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Three Down-Draft Heat Sinks: The Last Of A Dying Breed?

Three Down-Draft Heat Sinks: The Last Of A Dying Breed?
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There’s an enormous amount of aftermarket coolers available to those wanting more performance or lower temperatures. The market’s currently dominated by tower coolers, and top coolers have fallen out of favor. Rightfully so? We find out.

Most of our heat sink round-ups involve tower-style, or cross-draft coolers. Rarely do we venture into down-draft designs because, well, there simply aren't as many of them out there. Of course, that didn't stop us from wondering if the more common cross-draft configurations offer some sort of practical advantage, or if down-draft arrangements can perform just as well.

The vendors, at least, tell us that tower-style coolers are the better choice for most scenarios, and that they’re the way to go for high-performance and gaming PCs. On the other hand, down-draft heat sink and fan combos are recommended in home theater PCs (HTPCs) and more compact desktops.

There are two reasons for this. First, down-draft coolers can be installed in slimmer cases; they can be built in such a way that they require less clearance above the CPU, if only because of the way their fans are positioned. Second, and also a result of fan positioning, surrounding components like memory, the chipset, and voltage regulation circuitry also receive some cooling (and not just the CPU). Down-draft coolers actually look fairly good on paper. We set out to see how they fare in practice.

We went ahead and asked all of the heat sink vendors for their best down-draft designs, ultimately leaving the submission choice up to the manufacturers. Only three companies ended up submitted samples, though the resulting field represents the current crop of top-down coolers pretty well, including a number of performance and price levels.

Our three down-draft coolers are the Enermax ETD-T60-VD, the Noctua NH-L12, and the Scythe SCKC-2100 (also sold as the Scythe Grand Kama Cross Rev. B). Prices run the gamut, from Scythe's $44 and Enermax's $55, all the way to Noctua's $72.

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  • 5 Hide
    boulbox , October 8, 2012 4:25 AM
    My h100 is horrible compared to this :( 
  • 6 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , October 8, 2012 4:59 AM
    WOW! Sound levels are way above advertised levels.
  • -9 Hide
    killerclick , October 8, 2012 5:05 AM
    Scythe coolers are the best overall, but 1000+ RPM is just too high.
  • -3 Hide
    Darkerson , October 8, 2012 5:08 AM
    I used to have a Thermaltake Dualorb, and it was really nice because both fans would also blow over the ram and and chipset heatsink. I am currently using a 2500k running at 5GHz with a CM Hyper 212+, and my ambient on the cores is around 28-30, and peak is on average about 67-68c. At any rate, interesting article.
  • 5 Hide
    luciferano , October 8, 2012 6:09 AM
    JohnnyLuckyWOW! Sound levels are way above advertised levels.


    Don't forget to account for ambient noise, which is already often higher than the rated loudness of many coolers.
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , October 8, 2012 6:26 AM
    with the enermax and noctua both @ $68 the scythe is a steal @ $40 on amazon.
  • 1 Hide
    antemon , October 8, 2012 6:41 AM
    coolermaster didn't send in their vortex (which is what i have)
  • 3 Hide
    merikafyeah , October 8, 2012 8:38 AM
    It has been my life-long dream to pair a Cooler Master GeminII S524: bit.ly/PiVHxw
    with the greatest 140mm desktop PC fan in existence, the Sanyo Denki 9LB1412M501: bit.ly/QOHXJA
    Specs: 140x140 51mm 138CFM 2000rpm 39dBA 12V 0.5A
    Essentially the most perfect balance of airflow to noise I have ever seen.

    I can only imagine how well this fan can cool not only the CPU but virtually the entire upper half of the motherboard as well. Alas, my dream will remain a dream since although I know where to buy the fan, the min. order quantity is 10, pushing the total price to at least $500; way out of my reach.

    But speaking of which, Tom's, why not compare motherboard voltage regulator and RAM module temps with these top-down coolers vs tower coolers? Myself and many overclockers will be extremely interested in these temps.
  • 2 Hide
    doive1231 , October 8, 2012 9:17 AM
    You could just get an Ivy Bridge CPU and sleep tight.
  • 0 Hide
    rantoc , October 8, 2012 10:25 AM
    Top->Down coolers are my favourite choice for building normal non-oc rigs since they cool so much more than just the cpu, as for overclocking "real water" cooling with extra spot on fan for the voltage regulators + ram is my favourite. Seem some forget that with water/air tower designs the MB don't get much often needed airflow around the upper part of the MB.
  • 5 Hide
    CaedenV , October 8, 2012 12:08 PM
    There is a reason why these lower profile coolers are a dying breed:
    1) For most people (and more people now more than ever), the stock cooler is more than adequate. This is especially true on the Intel side, but AMD's stuff runs fine stock as well these days, so there is less need to OC, unless you are OCing just for the fun of doing it.
    2) Tower coolers are cheaper. $20-30 gets you a rather effective cooler these days, most of which have replaceable fans if you happen to think the stock fan too loud. For those who have tons of money to sink on a sink, there are much prettier/effective options on the market in every price bracket.
    3) Of the few people who need or want to OC their machines, pretty much all of them have a mid-tower which is more than capable of fitting a tower, so space is not a concern.

    Now, with all that said, I can actually see a future where this changes: Parts are getting smaller and cooler all the time. There are already some awesome itx mobos out in the wild, and uATX mobos capable of high end xFire and SLi. If you look for them, there are some decent (though not amazing) lower profile PSUs on the market. Actuially, if you go down the list, the only part lagging behind has been the HDD, which is still relatively large, loud, hot, and slow. In the next year or so we will start to see 2TB SSDs (due to better firmwares, die shrinks, and tripple cell nand), which should still fit in the current 'laptop' style form factor. They do not need the same cooling as a HDD, and they take ~1/4th the space, so these small high-density drives should be able to breathe life into performance oriented mini boxes. At least for people like myself, where performance/storage/noise/size are all high priorities, this will make a huge difference, and may put myself in the market for one of these shorter coolers... though I could always leave the top off and have that tower sticking out like a giant tumor
  • 1 Hide
    proffet , October 8, 2012 12:16 PM
    if the case the unit is in has dual vented side panels (for fans) or has an open vent over the CPU then it (top coolers) average about 6-10C cooler than a unit with no side panel.
    I have one and have done this exact test in my own house.
    so it comes down to the case itself and air-flow.

    where's the CM GeminII..?
    COOLER MASTER GeminII S524 120mm CPU Cooler
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835103100

    the end result is that the side blowing or out of the back standard coolers we see like the Hyper Evo and such are slightly better.
    recirculating air inside the case (trying to cool off mobo components) really doesn't do to well.
    just go 'water' or get the air out the case..
  • -2 Hide
    Anonymous , October 8, 2012 3:01 PM
    I'm missing the whole point with this phrase guys... "Second, and also a result of fan positioning, surrounding components like memory, the chipset, and voltage regulation circuitry also receive some cooling (and not just the CPU)"... So where is the difference between using Tower and Down-Draft type?
  • 1 Hide
    Yuka , October 8, 2012 3:13 PM
    No CM Gemin types? I like that HSF.

    Cheers!
  • 2 Hide
    willyroc , October 8, 2012 3:43 PM
    Wow, the Scythe is quite a steal at $40.
  • 1 Hide
    ddpruitt , October 8, 2012 3:44 PM
    I'm wondering how applicable these results are to the real world. Everything her is tested on a test bench, ie no case no obstructions and no weird setups to affect airflow and sound.

    I would like to see cooling solutions tested in environments where they are actually used, cases that have a number of other components that warm up and parts that block and redirect airflow. I'm willing to bet that some of these results would be alot different.
  • 1 Hide
    deadlockedworld , October 8, 2012 3:59 PM
    It seems like a downdraft cooler would be a really good choice in a high-ventilation case like mine. The air is going out the top anyway ... why not push it past the ram.

    I may have to get rid of this annoying, gurgling closed loop water cooler. Or maybe just go all in and go full water...
  • 3 Hide
    army_ant7 , October 8, 2012 6:59 PM
    anonymous-firstI'm missing the whole point with this phrase guys... "Second, and also a result of fan positioning, surrounding components like memory, the chipset, and voltage regulation circuitry also receive some cooling (and not just the CPU)"... So where is the difference between using Tower and Down-Draft type?

    Unlike down-drafts which blow the air against the mo-bo and in effect against other components near the CPU (I think), tower coolers blow air parallel to the mo-bo (parallel things don't make contact). :) 
  • 1 Hide
    RedJaron , October 8, 2012 7:08 PM
    Quote:
    I'm wondering how applicable these results are to the real world. Everything her is tested on a test bench, ie no case no obstructions and no weird setups to affect airflow and sound.

    I would like to see cooling solutions tested in environments where they are actually used, cases that have a number of other components that warm up and parts that block and redirect airflow. I'm willing to bet that some of these results would be alot different.

    My question, too. Tower coolers can be used to direct air to exhaust fans at the back and top of a case. Down-draft recirculates the air in the case. That very fact is brought up in almost every graphics card review with axial vs centrifugal fans.

    I'm not sure how much difference that makes, but I'd love to see some metrics.
  • 1 Hide
    jemm , October 8, 2012 8:36 PM
    The Scythe's SCKC-2100 looks really good -- cool design!
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