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Cooling On A Low-End Budget

Build It: Picking Parts For Your Kid's Entry-Level Gaming PC
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Bundled Thermal Solutions Don’t Cut It

Neither Intel’s nor AMD’s included CPU coolers are quiet or efficient. And both can run into major trouble if your ambient room temperature is too high, making it a hazard to open your windows in the summer. Consequently, we looked for CPU coolers that would operate a lot more effectively, while respecting our low-budget aspirations. We ended up choosing two Cooler Master-based solutions for testing.

Cheap or affordable? You don't always have to call in the big gunsCheap or affordable? You don't always have to call in the big guns

These two models cost about $18 and $35, respectively. AMD's A8-3850 is most likely to run into trouble with a smaller heat sink, since it runs warmer than the other three CPUs. So, first, let's see if the larger cooler is necessary, or if we can get away with the smaller one.

Temperature and Noise Benchmarks

Surprisingly (and pleasantly, the smaller heat sink manages to cool all four processors adequately. It did reach its limits, though, so if you want to really emphasize conservative acoustics or turn your thermostat up to save money on the electricity bill, the larger cooler might be advisable.

Blowing up(ward): This is a common problem with tower coolers and Socket AM2/3 systemsBlowing up(ward): This is a common problem with tower coolers and Socket AM2/3 systems

Of course, while the thermal benchmarks are important, it's also critical that your heat sink of choice fits into the case you want to use. This can be a problem for AMD-based systems. If the original bracket is used to mount the CPU cooler on the motherboard, heated air is often blown toward the top of the case instead of the back. If you have a graphics card installed underneath and there's no ventilation up top, the resulting cooling setup will probably turn out to be sub-par.

You can use a bigger heat sink, but it won't help muchYou can use a bigger heat sink, but it won't help much

CPU/APU
Cooler Master Hyper TX 3 (Evo)
Cooler Master 212 Evo
AMD A8-3850
Adequate
Good
AMD A6-3650
Good
Good
      Intel Pentium G620       Good
Very Good
Intel Celeron G530
Good
Very Good
Price
$18
$35


Bottom Line

The cheaper heat sink/fan combination manages to cool all four tested systems, including AMD’s 100 W-TDP APUs in a closed case. However, the larger, more expensive model buys you more headroom for higher temperatures and less noise. We’re calling this one a draw and recommending that you make your choice based on personal preference.

Now, for a look at system memory.

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