Although the gearhead legions appear to be moving in droves to liquid cooling, there’s still plenty of value in large air-coolers. You don’t need to remap your case airflow to accommodate them, and there’s no chance of them peeing all over the inside of your computer someday. Depending on your setup, however, even a nice air cooler can meet its match.
One 12cm and one 13.5cm fan push air through this beast.
The latest challenger is Be Quiet, a German company that until now has been selling its coolers and case fans mostly in Europe. We Americans had to shop at specialty websites and use secret handshakes to get our grubby, freedom-loving hands on one. The Dark Rock Pro 2, however, is available now on NCIX.com. What’s the appeal? Well, the DRP2 is all about low noise, and it looks pretty slick. Its 12cm and 13.5cm fans will max out at about 1,425rpm; for reference, a Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo’s 12cm fan will crank up to 2,000rpm.
We experimented with the DRP2 on an LGA1155 motherboard last month, in our Build It article. It performed fine with an Intel Core i7-3770K, a quad-core CPU that we overclocked to 4GHz. And it wasn’t too difficult to install, despite its size. Were this our test platform, then the DRP2 would probably come away looking quite impressive.
However, our test rig uses a hexa-core Core i7-3960X overclocked to 4.1GHz. It has nearly twice the TDP of the 3770K and can make a lot of heat when pushed hard. While the DRP2 performed at least as well as a 212 Evo when the CPU load was light, it struggled to keep up when we engaged Intel’s thermal testing tool, coming in several degrees higher than the Evo. Granted, the Evo will produce substantially more noise at this point (a 2,000rpm fan speed, versus 1,400rpm). But the DRP2 currently costs about three times as much an Evo, which we find difficult to justify when dealing with a beefy CPU like this one. We also tested the DRP2 against the similarly designed and quiet Phanteks TC14PE, which came in about 5 degrees Celsius lower and currently costs less, too (Be Quiet says it expects prices of the DRP2 to drop as more retailers carry it).
Also, a word on installation. The Core i7-3960X uses Intel’s LGA2011 socket, which has a non-removable backplate. This alters the way in which coolers are installed. In the DRP2’s case, this was a change for the worse. It attaches to its bracket by threading nuts onto some bolts. But the nuts are almost completely obscured by the sheer size of the cooler. We actually had to pull the motherboard out of the case and remove the RAM and video card to get enough clearance to install the nuts. Meanwhile, the 212 Evo just uses a 2011-specific bracket whose fasteners are reachable with a standard screwdriver. The TC14PE is manageable if you have a screwdriver with a long shaft.
The Dark Rock Pro 2 performs respectably and quietly on any LGA1155 processor, but the Phanteks TC14PE remains the overall champ for lower-noise air coolers.
Kludgy install for LGA2011; underwhelming price/performance ratio.
Dark Rock Pro 2 Quiet Mode
Dark Rock Pro 2 Performance Mode
Phanteks TC14PE Quiet Mode
Phanteks TC14PE Performance Mode
212 Evo Performance Mode
Load - Ambient
Best scores are bolded. All temperatures in degrees Celsius. All tests performed with an Intel Core i7-3960X at 4.1GHz, on an Asus Rampage IV Extreme motherboard, in a Corsair 900D with stock fans set to Standard.