When we tested Noctua’s tower-style NH-U12P in August 2009, its performance was excellent, making it a close second to our then-champion Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme. Given the success of coolers with one fan and one set of cooling fins, it’s logical to think that, hey, maybe two sets of fins and two fans would be even better! Thus (probably) was born the Noctua NH-D14, with its two pounds, 12 ounces of cooling power.
The NH-D14 consists of six heat pipes rising from a heat exchanger into two stacks of cooling fins, with a 14cm fan between the fins and a 12cm fan on the outside. It looks like the NH-U12P, doubled. And it’s enormous, albeit easy to install. The center 14cm fan removes easily—Noctua has really improved its wire retention clips—and an included long Philips-head screwdriver makes attaching the NH-D14 to its mounting bars simple, though we struggled with the sheer footprint of the device; some configurations may require moving the 12cm fan, lest it interfere with RAM cooling fins.
When we reviewed the Scythe Mugen 2 in the December issue, we praised its performance and ease of installation but bemoaned its enormous size. But now that we’ve tested its cousin, the Scythe Kabuto cooler, we’ve learned to be careful what we wish for. The good news is that the Kabuto mostly forgoes the Mugen 2’s ample proportions. The bad news is that it also forgoes the easy installation and excellent cooling.
The Kabuto’s heat-dissipation system looks like someone took a standard skyscraper-style air-cooler’s fin stack and bent it 90 degrees, so the heat pipes run parallel to the motherboard instead of up into the air. A 12cm 1,300rpm Scythe PWM fan sits atop the fin stack and blows air downward. At the base, the six heat pipes are sandwiched between the CPU heat exchanger and a solid heatsink, but aren’t integrated into either, thus reducing the Kabuto’s cooling power.
At first glance, the Hyper 212 Plus seems like Cooler Master’s original Hyper 212 with a different fan mounting system and support for sockets 1156 and 1366. But while the original had two sets of heat dissipation fins, one set for each end of the heat pipes, the 212 Plus adopts a more straightforward tower design, with the heatsink fins connected to both ends of each heat pipe. It’s the same basic and effective design seen in all of today’s top-performing air coolers. And unlike most coolers, the 212 Plus’s heat pipes contact the CPU directly. So, how do the Hyper 212 Plus’s stacks stack up against the competition?
The Hyper 212 Plus is one of the smaller air coolers we’ve tested recently—a big relief after last month’s monstrous Scythe Mugen 2. At 4.7 inches wide, 3.1 inches deep, and 6.2 inches high, the Hyper 212 is shorter than our champion, Thermalright’s U120, though it’s about an inch deeper. It’s also about a pound lighter, at 1.4 pounds to the Thermalright’s 2-plus pounds. Despite its relative lack of bulk, though, it managed to bump right up against the north-bridge heat spreaders on our EVGA 680i SLI board—a problem that would be avoided if the cooler’s fins started a half-inch higher up the pipes. To install the 212 Plus, we had to insert four standoff pegs into the motherboard and tighten them by bolting them to the backplate. An x-shaped bracket with spring screws at the corners holds the cooler to the CPU. We like this approach because it makes the cooler easy to install without having to worry about the backplate falling off, and the standoffs allow the use of shorter screws for the mounting bracket. Once the cooler was secure, we mounted the included 12cm fan using common wire retention clips—a simple task made difficult by the close proximity of the cooler to the north bridge’s cooling fins.
They just keep getting bigger and bigger. Now that CPU air-cooling manufacturers have seemingly settled on the skyscraper school of heatsink design, there seems to be a competition over who can cram the most cooling fins into the largest area. Scythe’s Mugen 2 air cooler, the follow-up to its popular Mugen series, is one of the largest coolers of this type that we’ve ever tested. But can it match the cooling power of its slightly smaller cousins, such as Thermalright’s U-120 eXtreme?
The Mugen 2 is a hefty hunk of a cooler, at 5.1 inches wide, 5 inches deep (with the included 12cm fan), and 6.2 inches high; it weighs nearly two pounds. It’s not the heaviest cooler we’ve ever tested, nor the most unwieldy, but its girth could certainly prevent you from installing it in all orientations on all motherboards. We had trouble fitting it in some orientations on our EVGA 680i SLI board—our usual preference being to install the cooler fan parallel with the rear exhaust fan. On our board, though, there wasn’t room; we resorted to attaching the cooler fan perpendicular to the rear exhaust fan. Thankfully, this didn’t seem to impact performance, as the Mugen 2 performed slightly better in our tests than the Thermalright U120-eXtreme—about 2.25 C cooler at both idle and full CPU burn.
Everyone and their CPU-cooler-manufacturing mother are jumping aboard the skyscraper-formfactor bandwagon, hoping to match the performance of Thermalright’s Ultra-120 eXtreme and Noctua’s NH-U12P air coolers. Last month we tested Zalman’s attempt, and this month we have Thermaltake’s answer, the ISGC-300, one of a series of four ISGC-branded air coolers recently released into the wild. Thermaltake’s creative relationship with the English language is responsible for the ISGC moniker, which stands for “Inspiration of Silent Gaming Cooling.”
The ISGC-300 consists of a copper heat exchanger with four heat pipes running into a tower of 33 saw-toothed fins. At 6.24 inches high by five inches wide by 2.8 inches deep, it’s slightly shorter and narrower than Thermalright’s Ultra-120, but about a quarter-inch deeper. A 12cm white Thermaltake hydrodynamic-bearing fan is held onto the front using metal clips in a manner reminiscent of the Noctua NH-U12P. The nine-bladed fan is quiet and includes a variable-speed switch in lieu of a four-pin PVM connector. At its quietest, it’s nearly silent; at its loudest, it’s still damned quiet.
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.