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Test Hardware

Small Water Versus Big Air, Part 3: Cooling Questions Answered

We wanted a case and power supply that could meet the requirements of a typical performance system. While many readers voice a preference for cases that have power supplies at the bottom and huge fans on the side or top, most real-world systems use the classic mid-tower layout. Silverstone’s KL03 is almost perfect for this task.

While high-capacity power supplies are at the top of many buyers’ wish lists, real-world budgets force the majority to settle for somewhat less. A fairly solid mid-capacity unit, Antec’s NeoPower 650 is the closest thing we could find to a typical performance-system power unit.

With typical ventilation addressed, it was time to add an atypical thermal load to see just how well these coolers could perform with no other optimizations. An overclocked LGA 1366-based processor would do the trick nicely, and our retail-boxed version was already installed in our most frequently-used motherboard.

Overclocked to 3.8 GHz at 1.366V and completely loaded with eight threads of Prime95, Intel’s Core i7-920 converts over 250W of energy to heat, as measured in various System Builder Marathon articles. That’s enough to tax nearly any moderately-priced cooling system.

Asus’ P6T motherboard keeps our moderate overclock stable at a moderate cost.

Kingston’s DDR3-2000 was chosen for convenience since it had already been installed in the P6T motherboard.  Though this DRAM has proven exceptionally cable throughout many X58 motherboard comparisons, its overclocking capabilities were completely unnecessary for our DDR3-1600 CAS 8-8-8-24 settings.

Our final equalizer is the use of a single thermal compound to test all of the coolers. Zalman has offered enough ZM-STG1 thermal grease so that every North American reviewer on Tom’s Hardware staff has two bottles.

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