Phanteks PH-TC90LS Mini Cooler

The PH-TC90LS is Phanteks’ take on a budget, low-profile CPU cooler. The question is whether this basic 45 mm tall heatsink with an thin, open frame fan can truly take the heat.

Phanteks PH-TC90LS Mini Cooler

January 8, 2013 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Phanteks PH-TC90LS
CPU Cooler
Manufacturer
Phanteks
Street Price
US$30

Phanteks, a relative newcomer to the PC cooling game, has quickly gained popularity
for its large high performance CPU heatsinks. The products bear a very strong
resemblance to Noctua coolers; for example, the heatsink body, installation
system, and fan mounting hardware of the Phanteks
PH-TC14PE
is almost indistinguishable from that of the famous Noctua
NH-D14
. We asked Phanteks whether there is any relationship between
them and Noctua, to which the reply was negative. Regardless, it’s difficult
to escape the sense of deja vu with the Phanteks products we’ve examined thus
far.


PH-TC90LS box contents.

The PH-TC90LS under examination here does not follow in the same mold as previously
tested Phanteks. This is a low profile model that targets the same niche as
the Noctua
NH-L9i
: SFF and slim cases with strict CPU cooler height restrictions.
It has the same 95 x 95 mm footprint as the NH-L9i, which eliminates any possibility
of interference with board components, but the similarities end there. The TC90LS
is a budget alternative priced at US$30, featuring a more basic design
than Noctua’s US$50 offering. It stands 45 mm tall with the fan, an open
frame model equivalent in size to a 92 mm case fan. Similar fans can be found
on Arctic Cooling’s Alpine series of low cost CPU coolers. In the past we found
these fans lacking in cooling prowess but possessing commendable acoustics.


Heatsink and accessories.

The heatsink ships with a tube of thermal compound and the necessary mounting
hardware which includes a backplate and fan dampening strips. The TC90LS uses
a simple bolt-thru/backplate system which supports only Intel LGA1155/1156 and
LGA2011 motherboards. Phanteks claims it can handle CPUs 130W TDP, which covers
some Sandy Bridge Extreme processors… but even before any testing, we don’t
recommend using it with such a hot load if noise is at all a concern. The LGA2011
support is really meant more for Xeon-based servers and workstations.

Phanteks PH-TC90LS: Specifications
(from the product
web page
)
CompatibilityIntel Socket 2011/1155/1156
TDPUp to 130W
ColorWhite
Material– Copper (Base and Heat-pipes), Nickel Plated
– Aluminum Cooling Fins with patented P.A.T.S. and C.P.S.C technology
Package Dimension133x162x106 mm (LxWxH)
Fan Size 92x92x15 mm
Fan compatibility80x80x15 mm
Heatsink Dimension (LxWxH) without fan
95x95x27 mm
Heatsink Dimension (LxWxH) with Single Fans
95x95x45 mm
Weight without fan235g
Weight with fan273g
Scope of Delivery– 1x PH-TC90LS
– 1x PH-F90 PWM Premium Fan
– 1x Backplate for LGA 1155/1156
– 4x Mounting Screws for Intel LGA 2011
– 4x Mounting Screws for Intel LGA 1155/1156
– 1x PH-NDC Thermal Compound
– 1x Phanteks PH-TC90LS User’s Manual
– 2x Rubber Bar
– 4x Fan Clip Adapters,
– 2x Fan Wire Clip
Warranty5 Years.
Fan Specifications
Fan ModelPH-F90 PWM Premium Fan
Input Power3W
Current (Ampere)0.25A
Rate Voltage12V
MTBF> 150,000 hr.

PHYSICAL DETAILS & INSTALLATION

The PH-TC90LS has a nickel-plated copper base and 38 aluminum
fins. The specifications also mention heatpipes but there are none visible to
eye. It measures 95 x 95 x 45 mm or 3.7 x 3.7 x .1.8 inches (L x W x H) and
weighs 260 grams (230 grams without the fan) according to our digital scale.


The build of the TC90LS is simple, a series of broad aluminum fins soldered
to a large baseplate beneath. The fins are rather thick at 0.47 mm and
they are spaced a loose 1.90 mm apart, on average. It is a lot more open
than the densely packed NH-L9i.


The base is made of nickel-plated copper but unlike Phanteks’ other offerings,
it has a slightly concave surface. This undoubtedly will affect its performance
negatively.


The fan’s impeller is suspended by four struts supported by a ring around the blades. Its diameter is 95 mm but from blade to blade it spans only 81 mm across. If you’re considering a replacement, the mounting holes are spaced like a 80 mm case fan.


Like other Phanteks (and some Noctua) coolers, the fan is attached with wire clips via some round plastic pegs inserted into fan’s mounting holes. It looks rather odd with the circular frame at the top with the fan blowing down.


Fully installed on our test platform.


The perimeter of the cooler did not extend past the lines outlining the socket on the motherboard which designates the recommended maximum size for a heatsink to avoid interference with other components.

TESTING

Before thermal testing, we took some basic physical measurements.

Approximate Physical Measurements
Weight
230 g
260 g with stock fan
Height45 mm
Fin count38
Fin thickness
0.47 mm
Fin spacing
1.90 mm
Vertical Clearance*
N/A
* measured from the motherboard PCB to
the bottom fin of the heatsink.
Small Heatsink Comparison:
Average Fin Thickness & Spacing
Heatsink
Fin Thickness
Fin Spacing
Scythe Big Shuriken 2 Rev.B
0.29 mm
1.13 mm
Noctua NH-L9i
0.44 mm
1.16 mm
Scythe Big Shuriken
0.33 mm
1.19 mm
Reeven Vanxie
0.28 mm
1.39 mm
Reeven Arcziel
0.28 mm
1.41 mm
Cooler Master GeminII M4
0.29 mm
1.46 mm
Noctua NH-L12
0.49 mm
1.51 mm
Scythe Kozuti
0.12 mm
1.69 mm
Scythe Samurai ZZ
0.33 mm
1.74 mm
Thermalright TRUE Spirit 120M
0.43 mm
1.78 mm
Prolimatech Panther
0.53 mm
1.80 mm
Phanteks PH-TC90LS
0.47 mm
1.90 mm

Testing on larger heatsinks are done on our
LGA1366 heatsink testing platform
, while smaller coolers tackle our LGA1155 heatsink testing platform. A summary of the test system
and procedure follows.

Key Components in LGA1155 Heatsink Test Platform:

The systems are 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 Noctua 140mm fan
Anechoic chamber measurements
Voltage
SPL@1m
Speed
12V
28~29 dBA
1250 RPM
9V
21 dBA
990 RPM
8V
18 dBA
880 RPM
7V
15~16 dBA
770 RPM
6V
13 dBA
660 RPM
Reference Nexus 120mm fan
Anechoic chamber measurements
Voltage
SPL@1m
Speed
12V
16 dBA
1080 RPM
9V
13 dBA
880 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 LGA1366 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

Specifications: Phanteks PH-TC90LS
Manufacturer
Power Rating
3 W
Model Number
PH-F90 PWM
Airflow Rating
11.53 ~ 28.67 CFM
Bearing Type
UFB (Updraft Floating Balance)
Speed Rating
1000 ~ 2500 ± 300 RPM
Corners
N/A
Noise Rating
19 ~ 26 dBA
Frame Size
95 x 95 x 16 mm
Header Type
4-pin
Blade Diameter
81 mm
Starting Voltage
4.4 V
Hub Size
33 mm
Weight
30 g
Data in green cells provided by the manufacturer
or observed; data in the blue cells were measured.

The larger fans that ship with Phanteks’ premium coolers are among the best sounding models you can get with an aftermarket cooler but this smaller version shares only superficial commonalties, namely the shallow ridges on the fan blades. The blades have greater curvature, perhaps to make up for the lack of a box frame which helps increase pressure by forcing airflow in one direction rather than off to the sides. The frame design also requires the struts be straight which can lead to tonal effects.

The stock fan had a complex acoustic character with an audible hum throughout
its usable range. This was coupled with a buzzing sound at lower speeds and
high frequency turbulence at higher speeds. It essentially sounded poor unless
we dialed down to speed to the point where it was inaudible. We also found that
the fan didn’t fit as tightly as it could — placing gentle downward pressure
on the corners resulted in slightly altered acoustics. The fan’s weight and
light frame just doesn’t give much support or rigidity.

Stock Fan Measurements
Voltage
Speed
SPL@1m
12V
2570 RPM
34 dBA
9V
2080 RPM
28 dBA
7V
1680 RPM
21 dBA
6V
1440 RPM
18 dBA
5V
1200 RPM
14 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle from
the center of the heatsink.
Ambient noise level: 10~11 dBA.

Given the size of the TC90LS and Phanteks’ claim that it can cool a 130W processor, the included fan has a rather high nominal speed. Our sample spun at just under 2600 RPM which produced a loud 34 dBA@1m. The speed needs to be dropped below about 1600 RPM to be considered quiet.

Test Results

Phanteks PH-TC90LS
Fan Voltage
Fan Speed
SPL@1m
°C Rise above Ambient
CPU
VRM
RAM
Stock Fan
12V
2570 RPM
34 dBA
52
29
17
9V
2080 RPM
28 dBA
55
33
20
7V
1680 RPM
21 dBA
63
41
26
6V
1440 RPM
18 dBA
67
46
29
5V
1200 RPM
14 dBA
69
48
30
Reference Nexus 92 mm Fan
12V
1470 RPM
17 dBA
66
37
25
9V
1150 RPM
12~13 dBA
74
46
30

Tested on our mildly overclocked/overvolted Core i5-2400, the CPU temperature stabilized at 52°C and 69°C above ambient at 12V and 5V respectively, with a big drop off in performance below the 9V level. At lower fan speeds, its effectiveness takes a drastic turn for the worse but this is fairly typical for a heatsink of its size.

Our thicker Nexus 92 mm reference fan produced similar CPU temperatures at
the 17~18 dBA@1m level, suggesting that airflow isn’t really the limiting factor.
It’s also notable that the Nexus improved on the stock fan’s VRM temperature
by a substantial 9°C. Its greater airflow didn’t help dissipate heat from
the heatsink any better but the area around the socket did receive substantial
benefits.

Heatsink Comparison Table

°C rise Comparison (CPU Temperature)
SPL (dBA@1m)
20
19
18
17
16
15
14
13
12
Noctua NH-L12
(both fans)
33
34
35
36
Thermalright TRUE Spirit 120M
32
34
36
38
Noctua NH-L12
(120mm fan)
37
38
39
42
Prolimatech Panther
35
42
Scythe Big Shuriken 2 Rev.B
39
43
48
Reeven Arcziel
42
47
Scythe Samurai ZZ
45
46
52
Noctua NH-L12
(92 mm fan)
42
44
47
51
57
Scythe Big Shuriken
43
46
61
Cooler Master GeminII M4
53
56
64
Noctua NH-L9i
56
61
Scythe Kozuti
57
62
65
Phanteks PH-TC90LS
67
69
Phanteks PH-TC90LS
(ref. 92 mm fan)
66
74
Reeven Vanxie
66
77
F

The TC90LS is a low profile budget heatsink and performs like it, placing second to last on our small heatsink comparison list. At quiet noise levels (20 dBA@1m and below), it’s a significant step down from the Scythe Kozuti and Noctua NH-L9i. It does manage to edge out our last place finisher, the even smaller Reeven Vanxie, as the Phanteks’ efficiency doesn’t nosedive quite as steeply at ultra low noise levels.

°C rise Comparison (VRM Temperature)
SPL (dBA@1m)
20
19
18
17
16
15
14
13
12
Noctua NH-L12
(both fans)
17
19
21
23
Thermalright TRUE Spirit 120M
21
24
26
27
Prolimatech Panther
24
30
Noctua NH-L12
(120mm fan)
24
26
27
32
Scythe Big Shuriken 2 Rev.B
29
34
39
Noctua NH-L12
(92 mm fan)
28
31
33
38
43
Reeven Arcziel
38
41
Scythe Big Shuriken
28
30
47
Cooler Master GeminII M4
34
38
49
Scythe Kozuti
36
40
45
Phanteks PH-TC90LS
(ref. 92 mm fan)
37
46
Scythe Samurai ZZ
38
39
47
Noctua NH-L9i
40
46
Phanteks PH-TC90LS
46
48
Reeven Vanxie
45
56
F

The TC90LS performs similarly with regard to VRM cooling except when equipped with a standard 92 mm case fan. Our reference Nexus fan gives it a much stronger result, pushing it up two ranks above the Noctua NH-L9i.

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

Based on our test results we conclude that the Phanteks PH-TC90LS has to be paired with a relatively low power chip to operate properly as a quiet CPU cooler. It cooled our slightly overclocked/overvolted Core i5-2400 well enough in an open testing environment but at low fan speeds the processor heated up to very uncomfortable levels. Inside a case with limited airflow, you can expect much worse, so it’s best used with a dual core part with a TDP of 65W or lower if the volume produced needs to be at a reasonable level.

Phanteks’ larger premium coolers are essentially clones of Noctua products
but they took a more original approach with the PH-TC90LS. Their mini cooler
shares the same 95 x 95 mm footprint of the Noctua
NH-L9i
, emphasizing compatibility above all else. However, it’s a taller
heatsink (45 mm vs. 37 mm) and uses a simpler design that can’t match the Noctua’s
effectiveness. The NH-L9i beat the TC90LS by between 7~10°C and is equipped
with a much better sounding fan as well. Part of the problem might be the slightly
concave profile of the base, which can be flattened by lapping for improved
performance, but you’re still saddled with a less-than pristine sounding fan.

It seems like a reasonable compromise when you consider the US$20 price
difference between the two products, but we’re not convinced it’s more than
a marginal improvement over an OEM Intel cooler. Pull off the stock fan from
that and replace it with a better sounding conventional fan using zip ties,
and the overall performance might be better. The best alternative would be the
Scythe
Kozuti
which offers NH-L9i performance at a TC90LS price, but its wider
profile may cause interference on some boards.

Our thanks to Phanteks for the PH-TC90LS CPU cooler sample.

* * *

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:

Thermalright TRUE Spirit 120M CPU Heatsink
Noctua NH-L9i Low Profile CPU Cooler
Zalman CNPS9900DF Dual Fan Flower Heatsink
Prolimatech MK-26 Multi-VGA Cooler
SilverStone Heligon HE02: Monster Fanless CPU Cooler
Prolimatech Panther CPU Cooler

* * *

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