We were ready to write Zalman off for good. Its much-beloved 9000-series copper heatsinks (culminating in the CNPS9900, which received a Kick Ass award in March 2009) were blown away by the advent of skyscraper-style coolers like the Thermalright Ultra-120. Zalman’s attempt at a skyscraper-style cooler, the CNPS 10X, was a bust, aesthetically and thermally. But now, Zalman’s returned to what it knows best: circular copper arrays surrounding a central fan. The CNPS9900 Max looks like a darker version of the CNPS9900. In this age of dual-fan skyscraper behemoths, can Zalman catch up?
The two biggest differences between this cooler and its predecessor are the finish and the performance.
At 3.7 inches deep by 5.15 inches wide by 5.9 inches high, the CNPS9900 Max is virtually identical to its predecessor. It, too, has three heatpipes—one in the front, two in the back—surrounded by two sets of heat-dissipating copper fins. The only real differences are the finish and the fan. The Max’s fan is 13.5cm compared to the 12cm of its predecessor (and comes in either red-LED or blue-LED versions), and the Max has a smoky-black nickel coating, which has the possibly intentional side effect of making the fins much less likely to draw blood. The Max also ships with an included resistor cable to put the fan in quiet performance mode, but it’s plenty quiet even without that cable.
Let’s get this out of the way: First-time installation of the Max sucks. Its universal backplate system means you only need one backplate, but putting it together is a pain. You need four nuts (heh), four sliding nut retainers, and a square bit of double-stick foam for the backplate. Then you finagle four bolts with a proprietary hex head through the mounting brackets on the bottom of the heatsink and use an Allen wrench–like object to screw them in. Good luck installing it in your computer without taking out at least the graphics card. But once the Zalman CNPS9900 is installed? Holy cow.
We were shocked at how much ass the CNPS9900 Max kicks. On our current test system—our hottest by far—the CNPS9900 Max kept pace with the Prolimatech Armageddon in dual-fan mode. In fact, the Max was slightly cooler. Maybe it’s the bigger fan, or the composite heatpipes. Or maybe Zalman just found a box labeled “magic” in the basement. Whatever the reason, we’re pleased to welcome Zalman back into the top ranks of air-cooling. Our only complaint concerns the tricky installation process—Prolimatech’s approach is still vastly superior. At $80, the CNPS9900 Max is a bit on the pricey side, but for top-tier performance in a familiar (yet not skyscraper-shaped) package, we’ll spring for it.
Top-tier performance; quiet; good looks; less sharp than its predecessor.
Frustrating install; proprietary bolts.
Zalman CNPS9900 Max
Prolimatech Armageddon (2 fans)
CM Hyper 212+
100% Burn (C)
Best scores are bolded. Idle temperatures were measured after an hour of inactivity; load temperatures were measured after an hour running Intel’s internal Lynnfield thermal testing utility at 100 percent load. Test system consists of Intel Core i5-750 overclocked to 3.2GHz on an Asus P7P55D Premium board in a Corsair 800D case with stock fans. Temperatures taken with HWMonitor.