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Spire Verticool II SP601B3 tower heatsink

The Spire Verticool II is a midrange retail CPU cooler offering. It won’t be competing for the heavyweight championship, but at under US$30 it doesn’t need to. Lightweights win prizes, too, from time to time, especially if they’re quiet…

May 22, 2006 by Devon
Cooke

Product
Spire Verticool II SP601B3
Socket 775 / K8 CPU Heatsink
Manufacturer
Market Price
less than US$30

Spire is an old heatsink brand, overshadowed in the
retail market by the likes of Zalman, Scythe, and Thermalright. This is not
a slight; most of Spire’s business is done with OEM companies
who have different requirements in a heatsink. Spire does not aspire to deliver
the biggest, coolest, or quietest heatsink of them all; instead, their products
are designed for mass production. Low cost plays just as big a role as performance
in their design decisions.

SPCR has reviewed several Spire coolers in the past, most recently the
CoolGate in mid-2004
. Generally, Spire coolers have tended to be inexpensive
and effective but loud, with poor-quality stock fans. However, the marketplace
has changed significantly since 2004, and low noise now gets a mention on the
feature sheet of nearly every heatsink on the market. Spire’s product line has
evolved, and their Verticool II looks like it could give Scythe and Arctic Cooling
some competition in the budget heatsink department.

The Verticool II is a heatpipe-based tower cooler with an unconventional 80mm
fan. The design is quite similar to Arctic
Cooling’s Freezer Pro series of heatsinks
, and it carries a similar price
tag.


No-frills retail packaging and just enough parts to support LGA775 and K8
platforms.

Only two mounting systems are supported: Intel’s LGA775 platform that supports
all of Intel’s hottest chips, and AMD’s K8 platform (Sockets 754/939/940). The
lifetime of the Verticool II is likely to be short; AMD’s upcoming AM2 socket
will diminish demand for older K8 heatsinks, and Intel’s transition to BTX will
probably render LGA775 obsolete when their post-Netburst processors go mainstream.

Spire Verticool II SP601B3: Feature Highlights (from
the
product web page
)
Feature & Brief Our Comment
Supports all new Intel & AMD micro-processors
No longer true; Intel’s Core Duo chips
do not use the LGA775 HS mounting system, and AMD’s AM2 platform requires
a different setup.
All new UV-reactant 80mm Spider-Fan design
Smaller frame than a conventional fan.
Amazingly silent at just 19.0 dBA
No measurement distance given.
2 Thermally improved heat-pipes
Thermally improved… compared to?
All copper base
A common feature, but helpful in ensuring good heat transfer
from the CPU.
45 stamped Aluminum Micro-Fins
About average density. Too few fins reduces surface area, and
too many makes them too closely spaced to cool effectively.
Dual-Core ready for both Intel & AMD!
Ok.
Spire Verticool II SP601B3: Specifications
(from
the
product web page
)
Supported CPU Platforms
Socket 754 / 940 / 775 / 939
Dimensions
Heat sink: 95 × 65 × 100 mm (l ×
w × h)
12VDC Fan : 80 × 80 × 25 mm
Bearing
Ball bearing
Rated speed
2,300 RPM ±10%
Rated power
1.56W
Noise Level
19.0 dBA
Air flow
25.78 CFM at 2,300 RPM
Current
0.13A
Life Hours
Ball: 50,000 h
Features
Blue transparent spider fan
2 heatpipes
Aluminum Micro-Fin
Copper base
Connector
3 pin, mainboard
Application
Intel:
Celeron D ~ 2.93 GHz (340J)
Pentium 4 ~ 3.73 GHz (775 Prescott)
Pentium D ~ 3.4 GHz (775 Dual-Core)
Pentium EE ~ 3.73 GHz (775 Dual-Core)
AMD:
Athlon 64 ~ 4800+ (K8)
Athlon 64 FX-51 (K8)
Athlon 64 FX-53 (K8)
Athlon 64 FX-55 (K8)
Opteron ~ 2.6 (K8)
Sempron ~ 3300+ (K8)
Thermal Resistance
0.21 (AMD) & 0.23 (INTEL) °C/W
Thermal type
Stars-420 white grease (Injection tube)

PHYSICAL DETAILS

A pair of U-shaped heatpipes carry heat from the copper base of
the heatsink to a stack of 45 aluminum fins. The fins are sandwiched by a blue
aluminum frame that provides mounting points for the transparent blue fan.
The individual fins are quite thin, deep and closely spaced.


The fins are quite deep and closely spaced, and may require substantial
airflow to be effective.

Fan removed. Note the slightly concave shape of the fins where the fan would
be.

The bottom fins are slightly smaller to improve clearance.

The base is so smooth that reflections in it are perfectly clear. This characteristic
has been seen before on a Spire heatsink; Edward Ng commented on it in his
review of the Spire CoolGate
. In this case, the mirror finish appears to
be the result of copper plating. The material underneath the plating is unknown.
A comment from the earlier review also applies here: “Anything beyond a
“satin” finish is almost purely for cosmetics; Flatness is more important
than polish”. Our sample had no issues with flatness.


The base is copper plated, rendering it mirror-smooth.



FAN DETAILS


The fan is branded “Fanner Tech”, which is part of the
same company as Spire.

The translucent blue fan is a low speed ball bearing model that glows under
UV light. It is rated for either 0.13A or 0.15A depending on which set of specifications
you believe. Detailed specifications for the fan could not be found beyond what
Spire publishes for the Verticool.

The fan is identified as a Fanner Tech product, but a quick visit to Fanner’s
web site
shows that Fanner and Spire are quite closely related; most links
point to a pages on Spire’s web site. It is not clear which company owns which,
or if there’s a larger, unidentified parent company.

Spire refers to the fan as a “Spider fan” — an appropriate description
of the unusual frame. Its main characteristics seem to be that the motor supports
are on the intake side of the blades and the frame is only half as high as usual.
What advantage this confers is unknown. Perhaps the smaller frame allows more
air to be drawn through. Whatever the advantage, it’s mounting holes conform
to the standard 80mm layout, so replacing the fan should not be difficult if
it turns out to be a lemon.

INSTALLATION

Spire’s web site links to a
generic instruction sheet
. Not surprisingly, it does a poor job of covering
the specific nuances of the Verticool, but it wasn’t difficult to figure out.

The basic procedure is to screw the appropriate pair of mounting brackets onto
the base of the heatsink, which is then screwed into a metal backplate (included)
underneath the motherboard. The stock retention module, if there is one, needs
to be removed from the motherboard before installation. The screws are sprung
to prevent excessive force from causing damage during installation and to ensure
that the heatsink is kept under the proper amount of tension.


A single screw on each side of the base holds the appropriate brackets in
place.
This photo shows the Socket 775 bracket.


This photo illustrates the difficulties with mounting the Verticool on K8
systems. Can you spot them?

The installation system for K8 processors comes across as a bit of an afterthought,
and there were a number of issues that made for a less-than-smooth experience.

  1. First and foremost, the Verticool orientation — whether the
    fan blows vertically or horizontally — depends entirely on how the motherboard
    is laid out. If this means the fan blows up at the power supply rather
    than towards the back panel exhaust fan, that’s too bad. Socket 775 does not
    suffer from this problem, since its four mounting holes are arranged in a
    square.
  2. Each of the K8 mounting brackets are attached to the base with a single
    screw, located directly behind the main spring-loaded mounting screw. It is
    impossible to keep the screwdriver squarely in the screw head when attaching
    the bracket. Extra care needs to be taken to avoid stripping the screw head.
  3. The frame of the fan completely blocks the head of the K8 mounting bracket screw, requiring
    the fan to be removed and then replaced once the heatsink is fully installed.


The screw to attach the bracket to the base is blocked by the main mounting
screw.

TESTING

The Verticool II is does not provide hardware for Socket 478, so the same test
bench that was used to test the Socket 775-only Freezer 7 Pro was brought into
service, using the parts outlined below. Aside from the Freezer 7 Pro, data
from past reviews is not directly comparable with the results of this review.
The Pentium 520 used in this test is cooler than most of Intel’s desktop processors
on the market today, but it is still 15-20W hotter than the P4-2.8 Northwood
used in our socket 478 HS testing platform. On the other hand, it is also hotter
than almost about every AMD processor on the market. This situation will change
in the near future when Intel releases its Core 2 Duo chips for desktop use,
but for now the Intel 520 processor represents a good median heat source.


On the test bench…

Test Platform

Measurement & Analysis Tools

Noise measurements were made with the fan powered from the lab DC power supply
with everything else turned off to ensure minimal ambient noise. Airflow
measurements for this heatsink were not made due to the difficulty of measuring
the stock fan accurately
.

Load testing was accomplished using CPUBurn to stress the processor, and the
graph function in SpeedFan was used to make sure that the load temperature was
stable for at least ten minutes.

The ambient conditions during testing were 19 dBA and 21°C.

TEST RESULTS

Spire Verticool II SP601B3
with Stock fan
Fan Voltage
Temp
°C Rise
°C/W MP
°C/W TDP
Noise
(dBA@1m)
12V
42°C
21
0.21
0.25
27
9V
45°C
24
0.24
0.29
24
7V
56°C
35
0.35
0.42
21
5V
69°C
48
0.48
0.57
~20
Load Temp: CPUBurn for ~20 mins.
°C Rise: Temperature rise above ambient at load.
°C/W MP / TDP: Temperature rise over ambient per Watt of CPU heat,
based on CPU’s Maximum Power (100W) or Thermal Design Power (84W) rating
(lower is better)
Noise: SPL measured in dBA/1m distance with high accuracy B &
K SLM

Fan @ 12V: The stock fan was surprisingly quiet at full speed, measuring
just 27 dBA@1m. Most of the noise was in the form of a prominent whine. Even
so, it was still better than much of its competition; it is not uncommon for
heatsinks to be much, much louder at full speed. Nearly all fans require undervolting
before we consider the noise level acceptable.

Cooling performance was solid but unspectacular. The 21°C rise from ambient
should be good enough for most processors, even in a real system where the
ambient temperature might be 10~15°C higher.

Fan @ 9V: Cooling performance changed only slightly at 9V, worsening
by an acceptable 3°C.

The drop in noise was also quite small, although it was more significant
than the measured 3 dBA@1m would suggest. Although the noise character changed
only slightly, the volume of the noise was now low enough that it faded into
the background when it wasn’t specifically listened for.

Fan @ 7V: At this level, the Verticool II should be quiet enough for
most users. Only a trace of the original whine remained, and it sounded more
like a growl than a whine. Inside a case, it might well be inaudible, especially
in a room with a high ambient noise level.

However, performance dropped off quite substantially; the 35°C rise from
ambient provided marginal cooling for our processor. Cooling a warmer Intel
processor is out of the question at this level, although a mid-range AMD chips
is still a possibility.

Fan @ 5V: Only a trace of noise remained, and it was a strain to hear
it. The whine/growl had disappeared completely, leaving only a thin papery
hiss behind. It hardly mattered, however, as performance was completely unacceptable.
Although the processor did not throttle, it did reach almost 70°C and
would not have been adequately cooled in a real system.

Spire Verticool II SP601B3
with Reference Fan (80mm Nexus)
Fan Voltage
Temp
°C Rise
°C/W MP
°C/W TDP
Noise
(dBA@1m)
12V
49°C
28
0.28
0.33
23
9V
59°C
38
0.38
0.45
~20
7V
69°C
48
0.48
0.57
<17
Load Temp: CPUBurn for ~20 mins.
°C Rise: Temperature rise above ambient at load.
°C/W MP / TDP: Temperature rise over ambient per Watt of CPU
heat, based on CPU’s Maximum Power (100W) or Thermal Design Power (84W)
rating (lower is better)
Noise: SPL measured in dBA/1m distance with high accuracy B &
K SLM

Nexus @ 12V: Cooling performance with our reference low noise, low
airflow Nexus fan was generally pretty poor. Performance was only really adequate
when the fan was running at close to full speed.

The Nexus was about as good as the stock fan was at ~8V, and the noise level
was about the same. The Nexus did have an advantage in terms of subjective
quality, but the difference was not earth-shattering. For most users, the
stock fan should be good enough if undervolted.

Nexus @ 9V & 7V: Below 12V, the performance dropped off too quickly
to recommend using a fan with so little airflow. Silent it may have been,
but the performance trade-off to make it silent was too great to be acceptable.

COMPARISON

Only three other heatsinks have been tested on the same test bench as the Verticool
II: An Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro, and two long-time favorites, a Scythe Ninja
and a Thermalright XP-120. The Ninja and the XP-120 belong to a different class
of heatsink; they are heavyweights that cost close to double what the Verticool
II does. The Freezer 7 Pro, on the other hand, is an ideal candidate for comparison
with the Verticool II. Both fall into roughly the same price category, performance
is similar, and they even share a similar design.

The heatsinks were compared at two noise levels: A “quiet
level where the noise level was good enough for most users without sacrificing
too much performance, and a “silent” level where the fan was
simply cranked down as far as it could go.

“Quiet” Comparison at 24 dBA@1m
Heatsink/Fan
Noise
(SPL – dBA@1m)
Fan Voltage
Load Temp
°C Rise
°C/W MP
Spire Verticool II SP601B3
24
9V

45°C

24

0.24
Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro*
24
9.5V (est.)
50°C
29
0.29

When compared at a constant noise level with a moderately high fan speed, the
Verticool II clearly beat the Freezer 7 Pro. At 24 dBA@1m, the Verticool II
was still performing quite close to its peak performance, making it difficult
for the Freezer to compete. Only when the fans were turned up to full speed
did the Freezer 7 Pro manage to outperform the Verticool — at the cost
of much higher noise.

“Silent” Comparison at ~20 dBA@1m
Heatsink/Fan
Noise
(SPL – dBA@1m)
Fan Voltage
Load Temp
°C Rise
°C/W MP
Spire Verticool II SP601B3
20
5

69°C

48

0.48
21
7

56°C

35

0.35
Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro
20
9
53°C
32
0.32

However, when the noise level was dropped close to the ambient noise level
in the test lab — ~20 dBA@1m — the situation was reversed. Here the
Freezer was clearly the better of the two, as the fan on the Verticool needed
to be turned down too far to reach such a low noise level. The performance of
the Freezer 7 Pro barely changed when the noise level was dropped, but the Verticool
lost more than 20°C. Even reducing the gap by increasing the noise level
slightly to make things more competitive did not help the Verticool beat the
Freezer in the “Silent” comparison. These results suggest that the
airflow impedance represented by the spacing and depth of the fins in the Spire
is higher than in the Freezer 7 Pro.

NOISE RECORDINGS

Spire Verticool II SP601B3:

MP3: Spire
Verticool II SP601B3 – 5V / ~20 dBA@1m

MP3: Spire
Verticool II SP601B3 – 7V / 21 dBA@1m

MP3: Spire
Verticool II SP601B3 – 9V / 24 dBA@1m

MP3: Spire
Verticool II SP601B3 – 12V / 27 dBA@1m

Recordings of Comparable HSF:

MP3:
Arctic Cooling Freezer 4 (original version) – 7V – 20 dBA@1m

MP3:
Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro – 9V / 20 dBA@1m

MP3:
Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro – 10V / 28 dBA@1m

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

MP3:
Nexus 120mm fan – 12V – 41 CFM – 22.5 dBA@1m

MP3:
Nexus 120mm fan – 8.8V – 35 CFM- 19 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.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

The Verticool II is the first Spire heatsink we have seen that does not have
a very loud fan. So long as the fan speed isn’t turned down too far, it offers
a good cooling-to-noise ratio for its price range. While it can’t compete with
the heavyweights, it does give the Freezer 7 Pro a run for the money.

Unfortunately, it does not deal with low airflow well, and the noise threshold
for acceptable cooling performance is a bit higher than we would like. Although
it is a quiet heatsink, silence is beyond its capabilities.

In terms of performance, the Verticool is probably best mated with an AMD processor
that is cooler than our Intel 520. For current Intel socket 775 processors,
a beefier heatsink is needed for low noise levels. With this in mind, it is
too bad that the installation system for AMD processors is so inflexible; the
ability to direct airflow in a tower heatsink is a very important feature. The
thoughtless screw positioning on the K8 brackets was also an annoyance.

Ultimately, the biggest thing going for the Verticool II may be its price.
It can be had for as little as US$25 online, and its performance and noise are
both quite acceptable for a budget system.

Pros
* Easy to install (Socket 775)
* Relatively quiet fan
* Decent performance with enough airflow
* Inexpensive
* Light Weight
Cons
* Poor low-airflow performance
* Tedious to install (K8 Sockets)
* Quality of noise could be better

Much thanks to Spire
Coolers
for the Spire Verticool II SP601B3 sample.

* * *

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