Do Intel’s Core i7-3000-series CPUs really need closed-loop liquid cooling? Today we're testing fourteen different LGA 2011-compatible air coolers on an overclocked Core i7-3960X in order to determine whose is the most effective.
The top three cooling performers, in order, are Noctua and Zalman, followed by Phanteks. The three coolers with the highest cooling-to-noise ratio are from Thermalright, Zalman, and Noctua. Wouldn’t it be nice if one of these companies could also top our cooling-to-price chart?
Alas, the least-expensive models take that prize. All three of the best cooling-per-dollar contenders use mid-speed fans, and only Corsair needs a pair of fans to achieve this value rating.
If we exclude Enermax from this overclocking-oriented cooler comparison due to its relatively low thermal performance, we’re left with the 31 db Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo battling Corsair’s A70. A temperature difference of only 1° C certainly makes it hard to argue against Cooler Master’s lower noise level, yet price parity will probably push many enthusiasts to take that 1° to the bank.
It’s at this point where we must wonder what would happen if we compare acoustic efficiency to price.
Cooler Master wins this time, and by a wider margin. If we were basing this review on Intel’s upcoming Core i7-3820, we might even hand out a value award and be done with the story.
But we’re not using a low-cost processor, and prices on Intel’s six-core models justify higher standards of cooling and noise. Putting cost aside, we like the low temperature and noise of Zalman’s CNPS12X. But it also doesn’t fit our motherboard in the desired orientation, or even provide proper memory clearance for our 1.55” tall DIMMs. Instead of using the CNPS12X backwards or trying to remove its fans and face them the other way, and then installing shorter memory that we didn’t even want, we’re forced to consider Noctua’s second-place performer as a perennial champion ever since its took the performance lead two years ago.
The problem with “Best of” awards is that the best often changes before we can even get a review published. Determining that something's the best also means we have to test all of its competition. If we trust that Noctua’s competitors put forth their best efforts for this comparison, two years of performance leadership make the NH-D14 deserving of our highest honor.
But how valuable is this award, really? The NH-D14 just earned this editor’s very first “Best of Tom's Hardware” in the award's four-year history!
- LGA 2011: No Boxed Solution, Pick Your Own Instead
- Installing Akasa's Venom Voodoo
- Installing Arctic Cooling's Freezer i30
- Installing Cooler Master's Hyper 212 Evo
- Installing Coolink's Corator DS
- Installing Corsair's Air Series A70
- Installing Deepcool's (Gamerstorm) Assassin
- Installing Enermax's ETS-T40
- Installing Gelid's GX-7
- Installing Noctua's NH-D14
- Installing Phantek's PH-TC14PE
- Installing SilenX's EFZ-120HA5
- Installing Thermalright's Archon SB-E
- Installing Xigmatek's Venus XP-SD1266
- Installing Zalman's CNPS12X
- Test Settings And Benchmarks
- Benchmark Results: Cooling And Fan Speed
- Benchmark Results: Noise And Acoustic Efficiency
- Which LGA 2011 Cooler Would We Buy?