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Review: Swiftech MCX478-V P4 Cooler

November 8, 2003 by Ralf Hutter

Product MCX478-V Heatsink for Intel P4 CPUs
Manufacturer Swiftech
Market Price ~US$50

Swiftech has a long standing reputation for high performance heatsinks that feature aluminum cooling pins on a thick copper base. Their newest version, the MCX478-V, follows this design with a few improvements geared towards improving performance and usability.

As you see from the picture above, the patented Swiftech helicoid cooling pins are set into a fanned “V” pattern (when looked at in profile cross section) in the MCX478-V. Each pin is, in effect, bent outward. This has the effect of increasing the air gap between the pins, which should allow for more air to pass through the cooling fins, and improve performance with low-flow cooling fans. Swiftech claims that this pin configuration is optimized for fans as low as 22cfm.

The revised pin orientation also lets you use a 92mm cooling fan, without enlarging the base of the heatsink. This allows the MCX478-V to fit within the confines of the standard Intel heatsink retention bracket on any Intel P4 board. 100% compatibility is a big plus for any large-footprint and alternative mount heatsinks.

The MCX478-V even uses the stock Intel retention mechanism so that no removal of the motherboard is required. Earlier versions of Swiftech’s P4 heatsinks had a proprietary retention mechanism. The springs, screws, washers and standoffs of the earlier Swiftech heatsinks made for a rather daunting installation process for many people. With the new MCX478-V, this is no longer an issue. The MCX478-V mounts to the stock Intel retention frame using a pair of chrome plated spring clips. I found it quite easy to mount this heatsink using the well-designed thumb tabs on the end of each mounting clip.

The base of the new MCX478-V is classic Swiftech, a giant 1/2″ thick slab of copper. The workmanship of this base is excellent. The raised center area on the underside looks like it has been hand-polished and is the the best finished contact area that I’ve ever seen on a heatsink. I doubt that anyone could improve on this finish.

Swiftech has also come up with a new method of attaching the fan to their latest heatsink. Instead of screws or spring clips, they are using plastic pushpins, similar to what is usually found on video card heatsinks. Installing the fan on the MCX478-V was quite easy using these push-pins. Simply drop the pin through the flange of the fan and push down on the head to expand the legs underneath. No tools required and removal is just as easy.

I do have one minor quibble with these push pins. After installing and removing fans several times during testing, the pins started to stay in their expanded position, which made it quite difficult to insert them through the fan and bracket. I had to squish them back together with pliers in order to fit them through the holes. This is probably not an issue with the average user, who will probably replace the fan far fewer times than I did in the course of this review.

Along with the accessory pack for the MCX478-V Swiftech has included two sets of fan mounts that allow using either 92mm or 80mm fans. This is a nice touch because most heatsinks don’t give you such options. Each mount sits at the corner of the heatsink and is attached by a Philips head screw. To change from one size fan mount to the other, just remove the screw, put either the 92mm or 80mm mounts in place and screw it down tight.

The Swiftech weighs in at a slightly hefty 620 grams, certainly higher than the Intel maximum of 450 grams but also quite a bit less than the 900 grams of the behemoth Zalman CNPS6500B-Cu or the 773 grams of the Zalman CNPS7000Cu. While not the lightest P4 heatsink made, it shouldn’t stress the stock P4 retention bracket nearly as much as some of the heavier alternatives.

Specifications from Swiftech

  • CNC machined, C110 copper base, 3″W x 3.3″L x .500″H, flatness better than 0.0003″, micro surface finish 8 or better.
  • 374 Helicoid Pins made of High Thermal Conductivity Aluminum Alloy, press fitted in the base.
  • Heatsink base dimensions 3″x3.3″x1.66″
  • Heatsink top dimension 3 3/4″ x 3 1/2″
  • Weight: 22 oz (620g)

NOTE: There is also a review of the Socket-A (AMD) version of the Swiftech MCX478-V.

ON THE TEST BENCH

I decided to compare the MCX478-V to several other high performance P4 heatsinks that I had on hand, as well as the stock Intel P4 heatsink. I gathered together the MCX478-V, a Thermalright SLK900U, a Zalman CNPS7000AlCu and the stock Intel P4 heatsink and took a little trip across the hall to Hutter Performance Labs for testing.

I followed the SilentPCReview standard low-noise, low-airflow HS testing methodology as closely as possible. The reference quiet Panaflo 80mm “L1A” low airflow fan is used, at 12, 7 and 5 volts. This is the same model fan and voltages used in previous SilentPCReview HS reviews. The only variable is the cooling power of the HS itself; we’re not comparing fans. The question we seek to answer is how well the HS does with a very quiet fan. The same quiet fan is used for most HS (the exceptions being models in which the fan is tightly integrated with the HS, such as the Zalman CNPS7000 and the stock Intel HSF).

For this test I also used the low airflow version of the 92mm Panaflo fan because both the MCX478-V and the Thermalright SLK900U have the provision to use these bigger fans. The theory behind using a larger fan is that it puts out more cfm at the same speed, or the same cfm at a slower (and quieter) speed. We’ll see how well this theory holds up when we put these fans to the test.

Key Components in P4 HS Test platform

The P4 HS test platform is an open system not enclosed in a case.

Intel P4-2.4C Northwood core – Maximum power is 66.2W.
Intel 875PBZ motherboard – Intel 875P Chipset; on-die CPU thermal diode monitoring
Panaflo FBA08A12L1A 80mm DC fan
ATI Radeon 7500 passively cooled video card (AGP)
1024 MB DDRAM – Corsair XMS3200c2
Seagate 80GB Barracuda IV hard drive
Antec SL350S PSU
Arctic Silver Ceramique Thermal Compound
Two-level metal platform with rubber damping feet. Motherboard on top; other components below.
CPUBurn processor stress software
Motherboard Monitor 5.3.4.0 software to track CPU temperature and fan speed

Each heatsink was cleaned and installed on the test system as per the manufacturers’ and Arctic Silver’s instructions. Prime95 was then run for 8 hours to verify system stability and cure the Ceramique. The system was then shut down and not restarted until the next morning when the actual testing was done. The system was allowed to cool between tests for 30 minutes. Each test was run for 30 minutes even though all temperatures generally stabilized within 15 to 20 minutes. The reference Panaflo fans were mounted on top of each heatsink, blowing down.

Each heatsink was retested three times on consecutive mornings to check to the consistency of the results. All results were within 1-2°C of each other and the average readings are included in the charts.

Ambient temperature was measured at 71-72°F (22°C) over the entire series of tests. No tests were run unless the ambient temperature was at that reference level.

  • All temperatures in degrees Celsius.
  • Diode: Reading from P4-2.4C CPU diode via Motherboard Monitor.
  • Temp Rise refers to the difference between ambient temperature and the diode reading. .
  • °C/W refers to the °C of temperature rise per watt of heat dissipated by the CPU.

Fan #1: Vantec Tornado
Here are the results for the MCX478V with the supplied Vantec Tornado fan. This is the model TD8038A and is rated at 84 cfm, 55 dBA at 5700 rpm. This is Swiftech’s reference “High Performance” fan for this heatsink. Needless to say it’s not a fan that any sane Quiet PC enthusiast would have on his top 10 list but I chose to test it anyway. This is the first time I’ve personally used a Tornado fan so I was kind of intrigued to see how it performed and sounded.

Vantec Tornado fan (84 cfm, 55 dBA)
Fan voltage / RPM
12V / 5640
7V / –
5V / 2525
Idle temp
23°C
24°C
24°C
Load temp
33°C
35°C
38°C
Rise from ambient
11°C
13°C
16°C
°C/W
0.16
0.20
0.24
Comment
Super loud whine, air noise like a vacuum cleaner
loud whine, lots of air noise, like a quiet vacuum cleaner
medium whine, lots of air noise-like a 12V Zalman 7000 fan

It’s certainly stellar cooling performance but at the expense of intolerable noise. Even at 5 volts, the Vantec Tornado fan is too loud to consider using in a quiet PC.

Fan #2: NMB 3110NL
The other fan that was included along with our review sample is an NMB 3110NL-04W-B20-D06. This fan is rated at 26.5 cfm, 22.5 dBA at 2150 rpm. This is Swiftech’s recommended “Low Noise” fan.

NMB 3110NL-04W-B20-D06 fan (26.5 cfm, 22.5 dBA)
Fan voltage
12V
7V
5V
Idle temp
23°C
25°C
26°C
Load temp
40°C
49°C
59°C
Rise from ambient
18°C
27°C
37°C
°C/W
0.27
0.41
0.56
Comment
Lots of air noise, fairly loud whine
Medium air noise, funny electromechanical “buzz”
little air noise, low clicking noise and quiet whine

The NMB does a fine job of cooling at 12V and 7V but has too much mechanical noise and air noise to be a legitimate contender on this heatsink in a quiet system. At 5V the noise level is almost acceptable but the cooling performance is getting near borderline. I would not recommend this fan on the MCX478-V in a quiet system.

Fan #3: SPCR’s reference Panaflo FBA08A12L1A
Rated at 24 cfm, 21 dBA at 1900 rpm, the 80mm low speed Panaflo is a fairly quiet fan at 12 volts but becomes almost inaudible when undervolted. It doesn’t move a lot of air at lower voltages and doesn’t work well in high back-pressure situations (like tightly spaced heatsink fins) so it’ll be interesting to see how well it works with the tightly packed cooling pins of the MCX478-V.

Panaflo FBA08A12L1A fan (24 cfm, 21 dBA)
Fan voltage
12V
7V
5V
Idle temp
24°C
25°C
26°C
Load temp
42°C
52°C
67°C
Rise from ambient
22°C
32°C
45°C
°C/W
0.33
0.48
0.68
Comment
Slight whine and air noise
little air noise, very slight whine
no air noise, very slight clicking, very slight whine

The 80mm Panaflo does fine at the full 12 volts and pretty good at 7 volts but the 5 volt setting is just too much for it. 67°C is too close to Intel’s 70°C maximum CPU temperature for comfort, especially considering that the temperature of this setup will surely go up by around 8-10°C if this test fixture was put into a typical case. The 80mm Panaflo is it’s usual very quiet self on this heatsink and would probably be a good choice for the quietest fan solution on this heatsink.

Fan #4: Panaflo FBA09A12L1A
Next up is the 92mm version of Panaflo’s low noise fan. It’s one I use often in my systems. The specs of the FBA09A12L1A are 42 cfm, 27 dBA at 2100 rpm

Panaflo FBA09A12L1A fan (42 cfm, 27 dBA)
Fan voltage / RPM
12V / 2080
7V / –
5V / 760
Idle temp
25°C
26°C
27°C
Load temp
41°C
49°C
57°C
Rise from ambient
19°C
27°C
35°C
°C/W
0.28
0.41
0.53
Comment
mild/moderate whine, medium air noise
low whine and clicking, slight air noise
no air noise, very light clicking, very, very slight whine

The results of this fan are surprising compared to the 80mm version that puts out only 60% of the airflow. At 12V and 7V the 2 fans perform are very close, although the 92mm does have an edge. It’s not until 5V that the 92mm Panaflo shows a clear superiority over its 80mm cousin. The 80mm Panaflo is quieter than the 92mm Panaflo at any voltage setting. The 92mm is very quiet but it has a slight clicking sound that seems typical of this model. This ticking noise is very quiet though, I can’t hear from over a foot or two away or when the fan is running inside a case.

Swiftech MCX478-V Summary

The Swiftech MCX478-V does a fine job cooling the P4-2.4C with its 66 watt output, and has enough headroom to cool a 82W P4-3.0C with any of the tested fans at 12V. The MCX478-V outperforms Swiftech’s claim of being optimized for 22cfm fans. The 2 Panaflos running at 7 volts put out around 15cfm and still give quite adequate cooling. This heatsink plus 80mm or 92mm Panaflo L1A at 7 volts will provide near silent cooling for most P4 systems. It utilizes the stock Intel retention bracket and is very easy to install. This makes it a near “Plug-n-Play” solution for cooling hot running P4 processors on a quiet PC.

VERSUS THE COMPETITION

I chose the Zalman CNPS7000AlCu, a popular and well-reviewed hybrid aluminum and copper heatsink with a built-in 92mm fan. I also chose the Thermalright SLK900U, another popular choice of the Quiet-PC crowd, with the ability to mount either 80mm or 92mm fans. I used the 80mm and 92mm Panaflo low noise fans on the SLK900U. This is a head to head comparison of MCX478-V vs. SLK900U. Just for grins we’ll also throw in the stock Intel P4 heatsink/fan that’s included with the retail boxed processor. Who will come out on top? Well, let’s see.

Each table is ordered with the best performer at full load on top. Note the rankings change from 12V, 7V to 5V. Neither of the Swiftech-supplied fans were included in this comparison. They are simply too loud for our standards.

Fans at 12V
HS + fan
°C idle
°C load
°C rise above ambient
°C/W
SLK900U + 92mm Panaflo
24
38
16
0.24
Zalman 7000AlCu
25
38
16
0.24
SLK900U + 80mm Panaflo
25
40
18
0.27
MCX478 + 92mm Panaflo
25
41
19
0.29
MCX478 + 80mm Panaflo
24
42
20
0.30
Intel HSF
26
46
24
0.36

The SLK900U + 92mm Panaflo ties for the top spot along with the Zalman 7000. These HSFs sound quite similar at 12V; both are too loud to consider in a quiet system. Actually, all these fans and heatsink combinations are too loud at 12 volts to consider in a quiet system. Maybe the 80mm Panaflo on either the Swiftech or Thermalright would be quiet enough for some.

Fans at 7V
HS + fan
°C idle
°C load
°C rise above ambient
°C/W
Zalman 7000AlCu
25
40
18
0.27
SLK900U + 92mm Panaflo
25
47
25
0.38
MCX478 + 92mm Panaflo
26
49
27
0.41
SLK900U + 80mm Panaflo
27
51
29
0.44
MCX478 + 80mm Panaflo
25
52
30
0.46
Intel HSF
27
55
33
0.50

Here the Zalman 7000 shines: Excellent cooling performance, fairly low airflow noise and no mechanical noise. With the 80mm and 92mm Panaflos, the MCX478-V and SLK900U are grouped quite closely together. If I was forced to choose and couldn’t pick the Zalman, I’d go with either of the 80mm configurations. Both are quieter than the Zalman at 7 volts, but not by much. Neither cools nearly as well though. The clear choice here is the Zalman 7000AlCu.

Fans at 5V
HS + fan
°C idle
°C load
°C rise above ambient
°C/W
Zalman 7000AlCu
25
44
22
0.33
SLK900U + 92mm Panaflo
27
56
34
0.51
MCX478 + 92mm Panaflo
27
57
35
0.53
Intel HSF
27
63
41
0.62
MCX478 + 80mm Panaflo
26
67
45
0.68
SLK900U + 80mm Panaflo
29
68
46
0.70

The 5 volt area is what separates the men from the boys. The Zalman 7000AlCu is the only one I’d feel comfortable using at 5V. I might choose the 92mm Panaflo combos if I couldn’t use the Zalman but I would not use any of the rest at 5 volts. They just don’t have enough cooling ability at this slow setting. The 80mm Panaflo loses out over the 92mm cousin at 5 volts. It just doesn’t have enough airflow at these slow speeds even though it is definitely the quietest fan at 5 volts. The Zalman 7000 is very quiet at 5 volts, it has next to no air noise and just a very slight mechanical buzz.

FINAL WORDS

So how do all these heatsinks shake out for quiet computing?

The overall “cooling vs. noise” champ has to be the Zalman 7000AlCu. Its cooling ability at 7V and 5V is outstanding, only a bit louder than the much poorer performing 80mm Panaflo combinations. All is not perfect though. It’s rather large and there are installation issues with some motherboards. If the fan becomes noisy or fails altogether you can’t replace just the fan, you have to replace the entire heatsink. It does bolt onto the stock Intel retention frame but some people seem to have trouble getting it mounted correctly.

The MCX478-V and the SLK900U are sort of tied for second place. Neither performs quite as well as the Zalman but both do an excellent job with the 92mm Panaflo and a decent job with the quietest fan tested, the 80mm Panaflo. With the super quiet 80mm Panaflo at 7V or lower, either would be suitable for a system with very good ventilation or perhaps for someone who isn’t nervous running his CPU at near

NOTE: There is also a review of the Socket-A (AMD) version of the Swiftech MCX478-V.

maximum temperatures when the system is under load.

For ease of installation I would choose the Swiftech. As discussed in the earlier review of the SLK900, mounting it to the stock Intel retention bracket results in clearance issues between the fan mounting clips and the heatsink mounting clips if you are using a 92mm fan. For the most secure mounting and ease of operation, the SLK900U should be mounted by bolting it directly to the board which requires that the motherboard be removed from the case. The MCX478-V, however, is as easy to mount as the stock Intel cooler and performs just as well as the Thermalright. Theoretically the MCX478-V should have no issues with fit because it is contained entirely within the confines of the P4 retention bracket.

Is there a bottom line? Not really. These are all excellent heatsinks. Any of them would do a fine job quietly cooling a P4 system. One might be a little cooler, another a little quieter, another easier to install. It’s pretty much down to individual preference.

Much thanks to Swiftech for the review sample and fans.

NOTE: Click here for a review of the Socket-A (AMD) version of the Swiftech MCX478-V.

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