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Is It Worth Upgrading Your Stock CPU Cooler?

Is It Worth Upgrading Your Stock CPU Cooler?
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Many folks prefer building their own PC systems rather than purchasing pre-configured solutions, and most typically go for a retail processor, as the fancy boxes from AMD and Intel typically include a cooler that each respective vendor considers "good enough." While low-end retail processors tend to be bundled with the lightest, least-effecitve coolers for the sake of keeping cost low, upper-mainstream and high-end CPUs do generally include decent cooling devices. Even so, we found that an aftermarket cooler, such as the new Zalman CNPS 10X, can do a much better job of cooling an overclocked Core i7-920.

Cool(er) Investment

The so-called “boxed coolers” that come included with retail processors such as the Intel Core i7-920, may look nice thanks to copper cores and many really subtle fins that increase the cooling surface. But their intended use is regular PCs, making them a rather poor choice for enthusiasts, overclockers, or users looking to assemble a truly quiet system.

There are many vendors that cater to users in need of more efficient, more powerful or simply quieter processor cooling solutions. Companies such as Coolermaster, Glacialtech, In-Win, Noctua, Prolima, Scythe, Spire, Thermalright, Thermaltake, Titan, Xigmatek and others offer aftermarket cooling solutions for various needs. We decided to use the latest upper mainstream cooler by Zalman, the CNPS 10X, to replace Intel’s Core i7 boxed cooler.

This is the cooler that comes with Intel's Core i7-920 processor. Although it has a copper core and a large surface area, every decent upper-mainstream aftermarket cooler will outclass it.

Cooling, in Short

Coolers are all about conducting heat away from a hot spot (the processor, in this case) and dissipating that heat over a large surface area into the surrounding air. System and power supply fans then suck the heated air out of the PC. The larger the heat sink surface, the easier it is to dissipate air quickly and evenly. So-called heat pipes, which are fluid-filled tubes, assist in distributing heat onto a complex heat sink. You will find that most state-of-the-art coolers have rather massive dimensions in an effort to provide maximum surface area.

As for materials, while silver and copper have excellent heat conductivity, these materials are rather expensive—aluminum offers an acceptable compromise between cost and conductivity.

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Top Comments
  • 32 Hide
    pirateboy , September 3, 2009 8:27 AM
    at least include numbers in degrees Celsius in your tables if you are serious about your article...I doubt more than half of your readers use Fahrenheit...maybe only the US and some other backward countries use it still?
Other Comments
  • 4 Hide
    Korok , September 3, 2009 6:23 AM
    answers the question fully
    nice article
  • 2 Hide
    Twoboxer , September 3, 2009 7:12 AM
    What was the ambient temperature during this test?
  • 0 Hide
    drealar , September 3, 2009 7:35 AM
    Short simple article.
    This surely gives me the answer to a question I had in mine.
    'Never buy bulky aftermarket cooler if I Never OC'.
    Cool, now my choices are down to lighter low-profile Zalman performance coolers which will still beat stock ones :D 
  • 4 Hide
    leafblower29 , September 3, 2009 7:50 AM
    I was able to overclock to 3.6ghz on my Phenom II 940's stock cooler.
  • 2 Hide
    dingumf , September 3, 2009 7:51 AM
    leafblower29I was able to overclock to 3.6ghz on my Phenom II 940's stock cooler.


    Enjoys your slightly higher temps
  • 1 Hide
    yellosnowman , September 3, 2009 7:55 AM
    good article on the zalman cpns10x but I would like to see a Thermalright 120 TRUE black with 2x NF-p12 :)  2 best fans with best heatsink
  • 0 Hide
    leafblower29 , September 3, 2009 7:56 AM
    dingumfEnjoys your slightly higher temps

    they aren't that much higher.
  • 2 Hide
    gti88 , September 3, 2009 7:58 AM
    I think, Hyper 212 is far better choice. Zalman's too noisy and twice more expensive.
  • 6 Hide
    Anonymous , September 3, 2009 8:08 AM
    some aftermarket coolers are geared toward superior cooling, others are geared toward silent or near silent operation.
    it's not clear how this test with one cooler can make such a point. you would have to test at least two coolers against the stock cooler. one with superior cooling, and another that is super quiet, at say a certain (entry level?) price range.
    this zalman cooler may be a good cooler, but is not an ace either in cooling or in silence.
  • 6 Hide
    ravenware , September 3, 2009 8:14 AM
    K

    A round of coolers would be more beneficial. Most of the readers on TH would immediately know the answer to the elementary question raised in the article...seems a little strange to propose the question and then only bench one aftermarket cooler.
  • -2 Hide
    tomvertommen , September 3, 2009 8:19 AM
    It would be nice to see a noise level comparison between the stock cooler and the CNPS10X Quiet.
  • 32 Hide
    pirateboy , September 3, 2009 8:27 AM
    at least include numbers in degrees Celsius in your tables if you are serious about your article...I doubt more than half of your readers use Fahrenheit...maybe only the US and some other backward countries use it still?
  • -3 Hide
    Anonymous , September 3, 2009 8:38 AM
    I still use an Intel stock cooler with really good results. But I added a metal X-bar to the bottom of it and screwed the stock cooler to this X-bar instead of using the springs. To my experience this makes a big difference.

    The motherboard bends too easily under the weight of the cooler and the springs. This reduces the pressure from the CPU to the cooler and gives poor heat conduction. Also the cooling elements of other components in the neighbourhood of the CPU on the Asus board had bad contact because of the sever bending of the motherboard.
  • 0 Hide
    anonymous x , September 3, 2009 8:39 AM
    pirateboyat least include numbers in degrees Celsius in your tables if you are serious about your article...I doubt more than half of your readers use Fahrenheit...maybe only the US and some other backward countries use it still?

    when you first go to tom's hardware you select your languages, and there are 2 english options i think. I wonder if it changes to celsius for other countries besides the US. Doesn't matter for me, I know both systems and can convert between them.
  • 4 Hide
    amnotanoobie , September 3, 2009 9:02 AM
    forestersome aftermarket coolers are geared toward superior cooling, others are geared toward silent or near silent operation.it's not clear how this test with one cooler can make such a point. you would have to test at least two coolers against the stock cooler. one with superior cooling, and another that is super quiet, at say a certain (entry level?) price range.this zalman cooler may be a good cooler, but is not an ace either in cooling or in silence.

    As much as I don't want to endorse another site, frostytech already has a list going (top 10 for performance, and a top 10 for silence):
    http://www.frostytech.com/top5heatsinks.cfm




  • -5 Hide
    Anonymous , September 3, 2009 9:33 AM
    Would like a vote on how many TH readers know aftermarket coolers are better for overclocking and how many dont!
  • 0 Hide
    anamaniac , September 3, 2009 10:08 AM
    How about comparing a TRUE and a CM V8 also?

    *Wishing I bought a TRUE instead of a V8*
  • 0 Hide
    Pei-chen , September 3, 2009 11:18 AM
    Wow, this is a Tom's classic article. You guys haven't reviewed heatsinks for so long.
  • 0 Hide
    verrul , September 3, 2009 11:23 AM
    wait zalman makes their money off their mid end silent cooling solutions not their high end ones. Always better to use aftermarket imo. I have wifey's comp running same x2 6000 be i am hers isn't overclocked but still we had to put an aftermarket zalman 7500 in this case cooler on it to help with the poor case airflow. She absolutely has to have the side on.
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