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Written by Olin Coles - Testing by David Ramsey   
Tuesday, 27 July 2010
Table of Contents: Page Index
Best CPU Cooler Performance Q2-2010
Thermally Conductive Element Reference
Cooler Master V6 GT Heatsink
ProlimaTech Super Mega Heatsink
Scythe Yasya SCYS-1000 Cooler
SilenX Effizio EFZ-120HA4
Thermalright Venomous-X RT Cooler
Zaward Vapor-120 ZCJ013 Cooler
CPU-Cooler Preparations
Heatsink Test Methodology
Heatsink Performance: Stock Cooling Fan
Heatsink Performance: High-Output Fan
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 

 
# FanGyta 2010-07-27 17:45
I´m puzzled about V6 GT heatsink,what caused the loss in performance? Could it be the fan has less CFM?? Or it is the static air pressure?? or another thing that i cannot think?
Aside from that great test, as good as always, and still help me emphasizing that i did a good thing buying scythe mugen 2.
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# RE: FanOlin Coles 2010-07-27 19:19
There's no doubt that the Mugen 2 was a good investment... it's a great cooler for very little money. The V6 GT has two high-output fans on it to begin with, configured in a push/push set, so it's understandable to see performance decrease with one higher-output fan.
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# RE: FanDavid Ramsey 2010-07-27 19:21
It's simple: the Cooler Master V6 GT's stock fans provide a lot more airflow than the single Yate Loon fan. Base on the fan specifications, airflow drops by about 50% in this case, so the cooler's performance suffers. The V6GT represents a design trend in coolers that provides good performance with a relatively small heatsink by simply pushing a lot of air through it. You'll probably see more of this, since plastic and fans are cheaper than copper and aluminum.
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# RE: RE: FanOlin Coles 2010-07-27 20:00
Either lots of plastic and fans, or pretty copper fringes to make you feel better about the premium price.
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# RE: RE: RE: FanServando Silva 2010-07-27 21:17
Don't forget to paint it black to get extra premium performance...
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# Vertical motherboard test?Testy01 2010-07-27 20:03
It appears these coolers are designed for horizontal motherboards as heat rises. Surely using a system in this orientation with aftermarket or supplied fans will give a better outcome.
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# RE: Vertical motherboard test?Olin Coles 2010-07-27 21:31
Vertical motherboard means that it stands upright, as in the case of most all mid-tower enclosures.
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# RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Q2-2010halfwaythere 2010-07-27 20:58
The V6 simply doesn't have what it takes to be a top notch product. Its too small and the build quality is not very good. The problem is if you turn the stock fans down performance figures will drop pretty quick.
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# RE: RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Q2-2010David Ramsey 2010-07-28 06:59
Sure it does. The build quality on the sample I tested was excellent-- flat, well-finished base; perfectly ven fins, and nice little details like the rubber anti-vibration pads on the snap-on shrouds that hold the fans. The stock V6 fans are PWM controlled, so let your motherboard decide how fast they should be run, and you'll get a very good combination of balance and noise. The performance with the stock fans is excellent, too. My only complaint about the cooler is its high price.
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# ?Daniel Mayes 2010-07-28 07:02
How come the Titan Fenrir was in instead of the Thermaltake Frio? The Thermaltake Frio did better than the ProlimaTech Megahalems in stock fan test and a little worse than the Mugen 2 with the Yate Loon D12SH-12. Are you using one or two Yate Loon D12SH-12? I'm sure I'm not the only that would like to see temperatures with both one and two high-output fans on there.
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# RE: ?Olin Coles 2010-07-28 07:05
Usually it's because of time contraints. If we had unlimited time, every single heatsink ever made would be tested for each article... but that's just not the case. We've already reviewed the Frio in our cooling section, so take a look there: benchmarkreviews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=519&Itemid=62
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# RE: RE: ?Daniel Mayes 2010-07-29 07:10
It would be awesome to see pictures of the heatsinks in the computer setup in the future, I tried my thermaltake frio with the air blowing up but it blocked the first 2 ram slots, so I had to turn it where it blows outside the case since the computer would be faster in dual channel mode than single channel mode
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# RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Q2-2010Ladyfox 2010-07-28 11:41
Are there any plans to do a similar review, maybe smaller in scale, for those coolers that use 92mm fans instead? Reason I ask is that some mATX cases like the NZXT Vulcan have clearance issues with a good many 120mm systems even with the added room of special side panels. Consider as well that many have even released revised designs that will work on LGA-1156 and LGA1366 sockets including those from AMD with a sample list here:

ARCTIC COOLING Freezer 7 Pro Rev.2
COOLER MASTER Hyper N 520
Cooler Master Hyper TX3
Noctua NH-U9B SE2
Scythe "NINJA MINI Rev.B"

Granted, there are individual reviews for some of these out there but let's face it they're not you guys. ^_^
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# RE: RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Q2-2010Olin Coles 2010-07-29 07:13
I have wanted a writer to take on the 92mm segment for over a year now. Apparently the threat of constant work with unreasonably tight tolerances has dissuaded everyone on staff. That and it's boring beyond belief. Still, I have my hopes.
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# RE: Best CPU Cooler Performance Q2-2010Padge 2010-08-13 15:47
I would love to see a system for rating the mounting hardware on each review. There are a couple heatsinks I'm really liking but the hardware uses pushpins (Cogage True Spirit) or is a mini erector set (Mugen 2). I really think a Cogage True Spirit with ProLimatechs brackets would be the best.
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# Can we get CPU Perf for LOW PROFILE Collers?OneEyedPony 2010-09-10 11:35
These big brick sized CPU coolers are great for the monster and mid towers, BUT...

I deal in building small cased PCs for people. I would like to see recommendations for CPU coolers in the 50-100mm height range.
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# Low profile?RealNeil 2010-09-28 05:23
Corsair H50,.....Asetek LCLC (they actually make the H50 for corsair) and the ECO A.L.C. ECO-R120 CPU Cooler. All are water cooling solutions and all are relatively low profile.
I have two of the Asetek LCLC's (stands for: Low Cost Liquid Cooling) here and they work really well. I added extra fans to both of mine for a push/pull effect. I also have a Scythe Big Shuriken SCBSK-1000 120mm CPU Cooler on a Linux box and it's a very low profile cooler.
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# HS MaterialsAthlonite 2010-12-22 18:29
"Because of their density, metals are the best conductors of thermal energy"

Actually that's wrong the best material is Diamond but an HS made of diamond would cost and absolute fortune.... you should have said best Perfomance/cost material is metal of which the best is Gold (best $$$$/Performance = Copper)for now atleast until they make Carbon nano tube materials more readily available
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