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gof November 16, 2007 01:43 AM

Reviewer Tryouts: Thermalright Ultra-120 Extreme
 
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Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme Review



Intro

The Thermalright Ultra-120 Extreme is widely regarded as being one of the top performing air coolers available today. Released in the late spring of 2007, it has already been reviewed numerous times by websites and users. Despite this, certain aspects of the heatsink’s performance and quality were still unclear to me, and my purchase of this cooler was not with 100% confidence.

I hope to share and clarify a few things for people who are considering making the same purchase.

First, I wanted to compare the heatsink’s performance with dual fans in push-pull setup versus a single fan setup on an overclocked setting. Second, I wanted to investigate how the performance of this cooler is affected by fan speed - being somewhat sensitive to noise, I wanted to avoid running a loud fan at 12V on this cooler. Third, I wanted to know what effect varying fan speeds had on push-pull configurations - would running two fans on this cooler at 7V be a comparable (and far quieter) alternative?

Finally, I wanted to examine its quality. Some users have complained of a poorly machined base, of finding it to be not flat. This could result in poorer performance from the cooler, due to worse contact with the heatspreader of the processor. Also, the "scissor" mounting clip has been reported as not providing enough mounting pressure, with the heatsink being able to rotate a bit underneath it.

These are things I looked out for in this review. I hope help clear up a few things.

The Cooler

Full specifications of the Ultra-120 Extreme can be found at Thermalright's website.

The Ultra-120 Extreme comes in a plain cardboard box, which is the norm for Thermalright. It comes packaged with mounting hardware for Socket AM2 and LGA775. Those with Socket 753/940/939 can purchase a separate mounting kit. Note that this heatsink does not come with a fan, and that mounting clips for only one fan are provided. To mount an additional fan, clips can be bought for around $2-3 CAD (look up part number FWC-120-U120), or users can use a DIY method like zipties.

The Ultra-120 Extreme is a large upright design, measuring 63.44 x 132 x 160.5 (LxWxH, in cm). Note the height - it is very tall and might not fit some cases, or may interfere with side-mounted fans. The six heat pipes are copper and the fins are aluminium; everything is nickel plated. It weighs a hefty 790g - with a fan or two, which weigh roughly 180g each, this is a heavy load for the mounting mechanism / motherboard.
Here is the base of the cooler. It is smooth with some minute machining marks if you look closely. The finish is less important than the flatness of the base however, and unfortunately I found that it was not completely flat. One of the corners of the base was raised very slightly. Although concerning, I can be glad it wasn't worse – at least it wasn't concave. The testing will show whether or not this has a negative effect on performance.

Installation

I only went through the Intel socket 775 installation here. Those curious about the differences for an AM2 install can check the directions on Thermalright's website.

Note that you must remove the motherboard from your case to install this heatsink.
Above are the necessary components for the install, the scissor retention clip at top, backplate on the right, and spring-loaded screws in the bag (LGA775 installation uses the longer screws).
The first step is to mount the fan clips and silicon vibration damping strips onto the heatsink. The clips are somewhat of a pain to fit in the holes that are in the sides of the cooler; wiggle them around until they fit into place. If you are installing only one fan, install one fan clip on each end of the heatsink, the picture above is for a dual fan setup. Also, don't mount your fan at this point: wait until you've installed the heatsink and screwed it down - it is far easier when the fan is not installed.
This is the backplate for the cooler. For the square of adhesive in the middle, DO NOT remove the sticker on it. This will cause it to stick to the electronics on the back of your motherboard and make it difficult to remove the backplate without damaging the motherboard. The plastic cover around the adhesive square is removable, but it looks like it is meant to prevent the metal backplate from shorting out anything on the back of your motherboard, so it should just be left in place.
Now place the backplate behind your motherboard, into the mounting holes around the CPU socket. Apply thermal paste to the CPU IHS.
Place the heatsink on the CPU, and pass the scissor clip in closed form between the heat pipes of the cooler, and then open it into its X shape, lining up its holes with the backplate. Then screw down the spring loaded screws, tightening each one at a time to even the pressure. Tighten all four down as far as possible.
Finally, add the fans.

The installation overall was pretty simple. Once complete I checked to see if the heatsink would swivel. For me the heatsink did not rotate very much at all and required some force to actually make it do so. The Zalman cooler that I had installed previously would swivel just as much. The heatsink was mounted solidly.

Test Setup
Test system:

Intel Core 2 Duo e6400
ASUS P5B Deluxe, BIOS 1004
2GB Crucial Ballistix PC2-6400
EVGA 7900GT
Seagate 7200.10 HDDs
Enermax Liberty 400w
Windows XP Pro SP2 32bit

Notes:

All tests were done in open air to remove the airflow characteristics of my case from testing.

Thermal paste used was Arctic Silver 5.

The Ultra 120 Extreme was mounted twice, the better results were used.

C1E / EIST (Speedstep) were disabled in the BIOS.

Any noise results were subjective only.

Ambient temperature at the time of testing was 20C.

Antec TriCool fans were used in testing for their fan control, which can switch their speeds easily between various rpm speeds. Scythe S-Flex SFF21F 1600rpm fans were also quickly tested, and achieved similar results to the Antec fans.

The official specifications for the TriCools are 2000 / 1600 / 1200rpm (high / medium / low settings). In reality I think that their specs are closer to these results (2000/1500/900rpm) ... they move very little air on the "low" setting.

Test Method:

Speedfan, Core Temp v0.95 and Orthos applications were used for testing.

Orthos (Small FFTs) was run for 5-10 minutes and the maximum temperature observed in Speedfan's graphing mode on both cores was averaged and recorded. Idle tests were done after load tests, with temperatures allowed to stabilize for around 10 to 15 minutes and then maximum temperature on both cores averaged.

Speedfan was used to record voltages as detected in Windows.
For reference (these aren't exactly direct competitors to the Thermalright... :whistle:), the Ultra-120 Extreme's results were compared to the Intel stock heatsink and the Zalman CNPS9500 LED.

Both the CNPS9500 and the Intel stock cooler were run at 100% fan speed for all tests.

Test Results

Cooling at stock speeds

Voltage was 1.3000V in BIOS, 1.26v in Windows.

The Ultra-120 Extreme beats both the Zalman and Intel by a solid amount at stock speed. Note that at this speed, there is no difference between single and dual fans.

Only 7C above ambient at idle is pretty impressive, though.

Cooling at overclocked speeds

Voltage was 1.4750 in BIOS, 1.42v in Windows.


The Thermalright starts to show its benefits under a higher voltage load. It beats the Zalman by roughly 7-10C at load, which is a great result. Note that the benefit of dual fans starts to show at this speed - the dual fan setup is cooler by 3C.

Cooling at various fan speeds, push and push-pull

Voltage was 1.4750 in BIOS, 1.42v in Windows.

There are many interesting results in this graph. Note that there is barely any difference between the 1500 / 2000 rpm temperatures. Also, two fans at 1500rpm cool better at load than one at 2000rpm. Finally, a dual fan setup at 900rpm is 4C better than a single fan setup at the same speed.

Noise at these speeds varied widely. All of the fan speeds were quieter than both the Intel stock cooler and the Zalman, which were both obnoxiously loud. With the Antec fans, 2000rpm was loud, too much for me. 1500rpm was reasonable, but still somewhat loud. 900rpm was barely audible.

Comparing this to the Zalman results, note that the Thermalright can be run pretty much inaudibly with two fans at 900rpm, yet still beat the very loud Zalman by 4C.

From these results the best noise to performance ratio, I hypothesize, is roughly 1500rpm. Anything faster than this will probably result in diminishing returns, especially considering how loud the fans will be.

Also, very low airflow fans might not work best with this heatsink, judging from the large drop in performance between 900 and 1500 rpm compared with 1500 and 2000. Low speed fan performance improved with two fans, however.

Maximum overclock temperatures

Voltage was 1.5750 in BIOS, 1.52v in Windows.

I quickly ran a last test at a higher voltage load. Due to lack of time only the Thermalright was tested with a dual fan setup at 2000rpm.

The Thermalright holds the temperature at a great (considering how high the voltage was) temperature.

60C at 1.52v really is an excellent result.

Conclusion

Pros
Great performance
Can be run very quietly
Dual fan setups possible

Cons
Heavy
Big
Base isn't flat

The fact that I found that this cooler performed great is nothing groundbreaking. The performance was something I more expected than hoped for, I guess.

The more important results from the fan speed and dual fan testing were overall pretty good. At stock speed, two fans on the cooler had no affect on performance. However, once the voltage and heat load rose the benefits showed up. 3C was taken off of the load temperature at 1.42v, making me wonder if a dual fan setup would show even more benefit at something like 1.5v. I'm starting to wish I had done more testing at 1.52v...

The fact that the base was not flat was somewhat of a concern, but the cooler still managed to perform very well. When I removed the Ultra-120 Extreme to check its contact with my processor, I found it to be fine. I can't say to what degree the flatness of the base ended up affecting the results.

In Canada, this cooler can be found for less than $50– for its performance, it really can't be beat. Consider that I paid something like 80$ for the Zalman CNPS9500 last year.

In conclusion: the Thermalright Ultra-120 Extreme is a great cooler. Unless its huge size is of concern, I see little reason to buy anything else.


4.5/5


Note: At a later time I might try re-testing with better thermal paste such as Arctic Cooling's MX-2. I also might revisit 1.5+ volts for testing. :thumb:

stoanee November 16, 2007 08:56 AM

Nice review, looks like that cooler is a monster!

magictorch November 16, 2007 09:06 AM

Good review
 
Yes its big

At least its tall and has a more narrow profile c.w. the sythe ninja or some other sinks for example.

That means you dont have to rearrange memory modules or have fans sitting on top of the memory.

Great cooler!

jackson5 November 16, 2007 10:49 AM

nice Review !

rifleman November 21, 2007 12:38 AM

considering this heatsink, thanks for the review.:clap:

1Tanker November 21, 2007 04:49 AM

Good review gof... but a few issues.

1.
Testing cooling solutions really should be done in a case, as open-air bench doesn't duplicate airflow issues that do matter in a closed-case environment(the majority of readers).

2. This one's not "directly related" to the testing protocols, or results.. just a sort of unnerving observation. Laying computer parts all over a carpet doesn't illustrate safe handling(of ESD sensitive parts) practices to the readers that don't realize the possible dangers of doing so.

Sorry to sound so picky(i hope no hard feelings :whistle: ), they were the two standout(negatively) things that i couldn't help but question...the rest of the review was great.

gof November 23, 2007 09:57 PM

Hi..

Quote:

Originally Posted by 1Tanker (Post 26939)
1.Testing cooling solutions really should be done in a case, as open-air bench doesn't duplicate airflow issues that do matter in a closed-case environment(the majority of readers).

I agree about the airflow. Temperatures definitely get worse going from outside a case to inside. However my case (Antec P180) really doesn't reflect the "normal" airflow of most people's cases. It has a top fan right above the CPU blowing air out of the case, rather than a PSU up there. This probably makes my CPU temp lower than in a normal ATX case, which I expect is more common for most users.

However this was probably less of an unrealistic benefit than testing outside a case was :doh:... I guess I wanted results that were at least repeatable or reproduceable by users.

If I do any future reviews, I guess I will add some in-case testing results. Maybe block off or turn off my top fan. Because I agree that testing outside a case gives a slight temperature benefit to all testing.

Quote:

Originally Posted by 1Tanker (Post 26939)
2. This one's not "directly related" to the testing protocols, or results.. just a sort of unnerving observation. Laying computer parts all over a carpet doesn't illustrate safe handling(of ESD sensitive parts) practices to the readers that don't realize the possible dangers of doing so.

Crap, now there is something I completely overlooked. To any of those users:

Computer parts and carpets without precautions don't mix. Static in the carpet could kill your electronic components if you are not careful. If you absolutely have to handle your computer parts on a carpet, there are a few things I would recommend you do.

1) Do not have your components in direct contact with the carpet. If you can, do what I did... keep them on anti-static bags that come with motherboards or some other parts.

2) Keep your case nearby, so you can ground yourself as a precaution before handling the parts.

3) Don't wear socks? :bleh:

Quote:

Originally Posted by 1Tanker (Post 26939)
Sorry to sound so picky(i hope no hard feelings :whistle: ), they were the two standout(negatively) things that i couldn't help but question...the rest of the review was great.

Definitely no hard feelings. I guess there are a couple things I should pay more attention to in the future.

Thanks for the comment :thumb:

Babrbarossa November 23, 2007 10:17 PM

Great work, GOF- nice pics- are you using a light filter? almost looks like sepia


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