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Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme: Heir to the CPU Cooling Throne

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They added two more heatpipes to the Ultra 120 and renamed it the Ultra 120 eXtreme. Did this simple modification improve the already excellent performance of one of the biggest tower heatsinks around?


Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme: Heir to the CPU Cooling Throne

October 15, 2007 by Lawrence
Lee

Product
Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme
LGA775/Socket AM2 CPU Heatsink
Manufacturer
Thermalright,
Inc.
Market Price
US$60~$65

Thermalright has a long tradition of making excellent heatsinks with simple,
aesthetically pleasing designs. Its previous flagship CPU cooler, the massive aluminum tower Ultra 120, gave the low airflow champ Scythe Ninja a serious run for its money. Not one to sit idle,
Thermalright improved the design by increasing the number of heat pipes
from four to six and added the moniker "eXtreme" to the name. With
the original Ultra-120 being a strong performer already, the question we look
to answer is: How much difference can two heatpipes make?


Unlike other manufacturers, Thermalright packs
its products in a non-descript, thick cardboard box. The heatsink is surrounded
with foam and the mounting hardware and accessories are located inside
a plain white box.



Mounting hardware, thermal compound, fan clips,
anti-vibration strips, and instructions.
The cooler supports
socket AM2 and LGA775 out of the box.

Thermalright Ultra-120
eXtreme: Feature Highlights (
from the
product web page
)
Feature & BriefOur Comment
Quiet and powerful cooling due to multiple
heat pipes and large aluminum fin area
The hallmarks
of good cooling.
Proprietary bent winglet design to minimize
airflow resistance
We’ll take
their word for it, but surely unbent fins are less restrictive…
Heat pipes soldered to base (nickel plated)
and fins for optimum heat transfer
Most heatsink components are now soldered
together. It’s an efficient heat transfer method.
Include both bolt-thru-board retention brackets
for Intel and AMD
The bolt-thru
method is very secure.
Thermalright Ultra-120
eXtreme (
from the
product web page
)
Heatsink Dimensions (L x W x H)
63.44 x 132 x 160.5 mm (heatsink only)
Weight
790 grams
Recommended Fan
All 120mm Fans
Compatibility
INTEL: Socket LGA775
AMD: Socket AM2

All AMD Socket 753/939/940 processors (Retention
kit
sold separately)

Motherboard
compatibility List(Both Ultra-120A and Ultra-120 eXtreme do not include a backplate
for AM2 systems. If you have motherboard manufactured by either Asrock
or Gigabyte that utilizes the push pin method, you will need to make
a separate purchase for an AM2
metal backplate
.

The Ultra-120 eXtreme is almost identical to its
brother, the Ultra-120, with the exception of two extra heat pipes. An interesting aspect about the number of heatpipes: While there are technically just six heatpipes, in practical terms, they act like 12 heatpipes. The "evaporator end" is actually the center of each heatpipe, which is clamped at the base, at the trough of its "U"-shape. This is where the coolant in the pipes get evporated due to the heat of the CPU. The ends of the heatpipe go up through the fins separately on either side of the base, so each heatpipe actually has two condenser ends. Thus, 12 pipes go through the fins. So while only two lengths of heatpipes were added, the effective number of pipes went from eight in the Ultra-120 to twelve in the Ultra-120 eXtreme

The extra heatpipes
makes the eXtreme 45 grams heavier than the Ultra, but the difference is insignificant compared
to the overall weight of the heatsink. Thermalright’s bolt-thru system for
mounting their heavier heatsinks is very secure, so this should not be an
issue. As it stands 16cm tall, narrower cases cannot accomodate the Ultra-120
eXtreme’s substantial height. In addition, any fan ducts near the CPU area
will most likely need to be removed to make way.

Another issue: Many computer cases have a front-to-back crossbar that adds strength and provides additional support for the power supply. With some motherboards,
in the proper "east-west" orientation, the Ultra-120 eXtreme may
hit that support bar. This was the case with an Antec Solo case and the
Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 motherboard we reviewed a few months ago.

The mounting hardware included is limited to LGA775 and socket AM2. There are two different sets of spring loaded bolts; one set each for 775 and AM2. Such spring loaded bolts, in our opinion, are the very best way ot ensuring secure, consistent installation of heavy heatsinks for DIYers. If
you have an oddball AM2 motherboard without the standard retention bracket,
you will need to obtain Thermalright’s AM2
Bolt-Thru-Kit
. Installation on older AMD sockets 754, 939, and
940 require the Socket
939 Bolt-Thru-Kit
. Use with socket 478 may be possible with the
P4-478
Heatsink Retention Kit
.

Aside from this, compatibility is pretty good. The space
between the base and the bottom fin is fairly large, avoiding interference
with most motherboard components except for the most extravagant of northbridge
heatsinks such as those found on the Gigabyte GA-P35-DS4/DQ6 (the only models
listed as incompatible by Thermalright at the time of writing). On some
motherboards, the heatsink may overhang the top edge of the board by a few
millimeters. This may be an issue depending on how much clearance exists
between the motherboard and power supply.

PHYSICAL DETAILS

Since the body of the cooler is virtually identical to the Ultra-120, we refer
you to our
Thermalright Ultra-120 review
rather than repeat the majority
of our observations.


Smooth, polished base with no visible machine
marks. The heat pipes are staggered to maximize airflow around them.


An impressive looking cooler with numerous
tightly spaced fins.


The Ultra-120 eXtreme towers over the Scythe
Ninja and dwarfs the Ninja Mini.


INSTALLATION

Installing the Ultra-120 eXtreme on our LGA775 test bed was straightforward.
On the back side of the motherboard, the four nipples on the backplate align
with the four mounting holes around the socket. The heatsink is goes atop of
the processor (with thermal compound applied of course) and the mounting bracket
slips between the heat pipes above the base. At the center of the base there
is a notch to line up the mounting bracket properly. To be perfectly clear, there’s no way to install this heatsink without access to both sides of the motherboard. It cannot be done with the motherboard mounted in a case.

The bracket
comprises two "arms", pivoted at the center like a pair of scissors. It must be first put through the the space between the heatpipes, and then the ends pulled part apart
until they are 90 degrees to one another, forming a large "X." Finally,
four spring-loaded bolts screw through the bracket and into the nipples of the
backplate on the otherside of the board. Once tightened, there is very little
wiggle room for the heatsink. This bolt-thru scheme is one of the most secure
we’ve encountered and it is miles ahead the stock LGA775 approach.

Silicone strips
go on the edge of the face of the heatsink to prevent vibration from being transferred
from the fan. On each side of the cooler there are tiny holes at the top and
bottom to facilitate the fan clips which slip inside. The clips hook into the
screw holes of a 120mm fan. Note: you will need a fan with open corners or the
fan clips cannot hook onto them. Some Nexus and Yate Loon fans, most notably, have
closed corners.


Mounted and ready to go in just a few minutes.

TESTING

Testing was done in accordance with our
unique heatsink testing methodology
, and the reference fan was profiled
using our standard fan testing
methodology
. A quick summary of the components, tools, and procedures follows
below.

Key Components in Heatsink Test Platform:

Test Tools

  • Seasonic
    Power Angel
    for measuring AC power at the wall to ensure that the
    heat output remains consistent.
  • Custom-built, four-channel variable DC power supply, used to regulate
    the fan speed during the test.
  • Bruel & Kjaer (B&K) model 2203 Sound Level Meter. Used to
    accurately measure SPL (sound pressure level) down to 20 dBA and below.
  • Various other tools for testing fans, as documented in our
    standard fan testing methodology
    .

Software Tools

  • SpeedFan
    4.32
    , used to monitor the on-chip thermal sensor. This sensor is not
    calibrated, so results are not universally applicable; however,
  • CPUBurn
    P6
    , used to stress the CPU heavily, generating more heat that most
    realistic loads. Two instances are used to ensure that both cores are stressed.
  • Throttlewatch
    2.01
    , used to monitor the throttling feature of the CPU to determine
    when overheating occurs.

Sound pressure level (SPL) measurements were made with the fan powered from
the lab variable DC power supply with no other noise sources in the room. The
ambient conditions during testing were 18 dBA and 22°C.

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 fan was tested at four voltages: 5V, 7V,
9V, and 12V, representing a full cross-section of its airflow and noise performance.

MEASURED TEST RESULTS

Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme
with Nexus 120mm fan
Fan Voltage
Noise
Temp
°C Rise
°C/W
12V
23 dBA
34°C
12
0.15
9V
20 dBA
36°C
14
0.18
7V
18 dBA
39°C
17
0.22
5V
<18 dBA
46°C
24
0.31
Load Temp: CPUBurn for ~20 mins.
°C Rise: Temperature rise above ambient (22°C) at load.
°C/W: Temperature rise over ambient per Watt of CPU heat, based
on the amount of heat dissipated by the CPU (measured power of 78W).
Noise: SPL measured in dBA@1m distance with high accuracy B &
K SLM

The Ultra-120 eXtreme performs admirably. At 5V, the
temperature is acceptable, while at 7V (effectively inaudible), the temperature
rose only 17°C above ambient. When the fan voltage is cranked up
further, it really begins to stand out, with a paltry load temperature of 12°C
above ambient at 12V, while only generating 23 dBA of noise at one meter. It’s
an excellent candidate for heavy overclocking with a high airflow fan.

The acoustic characteristics of the Nexus 120mm fan have
been documented extensive in previews articles and reviews, so a detailed analysis
of the noise will not be provided here. Listening from a distance of one meter
in our quiet lab, it is very quiet at full speed, barely audible at 9V, and
completely inaudible below 7V. The noise is smooth and low and motor noise is
almost nonexistent below 9V. In the 7~9V range where it is most likely to be
used, the dominant noise is a slight whoosh of air turbulence.

There was a question from one of SPCR’s editorial review board members whether the tighter fin spacing makes the Nexus 120 (or any other quiet fan) sound louder with the U120E than with a heatsink like the Ninja where the fin spacing is much less dense. We can report that at least with the relatively low RPM and airflow of the Nexus fan, even at 12V, there was no measurable difference in SPL or audible difference in the turbulence noise. With a higher airflow fan, however, the tighter fin spacing could lead to higher turbulence noise.

COMPARABLES

Fan Voltage
Noise
Ultra-120 eXtreme
Scythe Ninja
Ultra-120
°C Rise
°C/W
°C Rise
°C/W
°C Rise
°C/W
12V
23 dBA
12
0.15
14
0.18
15
0.19
9V
20 dBA
14
0.18
16
0.21
17
0.22
7V
18 dBA
17
0.22
17
0.22
21
0.27
5V
<18 dBA
24
0.31
21
0.27
26
0.33

There are really only two serious competitors: The Ultra-120 and the Scythe Ninja. Both heatsinks were
tested previously with the same reference fan on the same heatsink testing platform, so direct comparisons can be
made. The Ultra-120 eXtreme surpasses its predecessor by about 3°C
at all four fan voltage levels. It can’t quite compete with the Ninja with the reference fan at 5V,
but this is only a useful comparison if you are considering passive cooling,
as the noise difference between 5V and 7V is indistinguishable from all but
the closest of distances. The Ultra-120 eXtreme really starts to shine at 7V
where it matches the Ninja’s performance, before overtaking it at 9V and 12V.
The extra airflow definitely helps the transfer
of heat through the relatively tight fin spacing.

NOISE RECORDINGS IN MP3 FORMAT

Nexus 120mm fan: 5V-7V-9V-12V,
5s Ambient between levels
: One
Meter
, One Foot
(30cm)

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These
recordings were made with a high resolution, studio quality, digital recording
system and are intended to represent a quick snapshot of what we heard
during the review. Two recordings of each noise level were made, one from
a distance of one meter, and another from one foot
(30cm) away.

The
one meter recording is intended to give you an idea of how the subject
of this review sound 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. For best results, set your volume control so
that the ambient noise is just barely audible. 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
one foot recording is designed to bring out the fine details of the noise.
Use this recording with caution! Although more detailed, it may not represent
how the subject sounds in actual use. It is best to listen to this recording
after you have listened to the one meter recording.

More
details about how we make these recordings can be found in our article:
Audio Recording Methods
Revised
.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

The installation system is simple, and very secure. Owners of older socket
754/939/940 platforms will have to buy extra mounting hardware to use the Ultra-120
eXtreme, but it’s unlikely such users would be willing to pay for the very best
in air cooling for their semi-outdated systems, so this is a minor issue.

Compatibility is fairly good, considering the sheer size of the heatsink. The majority of potential problems are related to the eXtreme’s height or width. Large gaudy northbridge/VRM heatsinks may cause headaches, but the bigger potential problem is interference with components "north" of the motherboard; specifically, the power supply or the front-to-back support crossbar found in many cases. In most
setups, the preferred orientation is "east-west" (with the fan blowing
towards the rear of the case). If incompatibility forces the U120E to be installed in "north-south"
orientation, the air coming off the CPU is blown towards the power supply and may cause its
internal fan to speed up and become noisier under load.

Thermalright does not ship a fan with their products, which increases its total ownership
cost, but most silencers will want to pick their own anyway.
Keep in mind the fan should come with open corners for the Thermalright fan
clips to hook onto — otherwise get your hacksaw (or other tool of choice) ready
for some fan modification.

The Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme is not a revolutionary new product, but
a slight tweak on a previously successful design. They took a simple, brute
force approach by only adding additional heat pipes and it worked, though not
by leaps and bounds. Its tight fin spacing still hurts performance with ultra
low airflow (a Nexus 120 at a ridiculous 5V), but otherwise, it is the best performing heatsink
we have reviewed to date, and therefore the new cooling king at SPCR. For
just how long remains to be seen, as Thermalright has created another monster, the IFX-14,
which we hope to scrutinize soon.

Pros

* Unprecedented performance
* Secure mounting mechanism
* Can cool well with a very quiet fan

Cons

* No fan included
* Very large and heavy
* Expensive

Our thanks to Thermalright,
Inc.
for the Ultra-120 eXtreme sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest:

Recommended Heatsinks
SPCR’s unique heatsink testing
methodology

SPCR’s standard fan testing
methodology

Scythe Ninja
Thermalright Ultra 120

*
* *

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