CPU Cooler Charts 2008, Part 1

The Heat Is On - CPU Coolers Compared

It's been over seven years since Tom's Hardware first published a comparative test of CPU coolers. At that time, there was a distinct lack of awareness regarding the importance of this component, and a pronounced dearth of critical tests containing knowledgeable analysis. In December 2000, we published the first CPU cooler comparison worldwide, comparing 17 different models. Compared to today's technology, the coolers of that time seem like amateurish and provisional designs - many of the companies that are well-established brand names in cooling today only became aware of this very profitable field through the tests. And while some companies have since exited stage left, others have evolved into real heavyweights.

Things became critical for AMD in September 2001, when we published an article detailing how CPU cooler failure could lead to instant destruction of Athlon processors. The situation was remedied by integrating a thermal sensor and a protective circuit on the motherboards. Since then, Tom's Hardware has regularly published CPU cooler roundups and comparisons, with the field of candidates growing each time.

Zalman, a company that has since become a well-known and respected brand, was only just getting started at around that time. The first review of the young company's products wasn't very favorable, either. However, things have really turned around for Zalman over the past two years, and the company created a real winner with its CNPS9700, which it introduced in the middle of 2006.

But enough history for now; it's time to draw the curtains open for the largest comparative test of 2007/2008. In no other class of components are the differences between individual products as pronounced as they are with CPU coolers. After all, the prospective buyer can't tell what kind of cooling performance to expect just from looking at a cooler, let alone its retail box. Of course, it's just as impossible to tell how difficult installation will be, and if the buyers relied on the veracity of the colorful marketing promises on the box, they'd be lost anyway. At any rate, more than 30 companies sent us their current creations for review, this time, so we have lots of ground to cover!

The biggest comparison of all time - more than 80 CPU coolers in the Tom's Hardware Munich lab

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Companies represented in this test
3R SystemAntazoneArctic Cooling
Joujye DynatronMSINexus

One thing that we can say in advance is that this group was good for quite a number of surprises. For example, some of the most well-known manufacturers, who have built their reputations on the quality of their products, recently released some models that proved to be unusable in the test. Either they tortured the tester with a catastrophic installation procedure, disqualified themselves due to their (in our eyes) non-existent cooling performance, or proved to be so loud in operation as to make impossible any kind of work requiring concentration Compare Prices on CPU Coolers.

Due to a number of abysmally bad test results that we have witnessed over the past few years, we have finally decided to introduce the test result "Failed". We hope this will help our readers to make educated decisions they won't regret, and save them the trouble of having to return unsuitable or simply defective products. In order to ensure that these "black sheep" stand out among the more than 80 test candidates, we have marked them accordingly in the product overview.

Note that due to the immense number of products in this test field, we have split this roundup into three parts.

Join our discussion on this article!

  • Thank you, been wondering what cooler to buy for an OCed Quad, and high temps are good when dying :D
  • sorrii
    ... must be stupid ...! The fan is istalled at wrong side of the cooler ...
  • Thermalright FTW!! Every time.
  • suspect
    I cant believe that photo...sorrii I am with you only a nutjob would use or test it in that configuration!!!
    Noctua clearly state orientation of their coolers and that is ass about.
    Every other review I have read rates the NH-U12F much more highly... always near best in class
  • wkornf
    your numbers of near 70C on every cooler is outrageous, if those numbers are true not a single one of these coolers would keep a computer stable in a closed case outside the northeast. and a couple minutes isnt a good measure of cpus final temp, if u look over a temp log after a long game session you know it creeps up. to many factors.
  • dragunover
    Bullshit article.I agree with wkornf.

    If my Artic silver 5 + Scythe Katana 2 cooler(for only a massive price of 25 USD! I can keep my outdated Pentium D under 100 degrees fahrenheit,infact around HALF of these tests,even under water cooling? Wow,according to this,I should actually worry about getting a quad core because of the heat.And no,I don't have any fans in my case,it's open,only fans are from my GPU,CPU,and my PSU.
    No extra 4 250mm performance fans.And an X38? That's just unbelievable.
  • eaglestrike7339
    Do you guys get the point? They maxed out everything, so the cooler could show off the best that it could do in the most extreme conditions.

    A good article, i especially like the tests for installation and sound, as those are what i would look into most when purchasing a cooler, and unlike CPUs, there are usually no charts to go along with.
  • suspect
    eaglestrike... do you see mounting the noctua fan in the wrong direction as good testing???
    They have it on the top side of the sink flowing in a downward direction!!!
    it goes against basic laws of physics and logic.
  • cliffro
    alot of the coolers listed of a particular design are installed all goofy like, Of course on their open setup it doesn't make much difference(i think)

    but when installed in a normal ATX case, would be detrimental to the coolers performance. Especially coolers designed similar to the Noctua and Scythe Ninja plus.

    I can't be certain about others but Arctic Cooling's Freezer 7 Pro is supposed to be installed like this(one would assume others of similar design would be the same)
  • suspect
    cliffro I think to some degree you are correct but it still does not follow good practice when supposedly collecting data to represent consumer products.
    As these have published manufacturer recomended installations why would you reverse it.
    I recently read a review of the latest Noctua cooler at Legitreviews
    where Noctua actually contacted them on this very issue... as a result they retested and found some improvement in cooling.