Cooler Comparison Testing
Cooler Testing Methodology
To best gage the quality of the system coolers under review, system CPU temperature and cooling system audio measurements were taken with the CPU idle and under load. To replicate CPU idle conditions, the system was rebooted and allowed to sit idle for 10 minutes. To replicate a stress system load on the Z77-based system, a combination of LinX and FurMark were run over a 30 minute period with LinX running for 500 loops with Memory set to All and FurMark running at 1280×1024 resolution and 2x MSAA in stress test mode. For the Z87-based system testing, Aida64 System Stability Test was used in conjunction with FurMark for 30 minutes per run. After each run, the system was shut down and allowed to rest for 10 minutes to cool down. Then the CPU cooler was removed, cleaned, and remounted to the CPU with fresh thermal paste applied. This procedure was repeated a total of nine times for each cooler – three times for the stock speed runs on the Z77 and Z87-based systems, and 3 times for the overclocked speed runs on the Z77-based system.
Temperature measurements were taken directly from the CPU thermistors using RealTemp v3.70. For the Z77-based systems, the highest recorded value for idle and load temperature were used for the run. Because of the volatile nature of the Haswell thermistor readings, the Z87-based system temperatures were measured in a different manner. For idle temperatures, the highest recorded value was used for the run. For load temperatures, a series of three values were annotated: the average (high and low) across all cores, the average (high and low) across the single highest core, and the high temperature. To measure these average values accurately, the Realtemp readings were reset 20 minutes into the run while the CPU remained at full load. This allowed the software to measure accurate load high and lows for all cores over the last 10 minutes of the run with the three measured values taken from these readings.
Note that the temperature values are reported as deltas rather than absolute temperatures with the delta value reported calculated as CPU temperature – ambient temperature. For all tests, room ambient temperature was maintained between 26-28C. Sound measurements of the system cooler where taken with the sound meter placed 3 feet away from the system with all other devices in the room silenced. The Sound Meter Pro applet on a Samsung Galaxy S3 mobile phone was used to measure decibel level.
Intel Z77-based Ivy Bridge System Testing
CPU Stock Speed Testing
The CPU stock speed testing was conducted with the BIOS defaults set for the CPU and Turbo Mode disabled, equating to a 3.4GHz CPU speed, 1600MHz memory speed, and 100MHz base clock. The Intel Speedstep functionality remained enabled for the duration of the testing to get realistic CPU idle performance conditions.
The Silver Arrow SB-E Extreme lives up to its names with the Ivy Bridge at stock speed, shaving a full 3C off of the other air cooler temperatures and even besting the performance of the XSPC watercooling kit.
CPU Overclocked Speed Testing
The CPU overclocked speed testing was conducted with known stable settings from a previous board review for the CPU with Turbo Mode disabled, equating to a 4.4GHz CPU speed, 1960MHz memory speed, and 105MHz base clock. The Intel Speedstep functionality remained enabled for the duration of the testing to get realistic CPU idle performance conditions.
Board voltage settings were configured as follows:
- CPU Core Voltage – 1.2750
- CPU I/O Voltage – 1.150
- DRAM Voltage – 1.6255
- System Agent Voltage(SA) – 1.0850
- CPU PLL Voltage – 1.7500
- PCH 1.05 – 1.0995
At overclocked speeds on the Ivy Bridge CPU, the gulf widens between the air coolers with the Silver Arrow SB-E Extreme leading the closest air cooler by 5C at load. The cooler still maintains its lead over the XSPC kit as well.
Intel Z87-based Haswell System Testing
CPU Stock Speed Testing
The CPU stock speed testing was conducted with the BIOS defaults set for the CPU and Turbo Mode disabled, equating to a 3.5GHz CPU speed, 3.5GHz Ring bus speed, 1600MHz memory speed, and 100MHz base clock. The Intel Speedstep functionality remained enabled for the duration of the testing to get realistic CPU idle performance conditions.
The Silver Arrow SB-E Extreme remains the leader with the Haswell CPU at stock speeds with a mere 4C separating its average load temp and its highest core average, and a 6C difference between its highest core average and absolute temperatures. The Silver Arrow's measured max core temperature in a lot of cases beats out the average high temperatures of the other coolers. The XSPC kit maintains a close second place to the Thermalright cooler, while the Phanteks cooler falls squarely in between the Silver Arrow and the Noctua cooler.
The Achilles' heel of the Silver Arrow SB-E Extreme cooler is its fan noise. It comes is at the loudest out of all of the tested coolers with its fan noise audible even over the graphics card fan when with the Thermalright fans running full tilt. You do have the option of regulating the Silver Arrow's fan speed via PWM, but that comes with a performance cost. With the fans running slower, less air will flow through the radiator towers increasing the CPU temperature as a result.