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Arctic Cooling Super Silent 4 Ultra TC heatsink/fan

Arctic Cooling updates an old budget favorite, a deceptively simple aluminum extrusion heatsink with a frameless 92mm fan that features thermal fan speed control. It’s not a giant killer, but it is very quiet, really easy to install and provides perfectly adequate cooling performance — all for US$20. The 4 Ultra TC HSF show that the miserly, efficiency obsessed engineers at AC are still on their game.

January 12, 2005 by Devon Cooke with Mike Chin

Product
Arctic
Cooling Super Silent 4 Ultra TC
heatsink/fan for socket 478 (P4
and Celeron)
Manufacturer
Sample Supplier
HD Audio Visual, Australia
MSRP
US$20.00

The Super Silent 4 Ultra TC is a new heatsink in the Arctic Cooling Super Silent line. SPCR has reviewed three other Arctic Cooling heatsinks:
The Super
Silent Pro TC
, the Copper
Silent 2 TC
for Socket A, and the Super
Silent 4 Pro TC
. So what’s new in the “Ultra” version? The difference
is evolutionary rather than revolutionary; the main changes appear
to be the introduction of a 92mm fan and a new mounting system.

While the previous versions of this heatsink have never
been contenders for the cooling throne, they have always provided adequate cooling
and, more importantly, tend to be reasonably quiet right out of the box.
The “TC” stuck on the end of the model name is significant. It stands for “thermally controlled”, a crucial factor in the ability
of these heatsinks to remain quiet without risking CPU damage.

One point about the Super Silent series should be made clear right from
the beginning. This is not a performance heatsink, and for US$20 it shouldn’t
be expected to be. Even the spec
sheet
for the Ultra TC admits that the its thermal resistance is
0.02 °C/W less than the stock cooler that Intel ships with the P4 3.06 GHz
Prescott CPU.

So, why would you want to buy a heatsink that’s less effective
than one already shipped with your processor? The answer is in the next statistic
on the spec sheet: Noise level. The claim that Arctic Cooling makes is that
the Ultra TC is between 3 and 13 times quieter than Intel’s stock heatsink.
This is quite a claim to live up to, and it is one that we cannot easily verify
as the noise specification is given in sones,
an alternate acoustic measurement that we are not willing to introduce to SPCR at this point. Still,
we should not consider this numerical claim as important as how this heatsink
sounds subjectively. After all, from a silencing point of view, what matters
is how it sounds, not some numerical approximation of its noise level. Our sample supplier HD Audio Visual says pointedly that the Arctic Cooling Super Silent 4

Ultra TC is “The most affordable silent cooler for Intel processors!”

Without further ado, the Super Silent 4 Ultra TC:

SPECIFICATIONS for Arctic Cooling Super Silent 4
Ultra TC
Heatsink Dimensions
92 x 92 x 42 mm
Fan Dimensions
87 x 87 x 33 mm
Overall Dimensions
92 x 92 x 75 mm
Rated Fan Speed
1000-2300 RPM
Bearing
Ceramic
Power Consumption
0.13 A
Airflow
18-46 CFM
Weight
374 g or 448 g
Noise Level
0.4-1.4 sones / 12-23 dBA
Thermal Resistance
0.30 °C/W

Arctic Cooling claims the ceramic bearing used in the new fan will last 15 years and backs it with a three year warranty. They also claim extremely low noise, 0.4-1.4 sones, which HD Audio Visual has converted to 12~23 dBA (presumably at 1 meter).

For your information, this HSF is available in two other Socket 478 variants: One with a fixed speed fan, another with a TC LED light fan. The same three fan variants are also available on K8 AMD A64 versions of this heatsink named Super Silent 64 Ultra. These HSF use the standard, very positive six-lug A64 retention bracket.

Compared to the performance heatsinks that we usually review, the Ultra
TC
is a featherweight, weighing in at either 374g or 448g depending on which
spec sheet you believe. It is probably reasonable to assume that 374g is the
weight of the actual heatsink itself, while 448g is the total weight with the
fan. Even at 448g it manages to squeak under Intel’s maximum recommended weight
for heatsinks — a rare distinction in the aftermarket heatsink market. Its
overall dimensions are also quite conservative; at 92 mm square, motherboard
compatibility is a non-issue. Arctic Cooling advertises the Ultra
TC
as a low profile heatsink for use in low profile cases, such as home
theater PCs.


A simple, environmentally-friendly box that is no larger than it needs to
be.


The Ultra is slightly larger than the last revision, with 38 aluminum fins.
Same frameless fan design as the last one, just a bit bigger.

The fan lead is sleeved: A nice cosmetic touch to make thing just a bit tidier
in your system.

Like the other heatsinks in the Super Silent line, the base has machining
marks that can be felt with a fingernail.
Lapping might shave a further degree off temperatures. A bronze mounting sleeve
is included for scale.

As with other TC models from Arctic Cooling, the thermistor that controls
the fan is simply wedged between the fins of the heatsink.

INSTALLATION

The mounting system for the Ultra TC uses Intel’s stock retention module.
This should not pose a problem, as the weight of the heatsink is within Intel’s
maximum specified weight.


The mounting system consists of two “claws” on each side of the
heatsink that hook on to Intel’s stock retention module. Once the claws are
in place, they are put under tension by pressing the black lever…


…and locking it under the outermost fin of the heatsink.

Installation of the heatsink is straightforward. The mounting system
is simple, easy to use, and secure. The tension of the heatsink against the CPU
was firm but not excessive. A system could probably be shipped safely while
the Ultra TC is mounted. This is not an insignificant point, as many
aftermarket heatsinks are too heavy to be shipped reliably while installed.

TESTING

Test Platform

The test platform is identical to the one used in the recent Zalman
7700
review.

  • Intel
    P4-2.8A
    The Thermal Design Power of this P4-2.8 (533
    MHz bus) is 68.4 or 69.7W depending on the version. As the CPU is a demo model
    without normal markings, it’s not clear which version it is, so we’ll round
    the number off to ~69W. The Maximum Power, as calculated by
    CPUHeat
    & CPUMSR
    , is 79W.
  • AOpen
    AX4GE Max
    motherboard – Intel 845GE Chipset; built-in VGA. The on-die
    CPU thermal diode monitoring system reads 2°C too high, so all readings
    are compensated up by this amount.
  • OCZ DDRAM PC-3700, 512 MB
  • Seagate Barracuda IV 40G 1-platter drive (in Smart
    Drive
    from Silicon
    Acoustics
    )
  • Enermax
    UC-A8FATR4
    multifunction monitor/fan controller w/ thermal sensors
  • Seasonic
    Super Tornado 300
    (Rev. A1)
  • Arctic Silver
    Ceramique
    Thermal Compound
  • Two-level plywood platform with foam damping feet. Motherboard on
    top; most other components below. Eases heatsink changes and setup.

Measurement & Analysis Tools

The ambient temperature in the test lab was 19°C. Ambient
noise in the lab was ~16 dBA. Maximum load temperatures were recorded >20 minutes
into a CPU stress test with CPUBurn once the core temperature had stabilized.

Because the Ultra TC is sold as an integrated fan/heatsink unit, we
did not follow our standard
testing methodology
, which calls for the use of one of the SPCR reference
fans with sound levels measured at several standard fan voltages. Instead, we
have tested it as it would be used out of the box: Unmodified, with the fan
controlled by the thermistor.

RESULTS

Arctic Cooling Super Silent 4 Ultra
TC
Thermal Conditions
Temperature
°C Rise from Ambient
°C/W MP
°C/W TDP
SPL (dBA/1m)
Idle
34°C
15
immeasurable*
CPUBurn
58°C
39
0.49
0.57
22
°C Rise from Ambient: Temperature rise above ambient at
load
°C/W MP / TDP: Temperature rise per Watt, based on Maximum
Power (79W) or Thermal Design Power (69W) rating of CPU
SPL: Sound Pressure Level in dBA/1m measured with high accuracy
B & K SLM at 1 meter
* Immeasurable: Not because it was below the sensitivity of the sound level meter but because we could not operate this HSF without the test system turned on. With the system on, the ambient sound level in the lab was just under 20 dBA. Normally, we can simply remove the fan and run it off a fanless power supply in a 16 dBA room to measure or record the noise. In the 19~20°C ambient, this thermally controlled fan barely ran, stuttering on and off at 12V. Suffice it to say that at idle, you’re unlikely to hear it inside a typical quiet system.

First, a disclaimer: All measurements in this review have a larger margin of
error than is usual for SPCR reviews. This is due to a number of factors, such
as lower than usual ambient temperature and the fact that the fan
was not substantially louder than the ambient noise floor during much of the
testing. Other factors will become apparent later on. Furthermore, the fan speed
was never fast enough to produce RPM measurements; Motherboard Monitor showed
0 RPM for the duration of the test.

Now for the good news. Your eyes do not deceive you; with our P4-2.8 Northwood at full load, the Ultra
TC
measures a paltry 22 dBA at one meter. At idle, the fan was spinning
slowly enough that individual blades could be seen — too quietly to be measured
reliably at a distance of one meter. We would estimate that the noise level
at idle no more than 18-19 dBA/1m. At this level, the heatsink was competing with
the Smart
Drive
enclosed Seagate Barracuda IV HDD for loudest component on our test bench.

The fan exhibits a faint clicking noise evident at within six inches.
In practice, the low noise level from this fan would usually disappear inside a case. The quality of the noise is not as smooth as the best fans we’ve run across, such as the Nexus models in general, or a good Panaflo 80L sample, but the level is low enough that the difference is not particularly significant unless all your other components are at or below these measured levels.

To judge the fan noise for yourself, please download and listen to the MP3 files below. Note that the comparatives represent much more expensive and usually more complex cooling solutions.

MP3 file: Arctic
Cooling Super Silent 4 Ultra TC MP3, 22 dBA/1m

Comparables:

MP3: Zalman 7000 – 5V – 22 dBA/1m

MP3: Panaflo 80L – 7V – 17 dBA/1m — on most any heatsink

MP3: Coolermaster Hyper 48 – 9V – 21 dBA/1m

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made with a high
resolution studio quality digital recording system. The microphone was 3″ from
the edge of the fan frame at a 45° angle, facing the intake side of the fan to
avoid direct wind noise. The ambient noise during all recordings was 18 dBA or
lower. It is best to download the sound files to your computer before listening.

To set the volume to a realistic level (similar to the original), try playing this Nexus 92mm case fan @ 5V (17 dBA/1m)
recording and set the volume so that it is barely audible. Then don’t reset the volume and play the other sound files. Of course, all tone controls and other effects should be turned off or set to neutral. For full details on how to calibrate your sound system playback level to get the most
valid listening comparison, please see the yellow text box entitled Listen to
the Fans
on page four of the article
SPCR’s Test / Sound Lab: A Short Tour.

And now… for another caveat. Because the Ultra TC is thermally controlled,
our results are susceptible to a flaw in our testing methodology:
The use of an open bench system. While an open bench system is convenient because
it allows the heatsink to be easily swapped, it does not provide an environment
comparable to a typical computer case, where ambient temperature is typically
30°C or more.

To counteract this flaw, we ran another test: We continued running CPUBurn and covered the heatsink with
an upended plastic box. This increased the ambient temperature
above the heatsink to 35°C within about 5~10 minutes. Closer to the CPU, the tmperature was actually over 40°C, but we took the lower temp as the ambient because it seemed to be the fan intake air temp. Keep mind mind that this simulation is actually a tougher environment than a typical quiet case: The latter usually has at least one case fan and some additional airflow across the CPU area; this upended plastic box environment features no such benefit.


Our “case simulation” on an open bench system.

Arctic Cooling Super Silent 4 Ultra
TC: Hot Case Simulation
Thermal Conditions
Temperature
°C Rise from Ambient
Fan RPM
°C/W MP
°C/W TDP
SPL (dBA/1m)
CPUBurn @ 20 min.
65°C
30*
~1425
0.38
0.43
24**
*Ambient temperature was estimated as approximately
35°C. This means that the figures given for temperature rise and °C/W
are equally approximate.
**SPL could not be measured with the box in
place, so the sound pressure level was measured immediately after removing
the box from the test setup, before the fan had a chance to reduce speed.
The measurement was repeated several times, but the margin of error
for this measurement is still higher than usual.

Increasing the ambient temperature around the heatsink had two noticeable effects.

  • Our motherboard finally started picking up the RPM reading for
    the fan, starting at ~1150 RPM. The reliability of this number is unknown; there
    is likely to be a considerable margin of error at the boundary of measurable
    signal. It might be useful to point out that a motherboard with an automatic
    fan failure detection will have difficulties with this fan. Arctic Cooling recognizes
    this difficulty and recommends that such a feature be turned off.
  • The other major effect was that while the ambient temperature rose by some 16°C, the maximum CPU temperature obtained under CPUBurn rose by only
    7°C. This shows that the relationship between ambient and core temperatures
    is not linear because of the varying speed of the thermally controlled fan. This HSF actually performs better under hotter conditions because the fan only speeds up significantly at very high temperature. It should actually show somewhat better °C/W yet with a higher wattage CPU, because the fan should speed up some more, although the resulting temperature will probably not be any lower than obtained here.

In terms of noise, a small increase in core temperature translates into a small
increase in noise, around 2 dBA/1m. This means that this heatsink would most
likely be close to inaudible under ordinary use, even when installed in a typically warm case.
At this noise level, a hard drive is likely to produce more noise than the Ultra
TC
.

Of course, the low noise level comes at a price. 65°C is quite warm for a
CPU, warmer than many people feel comfortable with. While our test bench showed
no signs of instability during the couple hours that we were running CPUBurn, it is
conceivable that a faster, warmer Pentium 4 Prescott would not be adequately
cooled by the Ultra TC. Although Arctic Cooling claims that this heatsink
can be used with processors up to 3.6 GHz, such a processor
run at full tilt for extended periods could go into thermal throttling with an attendant drop in performance. On the other hand, the fan might push up to the highest rated speeds in response to the increased heat and thus keep the temps down. But it is not likely to be so quiet at maximum speed.

CONCLUSIONS

Arctic Cooling has produced a good revision of their Super Silent 4 TC. 24
dBA/1m max at very high load right out of the box is excellent for a modestly priced heatsink. Cooling power is sacrificed in order to achieve this level of noise, but it
is just this sacrifice that is often overlooked in heatsink development. As
many SPCR regulars know, there is simply no need to maintain a low CPU
temperature in an everyday system. While it is true that running a CPU at a
high temperature can shorten its life, a CPU is likely to become obsolete long before
it burns out even in a system running in the 50-60°C range. (Editor’s Note: , I’ve never had even a hint of damage caused by overheating in over four years of running many CPUs routinely with temps in that range.)

The Ultra TC might have some difficulty cooling a high-powered Prescott
processor. That said, our test system did not produce enough heat to push the
fan anywhere near its maximum rated speed of 2300 RPM, so the performance of this
heatsink in a high-power situation remains somewhat unknown. To be fair, Arctic
Cooling recommends on its product page that ambient temperature not exceed
38°C and also notes that Intel’s thermal throttling will help prevent CPU
damage once the temperature reaches a dangerous point. On another practical level, it’s difficult to imagine someone spending the big bucks on a fast P4 and then limiting himself to a $20 heatsink.

All in all, the Super Silencer 4 Ultra TC cools adequately, but not spectacularly. There is
little reason to prefer it over Intel’s stock heatsink on the basis
of cooling power alone. However, in terms of getting the job done quietly,
the Ultra TC is a gem. There are few other heatsinks that provide this
noise level consistently and immediately on quick and simple installation. The top Zalman
and Thermalright heatsinks — both popular choices among SPCR readers — have
greater cooling potential with lower noise. However, the Ultra
TC’s noise level out of the box is not much higher when used with a mid or low speed P4. And there’s no way they can compete in terms
of price. For $20, it is hard to think of a heatsink that is better value, especially from a silencing perspective. The Ultra TC is cost-effective, target-focused engineering at its best.

Pros
* Quiet out of the box
* Remains quiet even under high temperatures
* Plenty of headroom for the fan to increase in speed
* Straightforward mounting system
* Safe to transport while installed
* Well priced—only US$20
* Reasonable size
Cons
* Might have difficulty cooling high powered Prescotts
* Little overclocking potential
* Overly reliant on Intel’s thermal throttling technology

Much thanks to HD Audio Visual, Australia for the Super Silent 4 Ultra TC sample.

* * *

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