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Budget Coolers for Athlon 64

April 28, 2006




"Budget cooler for less than $5? Piece of cake!" — to all appearances, that's the main marketing slogan in the sector of cooling systems for AMD Socket 754/939 in spring. Indeed, the price bar has been lowered much for the last months: the invincible "budget bastion" ($10) has cracked and many models have slipped to a much more attractive segment of $6-$8; some naughty models have even managed to overcome the important $5 border. Of course, these tendencies were set by aggressive dumping by distributors — no one abolished the market competition, even if not always transparent. But there were quite objective reasons as well. Unlike Hi-End models, budget coolers are usually not high-tech products (as they are naturally more expensive to manufacture) and they always offer much room for price manoeuvres. So the leading distributors just had to keep down their appetites, in order to give budget models a chance to become truly attractive in terms of retail prices. That's close to the formation of a new low-budget class of coolers!

Anyway, no matter what down-to-earth prerequisites for the current situation on the market were, we consumers can only welcome such "negative" dynamics of price shifts — if only functionality and quality of the new budget products were not deteriorated. To clear up this issue, our today's shootout includes a dozen of live budget coolers, which prices are below $9 — a model from ASUS, two models from Cooler Master, three models from GlacialTech, and four models from Titan. Well, let's proceed to the examination!

ASUS Crux K8 MH7S

Our shootout starts with a budget "maverick" from ASUS — Crux K8 MH7S. The cooler is based on an aluminum 77x68x40mm heatsink with interesting radial finning. It's equipped with a 70x70x15mm fan, spiced up with a toolless retention module.



Crux K8 MH7S is essentially an incarnation of Crux AM7 and MM7 models. It inherited the main ideological features adapted for Socket 754/939: peculiar configuration of heatsink fins is nearly unchanged, just a little smaller (the same advanced radial "fylfot" with tapered section fins - 0.7mm thick at the base and 0.3mm thick at the tip, the total heat exchange surface area is 1450 cm2); copper core (25mm in diameter) acts as a thermal benefactor and facilitates redistribution of heat flow in the working medium of the cooler.



Crux K8 MH7S also looks good in terms of usability — the cooler offers quite a decent retention module (a couple of mounting clips and levers). Even if a tad complex in design, it allows to mount the heatsink in the socket accurately and without much effort. An additional feature of the budget model from ASUS is its thermal control, integrated into the on-board fan (AVC DE07015R12U) — rotational speed varies from 2200 rpm to 6000 rpm at environment temperatures within 25-40°C (that is, this thermal control is similar to boxed AMD coolers).

In pure practice, despite the developed technical design, this model is more of a disappointment than of inspiration. In typical conditions inside a PC case, emulated in our testbed (environment temperature - 33°C), Crux K8 MH7S demonstrates excellent thermal efficiency, outperforming many budget competitors, and comes close to products of a higher class. But it comes at too high a price — its noise level is hardly ergonomic (due to the high rotational speed of the fan - about 4800 rpm). As a result, overall functionality of this cooler is prejudiced, it fails to reach the attractive efficiency/noise ratio.

Cooler Master CK8-8JD2B-99 and DK8-8I32A-99

The next coolers in our shootout are two budget models from Cooler Master — CK8-8JD2B-99 and DK8-8I32A-99. These coolers are based on an aluminum 77x79x42mm heatsink with similar fins, equipped with 80x80x25mm fans and a toolless retention module.


Cooler Master DK8-8I32A-99 and CK8-8JD2B-99

Figuratively speaking, CK8-8JD2B-99 is a blood brother of the CK8-8JD2B-0L and CK8-8JD2B-01 coolers: all the three products belong to the same series, they have an absolutely identical heatsink with a large 44x11mm copper disc, pressed into the base, and spiced up with the same retention mechanism. The only difference between them lies in the rigging of the on-board fan — it's simplified in the CK8-8JD2B-99 model (that is it's minimized in price and quality), revealing typical, not-quite-optimal configuration of fins together with a weak plain bearing.




Another budget model from Cooler Master, DK8-8I32A-99, is a still cheaper modification of CK8-8JD2B-series coolers — together with a simpler fan (like in the CK8-8JD2B-99 model) it also features a purely aluminum heatsink, devoid of a copper insert. But all other CK8-8JD2B family traits are preserved: a well-established retention module, simple and convenient to install; preinstalled thermal interface — highly efficient thermal compound, based on aluminum oxide and nitride.




Bearing in mind past successes of the CK8-8JD2B-0L and the CK8-8JD2B-01, we expected similar performance from the CK8-8JD2B-99, as these models are of the same design. On the whole, practice has come up to our positive expectations — the cooler indeed demonstrates worthy thermal efficiency and moderate noise. There are some reservations, though: despite the authentic copper-aluminum heatsink and similar fan speed characteristics (the nominal fan speed is 2600 rpm), the CK8-8JD2B-99 is actually outperformed by the CK8-8JD2B-0L in thermal efficiency and especially in its efficiency/noise ratio (this situation evidently owes to the lower-performance fan).

Alas, the budget DK8-8I32A-99 does not excel in attractive results — its simple fin configuration and low-speed (2200 rpm) low-performance fan leave no chances for success. As a result, the cooler is heavily outperformed in thermal efficiency by similar products from Cooler Master. And it does not fair well in its efficiency/noise ratio either.

GlacialTech Igloo 7210 Silent, Igloo 7210 Light, and Igloo 7210

The next models in our today's test list are three "novices" from the budget GlacialTech family — Igloo 7210 Silent, Igloo 7210 Light, and Igloo 7210. These coolers are based on a compact aluminum 77x73x40 mm heatsink with a 70x70x15 mm fan. They traditionally rank by their nominal rpms (2200, 2600, 3200 rpm).


GlacialTech Igloo 7210 Silent and GlacialTech Igloo 7210 Light

A new series Igloo 7210 is technically similar to its predecessors (distinguished Igloo 7200) in many respects. But modifications are purely quantitative rather than ideological here, economic at that. Probably the key message of the updated budget coolers from GlacialTech is the necessity to offer a cheaper solution, preserving and even augmenting all functional niceties of the "heavier" veterans of the previous series.


GlacialTech Igloo 7200 Pro and GlacialTech Igloo 7210 Silent

According to the traditional Igloo ideology, Igloo 7210 heatsink design includes well-known catalysts of thermal efficiency — tapered section fins and fin height alternation (symbiosis of these devices is intended to increase thermal and hydraulic efficiency of finning), but with higher-tech finning parameters (fins - 0.5mm thick at the base and 0.2mm thick at the tip) and more rational redistribution of thermal load (32 efficient fins versus 30 ones in Igloo 7200). As a result, despite smaller dimensions (relative to Igloo 7200), Igloo 7210 gets just as developed heat exchange surface area (about 1500 cm2) and its weight with a light fan gets almost microscopic (310g versus 370g in Igloo 7200).



Budget Igloo 7210 models are just as good in usability, thoroughly copying Igloo 7200 ergonomics — the retention system is inherited almost without changes (there are some minor modifications in design). It's just as user friendly in installation. Preinstalled thermal interface is also left where it should be — highly efficient thermal paste (filling agent is a composition of aluminum oxide and nitride) possessing improved thermophysical properties.



Igloo 7210 models also fair well in thermal and noise terms. The most interesting results are demonstrated by the senior Igloo 7210 — the cooler is nearly on a par with products of a heavier class (in particular, it successfully competes with Thermaltake TR2 M14 and Cooler Master CK8-8JD2B-99, catching up with Hi-End Zalman CNPS7700-Cu in Silent Mode). And its noise characteristics keep on the moderate ergonomic level. Igloo 7210 Light also copes well with its tasks. It heavily outperforms the veteran of Igloo 7200 Light and demonstrates more than a decent efficiency/noise ratio. The junior representative of this series, Igloo 7210 Silent, does not act so coordinated and is inferior to its colleagues in thermal results. Nevertheless, it also looks quite decent in terms of overall functionality, thanks to its truly ergonomic noise characteristics.

Titan TTC-K8ETB/825 and TTC-K8DTB/925

And now let's review TTC-K8ETB/825 and TTC-K8DTB/925, "base elements" in the modern budget line of cooling systems for Socket 754/939 from Titan.


Titan TTC-K8ETB/825 and TTC-K8DTB/925

The budget TTC-K8ETB/825 offers nothing notable — an aluminum 78x80x40mm heatsink (78x68mm at the base), 80x80x25mm 2800 rpm fan, a toolless retention system (quite practical and convenient, by the way). We can also note the electrochemically polished surface of the heatsink and loud protective grating on the fan. But it's quite obvious that these are decorations rather than purely practical elements.



A really positive technical feature of the TTC-K8ETB/825 model is a combination of two well known benefactors — tapered section fins and fin height alternation, which improve thermal properties of the heatsink. But unfortunately, their usage leaves much to be desired — fin parameters are actually very simple (average fin thickness is 1.2mm at the base and 0.5mm at the tip, fin step - 1.5mm). And the surface area is hardly 900 cm2 (much smaller than in the other budget models).



As a result, as TTC-K8ETB/825 is rigged up rather weakly, it demonstrates naturally low results — it's outperformed by many budget models in thermal efficiency (to say nothing of advanced coolers) and it's noticeably noisy. Thus it goes down nearly to the bottom of our shootout in terms of its efficiency/noise ratio.

Another budget cooler from Titan, TTC-K8DTB/925, looks much more impressive. This cooler is based on a large aluminum 90x90x40mm heatsink (67x77mm at the base) with an interesting finning configuration, a 92x92x25mm 2400 rpm fan, and a toolless retention clip (similar to that in the TTC-K8ETB/825).



The TTC-K8DTB/925 is notable for its advanced ideology of the working medium: instead of a typical fin structure, its fins are formed by X-shaped support with radial branches. If implemented well on the engineering level, this solution allows to optimize thermal characteristics and improve air flows through the heatsink. But again, as in case with the TTC-K8ETB/825, implementation of a promising idea is far from the best in the TTC-K8DTB/925 — finning parameters are very weak again (rectangular section fins, average thickness - 1mm, fin step - 3mm), efficient heat exchange surface area is just a tad over 800 cm2 (that's disgustingly small, considering cooler's dimensions).



As a result, even though this model outperforms the TTC-K8ETB/825 in our tests, the advantage is very small. The TTC-K8DTB/925 still does not demonstrate the highest thermal results and it's quite noisy. In the long run it does not fair well in overall functionality.

Titan Data Cooler DC-K8D925Z and DC-K8A825Z

The last coolers in our shootout are DC-K8D925Z and DC-K8A825Z from Data Cooler — a purely low-budget brand, produced by Titan.

In marketing terms, the budget DC-K8D925Z model is a cheaper modifications of the TTC-K8DTB/925 — the cooler is based on a large aluminum 90x89x44mm heatsink (65x77mm at the base), but with less pretentious finning. It's equipped with a 92x92x25mm 2200 rpm fan (its design is also simplified — plain bearing instead of the combination of a rolling and a plain bearings in the TTC-K8DTB/925), and a toolless retention system.



At the same time, the situation with the DC-K8D925Z is paradoxical — having a simplified shape, its thermal efficiency is much higher than in the TTC-K8DTB/925: the heatsink demonstrates quite decent parameters (tapered section fins, 0.8mm thick at the base and 0.3mm thick at the tip, fin step - 2mm), improved finning hydraulics, and developed heat exchange surface area (about 1300 cm2 in total). Together with the full-size fan, they form a well-coordinated tandem.



It's gratifying that the DC-K8D925Z does not miss a chance to take advantage of its good inclinations and demonstrates good results — it successfully competes with higher-classed products in thermal efficiency (in particular, it goes on a par with the advanced Thermaltake TR2 M14). Besides, decent thermal parameters of this cooler are accompanied by moderate noise. But unfortunately, there is still one serious drawback here — the overall good picture is spoilt by the technical quality of the on-board fan. Its mechanic and electric components are far from being OK.

What concerns the other budget model from the Data Cooler family, DC-K8A825Z, this product is a cheaper replacement to the similar TTC-K8ETB/825 — the cooler is based on the identical 78x80x40mm heatsink, equipped with absolutely the same retention module, and a simplified 80x80x25mm fan.




Simpleton DC-K8A825Z is actually almost a complete copy of the TTC-K8ETB/825 — all structural features are the same. These coolers are also not very different in overall functionality — thermal parameters of the DC-K8A825Z are on a par with those of its predecessor, demonstrating a slight advantage in the efficiency/noise ratio thanks to more ergonomic noise characteristics. At the same time, the quality of the on-board fan in the DC-K8A825Z, like in the DC-K8D925Z, is again not very high. It belittles the image of this cooler compared to the brand-cooler TTC-K8ETB/825.

So, we have examined all our coolers, the examination part of our shootout is successfully completed. It's time to have a look at the test results!

Test results

In order to examine thermal efficiency of our Socket 754/939 coolers, we put the same methods into service as in testing cooling systems for Socket 478 and LGA775. The primary data used for the consequent calculation of thermal resistance are temperature readings of the thermal diode built into a processor, only the thermal source is different (now it's Athlon 64 3700+ processor), the base platform (Fujitsu-Siemens D1607 motherboard), and a set of test applications.

The testbed has the following configuration:

  • Fujitsu Siemens Computers D1607-G motherboard
  • AMD Athlon 64 3700+ CPU (Clawhammer)
  • OS: Microsoft Windows XP

We use the S&M utility to simulate maximum thermal load of a processor, and SystemGuard from Fujitsu-Siemens to monitor temperatures.

Diagram 1. Temperature readings

Notes
Each cooler was tested with thermal paste Stars 420
The diagram contains complex results


Diagram 2. Thermal resistance

Note
Thermal resistance θja is defined as the relation
θja = (Tj — Ta)/Ph, where Tj is the temperature of a CPU core, Ta is the environment temperature (it's 33°C in this case), Ph is the thermal capacity of a processor (in this case it's 80 Watts).

Finally, at the end of this article we publish the noise measurement results (the method of testing is described in the article Noise characteristics of coolers and the noise measurement method) as well as the efficiency/noise rating of coolers.

Diagram 3. Noise characteristics

Note: Background noise level 18 dBA


Diagram 4. Efficiency/noise ratio

Note
The efficiency/noise ratio (ENR) is calculated as:

ENR = DM*(Rt/TC)/(NL/Rn), where

Rt — reference temperature (the reference thermal resistance θja of the cooling system - 0.3°C/Watt), TC — the core temperature with the operating cooling system, Rn — reference noise (the reference noise level is 25 dBA), NL — noise level, generated by the cooling system, DM — denominate multiplier (10).

There seems to be no need in any comments here. Let's draw the bottom line!

Conclusions

The coolers under review successfully cope with our qualification exam. They are quite at ease with the requirements that are usually put to budget products. I'd like to commend GlacialTech Igloo 7210 and Igloo 7210 Light — these coolers offer excellently balanced technical qualities and can provide acceptable temperature conditions even for top dual core processors from AMD. You should also pay close attention to the Cooler Master CK8-8JD2B-99, which demonstrates attractive functionality, combining high thermal efficiency with decent noise ergonomics.

But if your main priority in choosing a cooler is its price, you may look closely at Cooler Master DK8-8I32A-99 and Data Cooler DC-K8A825Z — their exceptionally low prices may outweigh practically all their technical drawbacks.

 



Vitali Crinitsin (vit@ixbt.com)
April 28, 2006

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