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Swiftech Polaris 120 CPU Heatsink

The Polaris 120 CPU cooler marks Swiftech re-entry into the mainstream air-cooling arena. The Polaris has the form of a typical tower heatsink with a 120 mm PWM fan and a significant mass of aluminum fins, but what makes it unique are its five 8 mm thick direct touch heatpipes.

April 2, 2011 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Polaris 120
CPU Cooler
Manufacturer
Swiftech
Street Price
US$60

Swiftech was once one of the biggest names in air cooling but eventually stopped designing new products for the retail market, shifting their focus to watercooling. This happened so long ago that the last last Swiftech heatsink SPCR reviewed was the MCX462-V for socket A! Swiftech continued to quietly produce the MCX series with its easily recognizable helicoid aluminum pin design for newer sockets, but the company has not been in the air cooling game for many years.


The box.

The Polaris 120 CPU cooler is Swiftech’s re-entry into CPU air cooling. The Polaris has the form of a typical tower heatsink with a 120 mm PWM fan and significant mass of aluminum fins, but what makes it unique are five 8 mm diameter direct touch heatpipes made famous by Xigmatek and other manufacturers.


Package contents.

The Polaris 120 ships with a black and white 120 mm fan, fan clips, mounting hardware, and thermal compound. The only thing notable about the package is that an extra of every screw, bolt, and nut is included in case you happen to lose one. It’s a small gesture but very much appreciated.

Swiftech Polaris 120: Key Features
(from the product
web page
)
Feature & Brief
Our Comment
(5) 8mm heat pipes – the hottest heat pipes (directly above the CPU) are arranged to receive the maximum amount of airflow for optimized thermal performance. Overkill as 40 mm is larger than the heatspreaders of modern desktop processors, and the actual die is even smaller.
Fins form wind tunnels for optimum airflow, resulting in more efficient use of the fan, therefore better cooling. Okay.
Direct-touch base technology provides an optimized transfer of the heat to the pipes. Heat is transferred directly from the CPU heatspreader to the heatpipes via the thermal compound, a more efficient process than having a baseplate acting as a go-between.
A single high Power (84CFM) PWM controlled 120mm fan is included:

*Being PWM controlled, the fan plugs into the motherboard CPU fan header, and users can either let the motherboard manage the fan speed, or tune it to their own specifications; the speed ranges from 750 to 2500 RPM allowing a wide range of operations: from ultra-quiet all the way to extreme cooling for seriously overclocked processors.

Should be very loud at full speed.
Relatively compact footprint (Width 135 mm x Depth 91 mm x Height 152 mm including fan). The heatsink is shorter than most towers which may be to its detriment.
Mounting system includes retention brackets for all popular processors:

*Intel Socket 775, 1155, 1156, 1366

*AMD Socket 754, 939, 940, F, AM2, AM3

As it should.
Competitively priced, yet with a broader range of operations compared to other high-end coolers. The MSRP of US$60 is competitive if it is truly a high performance heatsink (i.e. one of the best).

 

Swiftech Polaris 120: Specifications
(from the product
web page
)
Fan
Speed control Via Motherboard PWM (4 pin)
Nominal Voltage 12V
Max Current 0.32A
Airflow range 26 ~ 84 CFM
Noise range 13.2 ~ 41.5 dBA
Speed range 750 ~ 2500 RPM ±250RPM
Bearing Hydraumatic
Life 30,000 Hours
Heatsink
Fin material aluminum
Heat pipes 8mm sintered copper

PHYSICAL DETAILS

The Swiftech Polaris 120 is composed of five 8 mm thick copper direct touch heatpipes and 45 friction-fit aluminum fins. The heatsink alone weighs about 710 grams and stands 151 mm high which is fairly short for a high performance tower cooler.


The Polaris 120 looks like a typical tower heatsink except it sits a bit low and the sides of the fin stack are closed, forcing airflow from the fan to go straight through. This could increase airflow impedance and hurt performance, especially at lower fan speeds.


The fins are a bit thick, measuring ~0.43 mm, but as there are only 45 fins, the gaps between them are closer to average, about 1.85 mm.


The fan side is cut in a wavy profile to reduce turbulence and noise.


The heatsink’s most prominent feature are the five direct touch heatpipes, pressed together without any structural support between them. A column in the center of the fins is hollowed out for better airflow perhaps.


The base is almost perfectly flat but there are visible machine marks.

INSTALLATION

The most critical aspect of installation is that the heatsink be securely
mounted. A firm mating results in good contact between the heatsink’s base and
the CPU heatspreader and more efficient heat conduction. Ideally it should
also be a simple procedure with the user having to handle as few pieces of
hardware as possible.


Installation begins with preparation of the backplate. Long bolts are inserted in the appropriate holes and nuts are used to secure them. Washers are used to prevent electrical shorts.


The bolts are inserted through the motherboard mounting holes and a second set of washers and nuts are secured on the other side. It’s a bit tedious having to thread 8 nuts on such long bolts.


A crossbar with a pair of spring-loaded screws has to be added to the mounting frame to keep it in place. This seems like an extra step passed on the the user. It would be better installed it at the factory.


The heatsink is placed on the processor with the ends of the bolts poking through the holes of the mounting frame. Four more spring-loaded screws are utilized to finish the mount. Note that the Polaris is oriented on AMD motherboards with the fan blowing in the preferred direction, toward the back panel case exhaust vent/fan.


The fan clips are interesting in that they hold onto the area around the fan’s mounting holes rather than the holes themselves. As we mentioned previously, the Polaris 120 sits a little bit low. On our LGA1366 test board, there was 45 mm under the bottom fin, and 37 mm of clearance beneath the (centered) fan.


We spread thermal compound along the four gaps between the heatpipes to ensure sufficient coverage. The resulting footprint revealed that the pressure holding the heatsink down was adequate, though bit weaker at the edges. Also little contact was made between the CPU and the outer heatpipes.

TESTING

Before thermal testing, we took some basic physical measurements.

Approximate Physical Measurements
Weight
710 g
830 g with fan and clips
Height 151 mm
Fin count 45
Fin thickness
0.43 mm
Fin spacing
1.85 mm
Vertical Clearance*
45 mm *
Horizontal Overhang**
-20 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: Approx. Average Fin Thickness & Spacing
Heatsink
Fin Thickness
Fin Spacing
Thermalright HR-01 Plus
0.45 mm
3.15 mm
Scythe Ninja 3
0.39 mm
2.64 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
Swiftech Polaris 120
0.43 mm
1.85 mm
Noctua NH-C14
0.38 mm
1.79 mm
Scythe Yasya
0.32 mm
1.78 mm
Cogage TRUE Spirit 1366
0.40 mm
1.70 mm
Arctic Cooling Freezer Xtreme Rev.2
0.30 mm
1.70 mm
Scythe Grand Kama Cross
0.38 mm
1.66 mm
Zalman CNPS9900 MAX
0.16 mm
1.59 mm
Thermalright Silver Arrow
0.32 mm
1.57 mm
Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus
0.43 mm
1.54 mm
Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C
0.56 mm
1.52 mm
Zalman CNPS10X Extreme
0.42 mm
1.50 mm

Testing on larger heatsinks are done on our
i7-1366 heatsink testing platform
, while smaller coolers tackle our AM3 heatsink testing platform. A summary of the test system
and procedure follows.

Key Components in LGA1366 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.
  • Noctua 140 mm fan (used when possible with heatsinks that fit 140x25mm
    fans)
  • Nexus 120 mm fan (used when possible with heatsinks that fit 120x25mm
    fans)
  • Nexus 92 mm fan (used when possible with heatsinks that fit 92x25mm
    fans)

Key Components in AM3 Heatsink Test Platform:

  • AMD Athlon II X4 630 AM3,
    2.8GHz, 45nm, 95W TDP.
  • Asus M4A785TD-V EVO ATX motherboard.
    785G chipset.
  • Kingston
    SSDNow V
    30GB 2.5″ solid-state drive. Chosen for silence.
  • 2GB
    Corsair Dominator
    DDR3 memory. 2 x 1GB DDR3-1800 in dual channel.
  • FSP Zen 300W
    ATX power supply. Fanless.
  • Arctic Silver
    Lumière
    : Special fast-curing thermal interface material, designed
    specifically for test labs.
  • Noctua 140 mm fan (used when possible with heatsinks that fit 140x25mm
    fans)
  • Nexus 120 mm fan (used when possible with heatsinks that fit 120x25mm
    fans)
  • Nexus 92 mm fan (used when possible with heatsinks that fit 92x25mm
    fans)

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
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
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 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 Burn,
    used to stress the AM3 CPU heavily, generating more heat than most real applications.
    4 instances are used to ensure that all 4 cores 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 or CPUBurn 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

Though Swiftech provides detailed specifications, the fan lacks any identifying markers. It has the appearance of a typical 120 mm axial DC fan with seven white blades and a black housing. The trailing edges are nearly parallel with the struts, increasing the likelihood of tonal elements in its acoustic profile.

Specifications: Swiftech Polaris 120 Stock Fan
Manufacturer
?
Power Rating
3.84W
Model Number
?
Airflow Rating
84 CFM
Bearing Type
“Hydraumatic”
Speed Rating
2500 ±250 RPM
Corners
Open
Noise Rating
41.5 dBA
Frame Size
120 x 120 x 25 mm
Header Type
4-pin PWM
Fan Blade Diameter
112 mm
Starting Voltage
3.7 V
Hub Size
40 mm
Weight
120 g
Data in green cells provided by the manufacturer
or observed; data in the blue cells were measured.

 

Stock Fan Measurements
Voltage
Avg. Speed
SPL@1m
12V
2400 RPM
42~43 dBA
9V
1890 RPM
36~37 dBA
7V
1540 RPM
30 dBA
5V
1090 RPM
20~21 dBA
4V
800 RPM
15 dBA
3.7V*
690 RPM
12~13 dBA
* Starting voltage.
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle from
the center of the heatsink.
Ambient noise level: 10~11 dBA.

With a high maximum speed, the stock fan is very loud, turbulent and whiny from 12V all the way down to 7V. It sounds fairly smooth at about 5V, and the fan speed is equivalent to that of many low speed fans at full tilt. At 4V and below, it develops a noticeable hum. At no point does the fan become inaudible, as even at its starting voltage of 3.7V, it measures 12~13 dBA@1m.


The Polaris 120 stock fan becomes quiet at about 4V.

Cooling Results

Swiftech Polaris 120
Fan Voltage
SPL@1m
Temp
°C Rise
Stock 120mm Fan
12V
42~43 dBA
60°C
39
9V
36~37 dBA
62°C
41
7V
30 dBA
63°C
42
5V
20~21 dBA
68°C
47
4V
15 dBA
75°C
54
3.7V
12~13 dBA
80°C
59
Reference 120mm Fan
12V
16 dBA
67°C
46
9V
13 dBA
70°C
49
7V
12 dBA
75°C
54
2 x Reference 120mm Fan
12V
19 dBA
64°C
43
9V
14 dBA
67°C
46
7V
12 dBA
70°C
49
°C Rise: Temperature rise above ambient (21°C)
at load.

The Polaris 120 performed pretty well, but only at higher speeds with the stock fan producing 30 dBA@1m or higher. At 5V, cooling performance was fairly poor. Further drops in speed resulted in significant cooling degradation. With its stock fan, the Polaris makes a terrible quiet cooler.

The Polaris fared much better with our reference Nexus fan, producing a 5~10°C improvement at the 12~13 dBA@1m levels. As the Polaris 120 is rather thick, we tried a second fan in push-pull configuration for improved air pressure. This only improved cooling by 3°C at 12V and 9V. A 5°C difference was recorded 7V.

Heatsink Comparison Table

Single Fan CPU Coolers (ref. 120mm fan): °C Rise Comparison
Heatsink
Fan voltage / SPL @1m
12V
9V
7V
16 dBA
13 dBA
12 dBA
Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C
38
40
43
Prolimatech Megahalems
38
41
44
Noctua NH-U12P
39
42
44
Scythe Mugen-2
39
42
45
Cogage TRUE Spirit 1366
40
42
45
Prolimatech Armageddon
40
42
46
Zalman CNPS10X Quiet
40
43
46
Scythe Yasya
41
43
47
Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme
40
43
48
Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus
41
44
48
Thermalright Ultra-120
42
45
49
Titan Fenrir
43
46
50
Scythe Ninja 3
44
47
49
Noctua NH-C12P
43
47
51
Zalman CNPS10X Extreme
43
47
53
Swiftech Polaris 120
46
49
54
Zalman CNPS10X Flex
45
50
54
Cooler Master V8
46
50
54
Scythe Grand Kama Cross
45
52
57
Arctic Cooling Freezer Xtreme Rev.2
49
52
58
Scythe Kabuto
51
53
60

The Polaris 120 ties the Zalman CNPS10X Flex for 15th place among large tower heatsinks, running the CPU about 8~11°C hotter than the leader, the Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C.

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

Swiftech’s return to air cooling is a disappointment for quiet computing enthusiasts. Despite its five massive direct touch heatpipes, the Polaris 120 delivered middling cooling proficiency at best, at least with low airflow. The stock 2500 RPM fan easily exceeds 40 dBA@1m at full speed, so obviously it wasn’t designed to be a quiet cooler. The fan sounds much better at low speeds, but it doesn’t really become quiet unless you get it down to close to about 4V. It also isn’t terribly efficient, getting beaten handily by our reference Nexus fan at comparable noise levels.

One cause for the power low airflow performance might be how the sides of the fin stack are closed off — we don’t recall ever seeing this on a higher performance heatsink. It forces the air to flow entirely through the depth of the fin stack, and it must cause significant airflow impedance at lower fan speeds. We also question the utility of the fifth heatpipe, as four of them easily cover even a LGA1366 processor, which has about the biggest heatspreader of any current CPU. It seems like a waste of materials and expense.

It would also help if the mating was tighter, as the outer portions of the base didn’t get as much pressure as the center. Like Prolimatech and Thermalright’s latest heatsink mounting systems, there is a metal bar strategically placed above the base that could exert extra pressure. In the Polaris 120, however, it is only used to keep the surrounding frame in place rather than actively making the mount more secure. This is a missed opportunity in our opinion.

While hardly a poor CPU cooler, as a low noise heatsink, the Swiftech Polaris 120 just doesn’t cut it. The only situation where the Polaris 120 might be a good choice for quiet performance cooling is if your case is not wide enough to accommodate the majority of 160~165 mm tall tower coolers (the Polaris is only 151 mm tall). There are many cases, for example, that have a side fan above the CPU area that interferes with taller heatsinks. Otherwise, there are many better quiet high performance CPU cooling alternatives at and below the Polaris 120’s street price of US$60.

Our thanks to Swiftech for the Polaris 120 heatsink sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest


Zalman CNPS9900 MAX & CNPS5X CPU Coolers
Thermalright Silver Arrow Dual 14cm Fan Cooler
Noctua NH-C14 Dual Fan Top-down CPU Cooler
Thermalright Shaman 140mm Fan GPU Cooler
Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C & AC Freezer Xtreme Rev.2
Scythe Ninja 3 & Scythe Yasya CPU Heatsinks

* * *

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