Thermolab Baram Blows In

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Baram is a big tower heatsink with all the requisite design elements to make it to the top: A huge number of large thin fins, 10 heatpipes spread nice and even, and staggered fins to minimize win resistance. Can this newcomer take on the established big boys?

Thermolab Baram Blows In

December 10, 2008 by Mike Chin

Product
Baram
LGA775/K8/S478 CPU Cooler
Manufacturer
Thermolab
MSRP
US$52

Applying the lessons from your predecessors is considered sagely advice the world over. It’s how human beings naturally work and improve. In some ways, the patent is an artificial and unhelpful wrench in the natural development process of the species. Competition is as much about working together to achieve higher goals as it is about beating out the rest. The computer industry, despite the endless roster of patents it has registered, is rife with copies of copies of copies. This is perfectly normal in any human sphere. A "new" obviously derivative tech product is praised when it performs well. It’s only when a derivative product fails to perform well that you hear snarly snickers from reviewers and forum surfers.

The Thermolab Baram is a perfect example of a derivative product. It is a new combination of many ideas and practices that have been used in some of the best CPU coolers over the last few years. Is it original? No. Will anyone care? Only if it doesn’t work well. Or only by the companies who think Thermolab has managed to transgress one of their patents. Does it work well? That’s what you’re here to find out, isn’t it?

Thermolab is a relatively new Korean company. The about / history page of the company web site identifies March 2004 as its inception. It has been involved in IT thermal management products since then. Its first retail products were released in March of this year, a couple of low profile CPU coolers for small cases. We received samples of the Thermolab Nano Silencer and Micro Silencer, but chose not to review them because they did not fit on out test motherboard. We expect that fit is an issue with these coolers on many motherboards… but perhaps not the smallest, latest ones. Admittedly, our test motherboard is a couple of years old; we keep using it for consistency in our test results.

The Baram is a much more ambitious product. The name itself is the Korean word for "wind". Thermolab says it is "for a cooling mania (sic) who is expecting to have a supreme cooling performance."


It’s housed in a plain unbleached cardboard box like the ones Thermalright uses. This is imitation we gladly accept for both the sensible tidy appearance and the minimalist green aspects.


Contents: The big cooler, bolt-through mounting kits with backplates for both AMD and Intel processors, thermal interface material, and two pairs of wire clips for 120mm fans.



The Baram bears strong resemblance to both Thermalright and Scythe coolers.

This is the point in most of our reviews where we insert a table showing the Feature Highlights and our (occasionally snide) Comments about those highlights. This time, we can’t do it. Thermolab’s marketing has not reached typical PC industry levels of verbosity, and the features are summed up in just four lines and four illustrations. We should enjoy the relative silence while it lasts. Here, then, is Thermolab’s description of the Baram’s strengths:

The emphasis is on the staggered, interleaved design of the fins and heatpipes to maximize even distribution of heat and airflow through the structure. It all looks good at face value, and it will make more sense as the details are examined more closely.

Thermolab Baram Specifications
(from the product
web page
)
Name Baram
Dimensions 67 × 132 × 160 mm (LxWxH)
Weight 625 grams
Material Pure Copper, Aluminum
Dissipation Area 7,580 cm²

The spec for Dissipation Area is a good one that another Korean heatsink company, Zalman, likes to use. It’s interesting to note that the biggest cooler in Zalman’s range, the CNPS9700, is reported to have a dissipation area of 5,490 cm².

PHYSICAL DETAILS


This view shows the edges of the fins. They are staggered, apparently to reduce airflow resistance. The pattern is repeated around all the edges.


Here’s another view. There are five heatpipes bent at the center where they’re bonded to the base, with 10 vertical extensions in a wide array up through 54 fins. It looks like a friction fit between the pipes and the fins.


There is evidence of solder where the heatpipes meet the base. The join looks very tight. The base is nickel plated, very smooth and flat. The overall workmanship looks excellent.


The Baram looks about the same size and shape as the Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme on the left, and fairly close to the Thermalright HR01 on the right…


…but it is actually slightly bigger than either, as each of its fins is larger.

MOUNTING HARDWARE

The most critical aspect of heatsink installation is secure, tight mounting. The more firmly and securely it is installed, the
better the contact between the heatsink’s base and the CPU itself. Ease of installation is also very important — a simple
mounting scheme means less time spent installing, and reduced likelihood
of user error.


Socket 775 mounting arms screwed on. Four screws (not pictured)
secure the heatsink bracket from the underside of the mounting plate (not shown).

The socket 775 mounting arrangement shown above does not use spring loaded bolts, unlike most bolt-through systems. There are two arms which are secured with two screws each. The screws have heads that don’t sit flush, but they sit outside the CPU/base interface, so although it looks bad, it is functional. The system looks reasonably straightforward until you try to actually do the installation. It turns out to be a terribly awkward, inconvenient and probably unsafe system. It’s a bit complex so we’ll explain later when we install the thing on our heatsink testing platform board.


The AMD AM2 mounting arms are screwed on, and the back plate is shown. Four screws secure heatsink from the top side to the mounting plate, which has threaded nut inserts in the corners. Again, springs are not used for tension.

The mounting arms for AM2 secure to the base in only one way, as shown in the photo above. The arrangement is convenient: The screws can be accessed from the top with a screwdriver without any interference from the heatsink itself. It is probably possible to mount with the motherboard already in place, as the nut inserts have the same thread as those used in the standard AM2 retention bracket and plate.

Unfortunately, the arrangement means that on most motherboards, the wide side of the heatsink will be perpendicular to the plane of the back I/O panel. With most AM2 motherboards, this means that a fan mounted on the Baram would point up at the power supply intake area in most tower-style cases. That can have a negative impact on PSU temperature as the heat from the CPU gets blown into it; this, in turn, will tend to push up the speed of the PSU fan, which is invariably thermally controlled, thus raising the overall noise level of the system. In a nutshell, for a tower heatsink, the inability to be mounted with its fan aimed not at the PSU intake but the back panel exhaust fan is a design weakness. It doesn’t change the cooling performance of the heatsink, per se, but it can affect overall system cooling and noise.

This problem does not arise in socket 775 boards because the mounting pattern of the screws/bolts used is square, symmetrical. Most socket 775 heatsinks can be rotated so that the fan faces the back panel of the case.

THE PAIN OF SOCKET 775 INSTALLATION

Installation of the Baram on a LGA775 motherboard is very difficult, even with the motherboard complete loose on a work bench. Here is why:

  • The screws go in through the backplate from the underside of the board.
  • The backplate does not have nubs which insert into the holes in the motherboard.
  • The threaded shafts into which the screws attach do not reach the surface of the motherboard. This is necessary, because the mounting arms have to bend in order to apply pressure on the CPU/base interface.
  • Thermal interface material has to be applied while you’re aligning the backplate, motherboard and heatsink so that a screw can be threaded and secured with a screwdriver through the three pieces.
  • The three main elements — backplate, motherboard and heatsink — don’t interlock in any way, and with TIM in place, the heatsink and motherboard tend to slide around.


The threaded inserts of the mounting arms don’t touch the motherboard. It is one of the reasons the three elements don’t interlock or line up easily before mounting.

It may be difficult to picture all this. We did not get any photos of the installation process because it required all four hands of two people working together while cursing and straining to accomplish. In the end we were just plain relieved the motherboard still booted. The potential risk of damage to the board was high, especially when you consider the frustration that mounts during the process.

Thermolab’s instructions suggests putting the heatsink upside down and the motherboard atop it during installation, but our advice is simpler: DO NOT TRY TO INSTALL THIS HEATSINK ALONE! TIP: A screwdriver with a magnetic tip that fits snugly into the screw head is an absolute necessity. Mounting the fan with the wire clips was an absolute breeze in comparison.


It took four hands and a good magnetic tip screwdriver to install, but here is the Baram mounted on our test motherboard with a Nexus 120mm fan.

TESTING

Some basic physical measurements have been
added to our test routine.

Thermolab Baram: Physical Measurements
Weight
625g (heatsink alone)
650g (including mounting hardware)
780g (including mounting hardware and reference Nexus fan)
Fin thickness
0.44 mm
Fin spacing
2.52 mm
Vertical Clearance
52 mm (measured from the
PCB surface)
Horizontal Overhang
8 mm (measured from the
edge of the heatsink to the top edge of our test motherboard’s PCB)
Comparison: Fin Thickness & Spacing
Heatsink
Fin Thickness
Fin Spacing
Scythe Ninja
0.31 mm
3.95 mm
Scythe Ninja 2
0.39 mm
3.68 mm
Thermalright HR-01 Plus
0.45 mm
3.15 mm
Noctua NH-U12P
0.44 mm
2.63 mm
Thermolab Baram
0.44 mm
2.52 mm
Noctua NH-C12P
0.47 mm
2.54 mm
Xigmatek HDT-S1283
0.33 mm
1.96 mm
Zerotherm Zen FZ120
0.37 mm
1.80 mm
Thermalright Ultra-120
0.45 mm
1.42 mm

Testing was done according to our
unique heatsink testing methodology
, and the reference fan was profiled
using our standard fan testing
methodology
. This is the first time the Nexus 120mm fan has been measured for SPL in the anechoic chamber. The numbers are lower than obtained before; the actual fan noise hasn’t changed. A quick summary of the components, tools, and procedures
follows below.

Key Components in Heatsink Test Platform:

  • Intel
    Pentium D 950
    Presler core. TDP of 130W; under our test load, it measures
    78W including efficiency losses in the VRMs.
  • ASUS
    P5LD2-VM
    motherboard. A basic microATX board with integrated graphics
    and plenty of room around the CPU socket.
  • Samsung MP0402H
    40GB 2.5" notebook drive
  • 1
    GB stick of Corsair XMS2
    DDR2 memory.
  • FSP Zen 300W
    fanless power supply.
  • Arctic Silver
    Lumière
    : Special fast-curing thermal interface material, designed
    specifically for test labs.
  • Nexus 120 fan (part of our standard testing methodology; used when
    possible with heatsinks that fit 120x25mm fans)
    Nexus 120 fan measurements in anechoic chamber
    Voltage
    Noise
    RPM
    12V
    16 dBA@1m
    1100 RPM
    9V
    13 dBA@1m
    890 RPM
    7V
    12 dBA@1m
    720 RPM
    5V
    11 dBA@1m
    530 RPM

Measurement and Analysis 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.
  • 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
    4.32
    , used to monitor the on-chip thermal sensor. This sensor is not
    calibrated, so results are not universally applicable.
  • CPUBurn
    P6
    , used to stress the CPU heavily, generating more heat than most
    real applications. 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.

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 stock fan was tested at various voltages
to represent a good cross-section of its airflow and noise performance.

TEST RESULTS

Cooling Results

The Thermolab Baram is a very good performer. Thermal rise was 18°C
above ambient at 12V, and 25°C at 5V. This is a very narrow temperature spread. The Baram is quite good with limited airflow and it may work well enough as a passive CPU cooler. The Nexus fan is generally inaudible at 9V or lower unless
the ambient noise level (and the rest of your computer) is extremely low.

Thermolab Baram
w/ reference Nexus 120mm fan
Fan Voltage
SPL @1m
Temp
°C Rise
°C/W
12V
16 dBA
39°C
18
0.22
9V
13 dBA
41°C
20
0.23
7V
12 dBA
43°C
22
0.26
5V
11 dBA
46°C
25
0.29
Load Temp: CPUBurn for ~10 mins.
°C Rise: Temperature rise above ambient (21°C) at load.
°C/W: based on the heat dissipated by the CPU (measured
78W); lower is better.

Compared to many other tower coolers reviewed recently, the Baram doesn’t quite make the top ranks. The latest top performers clearly best the Baram, but the differences are relatively modest unless you’re running a CPU that draw a lot more power than the 78W measured on our Pentium D950. Remember that the vast majority of current CPUs are rated for 65W TDP or lower. In actual use, none of these will generate anywhere near the heat of our test CPU. Any of the heatsink models listed will provide perfectly good cooling with an effectively inaudible fan.

°C rise Comparison: Thermolab Baram vs. Competitors
Heatsink
Nexus 120 fan voltage / SPL @1m
12V
9V
7V
5V
16 dBA
13 dBA
12 dBA
11 dBA
Thermolab Baram
18
20
22
25
Scythe Ninja 2
17
18
20
23
Thermalright U120E
12
14
17
24
Thermalright HR-01+
13
15
16
20
Xigmatek HDT-S1283
13
15
18
22
Noctua NH-U12P
14
16
17
21
All results generated with our reference Nexus 120mm
fan.

As with any cooler supplied without a fan, both cooling performance and acoustics are strongly affected by your choice of fan and the speed at which it is run. With a fan like our reference, it will be optimized for super low noise. The Baram can probably achieve much better cooling performance with a more powerful fan, but at higher noise levels. A second 120mm fan in a push/pull mode could also improve the cooling performance, again at the cost of higher noise. Other tech review sites will probably explore the performance of the Baram with a higher speed fan and with two fans; we have no interest in running any fan noisier than our reference at 12V.

For your reference, here are the latest acoustics measurements and recordings of our reference 120mm fan, from our anechoic chamber. The recordings was 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.

The recording is 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 10 second segments of room ambient, 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

The Thermolab Baram provides very good low noise cooling performance with a quiet 120mm fan, but it does not make the top ranks of tower coolers. It is a bit surprising that better performance was not achieved, given the large area of the fins, and the high integrity of the overall build. However, the results speak for themselves: Against the short list of high performance tower coolers that accommodate standard size 120mm fans, the Baram falls in last place. The spread is not that big, with only 4°C separating it from the top performer, with the reference fan at full or minimum speed. And it is being compared to very good company, the very best coolers for low airflow performance we’ve tested in the past year or so.

Where the Baram falls really short is in the mounting arrangements. The Socket 775 mounting hardware and procedure is flat out bad. It’s true that once completed, the heatsink is securely in place, but the process is painfully awkward. The AM2 socket mounting is obviously easier, but the inflexibility of fan direction is another negative. Like Scythe with the Ninja 2, Thermolab needs to go back to the drawing board. There are many good mounting systems to imitate, and some of the best are right on our short list of tower coolers. Makers of DIY aftermarket coolers really have to remember a simple fact: Their customers are mostly buying their products for fun, as a hobby, for personal interest. Getting challenged with poorly thought-out assembly kits is not most people’s idea of fun.

The manufacturer’s suggested retail price of US$52 seems steep, especially when compared to the prices of some of the competition. Thermolab does not appear to have resellers in North America at this point, however, so the MSP may be moot. That being the case, we sincerely hope Thermolab reworks its mounting hardware for the Baram so that by the time resellers are set up, it comes with better hardware. It is possible that a better mounting system might also result in better cooling performance.

Thermolab Baram
PROS

* Very good performance
* Nice build
* Greener packaging

CONS

* Poor mounting system
* Not quite as effective as competitors

* High MSP

Our thanks to Thermolab for the heatsink sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Zalman 9300AT: Not me too, but me again
Noctua
NH-U12P Tower Cooler

Zerotherm
Zen FZ120 CPU Cooler

Noctua
NH-C12P: A Top-Down Cooler Rises Up

Thermalright
HR-01 Plus: 2nd Gen Killer Tower Cooler

Scythe Ninja 2: Tweaking a Classic

* * *

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