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Intel LGA1366 Stock Cooler: Good Enough?

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A pair of Intel LGA1366 stock coolers take to the pitch, one a traditional radial down-blowing heatsink, the other surprisingly a tower heatsink complete with 4 heatpipes and a large LED fan. Just how good are these coolers, and do they hold a candle to smaller aftermarket offerings?

June 6, 2010 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Intel Core i7-920
Stock
CPU Cooler
Intel Core i7-980X
Stock CPU Cooler
Manufacturer
Intel Intel
Street Price
N/A N/A

The dreaded stock CPU cooler is typically well known for its small size, poor
acoustics and general ineffectiveness. AMD and Intel have three big reasons
for shipping their processors with such lowly heatsinks: to keep costs down,
to ensure compatibility in small cases, and to discourage users from overclocking.
The stock unit is designed only to cool the processor well enough to keep it
stable at stock settings, the bare minimum you could say. Of course this philosophy
gives quiet PC lovers a literal headache and more often than not, they simply
ditch the included stock heatsink on sight without testing its performance or
checking if the noise generated by the fan is bearable. We at SPCR are also
guilty of this behavior, but then one day Intel sent us something that made
us pause: their latest greatest 6-core processor with a stock tower heatsink.


The Core i7-980X stock cooler stands 124 mm tall.

Such an anomaly is this cooler, that it prompted us to actually want to review
a stock cooling unit. While it does not have the refined appearance of most
aftermarket heatsinks, it doesn’t quite fit the mold of a stock cooler either,
not looking at all like a product of the bare minimum philosophy. A six-core
processor obviously needs better cooling than a four-core model but the i7-980X
carries the same 130W TDP rating as its quad-core brothers. The heatsink features
4 copper heatpipes, 57 aluminum fins, a large LED fan, and gasp — screws/backplate
instead of pushpins! The question is whether this new cooler is good enough
to compete with budget aftermarket coolers or whether it is simply another “just
good-enough” stock cooler only in tower form.


The Core i7-920 stock cooler is 64 mm tall, almost half that of the i7-980X
heatsink.

A standard Intel stock cooler will provide a good reference point. The bottom-the-rung
model pictured above is the familiar LGA1366 stock cooler that shipped with
the now defunct Core i7-920. This is the same heatsink packed with all current
retail LGA1366 quad core processors, save the “Extreme” line. The
basic design has been in use since the release of LGA775 four years ago: a mass
of aluminum fins splayed out radially and a frameless fan with high angled blades.
With its round shape and low height seems primarily built not to be obtrusive,
though only in the physical sense. Acoustically these coolers have never been
great.

Intel Core i7-920 Stock Cooler: Physical Details

The Core i7-920 stock cooler is a basic top-down radial style
heatsink similar to LGA775 and LGA1156 stock coolers only larger. It measures
108 x 103 x 64 mm (L x W x H) and weighs 510 grams, 400 grams without the fan.


The pushpins are attached directly to the frame of the fan making a simple
fan swap impossible.


The heatsink is composed of a copper core surrounded by 43 thick aluminum
fins, each of which fork into 3 thinner fins.


The cooler is equipped with a 7-blade PWM fan with a blade diameter of
87 mm, equivalent to that of a standard 92 mm case fan.


Fan and heatsink separated.


Installed on an Asus P6X58D Premium.

Intel Core i7-980X Stock Cooler: Physical Details

The Core i7-980X stock cooler is short tower heatsink with a large
translucent LED fan, four copper heatpipes and a densely-packed array of aluminum
fins. It measures 105 x 98 x 124 mm (L x W x H) and weighs 670 grams, 560 grams
without the fan.


On average, the fins are only 0.30 mm thick and spaced 1.14 mm apart,
the thinnest and tightest array of fins we’ve ever seen.


The fan has a wingspan of 99 mm and its blades have very little curvature.
It is a lot larger than the fin mass with a significant portion of it
blowing underneath the bottom fin. Positioning the fan so low can help
cool both the CPU and the components around the socket.


The fan is protected by a snap-on grill that is easily removed. There
is a switch at the top of the heatsink that toggles the fan’s speed between
‘P’ for performance and ‘Q’ for quiet.


The fan mounts via a plastic protrusion on the fan hub. It is inserted
into the center of the heatsink and screwed in from the top.


The heatpipes are soldered to a flat copper base with a fairly decent
polish though some faint machining marks are visible.

Intel Core i7-980X Stock Cooler: Installation

The most critical aspect of installation is for the heatsink to
be securely mounted. The more firmly it is installed, the better the contact
between the heatsink’s base and the CPU itself. It’s also less likely to fall
off. Ease of installation is also important — a simple mounting scheme
means less time spent installing, and a reduced likelihood of screwing up.


The cooler mounts using four thumbscrews that are secured to a
simple plastic backplate.


The screws are small and close to the board, making them difficult to
access.


The tower hangs over the screws on one side. With large heatsinks
on the board around the socket, getting to these screws is challenging,
even with slender fingers.

Mounted.


LEDs at work.

TESTING

Before thermal testing, we took some basic physical measurements.

Approximate Physical Measurements
Heatsink Intel Core i7-920 stock
cooler
Intel Core i7-980X stock
cooler
Weight
400 g
510 g with fan
560 g
670 g with fan
Fin count 3 x 42 57
Fin thickness
0.58 mm 0.30 mm
Fin spacing
varies 1.14 mm
Vertical Clearance*
N/A 35 mm
Horizontal Overhang**
-32 mm -32 mm
* measured from the motherboard PCB to
the bottom fin of the heatsink.
** measured from the far edge of the heatsink to the top edge of the motherboard
PCB.

 

Comparison: Approximate Fin Thickness & Spacing
Heatsink
Fin Thickness
Fin Spacing
Scythe Ninja 2
0.39 mm
3.68 mm
Scythe Ninja Mini
0.42 mm
3.46 mm
Thermalright HR-01 Plus
0.45 mm
3.15 mm
Noctua NH-U12P
0.44 mm
2.63 mm
Noctua NH-C12P
0.47 mm
2.54 mm
Noctua NH-D14
0.43 mm
2.33 mm
Prolimatech Armageddon
0.51 mm
2.08 mm
Prolimatech Megahalems
0.50 mm
2.00 mm
Zalman CNPS10X Quiet
0.40 mm
2.00 mm
Scythe Kabuto & Zipang 2
0.34 mm
1.94 mm
Scythe Mugen-2
0.31 mm
1.89 mm
Cooler Master V8
0.30 mm
1.90 mm /
1.80 mm
Titan Fenrir
0.36 mm
1.78 mm
Scythe Samurai ZZ
0.33 mm
1.74 mm
Cogage TRUE Spirit 1366
0.40 mm
1.70 mm
Scythe Grand Kama Cross
0.38 mm
1.66 mm
Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus
0.43 mm
1.54 mm
Zalman CNPS10X Extreme
0.42 mm
1.50 mm
Thermalright Ultra-120
0.45 mm
1.42 mm
Core i7-980X stock cooler
0.30 mm
1.14 mm
Core i7-920 stock cooler
0.58 mm
varies

Testing was done on our
new i7-1366 heatsink testing platform
. A summary of the test system
and procedure follows.

Key Components in Heatsink Test Platform:

  • Intel Core i7-965 Extreme
    Nehalem core, LGA1366, 3.2GHz, 45nm, 130W TDP.
  • Asus
    P6X58D Premium
    ATX motherboard. X58 chipset.
  • Asus
    EAH3450 Silent
    graphics card.
  • Intel
    X25-M
    80GB 2.5″ solid-state drive. Chosen for silence.
  • 3GB QiMonda
    DDR3 memory. 3 x 1GB DDR3-1066 in triple channel..
  • Seasonic X-650 SS-650KM
    650W ATX power supply. This PSU is semi-passively cooled. At the power levels
    of our test platform, its fan does not spin.
  • Arctic Silver
    Lumière
    : Special fast-curing thermal interface material, designed
    specifically for test labs.
  • Nexus 120 fan (used when possible with heatsinks that fit 120x25mm
    fans)
  • Nexus 92 fan (used when possible with heatsinks that fit 92x25mm
    fans)

The system is silent under the test conditions, except for the CPU cooling
fan(s).

Normally, our reference fans are used whenever possible, the measured details
of which are shown below.

Reference Nexus 120mm fan
Anechoic chamber measurements
Voltage
SPL@1m
Speed
12V
16 dBA
1100 RPM
9V
13 dBA
890 RPM
7V
12 dBA
720 RPM

 

Reference Nexus 92 mm fan
Anechoic chamber measurements
Voltage
SPL@1m
Speed
12V
16 dBA
1470 RPM
9V
12 dBA
1150 RPM

Measurement and Analysis Tools

  • Extech 380803 AC power analyzer / data logger for measuring AC system
    power.
  • Custom-built, four-channel variable DC power supply, used to regulate
    the fan speed during the test.
  • PC-based spectrum analyzer:
    SpectraPlus with ACO Pacific mic and M-Audio digital
    audio interfaces.
  • Anechoic chamber
    with ambient level of 11 dBA or lower
  • Various other tools for testing fans, as documented in our
    standard fan testing methodology
    .
  • SpeedFan,
    used to monitor the on-chip thermal sensors. The sensors are not calibrated,
    so results are not universally applicable. The hottest core reading is used.
  • Prime95,
    used to stress the CPU heavily, generating more heat than most real applications.
    8 instances are used to ensure that all 4 cores (with Hyper-threading) are
    stressed.
  • CPU-Z,
    used to monitor the CPU speed to determine when overheating occurs.
  • Thermometers to measure the air temperature around the test platform
    and near the intake of the heatsink fan.

Noise measurements are made with the fans powered from the lab’s variable DC
power supply while the rest of the system was off to ensure that system noise
did not skew the measurements.

Load testing was accomplished using Prime95 to stress the processor, and the
graph function in SpeedFan was used to ensure that the load temperature is stable
for at least ten minutes. The temperature recorded is the highest single core
reading. The stock fans were tested at various voltages to represent a good
cross-section of airflow and noise performance.

The ambient conditions during testing were 10~11 dBA and 21~23°C.

Stock Fan Measurements: Intel Core i7-920 Stock Cooler

Specifications: Intel Core i7-920 stock cooler fan
Manufacturer
Power Rating
?
Model Number
F10T12MS1Z7-64A011
Airflow Rating
?
Bearing Type
?
Speed Rating
?
Corners
N/A
Noise Rating
?
Frame Size
100 x 100 mm
Header Type
4-pin PWM
Fan Blade Diameter
87 mm
Starting Voltage
4.6 V
Hub Size
34 mm
Weight
110 g (including mounting frame)
Data in green cells provided by the manufacturer
or observed; data in the blue cells were measured.

 

Stock Fan Measurements
Voltage
Speed
SPL @1m
12V
1980 RPM
27 dBA
10V
1680 RPM
21~22 dBA
9V
1530 RPM
19~20 dBA
8V
1340 RPM
16 dBA
7V
1150 RPM
13~14 dBA
6V
960 RPM
12~13 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle from
the intake side of the fan.
Ambient noise level: 11 dBA.

The i7-920 stock cooler fan is subpar acoustically speaking. At full speed
it is loud, very turbulent and buzzy. At 9V, the buzzing disappears but is replaced
by a tonal hum. At 8V the fan sounds bearable as no turbulence is audible at
one meter’s distance, though the humming remains. At 7V the fan is quiet, with
the hum all but subdued, but close-up the fan’s motor starts to click.


i7-920 stock cooler fan @9V. Note the tonal spike at ~500Hz.

Stock Fan Measurements: Intel Core i7-980X Stock Cooler

Specifications: Intel Core i7-980X stock cooler fan
Manufacturer
Power Rating
9.6 W
Model Number
F10T12MS2Z9-18A01A1
Airflow Rating
?
Bearing Type
?
Speed Rating
?
Corners
N/A
Noise Rating
?
Frame Size
N/A
Header Type
4-pin PWM
Fan Blade Diameter
99 mm
Starting Voltage
4.7 V
Hub Size
42 mm
Weight
110 g
Data in green cells provided by the manufacturer
or observed; data in the blue cells were measured.

 

Stock Fan Measurements
Voltage
Speed
SPL @1m
12V (P)
2600 RPM
43 dBA
9V
2090 RPM
40~41 dBA
7V (Q)
1740 RPM
34 dBA
5V
1480 RPM
26 dBA
4.5V
1070 RPM
15 dBA
4V
800 RPM
12 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle from
the intake side of the fan.
Ambient noise level: 11 dBA.

The noise level of the i7-980X stock cooler is absolutely ridiculous, being
atrociously loud until the fan is set to below 5V. At full speed it measures
an earsplitting 43 dBA@1m and is tremendously turbulent and whiny. This dissipates
slightly at 9V revealing a very nasty mid-to-high pitched tone. At 7V, the noise
is less tonal, but still far too high. At 5V the fan buzzes and develops a noticeable
drone. It finally becomes quiet at 4.5V, but at this level there is not enough
airflow to mask a very grating, dry-sounding hum. At 4V, the motor is still
audible with the hum deteriorating into a rattle. The built-in speed switch
toggles the fan speed between 12V (‘P’ setting) and 7V (‘Q’ setting).


i7-980X stock cooler fan @5V. Tonal elements evident at multiple frequencies.

COOLING RESULTS

Intel Core i7-920 stock cooler
Fan Voltage
SPL@1m
Temp
°C Rise
12V
27 dBA
80°C
58
10V
21~22 dBA
86°C
64
9V
19~20 dBA
92°C+
70+
8V
16 dBA
N/A
°C Rise: Temperature rise above ambient (22°C)
at load.
Dark gray boxes indicate testing was halted due to high temperature.

The i7-920 stock cooler performed very poorly on our test platform. Not only
was the thermal rise high at both 12V and 10V, at 9V, the CPU exceeded 90°C,
a few degrees away from overheating, prompting us to stop the test. Not surprisingly
the i7-920 stock cooler is a complete failure as a quiet heatsink/fan, producing
stable temperatures only with the fan generating more than 20 dBA@1m. Keep in
mind, our test CPU is a i7-965, so the results should be a bit better on lower
speed processors like the i7-920/930.

Intel Core i7-980X stock cooler w/ stock fan
Fan Voltage
SPL@1m
Temp
°C Rise
12V
43 dBA
63°C
41
9V
40~41 dBA
64°C
42
7V
34 dBA
66°C
44
5V
26 dBA
71°C
49
4.5V
15 dBA
75°C
53
4V
12 dBA
84°C
62
Intel Core i7-980X stock cooler w/ ref. 92 mm fan
12V
16 dBA
83°C
61
9V
12 dBA
92°C+
70+
°C Rise: Temperature rise above ambient (22°C)
at load.
Dark gray boxes indicate testing was halted due to high temperature.

The i7-980X cooler, for obvious reasons, was a far better performer. At 7V
and above, the thermal rise was very good — it would have been outrageous
if it wasn’t with noise levels well above 30 dBA@1m. At 5V it was 1 dBA quieter
than i7-920 cooler at 12V, but beat it by 9°C. At 5V, there was a massive
drop in SPL, but cooling suffered by only 4°C. At close to inaudible levels,
it attained a thermal rise of 62°C above ambient, something the i7-920 cooler
could not pull off without emitting more than 22 dBA@1m.

Our reference 92 mm fan did not perform as well. Though it was completely superior
in subjective acoustics, its cooling proficiency with this heatsink was worse.
At 12V/16 dBA, the thermal rise was 8°C higher than the stock fan at 4.5V/15
dBA. At 9V, we had to stop testing as the CPU temperature shot through the roof.
Typically our reference fan improves performance on most coolers but in this
case it was at a size disadvantage — the stock fan’s blades are about half
an inch wider than a standard 92 mm fan.

Comparison Charts

°C rise Comparison (stock fan)
SPL@1m
i7-920 cooler
Samurai ZZ
i7-980X cooler
Ninja Mini (ref. fan)
20 dBA
70+
19 dBA
18 dBA
59
17 dBA
16 dBA
55
15 dBA
63
53
14 dBA
13 dBA
12 dBA
62
61
11 dBA
<11 dBA
65
Dark gray boxes indicate testing was halted due to high
temperature.

Despite its tightly spaced fins, at low fan speeds the i7-980X is a formidable
cooler, at least compared to smaller aftermarket heatsinks like the Scythe
Samurai ZZ
and Ninja Mini. It more or less matches the level of performance
attained by the Ninja Mini paired with our reference 92 mm fan, and beats out
the Samurai ZZ by 10°C at the 15 dBA level, though subjectively, the Scythe
fan sounds smoother. The Samurai ZZ catches up at lower noise levels though,
displaying great staying power by dropping only a couple of degrees at an inaudible
noise level.

There isn’t much to say about the i7-920 stock cooler as it failed to cool
our processor adequately below 20 dBA. Even if it was stable at 70°C above
ambient at 19~20 dBA, it would still be more than 10°C worse than the Samurai
ZZ and almost twice that compared to the i7-980X cooler.

°C rise Comparison (reference fan)
Heatsink
Nexus 92 mm fan voltage / SPL@1m
12V
9V
16 dBA
12 dBA
Cooler Master V8
(Nexus 120 mm fan)
46
(12V)
54
(7V)
Scythe Kabuto
(Nexus 120 mm fan)
51
(12V)
60
(7V)
Scythe Ninja Mini
55
61
Scythe Samurai ZZ
57
66
Core i7-980X cooler
61
70+
Dark gray boxes indicate testing was halted due to high
temperature.

The i7-980X cooler falls well behind the Ninja Mini and Samurai ZZ when paired
with our reference Nexus 92 mm fan. As we noted earlier, the larger wingspan
of the stock fan makes it a much stronger cooler. The Cooler
Master V8
, and Scythe Kabuto, the worst tower and downblowing coolers
we’ve tested that utilize 120 mm fans are included in the chart to give you
an idea of how far behind the smaller heatsinks fall.

MP3 SOUND RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high
resolution, lab quality, digital recording system
inside SPCR’s
own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber
, then converted to LAME 128kbps
encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation
from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of
what we heard during the review.

These recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the product sounds
in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer
or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient
noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. Be aware
that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn’t hear it from
one meter, chances are we couldn’t record it either!

The recording starts with 5~10 second segments of room ambiance, then the fan
at various levels. For the most realistic results, set the volume so that
the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then don’t change the volume
setting again.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Intel Core i7-920 stock heatsink has the ability to run fairly quiet at
lower fan speeds, and with proper PWM control and an enclosure muffling it,
should only be noticed by the most nimble-eared. On load however, it cannot
sustain reasonable temperatures without ramping up to close to full speed. In
our case, we had to stop testing once the fan was undervolted below 10V (21~22
dBA@1m) as the CPU came close to failing due to heat. It performs terribly and
with undesirable levels of noise, making it a fitting example of the “just
good enough” stock cooler.

We were surprised to see how well the Intel Core i7-980X stock heatsink performed.
Sure, it’s a tower heatpipe cooler much larger than the i7-920 heatsink, but
with tightly packed fins and a frameless fan with a big hub, we weren’t expecting
the level of cooling proficiency it displayed. At high fan speeds, it cooled
very well, but howled like a banshee. At low fan speeds it sounded worse than
the average fan, but delivered very good thermal results, more or less matching
the Scythe Ninja Mini at equivalent noise levels. However, given the acoustic
quality of the Intel stock fan, we would say the Ninja Mini is a step ahead.
The i7-980X cooler also put a pretty good beating on the Scythe
Samurai ZZ
, holding a 10°C lead over it at the 15 dBA level.

From what we can tell, the 10 cm stock fan is essential to the i7-980X cooler’s
strong performance — it fared significantly worse with our reference 92
mm fan. The stock fan sounds terrible though and is begging to be replaced with
say a 10 cm Scythe Slip Stream. The thumbscrew and backplate mounting system
may also give it an edge as its main competition uses pushpins for installation.
Whatever the reason(s), the fact this stock heatsink is competitive with smaller
aftermarket US$30+ coolers is impressive, though we would be remiss not to point
out that it currently only ships with the Core i7-980X — a close to US$1000
processor! Hopefully Intel plans on improving the fan acoustics and including this cooler with their more
affordable hex-core processors in the future.

Our thanks to Intel
for the stock heatsink samples.

* * *

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* * *

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