Turn Down the Heat: CPU Cooler Showdown

Nathan Edwards

Three new CPU coolers face off in our hottest test bed yet

One of the wonderful things about modern CPUs is that they overclock extremely well without putting out much heat. Modern Sandy Bridge processors overclock higher and more easily than first-gen i7 chips, while drawing less power and putting out less heat. But even Socket 1366 parts overclock well—they just get hotter, so you’ll need a more powerful cooler. We recently got our hands on three coolers marketed directly to overclockers, so we clocked our 2.8GHz Core i7-930 up to 3.9GHz and hit it with Intel’s internal stress-testing utility, which has been known to physically damage motherboards and fry CPUs if used improperly. We cranked up the utility until our Hyper 212 Plus (our favorite inexpensive cooler) could barely keep up without throttling, and used that as our baseline. Can any of these coolers beat the heat?

NZXT Havik 140

NZXT is new to the cooler game, but if the Havik 140 is any indication, the company isn’t being dumb about it. The Havik 140 is a hefty cooler in the stacked-fins “skyscraper” style, with six copper heat pipes rising from the heat exchanger through 4.25 inches of nickel-plated‑copper heat-dissipation fins. Two 14cm fans with white, wavy blades and black casings are strapped to the front and back faces of the heatsink in push-pull configuration using rubber-band-like straps, which are easier to use than the standard wire clips. The fans use 3-pin power connectors, and the cooler ships with a Y-cable to connect both fans to the mobo’s fan headers.

NZXT's Havik 140 marries two 14cm fans with six heat pipes and a passel of fins.

The cooler stands more than 6.25 inches high from heat exchanger to the ends of the heat pipes, 5.25 inches across, and (with both fans strapped on) 4.75 inches deep. Installation uses a now-familiar system—a universal backplate with four posts mounted in the appropriate holes for the socket and plastic spacers on the other side of the motherboard, upon which rest two mounting bars. A second bar runs between those two mounting bars and secures with spring screws, pressing the heat exchanger against the CPU. NZXT’s version of this mounting system isn’t as solid or as easy to use as Prolimatech’s, which remains the gold standard by which we measure CPU mounting systems, but it’s hardly the trickiest install we’ve ever done.

Once mounted, the Havik performed admirably, besting the Hyper 212 Plus in our stress test by nearly 18 degrees Celsius and slightly outcooling the Prolimatech Armageddon, our Best of the Best air cooler. And it didn’t sound like a jet turbine doing so—the fans were remarkably quiet. At $75, we’ll accept the slightly cheap-feeling mounting bracket. NZXT’s first cooler is great for overclocking.

NZXT Havik 140


EVGA Superclock

NZXT isn’t the only company branching into CPU coolers. EVGA—better known for videocards and motherboards—recently released its Superclock cooler, with five direct-contact copper heat pipes, one clear 12cm fan with red LEDs, and a sharp-looking black finish to its skyscraper-style copper cooling fin stack.

The Superclock rises to just less than 6 inches high, a little over 5.25 inches wide, and (with the fan attached), more than 3 inches deep. The black-plated copper fins are crimped down at the ends and around a hole in the center, channeling airflow only to the areas of the fins near the heat pipes.

Like most coolers these days, the Superclock’s mounting system uses a universal backplate with tall, threaded posts. Four metal nuts are used as spacers behind the motherboard, and four in front of it. The Superclock’s top mounting bracket is preinstalled around the heat exchanger and is secured with six spring screws—one at each corner and two holding the center pressure bar against the back of the heat exchanger.

The EVGA Superclock's direct-contact heat pipes can't make up for its single fan. It pales in comparison to the dual-fan competition.

The 12cm fan is held with wire clips, which attach to the heatsink and clip to the fan (instead of the other way around). For some reason, the heatsink fins are shaped asymmetrically, so you can only mount a fan on one side—there’s no way to secure a fan to the other side for push-pull cooling.

That’s a shame, because the Superclock would benefit from another fan. Or from a quieter fan. The fan uses a 4-pin PWM connector, and at full blast during our stress test, it got loud. The Superclock’s one 12cm fan also couldn’t quite hang with the NZXT Havik or Prolimatech Armageddon, both of which use two 14cm fans, though the Superclock bested the Hyper 212 Plus by 10 degrees C.

At $50, it’s around the midpoint of CPU cooler prices, and the performance is decent at high overclocks. Despite its name, the Superclock runs a little too warm and loud for really high overclocks, at least on Socket 1366. For Sandy Bridge overclocks or stock-clocked chips, it’s quite good, but it can’t compete with heatsinks that offer push-pull configuration with larger fans. Still, it’s good value for the money if you don’t mind a little noise or plan on replacing the fan with your own.

EVGA Superclock


Thermaltake Frio OCK

We have to hand it to Thermaltake: Nearly everything about the Frio OCK is well thought out. The two 13cm fans are secured in a black, red, and blue cowling that clips on and off of the heatsink with ease, eliminating many of the installation frustrations inherent in two-fan (or one-fan) heatsinks. The mounting system—a standard universal backplate, tall posts, plastic spacers, crossbars, and spring-screw mounting clips—is packaged in a little box with all parts clearly labeled, something we hope becomes a trend.

The Thermaltake Frio OCK's fan mounting clip is one of the best we've ever seen. It's easy to attach and remove.

The six heat pipes go up into two separate stacks of cooling fins, which rise (with fans attached) 6 inches high and more than 5.5 inches wide and deep. The sides of the cooling fins are crimped down around the edges to form a tunnel, maximizing cool airflow over the heat fins. The Frio OCK’s two 13cm fans are mounted to a plastic shroud that slips over the cooling fins and clips into place, making the pair of fans easy to install and remove. This greatly increases ease of use, and we wonder why more cooler manufacturers don’t include this sort of thing as a standard feature.

The fans on the Frio OCK are connected to a single 3-pin connector and a variable speed dial, rather than being motherboard-controlled, so you can only control them by opening up the chassis. At full bore, they’re incredibly effective, cooling our overclocked processor to within a degree of the Prolimatech Armageddon. They’re also incredibly loud, to the point where we didn’t really want to be in the room with our PC at all. That’s a pity, because otherwise this cooler is solid: The install process isn’t terrible, the performance is great, and the fan shroud is, frankly, the best we’ve seen.

If you’re not rocking an over-the-top overclock, and can therefore set the Frio OCK’s fans to somewhere below full blast, you’ll find it a fine choice. But it’s just too loud to run at full volume all the time.

Thermaltake Frio OCK


NZXT Havik 140
EVGA Superclock
Thermaltake Frio OCK Promlimatech Armageddon
Hyper 212 Plus
Ambient (C)
24 23.8 23.2 23.2
Idle (C)
43.5 41.75 41.5* 44.75
100% Burn (C)
73.75* 81.75
75.5 74.5 92

Asterisk (*) denotes best score. Ambient represents ambient air temperature in the Lab at time of testing. All coolers tested with a Core i7-930 overclocked to 3.9GHz on an Asus P6X58D Premium motherboard in a Corsair 800D chassis with stock fan, 6GB DDR3 RAM, and a Radeon HD 5850 GPU. Clock frequencies measured with TMonitor; temps with HWMonitor. Stress tests performed with Intel's internal testing utility running at 70 percent load.

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