Phononic HEX 2.0 Thermoelectric Mid-Sized CPU Cooler Review

We’re not accustomed to leading an article with marketing pitches, but a quick look back at Phononic’s Indiegogo campaign shows what the company had in mind with its HEX-series CPU coolers:

“At Phononic, we're revolutionizing cooling and heating using SilverCoreTM solid-state technology featuring next generation Thermoelectric (Peltier) devices, heat exchanger systems, and control electronics that removes the constraints of compressors, fans, and water based systems to provide transformative innovation that changes the way we deliver thermal management forever.”

Before we jump into the process and performance, a peek at the result of Phononic's design and engineering efforts shows a mid-sized, dual-tower cooler with USB and PWM cables, short standoffs for LGA-2011x, longer standoffs and a motherboard brace for LGA 115x, and AMD rectangular-pattern mounting holes, a few brackets, some nuts, and a screwdriver.

Phononic warns that the sample it sent us doesn’t have the finished texture on its plastic parts, but the sample arrived so late that sellers like Newegg already have photos of the production finish. At least the functional bits are identical to those of the cooler you can buy. But how does it work?

Thermoelectric elements move heat from one side of the element to the other, though not as efficiently as the image above might indicate. There’s some efficiency loss due to things like circuit resistance, requiring the hot side to expel more heat than the cool side removes from the CPU. Called “Peltier effect” by some physics geeks, after the person who discovered it, the thinness of thermoelectric coolers (TECs) have made possible things like compact refrigerated beverage coolers and compressor-free air conditioners. Electronic controls are meant to keep the HEX 2.0 from cooling the CPU below room temperature, thus preventing condensation around the CPU socket.

A six-pin PCIe graphics card connector powers the HEX 2.0’s thermoelectric element, though users who can’t spare one will probably be able to get away with using an adapter. Our tests showed a 40W draw for this unit. Other connectors include micro USB for the (optional) software interface and a PWM header for the cooler’s 92mm fan. Beneath those connectors is an RBG-backlit logo.

Flipping the cooling unit over shows that it’s actually two coolers acting in series. The front cooler connects directly to the CPU plate, while the rear cooler connects to the hot side of the TEC. This allows the unit to operate with the TEC off under low heat loads and on as things heat up. This split sink design also prevents the hot TEC cooler from working against itself. Hmm, that sounds familiar. Phononic illustrates the process.

The HEX 2.0 fan cover is hinged at the top and latched at the bottom. Flipping it open allows the fan to drop out, revealing two spring-loaded screws and another PWM connector for the included 92 x 25 mm cooling fan.

Short standoffs screw into the LGA 2011x bracket, or long ones into the included support plate, depending on your CPU interface. Cross brackets top the standoffs and are secured with nuts.

The cooler then screws onto the cross brackets, using springs to maintain proper contact pressure between the HEX 2.0’s polished base and the CPU's integrated heat spreader.

Did you notice the arrow in the above image? It dictates direction of flow, as the cold side of the TEC element connects to the forward cooling tower, and the hot side of the TEC element connects to the rear cooling tower. It also dictates that the cable connectors will occlude the top slot of some motherboards. Builders who are forced to rotate the cooler for additional card clearance should be ready to flip their rear fan from exhaust to intake, and make any other needed changes to balance airflow (up to potentially making their entire case flow back-to-front).

Only 4.9” tall and 3.4” deep, the HEX 2.0 provides exceptional component clearance on three out of four sides.

Although the unit is able to function without software, HEX 2.0 Dashboard can set the cooler into one of three operational modes. Its “Standard” profile is meant to keep the base at, or slightly above, ambient temperature; “High Ambient” mode increases the TEC activation temperature to further reduce condensation risk in extremely humid environments; and “Insane” mode lowers the activation temperature while increasing condensation risks. Users can also search for new firmware from the applet, and change the logo backlight color.

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  • Stevemeister
    A very diplomatically worded conclusion. As a mechanical engineer let me summarize:

    1. It's an overly complicated engineering solution looking for a problem
    2. It doesn't work as well as air coolers costing half the price
    3. Closed loop liquid coolers will perform way better for the same or less $
    4. It adds ~40W to your system's overall power consumption

    If this was being promoted on Dragon's Den as an investment opportunity I'd take a pass.
  • Other Comments
  • Stevemeister
    A very diplomatically worded conclusion. As a mechanical engineer let me summarize:

    1. It's an overly complicated engineering solution looking for a problem
    2. It doesn't work as well as air coolers costing half the price
    3. Closed loop liquid coolers will perform way better for the same or less $
    4. It adds ~40W to your system's overall power consumption

    If this was being promoted on Dragon's Den as an investment opportunity I'd take a pass.
  • Calculatron
    Well, at least they tried - it is a pretty cool concept.
  • JakeWearingKhakis
    I think it is pretty damn cool. I'd love to have one, it would make a nice conversation piece.

    Stevemeister is right though. An over complicated solution that needs to find a problem. If the price was less than $100, then it would do much better for people who like technology and want to have neat things?
  • mapesdhs
    If one can't fit a large air cooler, then just use an AIO, works very well. The only caveat is that many AIOs use rather loud fans, so I replace them with better models.
  • basroil
    This cooler looks like a PoS as far as CPU cooling goes, but if you can mod the firmware, you might be able to make a nifty (but expensive) beer cooler. I helped make a TEC cooler using a thermalright 140mm tower and two (different sized) TEC plates to get dT of ~30C. Sure it needed ~20W, but it gave you an ice cold beer in an hour or so.
  • serendipiti
    Not sure of the intended use of this device. What should add above liquid cooling o big size air coolers ? Shouldn't be a better temperature management: should perform like a temperature wall: no matter how much heat your CPU dissipates because the Peltier should keep temps below that point. I wonder if the tests done only show a linear behaviour before hitting the "wall" and going to insane overclock would show a different behaviour which would justify the expense...
  • JakeWearingKhakis
    serendipiti good point.

    If this tech can keep the temps from hitting a certain point no matter what then yes.
  • Memhorder
    I was expecting better for the price and power consumption geez. It just doesn't make sense cooling the CPU with the cold side of the TEC Then using a large fin array to cool the Hot side anyways for worse performance. All for 2 centimeters
  • bit_user
    Anonymous said:
    If one can't fit a large air cooler, then just use an AIO, works very well. The only caveat is that many AIOs use rather loud fans, so I replace them with better models.
    Maybe I don't know what you mean by AIO, but there are a few downdraft coolers that can comfortably handle 130 W. I use a Scythe Big Shuriken 2 Rev B, but replaced the fan with a Noctua 150 mm .

    This has the added advantage of providing RAM and VRM cooling, as well.
  • gdmaclew
    I too was expecting a better performance from this unique device. I was first introduced to them around 1980 when the first portable drink coolers came out.
    I guess the reason why it didn't perform better was for the reason stated in the article...the hot exhaust air is being exhausted inside the enclosure, instead of outside it. If somehow the unit could draw in cool air from outside the case and then exhaust it outside the case, it would work much better, just like a beer cooler.
    Still it is an interesting application to a common PC problem.
  • chris maple
    In all likelihood, this cooler is designed to handle a medium-power CPU. That might allow the die to be cooled to room temperature. Expecting a 40 watt Peltier to cool an i7 running Prime95 is unrealistic.
  • laststop311
    nh-d15s is still the best cooler if you care about noise. you stick the a15 fan in the middle of the 2 towers run it at a nice low 700 rpm and you have complete silence and a nice cool cpu in the 60's
  • MasterMace
    I thought at first glance of the title it might in fact convert heat into electricity, becoming disappointed when I read what it is supposed to do, and more disappointed when I saw what it actually does.
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    Not sure of the intended use of this device. What should add above liquid cooling o big size air coolers ? Shouldn't be a better temperature management: should perform like a temperature wall: no matter how much heat your CPU dissipates because the Peltier should keep temps below that point. I wonder if the tests done only show a linear behaviour before hitting the "wall" and going to insane overclock would show a different behaviour which would justify the expense...
    It had already "hit the wall", so you're assessment is backwards. Using a processor with less thermal output would have allowed it to modulate power: Instead it was running full force at all settings.

    Anonymous said:
    I too was expecting a better performance from this unique device. I was first introduced to them around 1980 when the first portable drink coolers came out.
    Hardly unique but certainly rare, here's one from 2007:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/vigors-monsoon-ii-tec-cpu-cooler,1565-2.html
    And here's one with a slightly different heat sink layout from last year:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/v3-voltair-v3tec120-fc01-tec-cpu-cooler,4165.html

    Anonymous said:
    In all likelihood, this cooler is designed to handle a medium-power CPU. That might allow the die to be cooled to room temperature. Expecting a 40 watt Peltier to cool an i7 running Prime95 is unrealistic.
    That's 40W of waste energy. I couldn't tell you exactly how much energy it transfers from the cool side to the hot side without more specs.

    Anonymous said:
    I thought at first glance of the title it might in fact convert heat into electricity, becoming disappointed when I read what it is supposed to do, and more disappointed when I saw what it actually does.
    You could use the same concept to turn heat into electricity, but the CPU would overheat in the process :)
  • SylentVyper
    Judging by the review, I can save >$100 and get a typical 92mm fan cooler that fits the same form factor as this, and put that $100 to make the system better.

    What in the heck is the point of this product? Price, Noise, Cooling Ability. At least one of those needs to be better to be relevant, and this fails all 3.
  • bit_user
    Anonymous said:
    I guess the reason why it didn't perform better was for the reason stated in the article...the hot exhaust air is being exhausted inside the enclosure, instead of outside it. If somehow the unit could draw in cool air from outside the case and then exhaust it outside the case, it would work much better
    The air inside the case is probably just a couple degrees C warmer than room temp, at most. And the hot air should have been exhausted pretty much straight out of the case, making recirculation pretty much a non-issue.

    Also, it's not really a fair complaint, since all the other coolers they compared it with were installed in the same case.

    The biggest problem it has is that it needs to get rid of the entire CPU heat + 40 W extra. And they're trying to do that with a smaller heatsink, instead of a bigger one.

    I think Peltier devices only make sense in CPU cooling for extreme overclocking with water cooling and big radiator. Even then, I wonder what the gains there'd be over direct-die waterblock cooling.
  • joshyboy82
    Anonymous said:
    A very diplomatically worded conclusion. As a mechanical engineer let me summarize:

    1. It's an overly complicated engineering solution looking for a problem
    2. It doesn't work as well as air coolers costing half the price
    3. Closed loop liquid coolers will perform way better for the same or less $
    4. It adds ~40W to your system's overall power consumption

    If this was being promoted on Dragon's Den as an investment opportunity I'd take a pass.


    You cannot pass! That out of the way, DD wouldn't have Tom's results, so you'd have to decide on the sales pitch, and read about how you were suckered a month later.
  • IInuyasha74
    Wow, this thing failed hard. Expensive, loud, increases power consumption and doesn't provide inferior performance compared to mid-range cooling solutions.
  • zodiacfml
    I knew this won't work at all. See, you only need the TEC if you want to cool something below ambient temperatures at expense of using more power and larger or slower cooling.

    In the world of CPU cooling, TEC would probably work if you already have an over sized cooling solution like big water cooling. Yet, I'm not still not sure if it will be able to bring temperatures below ambient especially at load.

    THG is so dependent on their advertisers that they can't say bad things about this bluntly. They also chose smaller air coolers so that this product doesn't look too bad to large coolers in the benchmarks. In summary, you are paying more for less and more complication. Simply a waste of time.
  • synphul
    I agree, hard fail. Kudos for going outside the box and taking it from paper to product but these type of things need to be done in private until they work out the performance rather than face plant in front of everyone.

    Compared to say a dark rock tf which has nh-d14 cooling performance and nearly identical sound levels, a tf is literally half the price and only 5-6mm taller. I suppose had they used corsair's ml mag lev fan for it they would have won the 'most overengineered of 2016' award.

    The price of this thing is outrageous, someone could afford a decent case wide enough to fit a decent cooler as well as afford the cooler for this kind of cash. Something like an nh-d14 or dark rock tf with a fractal r4/r5 or enthoo pro for the same as the cost of this cooler alone.