Installing the Zalman CNPS14X CPU cooler is sort of like doing P90X exercises—there’s a possibility of extreme discomfort, but if you’re tough enough to bear the burden, you will ultimately see good results. The reason the installation is so painful is not so much the size of the cooler—we’ve installed coolers larger than this before without resorting to profanity—it’s the construction of the cooler and fan, which dictates the installation process.
The CNPS14X features six copper heat pipes that feed into two massive heatsinks.
The first culprit is the 14cm fan that spins between a pair of contoured aluminum heatsinks. The fan is attached via screws to the middle of the heatsinks, preventing access to the area around the cooler’s baseplate. This is important, as that’s where we typically secure the cooler to the CPU socket. Without access to this area, the cooler must be secured by tightening screws that are underneath the heatsink itself, with no access to them from above. Suffice to say, this is no easy task given the cooler’s size—it’s large enough to require low-profile RAM.
We installed the mounting brackets to the cooler with some difficulty; there was no reference in the manual beyond an unhelpful, thumbnail-size photo. Once we had the brackets secured, we had to remove the motherboard from our LGA2011 system because the CNPS14X's heatsinks protruded so far out that it made tightening the screws near the baseplate of the cooler impossible without additional room to maneuver. Zalman includes a 3-inch spanner designed to tighten the bolts from the outside perimeter of the cooler, but there was simply not enough clearance in our already-built system. We only decided to pull the mobo out after we had already removed the RAM and GPU, as we needed more clearance around the area by the I/O panel and the top of the case.
Once we had the CNPS14X installed, it performed quite well but didn't blow our socks off. Under full load it quietly cooled our 3.3GHz (overclocked to 4.2GHz) Intel Core i7-3960X, but only had one degree Celsius on our current favorite, the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo. We also compared the CNPS14X to the similarly priced NZXT Havik 120, and the CNPS14X outperformed it by nearly three degrees, which is impressive. Since Zalman provides clips to add additional fans for a push-pull config, we added two more 14cm fans, but temps only dropped by less than one degree Celsius, so purchasing extra fans doesn't seem like a wise investment.
Overall, we were impressed by the Zalman CNPS14X’s effectiveness and quiet operation. Its cooling performance puts it in the top tier of all the CPU coolers we’ve tested, but unfortunately it was also one of the most difficult coolers to install in recent memory. If you want a massive cooler that’s easier to install, we’d go with the NZXT Havik 120, which is roughly the same price, or the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo, which offers the same performance for significantly less dough.
Cools well; quiet; extra fans can be added.
Painful install; performance not much better than cheaper Hyper 212 Evo.
Zalman CNPS14X (Performance mode)
Zalman CNPS14X (Quiet mode)
CM Hyper 212 Evo
NZXT Havik 120
Burn - Ambient
All temperatures in degrees Celsius. Best scores bolded. All tests performed using an Intel Core i7-3960X at 4.2GHz,on an Asus Sabertooth X79 motherboard with 16GB DDR3/1600, in a Thermaltake Level 10 GT with stock fans set to Low.