like that the Cogage Arrow heatsink has spots for 3 fans. Is this true and do you think that 3 low noise fans will make a big impact in performance?
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# RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Intel/AMD Q1-2010Steven 2010-03-23 18:15
I can't find a difference between the Zalman Flex and Performa, aside from looks and the Performa comes with a fan, which doesn't make sense considering the Flex costs more. Can you tell me what the differences are and why the Flex is more expensive, and if you would expect them to perform equally or not?

I'm trying to decide between the Prolimatech, Scythe, and Zalmans. I like the Prolimatech for the best performance and the Scythe for almost equal performance but much cheaper. The Zalman's are nice because they're in the middle for cost, although they perform worse yet cost more than the Scythe (unless the Flex performs better than the Performa). My main concern with the Scythe is you mentioned a "giant hassle for installation." Can you elaborate on that or point me to a link where it's discussed?

For an i7-920/930 build with intent to OC to the 3.8-4.0 range, which of these four would you suggest, or do you think they would all be up to the task?
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# RE: RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Intel/AMD Q1-2010Olin Coles 2010-03-23 20:44
The details on the Mugen installation are in the article, along with my suggestions for the best cooler between those choices. I haven't received or tested the Zalman CNSP10X-Flex, so I can't properly comment.
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# mrBrody K 2010-03-23 18:44
the Cogage Arrow heatsink will support 3x120mm fans. it will likely drop them temp a degree or two.

I would order and i did, should be here tomorrow, Prolimatech megahelms. I am waiting to see what they give me for a fan (it comes with one now) before i order Noctua NF-P12-1300 120MM fans. From what i can tell they have the best static pressure available, exactly what you need to blow through that rad.

promlimatech / noctua fans. my 2 cents
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# RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Intel/AMD Q1-2010Steven 2010-03-24 08:07
I know which one you said is the best cooler (the Prolimatech), and I'm fully aware that it's the best choice if nothing but temps matter. But then, if that were the case, I could just as well set up a water cooling system. What I'm trying to decide is if it's worth spending twice as much for a difference of a few degrees. If I were trying to push my OC to the limit and go with an extreme speed of 4.2GHz+, then I'm sure it would come down to those few degrees making a difference. However, for "only" shooting for ~3.8-4.0, it seems the Scythe would be enough, and I was just looking for your opinion on it, seeing as you have much more experience than I do in the topic.

As for the Mugen install, I've looked through the article over and over and I can't find what you're referencing. There's not even an entry in the article index for the Scythe. I guess I'll just have to check out other reviews on it elsewhere to see if anyone else mentions anything.
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# Mugen-2Olin Coles 2010-03-24 08:40
It sounds like the Scythe Mugen-2 would be your best choice; and installation means removing the socket hardware and using theirs.
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# Scythe Mugen-2 Revision B SCMG-2100Olin Coles 2010-03-24 15:17
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Scythe Mugen-2 Revision B model SCMG-2100 heatsink is identical to the first version, model SCMG-2000. The only difference is that Mugen-2 Rev. B uses a newly developed F.M.S.B. (Flip Mount Super Back-Plate) for more convenient mounting onto the motherboard. There should not be any cooling performance between these two models, despite marketing hype.
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# RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Intel/AMD Q1-2010Brad 2010-03-27 14:23
How can you hook up 2 CPU fans if the motherboard only has 1 CPU fan connector. Should I use a case fan slot for the second one? The case fans in my Cooler Master 932 HAF all can connect to the PSU cables, so that would be possible.
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# Read the articleOlin Coles 2010-03-27 14:28
You're asking a question that's already answered in the article. All of the fans are connected directly to the PSU, not the motherboard.
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# RE: RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Intel/AMD Q1-2010Steven 2010-03-27 14:53
I would suggest using a splitter/y-cable, such as the one at ##directron.com/y3pin.html. This way you can let the fans be controlled by the motherboard, slowing down when maximum cooling isn't required.
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# RE: RE: RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Intel/AMD Q1-2010Brad 2010-03-27 15:31
I didn't see this covered in the article, though I must have missed it. The article led me to buy the Megahalems. Is it safe to connect 2 fans to the same motherboard connector?

I have a P658D Premium motherboard. Could/should I just connect the second fan to one of the extra case fan connectors? As I noted, the case fans could possibly all connect to the PSU directly since they have adapters for that.
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Intel/AMD Q1-2010Olin Coles 2010-03-27 19:58
You can connect the fans to any power header that's on the motherboard; even if it doesn't say CPU. You can also use an adapter to connect via molex PSU plugs.
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Intel/AMD Q1-2010Brad 2010-03-27 20:31
Any suggestions on where to find more information about molex plugs? What do they add to a setup, why shouldn't I use them? I notice the connect to the MB and the PSU directly. Though I guess using a splitter with those might allow the MB to control them, but keep from pulling too much power from the MB.
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# RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Intel/AMD Q1-2010Steven 2010-03-27 16:34
I would suggest you read the thread at ##silentpcreview.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=55996 as well as maybe doing some more searching on your own. Based on what is said there, and the fact the splitters exist in the first place, I would suggest it's more than likely perfectly fine to do it. If you have doubt and really want to set it up that way, or you are just curious, I recommend you figure out the current draw of whatever fans you plan to use and either do some searching to see if you can find out what success others have had with fans with similar draw running in parallel off a single header or contact ASUS and ask them what the CPU_Fan header is rated at. If you do find out, or if you try it and it works, try to follow up and report your findings, as while I'm fairly certain it will work, I'd like to know for sure.
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# RE: RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Intel/AMD Q1-2010Brad 2010-03-27 20:33
I have learned that something may not be good, even if it exists. I am concerned with trying to pull too much power from the MB. I have come across a few things (though I have a hard time making a good Google search for the topic) about the possibility of damage.

I will check out the site. Contacting ASUS is in my list, but I want to build the box this weekend, not wait until Monday. :)

One of the fans makes a horrid noise, so I am only running with the push now, so the problem is gone for a while.
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# OK?Zack 2010-04-02 09:32
My previous comments were deleted, so I'll try one more time.

On the AMD X4-965 Stock Cooling Fan page the writer listed the NH-D14 with two 140mm fans. The NH-D14 comes with a 120mm and 140mm fan (NF-P12 and NF-P14), not two 140mm fans.

On the Intel 980x Stock Cooling Fan page it's also listed with "2x 140".

On the AMD X4-965 High-Output Fan page the NH-D14 is again for some strange reason listed with "stock 140mm fans" as opposed to having the Yate Loon 88 CFM fans mounted on it like every other cooler on the page.

On the Intel 980x High-Output Fan page the writer mentioned that the NH-D14 had two Xigmatek 140x140x25mm XLF-F1453 fans (63.5 CFM) mounted instead of the Yate Loon (88 CFM) fans mounted on every other cooler except the Prolimatech Armageddon, which also had the Xigmatek fans mounted.

I thought it was supposed to have the Yate Loon fans installed as per the test methodology?
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# By the wayZack 2010-04-02 14:34
You have my sincere thanks for going through the trouble of reviewing all these coolers. I should have posted my thanks first :)
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# Thuban Surface AreaKGA 2010-04-02 18:42
Excellent review, and much still for me to reflect on but have you any details on the size of the Thubans? I'm curious if the Scythe Mugen-2 would have great surface to surface contact on these upcoming processors. Also I couldn't help but notice that you are not a fan of certain high CFM fan's on the market. How about this Delta with PWM? It's 35 bucks and may cool enough for great OC'n for a Thuban/Scythe Mugen-2 combo. #search.digikey.com/scripts/DkSearch/dksus.dll?Detail?name=603-1164-ND

I only ask because in the Q1 review you did not test the AMD Phenom-II X4-965 BE or Intel Core i7-980X Extreme Edition with the 'showdown' between the Yate Loon fan on these CPU's vs... another fan.
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# link Correction!KGA 2010-04-02 18:45
Let me try that link again:

#search.digikey.com/scripts/DkSearch/dksus.dll?Detail?name=603-1164-ND

that's better.
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# RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Intel/AMD Q1-2010Robert Lazarus 2010-04-07 18:46
There is a lot of info and obviously one size does not fit all. I am still trying to figure out which cooler for the heat signature of the gulftown chip on an asus P6x58D board so I can still use all of the memory and pci slots. Does not have to be the absolute coolest, but decent and easy to install.

RL
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# ProlimaTech MegahalemsOlin Coles 2010-04-07 19:13
Robert: You'll want the ProlimaTech Megahalems. It cools best, but also allows full access to all DIMM slots and is nowhere near the PCI slots.
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# Finally found the Thuban die size..KGA 2010-04-17 02:34
And it's very large. It's 346mm². I am unaware of any Air Cooler that has a contact base even close to that size -that's also AMD compatible.

##hardware-specs.net/index.php?option=com_fabrik&view=details&tableid=2&fabrik=2&rowid=2203

I'll have to use the stock cooler until I find another option.
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# RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Intel/AMD Q1-2010Cougar75 2010-04-17 06:52
On page 10 you show the "width" of the Armageddon as 60mm (not 50mm). Is this correct?
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# Q1 roundup best coolers.horsey 2010-05-04 18:38
I read through pages and pages and pages, at the end, no charts :(
where are the #ing charts?
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# Look harder... lolOlin Coles 2010-05-04 20:53
The charts are there. I'm not even sure how you missed them.
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# artist in residenceBarry Prager 2010-05-08 10:24
Excellent. Well executed and written article on the top preforming coolers. One tip I'll take advantage of is reorienting my Noctual NH-D14 so the exhaust blows up and not toward the back. You explanation makes sense and I've got a larger fan pointing out on the top of my Coolmaster HAF 932.
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# ThanksOhSoCheesy 2010-06-06 10:46
Thanks! Great article. I'm glad you "made" me read the whole thing. I did learn a lot that wouldn't be in the conclusion.
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# what happend to noise lvl ?FInn 2010-06-14 04:12
here i thought i could find out, what my next heatcooler would look like!!!

but, but.. it seems like this test purpurce it overclockers, because, nothing about noise lvl. at least i could not find it!!!

when i am looking for coolers, i always look for, what temperature, can it hold the cpu, at lowest rpm, and the cpu working. ( with supported fan )

a lot of ppl hates noice more than been able to overclock. there for the lowest rpm combined with the cpu working, is a good indication, on what coolers can do the work and wich one, only are for high rpm cooling.

so the noice lvl, is at least as important as temperature. and it should be about 50celcius or lower, by normal use.
( still at lowest rpm. )
my zalmon copper cooler, can still do the job, at lowest rpm with my old cpu ( i almost cant hear it )

so remember: measure noice lvl every time, so we dont have to guess !!! ( with stock cooler )
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# Scythe Mugen for LGA775 core2 quadOmar 2010-12-13 19:32
Sorry if this is a silly question but you said three 8mm heatpipe rods in the base, or four 6mm rods are best for lga775, Mugen has 5 pipes, so does that mean it is even better for my processor? or does it need to be specifically either 3 or 4, again apologies if this is a silly question.
Thanks in advance.
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# RE: Scythe Mugen for LGA775 core2 quadOlin Coles 2010-12-13 19:40
That's actually a very difficult question to answer, and depends on the heat output of the processor. If the processor receives extreme amounts of heat because of overclocking or increased voltage, it's better to have larger heat pipe rods. If the temperature envelope is moderate to low, the smaller rods are better.
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# core 2 quad 2.4GhzOmar 2010-12-18 15:35
so bigger than mugen's? which are 6mm rods. I have not overclocked it yet, but that specific computer is for gaming, so i might later on overclock it. I cannot spend much, but i wouldn't buy crap either. Do you think mugen is a good choice?
Thank you very much for your reply and help. I REALLY appreciate it.
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# Coolermaster hyper n620Pallab das 2011-03-16 04:15
Helo every one .I have AMD Phenom X4 965BE processor along with Coolermaster Hyper n620 & I get CPU temp : 34 to 45 Degree Celcius.
is it normal without overclocking.
My CPU fan in rpm is 1510rpm chasis 1 :700rpm,chasis 2 is : 637rpm.

please please please please advice me my e-mail id is : pallab_deadboy@yahoo .co.in.
thanks 4 reading it
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# RE: Coolermaster hyper n620David Ramsey 2011-03-16 07:22
Your CPU temperatures are fine.
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# Coolermaster hyper n620KGA 2011-03-16 14:02
Your CPU temps are fine only in the sense that AMD Phenom CPU's are spec'd at 60.degrees or so for the 'high' limit.

However, I think your cooler should be getting lower temps. Your chassis fans look as to be set for 'quiet' performance but your CPU fan is 'cranking' on the fast side. I would think you would be getting below 30.degrees easily without any OC'n as you mentioned.

I'd try a new TIM, or completely clean and re-apply your Thermal(TIM) paste. I use Artic Silver or Tuniq. My Spire Thermax Eclipse II keeps my Thuban at 21.degrees when I had it at stock config.
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