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Roundup: Six Sub-$40 Performance CPU Coolers Compared

Roundup: Six Sub-$40 Performance CPU Coolers Compared
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Remember when overclocking was all about getting more performance for less money? It's hard to do that when you're spending top dollar on premium heatsinks and fans. Today we round up six true value-oriented coolers that could help unleash hidden speed.

Our tests continuously show the benefits of overclocking on system performance, where a few simple adjustments often allow tweaked mainstream hardware to outperform even the most expensive factory-spec’d parts.

And yet, many buyers overclock in search of value rather than breakneck speed, and that value can vanish fairly quickly if you have to buy premium aftermarket heatsinks and fans to support ambitious overclocking efforts.

The good news for value-seekers is that today’s CPU air coolers perform so well that more expensive options are—in most cases—no longer needed. This editor has even found several instances where a big heat sink and fan beats a similarly-sized liquid-cooling configuration priced nearly twice as high.

While some air cooling components can be expensive, the majority should fit into all but the tightest budgets.

Of course, the cheapest way to go is using the cooler that comes with boxed retail processors. But those are often barely adequate for running the CPU at stock speed. That's why we're taking a look at the next level in CPU cooling: a group of six new $20-40 “universal” models that could help you turn just about any modern CPU into a performance monster.

Value/Performance CPU Cooler Features
 Corsair A50Deepcool Ice Matrix 400Gelid Tranquillo
Top Height6.56"6.35"5.95"
Base Height1.57"1.90"1.15"
Center to Front2.18"1.87"2.35"
Number of Fans111
Fan Size120 mm120 mm120 mm
PWMNoYesYes
Weight23 Ounces22 Ounces23 Ounces
AMD OrientationUpdraftCross flowUpdraft
Intel Sockets775, 1156, 1366775, 1156, 1366775, 1156, 1366
Web Price $38  $38  $35
Value-Performance CPU Cooler Features
 Rosewill RCX-ZAIO-92Xigmatek GaiaZalman CNPS10X Performa
Top Height5.38"6.19"6.00"
Base Height1.56"1.40"1.50"
Center to Front2.25"2.07"2.25"
Number of Fans111
Fan Size92 mm120 mm120 mm
PWMYesYesYes
Weight17 Ounces22 Ounces27 Ounces
AMD OrientationUpdraftCross flowBoth
Intel Sockets775, 1156, 1366775, 1156, 1366775, 1156, 1366
Web Price $20  $30  $35


Corsair is the only brand in today’s comparison to include a non-PWM fan with its package. Most enthusiast motherboards now support both PWM and voltage-based fan speed controls, but it’s a feature to keep in mind for the few motherboards that lack this capability.

Display 85 Comments.
Top Comments
  • 22 Hide
    Wolygon , November 24, 2010 4:52 AM
    "Its incomprehensible that the Hyper 212 was left out of this kind of review. That decision makes this article worthless."


    Read the article before posting please.
  • 18 Hide
    Crashman , November 24, 2010 4:43 AM
    amk09i wished you included a cooler such as the coolermaster hyper 212, that seems to be a highly recommended cooler and it would have been nice to see how it squared up against these ones.
    We did:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/lga-1156-heatsink,2535-4.html
    That's why the same system was used for both tests. It's all mentioned in the article, too.
  • 13 Hide
    amk09 , November 24, 2010 4:23 AM
    i wished you included a cooler such as the coolermaster hyper 212, that seems to be a highly recommended cooler and it would have been nice to see how it squared up against these ones.
Other Comments
  • 13 Hide
    amk09 , November 24, 2010 4:23 AM
    i wished you included a cooler such as the coolermaster hyper 212, that seems to be a highly recommended cooler and it would have been nice to see how it squared up against these ones.
  • 18 Hide
    Crashman , November 24, 2010 4:43 AM
    amk09i wished you included a cooler such as the coolermaster hyper 212, that seems to be a highly recommended cooler and it would have been nice to see how it squared up against these ones.
    We did:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/lga-1156-heatsink,2535-4.html
    That's why the same system was used for both tests. It's all mentioned in the article, too.
  • 22 Hide
    Wolygon , November 24, 2010 4:52 AM
    "Its incomprehensible that the Hyper 212 was left out of this kind of review. That decision makes this article worthless."


    Read the article before posting please.
  • -4 Hide
    dogman_1234 , November 24, 2010 5:03 AM
    ^ Or water cooling. It was a great article but, How about comparing to Hydro cooling and add an AMD system too. Intel is great at generating heat, AMD is better thought!
  • 1 Hide
    sudeshc , November 24, 2010 5:23 AM
    was waiting for this kind of article for some time now, thanks toms. Loved the article, thinking about to go with Zalman's Cooler.
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , November 24, 2010 5:42 AM
    duk3How did the Zalman CNPS10X Performa get into this review at $35?
    It was $35. It went up at Newegg about a week ago, but if you look around enough you might find the launch price elsewhere.
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , November 24, 2010 5:45 AM
    Just wanted to say thanks for the article. And I think it's extra awesome that you actually respond to the comments/questions (I just read through the other roundup from earlier this year).
  • 6 Hide
    DavC , November 24, 2010 6:00 AM
    good article. it would be nice to see the standard cooler on the charts just for comparison though.
  • 8 Hide
    SpadeM , November 24, 2010 6:01 AM
    Great article tackling the budget builder but with an overclocker's heart :p . There are a few things I would like to mention/request:
    - Heatpipe orientation .. I know all about capillary action but since I don't know of any manufacturer that advertises/places the type of wick they use on the box of the cooler, believing that all coolers are the same and therefor heatpipe orientation does not matter, is a bit idiotic. I know that on a open test bed with the motherboard sitting flat/horizontally the heatpipe orientation isn't relevant but inside a PC case it might be .. and here is my dilemma. Did some research about this, but other then forums and "i believe so" arguments I haven't found anything relevant on this subject. The thing is I was looking these past few weeks at reviews for arctic cooling's 13 on different websites and even though the test method (and room temp)is slightly different from one reviewer to the other, the temp values differ quite a bit which is normal but the biggest difference seams to stem from it's orientation in a pc case.

    Main point of my rambling ... since this is probably one of the oldest tech websites out there, could you bust/prove this myth? Get a bunch of coolers from all price ranges (i have a feeling that cheaper coolers would turn up a bigger difference in values that the expensive ones) and place them est-west and north-south inside a closed pc case. Run a couple of tests and gives us the results.

    PS: i know that case fans matter but since most pc cases now have a psu mounted at the bottom and there is a exhaust fan/grill at the top, you could use that as the "standard case" for this test.
  • 0 Hide
    djmik21 , November 24, 2010 7:10 AM
    Thanks tom.
    Great article.
    I wanted a comparison between the CM 212+ and Xigmatek Gaia.
    I think i'm going for the Gaia for its easier installation and to use it in a 2-fan setup with a fan that i allready have and don't know where to use it.
    It would be even better if you added the performance of the coolers that support 2-fan setups.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , November 24, 2010 7:34 AM
    djmik21Thanks tom.Great article.I wanted a comparison between the CM 212+ and Xigmatek Gaia.I think i'm going for the Gaia for its easier installation and to use it in a 2-fan setup with a fan that i allready have and don't know where to use it.It would be even better if you added the performance of the coolers that support 2-fan setups.

    Sorry, but the Hyper 212+ is too old to be part of a "new for 2010" cooler roundup, but that's why the link was provided in the article and the response thread:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/lga-1156-heatsink,2535-4.html
  • 0 Hide
    djmik21 , November 24, 2010 8:31 AM
    I knew that and so i went and compared the test results and that's how i decided on the gaia.
    thnx again
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , November 24, 2010 8:39 AM
    does every page HAVE to have a popup ad/page?
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , November 24, 2010 9:16 AM
    tarawadoes every page HAVE to have a popup ad/page?
    Nah, I have mine disabled.
  • 0 Hide
    tsnor , November 24, 2010 10:21 AM
    CrashmanNah, I have mine disabled.


    funny
  • 1 Hide
    Reynod , November 24, 2010 10:21 AM
    Crashman nice article ... seriously.

    I can see this time you took your time editing it and the end result is excellent.

    On an unrelated note ... any news on whether your "grumpiness" is improving or can I expect a "slap" for my cheeky comment ... heh heh.

    Seriously, If this is the new standard required for the other reviewers then the rest (Bar Chris and Don) have some work to do mate.

    Well done ... very well done.
  • 0 Hide
    Yuka , November 24, 2010 11:24 AM
    Thanks Crashman for the review.

    Are you guys adding a "Coolers P/P rank" anytime soon? That would be so helpful 8)

    Cheers!
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