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Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C & AC Freezer Xtreme Rev.2

The Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C and the Arctic Cooling Freezer Xtreme Rev.2 are two divergent different approaches to extreme CPU cooling that manage to remain in the same basic “side-blowing fan on a tower of fins joined to the base by heatpipes” design dominating the field. Is there a winner? Yes, and its by a lot more than a nose.

December 12, 2010 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C
CPU Cooler
Arctic Cooling Freezer Xtreme Rev.2
CPU Cooler
Manufacturer
Thermalright Arctic Cooling
Street Price
US$50~$55 US$35~$40

The Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C and Arctic Cooling Freezer Xtreme Rev.2 are revisions of older coolers. Both utilize the word “extreme” to convince us of their exceptional cooling performance. The similarities end there, though, as they are very different designs.

The Ultra-120 eXtreme is a classic tower cooler, a legendary former SPCR champ. Though time has eroded its position, it has aged graciously, still performing well by today’s standards. Thermalright has not messed much with the Rev.C; it features only a few minor improvements.

We never reviewed the original Arctic Cooling Freezer Xtreme, but that isn’t much of an issue as the only real difference in the Rev.2 model is added LGA1156 and LGA1366 compatibility. It utilizes a less traditional design with a fan wedge between two banks of heatpiped tower fins.


Comparing packages.

The packaging for each heatsink is modest in its own way. The Freezer Xtreme comes in a plastic clamshell (that thankfully snaps open easily) barely larger than the heatsink itself. Thermalright has stuck with its tradmark plain cardboard boxes, albeit cushioned on the inside with styrofoam. The box size is much larger as the Ultra-120 eXtreme is bigger and has a more elaborate mounting system.

Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C

The original Ultra-120 eXtreme was a rarity in that it lived up to both its “ultra” and “extreme” moniker. The Rev.C is slight tweak with the main changes being slightly fewer fins and a revamped mounting system which is supposed to provide higher pressure betweeen CPU and heatink, with improved cooling the result. There is also a Rev.B which has the same fin count as the original but is otherwise identical to the Rev.C.


Original mounting hardware.


Revised mounting hardware.

The original Ultra-120 eXtreme used a simple “X” shaped clamp to bolt the heatsink to the backplate. The Rev.B/C adopts a Noctua/Prolimatech style mount that secures the backplate first to a pair of metal arms, then a bar passing over the heatsink base is bolted to the metal arms. One clear advantage is the backplate stays in place if you need to remove the cooler.

Specifications: Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C
(from the product
web page
)
Dimension: L63.44 x W132 x H160.5 mm (heatsink only)
Weight: 790g (Heatsink Only)
Recommended Fan: All 120mm Fan
CPU Support Intel Core i7 Processor

Intel Core 2 extreme and any Socket 775 Processor*

AMD Phenom X4 and any Socket AM2 / AM2+ / AM3 Processor

*note: our sample did not ship with LGA775 mounting hardware.

Arctic Cooling Freezer Xtreme Rev.2

Arctic Cooling made their name with cost effective marvels of clever engineering that provided decent and quiet cooling at rock bottom prices. Their Alpine series of heatsink/fans are popular, affordable quiet alternatives to stock AMD and Intel coolers. The Freezer line is composed of larger tower coolers, though only one model sticks out as a possible high performance heatsink, the Freezer Xtreme.


Box contents.

The Freezer Xtreme Rev.2 uses a design with a fan at the center, a method that is difficult to pull off in our experience. It also features its own pushpin mounting system, about which we have some reservations, just as we do about Intel’s. From what we can tell, the Rev.2 is more or less identical to the original, only with an updated mounting system and compatibility for LGA1156 and LGA1366.

Specifications: Arctic Cooling Freezer Xtreme Rev.2
(from the product
web page
)
Heatsink
130L x 100W x 131H mm
Fan
120mm x 1
Fan speed
800 -1500 RPM (Controlled by PWM)
Air flow
35.7CFM / 60.7 m3/h
Maximum Cooling Capacity
160 Watts
Weight
608g
Patents
DE 20307981, US 7101149
Warranty
6 year

PHYSICAL DETAILS & INSTALLATION: Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C

The Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C is a nickel-plated six heatpipe cooler weighing approximately 730 grams and standing 161 mm tall by our measurements. We won’t bore you with many pictures as it is very difficult to distinguish the body of the Rev.C from the Rev.B or the original.


A “V” shaped hole punched through the heatsink and a fin count reduction from 53 to 47 are the only visible differences between the Rev.C and the original. The fin spacing is slightly larger which should help low airflow cooling performance.


An AMD backplate and mounting frame are included in the package. As the heatsink overhangs the mounting holes, a small wrench is provided to secure the bolts.


An important distinction of the TRUE Rev.C from the vast majority of coolers for AMD: It can be mounted rotated 90°. This means regardless of the orientation of the CPU socket and heatsink mounting frame on the motherboard, the cooler can be mounted with its fan pointing toward the back panel (as usually perferred) or pointing up.


On Intel boards, a pair of metal brackets are used to secure the backplate. By design they are a little loose. Once the heatsink and bolts are on, the tension pulls the brackets upward.


Heatsink bolted down.


Mounted with our reference Nexus fan.

PHYSICAL DETAILS: Arctic Cooling Freezer Xtreme Rev.2

The Freezer Xtreme is composed of four copper heatpipes for eight heatpipe
paths through the fins and a stack of 102 aluminum fins (51 on each side). By our measurements,
it weighs approximately 690 grams, 550 grams without the fan, and has a height of 143 mm.


The overall build quality and tightness of the fins reminds us of the Freezer 7/64, a classic heatsink from days of yore. The Xtreme is basically a larger version with four heatpipes instead of three, split in half with a 120 mm fan at the center.


The heatsink is short for a tower design, standing only 143 mm tall; most of its contemporaries measure 156~162 mm. Its fin mass sits rather low to help cool board components. The fins are thin, only 0.30 mm thick and are packed tightly with each layer separated by about 1.70 mm.


The plastic “X” cover on each side is attached with some kind of adhesive.


Like all of Arctic Cooling’s current heatsinks, their MX-2 thermal compound is pre-applied to the base. Underneath is a somewhat rough and slightly concave surface.


The Freezer Xtreme uses a 120 mm fan with an unusually large hub. A pair of release tabs are incorporated into the round frame.


The interior surface is jagged to break up turbulence. The mounting plate sits beneath the fan, so the fan must be removed to facilitate mounting.

INSTALLATION: Arctic Cooling Freezer Xtreme Rev.2

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.


A pair of clips screwed to the mounting plate allow the Freezer Xtreme to use the stock AMD retention bracket with the fan blowing toward the side.


Installation on Intel motherboards is a bit more complicated. A plastic retention frame must first be attached to the board.


Cream colored pegs are inserted into the appropriate holes (LGA775, LGA1156, and LGA1366 are all supported) and then black pins are inserted to lock the pegs in place. To remove a pin, one must squeeze the tabs sticking out on each side and pull.


The retention frame on our LGA1366 test board.


The mounting plate on the heatsink is secured to the retention frame using a pair of screws.


The end result was surprisingly secure. There was very little wiggle room once the heatsink was mounted.

TESTING

Before thermal testing, we took some basic physical measurements.

Approximate Physical Measurements
Heatsink AC Freezer Xtreme Rev.2 Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C
Weight
550 g
690 g with stock fan
730 g
Height 143 mm 161 mm
Fin count 2 x 51 47
Fin thickness
0.30 mm 0.56 mm
Fin spacing
1.70 mm 1.52 mm
Vertical Clearance*
38/48 mm 46 mm
Horizontal Overhang**
-18 mm -19 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: Approximate Fin Thickness & Spacing
Heatsink
Fin Thickness
Fin Spacing
Scythe Ninja 2
0.39 mm
3.68 mm
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
Cooler Master V8
0.30 mm
~1.85 mm
Titan Fenrir
0.36 mm
1.78 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
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 was done on our
i7-1366 heatsink testing platform
. A summary of the test system
and procedure follows.

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

The system is 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 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 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

We begin with an analysis of the stock fan, in this case a mysterious proprietary 120 mm model with a circular frame attached to a pair of release tabs.

The stock fan has seven swept-forward blades with sharp edges. Its wingspan is a bit short and the hub overly large compared to the average 120 mm case fan with a box frame.

Specifications: AC Freezer Xtreme Rev.2 Stock Fan
Manufacturer
Power Rating
1.8 W
Model Number
?
Airflow Rating
35.7 CFM
Bearing Type
?
Speed Rating
1500 RPM
Corners
N/A
Noise Rating
0.5 sone
Frame Size
126 x 124 x 30 mm (excluding release mechanism)
Header Type
4-pin PWM
Fan Blade Diameter
110 mm
Starting Voltage
3.8 V
Hub Size
48 mm
Weight
140 g
Data in green cells provided by the manufacturer
or observed; data in the blue cells were measured.

 

Stock Fan Measurements
Voltage
Speed
SPL @1m
12V
1430 RPM
27 dBA
9V
1180 RPM
22 dBA
7V
980 RPM
17 dBA
5V
790 RPM
12~13 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle from
the intake side of the fan.
Ambient noise level: 10~11 dBA.

We would characterize the overall noise character of the fan to be smooth. It has a tendency to drone at high speeds, and produces turbulent noise at 7V and above, but generally it sounds quite benign, lacking any annoying tones. The acoustic quality is excellent as are many of Arctic Cooling’s fans. The fan on our sample ran 1430 RPM at 12V, producing a fairly loud 27 dBA@1m in our anechoic chamber. At 5V, 790 RPM, it was almost inaudible at 12~13 dBA@1m.


The Freezer Xtreme’s stock fan becomes quiet at about 7V.

COOLING RESULTS

Fan Voltage
SPL@1m
°C Rise
Freezer Xtreme Rev.2
Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C
Stock 120mm Fan
12V
27 dBA
48
N/A
9V
22 dBA
51
N/A
7V
17 dBA
55
N/A
5V
12~13 dBA
62
N/A
Reference 120mm fan
12V
16 dBA
49
38
9V
13 dBA
52
40
7V
12 dBA
58
43
2 x Reference 120mm fans
12V
19 dBA
44
36
9V
14 dBA
45
38
7V
12 dBA
48
40
°C Rise: Temperature rise above ambient (22°C)
at load.

The Freezer Xtreme’s stock fan was excellent acoustically, but its cooling ability was very poor compared to our reference Nexus fan, which we inserted into the fan slot without any support (you can suspend it with wire, zip-ties or the like). The Nexus beat the stock fan by 4~10°C at the 12~13 dBA level and by 6°C at 16~17 dBA. We can think of two possible causes for this performance difference. The fan blades are smaller than a typical 120 mm fan because the large hub takes up extra space and there is a large gap between the blades and the housing. This separation probably produces less pressure as well.

Even with our reference fan, the Freezer Xtreme was beaten soundly by the Ultra-120 eXtreme to the tune of 11~15°C depending on the fan speed. With a second reference fan employed at the front of the heatsink, its performance was boosted by 7~10°C, with the best improvement being made at the very quiet 7V level. A second fan on the Ultra-120 eXtreme only produced a 2~3°C benefit.


A second fan at the front of the Freezer Xtreme interfered with the RAM.

A second fan is very beneficial to the Freezer, but because the fin stack sits so low, it interfered with the system memory installed on our test board when we positioned it as an intake. As a result we had to rest the fan on one of the DIMMs, so it ended up being higher than the center fan. Putting the fan on the opposite side isn’t ideal as separation would need to be created so that the hub would not scrap against the surface of the heatsink (there are no struts on the back side of the fan to keep them apart). A fan at the back would be closer to the exhaust fan in most systems, but with a constricted intake, it would probably generate more noise.


The AC Freezer Xtreme’s thermal compound footprint.

The Freezer’s slightly concave base creates a contact problem. Excess thermal compound is squeezed out to the edges of the base when good firm contact is made, but as you can see from the image above much of it remained at the center where the CPU is hottest. The Ultra-120 eXtreme by comparison has a convex base (both the Rev.C and original version) to maximize contact with the center of the CPU heatspreader and mounting leaves most of the residue on the outside of the base.

Comparison Chart

The following is a comparison chart of the top coolers we’ve tested so far on our LGA1366 heatsink platform. The results were generated using our reference Nexus 120 mm fan as is indicative of CPU cooling performance with a single low airflow/noise fan.

°C rise Comparison
Heatsink
Nexus 120mm 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-D14
38
42
45
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
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 Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C delivered a performance boost of 2~5°C over the original, propelling it from 8th/9th place on our chart all the way to the top. The AC Freezer Xtreme on the other hand posted the worst performance of any tower heatsink we’ve tested that utilizes a 120 mm fan and keep in mind, its stock fan performance is even worse.

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

Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C

With the Rev.C, the Ultra-120 eXtreme catapults back to the top of our CPU cooling chart, sharing company with the likes of the Prolimatech Megahalems and Noctua NH-D14. It is amazing that a slight tweak of the fin count and an improved mounting system can make enough difference to transform a good CPU cooler into a superb one. (But perhaps there are less visible improvements such as the quality of the heatpipes used, the integrity of the mechanical connections, etc.) This once classic cooler is shiny and new once again, seemingly reborn with these minor alterations. The welcome flexibility of its AMD socket mounting system is just extra gravy. Definitely deserving of the SPCR Editor’s Choice award. It can be found online for its US$50~$55, a bit more if you include the cost of a fan, but even then it is not an unreasonable amount for topnotch performance.

Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C

SPCR Editor’s Choice Award

Arctic Cooling Freezer Xtreme Rev.2

Just about every aspect of the Freezer Xtreme Rev.2’s design is in need of improvement. First off we are not crazy about the center fan cooling scheme — the gigantic Noctua NH-D14 is the only cooler we’ve tested that has managed to pull it off. The Freezer has tightly spaced fins on both sides, so the fan has no source of cool intake air and faces resistance on both sides. It pulls warm air radiating off the fins from one side and blows it over the other. Furthermore, the fan utilized is inefficient due to its large hub and the wide separation between the blades and housing. Also, the contact between the heatsink base and processor isn’t great, though its pushpin mounting scheme doesn’t appear to be at fault. The base of our sample is slightly concave which in our experience is the exact opposite of what you want.

The only thing extreme about the Freezer is its disappointing performance, the worst we’ve seen from any large side-blowing tower heatsink in the past couple of years. This is a product that is in desperate need of a third revision if Arctic Cooling expects it to compete, even as a budget performance heatsink. The Freezer is smaller than most big tower coolers and its smooth-sounding fan is positioned low to help cool the heatsinks surrounding the CPU socket but unfortunately these are the only positive things we can say about it. Given its US$35~$40 street price, we simply can’t recommend it. There are so many better performing alternatives available.

Our thanks to Thermalright and Arctic Cooling for the Ultra-120 eXtreme Rev.C and Freezer Xtreme Rev.C heatsink samples.

* * *

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AMD Phenom II Stock Coolers
Intel LGA1366 Stock Cooler: Good Enough?
Gelid Silent Spirit &
Scythe Samurai ZZ CPU Coolers

SPCR’s 2010 CPU Heatsink
Test Platform [Updates: 10 April & 31 May]

* * *

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