How AMD's Wraith Cooler Came To Be

Last week at CES, AMD first showed off its new Wraith CPU cooler. We have some details, but we also spoke with one of its primary creators to get the inside story on how it came to be. Hint: His is a familiar name to longtime Tom's Hardware readers! 

What is Wraith?

AMD’s Wraith cooler is the upcoming unit that will ship with the company's higher-end processors. The company did not yet announce all of the juicy details about it, but we know a couple things, so let’s dive in.

The cooler is built to be extremely silent. Although it isn't particularly sizable, it has more cooling surface area and higher fan airflow than its predecessor.

Via the cooling fins, the Wraith has 179,730.10 square mm of surface area, and its fan pushes up to 55.78 CFM. Compared to the D3 cooler (its predecessor), these numbers are 34 percent and 24 percent more lavish, respectively.

How Much Quieter Is It

So, you’d think that the higher air flow would make more noise, but somehow AMD’s engineers managed to quiet the cooler down significantly. Its numbers say that the D3 produced up to 51 dBA of noise, whereas the new Wraith cooler peaks at 39 dBA. Of course, that’s not Noctua levels of silence, but considering that dBA’s are on a logarithmic scale, it means that the Wraith cooler is more than 10-fold quieter than its predecessor.

Of course, to the ears the difference isn't quite 10-fold dramatic, but a 12 dBA drop is truly immense. The science between converting dBA to perceived sound levels by human ears isn't exact, but it is generally accepted that 10 dBA is roughly equivalent to being twice as loud, meaning that the Wraith should be perceived as just under half as noisy as the D3.

It’s LED-Lit ,Too?

In addition to more fins, a stronger fan, and quieter operation, AMD also placed a shroud on the cooler with LED lighting. Etched into the shroud are the letters "AMD" with the company logo, which appear only when the system is switched on. When the system isn’t running, you cannot see the logo.

Story Time

If you’ve been reading Tom’s Hardware for a while, you may recognize the name Don Woligroski. Don is our former Graphics Editor, but this year he departed for greener pastures and is now AMD's Product Marketing Manager for desktop CPUs.

When Don arrived at AMD a few months back, he said that AMD already had a cooler designed that was quiet, but it wasn’t "cool."

"It didn’t look the part, it looked like the standard cooler," Woligroski told us. "They decided to pimp it out by changing the fan color from black to red, but I didn’t consider that an improvement. I thought, 'Why can’t a stock cooler be an object of desire? If it performs, why can’t it look as good as it works?'"

He continued, "The graphics team has been designing stylish reference coolers for a long time, but this was new territory for the processor team. So I got involved in the heatsink plan meetings, and I sold them the idea hard. And you could tell, the CPU guys weren’t used to thinking along these lines, but they loved it. So we talked about the cool-looking stuff in the market, like shrouds, and LEDs. I have a little design experience, so I mocked up some prototypes to get people thinking. I based the first designs on Radeon graphics card reference coolers, with design cues from the Radeon Fury X and Radeon R9 295X2. But it evolved. We got a designer and explored a few different routes, but the basics didn’t change much."

"Then someone mentioned laser-cut LED technology. This allows you to create something with a flat black surface with no marks or indication that it’s not opaque, but it can display an illuminated logo once it is turned on – surprise! Every person I’ve talked to about this, their eyelids pop up when they hear that a stock CPU cooler has an illuminated logo." He said that when he was in a financial meeting, the accountants perked up when someone mentioned the Wraith cooler information. "[They] said, 'You guys have an LED logo on that? Cool!' And I knew we were on the right track. So we incorporated that, and the style continued to evolve in a sleek, black, classy direction. Simple but elegant."

Woligroski continued: "There were technical challenges, too. Add a shroud, and it can add vibration, and noise. The LEDs require extra wiring, but it has to work in a standard CPU plug. A hundred other details you and I would never even think about. You’d be surprised the amount of minutia that is a serious concern with this kind of product, but the engineers and technical staff were up to the task. They just chewed through it."

When Will It Be Coming?

Unfortunately, we don't know when the Wraith cooler will be available, although chances are that it won't be a very long wait. AMD hasn't announced which CPUs it will be shipping with, either, although the packaging at CES did give us a pretty good hint.

In the meantime, sit tight. We're looking forward to seeing whether the cooler will live up to AMD's promises.

Follow Niels Broekhuijsen @NBroekhuijsen. Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

Niels Broekhuijsen

Niels Broekhuijsen is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He reviews cases, water cooling and pc builds.

  • toddybody
    Very glad to see stock AMD coolers improve so much...but with most things, the natural question is "why did it take this long"?

    I think AMD could create a great value statement by really upping the game on their stock coolers...making their cost argument against intel (~$30.00 entry point of decent aftermarket coolers) that much better.
  • rolli59
    Great new Cooler! New CPU's????
  • TechyInAZ
    Now that's cool!! Intel, learn from this!

    That's soo cool that a ex-TH editor is actually onboard with amd on this, sweet!
  • pjc6281
    Great, AMD can cool their overheated processors. Leave the cooling to the aftermarket and spend the R&D on a new performance chipset/Socket/processor. Get in the GAME AMD, we need you to compete.
  • Hatemode
    +3db's is twice as loud to the human ears.. not +10dbs...
  • thor220
    AMD's really re-inventing everything for Zen, isn't it? I think it's great that they can sit down in a meeting and push things forward like this. They aren't as big as Intel so it's much easier to do things like this and it definitely bodes well for them.

    If this new cooler is good it would be very bad news for Intel, who haven't changed their design in a long time. Anyone buying low-to midrange CPUs would consider a quieter, cooler PC a large advantage.
  • falchard
    AMD has had good coolers since Phenom II. So it's not surprising they continue to improve their cooler. Intel doesn't even try on their coolers, and frankly they don't need to.
  • quilciri
    Great, AMD can cool their overheated processors. Leave the cooling to the aftermarket and spend the R&D on a new performance chipset/Socket/processor. Get in the GAME AMD, we need you to compete.

    I'd love to see Zen processors outperform Skylake, but I've huge respect for AMD regardless.

    With 10% of Intel's budget and personnel, AMD has developed x86 CPU's, ARM CPU's, GPU"s APU's, adaptive sync that does not require additional hardware, their own memory modules (not to mention HBM integration), and an entirely new graphics API that has become the basis of DirectX12.

    But of course, no one cares that they only have 1/10th of Intel's money to spread between both their CPU and GPU divisions. They want AMD CPU's to outperform Intel's and cost less.

    AMD is very much "in the game", imho.
  • Onijin
    If it can cool an FX series CPU it's definitely not a piece of kit to sneeze at.

    Just please, AMD, use it well with Zen so we can have competition again. I miss blow-for-blow performance wars like we got in the early 2000s.
  • CaedenV
    So, this is cool, but really? The finance guys at a company in fiscal difficulty thought that was 'cool' rather than 'wasteful'? And one wonders why they have problems.

    Still, it is cool... but OEMs are going to have their own coolers, and most of their customer base will replace it with an aftermarket cooler... wouldn't it make more sense to just have the simple quiet redesigned cooler built as cheap as possible, and then have a few larger fancy aftermarket options (with higher markup) to let the AMD enthusiasts (of which there are many) help support the company with a few extra purchases.