A Down-Draft Cooler For Everyone
Although all of the coolers in today's round-up are designed for down-draft airflow, the three contenders are intended for very different jobs. About the only thing they have in common, in fact, is that their fans sit on top.
Enermax's ETD-T60-VD is the flashiest heat sink in our story. Sporting configurable lighting effects, it'd likely work well in a modded case with side panel windows. The heat sink's cooler performance is ample for just about any application, and there is plenty of headroom for aggressive overclocks and environments with higher ambient temperatures, so long as you run the fan at its maximum speed.
The unfortunate side-effect is that Enermax's ETD-T60-VD also becomes the loudest cooler in our round-up when you spin its fan up that fast. There's definitely a balance to be struck, and you can certainly achieve more moderate noise levels by dropping the fan speed to 1000 RPM or so.
We only wish we knew how Enermax's other version of this cooler (ETD-T60-TB) performed. It doesn't have the showy lights, but its fan is rated for better performance.
Noctua's NH-L12 was designed for HTPCs and compact cases. It is, by far, the smallest and shortest cooler in our round-up. The two-fan setup is a smart way to approach low-clearance enclosures, and the cooler can be made even shorter by taking off the top fan.
Granted, cooling performance is limited by surface area. The NH-L12 has trouble keeping an overclocked 125 W Phenom II X6 from running hotter than we'd like, no matter the fan speed we used. And it's not even very quiet; you need to drop the fan speed to really make this heat sink work in a home theater. However, in the environments for which it's intended, we don't imagine Noctua's little cooler will be tasked with keeping many 100+ W processors cool. That's simply not a practical addition to a small form factor enclosure. On top of a 65 or 77 W chip, this thing should fare much better.
Scythe's SCKC-2100 is a powerful heat sink and fan combination that doesn't make compromises. It doesn’t just look its part, but can back it up with the solid cooling performance seen in our benchmarks. A large 140 mm fan works well at low rotational speeds, making this the quietest model in today's story. Its noise level is even acceptable at the highest available RPM.
The SCKC-2100 is the best-performing model we're testing, but it’s the largest and tallest, making it a good choice for performance-oriented gaming PCs, but not some of the other environments where down-draft designs work well, such as HTPCs.