Keeping things cool: 4-way heatsink roundup

Author: Pier-Luc Gendreau
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Wednesday, April 21st, 2010
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/7_heastink_roundup/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Are you looking to spring some life into that aging processor or push your brand new rig to its limits? Or perhaps you simply want to replace your current heatsink with something more quiet without sacrificing performance. Whatever your needs are, chances are one of the seven heatsinks we got our hands on is just the thing you were hoping for.

We have four heatsinks from three different manufacturers. First up is the Coolermaster Vortex Plus, a small cooler that should fit in pretty much every case out there. Next is Coolink which sent us their Corator DS, a large tower cooler with four heatpipes. Last up is Thermaltake with the Contac 29, a direct touch, dual heatpipe heatsink as well as the Frio, which has been specifically designed for overclocking.

I hereby present you the whole family of coolers we'll be checking out in this review.

Now, grab a nice big cup of coffee as things are about to get cool!

Coolermaster Vortex Plus

As you might have noticed, we're going through our seven heatsinks in alphebetical order, so the first down the list is the Coolermaster Vortex Plus. This is a souped up Vortex 752 with support for all the latest processors. It comes in their signature white box with a touch of purple, with the product clearly pictured. In terms of compatibility, it works on pretty much everything that was released in the last few years. Starting with AMD, it can be installed on Socket 754, 939 and the AM family. On the Intel side, the Vortex works with LGA775, 1156 and 1366.

The Vortex Plus a value heatsink with four direct touch heatpipes and a downfacing 92mm fan. Unfortunately, the gaps between the base and the pipes are fairly large, so I suspect thermal paste application will play an important role in this heatsink's performance. Its compact size makes it ideal for small form factor computers, while the PWM controlled fan should keep noise under control.

I realize it may be a pain to deal with Intel's three sockets (kudos to AMD for sticking with the same mounting system for years now), but my biggest gripe with this cooler is the mounting system -- it feels like Coolermaster tried to reinvent the wheel here. They use a custom push pin system that simply doesn't work well and it happens to be the only cooler I actually had to dig for the instruction manual. Lastly, the Vortex leaves all memory slots available with plenty of space.

Coolink Corator DS

These guys are newcomers to us at Neoseeker, but their products are distributed by the same company that deals with Noctua so that alone raises our expectations. It even comes with the same SecuFirm 2 mounting system, which is, in our opinion at least, the best there is on the market, that is unless someone else proves us wrong today. The heatsink is extremely well packaged and the box is actually quite nice -- simple and effective. There's nothing about processor support on the box, but a quick tour on their website tells us it works on LGA775, 1156 and 1366 as well as AMD's AM lineup.

The Corator DS is sort of a scaled down Noctua D14, which isn't a bad thing at all! It's heavy, solid and really feels like a quality product. However, it also comes with a couple quirks. First of all, the bundled 120mm fan should really be a 140mm fan. As you can see below, there's plenty of space for the extra 20 millimeters and with that would come a cooler and quieter environment. Secondly, there's no easy way to mount a second fan, something I really like to see on a dual tower heatsink.

The coolers four heatpipes are 8mm in diameter and Coolink uses what they call "gapless direct touch technology". It's sort of direct touch, but I must admit I prefer this approach by far. It keep the heatpipes as close to the processor as possible, but without the annoying gaps.

Like I said before, Coolink borrowed Noctua's SecuFirm 2 mounting system, which is great and although the thermal paste is branded differently, I would guess it's actually the same thing. With a cooler as large as this one, it's no surprise that it will limit the height of the memory stick in the first slot. All in all, a great package and definitely a contender for today's top spot.

Thermaltake Contac 29

We have had mixed impressions on Thermaltake's cooling products before so hopefully these two heatsinks will bring our faith for the company back up. We're not quite certain what the 29 stands for, but what we're sure of is that it ships in good looking, simple and, most importantly, solid packaging. The heatsink itself is yet another affordable aluminum tower, but this one has three large, 8mm direct touch heatpipes. The mounting system with just about everything out there from AMD's socket 754, 939 and AM to intel's LGA775, 1156 and 1366.

The Contac is yet another compact tower style heatsink, just as large as a 120mm fan, but thin enough not to infer with memory slots. Our previous experiences with Thermaltake heatsinks have consisted of a couple letdowns, but build quality on this one is excellent and it's obvious they payed attention to details. The fins are bent on both ends as to create a tunnel for air to travel and they also bundled the necessary hardware to mount a second fan.

The three direct touch heatpipes are better finished than Coolermaster's Vortex Plus and the gaps are also significantly smaller, although I'm still not convinced on the merits of this technology.

The accessory set includes everything you need and the mounting system is easy to use. Thermaltake uses four push-pins, each on their bracket which allows them to cover all three Intel sockets with a single set. It's simple and it works. The cooler's svelte profile does not block any memory slots.

Thermaltake Frio

The Frio is sort of a beefed up Contac 29. It's just a tad higher, but twice as wide and a couple centimeters longer. Besides its sheer dimensions, this one also comes with two fans, each controllable via a variable resistor knob. Thermaltake claims the cooler is "designed for overclocking" and while I don't doubt it, right about every heatsink at and above that price range are so it's a moot point. Anyway, the Frio's packaging does an excellent job at protecting it and happens to also look good. Processor support is slightly more limited than the Contac, with AMD's sockets 754 and 939 missing, but quite frankly I don't see that as a problem considering both of those are nearly extinct.

With the Frio, Thermaltake continues to impress with very good build quality. The cooler is unfortunately quite plastic-happy, although it does give it an interesting, unique look, especially with the red bars even though they serve no purpose other than spicing up the appearance. It's also the sole heatsink in this roundup to come with two fans. The base is flat, well finished and the five 8mm heatpipes are not direct touch, instead they are more traditionnally squeezed between two blocks of aluminum.

I will test the Coolermaster Vortex Plus, Coolink Corator DS, Thermaltake Contac 29 and Frio on top of an Intel Core i7 system and record temperatures at both idle and load, at stock and overclocked speeds. Temperatures are gathered using the latest version of RealTemp. Results will then be compared with those of previously tested heatsinks.

Testing Setup

Overclocked settings

Testing

First of all, none of our contenders managed to dethrone Noctua's D14. With that said, the only real letdown in today's face off is the Coolermaster Vortex Plus. Obviously it was not meant for heavy loads, but failing to beat Intel's stock cooler is, let's face it, shameful. Both of them also failed to cool the mildly overclocked Core i7-870 under load. With the processor at stock speeds, the standings are fairly close, with the Corator DS and its Noctua roots taking the lead over Thermaltake's Frio and Contac 29.

When overclocked, the order still doesn't change -- at least not until I cranked the Frio's fans to full throttle. While it undoubtedly makes it noisier than every other heatsink, the fans aren't whiny so they are bearable. At those speeds, we are pushing the limits of the comfort zone with the Contac 29. The Coolink Corator DS performs admirably and also does it quietly.

Coolermaster Vortex Plus ($29,99 MSRP)

An affordable heatsink in a compact package. Although it should be alright for a low power processor such as one in an HTPC, it is definitely not well suited for higher end processors such as the Core i7-870. The PWM controlled fan did a good job at quieting down the fan, although it expectedly became very noticeable as temperatures rose. The mounting system was odd -- reinventing the push pin isn't a good idea -- and the base and its direct touch heatpipes had many relatively wide gaps which probably is the reason behind this cooler's poor performance.

Unless this is precisely the form factor you're looking for, the Vortex Plus shouldn't make it to the short list. As you'll see in a few moments, there's at least one superior alternative at a similar price point.

Coolink Corator DS ($59,90 MSRP)

A great surprise from a newcomer. Obviously Coolink was inspired, or possibly more than just that, by Noctua and frankly, that's great. The build quality and mounting system are top notch, the base and its four gapless direct touch heatpipes is flat, well finished and is, in our experience, the best implementation of direct touch technology. I would have liked to see a second set of clips to install an additionnal fan and the stock fan could easily be bumped to 140mm. However, that didn't stop the Corator DS from grabbing the performance crown all while keeping noise at a minimum level.

It's large and will limit the height of the memory stick in the first slot, but then again that's an issue with just about every cooler in this class so it's not a show stopper. You should without a doubt keep and eye out for this one.

Thermaltake Contac 29 ($36,99)

Well made, well priced heatsink from industry veterans. It might not have been the best performer, but it's still a good value. The push pin mounting system works alright and it's well built. Unlike the Vortex Plus, the direct touch heatpipes are well finished into the base, leaving only thin gaps and a flat surface. The stock fan is quiet and Thermaltake also bundled the necessary hardware to mount a second one later on.

While it won't fit into the really small cases the Vortex can hide into, the Contac is reasonably sized and will fit in any midsize tower out there and also won't block memory slots. The price is right and there really is nothing to complain about.

Thermaltake Frio ($59,99)

It looks unique and performs quite well. The marketing team says it's "designed for overclocking" and it did get good results in this regard. The two fans, at stock speed at least, are quiet and provide decent cooling, but it's only once you turn the knob to the maximum that the Frio can take the second spot, right below the Noctua D14. The mounting system is well thought, although the whole thing could definitely be toughened up. The base is flat, well finished and also the only one to sport a regular, non direct touch design.

Slightly smaller than the Corator DS, the Frio is still likely to limit the height of the memory module in the first slot. The design is also unique and looks pretty good, although a bit too plasticky for my taste.

There we go, we checked out four heatsinks from three different companies, so now which one's the best? In the lower price bracket, it's a clear win for the Thermaltake Contac 29. Unless you are limited in space, in which case Coolermaster's Vortex Plus is the obvious choice. Breaking in at $60, the more expensive Coolink Corator DS and Thermaltake Frio are in direct competion with each other and between these two, I'd pick the former. While the two controllable fans on the Frio are nice, Coolink offers a superior performance to noise ratio and the best in class mounting system seals the deal.

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