CPU Cooler Charts 2008, Part 1

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
Companies represented in this test
3R System Antazone Arctic Cooling
Asus Coolermaster Coolink
Cooljag EKL Foxconn
Gigabyte Glacialtech Hiper
Joujye Dynatron MSI Nexus
Noctua OCZ Scythe
Silentmaxx Silverstone Spire
Tacens Thermaltake Titan
Verax Watercool Xigmatec
Zalman Zaward Zerotherm

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.

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  • Anonymous
    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 ...
  • Anonymous
    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.
  • Anonymous
    You guys might want to reexamine the Zerotherm Nirvana NV120... I just picked one up (after much research), and all of the problems mentioned in the review seem to be fixed in the newer models... no more metal base, no more metal shavings, and near silent operation except at full speed. I've been using Zalman CNPS coolers ever since the 7000 series, and will likely be switching to the NV120 for performance systems now. Just my 2c
  • ibender
    Any cooler that uses the push pin system should get a zero for installation. That system completely sucks. I'd rather remove a motherboard and install a backplate than use that push pin garbage.
  • wkornf
    what exactly did they "max out" to achieve these temps. to me it looks like a qx6850 quad core running stock settings. which is a processor i know doesnt have load temps of 70c with those coolers.
  • wkornf
    what exactly did they "max out" to achieve these temps. to me it looks like a qx6850 quad core running stock settings. which is a processor i know doesnt have load temps of 70c with those coolers.
  • guyladouche
    sorrii... must be stupid ...! The fan is istalled at wrong side of the cooler ...

    Nothing's wrong or stupid with that setup--two fans are used in a push-pull arrangement--the bottom fan is blowing into the cooler, the top fan is pulling air away from the cooler to exhaust it from the cooler.
  • suspect
    @guyladouche... actually it all depends which cooler you are talking about,

    As said the Noctua is setup with the fan on top blowing down, which is the only config that Noctua dont support.
    The Thermalright has the fan in the middle blowing up so it looks like there is no real consistancy in the test methods... but I would like to hear from the testers in case they found some reason to use each particular setup.
  • random_2
    I'm still looking for the chart!!!!!! Ummmm...Am I missing something? I keep clicking on these Cooler Chart links and keep getting lengthly articles. Would be great ...I mean if we are going to call this a chart... to have an "at a glance" single page so we can make easy comparisons.
  • suspect
    page 17 click on index and scroll down...:o)
  • random_2
    Thanks bro.....:-)
  • paranoja
    Well my Scythe Mugen (Infinity) does the job...and it`s cheap + it can be equipped with 2 120mm fans ;)
    Actually I`m wondering why it is not included in these tests!?