Big Air: 14 LGA 2011-Compatible Coolers For Core i7-3000, Reviewed

Do Intel’s Core i7-3000-series CPUs really need closed-loop liquid cooling? Today we're testing fourteen different LGA 2011-compatible air coolers on an overclocked Core i7-3960X in order to determine whose is the most effective.

It seems strange to us that Intel no longer includes a cooler with its fastest retail CPUs. This is, after all, the same company that seems to insist that we include our original boxed cooler any time we send in one of our purchased processors in for a warranty exchange. Instead, it now suggests that enthusiasts spend extra money on something that resembles Antec’s Kühler H20 620, but actually costs as much as the larger Kühler H20 920: Intel's own BXRTS2011LQ sealed liquid CPU cooling system.

The rationale behind this move does make sense in that the Core i7-3960X and Core i7-3930K are multiplier-unlocked products that specifically target overclocking enthusiasts. Enthusiasts typically won’t settle for anything as underpowered as its RTS2011AC downdraft cooler, and Intel doesn’t think hanging two pounds of copper and aluminum up to six inches from the surface of a motherboard is a great idea. And while that kind of leverage tugging on your expensive motherboard is probably ill-advised under the harsh conditions of shipping a machine cross-country, systems that are handled gently and don't get moved often tolerate the weight of big, heavy coolers without a problem.

We invited every major CPU cooler manufacturer (that's right, all of them) to show off their LGA 2011-compatible heat sinks, and fourteen responded with products ranging from $30 to $99. That takes either a great deal of confidence or a great leap of faith from the budget cooler companies, since everyone participating in this piece knew that we'd be basing our evaluation on overclocking. The wide price range allows us to really test how much we need to spend on cooling, and how much we can benefit from spending more money than necessary.

Following up on our earlier picture story, here’s a brief overview of each cooler’s basic features, grouped by price first and arranged alphabetically. Please pay special attention to each cooler’s base height, which is measured with the intake fan at its highest position, along with thickness and offset. If the fan overhangs your DIMM slots, its base height (plus around 0.3" for the CPU/LGA package) represents your maximum supported DIMM height.

LGA 2011 CPU Cooler Features, Sub-$50 Models
 Arctic Cooling Freezer i30Cooler Master Hyper 212 EvoCorsair A70Enermax ETS-T40SilenX EFZ-120HA5
Rad. Thickness2.6"2.0"2.8"2.8"2.3"
Total Thickness3.8"3.1"5.1"3.6"3.4"
Base Height1.2"1.4"1.5"1.5"1.4"
Assy. Offset0.5" Forward1.1" ForwardCentered1.0" Forward1.1" Forward
Cooling Fans1 x 120 x 25 mm1 x 120 x 25 mm2 x 120 x 25 mm1 x 120 x 25 mm1 x 120 x 25 mm
Connectors1 x PWM1 x PWM2 x Three-Pin1 x PWM1 x Three-Pin
Weight32 Ounces22 Ounces41 Ounces23 Ounces23 Ounces
Web Price$40$35$35$30$33

LGA 2011 CPU Cooler Features, $50-79 Models
 Akasa Venom VoodooCoolink Corator DSGelid GX-7 Rev. 2Xigmatek Venus SD1266
Rad. Thickness2.8"2x 1.8"2.5"2.8"
Total Thickness5.1"4.7"3.5"3.9"
Base Height1.3"1.5"1.4"1.5"
Assy. OffsetCentered
Centered0.4" Forward1.1" Forward
Cooling Fans2 x 120 x 25 mm1 x 120 x 25 mm1 x 120 x 25 mm1 x 120 x 25 mm
Connectors2 x PWM1 x PWM1 x PWM1 x PWM
Weight37 Ounces35 Ounces23 Ounces33 Ounces
Web Price$55$50$65$65


LGA 2011 CPU Cooler Features, $80-100 Models
 Deepcool AssassinNoctua NH-D14Phanteks PH-TC14PEThermalright Archon SB-EZalman CNPS12X
Rad. Thickness2x 2.0"2x 2.0"2x 2.1"2.1"2x 2.2"
Total Thickness6.0"6.2"6.3"3.1"5.2"
Base Height1.7"1.8"1.6"1.3"1.2"
Assy. Offset1.0" Forward1.0" Forward1.0" Forward1.0" Forward0.25" Left
Cooling Fans1 x 140 x 25 mm
 1 x 120 x 25 mm
1 x 140 x 25 mm
1 x 120 x 25 mm
2 x 140 x 25 mm1 x 150 x 25 mm3 x 140 x 25 mm
Connectors1 x PWM
1 x Three-Pin
2 x PWM2 x Three-Pin1 x PWM1 x Three-Pin
Weight37 Ounces45 Ounces47 Ounces36 Ounces36 Ounces
Web Price$80$85$90$85$99

Since higher fan speeds typically increase cooling capacity at low cost, some of the more expensive models attempt to provide the best balance of cooling and noise. Today’s tests includes both heat and noise measurements, and we’ll even compare heat to noise, heat to price, and heat/noise to price!