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The enemy of both stability and longevity, heat changes the characteristics of silicon in a way that eventually makes it unsuitable for use in a logic circuit. Heat damage can sneak up on overclockers quickly, such as the 59 degree Celsius stability limit we encountered when overclocking AMD’s Phenom II. Similarly, many of our Core 2 Duos responded unfavorably to temperatures over 65 degrees Celsius.
But hasn’t all that changed with the advent of Lynnfield, a core that can just withstand temperatures of up to 100 degrees Celsius? We have, after all, been flirting with 95 degrees Celsius regularly while testing the overclocking capabilities of motherboards, yet still reach stable clock speeds of over 4.3 GHz.
Although our Core i7-870 sample raised the temperature level at which we had to put on the brakes, its temperature limit coinciding with our cooling and voltage limits happened by mere coincidence. Surely a platform that operates so close to its thermal limit on an open test bench would be unsuitable for use in a closed case, since the higher ambient temperatures would cause thermal throttling (Intel’s automatic speed reduction) at anything close to full CPU load. Liquid cooling could help, but recent tests have shown that anything less than a dual-fan radiator version often provides unsatisfactory results. Most users don't want to bother with a high-end liquid configuration, and most cases don’t support those enormous radiators. For the sake of builders, it’s time for us to track down the best possible air-cooling solution.