The Zalman CNPS line (especially the long-lived 9000 series) is known for its distinctive copper-finned air coolers, which are nearly always organized in a circular pattern around the fan. This arrangement worked well for a long time, with the CNPS9700 and 9900 garnering rave reviews in these pages. But all the top-performing coolers we’ve tested recently (July’s Thermalright U120-eXtreme and August’s Noctua U12P) have had one thing in common: a skyscraper formfactor, whereby a tall stack of closely packed cooling fins jut upward, with one or more 12cm fans strapped to the side. Now, Zalman is getting in on the game with its latest CNPS cooler, the 10X Extreme, which takes the skyscraper-and-12cm-fan design and adds variable-speed fan control.
The Zalman CNPS 10X Extreme sports five heat pipes running through a closely packed array of black nickel-plated fins. It’s a great look, and proves that Zalman doesn’t just do copper well. The fan remote can be slotted into the plastic cowl at the top of the heatsink or, more usefully, be routed to the outside of your case with the included extension wire. The fan has three auto-speed settings: low (up to 1,500rpm), mid (up to 1,950rpm) and high (up to 2,150rpm), and one manual dial, for fine-tuning between 1,000rpm and 2,150rpm.
Corsair is best known for its memory and power supplies, but recently the company has taken to rebadging excellent OEM products for retail. First came a rebadged edition of Samsung’s blazing-fast 256GB MLC solid state drive. Now Corsair is continuing the trend by scooping up Asetek’s all-in-one liquid CPU cooler and rebranding it as the Corsair Cooling Hydro Series H50. It’s not just a straight-up rebadge. According to Corsair, it worked with Asetek to modify the latter’s OEM-only version, adopting a universal design and reportedly improving performance. We can’t verify how Corsair’s H50 compares to the OEM version, as the OEM version isn’t available for consumer purchase.
We were more interested to see how the H50 did against CoolIt’s similarly priced Domino (reviewed June 2009). Like the Domino, the Corsair H50 consists of a CPU heat exchanger/pump unit that fits atop the CPU and is connected to a radiator, which mounts in place of your case’s rear 12cm fan. The H50 includes its own 12cm fan, which sits between the radiator and the case wall and pulls air through the radiator fins. The pump uses a three-pin power lead, which needs to plug into the CPU fan power port on the motherboard, and the 12cm fan, confusingly, has a four-pin connector, which plugs into any other fan control port. We originally tried running the pump off a direct-power Molex and the fan off the CPU PWM port, but saw miserable performance. Only after reversing the two did we achieve the expected performance.
At first glance, the Noctua NH-U12P is nearly identical to another tower-of-power CPU cooler: Thermalright’s Ultra-120 eXtreme (reviewed July). Like that cooler, the NH-U12P consists of a copper heat exchanger and four dual-heat pipes, topped with a tall stack of aluminum cooling fins with a front-mounted fan. At 6.2 inches high, 5 inches wide, and 2.8 inches deep, the NH-U12P is nearly the same height as the Thermalright, not quite as wide, but quite a bit deeper.
Noctua ships its cooler with a top-of-the-line brown-and-beige NH-P12 fan with nine slightly beveled blades, which is held onto the cooling fin stack by a set of rather flimsy wire clips. The fan itself comes with three 3-pin power options: regular, low-noise, and ultra-low noise, which set the fan to spin at 1,300rpm, 1,100rpm, and 900rpm, respectively. The fan is impressively quiet even at top speed.
The last Thermalright cooler we reviewed, the IFX-14 (November 2008), actually bested our then-champion Thermaltake DuOrb in performance, but its enormous size cost it the crown. The slimmer Ultra-120 eXtreme, while still a skyscraper of finny goodness, is much skinnier than the IFX-14, and (happily) includes one 12cm clip-on fan—the older model supported two fans, but included none.
Five nickel-plated copper heat pipes rise from opposite sides of the base through a large stack of heat-dissipating fins, cooled by a 12cm fluid-dynamic bearing fan. The included fan connects to the motherboard fan socket with a 3-pin connector, so there’s no onboard fan-speed control.
At five inches high, 6.14 inches square at the top, and weighing a few ounces shy of two pounds, the Thermaltake BigTyp 14 Pro is among the biggest and heaviest coolers we’ve tested—although it’s not as big as Cooler Master’s V10, reviewed last month.
The BigTyp 14 Pro contains six heat pipes routed through aluminum fins mounted perpendicular to the motherboard and is topped with a plastic shroud and 14cm variable-speed fan, which blows hot air straight down instead of through the back of the case, like with most performance coolers. Two retention clips screw into the base and are fastened with nuts on the underside of the motherboard, just like with the Cooler Master V10. Installing the BigTyp 14 Pro is easier than the V10—it’s smaller and lighter, it won’t bump up against crucial components like RAM, and the nuts can be screwed in with a Phillips screwdriver as opposed to a hex wrench. But there’s no room for a 12cm rear fan with the BigTyp installed.
The Cooler Master V10 is a monster. It weighs two pounds, 10 ounces, stands 6.3x9.3x5.1 inches, and contains one thermoelectric cooler, two fans, and two heatsinks: one on the CPU and one on the TEC. The TEC, which needs to be powered by a 4-pin Molex on a dedicated power lead, activates only when needed.
The V10’s installation is the worst we’ve ever experienced. Two retention clips attach to the cooler, which you then attach to a bracket you mount on the back side of the motherboard. This means removing your motherboard and balancing the cooler on your lap while you screw it in. Unfortunately, the V10 is so huge that it blocks the motherboard’s top three ATX screws, making it difficult to mount the motherboard in even the roomiest cases. And the V10’s bulk made it difficult to connect both the 8-pin and the 24-pin motherboard power cables on our test system’s motherboard—impressive, since they’re on opposite sides of the motherboard.
When Zalman told us its new CNPS9900 LED was the best CPU air cooler ever, we took the news with a grain of salt. For more than a year, the company’s CNPS9700 LED had been our top air cooler, until Thermaltake’s DuOrb usurped Zalman’s place at the top of the heap in our July 2008 issue. Can the CNPS9900 retake the cooling throne for Zalman?
In a word, yes. This copper-finned monster outperforms the Thermaltake DuOrb across the board, keeping our test bed’s CPU an average of three degrees cooler than the DuOrb was able to at both idle and full burn, making it the best CPU air cooler we’ve ever tested.
At first glance, the Thermaltake SpinQ looks like nothing so much as a stack of bike gears with a fan mounted in the center. And that’s basically what it is—50 circular aluminum fins mounted around an 80mm fan connected to a copper exchanger. The cooler measures 4.8” wide by 3.54” deep by 5.98” high—about the same height and width as the Zalman CNPS9700LED, but a bit deeper. The SpinQ is, essentially, the high-rise counterpart to the horizontal sprawl of its stablemate, the Thermaltake DuOrb.
Unlike the DuOrb, with its two fans and jarring red-and-blue LED color scheme, the SpinQ keeps to one color, a soothing blue, and a single fan. And instead of the DuOrb’s retention system, which is sturdy but requires you to remove your motherboard, the SpinQ uses the same plastic mounting system as Intel’s stock coolers, so provided you don’t already have a retention plate from your previous cooler installed, all you have to do is snap the SpinQ onto the motherboard, tighten it, and go. Thermaltake definitely wins points for the SpinQ’s ease of installation.
Cooler Master’s V8 CPU cooler offsets a somewhat time-consuming installation process with near-record-setting performance for an air cooler. The sleek aluminum cooler’s 12cm fan sits between two heatsinks on the device, sparing fingers from the accidental nip of its 800rpm-to-1,800rpm variable fan.
Installing Thermalright’s beefy IFX-14 CPU cooler is incredibly complex. Assembling the troublesome amalgam of parts, pieces, screws, and brackets made us long for the snap-lock mechanism of standard Intel coolers. That said, the IFX-14 delivers massive cooling when it’s up and running. But there’s a caveat: It doesn’t include any fans. Thus, its performance depends on the type of fan you attach to one or two sides of the device. Our benchmarks are based on the use of two generic 12cm fans we pulled from a box in the Lab.