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Cooling Solutions for Intel Core i7

Written on February 9, 2009 by Dan Olson
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Introduction

The latest powerhouse CPU offering from Intel is here. The Intel Core i7 -- a quad-core processor available in three different speed configurations that is really taking the computing world by storm. Several new features have been added to this processor, such as on-chip DDR3 memory controller, smart cache, and HD boost. Of course, with all the extra features and power comes the issue of how to keep it cool. The Core i7 may be powerful, but it is also very hot running. From the stock heat sinks and fans, to liquid cooled solutions, the cooling possibilities are many. Unfortunately we can't test them all, so in this article we'll take a look at 4 popular cooling solutions and how they fared.

Test Setup

We ran two tests per cooler, one with the case fans on low speed and the other with the case fans on full blast to also help us better understand the effect that case fans have on the cooling of a system. We tested these cooling solutions with the following hardware:

  • Antec P182 (3x120mm tri-speed case fans)

  • Asus P6T Deluxe Mainboard

  • Intel Core i7 Quad Core 920 2.66 Ghz

  • 3 x Kingston DDR3-1333 2GB

  • Corsair 650watt PSU

  • Western Digital 640GB Hard Drive

  • Asus GeForce 9600GT Video Card

  • Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit

  • Asus 20x SATA DVD-RW Lightscribe (x2)

  • Tuniq TX-2 Thermal Compound
The ambient temperature was climate controlled, always within one degree of 19 degrees Celsius. After installing the cooler, the system was allowed to warm up before our temperature logging was started. To put the system under as much load as possible, we ran Prime 95 Torture Test, along with FurMark 1.6.5. After the stress test was complete, the system was given two minutes to cool down before the temperature logging was stopped.

The Coolers

Stock Intel Core i7 1366 CPU Fan

This is the standard fan that comes with the Core i7 CPU. Designed for quiet operation and enough cooling to get you by at stock speeds. Surprisingly, in our test this cooler didn't fare the best, but it wasn't the worst!



Nexus LOW-7000

The Nexus LOW-7000 cooler combines some of the most advanced technologies in the market used for CPU coolers. Heat pipes, SkiveTek and ultra-thin fins combined with a real silent PWM controlled fan delivers ultimate performance which has never been this quiet before. The 120mm fan is PWM controlled and the speed can vary between 500 and 2000 RPM creating a noise-output of an inaudible 15 dB(A) up till a still truly quiet 24 dB(A)

We were interested in this cooler for our low profile HTPC setups. I was fairly surprised at the result we saw on this one. At an average of about 90* Celsius, it was the lowest performing solution we tested.

Gelid Silent Spirit

The top-flow cooler "Silent Spirit" follows an open frame structure concept whereby both design and dimensions have been improved to eliminate humming and buzzing noises while maintaining a compact overall size. The 92mm fan has been chosen for silent operation and high airflow and comes with an intelligent PWM control to allow users to set the fan speed in their BIOS accordingly. In addition the anti-vibration fan mounts are made of high quality rubber thus guaranteeing a long life span even during high temperatures.

This one was the second best in our testing, it didn't quite beat the Hydro, but at only 2* C higher than the hydro and almost 20* C lower than the Nexus, and at a retail cost of around $35, it certainly is a very nicely priced cooling solution.

Puget Hydro CL1

The Puget Hydro CL1 is a self-contained CPU liquid cooling solution. It has a lot of the benefits of liquid-cooling: better temperatures (which allows for overclocking) and fairly quiet operation, but also has the benefits of air-cooling: the ease of installation and maintenance. The radiator screws in place over the rear 120mm fan in your case. By default, the rear fan is usually left as an exhaust. Through our testing, we have found that in cases like the Antec P182 (which has a top exhaust fan), the cooler performs much better by reversing the rear fan and turning it into an intake. Since the case has a top exhaust fan, the impact on system temperatures is acceptable.

Ah, the almighty Hydro. It performed better than all the others and kept the CPU an average of 12* C cooler than all the other ones tested. The Gelid wasn't far behind but the Hyrdo still proved to be one of the best cooling solutions.

Results

These temperature graphs are what we normally use internally to examine the temperatures of each new system we ship. While not all that easy to compare to each other, they do provide a wealth of data. If you would like to see direct comparisons between the different coolers, please skip ahead to the next section.

Note: the Nexus temperatures top off at 100C because that's the point at which the CPU throttles its speed. Not good!

Cooler Comparison



These graphs represent the idle and load CPU temperatures over the course of testing. It's easy to see the winners and losers here -- the Nexus ran much hotter than the others while the Puget Hydro CL1 was the best. The comparison between the Intel Stock heatsink and the Gelid Silent Spirit is interesting. Though the Gelid only cooled a few degrees better, it was significantly quieter. While the Puget Hydro CL1 is the clear pick for cooling performance, the Gelid Silent Spirit could also be a good choice in lower power situations when noise level is a concern.

Conclusion

In terms of our personal recommendations, the Puget Hydro gave us the best overall results, the Gelid Silent Spirit ran a close second. Considering price and noise levels the Gelid certainly is a good solution for the i7. The biggest surprise here was the Nexus LOW-7000. At an average temperature above 90* Celsius I wouldn't consider this a good option for Core i7, though it still could be perfectly adequate for lower power 775 CPUs.
Tags: Processors, Cooling, Performance, Products
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