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Thermalright TRUE Spirit 120M CPU Heatsink

Bonus Xmas Day review: Thermalright touts the TRUE Spirit 120M as the world’s smallest 120mm fan tower cooler. Though it stands only 146mm tall and lacks the traditional Thermalright nickel-plating, it still packs a potent performance punch.

December 25, 2012 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Thermalright TRUE Spirit 120M
CPU Cooler
Manufacturer
Thermalright
Street Price
?

Thermalright is a legend, having made their bones manufacturing high performance
heatsinks at a time when aftermarket cooling was still a niche segment within
the already niche enthusiast market. The Ultra-120
and Ultra-120
eXtreme
are two of the most iconic CPU coolers in DIY PC history, setting
standards that others strive toward to this day. It’s amazing that variations
of the “TRUE” are still produced and are among the most popular heatsinks
despite not having undergone any significant design changes. The TRUE being
sold today is essentially the same as original from 2007.

As a brand, Thermalright was once considered to be strictly upper class, selling
high-end offerings at high-end prices. This reputation has changed over the
past few years thanks to overtures extended to more thrifty enthusiasts. Under
a subsidiary brand, Cogage, they launched a series of affordable coolers like
the True
Spirit
, essentially a slightly smaller version of the Ultra-120 stripped
of its nickel-plating. These products turned out to be fairly successful, though
they undoubtedly cannibalize some of Thermalright’s care sales. More recently,
Thermalright pushed out the HR-02
Macho
, a beast-sized cooler with a surprisingly reasonable price-tag.


The TRUE Spirit 120M.

According to Thermalright the new TRUE Spirit 120M’s defining characteristic
is being the “world‘s smallest 120mm fan based tower cooler.”
The 120M shaves off about 15 mm from the typical ~160 mm height from typical
tower heatsinks with 120 mm fans. While heatsink height limitation is not a
problem with the majority of cases, some cases have a fan located in the upper
half of the side panel that can potentially interfere with tall CPU coolers.

Like the original True Spirit, costs have be cut by stripping the heatsink
of the nickel-plating which makes the Thermalright all-chrome aesthetic. The
visible copper color of the heatpipes and the rougher finish on the aluminum
fins gives it a less finished. Frankly, it looks like a Scythe or Cooler Master
heatsink sporting a pilfered Thermalright design.


Box and contents.

The package is nothing special, a black and yellow cardboard box containing the heatsink, a 120 mm PWM fan, mounting gear safely stowed in plastic, and a brief set of installation instructions.

Thermalright TRUE Spirit 120M: Key Features
(from the product
web page
)
Feature & Brief
Our Comment
World‘s smallest 120mm fan based tower cooler. Most tower heatsinks with 120 mm fans are about 160 mm tall which can cause case compatibility problems.
Made specifically for Micro ATX & mini tower case user. Mini towers have varying heatsink height limitations. MicroATX motherboards on the other hand, generally have similar layouts to ATX boards, so this shouldn’t be an issue.
Universally compatible with all modern sockets on the market. Universal compatibility should be standard on all aftermarket coolers. The original TRUE Spirit was for LGA1366 only.
Convex copper base design, to ensure the highest thermal conducting thermal efficiency between the CPU and the heatsink. A tried and true design that has only been tweaked since its introduction.

 

Thermalright TRUE Spirit 120M: Specifications
(from the product
web page
)
Heatsink Dimensions Dimension: L132mm x W57mm x H145 mm
Weight 470g (including fan)
Heat pipes four heat pipes
Fan Dimensions L120 x W120*H25mm
Rated Speed 700~1500RPM±15%
Noise Level 17~28.5 dBA
Air Flow 24.8~53.3CFM

PHYSICAL DETAILS & INSTALLATION

The TRUE Spirit 120M is made of a nickel-plated copper base, four 6 mm thick copper heatpipes, and 45 aluminum fins. According to the specifications, it measures 132 x 57 x 145 mm or 5.2 x 2.2 x 5.7 inches (L x W x H) and weighs 470 grams or just over a pound, including the fan. However, our measurements peg its height at 146 mm and its weight at 550 grams, 460 grams sans fan.


Following in the footsteps of previous Ultra series models, the 120M has a slanted fin design. The fins are 0.43 mm thick and spaced 1.78 mm apart, on average. The fin density is greater than most tower coolers.


Like the HR-02 Macho, the heatpipes are bent near the base, shifting the bulk of the heatsink off to one side. Adding a fan on the opposite side balances the weight and makes the width more centered in relation to the CPU and socket. The fins of course adhere to the Ultra series’ bent “winglet” design.


Thermalright didn’t make full use of the allotted height — the heatpipe ends stick out 1.5~1.6 cm at the top.


The base is slightly convex at the center and has been polished to a mirror shine.


The TRUE Spirit 120M ships with the latest variant of Thermalright’s universal
mounting kit used with recent models like the Archon SB-E and HR-02 Macho.


The mounting system puts pressure directly over the base of the heatsink to maximize contact with the CPU heatspreader. It also makes the cooler a snap to remove for CPU upgrades, etc.


With the heatsink being off-center the fan doesn’t extend past the boundary of the mounting frame. There is between 38 and 54 mm of clearance underneath the bottom fin.

TESTING

Before thermal testing, we took some basic physical measurements.

Approximate Physical Measurements
Weight
460 g
550 g with stock fan
Height 146 mm
Fin count 45
Fin thickness
0.43 mm
Fin spacing
1.78 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

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 LGA1366 Heatsink Test Platform:

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: Thermalright TRUE Spirit 120M
Manufacturer
Power Rating
2.52 W
Model Number
TY-120 PWM
Airflow Rating
24.8 ~ 53.3 CFM
Bearing Type
?
Speed Rating
700 ~ 1500 RPM
Corners
Open
Noise Rating
17 ~ 28.5 dBA
Frame Size
120 x 120 x 25 mm
Header Type
4-pin
Blade Diameter
112 mm
Starting Voltage
3.3 V
Hub Size
40 mm
Weight
90 g
Data in green cells provided by the manufacturer
or observed; data in the blue cells were measured.

The stock fan is translucent and has an odd color scheme with a black frame surrounding dark yellow blades. The seven blades are a fairly standard shape with sharp edges and a mild degree of curvature. The trailing edges are almost straight, making them parallel with the struts, a combination which often generates high tonality. The fan is also relatively light weight at 90 grams, about 25% less than most 120 mm models.

The fan has a very buzzy character and a clicking noise was also audible throughout its range; the acoustic profile was tonal at various points in the spectrum. The clicking would disappear when pressure was applied to the sides of the fan even though the clips appeared to be on fairly tight. As its frame is quite light, it seems to vibrate more than your average fan, shaking the heatsink fins and/or fan clips.

Stock Fan Measurements
Voltage
Speed
SPL@1m
12V
1400 RPM
25 dBA
9V
1100 RPM
19 dBA
7V
870 RPM
15 dBA
6V
720 RPM
13~14 dBA
5V
650 RPM
12 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle from
the center of the heatsink.
Ambient noise level: 10~11 dBA.

For a tower heatsink, the stock fan is relatively quiet in overall volume. Its rotational speed topped out at 1400 RPM which generated 25 dBA@1m. At 1100 RPM / 9V it entered quiet territory and was close to inaudible at 720 RPM / 6V.

Test Results

We opted to test the TRUE Spirit 120M on our socket 1155 platform, as befits
its somewhat smaller size. Besides, the popularity of >100W CPUs is waning
as Intel continues its relentless downward push on processor TDP.

Thermalright TRUE Spirit 120M
Fan Voltage
Fan Speed
SPL@1m
°C Rise above Ambient
CPU
VRM
RAM
Stock Fan
12V
1400 RPM
25 dBA
31
20
16
9V
1100 RPM
19 dBA
32
21
17
7V
870 RPM
15 dBA
34
24
20
6V
720 RPM
13~14 dBA
36
26
21
5V
650 RPM
12 dBA
38
27
22
Reference Nexus 120 mm Fan
12V
1080 RPM
16~17 dBA
31
21
17
9V
890 RPM
14 dBA
32
23
18
7V
720 RPM
11~12 dBA
34
26
21

The CPU temperature stabilized at between 31°C and 38°C above ambient at 12V and 5V respectively which is excellent for our mildly overclocked and overvolted Core i5-2400. With the temperature difference being so small between its top and inaudible speed, it’s clear that a more demanding load is required to truly challenge the TRUE Spirit 120M. Our reference fan was slightly more efficient at its nominal speed but undervolted, it pulled way ahead, producing CPU temperatures 4°C lower when generating comparable noise levels.

Heatsink Comparison Table

°C rise Comparison (CPU Temperature)
SPL (dBA@1m)
20
19
18
17
16
15
14
13
12
Thermalright TRUE Spirit 120M
(ref. 120 mm fan)
31
32
34
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
Reeven Vanxie
66
77
F

In its stock form, the TRUE Spirit 120M was barely edged out by the Noctua
NH-L12 in its dual 120/92 mm fan configuration. With our superior reference
fan however, the TRUE Spirit 120M pushed past the L12 by a clear margin. The
closest tower cooler was the Prolimatech Panther which fell to the 120M by a
significant amount at low noise levels regardless of the fan used.

°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
(ref. 120 mm fan)
21
23
26
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
Scythe Samurai ZZ
38
39
47
Noctua NH-L9i
40
46
Reeven Vanxie
45
56
F

The TRUE Spirit 120M also beat the Panther in VRM cooling but not nearly as badly, and only at very low noise levels. Sitting lower than most heatsinks, the 120M has a bit of advantage when it comes to cooling the areas around the CPU socket.

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

As we see more and more uniform silver heatsinks from the likes of Noctua,
Prolimatech, and Thermalright, the less finished design of the HR-02
Macho
and TRUE Spirit 120M is both refreshing and nostalgic. Bare copper
heatpipes and untreated aluminum fins don’t have any impact on performance.
It may not look as attractive to some and might be more susceptible to oxidation
in the long run, but from a practical standpoint, it’s a great place to skimp
to cut costs.

Thermalright’s excellent design and solid mounting system are far more important
and both are present and accounted for. While shorter than your typical aftermarket
tower cooler, the Thermalright TRUE Spirit 120M still packs a fairly potent
punch. It scored superbly on our mildly overclocked LGA1155 95W TDP test platform,
handily beating out the Prolimatech
Panther
, a larger and heavier tower with a full nickel-plated design.
The 120M really isn’t that much smaller than the norm, so it should be fine
for tackling a higher thermal load as well.

The 120M’s Achilles’ heel is its stock 120 mm fan, an issue we also had with
the original True
Spirit
. The TY-120 PWM doesn’t produce high noise levels, but the quality
of the sound is poor. It has a buzzy character and tends to rattle the heatsink
and/or fan clips when mounted. This is probably a result of the interaction
of the struts and blades (due to an undesirable intersection angle) combined
with a lack of structural support (it’s quite light for 120 mm model). Its acoustics
can possibly be tempered by a case with well-dampened side panels, but on our
open test platform, it was annoyingly audible.

We weren’t able to find any concrete information on pricing but the original
Cogage True Spirit is still being sold at some retailers for about US$40.
If the latest version is priced near or under that mark, it’s a fairly good
value. However, it would not be our first choice unless it meets a height requirement
that its larger competitors do not; cases with side fans near the CPU area come
to mind.

Our thanks to Thermalright for the TRUE Spirit 120M CPU cooler sample.

* * *

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:

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
Phanteks PH-TC14PE Dual Fan CPU Heatsink

* * *

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